Eco-Conscious, In the News

Colony Collapse: This Could “Bee” Good News

According to an article in Science Daily, scientists have developed a weapon to fight Colony Collapse. The really neat part of this is that the weapon is bees. That’s right. The mite-fighting bees have been specially bred to search out Varroa mites and remove them from the nest.

Varroa mites, aka  “vampire mites” are thought to be a significant contributing factor in Colony Collapse, which threatens bee populations around the world – and thus the human food supply also. The tiny mite establishes itself in the cells that nourish bee pupa, then reproduces inside the sealed cell, so it’s hard for the bees to find it and remove it.

The little blood-suckers then feed on the bees’ lymph fluid and blood and, once established, are very hard to get rid of. The sealed chambers, which are designed to protect the baby bees, also protect the baby mites until they’re large enough to do a lot of damage. One-fifth of Britain’s bee population was wiped out by this little invader last year. Around the world, bees died by the millions and science seemed unable to do anything about it.

Now, though, with the discovery that bees have a gene for hygiene which is more strongly expressed in some bees than others – a clean gene, if you will – they can be bred to be more aggressive about mite-removal. The new breed of bee actually chews through the wax seal and removes the mite-infested pupa, thus killing the baby mites before they can reproduce. And when Mama Mite makes more mini-mites, the cleaner bees come back and wipe them out also.

This can cut down on the mites enough to let the colony survive. While the mites aren’t the only factor in Colony Collapse – pesticides, fungicides and other pathogens may be be factors also – reducing their damage should go a long way toward helping bee populations survive while researchers work to find an answer to the problem.

Source: Science Daily-Bees Fight Back Against Colony Collapse Disorder: Some Honey Bees Toss Out Varroa Mites


Natural Scents for Shower or Bath

Some people love to take long, luxurious baths. Others can’t wake up without a shower in the morning. Whichever you prefer, hydrotherapy, in the form of a bath or shower, is something we all enjoy. There’s nothing better for waking us up in the morning than a nice, hot shower. And there’s nothing better for relaxing our bodies and soothing our minds into restful sleep than a bath before we go to bed.

Scented Bath Salts

When I want to relax, I take a bath with these bath salts. I’ve been making them since the 70′s when I sold them at craft fairs. Now I make them for my own enjoyment. They’re so simple to make and leave your skin soft and silky.


2 Cups Sea Salt, Kosher Salt or Rock Salt

20 Drops Essential Oil

Add the essential oil to the salt. Spread it out on a cookie sheet covered with tin foil or parchment paper. (Don’t use paper towels, because they’ll absorb the scented oil.) When it’s dry, which may take as long as 24 hours or as little as 3, pour it into a pretty glass jar with a cover. If you like colored bath salts, use a couple of TBSPS of beet juice, or non-toxic food coloring to the salts with the essential oil. You can find non-toxic food coloring at Health Food Stores. To use, just scoop out about a half-cup and add to running water.

Remember, scent is a very personal thing. It’s wonderful to surround yourself with it in your own home. But it’s considerate to keep it very light or just not use it in public.

Scented Shower Gel


1 Cup Water

1 ½ Cups Liquid Glycerine Soap, Scented (Dr. Bronner’s or any natural brand)

2 TBSP Finely Milled Sea Salt

Natural Food Coloring (optional)

Add liquid soap to water. Do not add water to liquid soap, because you’ll have a kitchen full of suds. Stir in salt and coloring, if you want it. If it separates, shake gently before using.

Variations: Use unscented liquid soap and add about 20 drops of essential oil to it. Or add a stick of cinnamon, a tsp of ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, coconut or chocolate extract. Store in a shampoo bottle.

Simple Soothing Milk and Honey Bath


2 Cups of Dry Milk Powder (I use organic)

2 TBSP of Dried Honey Powder (I use HoneySweet Brand)

2 Cups of Finely Processed Oats (I use my food processor)

12-20 drops of essential oil (I use half lavender and half rose)

Mix milk and honey powder in large bowl. I use a whisk. Add essential oil, mix well and put in a plastic bag or tightly covered jar. Let the powder absorb the oil for at least 24 hours. Add ½ cup under the tap while you’re running your bath. This is a good bath powder for children, although I omit the essential oil in case it irritates them.

