Okay, folks, I admit it: I’m not very good at organizing or publicizing blog challenges. In fact, I totally suck at it. Case in point, my 50% Dirtier Challenge, which has maybe three people actually participating. What do I have to do? Bribe you?
Okay, you got it!
There are five days left of the month – five days where you can do something to participate. I promise, I’ll make it easy on you. And the bribe? How about two lip balms – Vanilla Woods and Chocolate Mint. And guess what else? I’ll ship it anywhere! No limits on where you live. How’s that for incentive?
So first things first. Here’s what you have to do to enter: Complete one of the challenges listed below. Write a one- or two-paragraph (and by my standards, that means at least 5 sentences) description of what you did, why you chose it, and how it went. Post that as a comment here. Please note that I intend to publish what you write in a wrap-up post about the challenge next week, so don’t write anything you don’t want the public to see.
Yep. That’s all you have to do. Now for the challenges:
1. Skip washing your hair for a day. (Obviously this one is for those of you who wash your hair every day.) For an extra challenge, try a dry shampoo (optional).
2. Time your shower once, then for your next shower, shave 2 minutes (or more) off your previous time.
3. Skip one shower. If you shower once a day, skip a day. If you shower every other day, stretch it to the third day. For an extra challenge, skip as many showers as you can!
4. Take a Jennifer Aniston shower. This lovely lady reportedly takes 3-minute showers, pointing out the fact that “every two minutes in the shower uses as much water as a person in Africa uses for everything in their life for a whole day!” This one will require a partner with a stopwatch – no cheating! See how far you can get in 3 minutes.
Doable, right? And you only have to choose one, so hop to it before the month ends!
For those of you who have been participating, you can earn one extra entry by leaving me a “report” of the water you’ve saved by cutting back on showers during the month of May. But please note that these reports will only be eligible if they are submitted here on Tuesday, May 31st (by 6PM PST).
And lastly, please make sure you follow the rules of the giveaway:
::I ask that you pick a task that is NEW to you – that is a genuine challenge. If you are already showering less often, or shortening your showers, please push a little further, rather than entering a comment about a routine you have already worked out over the years. This giveaway is based on the honor system, and in order for everyone to have a fair shot, each person needs to do something new, or stretch themselves a little further past their comfort zone. If I were to enter, for example, I would choose #4, since I have already established a habit of showering only once or twice a week (keeping up my long showers). Taking a super short shower would be something new and challenging for me.
::Each person is allowed only two entries. The first type of entry mentioned in this post requires at least five sentences explaining which of the four challenges you chose, why you chose it and how it went. (Again, please remember that I intend to copy and paste these entries into a wrap-up post next week, so be aware that other people will be reading it.) The second entry mentioned requires a “report” of the water/time you have saved during the month of May by decreasing your showers. These will only be eligible if they are left here in the comment field on May 31st (by 9PM PST).
::Please note that if you intend to enter twice (following the guidelines above), you must post your reports in two separate comments. Otherwise, your entry will only count as one.
::Giveaway ends on May 31st, 6PM PST. The winner will be chosen by an online number generator and will be announced here on the blog on June 1st. The winner has 3 days to send me their shipping address. If the winner does not contact me, I will choose another winner.
Now go get dirty!
I almost canceled this blog challenge, but decided to go on with it after one faithful reader decided to join in, LOL. I have discovered that people’s showers are sacrosanct. I have gotten a lot of semi-annoyed emails about this project expressing that it’s a waste of time, and that showers play a very small part (if any) in water conservation. Mostly, I’ve heard a lot of people say that shortening their showers, or showering less frequently does absolutely nothing for the environment, and that if I really wanted to make a difference, I would stop taking 15 minute showers, even if I only take them every third or fourth day.
And I understand all these opinions about showers. I understand people being confused about my unwillingness to give up long showers, and my willingness to shower less often, instead. I understand them thinking that my efforts (or their own) are a waste of time. And so even though I had already decided to keep the challenge going for myself and my one other participant, I didn’t plan on blogging about it again.
