My favorite sustainable household products

Lots of you know we have been working for a long time toward a smaller carbon footprint. I am still a mom of four in a fully capitalist society, and everything I buy seems to come packaged in plastic film, cardboard boxes, or both… but we’re trying. These are a few honest reviews (nothing sponsored) about what is working for us (or not.) You can find past posts on this journey here and here and here.

Best finds:

WHO GIVES A CRAP (plastic-free toilet paper)

Okay, I know it’s weird to start with this, but it was the first product I found, and I’m a chronological girl.

TP is important around here, and this TP is soft, sustainable (the kind we buy is 100% recycled paper,) and packaged entirely in paper (including the wrappers around the rolls, the cardboard box it’s shipped in, and the paper tape on the box.) I buy it in boxes of 48 rolls. Added bonus: half their profits go toward building toilets in water-insecure places.

EARTH BREEZE Laundry Detergent

At the risk of sounding like one of the ads that may have popped up on a free phone game (which is exactly how I found them,) I have to say I love this detergent. Each one of these envelopes holds enough detergent to wash 60 loads. The sheets of detergent actually dissolve in cold water without leaving a residue. I tried several brands of detergent pods, and all left sticky starch residue on our clothes if we didn’t wash everything in hot water.

No, I’m not trying to corner the market in Earth Breeze, but I did buy a year’s worth so I could send a package with each of kids to college/grad school.

DROPPS Dishwasher Pods

These pods come without any plastic packaging or microplastics in the pods themselves. I am sure the detergent would still be toxic if you swallowed one, so keep them out of reach of children, but the packaging is entirely recyclable. And my dishes get clean.

I do not, however, recommend their laundry detergent pods.

RIDWELL Recycling Service

My kids’ orthodontist turned me on to Ridwell, so I asked for a subscription last Christmas. It’s a biweekly home pickup of my hard-to-recycle items, and I LOVE IT. Every pickup includes plastic film (think ziplock bags, bread bags, cereal bags, and all that clear packaging that everything you buy is wrapped in,) threads (fabric including clothes that aren’t in good enough condition to resell,) alkaline batteries, and light bulbs, and a “featured” item that rotates. So far they have picked up our extra school supplies, corks, CCDs and DVDs, ski/snowboard equipment (this pickup might be particular to Colorado,) kitchen ware, Prom dresses, electronics, winter and clothes. You can also pay a little extra for a pickup of Styrofoam or Latex paint. Next week’ pickup is books. They’d better bring a big truck.

Ridwell does all the legwork of finding local organizations that will repurpose these items. Many of you may prefer to do that work on your own, but I just don’t have the bandwidth for that. Plus each pick-up serves as a gentle nudge to clean more out of our house.

LOOFAHS for doing the dishes

I was skeptical, but I am now a firm believer in using a loofah (made from a gourd) to clean my dishes. It is just abrasive enough to get the stuff off, and it holds up well for a time or two through the dishwasher. When it begins to disintegrate, I throw it in my compost. It never seems to get that yucky sour-sponge smell, and a sixpack from my local Zero Market lasted me a year. They also hold up in the dishwasher,

I have yet to find any dish soap that works as well as Dawn, so I use that on the loofah.

STEEL/COPPER SCRUBBIE to clean my cast iron

I no longer have a non-stick pan. I have all metal cookware (thanks, all you nice people who bought us pans for our wedding 26 years ago) and one cast iron skillet I bought at Ace Hardware. I scrub it with the copper or steel scrubbie (I think I found this one in a six-pack on Amazon) without any soap, and heat it till dry. So far it has lasted longer than the Teflon on any of my nonstick pans.

I have thrown the scrubbies in the dishwasher when they got gross. Unfortunately, our local recycling does NOT accept these for recycling, though I have read that they are recyclable in some areas.

Also, if you’re looking for some good reading material on this, check out Sharon Schneider’s Handbook for an Integrated Life. Her book is about how to align your economic power with your internal compass. Somehow she managed to synthesize so much (and more) of what we’ve spent years figuring out into a highly readable book.

Happy Book Birthday to me!

We didn’t really make a cake… but we should have!

Today is the release day for The Code, book three of my medical thriller series. Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered and sent warm wishes!

It’s available in multiple formats: kindle, paperback, BN (Nook,) Kobo, Apple books, smashwords.

Dr. Kate Deming has spent four brutal years working in a Chicago ER. When a sophisticated ransomware attack originating from her computer paralyzes the hospital’s EMR, she is the FBI’s main suspect. She thinks this is her biggest problem until her daughter’s friend overdoses, and her daughter knows far too much about it. Can Kate crack the code before another child gets hurt?

