Monthly Archives: August 2013

Cleaning With Dawn and Vinegar

Cleaning With Dawn and Vinegar

When it comes to cleaning bathtubs and showers, Dawn and vinegar are a favorite of mine. I first saw it on Pinterest some time ago, and finally got around to trying it. Wonderful stuff and really easy to make. Dawn, vinegar, a spray bottle and a scrubber is all you need. Oh, and some time.

Some people heat their vinegar, but I get good results with it cool. That’s nice, as I don’t usually go through the entire amount made in one shot. I mean come on now, who does? If you need an extra boost in your cleaning, heat the vinegar in the microwave first, but don’t get it dangerously hot. You have to pour the stuff into a bottle after all.

I use about two thirds vinegar, one third Dawn. Most recipes say half and half, but I think that’s way too much Dawn. You could probably get away with a quarter Dawn if you wanted.

Pouring the vinegar into the spray bottle is much easier with a funnel. You don’t have to use a funnel if your hands are that steady, but mine aren’t. I use the funnel.

Prepare yourself for some uncomfortable breathing. This stuff works wonders, but the spray makes breathing somewhat miserable. Your eyes will probably sting too. Once you’ve sprayed everything down, leave it alone for an hour or two. You’ll be glad to get away from it.

Come back when you’re ready to scrub with a sponge. The air will be much clearer, and this step isn’t nearly so annoying as spraying the stuff. It’s just all the bits that are in the air as you spray that cause the earlier trouble.

Most of the dirt should practically slide off. I still have trouble with hard water spots on the shower glass, but the dirt goes with little effort. It’s wonderful, and to me worth the few minutes discomfort earlier on. Would the heated vinegar version do better? Possibly.

Can you do this with plain vinegar, to be more eco friendly? Sort of. Vinegar cleans pretty well, but you will have to scrub more. I love cleaning with plain vinegar, but scrubbing anything while on my hands and knees is much better minimized. The Dawn seems to help keep the vinegar in place to do its work, plus its own contribution to cleaning.

Should You Encourage Your Kids to Bike to School?

Should You Encourage Your Kids to Bike to School?

Kids are steadily heading back to school across the country, if not now, soon. That means huge crowds of cars as parents hurry to get their children to class on time. These days relatively few kids get themselves to school, and I think that’s a shame. What if more parents encouraged their kids to walk or bike to school, as used to be normal?

I’m a big fan of kids getting to school on their own. My older two walk to school. It’s easy, as we’re less than a quarter mile from the school. Only risky part is crossing the street to the school with all the parents driving in to drop their kids off.

Close as we are, they don’t need to ride bikes there. I don’t mind if they do. They’d have to be extra careful as they got close to the school, maneuvering around all the people who parked in the neighborhood and are now walking onto school property. It gets very crowded around the parking lot, and bicycles have to be walked at that point.

But how do you decide if it’s the right choice for your kids to ride their bikes to school? It’s healthier for them than riding in the car and better for the environment, but is it safe? Here are some points for you to consider.

School Rules

If your child’s school says they’re too young to ride to school, odds are you aren’t going to let him or her ride a bike to school. Some parents do take on this battle (can the school really say what your child does off campus outside school hours?), but for many it’s simpler to go with the rules set by the school so the bike can stay at the school during the day.

You also need to know where the bike will stay during the day. Our school has a fenced off bike rack where kids can lock their bikes up for the day. I’ve noticed that a lot of kids don’t even bother locking up their bikes beyond putting it in the bike rack. Personally, I’d tell kids to lock up their bikes even so, but I have to admit it doesn’t seem to have been a problem.

Bike Riding Ability

Is your child good enough on his or her bike to ride to school and deal with the crowds upon arrival? Schools often want kids off the bike once they get on campus – things are just too crowded for a bicycle to be ridden safely. You not only want your child riding the bike well enough to deal with any traffic on the way to school, you want your child able to walk their bike without bumping into other people, and the sense to know when it’s time to get off the bike and walk it.

Street Safety

Are you in a situation where you child could ride to school safely? Is the neighborhood generally safe? Are there any streets you don’t want your child riding on that can’t be avoided on the way to school? Does your child watch out for cars as they ride?

Appropriate Safety Gear

Does your child’s bike helmet fit properly or is it time for a new one? Your child should know how to put it on correctly and agree to always keep the straps fastened while riding. I’ve seen lots of kids riding with bike helmet on but unfastened, and that’s not going to help in an accident.

A Well Maintained Bike

Be sure your child’s bike is in good condition for riding. Brakes work, tires well inflated, things like that. While a bike can develop a problem on the way, you want to minimize the chances for that to happen.

It should also be the right size for your child. Not so tall that your child has trouble touching the ground when stopped, not so short that it’s uncomfortable to ride.

A Plan For Problems

Sometimes stuff happens when kids are out on their own. Make sure they know what to do about flat tires, crashes and so forth. You can decide if it’s worth it to have your child carry a cell phone (pay attention to school rules about cell phones) or if there are enough options for your child to get help if it’s needed on the way.