However, when my water bill arrived a few days ago, there was a newsletter from the utility company included. You know what it said? “Your daily shower is one of the biggest water wasters in your home.” After that, I felt confident about continuing my efforts at reducing my time in the shower (which means, in my case, showering less often), and giving this challenge one more plug before it ends on May 31st.
My one participant, Kelli, said she has had some luck with shortening her showers, which is awesome! (Her comments have inspired me to try to cut back to 10 minutes per shower, but that’s a work in progress, LOL!) I think that just taking the time to become aware of how long we spend in the shower is a major step in the right direction, even if we choose not to change at all. I have found that many people have never timed themselves in the shower, and that they tend to underestimate their shower time by at least 5 minutes.
As for me, I have had my challenges. We have been having some warm weather, which is a bit unusual for this time of year (we don’t tend to have a warm spring here), and with all the biking I’ve been doing, I’ve been getting a bit more sweaty than I anticipated. However, my last shower was on Monday, and I won’t be showering again until tomorrow morning (Friday), so yay!
Here’s the funny thing: I visited my sister today, and the first thing she said was, “Wow, you look especially pretty today!” This is the third time she has complimented my looks when I haven’t showered for four days! I told her how “dirty” I was, and she jokingly said, “You should really avoid the shower, then!” She also asked me for my secret at keeping my hair from getting too oily on non-shower days and I gave it to her (rhassoul clay). She’s very excited, as she doesn’t want to have to wash her hair every day anymore. It’s better for your hair and it saves time – what’s not to love about that?!
It’s May 19th as I write this, and I have taken 4 showers since May 1st. For me, that equals 60 minutes of shower time, which isn’t bad. If I took a 5 minute shower every single day, I’d have spent 95 minutes in the shower, so wahoo! I’ve saved 35 minutes of shower time. Now let’s convert that to water usage. I have a good shower head, though honestly, I don’t remember exactly how efficient it is – I think it is around 2.5 gallons per minute. So that equals about 87.5 gallons of water saved! (This is all assuming I did my math correctly!) Not bad, huh?
So there’s only a little more than a week left of May, but you can still participate. Here are just a few easy, things you can do:
::Time your shower once or twice then leave me a comment about how long your showers are. Totally easy, I promise!
::Cut 2 minutes off your shower time. Just once. Try it.
::If you are truly daring….skip a shower one day. Make it a Saturday, when you don’t have to go out and see anyone, in case you are worried about your appearance. But don’t worry – it’s not as scary as you might think!
I would love to hear from you! Just try one thing – whatever is easiest for you, and report back. You’d make my day! I can say with absolute certainty that getting a little dirty, a little sweaty is not so bad!
And the last half of the interview with the delightful Rachel of Suburban Yogini:
How do you dress for cycling? What kinds of recommendations can you make to help people stay warm (or cool, as the case may be), and to be prepared for sudden weather changes?
You will always be warmer on a bike than if you are walking, so wrap up in the winter but not too much because you do soon get hot.
Wear layers and invest in a good waterproof jacket (you can get ones that keep you warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather). Keep your waterproof with you even if it doesn’t look like rain!
Like I said, I am usually in yoga clothes which really are the best cycling gear. But really I have cycled in all sorts of clothes. I’ve even gone out to posh dinners on my bike.
What types of things do you do to keep your bicycle well-maintained? What can someone do if they have a breakdown away from home (i.e. a flat tire, a tangled chain)?
There are two things you can do here:-
1. Get it serviced twice a year at a bike shop. It doesn’t cost very much and it just keeps the bike in good condition.
2. Go on a bike maintenance course (you can usually find these as evening classes at local colleges) and learn to do it yourself.
The bare minimum you need to do between services is to keep the chain well oiled and to keep the tyres pumped up.
As for breaking down away from home in Cambridge we are really lucky and have a bike “ambulance” that will cycle out to you and change your tyre or put your chain back on. If you prefer to do it yourself, always make sure you carry a puncture repair kit, a small screwdriver and a bike pump.
I have to admit, I don’t carry these things because I have Schwalbe tyres which don’t puncture. Google them. They were expensive but they were definitely worth it.
All cyclists, should, of course, become very familiar with their local traffic rules regarding bicycles in order to ensure their safety when sharing the road with automobiles. Are there any other little tips you have found that make you feel safer when you’re on the road?
