Salt: Weed Warfare

I have a lovely patio, with perfect cracks between the stones for growing weeds.

The people who owned this house before us would use Round-Up to keep the weeds down. However, I don’t want poisons in my yard, where my children play and where we breathe in fumes (while spraying). Yes, I understand that the makers of these weed neurotoxins state that they are harmless to humans, and that they disintegrate after a few hours of exposure to sun/air. I also know that Round-Up is chemically very, very close to a human neurotoxin which destroyed the dopamine center of the brain in the unfortunate people who took it (as a street drug), clinically launching them into complete paralysis as in endstage Parkinson’s Disease.

When it comes down to it, I just try to avoid poisons of all kinds.

And that’s why my patio looked like it did in the picture above. Terrible. Some of the weeds were as high as my knee.

Of course we had to pull them out; no easy spraying method here. And of course, some of the plants had tap roots that wouldn’t come up/got broken off (probably old roots which broke off last year).

A month ago, I pulled weeds all around the deck, where it comes down to the patio, and then used regular table salt in the cracks. To date, it is keeping down all the weeds in this one area.

I got this idea as I remembered something about the Romans sewing fields with salt in lands that they conquered. I looked this up on Wiki, and it seems that there are as many myths about this as anything, although salting fields was used at other times in history as a punishment for crimes.

Whatever. I know that for our backyard, we won’t be poisoned by salt, and that nothing will grow in salty cracks.

This week, we tackled the whole patio, big weeds and all. Here are my weeding helpers. Many hands make light(er) work!

The salt I used is the cheapest on the grocery store shelf, and I want to make clear that we DO NOT use this type of refined, bleached, iodized salt for eating. I had it on hand for making playdough.

If you are just switching over to healthy, unrefined salt with all the wonderful minerals in it (which your body is craving . . . so salt away!), then weed abatement might be the perfect use for the salt that was previously in your shaker.

Remember: wherever you put salt, it is likely that NOTHING will grow there for a very long time, so you obviously can’t salt areas of your yard where you have plantings, grass, etc.

We were careful not to put so much salt on that it would run off onto the lawn when wet.

Wow, look at those weeds!

Once we had finished pulling and salting, I ran water over the salt to melt it into the cracks, and then I sprayed off the whole patio.

Now it looks so lovely, we ate dinner out there last night and breakfast this morning!

“Uncured” and Nitrites

Here’s an article from Applegate Farms about the confusion surrounding the terms “uncured” and “no nitrites” on packages of luncheon meats and hot dogs. http://www.applegatefarms.com/inthenews/response.aspx

The take aways for me:

  • Naturally preserved lunch meats/hot dogs (those labeled “uncured” or “no nitrites”) ARE cured (often with celery juice or powder), and DO have nitrites, sometimes in greater amounts than their conventional counterparts. In other words, they are are “safe” from spoilage as the others, but if you thought you were not eating nitrites, think again.
  • Some people think a nitrite is the same as any other nitrite, but Applegate describes the difference between the synthetic and natural nitrites in this way:
    “Synthetic sodium nitrite is created by the absorption of nitrogen oxides (derived from ammonia compounds) in a liquid solution of either sodium carbonate or sodium hydroxide.  The resulting slurry is dried and pink dye is added to distinguish it from table salt.  According to the Food Chemical Codex (3rd addition, National Academy of Sciences), industrial sodium nitrite is allowed to contain residual heavy metals, arsenic and lead. While some may say, “nitrites are nitrites,” those derived from celery juice and sea salt are clearly different, and the USDA agrees, hence the different labeling requirements for products cured this way.”
  • TheFDA has to date not allowed the natural meat industry to clarify the actual ingredients/process on their packaging.

For my part, I feel far more comfortable feeding my family what is naturally occurring in celery, than a synthetic version with residual heavy metals of arsenic and lead.

