Sunday, January 30, 2011

Green Alternatives: Owning a Cat (or two)

Green Alternatives is a series that shows you the green alternatives to normally wasteful/toxic products. I use all of the featured products in my own home. I am not being paid to endorse any of the products in this series, I just really like them! In my opinion, a green alternative falls into at least 2 of these categories:
     1. They contain no toxic chemicals/fragrances/etc
2. They are reusable and/or eliminate/reduce the amount of waste normally produced with their counterpart
     3. They contain less or no plastic
     4. They are produced by ethical companies who care about my health and the environment

I am having so much fun going around my house and (re)discovering all of the environmentally friendly choices we make. So today's post will not apply to everyone, as not everyone has a cat (or two). But a lot of people do own them, and don't really take into consideration how much waste those little furry creatures can create! This post will focus only on cats, but if you have a dog, a rabbit, or some other random pet (rocks excluded, sorry), then please leave a comment with some tips and tricks on how you keep them green! 

Ok, so I have 2 male cats who like to eat. A lot. And use their litter box. A lot. They currently use a plastic (boo) litter box, but it is slowly but surely being worn out, and I will soon need to find a new one. I have not really done a lot of research into alternative litter boxes. That is a whole different post, to come in the future, when I am forced into purchasing a new box. I have, however, "greened" their litter and my way of disposing of it. 

When I first got my cats about 3 years ago, I bought clay litter and disposed of the clumps in little plastic bags. Well those days are long gone. About a year into buying the clay litter I realized that whenever one of the boys went to use the facilities they would sneeze and cough and squint their eyes. I also realized that whenever I went to clean out the box, I would start coughing and my asthma would be bothered, quite badly. Every time we disturbed the litter, a huge cloud of dust would puff up and bother any living creature within a few meters. I also made a huge mistake once and accidentally bought the scented variety of clay litter. Oh my, what a noxious concoction that produced. Clay dust mixed in with the most foul synthetic fragrance that permeated my entire house.  I had had enough. I needed an alternative. I did some research (of course), and found out that the dust I had been inhaling for a year can coat my (and the cats') lungs, creating respiratory problems. It also gets into their eyes and irritates them, and if swallowed can cause intestinal obstructions. Most clay litters also contain quartz silica, which is a known carcinogen to humans. Well that was enough to send me to my local pet store and buy anything that wasn't clay. Well, I work at a vet clinic, and for years we have used litter made out of compressed pine shavings or compressed recycled newspaper. Very cool. But it doesn't clump, and that was an issue for me. The way I look at it, because the litter doesn't clump, you end up throwing away a lot more litter than you do for the clumping alternative. I clean my litter box daily, and I did not want to be having to empty the whole box on a daily basis. I needed something green, dust free, and clumping. Well, I found a litter made from corn that clumped and was dust free. I used that for about a year, and it worked great. But by then I was doing more research and learning about genetically modified foods, and how corn was not such a great alternative. I did not want to be supporting evil Monsanto by purchasing corn litter. And so the search continued. Well, I found something that is great, and I have now been using it for about a year. It is called Swheat Scoop. It is made entirely of wheat, contains no chemicals or clay, and is odor free. Plus, it clumps even better than the corn litter. Love. And my cats are no longer sneezing, and I am not holding my breath while cleaning out the box in hopes of avoiding an asthma attack!

No, I did not put him there, he was most intrigued as to why his stuff had been moved
 out of his corner, and felt the need to investigate. 

