Water-Only Hair Washing

When I first got into zero waste a couple of years ago, I quickly discovered the baking soda method for hair washing, sometimes called “no poo”. It involves mixing a small amount of baking soda with warm water and then using that to cleanse your hair, followed by a rinse of very diluted apple cider vinegar (ACV).

The thing that intrigued me was the suggestion that using convential shampoo regularly actually causes your hair to get oily more quickly. As someone who couldn’t go more than a couple of days without washing due to oil buildup in my hair, I was totally onboard with trying this out.

Initial attempts left my hair very dried out, but that was resolved by using less baking soda. And then immediately out of the shower my hair would sometimes already feel greasy, but that I discovered by experimentation was the result of too much apple cider vinegar. Other than these lessons learned, my hair didn’t go through the adjustment period that I heard about everywhere else. Then again, maybe I just had lower expectations for my hair. As long as my hair wasn’t brittle or really greasy, I was happy.

I had been diluting the mixtures more gradually. A year after moving to this BS/ACV method, I was finally ready to get rid of the ACV rinse entirely. After a couple of experiments, this change turned out to be totally fine!

A few more months down the road, I ditched the baking soda. Again, no big difference because I was just moving from a super diluted solution to pure water. The baking soda has to be mixed fresh with the warm water to be effective, so I was super glad to simplify this part of my hair washing routine.

At this point, my hair washing routine involves massaging my scalp with warm water at the start of my shower. Then at the end of the shower I switch to cold water and massage my scalp under the water with my head upside down. I read somewhere that this gives your hair more body, but I’m not sure that’s effective. My hair looks the same either way.

If you’re still reading this, you’re probably ready to see the results.

My hair one day after washing with water.

My hair at the end of the week (right before washing again).

Pretty consistent, huh?

Unfortunately, we already have highs in the 80s here in central Texas. And since one of my hobbies is gardening, that means I’ll be sweating a lot more very soon. So my once-a-week hair washing routine is about to become a twice-a-week hair washing routine. Still, it feels really good to be free from store-bought shampoo and conditioner. It’s one less thing to worry about.

A Walk in the Harvested Woods

This week at Talk Green to Me book club, we were discussing Bill Bryon’s A Walk in the Woods. It’s a hilarious tale about the adventures of the author and an acquaintance walking the Appalachian Trail. The stories of beautiful scenery and the sense of accomplishment after braving tough weather conditions and still going forwards–well, it inspired me and I was ready for a hike of my own after reading this book.

Of course I’m not going to travel halfway across the country for a hike, no matter how epic. There are just so many parts of Austin that I haven’t even seen yet. I had an idea, though. And to test it out, I decided to walk to book club at Recycled Reads from my office. It’s not the Appalachian trail, but at 5.7 miles it’s a decent trek. Google Maps predicted just under two hours to make this journey on foot. (And fortunately we are just far enough removed from the summer heat that being outdoors that long isn’t arduous in itself.)

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A lovely wide walking trail along North Burnet Road 😛

This definitely was not the most scenic hike. Since almost my whole route was alongside Burnet Road, I had a great view of traffic and there were all kinds of shopping centers. Fortunately, crossing 183 was easy (I expected more of a mess of traffic lanes like at Lamar Boulevard and 183) and there were a variety of scattered trees and plants that I was able to stop and view more closely at my leisure. I arrived at my destination just a few minutes later than Google predicted and barely breaking a sweat.

Since that two-hour walk didn’t kill me, I was reassured that my more insane plan would work. A couple of months ago, I came up with the idea of a new years resolution to visit every Austin Public Library branch in 2017. Nearly a couple dozen of them. It doesn’t involve buying anything, which makes it a near perfect resolution for me, although not that much of a challenge.

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Map of Austin libraries

Well, you can probably see where I’m going with this. For 2017 it would be awesome if I walked to every libary branch! No, I’m not going to walk from the northernmost Spicewood Springs Branch to the southernmost Southeast Austing Community branch in one go. My idea is to start from my home to the nearest library constituting a single trip. The next trip would be from that library to any other library. And so on, accumulating a new potential starting point with each new destination achieved. For some sense of scale, the distance between North Village Branch and Yarborough Branch is about an hour walking, so none of the branches are more than a two-hour walk from another (although I have the option of making non-optimal trips).