Remember that you have a much right to be on the road as the cars and that you must cycle with confidence whilst obeying the rules of the road. Stop at red lights. Stay in the cycle lanes. Always signal. Always always have lights on your bike after dark. Lights are non-negotiable. Believe me, you cannot see a bike without lights until it is too late. Have two sets of lights. Spend money on good lights. Have lights!!!
And have a helmet. I gave some tips on helmet hair above. But you can also get a cute helmet in your favourite colour. I have a skater helmet which is much cooler than your average bike helmet (link http://www.nutcasehelmets.com)!
I have a little obsession about not turning right (kind of like Zoolander). Actually thinking about it in the States this is turning left. Don’t come out in the middle of the road to make the turn. Get off your bike and push it across the road. It’s not worth it, I’ve seen too many accidents when a bike is turning right (or left in the US) at a junction.
Be mindful and allow the car the benefit of the doubt even if it is your right of way. It’s much bigger than you!
What can people do when they find themselves at a location that isn’t particularly bicycle-friendly (i.e. a store or restaurant that doesn’t have a bike rack)?
I’d just say lock it to anything you can. A lamppost, a railing, a tree, anything. You start to get used to finding things. At first always give yourself plenty of time to find somewhere and sometimes you have to accept that you might have to lock it up a little away from your destination and walk. On the whole though I’ve always found it a lot less frustrating than finding somewhere to park!
One last thing. Cycling is a massive lower body workout so don’t forget to stretch it out when you get home. It also closes up the chest so make sure you open out the chest with some big stretches!
Thank you so much, Rachel!!!
Please be sure to check out Rachel’s wonderful yoga sequence for bikers. I can say from experience that it is a great sequence and helps counter some of the tension that can build up in different areas of the body when you bike a lot.
Are you inspired to get around on two wheels instead of four? Get on out there and give it a try!
Reprinted from my old blog – originally published last year.
I am so excited to post this interview with my biking hero, Rachel, at Suburban Yogini! Even after a tough few months in the biking world (a stolen bike and a head-over-heiny accident), Rachel keeps truckin’ (or bikin’, rather) along. Her commitment to alternative transportation has been a huge inspiration to me, and I hope it is for you, as well.
Tell me more about your no-car journey. What made you decide to get rid of your vehicle? How long have you been without it?
I’ve always had an on/off relationship with cars. I don’t like driving, I hate parking and I am a terrible passenger. Himself doesn’t even have a driving licence. So when my last car broke down and was going to cost £1000 to fix we decided to go carless and see how we went. The universe decided it for me!
This time I have been carless for six months and I haven’t missed it once really. We have saved so much money on petrol, tax and insurance plus I don’t have to worry about going to the gym because I’m cycling between 6 and 10 miles a day.
People often have many (sometimes valid) excuses for not wanting to switch from cars to bikes. How would you respond to the following:
::I work in an office and have to wear nice, business clothes. I don’t want to damage my clothing/get sweaty before work/bring extra clothing.
My dad used to cycle to work every day in his business suit. I appreciate you might not want to do that in a skirt suit, but my point is you don’t need specialist gear to cycle.
Here’s the thing. Don’t cycle hell for leather. You’re not at the gym, you’re getting from A to B. So take it easy and then you won’t end up in a sweaty mess. Cycle for your exercise on the way home instead!
I’m lucky. My work clothes are often yoga clothes so it’s not really a problem, but for jobs where you have to dress a little smarter I suggest the following.
- Wear leggings or yoga pants and take your skirt/trousers with you in your pannier/backpack. If you roll the clothes rather than fold them they will not crease. It’s not a huge amount of extra clothing.
- Wear trainers. Keep a couple of pairs of smart shoes in your work drawer or locker.
- Keep spare pairs of tights at work and always carry deodorant.
::I don’t want to bike in the winter when the weather is cold/snowy/rainy/windy.
Honestly, that is your call. If you only want to bike in the milder months then that’s OK. If you don’t want to get soaked in the rain then that’s totally understandable. Cut down to one car (if you have two) and use it sparingly. Be a mindful car driver. Only drive when you absolutely have to. And the boundaries are yours to make. I’m not going to force everyone to cycle in the sleet!