Big Announcement!

No, I’m not pregnant, but thanks for asking.

My new book is coming out on October 7!

Cover of The Code, available October 7

Dr. Kate Deming has spent four brutal years working in a Chicago ER, swinging back and forth from tragedy at work to guilt for what she’s missing at home. The prescription is a new job that will allow more time with her growing daughters: an eight-year-old pirate wannabe planning to run away to the high seas, and a twelve-year old expert in eye-rolling and sarcasm who is the star of her middle school’s new code breaking team.

When a sophisticated ransomware attack paralyzes the hospital’s electronic medical record, the hospital pinpoints Kate’s computer as the electronic gateway. She thinks it’s a misdiagnosis until the FBI raids their apartment and arrests her husband, whose home tech support now appears all but benign.

Meanwhile, her daughter’s classmate overdoses to get away from a sextortion scheme that her daughter knows too much about.

Can Kate crack the code before another child gets hurt?

If you’re looking for the paperback, you can order it from your favorite independent bookstore, or from Amazon.

The ebook is available at: kindle, Barnes and Noble, kobo, Apple Books and smashwords, or you can request it from your local library.

If you’re planning to read it, pre-orders are especially useful for helping others find my book.

Thanks for reading!

Back to School Daybook 2022

Outside my window: Darkness (but green.) We had a ton (by Colorado standards) of rain in August and everything is very green. As an attempt to thwart the beetles devouring my roses, I didn’t prune them after they bloomed, so I’m not going to have a second set of blossoms. But the black-eyed Susans are reaching for the sky, and the zinnias and other pretty flowers I put in the herb garden are lovely.

very, very green backyard. It never looks like this in August

In the kitchen: I’m finding a new rhythm. There are only four of us here for the next few weeks (and after that, only three!) Already I’m realizing my recipes are all too big. I have popped a few half-recipes into the freezer, and I’ve figured out how to adjust my pizza dough recipe to make just two large pizzas.

My favorite thing right now is fresh herbs on pizza. (Our favorite: skip the sauce. Just brush the dough with olive oil, sprinkle on herbs from the garden, and top with a grating of parmesan.) Last night’s version: rosemary, thyme and oregano.

kitchen table bouquet of flowers from the garden

With the kids: this is the section formerly known as “In the school room.” They are still in school. I am not, though so far, school and its requisite forms and supplies and schedule are still occupying a large amount of headspace. This year I don’t get to make any of the decision- I just have to keep track of everyone else’s.

In mid-August, Sam drove with the older three to Chicago, where I met them after P’s volleyball tryouts. The family gave Jonah a lovely graduation party. We visited Judy, added some of her furniture to the moving van and drove to Champaign. The best decision we made was hiring two hours of moving help to unload the truck and carry everything up three flights of stairs. We spent two days nesting with Jonah. There is a great Thai restaurant around the corner from his apartment, and a large bookstore a few blocks away. It was a very short, intense and valuable trip. Since our departure, he has had to do lots of adulting (dealing with a gas leak, trying to get his internet set up, finding a car mechanic) and I have had to do lots of Nothing Useful to help him. It’s an adjustment.

grad school kitchen with his bird statutes

Owen has another month here before going back to school. They finished their summer job and now have time to make lots of music and hike with me.

Selfie at an overlook near the beginning of the hike. We didn’t look nearly as fresh at the end!
Owen playing the beautiful piano at Grandma’s senior living home

In the whirlwind that was August, we also moved Mo to college. Surprisingly, everything fit in the car (and more importantly, in her room.) We like her roommate and are excited for all that’s ahead of her! (Unfortunately, she came down with Covid-19 this week and is pretty miserable. Ugh.)

road trip to college
the stunning garden in front of the building where most of Mo’s classes will be

Phoebe has had two weeks of school, three weeks of volleyball practice, two games and a tournament. She is exhausted but is really enjoying volleyball. So far, so good. And we are hugely grateful for that.

In my shoes: I’m still not running, but I’ve been riding our exercise bike a ton, first through the Giro d’Italia, then the Criterium de Dauphine, Tour de France, Tour de France Femmes, and now La Vuelta a Espana. So fun.

Grateful for: It’s very easy when all these major leaps in life stage are happening to see how far we have come, but I am even more grateful for all the healing and risk taking that happened in fits and starts over the past few years, and all the support we received along the way.

Mo, practicing on the school’s concert harp

What I’m reading:

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died Twice. Linda Villarosa’s Under the Skin.