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So Much For the Summer of 2009

If I had to come up with a one-word synopsis for the summer of 2009, it would be “rain.”

In Maine, we had one week of sunshine in August and nothing but rain for 99% of June and July. Now, it’s in the 40’s at night and the low 70’s in the daytime. Great fall weather, except for two things: We didn’t have a summer and it’s not fall.

Still, it’s nice weather and we’re taking advantage of it. Daughter and Son are stocking up on Vitamin D and the dog is back to chasing tennis balls instead of deer flies. Unfortunately, for most of the kids in our area, school started just as the sun came out, so they’re missing out on the best days of summer right now. Unschooling is a wonderful thing when the weather gods send gray days, let me tell you.

Another wonderful thing when your weather stinks is to look at what people are having to put up with in other parts of the US and the world. We might have had weather that only a mushroom could love, but we didn’t have forest fires, droughts, high winds or tornadoes or days in the triple digits like the southwest had. We did have a few hot, humid and hazy days when the ozone level was high even in Acadia Park, which should set off warning bells for everyone who cares about climate change. But we’re lucky to live on top of a hill where there’s always a breeze, even on the hottest day, and we’re surrounded by thousands of acres of trees.

I recently read that stress is the number one killer in America. In the same article, the author said that people who manage to find the slightest bit of good in bad things avoid the physical and mental damage that stress does and live longer. Okay, I can do this. This summer wasn’t that bad. We’ve had worse. We saved on A/C. Didn’t have to put it on once. Of course, the only A/C unit we have, which is barely big enough to cool a closet, is still in a box out in the garage.

But there’s also the fact that we won’t have to worry about a water shortage for a long time, and that’s a big plus, especially for the farmers. Perhaps, after drowning us for three months, Ma Nature will soften and give us a mild winter. That would be nice. Hey, I’m looking on the bright side here, something that doesn’t come naturally to Mainers who have lived through decades of mud, snow and black fly seasons.

So, to relieve stress, I’m completely ignoring the few days of summer that we have left. Instead, I’m looking forward to the gorgeous fall days that we almost always have here in Maine. Golden October and Nippy November. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I hope.

Eco-Conscious, Plants and Gardening

Digging Up Dirt At the White House

I was really chuffed recently to read that there will be a vegetable garden at the White House this spring. The Obamas want to grow food for their kitchen and provide a good example, especially to kids. As a matter of fact, a nearby class will be participating in the project. Students from Bancroft Elementary School will be on hand today as the First Lady breaks ground for the garden on the south lawn of the White House grounds.

One person who is really excited about the garden is Alice Waters of Chez Panisse Restaurant in California, where she’s been serving and lobbying for local food for decades. As a matter of fact, she’s also been lobbying in Washington since 1992 for a White House garden with a series of fund raisers where local, organic and natural food was on the menu to showcase its benefits.

Ms. Waters also supports something that could change the educational system in this country: sustainable, edible schoolyards. Instead of the blacktop that surrounds so many schools, how about gardens where children – and teachers – can raise their own food instead of the current bland, processed institutional food cafeterias serve? It would also get kids out of the classroom and into the fresh air and sunshine, which would boost their moods and probably their test scores.

One other piece of news I read this week, although it’s old news, reinforces this idea of gardening in schoolyards and backyards. I came across something I had read a long time ago but forgotten. Soil contains beneficial bacteria that actually make you feel good when you get it on your skin. Yup. Far from being a bad thing, getting down and dirty in the garden raises your serotonin levels and gives you that “feel-good” feeling. Who knew?

Well, to tell you the truth, I knew. Until I read about the bacteria, I didn’t know why gardening without gloves made me feel relaxed and happy, but I knew that I felt better, slept better and smiled more starting on the day I began to prepare my garden for spring planting.

So, let’s hope the Obamas and their children actually grub around in the dirt, rather than leaving the gardening to the White House groundkeepers. Along with eating the first tomato or radish, gardening’s bacterial benefits could go a long way toward counteracting the stress of the next four years for them.

Great Green Sites

Two Great Green Mamas

A wise woman once said something to me that makes a lot of sense. She said if you have something critical to say about someone, you should always sleep on it and see if you feel the same way the next morning. But, she told me, if you have something nice to say, say it right away so that you don’t forget or get sidetracked.

