Monthly Archives: April 2009

Do You Really Need All the Gadgets?

I admit it. It’s nice having all the gadgets around the house that make life just a little bit simpler. But have you ever given thought to which ones you really need? Ever thought about how much money you can save by not buying them? By not using the ones that require electricity?

Not all gadgets do, of course.

Electric can openers are one gadget I find to be pretty unnecessary. Cans aren’t that hard to open. I can see where you might want some help if you have hand or wrist issues, such as carpal tunnel, but otherwise?

Electric mixers are another thing I don’t see as necessary very often. They’re great for some uses, but most days if I need to mix something, a spoon or whisk works just fine. Although my kids do grumble if it’s a treat and there aren’t any beaters to lick when I make a treat.

Out in the yard, leaf blowers just horrify me. Such a waste of fuel, not to mention loud! Get a broom, start sweeping. Just like hanging clothes out on the clothesline, it’s good exercise as well as good for the environment.

All that said, yes, I love my breadmaker, which certainly counts as a gadget. Ditto my rice maker, which frees me from having to time rice cooked on the stove so carefully. I could get along without them, but they do legitimately make my life easier. The breadmaker in particular means that I am willing to make bread at home, which I probably wouldn’t try (aside from banana bread and zucchini bread) without it.

And that’s because some gadgets are good. It’s hard to determine where you should balance between the energy efficiency of a specialized gadget and using more power. You have an oven most likely, but that doesn’t mean a toaster isn’t a better choice for making toast. Takes a lot more power to heat the oven. However, so did making the toaster.

So how do you decide? What’s a worthwhile gadget? What’s unnecessary?

Are Plastic Water Bottles Safe?

There’s been a lot of controversy in recent times about the presence of  Bisphenol-A (BPA) in certain kinds of plastic. According to a new study from scientists in Germany, kinds of plastic that were previously thought safe may also contain substances that interfere with reproductive hormones. The results aren’t definite yet, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Glass and stainless steel look better every day.

All in all I’m glad I don’t use plastic water bottles, especially the disposable ones. The waste and the question of what’s leeching into the water isn’t something I want to spend a lot of time thinking about.

It was also quite interesting to note that they tested two cardboard boxes similar to juice boxes. Those also apparently showed signs of the compound. However, they also showed in some of the glass bottle water samples taken, so it’s possible that some of the problem related more to the water itself.

Call it another argument in favor of tap water.

How to Make Using a Clothesline Easier

I love using my clothesline to dry my laundry. It’s not for everyone, but it certainly works for me. I dry as much laundry as possible on there, at least part of the way. It’s hard to say how much energy I’m saving, but it’s probably pretty significant.

These are some of the things that make it easier for me:

1. State of Mind

It would be harder to use my clothesline if I really hated it. That’s pretty much obvious, I’d say.

A part of what I do is look at it as a chance to get a bit of exercise, which can otherwise be hard to get with 3 young children in the house. There’s a lot of lifting, and holding wet laundry to the line to clip it, then repeating over and over certainly gives the arms a bit of a workout. It’s not as much fun as lifting my baby of course.

2. Know How Long to Leave Clothes on the Line

My husband hates the feel of towels and jeans dried completely on the line. I do too. But what he doesn’t realize is that I dry all laundry at least part of the way on the line when the weather is nice. Jeans, towels and anything else that will feel kind of crunchy after I take down before they’re dry and toss into the dryer. Just doing the last little bit of drying by machine takes the crunch out.

3. Recognize the Benefits

I love knowing that I’m saving money drying my laundry this way. I also enjoy seeing how much better white items look after drying in the sun. It’s most obvious with my baby’s cloth diaper inserts, which often still have some yellow to them after washing. By the time they’re dried by the sun, the yellow is gone. The dryer can’t do that.

4. Have Enough Clothesline Available

I still need my husband to hang a second line for me. I may end up doing it myself if he doesn’t get to it soon. It’s not that hard, but I’d need a time when the baby doesn’t need me. On the plus side, it would do my son good to see that Mommy can do that kind of work too. Same for my older daughter, but I think I would probably try it while she was at school. Just the time of day I’m most likely to do these things.

Not having enough space for more than a load at the time makes using a clothesline harder on days that aren’t hot enough to dry everything quickly. That especially goes for if I’m doing general laundry and cloth diapers on the same day. Those inserts can take forever to dry! They are absorbent, after all.

5. Plenty of Clothespins

You can save on clothespins and clothesline space if you clip two pieces of clothes together, side by side, but that only goes so far. Running out of clothespins just before you run out of laundry in a load can be quite frustrating.