Do you think I can do it? I think I can. The library is closed on January 1 & 2 next year, but I’m already planning my January 3 walk up north to Spicewood Springs branch–a happy 7.6 miles from my neighborhood branch. Worst case scenario, next year December I’ll hop on the bus to quickly visit any branch locations that I didn’t make it to on foot. 🙂

Eat Your Weeds – Purslane

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Fresh-picked purslane

I’m not an expert forager. The only plants that grow in my area which I know are edible are pecans, dandelions, and purslane. Edible pecans are super rare in my experience thus far. And I still haven’t eaten dandelions because I haven’t yet gotten past the fact that they’re dandelions. But purslane? It’s like a dream.

I was very careful the first few times, checking the smooth petals to make sure it was really purslane and not the poisonous spurge or some other unknown. Once reassured, I pulled off a leaf to try it out. Purslane tastes more like spinach than anything else, with just that little bit of tang in the crisp succulent leaves. Now it sticks out like a sore thumb whenever I pass a bunch, and if the area looks safe (not subject to chemical treatments, too much car exhaust, etc) I’ll grab a bunch and pluck off a few leaves at a time to drop into my mouth and savor during my walk.

Purslane is a true superfood, too. Iron. Magnesium. Omega 3 fatty acids. So many vitamins and other minerals. People have been eating purslane for thousands of years and praising its health benefits, so you know it can’t be all bad.

After discovering this bunch on the way home yesterday with lots of fresh growth probably due to the recent rains, I hurried over to my side yard where a few purslane plants were already growing. Unfortunately, they did not fare as well with the rain. A mold or some other disease got to them and they had started turning whitish at the edges. One side of the purslane patch still looked pretty happy, but upon further consideration I just left them. There’s plenty of other purslane. It grows all summer here, and summer isn’t over quite yet.

A Graduation Celebration, Or “The Day I Totally Pigged Out”

My oldest nephew graduated from high school today! I still remember him best as a small child, and it’s so strange to see him now ready to fully embark on the journey of independent life. He’s a lover of animals and a vegan, and has a beard the likes of which would definitely have kept him from walking back at my high school graduation (although it’s nothing compared to his dad’s).

Deciding on a gift was easy. My husband and I gave him cash. He recently earned an honor for Economics, so there’s some hope that he may use it wisely. 🙂

We didn’t go out and buy a five dollar greeting card for him. I could have made him a card from some nice paper that has printing on only one side, but I still had a pack of generic blank greeting cards that I picked up at Goodwill a while back. As it turns out, another family member needed a quick card, and we did make that one out of a sheet of paper that was laying around and some markers. It was a fair decision because later on, the graduate was happily counting all the cash he had received while the various cards were laying about totally neglected.

My cousin (his father) hosted the celebration party at their house. Many other relatives were there, and even my grandmother made it in to town for the festivities. But we were nowhere near enough people to eat the smorgasboard of food that unfolded before us. We started with crackers and hummus dip and chips with pico de gallo. There were vegan cookies. Someone brought chocolates. Then food started coming into the house from the grill. Burgers and sausage. It was surprising that with a vegan graduate there were no veggie burgers, but I was hungry and immediately gobbled up the beef delight before me. By that time, more food appeared and fortunately included many fruits of which I ate some pineapple, strawberries, and grapes. A batch of veggie kabobs made their way in, but those were specially for the birthday boy and not enough to go around. The trays kept coming, though. Some chicken kabobs. Shrimp kabobs. Being surrounded by food, I helped myself to a sausage burger. Within one hour I had eaten more meat than I would normally eat in a week! Then veggie burgers appeared, only after I was stuffed enough to avoid any more entrees. More veggie kabobs appeared, but those again were just enough for the graduate. So much food around me! One of the chicken kabobs also somehow disappeared into my mouth. After that, I kept nibbling for the duration of our stay, barely managing to stick to strawberries and grapes.

Oh, but it wasn’t just the excess of meats. (Or the fact that the kabobs were probably store-prepared and excessively wrapped on foam with plasticwrap in addition to the kabob stick.) The drinks that were available at the party were canned sodas and bottled water. I had considered bringing my own, but the auditorium where the graduation was held had a no outside food or drink policy and I was afraid they’d confiscate my favorite water bottle. I drank from the water fountain at the arena, but I was out much longer than anticipated and needed something more. Since bottled water is so repulsive to me, I opted for the soda. Full corn syrup. Full caffeine. Full plastic-lined can. In retrospect, bottled water is still probably better than canned soda in every respect — for the environment, for my health, for the wallet of my hosts.