I have something nice to say about two people whose blogs have taught me a lot. Kathy at Safe Mama and Karen at Best of Mother Earth. I subscribe to both of their blogs and they’re two of the few blogs that I always read. (Another one is Bore Me To Tears.)

Yesterday, Kathy’s blog had a very important post on 1,4-Dioxane in Organic Body Care Products. If you haven’t read it, please do for your sake and your family’s sake. Thanks to this post, I’ll be making some big changes in the products I buy, because some of my longtime favorites were on the list.

And then there’s Karen’s blog, where I learned that there’s nitrate-free brisket for St. Patrick’s Day corned beef dinner. Where I’ve found recommendations for so many things that have become staples at our house and where I’ve laughed out loud at her humor and upbeat outlook on life.  It’s like reading a friend’s journal.

So, thanks, you two, for blogging about things that you care about and please don’t stop. And now I need to go check the bathrooms for unsafe personal care products and  then rummage through the food cupboards to make sure I have everything I need for making corned beef hash from the leftover brisket.


BPA Just Won’t Go Away

Okay, now that the major baby bottle manufacturers have agreed to remove Bisphenol-A from their products, we can all rest easy, right? Well, if we live in the US where they’re doing that or in Canada where the gov’mint is making them do that, yes. However, if you live in a developing country, you might want to breastfeed.

Of course, you might want to breastfeed anyway, since it’s usually a better option than bottle feeding, but not everyone can or wants to and they should have that choice. And what if you breastfeed but want to expel milk and put it into a bottle? I’d recommend glass if you don’t live in the US or Canada, so that your babies aren’t exposed to this estrogen mimic.

But lest you think that BPA is only an issue for babies, let’s talk about beverage containers and food cans. Sure, you’ve ditched that water bottle, but do you still drink seltzer or soda also? Do you drink beer? Juice in plastic bottles? How about that chili you made last night with canned beans? Baked beans?

I can hear you saying that you’ll bite the bullet and spend the extra money to buy organic canned goods from now on. Well, that’s good, except that, as far as I can find out, only 2 brands of organic canned goods are lined with BPA. Yup. Unless you buy Eden beans, rice and non-tomato products or Henry and Lisa’s Natural Seafood products, you’re getting BPA in your canned goods.

What really bothers me is that some of our former favorite brands contain BPA. Daughter practically lived on Annie’s canned pasta for awhile and we’ve eaten an ocean of Muir Glen soups. Zevia, a diet soda made with stevia, was the only soft drink I let my kids drink and I mixed it with half a shot of whiskey for my nightly “cocktail” throughout the winter months. I even recommended it to my readers, friends and family as a safe alternative to diet soda.

Eden uses a slightly more expensive can liner made from tree resin. Why can’t the other manufacturers do the same? As more companies create a demand for this product, the price will fall due to competition. Until that happens, my container of choice is glass. Santa Barbara Olives come in jars. So do Lucini tomato products. I’m sure there are plenty of alternatives to canned products.

One I just found is Virgil’s Diet Cola and other flavors. My kids love the root beer. It’s made with stevia and while it’s not as tasty as Zevia, it improves considerably – as does almost any beverage – when I add half a shot of Jim Beam to it.

Recent revelations that very low doses of BPA still cause neurological and endocrine system damage and a very recent Yale study that shows that it stays in the body much longer than previously thought, just add urgency to the need to get it out of the food supply. Then we can work on getting it out of the CD’s, refrigerator shelves, auto parts and millions of other items that it’s in, so that it will stop leeching into our water supply and our soil.

But that’s another post.

activism, Great Green Sites

Can We Make This Idea Go Viral?

One of my favorite places on the Net is Natural News where Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, dispenses news, views and reviews of everything health-related. Unlike some of the Fish Oil Salesmen (the modern version of Snake Oil Salesmen), Mike doesn’t just paste up some tacky recycled content in an effort to get you to buy stuff. Yes, he sells a lot of the things he writes about, but there’s no pressure to buy and he’s obviously an advocate for a healthier, more planet-friendly lifestyle. I’ve never bought anything from him and I’ve been a subscriber for a long time.

Anyhow, one of his recent posts, “Helping People Isn’t Complicated: Four Simple Steps To A Better World”, really struck a chord with me. I’ve always believed that the world would be a very different and better place if everyone helped someone else as often as they could.  I’ve seen this from both sides.