Praying for: Judy. Mandy. Lori. Quick and complete healing for those who are sick. Patience. Good friends for my kids. Hope.

End of School Daybook 2022

The first pink bloom from this peony.

Outside my window: the garden is amazing right now. We had rain last week and a cooler weekend, and everything is acting like it’s England. Just lovely. (Except for the aphids on the roses. Between the aphids and the Japanese beetles, I wonder if it’s time to take the roses out altogether.)

Early June is always a time of great abundance in the garden- not of food, but of flowers- and I love it. We traveled a lot when I was a kid, and I remember my mom saying she didn’t want to travel in June because she’d miss everything in her garden. At the time, I thought she was crazy, but now I understand.

A profusion of purple clematis.

In the kitchen: Part of this June abundance is a profusion of eaters with opinions about what we should be eating (mostly: not leftovers.) This is what my fridge looks like right now.

Refrigerator with mountains of leftovers and no order.

The house is likewise a mess of abundance as the kids are going through luggage brought home from school, seventeen years of school supplies, and old books they want to pass along to make room for new ones. We have no routine yet. We have five drivers with plans they don’t share and only three cars. I proposed a very basic weekly food plan that was received like a deflating balloon. Something has to be done, or I’m going to have to run away to the circus. (Correction… from the circus.)

In my shoes: I had fluid drained from my knee yesterday and almost passed out. The rheumatologist said I must be a “lidocaine super-metabolizer.” Whatever, but next time please put ALL THE LIDOCAINE in there before you stick the big needle in my knee.

There is no photo of this. You’re welcome.

What I’m reading: I’ve been posting lots of book reviews at my other site.

In the school room: We’re done. I have retired. For the ultimate kick in the teeth, Sam and I got Covid-19 the week we were supposed to fly to Ohio for Jonah’s graduation. His roommates’ parents took lots of photos for us and took him out to dinner, but it was lonely and anticlimactic, and I can’t figure out how to turn it into something else.

Our first college graduate with an ornithological anatomy specimen from his lab.

We were out of our isolation period for Mo’s graduation and well enough the next week to host a breakfast for her, so her graduation felt like the real deal.

Proud parents and high school graduate.

I managed to pull myself off the bed for our final week of school, and Phoebe did a great job with her written exams. (These were Charlotte Mason-style exams, in which she answered questions in essay form about what she’d learned, e.g., “Explain the differences between ionic and covalent bonding.”) We finished our seventeen years of homeschooling with a poetry tea. It was lovely, and I had all the feels.

Grateful for: our friends in Ohio who were Jonah’s family for us, especially this hard semester with his broken ankle and our Covid-19.

The village who has helped us educate our kids these many years:

  • Sam’s unwavering support for this work
  • my parents who spent years coming to care for our kids on my work day and later, asking my kids hard questions and listening through all the answers
  • nannies who likewise made it possible for me to continue to work and school
  • my work’s willingness to take a chance on a part-time doctor (a weirdly hard sell)
  • the kids’ godparents, and our friends at church & elsewhere who prayed us through
  • the friends homeschooling and learning alongside us
  • tutors (Latin! Arabic! French!)
  • piano, cello, violin, and dance teachers
  • the Denver Zoo, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Art Museum, Denver Botanic Gardens, Barr Lake State Park and Bluff Lake Nature Center: places that made our experience so rich
  • soccer, swimming, diving and Robotics coaches who have mentored our kids
  • climate activists who have welcomed our child into their work
  • friends who shared joys, sorrows, books, skills and adventures
  • wise teachers who helped us sort out learning differences and how to accommodate them
  • the writers of the living books who shared their passion and knowledge with us
  • these four kids who made this journey such a joy

I am so grateful.

Four little kids on a blanket.
Four big kids at a bookstore..

Daybook: May 2022

Outside my window: While Phoebe rehearses for an end-of-year choir performance, I’m working at a table in the children’s section of a local library. Outside there is a hands-on garden with large percussion instruments. The children who stroll by, however, are more interested in throwing the wood chips. Inside, there are children explaining bugs and dinosaurs to their parents as if those tired adults have never heard of either before. A mom just trailed by, telling her child, “Okay, but I don’t want to get too many science books.” Maybe she doesn’t know how cool bugs and dinosaurs are.

bookshelves in the children’s section. Not pictured: the cluster of kids playing Minecraft on the computers

In the kitchen: we will be out of the house a lot this week for the aforementioned concerts, but I did make baked French toast from Tieghan Gerard’s lovely cookbook, Half Baked Harvest EVERY DAY. I would loan you my copy, but I drooled on all the pages.

