Blog Archive

Thursday, December 29, 2005

On Watching My Wife Give Birth

Miah’s water broke while we were eating at a restaurant on December 21 around 8 pm. We went home after that and timed her contractions while cleaning the house. By 11:30 though, Miah contractions were about five minutes apart and lasted a full minute. So we headed to the hospital. By about 1 am, we were settled into the labor and delivery room, but then the contractions weren’t so regular. We felt a little guilty when the midwife came in and Miah wasn’t in active labor yet. The midwife told us to try to rest. I took a nap and woke up around 4 am to Miah’s moaning.

Then the midwife stayed with us and guided Miah through the labor. It was difficult for me to watch Miah go through so much pain. Miah had made the decision early on to avoid using anesthesia. I wrote the following poem about a moment when Miah was in active labor:

Natural Labor

A white rag drops from my wife’s clenched mouth.
Good, the midwife says, face the pain,
make a straight line through the pain.
Then my wife starts to moan
a high-pitched moan
with an even higher tone ringing above the main note.
like a lone fire truck hurdling through the night
sounding its sirens not to clear traffic
but to align all the elements in the universe
to focus all the forces from above and below
calling them to the cause.
As I stand there regarding her pain,
the city marches on,
the jets howl,
the buried pipes and cables whir,
lawnmowers, compressors, and heaters
groan, whine, and growl.
The highway is one long wail.
My wife outmoans it all, the whole city.
Her moan emanates from the walls and floor,
as if her moan never wasn’t there.
Her moan is not accidental
like a leafblower’s whistle and drone.
It is not the sound of a city driven by profit
concrete spilling over steel.
She moans with singular purpose.
She moans as if she is a planet
whose tectonic plates are unbuckling
bearing forth a glowing molten core.
Can she bear this?
She is not a planet, she is a body,
a human and not a celestial rock.
She’s crying for air
because she moaned it all out of her.
All I have to offer is an assurance,
one I do not entirely believe,
that our baby will be out soon.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Birthday!!!!

Raj and Miah decided to celebrate Raj's birthday by having a baby! What else do you do on a birthday, but give birth?

BabyG was born 11.46AM, December 22, 2005.
She is 7lb 7oz, 20in.
And she and MaGreen are doing just fine.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

If Your Mama's Belly Were the Globe

Today is Miah's due date, but still no signs of real labor. We're waiting eagerly. Mehul says that Miah should eat spicy food and the baby will want to come out. Well, while we're all waiting enjoy this silly poem I wrote for our baby.

If Your Mama’s Belly Were the Globe

You would be the deep inner core
the hidden center of all the world.
You would be the force of gravity
you would be the source of magma flow.
Your kicks would be earthquakes
crushing whole city states.
You would cause a sky-high geyser
each time you kick your mama’s bladder.
You would make a great big mountain
by pushing out her belly button.
You the goddess Mahabhumi to whom we pray
with the soles of our feet each and every day.
You the yearning burning fearsome churning
six billion trembling waiting for your coming.
Om bhur bhuvah swah: come now at this twilight hour
earth air fire water may this planet turn inside out .

Monday, December 19, 2005

We Hauled out a Holly: Our Native Christmas Tree

Tree dilemmas are all over!  The two shrubby evergreens in front of
our house are wiping their brows for having survived this holiday season.  I found a merry holly at a store called Buchanan's ('s a list my friend Julie gave me of native plant stores in Houston.).  I was looking for an oak, like GreenDaddy wanted,but unfortunately they're all basically branchless sticks at this time of year.  Only Ziggy or Charlie Brown would buy one and decorate it.  Luckily I saw the holly, perfect because it’s full of all these little red berries.

What I learned while decorating our Ilex Vomitoria, or Pride of Houston
Yaupon Holly:
  1. Putting lights on holly is not the same as putting them on an evergreen.  You can’t just wrap them around the whole thing, you have to follow each of the main branches…our has about seven.  
  2. Important to find symmetrically balanced tree. Otherwise you'll have to stick your heaviest knicknacks in the pot so it won't tip.
  3. It’s hard to put lights on.  My dad always did it for us.
  4. It’s a relief not to have pine needles, but squashing the red berries that fell all over the floor while I put up the lights might be its own kind of meditiation on the word Vomitoria.
  5. When the lights are on, berries seem to glow of their own accord and are gorgeous.
  6. According to GreenDaddy:  whereas only a real square would not have appreciated our unusual wedding cake, many people will be upset by our strange little tree.  
I think its lovely.  It looks prairie-like and sweet.  It is true that we can't get a good photo of it, though.  I’ll put one up, but be   
assured it looks much nicer in person than it does in photograph. (I almost decided not to share an image since the image doesn't do it any real kind of justice.)

What I learned after decorating the Ilex Vomitoria:
  1. I thought I was buying the Ilex Opaca, which is a tree that grows 20 to 25 feet as is supposed to be a fabulous tree
  2. Ilex Vomitoria is a bush that grows about 15 feet, but it draws lots of birds and butterflies.
  3. Vomitoria does signify that the leaves, when boiled, makes a person vomit.  According to a website I read but can’t find again, Native Americans (which natives, I don’t know) used to eat its leaves in order to vomit as a means of cleansing themselves before hunting.
You would think either GreenDaddy or I would have noticed the difference between a tree and a shrub, and the truth is that we did.   GreenDaddy kept saying things like, “I just don’t see how these branches are going to turn into a trunk.”    Since I saw the picture of the tree in my book and it had a trunk and red berries, and since I saw the label at the store calling it American Holly Tree, I just figured this particular type of tree would look more like a shrub than a tree until it was older.  I think the man who put the tree in the car for me just picked up the wrong tree.  

Though you might pay more going to a local native plant store, their service is superb.  When I called to tell Buchanan’s about my sad tree mix-up, Donna (not the owner but “the other Donna” she said) told me I could bring my tree back in three weeks, so I wouldn’t have to undecorate it and redecorate it.   So I can still have a big tree to plant, like I had planned on.  

But also, I’ve just seen lots of pictures of the ‘Pride of Houston’ which can be trained into a tree-shape.  I think I like it better than the American Holly, which has the sharp leaves and grows in a conical shape.  So maybe I won’t even exchange the tree…though we’ll probably not use this tree to plant BabyG’s placenta.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Green Tree

I love Christmas Trees. My dad used to go cut one down from the Uintah Mountains when I was growing up, they smelled fabulous. They leaked pine sap all over the living room floor and oftentimes they were way too tall for the house. I guess it’s hard to gauge how high a tree ought to be when you’re out with a lot of drunken friends in the middle of a snowy Utah night, in early December. We’d have to cut off the bottom of the tree with regularity.

