Archive for the ‘Green Living’ Category

Strange Society at 10,069 Feet

Monday, July 9th, 2012

My teen daughter, Reiley, and I hiked Mt. Baldy yesterday. For the uninitiated, it’s a relatively short trek (6.4 miles round trip) from the Mt. Baldy Ski Resort, but steep – beginning and ending on poorly marked trails over slippery gravel. Consequently, much of our own hiking conversation, as well as our exchanges with other hikers, consisted of deliberations on just when would it end, and tallying slips and falls.

That changed when we reached the top. There it was all about socks.

P4210040The Mt. Baldy summit consists of a large gravel mound pock-marked by wind breaks constructed from rock. It’s not unusual to find virtually all of those who reach the peak huddled behind these stone structures to avoid the customary high, cold winds. I’m happy to report that, yesterday, it was cold, but far less windy than usual on top. Hikers swarmed around the windbreaks appeared less interested in avoiding the wind than the sun while they enjoyed summit munchies and conversation.

One large group was particularly chatty, and loud. It included a woman whose voice featured an annoyingly authoritative tone and carried as if by intention. Her afternoon discourse was on the necessity of “changing” one’s hiking socks at mid-day, which she explained referred to the practice of switching socks from one foot to the other at mountain top before heading back down. Our hiking sock expert supported her instructions by reference to a sales associated at REI.

“Huh?” I thought. In all of my years hiking, not to mention many, many conversations with my sister, Terri, who works at REI, I have never heard such a thing. Of course, in addition to wearing sock liners, changing socks everyday during a multi-day hike can help prevent blisters. Similarly, carrying extra socks to change into in if your feet are likely to get wet – either due to weather conditions or sweat – is prudent.

Reiley interrupted my musings to ask if I’d ever heard of “that,” nodding to “sock lady” for emphasis. “No,” I said, looking over my shoulder at the woman and her hiking companions. Yep, every one of them was taking off his/her boots and socks, apparently with the intention to swap socks from one foot to the other.

Even funnier, as we crossed the summit to head back down, I noticed other hikers crouched in shelters nearby the sock lady’s group were also changing their socks! “Look!” I whispered to Reiley.

Later, I did a little research on hiking sock protocol. There is a lot of information on sock selection out there, followed by a good deal of advice on how to avoid blisters and other hiking-related debilities, but not a word about the utility of swapping socks from one foot to the other.

Routes to the top:
On the value of clean, dry socks:
100 things you may not know about walking, hiking, running:

Safe Boobiess Need a Healthy Place to Live

Monday, April 30th, 2012

“The mandate to nurse and the mandate to titillate are competing claims that continue to shape women’s fate. Since the beginning of the Judeo-Christian era, churchmen and secular males, not to mention babies, have considered the breast their property, to be disposed of with or without women’s consent.”

~ Marilyn Yalom, History of the Breast

My latest reading includes science writer Florence Williams’s Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, which begins with the observation that breasts “can turn both babies and grown men into lunkheads.” Her history of this “evolutionary masterpiece” repeatedly juxtaposes the maternal and erotic role of breasts in contemporary, predominantly Western, culture. Williams situates her own lactating breasts squarely at the center of the toxic stew produced by modern, industrial economies developed to satisfy human desire, as opposed to ensuring its survival.

The list of ingredients in human breast milk? 4% fat, vitamins A, C, E, and K, sugars, essential minerals, proteins, enzymes, and antibodies – amounting to 100% of the recommended daily allowance of everything a baby needs to grow. In addition, there’s a proprietary mix of bonus ingredients evolved to moderate the nursling’s appetite, and thwart everything from the flu to cancer for her entire lifetime. The stuff is valued at 262 times the price of oil! Unfortunately, it also includes some geographically specific blend of DDT, PCBs, trichloroethylene, perchlorate, dibenzofurans, mercury, lead, benzene, and arsenic. No wonder, Williams’s agenda includes a call to "Save the Boobies."

What makes breasts so mercurial—and so vulnerable? The short answer is that they evolved to provide human infants with all the nutrition necessary to survive long enough to learn to carry themselves and to contribute to the family’s dinner table. (I continue to find this evolutionary tale far more persuasive than the alternative: female breasts grew large and round primarily to attract eligible mates.) They are particularly susceptible to disease – cancer, in particular – because they grow and change over the course of a woman’s lifetime, providing multiple points of exposure to our increasingly contaminated environment.

