Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bathroom Cleaners

Other than the air-fresheners in the house (which have at this point been eliminated) the biggest irritant I have found is the bathroom cleaners. The folks I share the living space with are quite fond of a sparkling clean bathroom. I mean, I am, too, but I'm even more fond of breathing! With the types of bathroom cleaners that were being used on a daily basis in the shower, I was once again, plagued with headaches, difficulty breathing, and I was just overwhelmed by the smell.

Turns out, once again, I was feeling so poorly because I was breathing in toxic chemical found in the shower cleaner.

The specific shower cleaner we were using in the house was a chlorine based cleaner. Chlorine is bad news!

Chlorine is actually found in a variety of products, not just bathroom cleaners. It is used to treat our water supply, in pools, in the production of paper, in the production of fibers to make clothing, in laundry detergents, scrubs, and, of course, in bathroom cleaners. Chlorine is very cheap to manufacture, which is why is is found in so many products. However, just because it is found in so many products, does not mean it is safe.

Chlorine is a harsh irritant of the eyes, skin, and lungs. If inhaled, it chlorine fumes cause coughing, shortness of breath, phlegm build up, and even pulmonary edema. If it comes into contact with the eyes or skin in undiluted form, it can cause severe burns or even irreversible damage. Exposure to chlorine can worsen asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.

Chlorine is also bad for the environment. It is a major contributor to atmospheric ozone loss.

Chlorine can become even more dangerous if combined with other chemicals. If chlorine and ammonia are used together, for instance, chlorine gas will result. Chlorine gas is odorless, but lethal.

If chlorine is so dangerous, then why is it used so much? A big part of this is marketing. We have come to associate the smell of bleach with the idea of "clean." We have come to associate the idea of harsh chemicals with protection against dangerous germs and mold. However, the exact opposite is actually true. We have become a culture of over-cleaners, oftentimes killing helpful bacteria along with the bad germs, and ironically, putting our health at risk in doing so.

So, if not bleach based cleaners, what can be used to get that shower sparkly clean?

First off, it should be noted that the simple act of drying the tile and shower curtain will curb the growth of mildew. Rather than spraying she shower down daily, simply wiping with a towel or squeegee is sufficient.

Many of the same items used for spot removers in laundry  can be used for bathroom cleaners (instructions for home-made cleaners to be found in a future post). There are also many commercially based safer alternatives for cleaning the shower:

Method cleaner is made from non-toxic, biodegradable ingredients.
Seventh Generation is another plant-based, non-toxic cleaner.
CitraSolv is a citrus based cleaner
KaBoom is an oxygen bleach (peroxide and baking soda)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Kale and Apples with Mustard

Tonight, I decided to actually use some of the recipes I've been collecting on Pinterest, instead of just making great big pretty boards to look at! I picked up a big bunch of good looking kale at the market this week and wanted to make something with it.

I like kale. I like spinach better, but there isn't a vegetable bidding war for my taste buds, now, is there? There's room for both. Spinach is sweet; it satisfies my gigantic sweet tooth like other sweet veggies-- carrots, sweet potatoes, squash. Kale has a more bitter flavor, which is nice, too, but doesn't have the same appeal to my sweet sensitivities.

This recipe doesn't run from the bitterness. It celebrates it, as a matter of fact. And paired with the crisp, tart flavor of granny smith apples, it makes a nice combo.


1) Coarsely chop 1and a half pounds of kale , removing ribs.

2) Heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add kale and cook until bright green, about 1-2 minutes tossing occasionally.

3) Add 2/3 cup water, cover,  and cook for 3 more minutes.

4) Stir in 2 sliced granny smith apples. Cover and cook until kale is tender, about 10 minutes.

5) In small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, 4 teaspoons brown mustard,

2 teaspoons brown sugar, and 1 pinch salt.

6) Add the mustard mixture to the kale, turn heat up to high, and boil for 3-4 minutes uncovered.