In the schoolroom: We have been passing back and forth lots of “last day of ______” texts. Jonah finished college classes (graduation in 10 days,) Mo just took her last community college class for high school (graduation in 2 weeks,) and Phoebe finished her math and Barton (spelling and reading for dyslexia.) We have two weeks of chemistry, economics, literature, and French left. Poor Owen just got out of Covid-jail at college and still has a full month of school to go.

kitchen table chemistry experiment

In my shoes: My knee has stalled my couch-to-5K program while I wait for an MRI and make decisions about what to do. The last time my surgeon operated on my knee, it lasted 11 years, so if that’s where we are headed, I am in good hands.

Grateful: We just made a short trip to Ohio for Jonah’s research presentation. I loved watching his passion in action and how he worked the room. He’s going to be a great teacher. His love for all things birds feels like a perfect extension of his four year-old love for dinosaurs.

Jonah being professorial at his research presentation

We also spent time with Jonah’s godfamily, and that was a treat in itself. They recommended a local bookstore, Jonah recommended another, and we spent two afternoons inhaling booksmell and following rabbit trails on the shelves. What a gift.

Mo (with bookstore haul,) Phoebe and Clyde (remember him?)

Praying for: lots of medical needs right now, friends who are mourning, and relief from pandemic fatigue. Energy to finish the year well.

hooray hooray it’s spring!

The birds are back. Yesterday they started singing at 6:40. Everything was silent, silky darkness and then all of a sudden, multiple birds woke up and started to chatter. Our tulips are up, the daffodils and crocuses are abloom, and the earth smells fresh and new.

The winter wasn’t even that long, but my winter habits were dragging on. I needed a reset, and this week I made one in the form of renewed goals (a couch-to-5K program, a better writing plan, less time on my phone) and spring routines (hanging laundry outside, after-dinner walks or street volleyball.)

We are looking forward toward graduations (two of them!) and lots of changes ahead. I’ve been homeschooling for seventeen years, and it will end in May. I’m sure there will be both mourning and celebrating ahead, but right now the ending feels good and right. A job well done that I can be grateful for and lay aside.

lesson on gastropods, 2006

engineering lesson, 2008. (the best engineer=the only one wearing safety goggles correctly)

<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/8019/7309988416_9469483dcb.jpg&quot; width="500" height="375" alt="Morning work">
morning work, 2012
table time, 2014
homeschool P.E., 2016
poetry tea, 2019

bookstore run, 2021

Daybook: mid-February 2022

Outside my window: blue skies, white snow. All our sidewalks are clear- I have a new obsession with the importance of clearing the snow/ice.

In the kitchen: this has been a bad week in the kitchen. I have a renewed appreciation for the importance of crisis meals sent by friends. Thanks, Renee, for sending pizza and salad on Wednesday (it was delicious!)

In the school room: Meh. This hasn’t been a banner week for school. Mo has classes at the community college and is doing research on the Ludlow Massacre for National History Day. I introduced her to the Library of Congress’s online searchable newspaper archive, Chronicling America, which has been huge for me in my own historical research.

Phoebe and I are discussion Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth (so good!) and working on distance=rate x time problems for math. (Two trains leave Chicago traveling opposite directions. One travels at 150 mph, and the other…) We are still working our way through the Barton curriculum, she has French tutoring with Sam’s cousin Laura, and she’s reading Jacqueline Woodson’s beautiful book, Brown Girl Dreaming.

All right, maybe school is going fine. (Writing it down always makes me feel better about it.)

Here’s a link to more information about Doughnut Economics.

On the sofa: Jonah called from school (in Ohio) last Saturday morning. He was outside his dining hall on the way to the gym when he slipped on a patch of ice. He told me his ankle was broken and an ambulance was on its way. Sam and I sat biting our nails while we waited for an update, which came from the ER doctor an hour later. “I don’t see him getting out of this without hardware,” he said. Thank God for his godmother who was at the ER two hours later (after anesthesia and reduction of the dislocation.) Her family cared for him until we could get him a flight home the next day. He had surgery Wednesday and has enough hardware in his ankle to set off all the TSA’s machines. Due to his inability to bear weight for 4 weeks and his upcoming spring break, he’ll be home for a bit.

Grateful: So much. For Jonah’s godfamily. For the quick reduction of his ankle fracture, so that we could go quickly to surgery, and for his awesome surgical/anesthesia team. For food from friends. For good books and bad snacks and the pianist at the children’s hospital whom I never saw but who played beautiful music that eased my anxiety across the atrium. For our neighbors who rallied to loan us a shower chair, a wheelchair and a wheelie knee scooter. For my colleagues who stepped up at the last minute to take care of my patients. For the buckets and buckets of prayers offered on Jonah’s and our behalf.