Ok, now on to how I dispose of this wonderful litter. Well the bag it comes in is completely recyclable, which is great, but what do I do with the clumps? I can't just throw them directly into our garbage bin, as they glue themselves to the side and bottoms of it (which I found out the hard way...ugh). But there was no way I was going to put my completely biodegradable AND compostable litter into plastic bags to sit in a landfill for thousands of years. We also do not have a compost. So I decided to try paper bags. They are biodegradable and compostable as well, so I figured that although they will be going to a landfill, at least they are going to break down. Incidentally, my local Save On sells 100% recycled paper bags. Even better. So what I do now is keep a package of paper bags next to the litter box. I fill one up with the day's clumps and then put it in a little mini garbage bin I have in the area (no plastic bag lining the bin). When it is full, or smelly, I simply take it out to our big garbage bin and chuck it all in. I also keep any paper bags I happen to get, say from buying mushrooms, and put them in the area so that I can reuse them. So now my boys can produce as much waste as they like, and I know that I am not polluting the environment with toxic litter and never ending plastic bags. It helps me sleep at night. Really. 

Do you have any tips on environmentally friendly pet ownership? I would love to hear from you!


Friday, January 28, 2011

On My Mind...

 Joining in with Rhonda Jean again this week for an installment of On My Mind. This week I have been thinking about yoga. I have recently started it again, but am getting a bit more serious about it and adventuresome with my poses. I have only dabbled at it in the past, and really enjoyed it, so I thought I would give it a whirl at home again.

                                                  not my mats, but I own one similar to the purple!

I am already feeling the difference in my body, especially with my balance! I never clued in to how unbalanced I really was (i.e falling or tipping when putting on shoes and socks), until starting this regime on an (almost) daily basis. I also am a lot more aware of my posture and my back and shoulders are hardly ever sore anymore. I have a desk job that really irks my shoulders, and the yoga has really reduced my pain, as well as stress level. I have only done at home routines and haven't ventured out to take an actual class (my current instructors consist of Wii Fit yoga instructors hehe). I don't think I will plan to take a class right away in an effort to be more frugal, and I am perfectly happy with doing it at home. Thank you for stopping by, please feel free to leave a comment to let me know you were here!


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Green Alternatives: Feminine Hygiene

Green Alternatives is a series that shows you the green alternatives to normally wasteful/toxic products. I use all of the featured products in my own home. I am not being paid to endorse any of the products in this series, I just really like them! In my opinion, a green alternative falls into at least 2 of these categories:
     1. They contain no toxic chemicals/fragrances/etc
2. They are reusable and/or eliminate/reduce the amount of waste normally produced with their counterpart
     3. They contain less or no plastic
     4. They are produced by ethical companies who care about my health and the environment

Ok, so just a bit of a warning. To any men who may read this blog, the following post may just be a bit too much for you, as I will be writing about tampons and pads. So feel free to skip this post, but while you're here, why don't you forward it to the women in your life?

Anyways. Tampons and pads are one of the most wasteful products women use. We menstruate monthly, and have been taught from an early age that it is something we need to control, hide, and mask. We have millions of products to help us with this, including tampons, pads, and wipes. The main concern with the companies that provide us with these products seems to be how to make their products discreet, feminine, scented, and basically as far away from natural as possible. Tampons now have colourful plastic applicators attached to them, are wrapped in colourful plastic wrappers, and can come in a variety of scents, to mask that horrible odour that eminates from all women once per month. Give me a break. Both tampons and pads are usually bleached with chlorine, creating a biproduct called Dioxin, a highly toxic, possibly cancer causing chemical that is known to impair the reproductive and immune systems. Tampons also typically contain chemically treated rayon to help increase absorption. These chemicals leech into the vaginal tissues, and can cause ulceration,dryness, and possibly long term health problems. And after it's all siad and done, we just flush them down the toilet, and chuck their nasty packaging into a landfill, where they will sit for the next thousand years.

So why do we use these things? Because they are convenient and cheap, of course! So what are we supposed to do? Organic tampons and pads are not widely available in most places, and when they are, tend to be extremely expensive. The brand that I (used) to buy was plastic free, but still had applicators, which I think are really unnecessary, and ran at about $10 for 16 tampons. Wow. And we have all heard the "horrors" of cloth pads, and attribute them to granola crunching hippies, or weirdos. I personally have no issues with cloth pads, and think that they are a great idea, however I think I have found something better.