 The picture really doesn't do it justice, but it was quite flavorful. If I was going to make it again (and I probably will!) I'd add the apples in later, to keep them a little more crisp. They were a bit too mushy for me, but still tasted good!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Training for Life

When I was finishing up the hike in September, I figured "Hey! I'm in great shape! My endurance is great. I'll just use that endurance and enroll in a marathon for October or something! It'll be cake. Afterall, when you are used to putting in 20 mile days back to back, one unweighted 26 mile day on flat ground will be nothing!" Plus, I figured, I was so used to exercising for 10 to 12 miles per day, that I'd be able to just transition into shorter sessions with much higher intensity with no problem whatsoever. I figured by the end of the year, I'd be like an Olympic athlete.

Aside from the glaring facts that 1) very few people have even a remote chance of reaching the elite status of Olympic athlete and 2) at age 43, my window for competing in the Olympics has pretty much closed, I had also forgotten two very important concepts of fitness training: specificity and recovery.

Specificity refers to the concept that the way you train will reflect the physiologic changes that take place in your body and the functional improvements that result from those changes. So, if you train for speed, your training activities will be performed at a high velocity so as to produce an increase in type II muscle fibers which are most active in high speed activities.  If you train for endurance, your training will be more of the long slow distance variety, targeting type I and type IIA fibers to produce improvements in the aerobic capacity of the muscles at lower speed. In other words, train like a sprinter and become a good sprinter. Train like a hiker and become hiker trash.

So, yes, I was used to putting in 20 mile days back to back and  one unweighted 26 mile day on flat ground would have been nothing...if I were walking. Running 26 miles on the other hand? Would take some training. In running shoes. While running. No marathon for me in October.

And the high intensity, shorter duration workouts I jumped into? Left me really, really, really sore. It was like I had never worked out in my life! Because essentially, as far as my muscles were concerned, I hadn't worked the elements of power and high force production in 6 months. I may as well have been sitting on the sofa eating Doritos. (Ok, not really. But essentially I was asking my muscles  to perform in a way I hadn't asked them to perform in 6 months and wondering why they were protesting.)

And speaking of protests, my feet were protesting. For the last -- oh-- month of the hike, my toes were completely numb and my feet would swell up at night. I had gone up one full shoe size because of the chronic swelling in my feet, even with my nightly use of compression stockings, ice, and self massage.  After I got home, I decided I'd take it easy until the numbness in my feet went away and then I'd be ready to hit it hard!

It reminds me of treating patients after sports injuries or even surgeries, who would see that the swelling was down and assume they were ready to go back to full contact play. "Oh, no," I'd tell them. "That was just the first step. We got rid of the acute swelling, and now we have to rehab the underlying injuries and the muscle imbalances that contributed to the injuries. That's step two. After that, we can work on conditioning to get you back in shape for your sport. That's step three. And then you can work with your coach and athletic trainer to go from practicing with the team (step four) to fully playing (step five). Don't try to skip the steps! You just get re-injured." Oh, wasn't I self righteous!

Yet when it came to me, I completely disregarded my own recovery! That six week long inability to feel my toes? Was a chronic overuse injury. (Metatarsalgia and mild plantar fasciitis. With maybe a touch of achilles tendonitis. Whatevs. It's all the same fascia) I waited until the swelling was in check, and then tried to jump from step one right to step five without proper strengthening and conditioning. Oh, wasn't I a bone head!

Even in the absence of an injury, recovery is a vital part of any training program. No athlete completes an Ironman and does a speed workout the next day. No runner completes a marathon and plans hill repeaters the following week. No Olympian steps off the podium ready to hit it hard tomorrow. And for good reason. These athletes know that they need to recuperate, both physically and mentally from all the hard work of their training and from the high intensity of their event. Workouts become more generalized, less intense, and at a much lower volume in an effort to give themselves a rest and prevent burnout.

Luckily, even though I can act like a complete bonehead sometimes, I am pretty good at listening to my body. And even though my head was saying "The intensity was so low!" my body was saying "The volume was so high!" My body needed rest.