I’d like to believe that the research Williams marshals in the interest of saving women’s breasts (as opposed to preventing their deaths from breast cancer) will do the trick. Unfortunately, in the absence of resistance to market-based approach to breast cancer research, I think Williams herself might strike closer to the truth with her cynical comment that there is simply far less money to be made preventing breast cancer relative to treating it.

Ladies, are you willing to fight?

Olive Oil as Facial Cleanser: Who Knew?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

459064_10150768886778739_645133738_9565785_1521440565_oApparently a whole lot of people. My mother among them. My 14-year-old daughter returned from a weekend at my mom’s and promptly advised me to start using olive oil as a moisturizer. After all, that’s what my mom is using, and she looks great.

Naturally, I checked it out. Jenni Wiltz cites Carol Firenze’s The Passionate Olive
and Cal Orey’s The Healing Powers of Olive Oil in her history, which credits the Ancients with the first use of olive oil as a cleanser and emollient. In short, hormones, trapped bacteria, and dirt – NOT oil – causes oily skin and acne. Oil protects skin. When the skin’s natural oils are removed, the body reacts by producing MORE oil – hence, the familiar vicious cycle of ever more harsh astringents to combat oily and oilier skin. An oil based cleanser arguably provides a more effective way to remove unwanted bacteria and dirt, with far less drying.

With respect to adapting the use of olive oil to facial care regimens for contemporary women, the Beauty Bottle's Stephanie probably provides the most thorough discussion how to use olive oil as a treatment and moisturizer. Many others provide simpler instructions. I like The Simple Mom's Tsh Oxenreider’s, in particular.

Tsh advises:

1. Create: Mix selected oils together in a small bottle, give it a little shake, and you’ve got yourself an effective facial cleanser. The most popular blend of oils for this cleansing method is castor oil and extra-virgin olive oil. Castor oil draws dirt out of pores; olive oil moisturizes, helping heal and nourish the skin.

2. Rub: Pour a quarter-sized amount into your palm, rub your hands together, and slowly massage your skin with your fingertips. Don’t splash your face with water first — apply it dry. Work the oil into your skin for about a minute. Don’t scrub — just rub.

3. Steam: Wet a washcloth with hot water, and put it over your face until it’s about room temperature to remove impurities and dead skin cells. It’ll take about a minute.

4. Wipe off the oil: Take the washcloth, rinse and wring it, then gently wipe off the oil. Your skin will probably feel softer immediately.

Most sites advise using this cleansing routine once a day – preferably at night, splashing water on your face and following with a bit of olive oil or your favorite moisturizer in the morning. I’ve tried it for two days so far, and it appears to work. My face immediately felt smoother and, almost more importantly, it is much less red after washing – even when I add a bit of fine (so-called “baker’s”) sugar to create a natural scrub.

For those who want to give it a shot, but shy away from undiluted olive oil, a mix of water and oil also works and forms the basis for commercial olive oil washes currently available from DHC and Kiss My Face.

Come on, try it. After all, what do you have to lose? Unlike other cleansers and moisturizers you’ve tried, this one can become dinner if it doesn’t solve your skin issues.

And I Thought Driving Across West Texas was Exhausting!

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Today certainly turned out to be a reality check. After four days – alone – on the road, this morning I endured the onslaught of four wide-awake, hungry children wondering where their allowance was and what the day’s schedule included. I was ready for a nap by 10 AM.

photo 26The search for the most economical and fuel efficient car big enough to accommodate, at least, two tall teens and their six-foot father ended last week when I purchased a Civic Honda hybrid, then located at Texas Direct in Houston, TX. I flew out on Thursday, and drove back to Southern California – a 22-hour trip that took me three long days. The worst of it was a 553-mile drive through West Texas between San Antonio and El Paso that makes the dreaded 225-mile trip across the moonscape between Grand Junction, CO and Richfield, UT seem like an easy jaunt. Although I still had gas in the car as I crossed the border into New Mexico, my venti Starbucks coffee, snacks, and Part I of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 were long gone.