My mother Helen collects an eccentric and dazzling number of ornaments. She has hundreds that people have given her over the years, and even on an enormous tree, there’s not room for all she has. After spending a day putting on lights and decorating tree we had this lovely, lovely visual spectacle to greet us throughout December and January. The tree was always one of the important personalities of Christmas – its antics mirrored the woozy nog-filled ones that took place during my parents’ numerous holiday celebrations. On the years the tree didn’t tip over because in no way does a real pine tree’s base fit into a commercial tree-holder’s stand, one of the cats would invariably decide to climb it, or somebody would stagger into it. Always one of Helen’s favorite ornaments was broken, which was okay in the end. It was a sort of survival of the fittest sort of tree we hailed.

Since moving to Texas, I’ve never had a tree, but now that we’re having a baby, I feel like I need to start making some conscious efforts to incorporate holidays – both Indian and “culturally American” holidays. So I want a tree. But in keeping w/Green Parenting spirit, not a Christmas Tree lot tree. That seems wasteful of a perfectly good tree to me, especially in Houston where I figure any tree they have planted ought to stay that way. But I also don’t want a fake tree because that feels like lying. So we will:

a) Cut down the ugly little deciduous, pokey, evergreen-like trees in front of the house and decorate them. We were going to tear them out, anyway.


b) Research trees in my Texas Gardening book, buy two, decorate them and use them through Christmas, then plant them, along w/BabyG’s placenta, after Christmas. As I said in my ordinary blog, if BabyG is born already speaking Gujurati, English, or Spanish, she can tell us which tree she’d like her placenta buried beneath.

Probably unless BabyG comes out today, we are a choice “b” family. The downside to it is that I really love the evergreens I grew up with, and we’re going to buy some sort of oak or fruit or magnolia tree or a bush with red berries. Not to mention that we both secretly love the idea of using the two trees we don’t like and that we already own.

Though maybe we could freecycle those. All the time people have other people come over and dig up whatever plants they don’t want, and take them for themselves. Maybe the two scrappy trees I will never understand would make somebody else’s Winter Solstice.

I’ll have to consult Mr. GreenDaddy.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Who’d Want to Be Gandhi’s Child?

Last weekend, anti-war activists in Houston were abuzz with activity. Dick Cheney was to speak at a fundraiser for Tom Delay at a luxury hotel in town on the coming Tuesday. The opportunity to create media coverage of the terrifying mélange of corruption, scandal, lies, and policies of war, economic exploitation, and torture that Cheney and Delay represent was very enticing to the activist community. Local groups that often refuse to work together converged. spurred its Houston area members to action. By most accounts, the protest was a huge success.

Miah and I, however, did not go to the protest. She could go into labor anytime and I’d had bronchitis for two weeks that was beginning to abate. It was not the time for us to stand in the cold with a sign as the police circled us on their horses. I still made a little contribution to the organizing effort by writing and designing a feature about the coming protest on a local news website.

Our parents were in town that weekend and they were a bit upset with my participation. “It’s not inconceivable that you could be locked away for this type of activity,” they said, “and now you have to think about your child.”

My response was that repression grows strongest when people are silent and that it is our duty to our child to speak out so that she does not grow up in a society that locks people up for voicing dissent. Still, I took my parents’ concern to heart. At what point does the parents’ obligation to keep their family safe outweigh everything else? I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m not sure there is a single answer. Clearly, parents in 1938 Germany faced a different set of choices than parents in 2005 Texas.

I actually don’t think safety is my biggest concern when it comes to activism and parenting. I’m more worried that the rigidity and inflexibility of belief that is required for activism – how else can people be sure enough of themselves to stand up to authority – is contrary to what is called for to parent well. Unqualified commitment to a set of ideals, whether its Evangelical Christianity or Green Anarcho-Feminism, is sure to create distance in families and rear children who are more perceptive of their family’s hypocrisies than their family’s love.

Gandhi’s eldest son, Harilal (pictured above), had an estranged relationship with his father for, what seems to me, legitimate reasons. For example, Gandhi opposed his son’s remarriage after his son’s first wife died on the grounds that he opposed marriage for the sake of sexual gratification. Though I admire Gandhi and read his writing closely, I would not have wanted him as a father. Not because I would have missed my father if he was in jail, but because I would not have wanted my childhood to be defined by my father’s uncompromising experiments with truth.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Diaper Free: Potty Training Indian Style

Last October, the New York Times published an article called “Dare to Bare” about the growing number of American and European families raising babies without diapers. It was written by an anthropologist named Meredith F. Small. She wrote, “I am ashamed to admit that, even though I've studied how babies are cared for all over the world, it never occurred to me to focus on how children in other cultures use the potty, or not.” Though she’d adopted parenting techniques from Kenya and India like co-sleeping, she kept using diapers and chides herself for it.

When MaGreen read the piece she became interested. If you have been a regular reader of this blog you know that when MaGreen becomes interested in something, she researches it exhaustively. She bought a book by Laurie Boucke called Infant Potty Training. It explains elimination communication (EC) in great detail. The main message is that potty training can be a continuum of communicating and working with the child as she gets older. Infants can communicate the need to eliminate by squirming, grunting, straining, or making sounds. Initially, parents hold the child over a bowl, sink, or toilet. Eventually kids can get to the receptacle but need help disrobing. Ultimately, the child can walk to the potty, disrobe, and eliminate, often much earlier than kids raised on diapers.

I was hesitant. But, you know, my older brother was raised without diapers. And for that matter, I was potty trained in India during a family vacation.

Like Meridith Small, it hadn’t occurred to me that a child could be raised without diapers in America. Despite having Indian parents, living in India, and seeing my own cousins’ kids raised without diapers, I never considered going without diapers for our expected baby girl. When I read the book, I was pleased to find out that Laurie Boucke learned the diaper-free method from an Indian woman. A strange form of pride welled up inside me.

When MaGreen and I started to talk to acquantances about our diaper-free plans, we got lots of comments. “You could hurt the child,” one mother told us at a party. “You know you have to support their heads.” There were rants against the diaper-free method on the feminist listserv I subscribe to on the grounds that it keeps women out of the workforce.

When my parents visited last weekend, I thought they would get upset when we explained our plans, but they were excited. I gave my mom a copy of Laurie Boucke’s book. After a few minutes she laughed and said that she didn’t need to read it. “This is just how it is done in India,” she said.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Eco Green Natural Gift Ideas for Baby Showers and Holidays

MaGreen and I both try to avoid obsessive and arguably immoral consumerism. We know we will not become ideal parents by buying expensive, new things. We frequent a local second-hand baby shop and are grateful for hand-me-downs. However, expecting parents and newborns do receive many gifts. Gifts are an expression of the givers’ love (or at least their sense of duty and obligation). And new parents do need lots of equipment and clothing. I hope this list is useful to new parents, friends, and family. In making our choices, we sought out organic and fair trade items when possible and reasonable. In some instances, however, we believe plastic makes sense or is unavoidable. Unfortunately it can be difficult to create a baby registry for these types of gifts. We’ve had some success with Please feel free to make suggested additions or critiques through the comments option. Note the prices are approximations in US dollars and we don’t receive any advertising money.