My Favorite [Natural!] Mascara

Yay! iherb.com is now selling my favorite mascara for a discounted $7.76: Honeybee Gardens Truly Natural Mascara. After trying a number of “natural” mascaras that didn’t work, or turned out to be not-so-natural, I finally found this one. Smooth and without clumps. Doesn’t melt off after a few hours. Good color. And doesn’t cost $25 a tube (c’mon, seriously?).

I love it.

If you are new to iherb.com, don’t forget to use coupon code RON268 which will give you $5 off. That takes care of your shipping and then some.

Beauty Tip: to avoid looking harsh, choose mascara color one shade darker than your hair color.

  • Dark Brunette/Black Hair: choose black (Black Magic in this brand)
  • Light Brown/Dark Blond/Red Hair: choose black-brown (Espresso in this brand)
  • Light Blond/Strawberry Blond: choose brown (Chocolate Truffle in this brand)

For more drama, add a second coat: that is totally possibly with this silky mascara.

That night (or next morning for me!) your mascara will wash easily off with water and facial cleanser.

OK, so is it important to get “natural” mascara?

It is difficult to assess the toxicity risk for a product “only on our eyelashes,” but mascara is scary close to the mucous membranes of the eyes, and a number of brands of mascara are reported to contain mercury. How much mercury will be absorbed by our bodies? We don’t know; it’s likely different for every individual.

For me, I believe that I do absorb some mascara through my eyes/tear fluid into my nasal cavity (at least I have had “mascara crud” come out on a tissue after blowing my nose the morning after sleeping with mascara). So if using “toxic” mascara, perhaps a habit of washing it off before bed would be indicated. Or just get the good stuff and don’t worry about it.

Essential Oil Blend for Head Lice

A friend called this week to say their family just had head lice, and they kicked it with a blend of essential oils in olive oil. (This friend lives a long way away from the Portland area, in case any of you local readers are starting to feel your skin crawl already.)

A lice infestation is gross, and makes a mother feel like a louse of a clean person (pun intended). But having lice just means one of your children hugged, wrestled, or traded a hat, coat, or scarf with another child who had lice. Children with good mothers get it, and pass it on to other children with good mothers.

So if your kids get it, don’t feel guilty. But also, don’t reach for Uber-Toxic over-the-counter lice shampoos until you try this blend. (And there are reports are that lice are now showing resistance to the OTC and prescription insecticides.)

2 cups olive oil
1 tsp. each: essential oils of tea tree, eucalyptus, oregano, peppermint, cinnamon
Note: the cinnamon seemed quite “hot” to the skin, and was too strong for the little boy in the family whose skin is sensitive. The mom thought it could probably be left out and the blend be just as effective.

Mix well, apply to head and scalp, massage into all the hair. Leave on for 1 hour, then shampoo out with normal shampoo.

The olive oil seems to dissolve the nits from the hair shafts, while the essential oils do a number on the parasites themselves.

I hope this is one recipe you (and I!) never have to use!

Update from the Mom whose family had lice:

I didn’t get to finish telling you this the other day, but the essential oils washed out a lot of the nits, but not ALL of them. To get them out, skip the plastic nit combs from the drug store or that come with the toxic lice shampoo, and go right for the Nit Terminator.

http://www.amazon.com/Terminator-Professional-Stainless-Treatment-Removes/dp/B000HIBPV8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1293934455&sr=8-1

It is sold for about $8 on Amazon, but I found it locally at my Ulta store for double that, $15.95. I didn’t care that it was twice as much money, once I found out we had lice I wanted to start the war THAT DAY and not wait for a package from amazon!

I have gone over everyone’s hair with this comb and the first day it produced quite a few bugs and nits. Ewwww. But on successive days I would only find one or two nits, some days none at all. None the less, I have continued to give everyone a combing each day and will do so until the end of the incubation period, so that if I did miss a nit I know I can brush out the bug.

My plan was to reapply the essential oil mix if I found any live bugs, but I haven’t. My husband has called me the TSA because of my unresonable inspections, but I don’t care. I’m not messing around with this!

