Monday, December 7, 2009

Zhu Zhu Pet Paranoia

     We've had real guinea pigs and hamsters. The idea of which, always proved to be more fun than the real thing. The former fling pissy hay and poo ("Don't eat the brown tic tacs," my son would say when we would find said poop far from the cage). The latter scatter, only to be found dead and shriveled in a duct somewhere. If this is not your hamster's fate and he or she lives to the ripe age of 18 months or so, you can expect a lifetime of wild goose chases through the house looking for them and wondering how they broke out of the plastic ball. I'm not really a rodent person.
     I am, however, a robot person, and the idea of a sweet little animatronic Mr. Squiggles who won't die or get lost of fling poo is suddenly somewhat appealing. I got all excited for nothing when I learned sometime around Thanksgiving what these were. By the time I got on board, the little bastards had sold out like Furbies or Cabbage Patch Kids. Then my mom got her hands on a couple of them, and now the news that they may not be safe! Here is my report:

     I woke Monday morning to the first snow in Indiana, and the report that Zhu Zhu pets may be unsafe due to high antimony content. Merideth Viera announced the news on Today, which basically amounted to the product’s manufacturer insisting the toys couldn’t even be imported into the US if the levels weren’t safe (oh, because that’s always carefully monitored and enforced – hello lead toys!). Then we heard about the throngs of shoppers clambering for these furry little f-ers, selling them for up to three times the retail price on Ebay.
     I happen to be expecting two of these toys any day now; my mother tracked them down in Florida. Your Kitty, half-mad with OCD over toxic chemicals to begin with, began fur-reaking out. What is antimony, why is it used, and are these hamster robots going to drive Spot bonkers and then kill him when he stalks and eats them?
     All the Today show reported was that antimony is used in flame retardants. Well, that’s all I heard anyway, before I dashed off to my trusty iKitty to begin a whole science project.
 Indeed, antimony is used in flame retardants, and it’s actually a naturally occurring mineral that has numerous purposes. In fact, it has been used since pre-Islamic cultures as a cosmetic! It can be mixed with fat to make kohl eye makeup.
Wikipedia cites “The most important use of antimony is as a hardener in lead for storage batteries.” It’s also used to treat protozoal infections (eeew) and to harden ceramic enamels and glass. It’s the sort of thing one would expect to find in electronics such as robotic vermin.
Initially, I decided the boys around here are all old enough not to put a toy hamster in their mouths, so it’s probably OK. But my obsessive thoughts wouldn’t leave it alone, and I worried about my pups (who attacked both the Roomba and Scooba floor robots). What if the dudes and dogs handle these things…will antimony rub off like lead paint chips and hurt them? I dug deeper.
Rather than paraphrase the rather disturbing effects of high doses of antimony, I’ll take the liberty of posting Wikipedia’s paragraph labeled, “Precautions:” (*I edited this a little for space and boringness relevance, but you’ll get the gist)
“See also: Arsenic poisoning
Antimony and many of its compounds are toxic. Clinically, antimony poisoning is very similar to arsenic poisoning. In small doses, antimony causes headache, dizziness, and depression. Larger doses cause violent and frequent vomiting, and will lead to death in a few days…Antimony leaches from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles into bottled water, but at levels below drinking water guidelines…”
     Aw snap! One more horrible toxin to avoid. See, the thing is, maybe the amount of antimony contained in a Zhu Zhu pet is minimal and thus considered “safe” by toy industry standards. But what about the antimony that lurks in a Wii Remote, or an MP3 player, or batteries, or cell phones? What is the cumulative effect of all this exposure?
     And most importantly, what is the effect of chronic antimony exposure to a developing, pediatric brain? Over time, how can we expect children of the Digital Age to develop given the deluge of electronics in our ever-evolving culture?
So, that’s what I worried about today for about 3 hours. How did your morning go?!?


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Great Gift Idea for the Kid Who Already Has Everything

Teach kids to love nature and learning with
Award-Winning Magazines from - just $19.95!

Ranger Rick is HUGE at our house. We currently subscribe to pretty much all of these publications, and I find them particularly refreshing after a day of being bombarded by violent, vacant and vapid television and print media. The photography is amazing. Stop buying plastic toys and start buying the kids in your life an education and frame of reference! Besides, who doesn't like to get a magazine in the mail?!?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Is Your Home Fragrance Product Making You Sick?