For our friend David, who passed away this morning. He was a lovely person and will be missed.

On my mind: While we sat there for hours at the hospital, we watched other families come and go. Many of them were clearly pros at this. Knowing how hard things would be post-op, they knew to ask for the waiting area with the benches, and pillows and blankets so they could sleep while their child was under anesthesia. Some brought noise-blocking headphones and laptops and worked from the surgical waiting room. They had wheelchairs loaded with medical records and spreadsheets to keep track of everything their children have been through. I was again aware of how charmed our child-rearing has been, and while far from smooth, it has not involved major hospitalizations or surgeries. How blessed we have been.

Praying for: Mary, Dan and family. Jonah. Mandy. Judy. Roman & family. Those professional parents who have lost count of their children’s hospitalizations and surgeries. For eyes to see my blessings and the will to count them.

Daybook: Holding things lightly

Outside my window:

fiery feathered clouds

The sky has been really beautiful. I’ve been walking a lot and trying to notice.

In the kitchen:

watercolor painting (unfinished) by Phoebe on the kitchen counter
peppermint bark (unfinished) by Mo in the fridge

In the school room:

We are finishing up the semester. Today there was a field trip to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Owen and I took a walk. They told me about Walter Benjamin’s essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935.) We talked about Charlotte Mason’s homeschool philosophy. And Owen told me I had prepared them well for a college literature class. (There are not enough heart emojis in the world to put after this statement.)

Grateful:

dragon sculpture at the Denver Zoo’s Zoo Lights

We have a few things planned this month, though we’ve already had a cancel or reschedule a few of them. Phoebe, Sam and I made it to Zoo Lights two weeks ago during the Members’ nights. It was warm and not crowded. The porcupine was super active, and the llamas and elephants were all out. It was lovely.

The Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light is on the schedule, as is the Lion King at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (these are the tickets we bought as a family Christmas gift 2 years ago!) Our rescheduled date for the Wonderbound’s December performance, Winterland, is this week. And this weekend was Mo’s Nutcracker, which was delightful. It sounds like a lot, but it works out to one outing a week. The rest of the month we are watching Christmas movies together and playing games. (If you’re looking for suggestions, check out Connie Willis’s list of Christmas movies at the end of her book of stories, A Lot Like Christmas.)

Mo as Cake Pop in The Nutcracker

On my mind:

When my kids were little, I had a lot of plans. Not just long-term plans for what I wanted our life to look like, but also small plans. When we finish x, we move on to y. A lot of that was survival as a mom surrounded by small people, but much of it was an illusion of control. I might had control over where all the bodies were at a given moment, but I never had control over what my kids learned from our time together.

Both our college students were home for a week at Thanksgiving. Double bonus, they’ll both be home over Christmas. As they’re growing and reflecting back on our years together, I get to hear more of what they really thought as we learned together. I get to share the Why behind the How. Sometimes, it worked out the way I wanted it to. Sometimes, it backfired.

Anyway, these next few weeks I am trying to hold things lightly. Plans, secret hopes, get togethers: they may happen, they may not. I am trying to have open hands, so that I can receive what comes rather than looking for something different. And I am trying to be open to letting go of my expectations.

Praying for:

People to choose life by getting vaccinated.

me in PPE

This was a hard week at the office. We have enough PPE now, but not enough staff to take care of everyone who is sick. There were lots of people with COVID and not enough mAb to go around.

It doesn’t matter if you have COVID or knee pain; you’re going to have a hard time getting in for care. It didn’t have to be this way, and I am discouraged.

All right, friends, that’s all for now. I wish you a cup of tea and a good book to keep you company.

Come visit The Well

I have a proposal: let’s stop giving hospital beds to adults who chose not to receive coronavirus vaccinations.

We can still provide emergency care, but if a person comes into the ER with Covid, meets the criteria for hospitalization but has chosen not to receive the vaccine, let’s take them seriously and accept their choice. They have ceded their right to hospital beds that will require a sacrifice from the health care workers caring for them and the vaccinated individual denied the bed that they are filling. They can go home with self-administered medications, and an ICU bed will remain available for someone with heart failure or a life-threatening accident. 

“You can’t be serious,” my husband said, when I told him my idea. “You are really tired.”

I was serious. I still am. And, yes, I am exhausted.

I’m over at The Well today, talking about the thousands of unnecessary deaths the U.S. has witnessed since the beginning of the pandemic. Come check out my proposal.