I give you the Diva Cup. This little cup of silicone has changed my menstrual life. Seriously. In my search for a more frugal alternative to the organic tampons and pads I had been using for a few months, I stumbled across this in my local natural foods store. I was intrigued, and went home to do some research, as that is what I do. I read many rave reviews, and decided to give it a try. It retailed for about $40, which I originally balked at, but then realized that I was spending almost $20 per month on the organic tampons and pads. The Diva Cup replaced both of those, and it lasts for at least one year. Sold. It comes packaged in a little cardboard box with only a little piece of plastic on the front of it, and also comes with its very own carry bag, made from cloth. Love. The only other thing you need to purchase to go with it is a bottle of natural, unscented soap to wash it with. I buy a 100% natural unscented soap that is about $5 for a bottle that lasts at least 3 months. The wonderful thing about the cup is that you can leave it in for up to 12 hours, there is no concern about Toxic Shock Syndrome, and it is pretty much leak proof. And it is extremely comfortable. You simply empty it a few times a day, wash it with the soap, and replace. At the end of your cycle each month, they recommend you boil it for 20 minutes to sterilize it, then just keep it in its nifty carry bag until next month. I didn't realize exactly how comfortable it was until last month, when I forgot the cup at home and was in need of it at work. I pulled out one of my last remaining tampons, and I could not believe how uncomfortable I was for the rest of the day. 

So that is my green alternative to tampons and pads, and seeing as this is turning in to a ridiculously long post, I will leave you with the hopes that you will research this product, and then try it! You won't regret it (I hope).
Have a lovely Thursday!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Yarn Along (3)

Joining in with Ginny this week for another fun Yarn Along! This is my week of reading and knitting:

I have started knitting my first project for myself! It is going to be a simple hat, as this is only my second hat, and I don't need to be getting in over my head. Oh my, bad pun, I know. I started this project well over a week ago thinking it would be a quick job, finished in a few hours. Well, two things have hindered that. The first was a MAJOR yarn entanglement issue, that still is not fully resolved (oh no), and the second was the other half of this Yarn Along. The book. Oh the book. It has overtaken my life, and in a very good way, believe me. This is my third Ken Follett book, and a birthday gift from D. He is well aware of my love affair with Mr. Follett, and fully supports it, in a strictly literary sense. This is the first in the Century Trilogy, and at a whopping 1000 pages, is a feast of story, and it has fed me very well so far. I am about 700 pages in (and started reading only a week ago, I might add), and am taking every spare second to read. So hence the lack of knitting progress. Mr. Follett has an amazing talent at writing epic novels that have a ridiculous amount of characters, and making you love (or hate) every one of them. He is best known for his incredibly popular, The Pillars of the Earth (amazing!), and it's sequel, World Without End (even more amazing, if possible). Please, if you haven't read any of these, go to your local used book store or library, and find them. Apologize to your family in advance for neglecting them, and then sink into these gorgeous books. You will be satisfied, believe me. Happy reading (and knitting)!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Recipe: Asian Kale Salad

Today I have a recipe that we created out of inspiration. We recently went to our local organic market and purchased a raw kale salad from their deli. We enjoyed it so much, we decided to make our own at home, but with a bit of an Asian flare for variety. And here it is:

This salad is a great way to introduce raw kale into your diet. Kale is full of good stuff, like Vitamins A,C, and K, as well as fibre, antioxidants, calcium, and iron. It is widely available during the winter months, making it a great alternative to lettuce. It tastes great, and is wonderful in soups, pastas, and pretty much anything else you want to add greens to. Here is the recipe for our salad (sorry, I didn't really measure everything, just taste it as you go and adjust as needed):

Asian Kale Salad
serves 2

4-5 stalks kale, rinsed and torn into bite sized pieces
1/2 avocado, chopped
1 tomato, chopped (canned or fresh)
1/4 red onion, finely sliced
handful pumpkin or sunflower seeds
half of a handful of sesame seeds

3 tbsp olive oil
1.5 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Toss all ingredients together and let marinate for about 10 minutes. 