But if like me you have no choice but to cycle regardless of the weather then dress appropriately (see below). And remember, if you live in the UK and limit yourself to only cycling when the weather is clement, well you may never cycle at all!!!
::I don’t want to deal with “helmet hair.”
I hate helmet hair. But I do love my brain too so rather helmet hair than head trauma eh? However I do have a couple of tricks.
1. In the winter get a slim fitting lightweight beanie hat and wear it under your helmet.
2. In the summer, tie a bandana around your hair and then put your helmet on.
The material between your hair and the helmet just stops your hair going all static and flat and horrible. I don’t know why, but it works!
::It takes too long to bike/I don’t have time/I’m too tired.
There is nothing you can do that changes the length of time it takes to bike somewhere, but I will say this. It takes a lot less time to cycle places than you would think because you don’t get stuck in traffic. When I drove I seemed to be always stuck in traffic and now I just zoom past. Take that into account.
If you haven’t biked before, build up to it. You will need to up your fitness levels to cycle long distances so take it easy, do a little bit more each week and you’ll soon find that you can bike much longer distances than you thought in much less time.
As for being too tired. Well it happens. Sometimes I feel too tired to go to work, but I have to go anyway! I often find that a good bike ride in the fresh air re-energises me anyway. Or you could try a morning yoga practice!!
::I’m afraid of my bicycle getting stolen.
Here’s the thing. Bikes get stolen. Do not commit to a life on two wheels and think that you will have the same bike for years and years and years. You probably won’t. I have had one bike stolen this year so far.
Get one or two really good locks (most bike shops can help you with this) and always lock it to something, a tree a lamppost or a fence if there are no bike racks.
And insure it. I insure my bike as part of the household insurance for an extra £20 per year. You wouldn’t dream of getting in an uninsured car right? So don’t get on an uninsured bike!!!
Ultimately though I would say that you can make excuses for evermore. We all do it about a ton of things we want to do. Sometimes you just have to do it and work the problems out as you go along. When I first started my no car journey it was the coldest January the UK have had in years. It was a steep learning curve! I’m not suggesting that the best thing to do is drop the car cold turkey like I did, but when you don’t have another option it’s amazing how many obstacles you overcome.
What kinds of options do you recommend for “onboard storage” (baskets, etc.)?
Panniers for sure. You can get some really funky ones. Mine are purple with flowers on! Having the load on the back makes the bike so much more stable than having a basket on the front of your bike.
Secure the panniers with cable ties or similar so you don’t have to take them off all the time and walk about with them. Mine are so tightly tied on that I think it would be easier to steal the bike than the panniers off it!
And you can get lockable panniers if you use your bike for shopping and get lots of different things from lots of different stores and don’t want to keep unpacking and repacking.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
Finding the safest green cleaning supplies can be confusing and expensive. Why not skip the label-reading and budget-crunching? Believe it or not, five inexpensive ingredients will meet the majority of your household cleaning needs:
1. Hydrogen peroxide
3. Essential oil(s) of your choice
5. Baking soda
A 1:1 ratio of vinegar to water is perfect for cleaning mirrors, windows, or other glass. It leaves no streaks, and works better than the ammonia-based commercial glass cleaners. This mixture can also be used as a carpet stain remover. Even your laundry can benefit from this multifaceted product – one cup of undiluted vinegar in the rinse cycle will soften your clothing.
Baking soda is a wonderful air freshener. Keep it in a bowl on your counter, or anywhere else that may need some freshening. It can also be sprinkled into carpets before vacuuming to absorb odors.
Baking Soda & Vinegar
When combined, these two ingredients make a powerful scouring agent. Simply sprinkle baking soda into the sink, toilet, bathtub and anywhere else that needs a good scrub, then spray vinegar over it, and scrub away. You can also pre-mix these ingredients into a paste, if you prefer, just before you are ready to use it. Pouring baking soda followed by vinegar into your drain can help it stay clean and unclogged.