Baby Clothing, Receiving Blankets, and Sheets

Baggie/Gown Organic -- $21.99
Bummis Sleeveless Bib -- $9.25
Organic Kimono, snap wrap style -- $14.99
Zutano Complete Outfit (cotton and colorful, but not organic) -- $29.95
Sckoon Organic Cotton Baby Underwear -- $13
Sckoon Organic Cotton Wrap-me Body -- $24
Organic Cotton Cap (many options available) -- $9
Organic Sheets -- $150

Cloth Diapering, Diaper Services, and “Diaper Free” Supplies
Google Diaper Services Directory

Infant Potty Training by Laurie Boucke -- $19.50
Daytime Diaper Cover: Bummis Prints -- $10
Nighttime Diaper Cover: Stacinator Deluxe Fleece Prints -- $17.50
Snap Pants -- $14.03
Fuzzi Bunz Micro Terry Inserts -- $5.50
Fuzzi Bunz Stay-Dry Changing Pad -- $14.95
FUZZI BUNZ system (see -- $14.95
Happy Pants, Small 8 – 14 lbs. -- $12.00
Hemp/Cotton Fleece Doublers -- $2.33
Imse Vimse Swim Diaper -- $11.95
Infant 4x6x4 Chinese Prefold - $1.50


TV-B-Gone (keychain remote that can turn off televisions) -- $19.99


Organic, Fair Trade Teddy Bear -- $29
Aubrey Organics Baby Shampoo -- $7.95
Case of 10 Fair Trade Green & Black's Chocolate Bars -- $35
Receiving Blanket Organic -- $22

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Green Parenting Starts in Bed

Beds in the United States are soaked in flame retardant chemicals called PBDE's, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Studies have shown that these chemicals build up in people’s bodies and are found in breastmilk. Baby mice that are exposed to PBDE’s suffer from disrupted brain activity, memory, hearing, and learning ability. Even low doses cause higher rates of hyperactivity in the mice. The European Union has banned some PBDE’s, but the United States has not. Here are a couple of articles on the subject: and LA Times repost.

After MaGreen found out how toxic regular beds in the US are, she started looking for alternatives. Our mattress was already old – I bought it when I was in college – and giving us back aches so it needed to be replaced anyway. You can find all kinds of alternatives if you do an internet search under “natural beds” or “eco beds”. However, we didn’t have a huge budget. Some of these natural beds go for over $2000. Initially, we decided to go with the nicest foam bed from IKEA, which at least meets the European standards on chemicals, but when we got to the store we found out Hurricane Katrina destroyed their bed warehouse.

Then MaGreen found a deal on eBay for a natural latex foam North Star mattress that was used for a few months as a display by The Savvy Sleeper. It was made by Amish people in Ohio. Here are the links about the process: and Basically, someone who lives near the equator collects sap from rubber trees. The Amish people froth it up and pour it over a mould. We bought a frame with wooden slats from IKEA to support the mattress.

Sorry this information isn’t as sexy as the title and picture suggest, but I think it’s a good example of complementarity. The bed is not toxic, less devastating to the environment than a regular bed, not made by anonymous workers in sweatshop conditions, and…hopefully a place where we will enjoy love and passion.

Principles of Green Parenting – Complementarity

Amartya Sen, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics, wrote in his book Development as Freedom about how capabilities often reinforce each other. When he uses the word capabilities, he’s talking about what a person can be or do, like have bodily health, earn a decent income, and be able to participate effectively in politics. Sen gives a number of excellent examples of capabilities complementing each other. For example, if a person has a decent income, she will be better able to make healthy choices and buy medicines. If a person has bodily health, she will better able to earn a decent income.

I’m trying to think about Green Parenting in terms of complementarity too. Green Parenting, for MaGreen and I, has been and will be the intersection of several efforts: detoxifying our home; creating a family life that is environmentally friendly; working towards gender equity through pregnancy, birth, and childcare; making socially responsible choices as consumers; and living playfully and joyfully. An example of complementarity in Green Parenting would be that cooking fresh organic food cuts toxic pesticides out of our diets; helps the environment; improves working conditions for farm workers; and tastes good. If we have a healthy, well-adjusted daughter, there's a whole host of other capabilities that will be enhanced for her, MaGreen, and me.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Unborn Daughter's Desire

I have a friend who, when he found out from the ultrasound technician that his wife was carrying a girl, immediately began to worry about boys asking his daughter out to the high school prom. Even now when he talks about it, he runs his hands through his hair and rubs his forehead.

When MaGreen and I found out we are having a girl, I didn’t quite have that reaction. But I am worried. If I try to raise a daughter who doesn’t want a Barbie doll, I know the first birthday gift she’ll ask for will be a Barbie. I don’t want to try to control my daughter’s desire. But I don’t think it’s wise for me to ignore desire either, fooling myself that I don’t play any role. I don’t want to leave the formation of her desires to the shallow and commodified notion of sexuality that permeates our culture.

I have this other friend who tried to convince me that walking around the house naked and taking showers with my daughter is the key to life without shame. I just don’t think it is that simple. Pretending to live without any boundaries could be as bad as erecting big, puritanical walls. Something has to be mysterious and out of bounds. Doesn’t desire begin with transgression? with curiosity? She should feel safe at home, aware of all the violence in the world, and in charge of her body.

Here is a poem I wrote in which I try to imagine what I should do as a father, at least metaphorically…

My Unborn Daughter’s Desire

The top dresser drawer
will be hard for her to reach
and I will stuff it with objects
she should not see.
I will fill the drawer with stones
from the beds of great rivers,
postcards from Khajuraho,
bangles and payal made of 22 karat gold,
verses of Sappho embroidered on satin,
a biography of Phoolan Devi,
and a book on Mayan astronomy

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Never a Net Loss in Love

I was at a conference in Oxford where a woman presented a true-cost accounting model for the global trade in caring labor. Let’s say a poor woman from India leaves her children with their grandmother and moves to Dubai to help a rich woman there take care of her kids. She sends money back to India, the grandmother does the unpaid labor of raising her grandkids, and maybe the mother in Dubai works for a real estate agency. Lots of clear economic questions to consider. When the presenter got to the question of love – the love and affection the children in India did not receive – she said, “I didn’t need to include love in the model because there was no net loss in love.” The children in India, she argued, were loved by their grandmother like they would have been by their mother.

Many people at the conference were outraged. The No Net Loss in Love theory was widely discussed at the cafeteria tables in the lunch hall. How dare she! Love isn’t a commodity like shoes or oranges that you can model with supply and demand curves. Love is the stuff of poetry. Unmeasurable.