So, there you have it. My confession of how I succumbed to the pressures of the day. It’s not so bad though. Another time, I might have eaten multiple burgers or several chicken kabobs. I might have really pigged out on the individually-wrapped chocolate candies instead of filling up on fruit. I could also have partaken in the cake and ice cream. This was moderation and progress. I can only hope that the ton of food left over also left an impression that maybe less food should be bought for the next time. Then again, in our family I’m not sure if there’s ever been a celebration where we didn’t all leave with achingly full bellies. We haven’t learned yet.

Paper Towels FTW!

Normally, I hate paper towels. I use cloth towels or rags in the kitchen. I keep a clean handkerchief with me at work to dry my hands after washing up. And I no longer make bacon or fried potatoes (for health reasons). Napkins and paper towels just fill up the trash or compost bucket too quickly.

But lately I’ve been washing my hands several times throughout the day and using a fresh paper towel to dry my hands each time. And it comes down to one of the few reasons that can make disposables worth the waste–health.

You see, since we moved into our new house, I’ve been occasionally going out back to pull some of the poison ivy. I’d wash my hands and arms once I got back inside and didn’t have any ill effects. Everything was working so well. I felt invincible!

Unfortunately, I must have gotten a bit overconfident. In this past week, what I at first thought were bug bites on my arm multiplied and spread after scratching them. And there are more of the little bite-like marks now across my arms and wrists, just begging me to scratch them. I even have some redness and itchiness on my abdomen and belly button. Overall, it’s not bad for me compared to horror stories I’ve heard about poison ivy, and I’m pretty sure some of the itchiness is psychosomatic. But it’s made its point, and I’ll be more careful in the future.

For this week, though, in case the urushiol oils are still around somewhere, I’ll be doing a bit of cleaning, rewashing clothes, and throwing out a paper towel every time I wash my hands.

Book Review: The Third Plate

Dan Barber’s The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food is full of stories of people who are trying to create a more sustainable food future, from eating smaller fish to growing local grains. We haven’t gotten to this book yet in book club but I read it anyway because I’m curious to see what foods other people consider to be the most sustainable.

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The stories are those of people who are working to create more sustainable versions of fois gras, Iberico ham, fish farms, wheat, veggies, and more. Considering how eating less meat is recognized in the intro as a necessity for sustainability, it amazed me how much time Barber spent describing how geese, pigs, and fish were being raised with minimal harm to the animals and with minimal or even positive impacts on the ecosystem. But I suppose if a foodie is eating less meat, the meat s/he does eat had better be damn good.

The book also discussed how wheat flour became white–less healthy but longer-lasting. How farmers are growing veg from heirloom seeds to help protect seed diversity in a world where many seeds are now owned by corporations and can’t be saved for replanting. How companion planting can create better plant health, improve the soil, and prevent the other dangers of monocropping.

The following quote was particularly interesting:

If you have a hankering, as I do, for the old days of our young republic, when farming was what farming should be–small, family-owned, well managed and manicured, a platonic paradigm of sustainable agriculture–think again. Today’s industrial food chain might denude landscapes and impoverish souls, but our forefothers did much of the same.

This is something I’ve read more about since. When Europeans discovered the Americas with so much fertile land that had been well-tended by the Native Americans, they felt no qualms about sapping the life from an area before moving on to another plot. (In the past week I’ve also read a bit about how Native Americans were used as slave labor before the Europeans realized they succumbed too easily to smallpox and other diseases and opted for African labor instead. I need to look into this a bit more, but what I’ve heard so far is really disturbing.)

On the seed front, although heirlooms are trendy right now, this book presents a counterpoint which is actually pretty compelling. Heirlooms are varieties that are as much as possible unchanged from older generations. But they’re usually not local to our area. And our environment has changed, too. So there’s something to be said for scientists who do the work to continually breed new varieties that grow well in different areas, that are resistant to diseases, that have been developed to make that variety economically viable to farmers as an alternative to the same old monoculture varieties. As long as the seeds are open-pollinated and not patented, it doesn’t seem so bad to me.