Friday, January 21, 2011

Green Alternatives: Plastic Wrap

I am going to be starting a new series of posts called Green Alternatives, that will be focusing on alternatives to every day wasteful products. This first post will be about plastic wrap.

Plastic wrap is not very nice to our dear Mother Earth. It is intended as a single use product, and will literally take hundreds of years to even begin to break down in the environment. It is typically made out of highly toxic PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or PVDC (polyvinylidene chloride) and also contains phthalates, which are known to cause developmental problems in children and hormone disruptions. And we use this stuff to wrap our food. Gross. It is also entirely unnecessary, and there are some lovely alternatives. Aluminum foil is probably the most "convenient" (a word I despise) alternative, and probably the most universally available, but it also has it's drawbacks. It takes an amazing amount of energy to produce aluminum foil. However, it can be reused numerous times, unlike it's vile counterpart, and can be recycled in most cities. But lo and behold, I have discovered something even more amazing.

These lovely things are called Abeego Flats, and they are an entirely natural, reusable alternative to plastic wrap. They are made of a hemp/cotton fabric blend and coated in beeswax and plant extracts to make them sticky and pliable. This particular set is from The Good Planet, a great Eco store located on Vancouver Island. I received these as a Christmas present from D, and I love, love, love them! They come in packages of three different sizes which will work on any sized dish. You simply roll them out and stick them onto your desired bowl, and they mold and stick beautifully to it! After you are done with them, simply wash them in cold water and store for later use. Ok, they may not seal quite as well as the plastic wrap, but they lock in moisture and keep food fresh. I don't require my wrapped food to be able to withstand upside down flips and shakes. My fridge always remains in an upright position.

But the best part of these is their smell. Sweet beeswax that is mixed in with a light, natural fabric scent that makes me want to dip these in my tea or suck on them. Mmmm. No more nasty weird plastic smell, and I am no longer wary of wrapping food and envisioning chemicals leeching into my delicious home cooked meals.  I am one happy eco geek! Do you have alternatives for environmental no-no's? I would love to hear what you have discovered!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

On My Mind...

Joining in with Rhonda Jean again this week for On My Mind.

This week I have budgeting and cutting back on my mind, as I am considering going back to university to pursue a degree. I am currently not content in my job, and am feeling the urge to feed my brain and indulge academically for a while. In order to be able to afford that, I will need to dip into my savings a bit and make up a stricter budget. Taking courses means reducing my amount of time spent working, but keeping my job in order to pay my fixed costs and food. I already adhere to a fair budget, but there is a lot of room for improvement. If you check out Rhonda's blog, she has some truly amazing posts on budgeting and living on less, and they are so helpful and encouraging. I like the idea of getting into the habit of cutting back and living on less, because our future holds children and I would like to be accustomed to living this way so that I can stay home with the kids. But for now, this is a strictly selfish decision, but it is something that I am so excited for. I have a few more months before the summer semester starts, so I will be saving as much as possible before then, and looking into ways of reducing my spending. I researched how to make my own yogurt at home today, something that I will be attempting next week and will post about. I will gladly bring you along with me during this new adventure and I would love to hear some money saving tips from you!

xo Brenna

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Miso Soup with Mushrooms, Soba Noodles, and Spinach

Our regular Japanese place doesn't offer a vegetarian miso soup. In fact, there is only one place in our city that offers a fish-free option. So we thought we would attempt to make our own, in light of this goal to try and make everything at home. I found this great recipe in the Rebar cookbook, and customized it to our tastes and what we had in the fridge. I love the fact that it has all of these extra ingredients in it, compared to the traditional. It provides complete protein, fibre, and greens all in one bowl. Truly a meal in a bowl.

I LOVE this soup! It is very authentic tasting, but filling and so much more balanced. Delicious.