I think the presenter was brave enough to at least try to talk about the global trade in caring labor. The LA Times ran a story November 3, 2005 about an Salvadoran woman who leaves her kids with a neighbor everyday so that she can help a rich Anglo woman take care of her kids on the other side of town. She’s one of an estimated 62,000 Latina nannies in LA County alone. These stories of poor mothers having to leave their children behind, like Nuris who we met when we staid with the Navas family in Panama, are heartbreaking. I know I don’t want to be at the demand end of this trade in love. It’s immoral. Like buying baby shoes made by children in sweat shops. I talked to my friend Ruben and he said, “when we have a baby, it’s going to be raised by family.” But you know, my mom hired daytime nannies -- white women in Mobile -- to help take care of me so that she could work. Dorothy was so nurturing to me and having a career was good for my mom, my family, and for me as a child. So I'm already a benficiary in the unequal trade of caring labor and I experienced a net gain in love.

I just want there to be another way where we think differently about how we live in our communities, where extended families are reimagined, where poor women don't have to leave their kids behind to take care of rich kids, where the state helps, and where men and women have more flexibility to leave and enter the world of paid work.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mr. Feminist

When we found out that our baby was going to be a girl, one of my colleagues at work said, “Oh good, you can raise a little feminist.” Then she looked at me, paused, and added, “not that you couldn’t raise a boy to be a feminist as well.”

I work for an academic journal called Feminist Economics. People are often surprised that I can, as a male, even work for a feminist publication. They imagine that feminists always want women-only spaces. Then people ask what feminist economics is. A feminist stance on reproductive rights or domestic abuse, a feminist reading of a novel, or a feminist critique of magazine advertisements – people are accustomed to these sorts of feminism. But feminist economics, why would feminism matter in a world of graphs, charts, and statistical models?

Feminist economists look at all kinds of issues like women’s participation in the labor force, pay gaps, wealth gaps, marriage law, inheritance law, unpaid work, childcare, eldercare, and informal labor that are often ignored by mainstream economics. They question mainstream assumptions which are collectively termed homo economicus or the economic man. They contribute to groundbreaking models for understanding poverty, globalization, diseases, and trade. And they try to use this understanding to improve the lives of men, women, and children through public policy efforts like gender mainstreaming.

I’m not a feminist economist myself, I work on the publishing side in the editorial office. The first issue of the journal that I helped edit was a special issue on lone mothers. The cross-country comparisons were the most eye-opening. Once you see how much state support can help parents and children, the situation in the US seems immoral. The numbers are really compelling. Access to childcare, paid maternity and paternity leave, and welfare can mean the difference between well-being and poverty. Yet generous state-mandated maternity leave, like in Scandinavia, can lead to really low rates of working women and discriminatory hiring practices. That issue taught me how profoundly parenting is shaped by social norms and laws.

What I have noticed in many of the parenting magazines and parenting books is that they focus exclusively on how to raise a healthy baby. The parents’ well-being is usually in terms of the baby. You need to take care of yourself to take good care of the baby. Yeah, MaGreen and I are consumed by the desire to raise our baby well in a nontoxic environment. But I want to be vigilant about falling into patriarchal traps. Being stuck at home without the engagement and financial security of work can be bad for mothers. Working all the time and becoming emotionally distant isn’t great for partners either. I don’t want to be trapped into the male-breadwinner, female-caregiver model. And I don't want to be trapped in the relentless life of the two-income, baby-raised-by-a-nanny-from-Panama-whose-own-children-are-growing-up-without-a-mother model either. I have hope, but I'm not sure what we will do.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Cervix and the Heart

MaGreen and I attended the first evening of a birthing class. When we walked into the teacher’s home, I suddenly felt nervous, vulnerable in this room full of strangers. The other couples had already settled into chairs. Our teacher, a woman named Lu, is also a midwife in the hospital-based group we’re going to for pre-natal visits and the delivery.

“This class isn’t outcome oriented,” she said with a New York accent, “it’s not if you do this, you get this. No, see, I’m going to help you build up resources that you can call on depending for whatever challenges that come up.” This sounded right to me.

Lu continued with some basics about delivery. She waved her arms around as she talked. She grabbed a brown doll and thrust it through her favorite prop – a fake pelvis. At one point, she rolled her index finger around the tip of her nose, “Normally the cervix is kind of like cartilage.” Then she opened her mouth and pulled at her cheek from both sides, “But when it’s dilated, it’s like aahhh, yeah nice and soft and flexible, aahh.”

Despite Lu’s unabashed use of her own face to explain the cervix, I couldn’t help but let my attention drift. Part of me wonders if I wasn’t able to focus because at some level, even though we have chosen to go with midwives and natural birth, I’m uncomfortable with the rhetoric of natural motherhood and whole mothers.

Lu asked us to talk about our fears. One man, whose wife looked like she might give birth any second, said, "My employers have better give me leave or I'm going to quit."

An expecting father who looks like a lawyer started explaining the Family Medical Leave Act when another expecting father, a guy with a crew cut and a drawl, said with astonishment, "You have to work and make money."

Then this man's wife, a rather shy woman, said, "I'm afraid that I won't be able to breastfeed."

After talking about breastfeeding and lactation consultants, Lu moved on. She asked each person to draw a picture that represented pregnancy. After about ten minutes, we shared our pictures with the group. Four of the first eight people drew big hearts.

The father with the crew cut had drawn his own big heart with his wife and child inside. He said, “Even though I haven’t seen the baby, I feel more love than I could have imagined.” I liked this guy. He was so earnest. But in light of his astonishment at paternal leave, his drawing bothered me. I could just see his wife stuck at home breastfeeding and the second-wave feminist inside of me started shouting, “See! All this talk about natural birth and motherhood is about keeping women out of the workplace!” It’s like the husband’s drawing of his heart, even though it symbolizes love, defined the strict and debilitating gender divisions in our society with the man as breadwinner and woman as caregiver. Heart as prison.

When my turn came, I blabbered as I held up my picture of a multi-headed, multi-armed version of MaGreen. Our baby is floating outside MaGreen and there are lots of miniature people clamoring around. One of MaGreen’s faces has a sardonic expression, another has its tongue sticking out like Kali, and the third one is looking up with a smile. One hand holds a book, another signals “no fear”, another “I give what you need”, and another holds a spinning, serrated discus that can chop off people’s heads. I’m a burning spirit blending into the background. I said that despite seeing the ultrasound, hearing the heartbeat, and feeling the strong kicks, the baby was like a possibility to me and not quite real.

Lu thanked me for describing how many men feel pregnancy is more of an idea than a physical reality. But I felt disappointed in myself. I couldn’t explain how pregnancy feels fraught with tensions; how it forces all my values, relationships, commitments, hopes, and limitations on the table; how it makes the gender inequities in our society personal; and how there are too many hang-ups, fears, and histories for me to think of pregnancy as a big heart.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Composting 101 – Compost Bins and the Third Eye

At first, burying things in the backyard, or trench composting as it is called, was fine. It’s basically free unless you need to buy a shovel. However, there’s a limit to how much you can bury. Burial is a good method for vegetable peelings and eggshells, but not for leaves, grass clippings, ashes from the barbecue, or whatever else. So MaGreen and I decided that we needed a bin.