Also, I was worried that maybe our long haired inside dog could have caught lice from the children, since she often snuggles with them and sleeps on the furniture. However, a quick search online revealed that lice only live on human blood, and can’t live on dogs or cats. I’m glad I don’t have to start doing lice inspections on her!

Ants In The Kitchen

photo credit: axialmotion.com

Q:

We got home from our trip late last night. Found a kazillion sugar ants in the house when we arrived. We had them coming in before we left and had put out a few of the ant traps that take poison back to the nest . . . and it didn’t stop them from moving inside en masse. Do you have any healthy solutions? We’ve put sweet pantry items in the freezer and have been spraying Windex on the ones in the kitchen as that kills them (ammonia) and is not toxic. I don’t want to call pest control but I may have no choices left. It is bad.

~Susan, via email

A:

Sounds like you’ve got a good start on cleaning them up. In addition, you can try some ideas (below) from a natural gardening guide which I have on hand. (Also available for download at oregonmetro.gov .) Using silicone sealant at entrypoints seems like an excellent solution in your case. Remember to be patient with the problem; you may be able to irradicate them in a few days with just these simple measures and that would be so much healthier for your family than exposure to chemical killers.
Prevention
Store food in tightly sealed containers. Keep all kitchen surfaces clean and
free of food scraps and standing water.
Physical control
If a line of ants is marching across the kitchen, find the point of entry and
seal it. Use a silicone seal. Use petroleum jelly for a short-term fix until you
have time to do a better job. Remove what the ants are eating and mop
them up with soapy water. Some have found that sprinkling red chili pepper
at the entry point helps discourage ants. Wrap a band of tape, paper or
cotton coated with a sticky substance such as Tanglefoot around the main
stem of outdoor plants to trap ants.
Biological control
Birds, bee flies, humpback flies and thick-headed flies are natural predators
outdoors.
Least-toxic chemical control
Diatomaceous earth, silica gel, boric acid and pyrethrum can be effective.
Diatomaceous earth and silica gel are dusts that kill insects by drying them
out. They are dangerous to breathe, so if they must be blown into wall
spaces, a professional should do the job. Pyrethrum can be combined with
silica gel to give a faster effect; one form comes in a non-aerosol squeeze
dispenser that allows for application in cracks and crevices to minimize
human and pet contact. Boric acid can be used in cracks, but only in areas
not accessible to crawling children or pets. Prepare 1 percent boric acid
solution by mixing 1 teaspoon boric acid, 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
and 2 cups warm water. Store in a clear container. Use on cotton balls
placed in the bottom of a plastic cup or tub with holes cut for ants to enter.
Recharge each week. After three to four weeks, use 1/2 percent solution
for continuous control. You can also use insecticidal soap to drench an
ant colony outdoors or in a crawl space. More than one treatment may be
necessary.

Cloth Diapering Myths Debunked


My first two children spent all their diaper years in paper diapers, and even though I felt small bursts of guilt when I thought of our contribution to landfills, I didn’t consider cloth diapers an option. I mean, cloth is so yukky and hard to do, right?

Wrong. But it took two cloth diapering friends to debunk my myths.

Myth 1. Washing Cloth Diapers is a lot of work.

It’s work, but not a lot of work. Like 2-3 small loads a week, and I don’t even fold, I pile. It’s also a little work to keep up a stash of paper diapers, and this is eliminated.

Myth 2. Cloth Diapers are uncomfortable to the baby/ aren’t as healthy as paper.

Maybe vinyl pants are uncomfortable, but not the new laminated or fleece cloth covers (which there are dozens of choices on). Paper diapers do tend to wick away better, keeping baby dry, but then mommies tend to rely on that and not change the paper diapers as often as they should (this was me!) and that paper diaper can heat up. Some people think hot paper diapers are associated in male infertility when those baby boys grow up. Whether or not this is true, I’m just glad to avoid those clear bead things (chemical absorbants) which are use in the paper diapers and the bleach in the paper which is a known carcinogen.

Myth 3. Cloth Diapers are ugly.