Miso Soup as a Meal

7 cups water
6 tbsp. low sodium soy sauce
100 g shitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
6 green onions, sliced
2 cups spinach
2 cups cooked soba noodles
1 block firm organic tofu, cubed
7 tbsp. red miso paste

Bring water and soy sauce to boil. Add mushrooms and green onions and boil for 5 minutes. Add tofu and boil for another 5 or so minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Add soba noodles and heat through. Stir in miso paste until incorporated well, taking care not to bring mixture to a boil, as this will kill the microorganisms in the miso. Serve with a set of chopsticks, a spoon, and a side salad.

And for dessert? Strawberry Almond Bars, of course! Recipe and pictures to follow.

Happy Cooking!


Monday, January 10, 2011

Enjoying the Food of Life

Whew, what a week! I am sorry for the long time away with no warning, but D's sister has been in town for a while and she ended up being stranded here for an extra few days because of the terrible road conditions. So we have been doing nothing but working and visiting. But, now I am back, and ready to start some new posts.

I just finished this great book, called French Women for All Seasons. It is a sequel to French Women Don't Get Fat, which I also enjoyed, but I think this one was a bit better. Now I know that they sound like unintelligent diet books, but they really aren't. The second book, especially, explains how French women (and men too, I am sure) manage to enjoy their lives, spend time in the moment, and in general are very happy people. They don't worry about rushing through life trying to get as many things done as possible throughout each and every day. They take time to eat, drink, talk, and in just enjoy themselves! They take great pride in what they eat, and take the time to prepare it and enjoy it together. I loved how the book went through each season and described how she gets pleasure from eating local, fresh food, and how you can incorporate her lifestyle into yours, however you please. She also touches on the North American lifestyle, and how it is all about quantity, not quality. I think that is an excellent point. Here, you have to search out good restaurants and quite often settle for subpar meals, not expecting greatness every time we eat. We do not take proper lunch breaks, or make time for breakfast or even dinner. We take no pride in making our own meals from scratch. In fact, it is considered a luxury to be able to make your own food. People who make their own bread or pasta are thought of as people who have nothing but time on their hands, and that their way of doing things is completely absurd. We no longer have family dinners together, everyone eating together and talking about their day. We all now eat in front of the TV, not even allowing our bodies to register that we are eating. We eat fast, cheap food, that has little or no nutritional value, and try to eat large amounts of it in record time so we can go back to whatever else we were doing. Fueling our bodies to be strong and healthy is not a priority anymore, and it truly is sad. We are the fattest continent, and our life expectancy is now lower than the generation before us.

Well, I say no more. Here at our house, we are all about the homemade, low salt, unprocessed food (most of the time), and I think that that should become the norm. No more fast food, packaged meals, or take out. I am making it a personal goal to try and make as much of our food from scratch as possible. And no, this is not a New Years Resolution. I hate those. I am not putting a number on this, or setting a standard for us to meet. I am simply going to incorporate this into our life as best I can. I am also going to sit down for every meal of the day and savour my food. No more breakfast on the go. I won't be perfect, and there will be the occasional night of pizza delivery. But that's what it is going to be: occasional. I challenge you all to look at your eating habits and try to incorporate more homemade, wholesome ingredients. How do you think you could get more pleasure out of eating? What changes would you like to make to your weekly meals? I would love to hear some feedback, and I will keep you posted on my progress!


Monday, January 3, 2011


Just before Christmas, we made some Gibanica, a sweet walnut loaf that is tradition in D's family for Christmas morning. Since we decided to go to my parents' house this year, we thought we would bring some of this delicious bread to enjoy on one of the mornings we were there. We had made this bread once before with D's mom, who is the master of this recipe. The recipe takes pretty much the whole day, but it makes 4 big loaves, so it is worth the time.

This bread is amazing lightly toasted and spread with a thin layer of butter. It has a subtle hint of lemon zest and warm milk, and is oh so comforting. Here is a picture of the beautiful walnut swirl that is hidden until you slice into the bread:

I realize that all of my recent posts have been food, food, food, but that seems to be my activity of choice right now. And besides, who can get sick of looking at pictures of food? Hope you are all having a good start to your week!