     As fall continues, we spend more time closed up indoors. The same air is circulated over and over again. The products we use to fragrance our homes may be toxic, and the effects can become more noticeable as winter wears on. With the holidays, I am constantly burning candles to evoke the scent of everything from candy corn to apple pie and sugarplum dreams (whatever that smells like). Boys and dogs stink this place up, so I've always been one to spray down with the sweet smell of anything other than what I can only call "dudes." And that's putting it politely.
     I've blogged many times about my revulsion for synthetic fragrances. They give me migraine headaches, sneezing fits, burning eyes and skin irritations. When the family and I undertook our green initiatives, fakes smells were among the first products to be banned up in here. Candles went in the trash in favor of diffused essential oils, laundry went unscented, and I stopped wearing perfume (until I found Lavanilla). Within weeks, many of my symptoms disappeared. I could breathe clearly for the first time in ages.
      I don't think it's necessarily one toxic product that will do a person in; it's the cumulative effect on our bodies as we go throughout our days consuming garbage. I'm reminded of Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman, where a housewife ends up moving into her kids' dollhouse, shrunken to Barbie's size from her use of common household products in the modern 1980s.
     What I've learned is these types of symptoms are indicative of poisonous chemicals like VOCs, volatile organic compounds. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs are "emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands."
     The EPA also comments on how VOCs can damage health: "Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system." 
     Another big offender: pthalates. You may remember a lot of press about getting pthalates out of the plastics used in baby products. That was a few years ago. I honestly can't say I trust agencies, manufacturers and media to tell me something is suddenly safe. Pthalates are particularly nasty for developing nervous systems; this toxin is most definitely disruptive to the endocrine system (and I wonder why my thyroid is thrashed?!?). 
     Pregnant women and families with children should be particularly vigilant about creating a pthalate-free home. I feel the only way to minimize exposure is to use completely natural products as much as I can. I've learned this is actually possible 90% of the time. When utilitarian items like PVC shower curtains, new upholstery, or dry cleaned clothes happen into my life, I allow them to "off-gas" outside before I use them.

Alen Air Purifiers 

     I feel pretty well-versed on green cosmetics (please see Organic Orgy), so I've decided to make sustainable, healthy fragrances my next pet project. Over the next several indoor months, I'll post lots more on indoor toxins like VOCs, BPA, Formaldehyde, Pthalates and all their nasty cohorts. 

     Chime in!  How do you mitigate Eau de Dude et Dog at your house?!?


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spread Art and Love Just by Shopping For Cool Stuff

January 2009: Last fall, I called upon family and friends of Innerspace Yoga to reach out to help at-risk children in the Indianapolis community. Thanks to your generous donations in class, our seven year old friend had a warm Christmas with many toys and new boots! Thanks to your abundant shopping through links on Innerspace Yoga and kitty: we also raised about $100 in advertising revenue, which bought materials needed for the art studio at St. Mary’s Child Center!
    One person bought her holiday stationery; another picked up a motherlode of Legos. Little bits added up and the children enjoyed new art supplies! The teachers requested a gift certificate to Michael's, where they could maximize their dollars. They loved it!
    Although I don’t really know who did what since Innerspace isn’t privy to your personal information, I thank you from the bottom of my heart....whomever you are! In the coming year, Innerspace Yoga will reach as many as 100 at-risk Indianapolis youth, spreading the message of peace, love and sustainability through the art and science of yoga. As always, I invite you to get involved with that effort. Namaste!

Update 11-11-09: This year, Innerspace Yoga will donate 75% of our advertising revenues between November 1, 2009 and January 1, 2010 to St. Mary's Child Center to purchase items from the wish list for the students' art instruction. To participate, just click on ad banners and hotlinks on any page in our domain - including this one. To learn more about the project and to get started, please visit our Seva page on the Innerspace mothership site. You can also start now by browsing the Innerspace OM Shop at the bottom of this post.
     The products, brands, and artists advertised within the Innerspace domain are not directly participating in the Seva Project 09. When you click on their links, you are leaving us and going to them to become a customer (hopefully). Please enable your browser to accept cookies on these sites, otherwise your purchase won't earn revenue for us! Thank You so much, Your Kitty.