I barely beat my loving spouse home today, after an out of the way trip to Costco for dog food following Reiley’s soccer game. I swear the usual 50 or so miles I covered today with kids was easily as exhausting as my solo West Texas adventure.

Found it!

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012


Here’s the Honda Civic Hybrid we decided on. No older than 2009 to avoid the truly bazaar interior colors – like the dark blue and deep red combo my 10-year-old son, Parker, called “funky” – and tip the scales in favor of low mileage (due to the end of three-year leases). We located ONE in our county, and three others between here and Illinois. First pick: an eBay item currently located in Houston, TX.

21st Century Car Shopping

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Tax season is sobering. This year, my loving spouse and I had to face the fact that we’re spending nearly $1,000 a month on fuel for our cars – a Toyota Tundra (average 16 mpg)  and Honda Pilot (average 18 mpg), both of which are large enough to carry our family of six plus our two dogs. We typically only require that much space, and justify the fuel costs, on weekends, holidays, and vacations; hence, this month’s shopping excursion for a super fuel efficient car we can both use to offset the costs of driving our current vehicles. Even if we break even in terms of the combined cost of a car payment, insurance, and fuel costs each month, I’d rather have a third car than continue to spend as much as we are on fuel.

Considering we drive too far to take an electric car seriously, and the virtues of a natural gas-fueled car will persist only so long as there are few of them and natural gas remains far less costly than petroleum, my loving spouse and I have focused on a hybrid.

I’ve wanted a hybrid car for nearly 15 years, but like most drivers, I couldn’t quite make an economic – or environmental, considering the ecological costs associated with manufacturing and transporting hybrids – case for purchasing one. Circumstances have changed – a lot. My spouse and I currently drive more than 50,000 miles annually – easily enough miles to “pay back” the premium assessed on hybrids in less than two years. Selecting a used vehicle further reduces the pay back time, and obviates the need to consider the manufacturing and transportation costs. Like a a car’s initial depreciation (from just driving off the lot), those costs would have been paid by the original owner.

Although we haven’t ruled out the Toyota Prius entirely, it’s higher sticker price and unconventional design have pushed us toward a Honda Civic Hybrid.

Note that I love buying cars. I thoroughly enjoy the research involved, the test-driving, chatting with the sales and finance staff, etc. Over the course of just over five years, I purchased six automobiles and sold four to yield our current fleet. Effectively reducing our search to a single make and model has cut out a good deal of my fun. The effectiveness of the Internet for identifying prospective new (for us, anyway) cars has further undercut my enjoyment – if not negotiating opportunities – by privileging online communication with sales people over face-to-face interactions.

So far, with the assistance of,, and, I’ve identified half a dozen used Civic Hybrids within reasonable driving distance; three more are available out of state. I’ve exchanged emails with five “Internet Sales Managers,” and test driven three cars locally: a 2006 model with 96,000 miles, a 2009 model with 36,000 miles, and a brand new, top of the line model that runs, in the best of circumstances, $7,000 more than a comparable used vehicle. Of course, I want the new car with the leather upholstery, navigation system, XM radio, seat warmers, and electric everything. I know I can’t rationalize any car with nearly 100,000 miles on it – even if it has a timing chain (not belt), and “no one worries about the miles on a hybrid because they’re freeway miles…”

So we’re looking for that sweet spot in between…a hybrid that’s newer than not with very low mileage. When we find it, we’ll join the ranks of those who enjoy a fairly extensive list of benefits, such as:

1. Owning a lightweight, compact car, designed to be exceptionally fuel efficient.

2. The benefits of a gasoline engine (gas is readily available and easy to “use”) with the added assistance of an electric motor for acceleration.

3. Rechargeable battery.

4. A quiet vehicle that produces low emissions, ensures good mileage, and helps to save planet.

5. Aerodynamic architecture lessens drag; tires that are built with a unique rubber which lessens fiction.

6. High quality battery composed of nickel-metal-hydride that is designed to outlast the car.

7. A power-train equipment permits utilization of a couple of power sources and improves mileage.

8. Tax breaks as well as – possibly – local incentives.

9. Demonstrating good, planetary, citizenship.

Wish us luck!