So this October, I've done some trail running, some walking, some road running. I've toyed around with some bootcamp style workouts and calisthenics. But I've also rested. I stretched. I allowed my really really really sore muscles to take the day off instead of pushing through it. I let go of the illusion of being like an Olympic athlete by the end of the year. (But not my plans to watch every single event of the upcoming winter Olympics as is feasibly possible!)

In November, my goals are to be more consistent and lay down a nice, solid fitness foundation. Life off the trail takes a lot of athletic prowess, after all!

Sunday, October 27, 2013


I am a doer.

I am always doing something, from the moment I get up until the moment I go to bed. I know people who can sit on the couch and watch a movie. Or a reality TV show. Or the World Series. I cannot. If I am watching the Red Sox, I am simultaneously checking emails, writing a blog post, or taking an online course. If I am watching a movie, I am also organizing my purse, updating my schedule for next week, or folding laundry. If I am watching reality TV... I don't watch reality TV. But I do watch American Horror Story one time per week. While doing research for projects I'm involved in or adjusting my workout plan.

It's strange -- I'm presently not working full time, and yet I am one of the busiest people I know. Even when I am exercising, I am listening to podcasts or mentally updating my to-do lists.

I fool myself into thinking that I am really productive.

In reality, I probably resemble a chicken running around with no head.

So, I've been trying to take some time each day to stop the multi-tasking, stop the mental chatter, stop the doing. And take a deep breath. And just notice the world around me.

While jogging this weekend, I turned off the iPod and stopped running. I took a deep breath and looked around. And I noticed how gorgeous the clouds looked! I had been out for about 45 minutes and hadn't bothered to look up! If I hadn't taken the time to breathe, I would have missed this:

It was the most important thing I did this week.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Linen Closet

As I continue through October in my greening up mission, de-cluttering has taken a more prominent role in my daily chores. In tackling the big de-cluttering projects, like the garage and the storage area, I have come to see that I don't even have to watch horror movies as halloween approaches. The garage and storage area are scary enough!

So sometimes, it's a good idea to take on a more manageable task, such as the linen closet. It can be completed in a few hours, not a few days or weeks. And it gives me a sense of accomplishment.

This was what the linen closet looked like:

Stuffed to the gills with who knows what!

Pillow cases, shams, sheets, dust ruffles stuffed willy-nilly in the closet.

Full sheet sets mixed with queen sheet sets mixed in with twin.

No uniform folding method. Pillow cases with no sheet sets to pair them with.

And a bunch of non-linen type things living on the top shelf.
This wasn't a linen closet. It was absolute anarchy!

Just like the bathroom closet, the first thing I did was take everything out. 

That makes cleaning off the shelves and putting down shelf liner easier.

Once again, I threw out anything that was ripped or tattered or worn beyond repair. 
All the non-linen items were removed and either put elsewhere or in a donation pile.

Now twin sheets, full sheets, and queen sheets each have their own shelf.

Extra pillow cases are folded and easily accessible.

Dust ruffles and pillow shams have their own separate area.

As do tablecloths and cloth napkins.

Now, making the bed or setting the table doesn't involve an avalanche beforehand!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Spot Removers and Laundry Pre-Treaters

One astonishing obvious thing about me is this: I am a slob. If I am eating something, I will inevitably spill some of it on myself. If I am moving a large object from one spot to another, I cannot do so without leaving a giant black mark on my torso. And sometimes, I get home from a day out and have absolutely no idea how my clothes got so filthy. I amaze myself sometimes.

Which is why it was probably a bad idea for me to cook anything with beets. Well, not that bad... the beets were delicious! However, I ended up with not one, not two, but three giant beet colored stains on my shirt. (I think beets would make an excellent dye for clothes, incidentally. Those stains were a fantastic color!) Not fantastic enough to leave the shirt all stained, though. I needed to get em out!

Which lead me to the next logical challenge of the greening up my life project: stain removers.

Stain removers or laundry pre-treatments have been around since the 1960's and are part of a multi-billion dollar industry in the US. (Apparently, I am not the only slob out there!) However, like many of the products we use in our homes, the commercial stain removers are not only highly toxic and bad for the environment, but unnecessary as well.