PopShops™ affiliate stores

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Quick Laundry Tip: Waste Not Want Not

     Hopefully, you have made the switch from America's favorite laundry detergent brands to something more eco-friendly, something not formulated with dyes, petrochemicals and fake fragrances that irritate skin, mucous membranes and the environment. In Kitty's laundry dungeon, current favorites include all the products manufactured by Seventh Generation, ECOS detergent, and dryer balls.
     One of the quickest ways to maximize laundry product efficacy and frugality is to drastically reduce the amount of soap you use. In my front loader, regardless of the product I may be using at any given time, I only add a drop of detergent the size of a quarter. When I bought my Maytag Neptune a few years ago, the salesperson told me I could continue to use my regular (not HE) Tide as long as I added this small amount. I have noticed even the HE formulations only require this tiny amount as well.
     My clothes are just as clean with this small amount of soap and cold water, and I am spending a whole lot less on products. The hours spent toiling in the dungeon, however, have not been curtailed. I still do over 10 loads/week!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In the Event You Like Skiing as Much as I Do!

Kittens, I apologize for not blogging and bringing you the Zen of Homekeeping recently. Between all the shopping and mopping, I have had to choose between posting new insights and less pleasant chores like laundry and wall-washing! In the event you like skiing as much as I do, I have a North Face promotion for you (below). After all, "homekeeping" includes getting the winter gear out of storage and replacing pieces here and there, right? BTW, my first purchase of the winter is a helmet for shizzle!

The North Face Shipping Tram - Unlimited 2-Day Shipping for 3 months

Friday, October 9, 2009

FTC Compliance

This morning, Liberty Post pointed me to a new FTC rule. Because I care about lawful compliance (although, I like to think I can discern for myself what is and is not malarkey in the media, and likewise I strive to be honest in everything I publish), I am posting the Advertising Policies for the entire domain.
"Innerspace OMnimedia publishes a variety of blogs and electronic magazines celebrating and supporting conscious lifestyle choices." That's the mission. Here are the facts: We are a privately funded corporation. We want to bring sustainable culture to people in many ways, from traditional news features to essays and yes, advertising. We like to think we are uniting cool people with cool stuff when indeed our editorial content is appropriate for "stuff." The companies featured throughout the domain demonstrate an aspect of sustainability, whether they are purveyors of organic clothing, natural cosmetics, or yoga products. Whatever.
Innerspace OMnimedia chooses our advertising partners with discernment; sometimes a brand is featured because we ourselves use and endorse the products, and sometimes we feature ad banners from the aforementioned partners simply because we like the graphic effect. We pretty much do what we want when we want and we believe our readers are astute enough to know media is supported by advertising.
When a customer clicks on these visual elements, she might or might not be taken to a place with further product information or the ability to purchase said item. If she buys the item, Innerspace OMnimedia is given a commission. It's called "affiliate marketing." It's an aspect of media in the digital age.
During the holiday season, we sometimes run Seva Projects which take those commissions and distribute them to Indiana children's charities. During the rest of the year, those revenues keep the Mothership up and running. When readers' buying sprees go to charity, we are very explicit about run dates for the project, as well as who will receive portions of our revenues. In other words, you'll know about all the love you are about to spread by buying cool stuff!
As for consumer reviews (particularly on Kitty channels), your Kitty personally buys the products in question with her own funds, tests the products on herself, and gives a "transparent" and honest review. We do not review swag or samples. Your Kitty does not review anything she has not paid for herself; products posted in clickable links may or may not generate revenue, and exist mainly for the readers' convenience. Now you know. Thanks

Saturday, September 26, 2009

All the Cool Kids are Doing it!

Ideal Bite gives bite-sized ideas for healthy, light green living.

When I first began greening up the place about three years ago, I signed up for Ideal Bite. I've enjoyed it ever since. They send free little tips for things one can do to live a more sustainable, healthy lifestyle. They're funny, too. I especially love to check their coverage of specific cities before I travel; it's always good to know where I can get local organics and natural spa treatments whenever I'm on location! Oodles of Toodles, Kitty.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More Biodegradable Picnic Products

There are times when you just can't feasibly feed a huge crowd (or even just a big one) using proper plates, napkins and glassware: field trips, scouting & sporting events, parties beyond your china capacity and the like. So you use the paper plates and plastic cups and sporks, feeling guilty for denuding a forest for your fete. Never fear, Kitty is here with the latest in biodegradable serving products.
As seen in an earlier post, corn plastic can be used to make disposable cups. Utensils can be made from a similar starch product, Spudware or bamboo. I have seen sugar cane products at the store as well. Some food manufacturers are even packaging with such eco-friendly choices. I guess I could get my miso soup anywhere, but I prefer Annie Chun's for the bio-bowl. Personally, I think disposables are terribly wasteful, and plastics aren't for everyday culinary use - but I don't feel as wasteful knowing my container won't be around long after I am not! Restaurant owners please take note of the new options in take-out supplies!