For a natural mold-killer, fill a spray bottle with hydrogen peroxide. Spray this onto shower tiles and let it sit for an hour or more. Further, one cup of hydrogen peroxide added to the rinse cycle can get your whites whiter! If you want to disinfect your counters, use a 1:1 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water with some antibacterial essential oils (tea tree, for example).
Don’t spend another minute trying to find toxin-free, inexpensive household cleaning products. Keep it simple and natural with these five easy-to-find items.
(Updated and reprinted from my other blog.)
I may not be very popular after writing this, but the truth is, I don’t like grass. Let me rephrase that – I don’t like the fact that almost every American suburban house comes with a lawn. I don’t like that this is the default landscape of the suburbs, and I don’t like that many neighborhood codes require people to keep up the lawn when there are greener (and arguably prettier) landscape possibilities.
Now don’t get me wrong – having grown up in Southern California, I can’t help but like a little grass. I like it in playgrounds, schools, and parks. But do I think we need to have so much grass? No way. And I certainly don’t think grass is the only safe, neutral, child-, pet-, and visitor-friendly landscaping element.
Let’s break it down.
First, just to start with their least offensive trademark, I consider them to be noise pollution. I hear lawnmowers going in my neighborhood 3-5 hours a day from May through October and it is annoying! If I happen to run into my neighbor outside, I have to stand right in front of her in order to hear her talking to me when lawnmowers are running on our street. It makes me miss the quiet of winter.
But let’s get really green here. Why the gas-powered lawnmowers? Our lawns are so small in this neighborhood, I don’t understand why almost all of our neighbors feel the need to own one at all. I own a push lawnmower (people-powered, not gas or electric), which is perfect for my tiny front and back yards. Gas-powered lawnmowers are oh-so-bad for the environment.
Here are a list of stats from http://www.peoplepoweredmachines.com:
~The EPA says gas mowers represent 5% of U.S. air pollution.
~Each weekend, about 54 million Americans mow their lawns, using 800 million gallons of gas per year and producing tons of air pollutants.
~According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a traditional gas powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution as 43 new cars each being driven 12,000 miles.
~…The EPA states that 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. That’s more than all the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez.
~One gas mower spews 87 lbs. of the greenhouse gas CO2, and 54 lbs. of other pollutants into the air every year.
~One gas mower running for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same amount of time, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
~The replacement of every 500 gas mowers with non-motorized mowers would spare the air 212 pounds of hydrocarbons, 1.7 pounds of nitrogen oxide, and 1,724 pounds of carbon dioxide.
(Click here for the source.)
So you see…gas mowers suck.
::Lawns use up precious water for what is essentially, an aesthetic preference.
According to Science Daily, “Lawns are the single-largest irrigated crop in the United States, three-times more than corn.” And again, why do we use this much water for grass? Just because it’s pretty?
Despite the fact that most American cities now have official water schedules set by the district, most people don’t follow these rules, and they are not often enforced. For instance, in our neighborhood, you may only water every other day (odd addresses on odd days, even addresses on even days, and no one on the 31st of the month), and only before 11AM, or after 4PM. Not to sound like the Water Police, but I notice neighbors watering every day, around 1 or 2PM. (Doesn’t everyone know that is the LEAST efficient time of day to water?)
And how about sprinkler placement? Even in this environmental climate, I still see people “watering” their driveways and sidewalks because their sprinklers aren’t correctly positioned.
::Lawns aren’t as eco-friendly as people think.
Many argue that lawns are great because they absorb carbon dioxide. However, a study “in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that typical lawn maintenance activities emit four times more carbon dioxide than grass can absorb. Devices that burn fuel, including mowers and leaf-blowers, contribute a bulk of emissions. Fertilizer production and irrigation add to the totals. Soccer and baseball fields are even worse offenders, the study found. Playing fields spit out both carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, but they fail to pull any carbon out of the atmosphere because they get trampled to death every year.”
The final verdict, from Claudia Czimczik, a biogeochemist at the University of California, Irvine and her colleague Amy Townsend-Smith:
“In the lawns we studied there would be more benefit to the environment if the lawn wasn’t there.” (Italics added. Click here for the source.)