There’s an overwhelming selection of bins at stores and on the internet that range in price from about $60 to $200. (Or you can have one designed and built to match your Japanese garden for $600 like MaGreen’s Aunt Patricia.) MaGreen and I, though, are cheap. And it seems a little counter-intuitive to me to spend money on a container to let things rot in. Maybe the “compost tea” that the expensive compost bins produce is the best thing since chocolate, but I would rather start out with something simple and FREE. We’d rather spend our money on a new organic cotton mattress or buy tickets for a vacation or donate to Oxfam.

Miah read somewhere on the internet that it’s easy to make a compost bin with shipping pallets. So we started looking for pallets on the side of the road, next to dumpsters, and behind strip malls. For about a month, we couldn’t find one. I’m not terribly skilled at scavenging. When my parents raised me they always discouraged me from using discarded or used stuff. “We can buy you a new one,” they would say. Having grown up in India right after independence, my parents saw scavenging as something people do to survive, not something that a person with an education and money should do for fun. It wasn’t until I started hanging out with artists, musicians, and writers that my third eye – the garbage eye – opened up.

Miah eventually spotted three shipping pallets in a lot close to our house. I shoved them in the trunk of the car – as in the dickey or boot for all you Brits and Indians - and drove them home. After that first sighting, we started to see shipping pallets everywhere just waiting for us. All of a sudden, the whole city seemed awash in pallets. Scavenging is sort of like birding. Once you’ve learned to spot your first hummingbird, you start to see them everywhere.

Well, to cut this story short, I picked a spot in the corner of the backyard to create the compost. I had to dig up an oleander bush, which MaGreen wanted me to do anyways because it is poisonous and she didn’t want our little girl to chew on the leaves. Then I dug little trenches to put the pallets into so they wouldn’t fall over. I made two four-sided bins with the neighbor’s fence as the backside. The front side swings open. I used an old plastic bag as a sort of hinge. I used the leaves from the dug-up oleander bush to inaugurate the pile.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Covet (and Love It)

If you’re anything like me, on a productive Saturday about fifteen years ago you might have gathered up the blue dress you never should have bought because you hated it in the store (but it made you look skinnier), and three or four T-shirts you don’t wear because you don’t wear T-shirts, and two or three of your Aunt Izzy’s old frying pans, and a grey wool rug, and the iron you retired since your husband came with a better one, and finally, some baseball hats your mother gave you so she wouldn’t have the problem that you do, now:  your give-away pile has sat in a dank corner for so long that you’re afraid to put your hand into the box holding it.  You fear worms might have moved in a few years back and started composting the textiles into a weird, nostalgic dust; or you fear something worse, something more spidery and venomous.  

Some people won’t understand this problem.  They send packages to far-flung friends and family whole weeks before important birthday and holiday deadlines.  They hoist their glass to glass recycling centers bi-monthly (instead of bi-decadely).  So it makes sense that these people, too, can collect give-away piles and distribute them in due time.  They just put them in the car and drive them to the nearest woman’s shelter;  maybe they even call up the Salvation Army and make an appointment to have the items picked up.  “What could be easier?” they ask. These are all good people.  But they aren’t like me, and they don’t understand my problems.  And the Freecycle Network does.

Freecycle is a grassroots organization devoted to reducing landfills by making it easy for people to give away what they might ordinarily throw away.  You join a local Freecycle network, which is basically joining an internet newsgroup/discussion list (directions are on the website).  I’m one of the nearly eight thousand HoustonFreecycle members, and also one of the 729 HeightsMontroseFreecycle members…and there are 2 million other Freecycle members in over 3 thousand communities throughout the world.  And incredibly, this group only started in 2003.  It grows astronomically.

This is how it works.  When you have something to give away you post an offer.  You’d send an email something like:

Subject:  OFFER: random box of books (Montrose Neighborhood)
Message:  Hi, I have about sixty books.  Half are gothic romance novels, some are early American captivity narratives, and there a bunch of reference books on writing.  Also one very surprising book for horticulturalists.  You need to take all or nothing.

If you want something somebody is giving away, you hit reply to their email.  And, by the way, most OFFERs are juicier than the above:  I’ve seen all sorts of furniture, washers and dryers, refrigerators, clothing, computers, gardening stuff (including trees & plants), party favors, pet supplies, and Star Trek memorabilia.  Sometimes something is broken and is given away for parts, and the OFFER’s author will let you know if that’s the case.  Some people post pictures.  I am, actually, this kind of person:  I fear stamps and mailboxes, but have no problem taking a digital photo, uploading it, and sending it off to Freecycle.  

There’s an art to writing a response to an offer that will procure you the offer, and the fun part is that it is a fluid art. That is, different people want different replies.  Some people would snarkily call your lengthy explanation describing why you NEED their IKEA couch cover a sob story and give it to the person who only wrote “I’m interested,” while others would call the latter poster rude and look for a story at least as sad as Old Yeller.  Still others don’t care what you write, they give it to the first person who emails.  But the point is, the offerer decides of his/her own accord who wins, and I think this is a good thing.  It’s unautomated and completely human, and unfair, and chancey.

Raj and I have given away:  an old sewing table (LOTS of crazy, beautiful, sad stories about why people wanted it…), hot curlers, Tupperware (I felt very guilty giving away all the plastic), unmatching flatware, an area carpet, a wardrobe, books, suits…lots of stuff.  When I first started, I found myself looking for things to give away.  It’s thrilling to do.  You choose somebody’s story, you email them and let them know they won, and then you have them come by your house and pick up their gift.  I’m often out, so I leave the item on my porch and it’s gone when I get home.  

This is an incredibly simple and fun way to be a Green Parent.  It’s something stay-at-home parents can do, even when infants are around...and on a side note, there are dozens of offers for cribs, strollers and baby-related things on the lists every day. It’s recycling in a fabulous way, that puts you into contact with your neighbors. It’s an ingenious use of the internet that doesn’t involve giving anybody any money, and that may involve you not having to go out and buy a brand new dresser (because somebody will give you one!).  

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Green Parenting in Panama – The Navas Family

MaGreen and I married last February. One of the gifts was a set of frequent-flyer tickets for our honeymoon, enough to get us out of the country. We booked tickets for Panama because we heard it had rainforests but was not yet overrun with tourists. After spending a day in the city, we took a cab to the bus station and asked for a ticket to a national park in the next province. The conductors talked among themselves and then walked us to the bus.