Sugar cane bowls from Gaiam

Plates, also made from sugar cane fibers left over from extracting the juice from the plant.

Spudware made from plant starches makes an eco-difference!

Bagesse cups: also made from sugar cane fibers. I like this material even better than paper because the products are made from by-products of sugar manufacturing instead of trees. We need all the trees we can get!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Our Pampered Butts Are Destroying the Forests!

California Redwoods 2008 Photo by Jacob

I’ve blogged before how shocking it is to examine one’s own consumption and the consequences thereof; we’ve made great strides in our overarching family culture in terms of how much plastic, gift wrappings/trappings, and bottled drinks we consume. We recycle diligently, plant native species in our landscape and we’ve switched to geothermal HVAC in our home. Not good enough, I’ve learned. Not good enough.

Apparently, Americans (including my family) are deforesting the planet at an alarming rate for the sole purpose of wiping our snotty noses and pampered hineys with thick, soft, white paper. According to a New York Times article published on February 25, 2009, we Yanks use an average of 23.6 rolls of t.p. per capita. Anyone who has lived in house full of women can attest to that and then some.

While a mysophobe like myself is never going to switch to the hand and water method of some less industrialized cultures (as many of the more radical environmentalists suggest), I will certainly be more conscious of my hygienic choices. From here on out, it’s recycled toilet paper all the way! Greenpeace publishes a guide to the most environmentally-friendly disposable paper products on their website. Among the worst: Cottonelle (my former favorite). Among the best: Seventh Generation and Trader Joe’s!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Compostable Plastic Cups

How cool is this?!? Compostable plastic barware - use as many damn cups as you want because they will break down and truly be disposed! American bon vivants and mothers of toddlers everywhere, rejoice and be absolved of your plastic guilt. Made from eco-friendly, odorless and tasteless corn plastic.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Replace Plastic Bottled Water With Stainless Steel

Copious and wasteful use of bottled water is bad. Duh. The plastic isn't sustainable, the water isn't necessarily more pure, and the container itself may very well be leaching dangerous BPA into your drinks.
Obviously, bottled water is necessary in certain situations. We wouldn't want to lose it forever, perhaps just consume less of it. Baby steps, kittens. Baby steps. I wrote about my own family's bottled water crisis, and for the last year we've greened up for good.
This evening, I was perusing Eco-Yogini's post on the SIGG water bottle controversy. Turns out this greenwashing giant has been churning out super stylish aluminum bottles lined with a BPA liner. I don't have one. Instead, I invested in several Kleen Kanteens, and I couldn't be happier. They're manufactured in the States, made of stainless steel, and they stay chilled beautifully. Best of all, no runny, sticky plastic drink bottles to schlep home from the football fields! Yay!
Citizen Green's post on why these plastic containers are hazardous is a great starting point for learning how to mitigate your consumption.

Klean Kanteen 40 oz. Bottles
- $ 25.95
Ban the bottle - the plastic bottle that is. Try the Klean Kanteen reusable bottle and up your water intake while decreasing your plastic consumption.

A healthy alternative to polluting plastics or lined metal bottles, the Klean Kanteen is a reusable stainless steel beverage bottle that won't leach toxins into the bottle's contents. Reusable, lightweight, 40 oz stainless steel bottle comes with a loop cap. You can customize with a sports or flat to suite your needs. All caps are made from safe, non-leaching polypropylene (pp#5).

Product Features: safe alternative to plastic and lined metal containers, high-quality food grade, 304 L.N. stainless steel, durable, lightweight, reusable and 100% recyclable, slim design fits most cup/bottle holders, non-leaching & toxin-free, no inner lining, clean tasting.

Additional Information

See BuyGreen Standards detail for this product

I know $25 for a canteen seems a little staggering in this economy. You'll recoup your investment in a few weeks when you stop buying bottled water. I beat the hell out of these things on a daily basis, and they are still holding up perfectly. So what if it doesn't have some trendy pseudo-tattoo image screened onto its surface? That's totally played, anyway.