Oh, they are so cute, with colors, patterns . . . whatever your flair. What’s ugly is a plastic bag of cartoon printed paper diapers, and later a pile of soiled paper diapers.

Myth 4. Cloth Diapers and hard to put on.

There are several methods of diapering (inserts, all in ones, prefold plus cover, etc.) but each is pretty easy to learn. With the new Snappi fasteners, it’s easy to secure the cloth diaper without pins, and most covers velcro on like a paper diaper.

Myth 5. It’s better to throw away the mess.

A (non-stinking) diaper pail which is dumped into the wash is so much nicer than a trash can of diapers stinking up the garage every week. And, ever thought of all the poop entombed in the landfill forever? That seems like a ecological nightmare.

Myth 6. Paper Diapers are a pretty cheap luxury.

Huggies from Costco was costing us about $40/mo. That’s times 30 months or so (if they potty train early). I think I can get more fun out of $1200 than buying diapers. 🙂

Myth 7. It’s All or Nothin’.

Even doing cloth diapers, I still use paper when we travel. And now on my 2 year old who is potty training (fingers crossed) and keeps the paper one dry a lot (Seventh Generation: no bleach in the paper diapers).

How To Start Cloth Diapers

There may be better ways to start cloth diapers, but I gave myself a challenge to spend about $80 and try it for 2 months. That way, if I hated it I could resell the diapers on diaperswappers.com and still be ahead money-wise.

I started reading some diaper websites, and was amazed at all the options (it can be overwhelming). What I finally settled on is the most simple, cost effective, and easiest method I know.

Cotton prefold from greenmountaindiapers.com because they are extra wide so they fit better. (Started with 12, at the end of my trial added another 12.)

Snappi from babyworks.com for fastening. (Started with 1, got another as a spare.)

Thirsties cover from babyworks.com to cover; reuse all day long unless a blowout. Fits well, few leaks, cute, good price. (Started with 3, but quickly had to buy 3 more so I could get through at least 2 days.)

Read about using Cloth Wipes here.

5 Gallon Bucket with lid which I had on hand; for throwing the soiled/wet diapers in (breastfed baby; but for baby eating food, the poop gets flushed down the toilet first). No solution in the bucket, I just dry bucket. When the bucket is full, I do laundry.

Laundering: dump bucket into washer, rinse bucket with 1 cup white vinegar which I then pour into wash. Rinse cycle on cold with vinegar. Wash cycle on hot with tiny bit of Bioclean soap and scoop Oxyclean. Second rinse in warm, no soap. Line dry the covers, send cloths through drier on hot (or line dry in summer).

That’s it.

It’s doable, cheap, and soft on my baby’s bum. What’s not to love?

How To Pick A Mineral Makeup

Mineral makeups have become very popular in the last 5 years, because they feel so lightweight, and can offer good coverage. They are often touted as natural, but you should still read the fine print and remember that they are not all created equal.

photo credit: alima pure

Here are some things to remember when you choose a foundation.

1. Color Matching
It’s true: you do need your foundation to match your true skin tone, or you could look muddy, orange, or pink. You’ll have to try it on, in daylight. That means either at a shop, or online order of samples. If you tan greatly in the summer, a shade or two darker is an option, or mixing in a little  powder.

2. Ingredients
Not all “natural” mineral makeups are good for you; you certainly don’t want parabens in them-those preservatives which mimic estrogens in the body and have been found in 87% of breast tumors. Also, bismuth oxychloride, talc, dyes, and fragrances can cause irritation (and may be toxic). The first on that list, bismuth oxychloride, is a common ingredient in mineral makeup, and it serves as a “filler” so the product can be made more cheaply than by using straight minerals. It gives the “pearly” look (rather than matte), and can tend to look shiny by the end of the day.

3. Brushes Do Matter
The shape of brush does have an impact on how the makeup goes on, and brushes should be cleaned often to avoid buildup. (I was told weekly, but I don’t do it that often. Water and mild soap, then air dry.) If you have sensitive skin, and/or animal allergies, find a brush with synthetic bristles: often good makeup can irritate because the person is allergic to the brush!