It was a rustic vehicle, as in no air-conditioning and a passenger holding a crowing rooster in his lap. We rattled out of the city, over the Panama Canal, and into the Coclé Province. We made a turn at the town of Penonomé and started climbing into the mountains. The conductor had us switch into a van, which strained its way up steeper roads. Horses started to outnumber cars and motorbikes. It was getting dark and there were no hotels. The conductor had us transfer again and we found ourselves alone in another van that truly suffered its way up an unpaved, boulder-strewn road into the Parque Nacional Omar Torrijos. The lodging in the park, however, was occupied. Our guidebook said there was one other place to stay – the home of the Navas family.

The Navas took us in and fed us plantains, rice, and chicken. They had a nice, polished concrete porch where we sat and talked with the family. They were a grandmother, grandfather, grown daughters and son-in-laws, and grandchildren. About ten in all. The youngest was a three-year-old boy.

The grandfather, Santo, said to us, “You know, we had some Germans visit, but they called first.”

Then his daughter, Nuris, said, “Yes and there were the Irish ones and they called first too.”

We got the idea. We should call ahead. Still, the Navas did everything to make us feel welcome and want to stay. Our room was off to the side of their family room. It was made of cinder blocks and a metal roof. We had our own toilet and little single bed. I’d like to say that MaGreen conceived there on a mountain where two continents meet, where two oceans nearly meet, but part of the wall with the adjoining bedroom was made from a piece of cardboard and the bed creaked with every move. I could hear the children murmuring in their sleep.

In the morning, a son (or son-in-law?) named Santiago took us into the rain forest to give us a guided tour. He carried a machete with him. “What kinds of things do you want to see?” he asked.

“What kinds of things can you show us?” we asked.

“I’ve taken snake scientists on snake hunts, but that must be done at night with lanterns. Some want to see this bird or that bird on their list.”

“What do you like to look for?” we asked.

“I love the frogs,” he said, “but the red ones, which used to be so common that it would be difficult not to step on them, they have all died.”

MaGreen mourned with Santiago as he told us how thousands of these frogs had died only a few months before and that they were nowhere to be found. We kept asking him about his life and he started to warm up to us. As he took us deeper into the jungle where it was nice and cool, he told us how he grew up tromping around the wilds. He had been a hunter and his family had been loggers until twenty-five years before when the government declared the area a no-cut zone.

“Were you a good hunter?” I tried to ask, but my Spanish came out garbled.

“Look,” he said, “I don’t hunt any more.”

His skills as a guide were extraordinary. He showed us at least five varieties of toucans, countless varieties of hummingbirds, an orange bellied tragon which is a cousin of the quetzal, a white ruffed manakin, a bay headed tanager, a bright blue frog with black spots, a bright green frog with black stripes, a salamander, a huge chameleon that changed colors before our eyes, parasitic trees that eventually swallow up and kill the host tree, ants that carry leaves on their backs, central american squirrel monkeys, and a sloth hanging from a tree with a baby on its belly. While we trudged along, he would suddenly thrust his hand under a plant and grab a frog.

Santiago also took us up to a peak where we could see the Atlantic on one side and the Pacific on the other. On the path, he pointed out abandoned logging equipment. On the way back to the Navas home, we picked fruit off the trees. We even got to pick a cacao fruit. Chocolate is made from the seeds. But we ate the sweet fruit part around the seeds.

When we got back, the grandfather suggested that we go out with the kids to bathe in the Barrigon river. What can I say? We swam with the kids in a pool at the base of a little waterfall. They showed us how to slip behind the falls and then dive under the pounding water.

We kept shouting to the kids over the sound of the water, “You are so lucky to grow up in paradise!”

When we returned for dinner, we talked with Nuris, a very intelligent woman who has two young daughters. When the Peace Corps held a training program at the Navas home, the program director asked her to move to Panama City and work for his family as their nanny.

“I get one weekend off per month to visit my family here,” she said. Her kids were growing up in the care of their father and grandparents as she took care of American kids.

“I’m paid two hundred dollars per month.”

“That’s exploitation,” I said, “you need a union.”

“No, no,” she said, “that’s good pay and this is a good opportunity for me.”

Nuris kept talking to us about her life, about how dear the Peace Corp coordinator’s children were and that they might take her abroad with them. The others were preparing dinner. All their ingredients were fresh and locally grown. They ground and roasted local coffee beans. The chicken was raised locally. We took a break from our vegetarianism to share in their regular meals. One of the men in the family worked yucca farms.

When we actually ate, Nuris joined the rest of the family and the grandfather, Santo, came in her place to talk to us. I asked him how they started their business.

“When the government made the forest a no-cut zone, they told us there would be tourists,” he said, “so that is when we had the idea of hosting visitors.”

I detected some bitterness in the way he talked about the policy. They forged new lives as hosts to eco-tourists because their former way of life was outlawed. Their current work, you could say, is green-collar, but is it as dignified as before? I think it’s wonderful there is income generated by preserving or reclaiming wilderness, but would inhabited wilderness have been a better model than a strict no-cut law?

“Next time,” Santo said, “you must stay longer so that we can take you to La Rica. You can only get there by hiking for a day into the park.” La Rica, La Rica, La Rica. He talked about it whenever his mind drifted. That was where the old way continued. No electricity. Living in the middle of the forest in homes made from wood not concrete. There are even more rivers and more waterfalls. The water tumbles down the mountains into Caribbean.

Before bedtime, the children put on a little play for us. I picked at their guitar and sang a few songs. MaGreen sat with one of Nuris’s daughters and flipped through our Lonely Planet guidebook with her. The girl was especially drawn to the section on Panama City. She pointed to a picture of some shiny skyscrapers and said, “That’s where my mom works.” MaGreen tore the picture out for her to keep. Nuris was leaving the next morning to go back to the American children she cared for in the city. She had already taken an extra day off and had to return.

We left after another day. Santo came with us down the mountain to Penonomé so that we could draw money from the ATM machine and pay him. I think he asked for $160 for two nights, three days of meals, and the tours of the park. We gave him $200. After we said our farewells, he walked straight to a bank and deposited the cash. Earlier he had said that several of the grandchildren wanted to attend universities – one wants to be a biologist – and they were saving money for their schooling. We hope to see them again and bring our baby with us.

If you would like to stay with the Navas family, call ahead. Here's their number: 507 983 9130.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Principles of Green Parenting – Impurity is OK

Well, the week started off relatively green. I switched to using those weird little crystals for deodorant . MaGreen transferred her squash seedling from a little pot to our new square-foot, organic garden outside. We picked up MaGreen’s bicycle from the shop with new pregnancy-friendly modifications. I put screens up, opened our windows, and turned off the airconditioning. So far so good, right? Doing the green thing, reducing our energy footprint and having fun at the same time.

Then Tuesday, we discovered that an animal dug up our garden. I think it was a squirrel, a deceptively cute one that I’ve watched grow from a baby in our backyard. Betrayal! I wanted to hurt the squirrel, which would not be very green I suppose. Then it got hot again and MaGreen was feeling ill. We also got in a big argument. So I closed all the windows and revved up the central air-conditioning. Wednesday, after we had made-up, we rented the second season of Six Feet Under and basically watched four straight hours of television on the dvd player in MaGreen’s computer. For about two days, I felt like taking back all of our idealistic proclamations about green parenting.