I grew up dirt poor, raised by a single mother who worked in factories to support my brothers and me. There were many times when we didn’t have enough food and I remember my mother throwing winter coats over us because we didn’t have heat in the dead of winter in New England.  My mother was too proud to accept government help, so we struggled along, hungry, cold and discouraged. What a difference it would have made if someone at our church or in the community had brought us some groceries once in awhile or a couple of warm blankets. But she wouldn’t ask and they didn’t offer.

After I left home, I traveled around the US by thumb – a very stupid thing for an 18 year old woman to do. But it was the 70’s and “everyone was doing it” so I did.  I worked at day labor jobs, donated blood as often as I could and picked vegetables and fruits, but there were times when there were no jobs and I panhandled for small change. Once in awhile, someone would tell me that they wouldn’t give me change, because they were afraid I’d spend it on drink (I’d never had a drink in my life at the time), so they gave me cups of coffee, doughnuts or sandwiches. One woman gave me a warm winter coat and a pair of mittens when I was in St. Louis in a sleet storm. A mother and daughter gave me a blanket. I think my favorite donation was a big thermos of hot homemade soup. I used the thermos for the rest of my trip.

The point of all this is that helping people means giving them what they need, not just throwing money at an organization that “helps people” and feeling like we’ve done our duty to the world. It means that we don’t have to have a big bank account to lend a helping hand to someone else.

It might mean that you use the money you were going to spend on a coffee and donut to buy a coffee and donut for that guy who begs for change on the corner near your office building. It could mean that you pay for groceries for an obviously struggling single mom or elderly person when they’re standing in line in front of you at the supermarket.

Helping can mean going through your closets, grabbing all those old but still good winter coats and walking around downtown asking homeless people if they want one. Or you could find a homeless shelter and ask if they’d take them and give them out. What about blankets? Sleeping bags you don’t use anymore? Are there people in your neighborhood or around town who are cold at night because they can’t afford to keep their heat up enough to warm their houses or apartments? I can tell you from personal experience that it’s really hard to sleep when you’re shivering.

There are so many things we can do. The Natural News article has a list at the end of organizations that help people directly and there are tons more on the Net. Sure, you can just give them some money if you have it to give and that’s a really good thing. But beyond that, it might be better to find someone in need and fill that need, personally, if you can.

Poverty is a real barrier to healing and protecting our planet. I don’t believe that we can be really eco-conscious without caring for our fellow human beings as well as we care for the Earth.


Cool Green Sites for Kids and One for Parents

Kids and nature go together. Even in this day of video games and high-tech toys, you can still find kids outside watching clouds, climbing trees and making believe they’re tigers in the grass. But when a summer shower or the hot sun brings them inside, here’s a neat website they can visit.

Big Green Help is Nickelodeon’s contribution to green sites for kids. Here, kids can help basketball star LeBron James spread green tips around the world in a bike-a-thon game or play another game called Polar Bear Bounce with the Barenaked Brothers Band. (It’s G-rated, honest.)

Like its main site, this Nick site is kid-friendly and kid-safe. The folks at Nick know how to engage kids’ interest and teach without tedium. So, when Spongebob and his friends in Bikini Bottom show kids why recycling is a good idea, it’s fun. (Unlike when Mom tells them to pick up their soda bottle and throw it in the recycling bin.)

Privacy is protected as it is on the other Nick sites, which is reassuring. Yes, there are ads, like there are on almost all kid sites, but they’re for other Nick “products” and not too obtrusive. I tend to think that the kids will be more intrigued by the games, quizzes and stars who do a very good job of getting the environmental message across to the generation that’s going to be in charge of the earth in a few short years.

And here’s a site for parents where they can read one of the best environmental newsletters on the Net, Rachel’s News. Not only is it concerned with sustainable living and other environmental issues, Rachel’s News and the Environmental Research Foundation ties that in with peace and justice issues. To quote them, “We at Rachel’s News envision a day when society first asks, “How can we achieve prosperity while minimizing harm to people and the environment?” It’s that simple, but it’s a profound shift.”

Indeed, it is, but it’s one that I believe we HAVE to make if we’re going to survive and thrive.