The problem, he said, is that farmers are often, like Klass, planting very old varieties with low yield–the problem with heirloom anything–or they’re planting conventional varieties with  no flavor. “Without a breeder to support the continual betterment of the plant, an alternative to conventional wheat will never establish itself.”

But the focus with farming is on improving the soil to create plants that are nutrient rich instead of fed artificial NPK fertilizer. This may mean growing perenials that grow deep and persistent roots to improve the soil. It may mean rotating crops, growing cover crops, and providing compost as the ideal soil amendment. Not building the soil could have devastating consequences, as he described from the wisdom of Dr. William Albrecht.

Of the diet-related diseases that have spiked in the past century, the obesity epidemic would seem to have been impossible to predict. And yet, in the 1930s, Albrecht came close. He knew that cows grazing from well-mineralized soils ate balanced diets. But when kept in a barn and fed a predetermined grain ration, they never stopped eating, overindulging in a vain attempt to make up with sheer volume for what they weren’t getting in their food. Albrect believed our bodies would likewise stuff themselves for the same reason. Starved of micronutrients, he said, we will keep eating in the hope of attaining them.

Although this book was really oriented towards foodies, I found most of the stories very compelling and informative. Personal changes this book has helped influence:

  • In the future if I’m craving seafood I may try eating smaller varieties of fish. (Although if I go to Luby’s I’ll probably swap out my usual fish for some broccoli.)
  • Not sure if this will happen, but I’m seriously considering growing some of my own grain next year. Not much but some.
  • Next year I’ll definitely also try out the Three Sisters planting of corn, beans, and squash.
  • On my next seed-shopping trips, I’ll look more at open-pollinated non-heirloom seeds (still staying away from the patented stuff) in addition to the heirloom options.
  • I’ll continue to cut down on eating out. (It’s rarely anything good for me).
  • I’ll regularly buy our whole wheat flour from the vendor at the farmers market. It’s way more expensive, but I have to support it to help make sure it stays available.
  • (But no, don’t expect to see any foie gras or Iberian ham on my plate.)

In conclusion, the best note to leave on is the wisdom shared throughout all of the stories, that “knowing about the natural world is a more enjoyable way to be in the world.”

11 Reasons to Quit Soda

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For many years I’ve been trying to quit soda. It was a no-brainer. I was (and still am) overweight. I was super sensitive to caffeine. It left me feeling sluggish after the sugar high had worn off. And who knows how many other ways the soda was wearing down my long term health?

But I had varied success in quitting and never lasted longer than a couple of months before falling off the wagon. I had been collecting so many reasons to quit, but it wasn’t enough to break the addiction. Fortunately, as I got interested in zero waste and learned about the other environmental aspects of sodas, that’s what finally tipped the scales for me. I didn’t touch the stuff for several months after making the decision with full justifications. There have been a few times since where I’ve had soda again on special occasions, but it tastes less and less appetizing each time. I’m finally at a point now where I think I just might be okay without ever touching a drop of the stuff again.Water generally is enough to satisfy my thirst. And cold crisp fruit satisfies that sweet spot that often tempts me. Making sure I fill up on healthy foods and reminding myself of the myriad reasons to avoid soda keeps me from falling to temptation.

Are you like me and just reaching for more motivations to stay away from these sweet drinks that you already know are bad for you? Here are a few from my list that may also help you to remind yourself when reaching for a soda.

Avoid the obvious health issues

You’ve heard this one already and it’s probably one of the reasons you’re still reading this. Studies have shown that regular soda consumption can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, liver problems, and other health issues.

Sleep better

Caffeine can stay in your system for many hours and the changes in your blood sugar levels won’t help either. During college I’d sometimes go crazy with the caffeinated sodas to keep me going during finals and then be miserable because when I finally went to bed, I couldn’t get to sleep.

Save money

Sodas at restaurants normally cost two or three bucks these days and even if you stock up at supermarket sales, it adds up. Use that money for something that will give you more than fleeting happiness.

Avoid sugar crashes

I use to drink soda at work to get a bit of energy when feeling sluggish, but that energy doesn’t last long and can lead to a subsequent brain fog. Instead, make sure to get enough sleep at night, and a super quick bit of exercise also works for a pick-me-up.