I don’t feel bad about these “lapses”. We aren’t trying to reach some kind of pure state of greenness. Although we have hidden the television and stopped watching it, renting some dvds and vegging out – that’s part of life, at least in Houston. We pay a little extra money to get our electricity from a windmill company called Green Mountain Energy, but we’re not going to keep the air-conditioning off and suffocate on a hot Houston day by our own volition. Purity is not the objective. I think pure anything ultimately hurts people. If you read Gandhi’s autobiography, you get the sense that his wife suffered for many of his experiments with truth. Righteousness is a clumsy weapon.

Recently at a party, MaGreen and I were telling some friends and acquaintances about our green parenting plans. Some people were intrigued, others were aghast. It was when MaGreen told them we will try the diaper-free method that people kind of freaked. One woman who has two grown kids basically said we didn’t know what we were getting in to and implied that we would hurt the baby. I think she doesn’t understand us. She thinks we will be dogmatic, as many people are about parenting choices. That said, we are basically setting ourselves up. I’m not sure what it will be like when MaGreen delivers and we have a real baby to deal at 2 am. But we figure the greener our plans, the easier it will be to laugh at ourselves down the road.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Principles of Green Parenting – Understanding Your Fears and Transforming Them

We have focused much of our green parenting energy on removing toxins from our house, which is fear-based action. We are afraid of hurting our child and ourselves, so we get rid of the Windex. But green parenting, in my opinion, shouldn’t be the conglomeration of fears. If I focus on protecting our baby, keeping her safe, and making our home secure, then I am just reproducing all the fear in our society. I’m not saying that we can be fearless. That’s for off-road bikers. “Extreme Parenting Dude!” No, I’m all about fear. While the pregnant mother bears the overwhelming physical burden of pregnancy, I actually think the partner bears a huge psychic burden. My fears as an expectant father are as overwhelming as they are normal. I just don’t want to be trapped in a green prison of our own making. Our quest is to search out our fears and transform them rather than react to them.

What MaGreen has done with our cleaning supplies is a good example. It’s all about process. Researching the way people cleaned before the Windex era put us back into touch with traditions and with the chemicals we use. Mixing the ingredients ourselves is more engaged, not to mention cheaper and less toxic, than buying the latest spray with some new mystery chemical additive. But again, as MaGreen has written, it’s an ongoing process. The homemade dishwashing detergent didn’t work, so she bought the Seventh Generation brand. We went from being uninformed to fearful; but instead of stopping there, MaGreen is taking the time to find alternatives. That process of understanding our fears and transforming them is, in my view, a basic principle of green parenting.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Canned Spinach Beats Potato Chips: How Dorothy Saved Me

When my parents realized that I wasn’t growing, they fired my nanny and hired Dorothy, the first nanny I actually remember. I was two at the time. I was a shrimp of a kid, in the bottom tenth percentile for height and weight. My parents asked a doctor for advice and he told them to keep a careful diary of everything I ate for at least a day. It turned out that all I ate was sugary cereal, coke, potato chips, and cookies. My mom had taken a year off from work to breastfeed and care for me, but after that I was in the hands of the nanny. I don’t remember that nanny and how my parents fired her, but those first days with Dorothy are some of my earliest memories because the change in my diet was so sudden and dramatic.

Dorothy practically crammed scrambled eggs and toast down my throat for breakfast, canned spinach and grill cheese for lunch, and glasses of milk and apples for snacks. It sure wasn’t organic food picked fresh from a local farm and sold at a farmer’s market, but it was better than potato chips. I doubt anybody in Mobile, Alabama used the word organic at the time. It was the era of fake pine-board walls in the living room, TVs with dials next to the screen and no remote, and canned, processed everything. The canned spinach Dorothy fed me tasted bad and she had to persuade me to open my mouth.

“Popeye eats spinach and look how strong he is. Don’t you want to be that strong?” Dorothy would say. She had poofy, permed hair that I thought grew naturally that way on white women. Dorothy would sit down next to me on the floor by the coffee table and try to put the spinach in my mouth. “Come on, be like Popeye.”

It would be many years before I could sneer at clichés like the overeducated liberal that I am now, but even then as a kid, I knew Dorothy was playing on my desires and fears. To my own surprise, I found myself repeating her leading question as an assertion. “Mom, I’m going to be as strong as Popeye.” It was embarrassing to be played, but my resentment for Dorothy melted away. I would wake up at night and ask for her. She didn’t live with us. If it wasn’t yet late, as in grown-up people late, I would talk to Dorothy over the phone and she reassured me. Just knowing that she still existed, that she would force feed me with more canned food the next day, did the trick and I went back to bed.

It’s amazing that both my parents were conscientious doctors, but they still did not know how to control my diet, not until my growth had noticeably faltered. My older brother had been a glowing, chubby boy, but he was cared for in India for the first two years of his life, not only by my mother but by a house full of aunts, cousins, my grandmother, and servants. They fed him dal, yogurt, rice, mangos, shiro, milk, and chapatti. The disjuncture caused by moving from the middle-class life in India to the middle-class life in the United States contributed to my crummy diet.

Yet, I don’t believe that immigration is the whole story. Millions of kids in families that have staid in the same place for generations are living on cookies and potato chips. Women everywhere are working while trying to meet the same burden of caring for children and elderly without the old networks of support. The relentless onslaught of commercials and branding is everywhere. I was fortunate to have Dorothy. She saved me.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Natural Cleaning and Green Cleaning Solutions by Miah

I promised awhile back to put up the list of cleaning supplies on the web. It's a compendium of a lot of other people's ideas. If you search the web, you'll find thousands more whatever you do, since you’re already reading this on the web, don't go out and buy a book on making your own cleaning products. If you don't like my list, go out and search for others.

My proposal here is to post this, and then every couple of months I'll let you know how I'm doing: which mixtures I've nixed, which I like, and any tips I've found.

My primary problems so far have been:
  1. If I put a mixture of powder (Borax or Baking Soda) and water into a spray bottle, the bottle clogs. I am going to go buy a few garden bottles, which I think are meant to house chemicals, and see if this doesn’t clear up my problem.

  2. Powdery residues left behind. The obvious solution is to clean the powdery residue…but I’m aiming for making the simplest of solutions in terms of ingredients and use.