4. Powder Size: Coverage
A very fine powder will give amazing coverage: better than liquid foundation, yet will feel like you’re wearing nothing. You should be able to feel and see the fine powder on the back of your hand when testing colors. Then test it around your eyes: if it makes the wrinkles look deeper, then it isn’t fine enough. And, when a powder is fine enough, it should look great without a “mineral veil” or other finishing powder on top.

However, a product that boasts “nano” size particles should be avoided; there is some concern and ongoing research as to whether this minute particle size is safe in applications other than medicinal (colloidal silver). And there are good makeups out there that aren’t nano.

5. What’s the deal with Sunscreen?
Many mineral makeups have zinc in their ingredients, and this acts as a reflective sunscreen. Don’t worry this is the good kind of sunscreen (you can read about the bad ones in this post on Chemical Sunscreens). However, you need to apply the makeup fully on your whole face if you are relying on this for sunscreen.

6. Dry Skin
Some women don’t like mineral makeup because their skin is already dry, so they don’t like adding powder. I have fairly dry skin, and I do like mineral powder, but I use a good (all natural) face lotion to moisturize before putting on makeup. I must let the lotion dry first, though, or I can get streaks.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about the minerals I’ve tried, and the great one I’m using now that meets all the criteria above.

Cleaning Toilets: Two New Products I like

With 2 little boys in my home, toilet cleaning is something I’m really interested in these days! 🙂

Tip: Vinegar neutralizes urine. Try it on toilets, carpet (don’t ask) with a water rinse.

The toilet was pretty dirty, so I started with my vinegar/water spray on the toilet, and wiped it down with a paper towel.

Next I sprayed with a new product from Seventh Generation: Bathroom Cleaner and wiped with a rag.

I found a great sale on Seventh Generation products (half off at Fred Meyer’s Founders Day Sale, plus used a coupon) so I picked up their bathroom cleaner to try out. It must be made with Thyme oil, as the strong smell suggests (thymol is a strong anti-bacterial oil, rivaling any chemical, yet is non-toxic). The spray comes out like a foam, which works well for wiping all over the outside of the toilet, around the seat, the floor, etc. It seemed to clean well, and I liked there being a nice scent at the end.

Last, I dumped about 1/4 cup of Washing Soda by Arm and Hammer (found it alongside the “regular” laundry detergents at the grocery store) into the bowl, and scrubbed with a rag. It seems to scrub just as well as baking soda, and the fresh scent is really great. Great deodorizer. It is all natural, but not edible, and should not be used in place of baking soda.

And now that the toilet is really clean again, we can consider painting a bullseye inside it!

Happy Summer Feet: Water-Based Nail Polish

Red Toenails (can I just say that it's hard to take a nice picture of one's own feet?)

I love bare feet in summer. . . especially if they are mine and the toes are sporting red polish! I know that there are definite color trends in nail polish, but I keep reaching for the red for my toes, as my style tends toward Classic. And because it makes me happy.

However, nail polish and polish removers are nearly all quite toxic: they carry high levels of phthalates (known to cause reproductive deformities in male babies) and harsh/toxic solvents. Fortunately, there are some brands now available without these toxic ingredients. The two I’ve tried are Honeybee Gardens and Suncoat. (I’ve copied some of the safety info from Suncoat at the end of this post.*) They are both water-based (imagine that!).

So, how did they work? Here’s my review:

Watercolors Desire

Honeybee Gardens Watercolors Nailpolish
Price: retail $6.99, luckyvitamin.com $5.21

I purchased two colors of this polish, “Desire” for myself (toes) and “Valentine” for my 6 year old daughter. I noticed right away the absence of odor unless you stick your nose right up to the wet polish. Also, the polish was slightly thinner than some conventional polishes I’ve tried, so the suggestion to do 2 coats is a must for getting the color to look dark enough (this is in the case of the red on toenails).