Save your teeth

The acid in soda can wreak havoc on your teeth. And the enamel can be harmed even more if you brush within 30 minutes of drinking.

Conserve water

It takes around 40 gallons of water to produce one bottle of soda.

Fight monocultures

Many American farms now grow monoculture crops thanks to subsidies on corn and soy. Avoiding all products with high fructose corn syrup and other corn derived crops is a way to vote against the practice.

Stay away from GMOs

For corn, genetically modified is now the standard. So guess where the high fructose corn syrup in your soda comes from. There are many reasons to avoid GMOs but include crops that are designed to thrive even with more herbicides (Roundup Ready) and the fact that big corporations actually own the varieties of crops we rely on.

Reduce -icide use

On that note, these crops do use a whole lots of herbicides and insecticides to get the fullest crop possible, devastating the soil at the same time and letting loose many of these chemicals into our waterways.

Avoid chemicals like BPA

Both plastic bottles and aluminum can linings may contain BPA or other disruptive chemicals without any labeling whatsoever. Fortunately many people have already moved away from BPA use, but without knowing what goes into the containers, there’s no way for us to decide if the material is truly safe to store our beverages in.

Say no to single-use disposables

In addition to the soda ingredients, a lot of resources go into the making of the bottle or can for the container, and most are designed for a single use before being tossed. Recycling doesn’t solve the whole problem as much energy, water, and chemicals are required for transporting and transforming the used containers into new products.


 

I originally wrote this blog post a few months ago and hadn’t published it. But in the past couple of weeks I wasn’t getting enough sleep and reached out to the drink fridge at work for a quick pick-me-up. I had already done it once, so what was the harm in reaching for another the next day? The harm was that each time made it harder to stop. Even if the soda didn’t taste that good and made me disappointed with myself, my body remembered that little bit of temporary energy and provided me with fresh cravings every day.

Work is hard with the free sodas just steps away, but fortunately soda is less convenient on the weekend, making it more easier to abstain. This weekend I made sure to get some extra sleep and this week I’ve done without so far. It’ll be another couple of weeks before the cravings fully fade away again, but hopefully keeping this list on hand will help me make it through and get back to sanity.

 

Book Review: The Good Gut

At this month’s Talk Green to Me book club, we had two book options to read. I had already read Michael Pollan’s Cooked, so this time I dug into The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long Term Health.

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I’d seen all the yogurt commercials plugging benefits of probiotics but never really understood what they were or considered giving them a shot. This book was my first introduction into the world of gut health, and I would recommend it to anyone. The authors describe how with all of the bacteria that thrive within your gut, it’s really its own microbiome that requires care and maintenance, and the very real impacts it can have on your health.

“Our gut bacteria belong on the endangered species list. The average American has approximately 1,200 different species of bacteria residing in his or her gut. That may seem like a lot until you consider that the average Amerindian living in the Amazonas of Venezuela has roughly 1,600 species, a full third more. Similary, other groups of humans with lifecycles and diets more similar to our ancient human ancestors have more varied bacteria in their gut than we Americans do.”

They go on to detail about the history of how man evolved in a symbiotic relationship with various kinds of gut bacteria, how the womb is a sterile environment but the mother’s bacteria is passed to the child through natural birth, how what kind of bacteria you nurture directly affects your health sensitivities and weight, how antibiotics and certain diets can wreak havoc on your system, and so much more.

In the end, if you’re curious to know exactly what types of bacteria are living inside of you, the American Gut Project has options to send in a sample and find out, plus how it compares to other people. It’s a decent chunk of money, but I have to admit I’m curious and it’s on my list to revisit in a couple of months (to avoid impulse purchases).

Either way, it’s not too difficult to start adopting their tenets of a microbiota-friendly diet–feed your gut bacteria with plenty of complex carbohydrates, limit meat and saturated fat consumption, and consume beneficial microbes a.k.a. probiotics.

The book provides a list of options for probiotic food sources. For those who like me are trying to cut dairy, that cuts out the majority but leaves the vegetable (kimchee, pickles, sauerkraut) or grain/legume (miso, natto, tempeh) options, as well as kombucha. Or, as an easier first step, I’m thinking of making Zero Waste Chef’s carbonated lemonade, using a ginger bug for the carbonation. How can you go wrong with lemonade?

“If you pass small stools, you have to have large hospitals” – Dr. Denis Burkitt