20 Healthy School Lunch Ideas For Kids

20 Healthy School Lunch Ideas for Kids

School is starting today here, and that means I have to think about what my kids will eat for lunch at school again. They aren’t much on cafeteria lunches – unless it’s Friday, which is pizza day. Overall, however, I prefer that they bring lunch so I know they’re getting good food they like. Our school isn’t too bad on that front; they have a small salad bar in the cafeteria, but I like providing healthy options myself.

Not all these suggestions are entire lunches on their own. Think about what it takes to make a balanced lunch that your child will eat. There’s little point to pushing foods your kids won’t eat – it’s all too easy for children to throw out foods that don’t appeal to them or their friends. Also remember that some ingredients are healthier than others, such as whole grain versus white breads.

1. Homemade pizza

Homemade pizza can be about as healthy as you choose to make it. A tortilla makes a quick, thin crust, and from there it’s up to you to make it good.

2. Vegetables with hummus

Fresh vegetables with hummus can be very satisfying in a lunchbox. A little feta cheese is a nice addition if your kids like it.

3. Peanut butter apples or celery

Peanut butter with apples or celery is something of a classic. It makes a nice switch from your standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

4. Copycat Lunchables

Take a look at any Lunchables or similar that your child loves. Can you make something similar but a bit healthier? Do it well and your kids will love it.

5. Homemade soup

Homemade soup is wonderful when the weather cools off. Pick one your kids love and put it in a thermos. One of my kids loves homemade soups, but the other is demands the canned stuff.

6. Hard boiled egg

A hard boiled egg is a simple way to get protein into your child’s lunch.

7. Couscous salad

Combine cooked couscous with some vegetables, maybe some dried fruit or feta, and you have a nice couscous salad. You can use quinoa rather than couscous if you prefer.

8. Wraps

A wrap with a good quality lunch meat, some cheese, spinach or whatever else your child will enjoy makes a good lunch. Look for something better than the standard processed lunch meats.

9. Yogurt

Skip the yogurts aimed at kids, especially the ones in those plastic tubes. They usually have far too much sugar and artificial colorings. Look for Greek yogurt or other live culture yogurts with real fruit for flavoring. Make a parfait with some granola and fruit to make it more interesting.

10. Frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

For those mornings you’re running a little behind, you can always count on the classics. Pick a healthy bread if your kids will eat it. You may want to consider using a fruit spread rather than jelly to cut down on sugar too. But the real beauty of this is that you can make several ahead of time and freeze until you need them in a lunchbox.

11. Quinoa and black beans

An improvement, in my opinion, on rice and beans, but made much the same way.

12. Fresh fruit

Not a lunch in itself, but a wonderful addition to satisfy that urge to have something sweet at lunchtime.

13. Whole grain waffles

Give your kids a surprise with waffles for breakfast. A nut butter spread will help make it more filling, along with some jelly or a fruit topping.

14. Salad

You can have a salad be a side dish or bring it up to a main dish with some chicken or other protein. Watch how much salad dressing you include, as it’s easy to go overboard. Feta and dried cranberries go well in many salads.

15. Pita sandwiches

If your kids are bored with regular sandwiches, switch to pita bread. Many love pita bread, and you can make most of your regular sandwiches in it.

16. Nuts

You may have to check school rules on this one, as nut allergies have led some schools to ban certain nuts.

17. Sliced vegetables

What veggies do your kids like. My youngest has a big thing for bell pepper, and all my kids love carrots. Slice up your kids’ favorite vegetables for a great addition to their lunch.

18. Frittata

Use muffin pans to make these frittatas the right size for school lunches. Line your muffin pan if you want to make things simple, or use a cooking spray so these come out easily after cooking. Lightly saute whatever vegetables you want to add. Beat the eggs and add in the vegetables and maybe some cheese. Scoop into muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until done.

19. Burritos

Make burritos with beans and cheese, or add other ingredients to delight your children. A mild salsa can really bring out the flavor.

20. Leftovers

What did you have for dinner last night? Will it make a good lunch as is, or could it be made into sandwiches?

Can School Uniforms Be Eco Friendly?

Can School Uniforms Be Eco Friendly?

Kids in some areas are heading back to school already. Mine have about a week left until school starts, so it’s uniform shopping time. My kids warned me at the end of the last school year that they would need new this year, as both were outgrowing what they have now. They thought I would start shopping right away, but no way. I waited because there’s no point in risking a summer growth spurt.

The problem with school uniforms is that you have to buy particular fabrics. My kids’ school actually specified a particular polyester/cotton mix on the pants at first just to make sure parents really understood that they’re serious about the no denim, corduroy, etc. rule. They did clarify it when parents protested that ruling on the exact mix (60/40) was overkill. Still, it brings up the point – can your child’s school uniform be eco friendly?

School Uniform Advantages

School uniforms do have some advantages, environmentally speaking, even if they aren’t made from ideal fabrics. You don’t have to buy a lot of school uniforms, just enough for your kids to wash between wearings. Yes, I make my kids wash their own uniforms; it’s good laundry practice. Buying a few uniforms plus clothes for weekends and holidays can save a lot of money and reduce your children’s overall wardrobe needs.