Some of the ingredients found in commercial stain removers include:

BENZENE (also called benzol, benzole, annulene, benzeen, phenyl hydride and coal naphtha) This is a petroleum based chemical which, like many other petroleum compounds, is an irritant of the eyes, skin, and lungs. It has been linked with damage to the central and peripheral nervous system and with the respiratory system. It has been classified as a possible carcinogen and is listed as a hazardous air pollutant.

PERCHLORETHYLENE (PERC) A man made solvent, PERC is an irritant for skin, eyes, nose and throat. Repeated exposure to PERC has been associated with liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage. PERC has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals. Pregnant and breast feeding women should avoid contact with products containing PERC, as it can interfere with fetal and early infant development.

TRICHLORETHANE (TCA) An organic solvent, TCA has also been shown to irritate the skin, eyes, throat, and nasal passages. It can damage the liver and kidneys and at high levels can cause sudden death. Pregnant and breast feeding women should avoid PCA as its effects are similar to those of PERC.

DIPROPYLENE GLYCOL METHYL ETHER This compound is an irritant to the eyes, nose and throat. It is a neurotoxin and interferes with fetal development. It also is a hazardous air pollutant.

NONOXYL- 4 AND 9 These compounds are irritating to the eyes and lungs. They can be absorbed through the skin and can cause birth defects. Nonoxyl 4 and 9 and also toxic to aquatic life.

Clearly, these are chemicals we do not want to come into contact with! When we also factor in the environment of the average laundry room: small room in the basement with poor ventilation -- it is easy for the chemicals in commercial stain removers to become concentrated and inhaled in large amounts.

So what is a slob like myself to do? Are we all just supposed to walk around with stains all over our clothing in the name of good health? Luckily, we don't have to make the choice between looking good and protecting our health. Even though the labels on these commercially available stain removers suggest that they have top secret, almost magic stain removing properties, the truth of the matter is stain can be removed quite easily with natural, non-toxic household ingredients.

BAKING SODA: Make a paste out of one part baking soda to one part water and rub on the stain. Let sit for an hour prior to washing.

LEMON JUICE: The citric acid in lemon juice is especially effective at lightening stains on white fabrics. Make a paste of equal parts lemon juice and baking soda and leave on stain for 1/2 hour before washing.

HYDROGEN PEROXIDE: Water down hydrogen peroxide with water in a 1 to 1 ratio and saturate stains for 1 hour prior to washing. Especially good for blood or make-up stains.

VODKA: Dilute in a 1:1 ratio and spray onto stain. Then make yourself a cosmopolitan while you wait 1 hour to throw in the laundry.

LIQUID DISH SOAP: Especially good for oil based stains. (I have many shirts stained from salad dressing. This is good to know!)

GOOD, OLD FASHIONED SOAKING: Simply soaking the clothing overnight in a bucket with a teaspoon of laundry detergent will usually break up the stain.

If you're a mom of 5 or a busy executive and just don't have time to whip up a paste or soak clothes overnight (or if you just hate laundry) a commercially a safe, environmentally friendly commercial option is OXYGEN BLEACH.  Commercially known as Oxi-Clean, Bio-Kleen, or Ajax, oxygen bleach is essentially hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. When added to water, the oxygen bubbles are released, breaking the bond between the stain and the surface of the clothing. It breaks down into water, soda ash, and oxygen and is therefore much safer for both people and the environment.


Resources used in this post:

Green This!  by Deidre Imus

Easy Green Living  by Renee Loux

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Oriental Stir Fry Carrots

It has been a wonderful October -- the weather is spectacular and the farmer's market is still brimming with wonderful produce. I'm loving the warm days and the food.

This week, I picked up a bunch of lovely carrots.

Normally, I'll go for a recipe that uses both the carrot and the greens, but after two days in the fridge, the greens were looking wilted and not very enticing. (I've got to clean out the refrigerator) So this time around, I cooked just the root part of the carrot.

Oriental Stir Fry Carrots

1) Cut 5-6 medium carrots into medium thick slices.

2) Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in deep fry-pan over medium heat. Add carrots, cover, and cook until soft, about 7 minutes.