6. Hat and Sunglasses

One of my peeves with a clothesline is looking into the sun as I try to hang the clothes. Wearing a hat and sunglasses can really help. I don’t feel so blinded.

What tips do you have for drying clothes on a clothesline?

Is the Solution to Colony Collapse Disorder Getting Near?

It’s been a while since I’ve written about colony collapse disorder. It’s still out there, still a very scary thing, but I hadn’t seen much interesting news on it. But today I came across two stories on it and the work being done to solve it.

For those unfamiliar with colony collapse disorder, it’s a condition where bee colonies suddenly die off. The bees generally do not die at the colony itself, making it difficult to find out what’s wrong. Given how important bees are, it’s a topic worth paying attention to.

The first is from Science Daily. They quote a study published in Society for Applied Microbiology: Environmental Microbiology Reports that treating two bee colonies for Nosema ceranae allowed the depleted colonies to recover. They found no other pathogens in those colonies to account for their initial collapse.

The second is from Scientific American. It’s a much longer report, and indicates that it is more likely that a wide range of conditions have come together to cause colony collapse disorder. This part, from page 2 of the article I found particularly interesting:

One of us (vanEngelsdorp) performed autopsies on Hackenberg’s remaining insects and found symptoms never observed before, such as scar tissue in the internal organs. Initial tests also detected some of the usual suspects in bee disease. In the gut contents we found spores of nosema, single-celled fungal parasites that can cause bee dysentery. The spore counts in these and in subsequent samples, however, were not high enough to explain the losses. Molecular analysis of Hackenberg’s bees, performed by the other of us (Cox-Foster), also revealed surprising levels of viral infections of various known types. But no single pathogen found in the insects could explain the scale of the disappearance.

In other words, the bees were all sick, but each colony seemed to suffer from a different combination of diseases. We hypothesized that something had compromised the bees’ immune system, making them susceptible to any number of infections that healthy colonies would normally fend off.

Considering how much farming has changed in recent years, that hypothesis doesn’t sound at all unreasonable to me. So much of what is done in farming now really isn’t tested well enough in my opinion, especially in combination with all the other new factors.

Pesticides plus GMO plus different fertilizers… then there’s the notion on page 3 that poor nutrition due to a lack of variety in the wildflowers that bees can pollinate. Makes me regret my weed-filled lawn rather less.

As individuals there are certain things we can do. Organic gardening and planting a range of local wildflowers should be the obvious things on the list. Same for talking with our wallets – buying more organic and from producers we trust.

And any time you see a chance to encourage others to do likewise, or if you see a chance to be politically active on environmental topics, do so. This is one of many areas we need to improve our treatment of the environment for our own sakes as well as for the rest of the planet.

Should You Avoid Food Additives and Coloring?

As a rule, I like to cook from scratch. Mostly because I enjoy it, but also because I like knowing what goes into the foods I feed my family. That’s not to say I don’t allow any packaged foods at all; my husband remains hooked on boxed mac n’ cheese, and so the kids love it too. We also enjoy boxed cereals. But I do what I can to avoid convenience foods and prepared foods.

Frankly, I find obvious food coloring to be pretty gross and unnecessary. We eat so many things that are a very different color from what they would be naturally and have been trained to think that that is how they are supposed to look. Kind of ridiculous when you think about it.

There’s a lot to be said for trying to get away from food coloring. There’s some evidence, after all, that getting certain types of food additives and coloring out of a child’s diet may help with ADHD. Not in all cases, but sometimes there appears to be a connection. If I had a child with ADHD, that is certainly one possibility I would test before using medications.

ADHD isn’t the only problem. As noted in Healthy Child Healthy World , which I reviewed recently, MSG is associated with reactions such as headaches and changes in heart rate. I remember my grandmother being very careful to ask at restaurants about MSG because it gave her so many problems.

I do notice that I feel better when I eat food I made from scratch, and I don’t think that’s just due to liking my own style of cooking. No doubt that’s a part of it, but I firmly believe that there is also something to do with the freshness of the ingredients and lack of preservatives, food colorings and other additives.

I don’t even like to use premade spice blends. Too many of those have too much salt or other ingredients I don’t want.

It doesn’t matter to me that my kids don’t have ADD or ADHD or any other conditions that might be made better by getting additives out of their diets. I don’t need most additives in my food. My kids don’t need them. Neither does my husband, but it doesn’t bother him like it does me. Can’t win all the battles, know what I mean?