Schools can also hold used uniform sales, which allows you to keep things even more eco friendly. You can buy uniforms previously owned by other students for less money, rather than spending on new ones. Our school has parents donate used uniforms and uses the sale as a PTA fundraiser.

And of course if you have more than one child you can have them hand uniforms down. I don’t do this between my son and daughter – the difference between girl and boy clothes would make them too self conscious, even though the differences in the uniforms is pretty small. My daughter’s uniforms sometimes get passed on to a friend, but only if they survive my daughter’s not so gentle use. I like handing them down directly rather than going through the school’s sale because I know a few friends have really tight financial situations.

School Uniform Disadvantages

The only eco disadvantage I can think of for school uniforms is the material. Can’t really get away from polyester when it’s mandated in the dress code.

Think About Where You Shop

If you’re buying new school uniforms, think about where you’re buying them. Look for stores that pay attention to the condition workers have when making clothes for their company. Pay attention to clothing quality so you won’t have to replace clothes that wear out too quickly.

Land’s End, for example, has sustainability programs in place, and has a list of how they comply with their Global Compliance Program to avoid using child labor, slave labor, etc. JC Penney does as well.  Justice/Brothers (Tween Brands) also lists how they maintain supply chain transparency.  These are the ones I’ve peeked at so far. A part of what each of these companies list on their sites is required by the State of California, and what I don’t know yet is how effective these are. After all, even Walmart states they have a focus on global responsibility.

How to Be Green

How to be green

Being green seems like a big deal to many people… too hard, requires giving up too much, just in general an awful thing. It doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of things you can do to be green, big and small. Just how far you commit is up to you. Here are some ideas that may help you learn how to be green.

Rethink Your Food

Not every eco friendly family goes vegan or even vegetarian. You can improve your food in other ways if that’s what you’d like. There are healthier and more eco friendly ways to buy meat than buying factory farmed meats, for example. You can also pay attention to the sources of your produce, going for organic at least on some of your foods, if not elsewhere.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is cut way back on processed foods. Eat more foods that you’ve cooked yourself, so you can avoid high fructose corn syrup, preservatives and so forth. They’ll generally be better for you, especially if you cut back on sugary foods.

Simplify the Easy Stuff

A big part of being green is simplifying. Cut back on the stuff you buy, and you’re doing better by the environment.

You don’t have to simplify everything. Look at what you can do easily first, and what will work for you. Not everyone can take mass transit of whatever sort to work, for example. Your family may need two vehicles. Don’t feel bad that you can’t cut back in some areas. Look at where you can.

Lightbulbs, for example. CFLs are more efficient than traditional lightbulbs, and will save you money in the long run. You could also switch from paper napkins and towels to cloth. The difference in laundry is pretty small, in my experience, but the difference in waste is clear.

Buy a Houseplant

Houseplants are wonderful for your indoor air quality, plus they look nice. Pick something that grows well indoors and find a place where you’ll remember to take care of it. I love my orchids.

Plant a Garden

Vegetable garden, flower garden, doesn’t matter. Vegetable gardens are wonderful because you have control over the pesticides and fertilizers you expose them to. Flower gardens can be great for the bees in your area. I particularly like wildflowers for that.

Rethink Your Lawn

A big, green lawn is appealing to most people, but it’s also hugely wasteful in many ways. Lawns use up a lot of water, and have to be mowed regularly. For most people, mowing involves either gas or electricity, but you can consider a simple push reel mower. You can also reconsider the fertilizers and weed control you use on your lawn. Runoff from lawns can be an issue downstream.

But a lawn isn’t your only option for an attractive yard. You can xeriscape, often quite attractively. You can replace parts or all of your lawn with other plants that require less care. You can add a tree to your yard, which can increase the shade in your yard so it may need less water, and if it’s close enough to your house, may help keep it cooler in summer too.


If you can spare the space, composting is a wonderful way to limit the food waste you throw in the trash. From the traditional compost bin to bokashi composting, there are options to go in many different spaces and situations. Best of all, compost goes wonderfully with your garden.

Rethink Your Cleaning Supplies

There are all kinds of chemicals you may be using to clean your home. Many of them can be changed for more eco friendly options. You can buy green cleaners at the store (beware of greenwashing – not all are what they seem!) or learn to use simple ingredients such as vinegar and baking soda for different cleaning jobs.

Look For Secondhand Items

There are all kinds of ways to find secondhand items. Thrift stores, garage sales, family, Freecycle, Craigslist… the list goes on. Some of it will be in great condition still, and you’ll save money. The selection can be rather random, of course.

Family is great if you have kids of the right age. My sisters and I have handed down clothes from child to child for years, and I can’t begin to figure out how much that has saved us.

Do It Your Way

None of these are absolute musts to live a greener lifestyle. You may find other changes easier to make than these. Just keep the general concepts of making your life simpler and using fewer resources when you can in mind, and that’s a start.