Now before the lawn-lovers throw tomatoes at me, let me say that I’m not against lawns in general. I do think it’s nice to have a patch of lawn for the kids to play on, or for the dogs to nap on. I think it’s nice to have them for playgrounds and parks (to some extent). I just don’t see why even the smallest yards (like ours) need to have lawns.
Part of my frustration is seeing (and hearing) the amount of work going into the lawns in my neighborhood. I wish I could give you an actual numeric measurement of the lawns around here, but let it suffice to say that both back and front yards are very small! However, if we all had a garden plot in our back or front yards (or better yet, both), all the families around here could easily feed themselves throughout the summer. If we dedicated even half our backyards to garden space, we would all be overflowing with zucchinis and cucumbers and lettuce! (And frankly, I think it would be more fun for a child to play and work in a garden, than on a lawn.)
If I wasn’t renting, I would rip out 90% of the lawn in a heartbeat. Two fruit trees would go in the back, and garden beds throughout, with a patch of lawn in the center for my sun-worshipping dog. And more garden space in the front yard, as well. I would have quite the bounty if I was allowed to do that, and I’d consider the fast-growing water bill worth the money, rather than cringing over the fact that I have to pay so much extra over the summer to water a lawn that I hate.
I think this is a really good time for us to question the “need” for lawns. If you decide you can’t live without one, what can you do to make it more green (figuratively speaking!)? If you, like me, are stuck with one, what can you do to counteract its less-than-green attributes? If you don’t like them, need them, or want them, what will you do to create a new, “greener” landscape?
Have you joined the 50% Dirtier Challenge yet?
There are two major reasons behind my decision to start the 50% Dirtier Challenge:
1) to help people reconnect with the natural rhythms of their bodies
2) to help people become more aware of their use of natural resources (something we often take for granted)
Many people say, “It’s just a shower! Who cares?!” But to me, it’s not about the showers. As I’ll say many times, I take super long showers (12-15 minutes), but I honestly don’t feel guilty about it because I only shower every second or third day. So yeah, in a way, it’s just a shower.
But a shower is a piece of a bigger pie. We use water every day for multiple purposes. According to Yes! Magazine, the United States uses more water per capita, per year than any other country. A whopping 655,939 gallons. That’s almost exactly twice as much as the water usage in the UK. An American’s average indoor water use is 69.3 gallons per day. An average shower represents 11.6 gallons – the amount of water a resident of Bangledesh uses for everything in an average day.
So a shower just becomes part of our bigger picture. I think sometimes we get so entrenched in our habits and routines that we forget to think about what we’re doing. We don’t think about what we are taking, since we live in a culture that generally views the unlimited use of natural resources as the norm. We don’t often think about our part in the system. We tend to take things for granted: electricity, gas, water. I think we all generally know where it comes from, and many are aware that extracting natural resources can be harmful to the environment. But we don’t like to think about that. And I think many of us are reluctant to take the next step in the questioning process – to explore our sense of entitlement to the comforts we enjoy thanks to the extraction of all these resources. While there is no doubt in my mind that the Great Mother surely intended for us to use the resources she has given us, I also believe that She did not intend for us to take without giving back, to take more than our share, or to participate in the world without a sense of connection, respect and humbleness.
Little challenges like this can help us remember to be conscious about our daily activities – to move within the world with a sense of awareness about our actions, to keep exploring our interactions with the world, to contemplate our place among the many forms of life on this planet. While blog challenges are ultimately supposed to be fun, they can also inspire some pretty cool changes in your life, if you really let yourself go deeply into the experience. I know this for a fact, because many healthy/green changes I have made in my life were inspired by other bloggers.
I believe that the more you learn about one area of your life, the more you start to make changes in all of them. I know many of you consider your shower one of the high points in your day – I know I adore my showers. While it may be fun to experiment with cutting back on the amount of showers you take or the time you spend in the shower, this ultimately may not be a place where you want to make any changes. But maybe, as you become more aware of your water usage habits through this challenge, you might find other places to cut back.
Be aware, experiment, set your timers, set some goals…but above all, have fun with this! And get a little dirty!
*All the statistics quoted in this post are from Yes! Magazine.