3) Meanwhile, in a small bowl, measure 2 tablespoons white vinegar. (I used a white balsamic vinegar which was this gorgeous amber color!)

4) Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce and one minced garlic clove. Whisk together.

5) Add sauce to fry pan with carrots and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 3 minutes.

It tastes even better than it looks!

Fall rocks! And so does the color orange. 
Just sayin'.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Boot Camp #2

It has been a glorious October! Seriously -- I've been doing my outdoor workouts in shorts and a t-shirt and loving every minute of it. I've also been loving the bootcamp style workouts for strength training, rather than going to a gym. I've been going to a local park a few times a week, running around the perimeter and using the play equipment and benches for equipment.

I've gotten a few strange looks, too, which always makes my day!


Jog for 10 minutes followed by dynamic stretching


(10 of each exercise with 10 jumping jacks in between)

1) Pull Ups (as I get fatigued, I switch to reverse push up, which is a modified pull up with feet on ground, from a bar about 2 feet high)

2) Burpees

3) Sit ups

4) Star bursts (also known as superstars)

5) Push ups

6) Speed Skaters

7) Dips (done on bench)

8) Alternating walking lunges

9) Lateral step ups to leg lift

10) Quadriped opposite arm and leg lift

Perform 3 rounds with a full lap around the park between each round

Cool Down

Static Stretches and 3 minutes of deep breathing.

* Pictures and/or videos of the above exercises are coming soon. Thanks for being patient!*

Sunday, October 20, 2013

De-Cluttering Part One

One of the difficult things I've found since I've started to green up my environment is that I am living in a shared space. Just because one person in a shared space (me) has decided to make some changes doesn't mean that everyone sharing that space shares those goals.

I wanted to find a space that wasn't enveloped in cleaners and air fresheners. So I decided to start the de-cluttering in the downstairs bathroom -- this would be a spot where I could transition to green cleaners while the transitional cleaners could still be used in the upstairs bathroom.

But first it had to be de-cluttered!

See? This is what the bathroom closet looked like.

On the bottom, there were cleaning products where visiting nieces and nephews had direct access to them.

There were all kinds of miss-mashed products and towels and appliances crammed on the shelves.

Cleaners right next to products that you put in your mouth or on your skin, moth balls next to foot powder, and trash bags resting on top of it all.

Way too many of each product, some of them expired.

And a top shelf no-man's land where things just kind of got tossed.

The products had spilled out of the closet and were all over the shelf in the bathroom.

 And don't even get me started about under the sink!

I had my work cut out for me!

The first thing I did was clear out the entire closet and wipe down the shelves.

Then I put down some shelf liner.

Next, it was time to group products into categories. (It doesn't make sense to put toothpaste and towels on the same shelf!) Then put each category into its own separate basket or container.

 Towels were rolled and placed together in a basket.

Cleaning products placed together in a bucket that could be taken out all at once.

Now, you can open the closet and in an instant, see exactly what is in there!

No more dangerous cleaning products down low where little prying hands can get them!

Expired items or products that had separated or had a funny smell were tossed. The rest in bins.

The cleaning bucket high up on the third shelf!
And the cleaning products not close or touching personal care items.

Always a good idea to label the bins. Though I do not have a label maker, a sharpie and some stickers will do the job just as well!

Top shelf reserved for potentially dangerous products. 
(Now the air-fresheners fall into that category in my mind!)
I'd like to get rid of the air fresheners completely, but again, with a shared space, we have to make changes in baby steps!

The shelf is now clear save for a few select items displayed in decorative containers.

Now I can look under the sink without the fear of being attacked by a monster of some sort!
Just a basket of towels and wash cloths, a basket with hair dryers, and a couple travel bags -- easily accessible for that next plane trip!

The entire process took about 3 hours, beginning to end. It's a start. A little oasis of reduced clutter where I can start transitioning over to green cleaners. 

Of course, looking back in at all the personal hygiene products -- the powders and lotions and deodorants and shampoo and conditioner and dental products lead to another question to ponder: do we really need all this stuff?

But that is a question for another day.