It takes balls to make an eco-friendly statement about the laundry!

About a year ago, I added dryer sheets to the long list of things around the house that worry me. Some urban legend or another probably found its way to my inbox and convinced me the teddy bear’s box of sweetly vanillaesque sheets would be the cause of a disastrous conflagration in the dungeon that is my laundry room. I found myself meticulously washing the lint screen with a soft toothbrush and Castile soap suds to dislodge any potential fire starting, fab-smelling lint and fuzzies lest we should burn like witches for our dependence upon lavender and moonbeams.

During that time, my friend Bebe turned me on to a fascinating idea: chemicals in my personal products, indeed all of our household products might be interrupting my endocrine system. Perfumes and petrochemicals might be the cause of all the allergies, rashes and headaches at our house! After doing some research you’re going to be hearing a lot about in these postings, I realized my zeal for a sterile but homey-smelling home might be the cause of many auto-immune health problems and sensitivities. That’s when I ditched the dryer sheets and opted for dryer balls instead (I also got a wooden dryer rack to cut back on dryer use - duh).

Dryer balls are nubby rubber balls that you toss into the dryer with your wet clothes. As the garments spin, dryer balls pummel the fabrics into soft submission, so the items dry faster and fluffier, saving wear and tear on the machine as well as on your threads. I find them to be particularly effective on towels, which are also more absorbent if they are not washed or dried with softener. You use less energy and actually get better results. I have seen them in a wide variety of stores for about $10. My grandma told me years ago I should dry things like comforters and down jackets with clean tennis balls, so I just want to kick myself for not thinking of inventing these first.

Aside from the ridiculous amount of trash generated by the damn things, the perfumes used in dryer sheets may – or may not be laden with carcinogenic chemicals like formaldehyde. Because “fragrances” are considered trade secrets, their ingredients don’t have to be disclosed on ingredient lists, and may actually read more like hazardous waste than what one would expect from baby/spring/summer/tropical freshness.

In an article debunking the myths of dryer safety, Consumer Reports maintains dryer sheets are safer to use than liquids on many frequently laundered household items.

“Avoid using liquid fabric softener on all-cotton clothing made of fleece, terry cloth, or velour. In our flammability tests, liquid fabric softener added to rinse water accelerated the burning speed of these fabrics. If you want a softener, use dryer sheets” the article suggests. For safety’s sake and for our environment I say get some balls instead ---for the laundry room, silly, the laundry room!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Green and Natural Pet Supplies

My little Boston princess' favorite toy is eco-friendly!
Zogoflex dog toys

Best Biscuits
My little darlings aren't finnicky; all the trainers (and whisperers and psychologists) we've had told us Bostons are notorious for wanting to chew and are mainly motivated by food. I realized this long before I paid a king's ransom to learn these particulars! I am always concerned about the quality of food for our pups. Since cookies and tweeties are such a mainstaple, I searched and searched for something tasty, but more holistic in nature. I wanted an American product (no imports for my babies) that was free from fillers and preservatives. Enter Wysong (below)

What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?

In the title above, I repeat the Zen koan and answer with, "I don't know because smart cats everywhere applaud this product!"

The Home Detox Green Toolbox

It's awesome because it contains everything one would need to test the parts of your house that your inspector might have missed like mold, dust mites, pollen, dander, carcinogenic fibers and bacteria. EEEW! It's especially useful to know what may be lurking in your house if it's older; lead paint isn't the only dangerous chemical that can poison your family!
As a real estate investor, I tour many homes of families from all walks of life. One mustn't assume newly built spaces are completely healthy and safe. In fact, new construction (unless it is conscientiously built from green materials - LEED Certified) can be quite messy. New flooring, upholstery and furniture can off-gas for months as these products can emit toxic fumes like formaldehyde.
Private wells may be contaminated with heavy metals or bacterium that can make your family very sick. Ductwork can be loaded with particulate matter or mold spores. My own home was absolutely bogged down with animal hair when we moved in, though the house looked immaculate whenever we had visited prior to the sale.
Once you know what to clean, you'll want to transition to healthier products in your home. Your respiratory system will thank you! Kitty's Zen of Homekeeping pledges to keep you informed of your options as a consumer, in our usual frank way. Your Kitty has been green for a few years now, and I am passionate about sharing information about keeping a healthy home. Welcome! Don't be greenwashed, read kitty!