Watercolors Valentine

My only bad experience with this polish was in washing my feet too soon after applying (this was really user error, not the fault of the polish). It was February and my feet were quite dry; I applied the polish and then showered immediately after the polish dried. I think my toenails soaked up water in the shower and expanded, or something, because the polish peeled up in huge flakes. When I avoid applying it before going in the water this polish lasts several weeks before chipping.

Suncoat Water-Based Nail Polish
Price: retail $8.99, luckyvitamin.com $6.89

After having tried the Watercolors brand, I decided to try out the Suncoat brand in “Red ‘n Red“. It was a little more expensive, but I think the intensity of color blows Watercolors out of the water (sorry, bad joke) and that makes it worth it to me. I’d still buy the other for little girl polish, but I was really impressed with the red-ness of this polish. Also, they seem to have some pretty hip options on color (even a black) . . . not that I’m straying from my classic red. . . 🙂

Again, I was impressed that there was no odor. (I even painted my toenails in the car on the way to a wedding without any complaints from my husband! Not recommending it. . . just keeping it real.) And 2 coats are a must in a dark color. They do recommend their clear-coat for a shiny finish, but I’m happy with the “satin” finish of just the 2 color coats. How long has this polish lasted? I’m on day 31 without any chips that I can see from my 5’5 vantage point (I’m 8 months pregnant, so don’t ask me to get any closer!).

Removal

The instructions say to remove with isopropyl alcohol: I was particularly happy about this as conventional removers seem to be a pretty toxic set (straight solvents, right?). However, I did try removing it with my conventional remover (before getting the alcohol and pitching the old one), and the polish came right off as normal. I have also tried removing the Suncoat polish with isopropyl alcohol, but it takes some time and rubbing to get it all off. I do have a lot of grooves and ridges on my toenails, so I’m sure it would be easier with smooth fingernails, but you should be aware of this if you switch colors a lot.

*Why switch to water-based? Some info from Suncoat is below, for more see the page on luckyvitamin.com.

Why is Water-based so much better?

  • Environmentally Friendly: Conventional nail polish contains large amounts (typically around 70%) of chemical solvents such as toluene, acetates and alcohol. When nail polish is applied to nails, these solvents evaporate into the air, generating toxic chemical fumes; the well known and VERY offensive “chemical smell”. This is why many people find it hard to breathe when using conventional nail polish: you are surrounding yourself with heavily polluted air, inhaling toluene, acetates etc.; chemical solvents. In Suncoat water-based nail polish, all the chemical solvents are replaced by water. The major ingredient is water, not chemical solvents! So when Suncoat water-based nail polish is being applied, it is only water that evaporates to the air, not toxic chemical fumes.
  • Safer to Nails:The chemical solvents in conventional nail polish, after repeated use, can discolor nails and make them brittle and weak. This is not an issue with water-based nail polish.
  • Not A Safety Hazard:Since conventional nail polishes contain around 70% chemical solvents, they are highly flammable and explosive. They are often classified as dangerous goods. They are safety hazards for retail stores, salons and residential homes. They should be kept away from heat, open flames such as burning candles, etc. Water-based nail polish, on the other hand, is not considered dangerous goods, and is much safer to both store and use.
  • Other Benefits of Suncoat Water-based Nail Polish:No Phthalate of Any Kind.Many conventional nail polishes contain a deadly chemical, namely, phthalate. Phthalate, such as dibutyl phthalate (DBP), has been proven by research studies to interfere with normal hormone balance, can cause severe birth defects and other health problems. Phthalate is a very effective and popular plasticizer that gives nail polish flexibility, and helps prevent polish from cracking. Phthalate is also a very low volatile chemical (meaning will not evaporate quickly). So after the polish is applied to nails, phthalate will stay on the nails with the polish, and can penetrate into our system, causing health problems. Suncoat water-based nail polish is phthalate-free.
  • Formaldehyde-free: Many regular nail polishes have formaldehyde-releasing ingredients, used in preserving the formulation. Formaldehyde has been reported as a carcinogenic chemical. Suncoat water-based nail polish is formaldehyde-free.

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