Any hints or recipes from readers would be very welcome…


VG[inegar]— naturally cleans like an all-purpose cleaner.VGis a great natural cleaning product as well as a disinfectant and deodorizer. Always test on an inconspicuous area. Improperly dilutedVGis acidic and can eat away at tile grout. Never useVGon marble surfaces. The smell disappears when it dries. Helps break down detergent in laundry. Use it to clean coffeepots, glass, paintbrushes, grout, windows and fireplaces.
LJ[lemon Juice] – Another natural substance used to clean your home. Can rot after 2 weeks.
Baking Soda [BS] – Cleaning agent even after used up as fridge deoderizer. Cleans, deodorizes, softens W, scours.
Soap – unscented natural soap in liquid form, flakes, powders or bars is biodegradable and will clean just about anything.
Borax [BX] - cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, softens W, cleans wallpaper, painted walls and floors.
WhiteVinegar [VG]- cuts grease, removes mildew, odors, some stains and wax build-up.
Washing Soda[WS] - or SAL Soda is sodium carbonate decahydrate, a mineral. Washing soda cuts grease, removes stains, softens W, cleans wall, tiles, sinks and tubs. Use care, as washing soda can irritate mucous membranes. Do not use on aluminum.
Ethanol or 100 proof Alcohol & water[RA} - is an excellent disinfectant.
Cornstarch - can be used to clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets and rugs.
Citrus Solvent - cleans paint brushes, oil and grease, some stains.
Murphy’s Oil Soap, Bar Keeper’s Friend, Bon Ami



Benzene (paint, plastic, ink, oil): English ivy, chrysanthemum, Gerbera daisy
Formaldehyde: (plywood, pressed-wood, furniture, fire retardants in mattresses): Spider plant, golden pothos, bamboo palm, azalea, Aloe vera, Philodendron
Trichloroethylene: (printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, adhesives): Peace lily, warneckei, Dracaena marginata

CLEANERS (Kitchen/Bathroom):
All Purpose:
1. Simplest: 1 p. VG, 1 p. W in a spray bottle
bathtub, toilet, sink, and countertops. stovetop, appliances, countertops. floor. will eat away the soap scum /hard W stains/degrease.
2. Bleach-like: BX and LJ highly effective mixture for bathrooms. Sprinkle this combination on the surfaces of the sink, toilet bowl and bathtub and then scour with a brush.
3. Degreaser: Mix 1/2 c. VG and 1/4 c. BS into 1/2 gal (2 liters) W. Store and keep. Use for removal of W deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, etc. Degreases & Deoderize.
4. Mix 2 Tb BS with 1 pnt W in spray bottle. squeeze LJ orVGto cut grease.
1. BX, LJ, sunlight
2. Mix a quarter c. of BS with a few c.s of warm W and wash down the outside of white appliances. Allow it to stand for 15 min before rinsing clean and it will help remove yellowing of the appliances and restore the whiteness.
Carpet: Simplest All-Purpose. Let sit 5 min. Scrub.
Decal or Sticker Remover: VG. Really soak it in.
1. compound of 3% HPX andVG
2. Mix 1/4 c. BX into 1/2 gal hot W. Use for wiping surfaces.
3. Soap!
4. Dryness. Bacteria can’t live where it’s dry.
5. Alcohol.
Lime Deposits: You can reduce lime deposits in your teakettle by putting in 1/2 c. (125ml) VG and 2 c.s W, and gently boiling for a few min. Rinse well with fresh W while kettle is still warm.
Mildew Remover:
1. HPX
2. White VG full strength. Don’t rinse.
Midlew Inhibitor: BX
1. 3% HPX with V
2. Mix one p. HPX (3%) with two p. W in a spray bottle and spray on areas with mold. Wait at least 1 hr. before rinsing or using shower.
1. Moisten oven surfaces. Sprinkle several layers of BS and let sit set for 1hr. Rub gently with fine steel wool for tough spots.
2. Salt on Stain when it spills.
Scouring Powder:
1. Apply BS directly with a damp sponge for top of stove, refrigerator and other such surfaces that should not be scratched.
2. Vinegar and Salt. Mix together for a good surface cleaner.
3. LJ andVGand/or BS.
Soap scum/Hard W dissolver: LJ
1. Flush the toilet to allow the W level to go down. Pour the undilutedVGaround the inside of the rim. Scrub.
2. Mix 1/4 c. BS and 1 c.VG pour into basin and let it set for a few min. Scrub with brush and rinse.
3. A mixture of BX (2 p.) and LJ (one p.) will also work. A paste will eliminate stains.
4. Flush. Sprinkle BX. Drizzle over w/V. Leave overnight.
Refinishing Old Furniture: Vegetable Oil Soap, a simple, nontoxic solvent. Follow label directions.
Water Rings on Wood: Moisture is trapped under finish. Try toothpaste or mayonnaise on a damp cloth and rub into the ring. Once the ring is removed, buff the entire wood surface.
Window/Stainless Steel/Chrome:
1. ½ c.VGin 2 c. W
2. 1 c RA, 1 c W, 1 Tb.VG Using Rol and VGtogether makes a quickly evaporating spray glass and mirror cleaner that competes with national brands. a nice shines hard tiles, chrome etc
3. 1/4 cVG 1 Tb cornstarch and 1 quart W.

Dishwasher Cleaner: Pour 1 c. of BS into the dishwasher and run it through the rinse cycle. It will help get rid of some of the grime that collects on the inside of the machine, as well as freshen the smell of the dishwasher.
Dishwasher Detergent: Mix together 1 1/2 Tablespoons of BS with 2 Tablespoons of BX.
Dishwashing soap:
1. Sea salt, LJ, hot W, few drops of orange essential oil
2. Mix equal BX and WS, but increase the WS if your W is hard.
Dishwasher scrubber/stain remover: ½ Lemon w/ BS poured on it

1. Flexible metal snake, a plunger, salt
2. Pour 1 c. of BS down the drain followed by 1 c. of hot VG. Wait 5 min before flushing the drain with 2 quarts of hot W. Repeat.
3. 1 C. of BS and 1/2 c. of salt down the drain. Let this mixture sit in the drain for several hours, overnight is best, before flushing the drain with 2 c.s of boiling W..
Garbage Disposal Freshner:
1. 2 T. BX. Let sit 15 min, then run.
2. Citrus peels
3. BS down the drain without rinsing when you are going on vacation or even just a weekend trip. Flush the BS out of the drain with hot W or hot VG followed by hot W when you return.

1. general: VG, W, 5 drops eucalyptus oil, 15 peppermint, shake
2. vinyl and linoleum: soap. add a capful of baby oil to the cleaning W to preserve and polish.
3. wood: a.)apply a thin coat of 1:1 vegetable oil and VG and rub in well. b.) oil soap
4. painted wood: mix 1 tsp. WS into 1 gal hot W. (see POLISH)
5. brick and stone tiles: mix 1 c. VG in 1 gal (4L) W; rinse with clear W.
6. ceramic tile: Mix 1/4 VG (more if very dirty) into 1 gallon W.

Special problems:
1. black heel marks: the heel mark with a paste of baking soda and water.
2. crayon marks: Toothpaste. Will not work well on wallpaper or porous surfaces.
3. remove grease from wood floors: immediately place an icecube or very cold water on the spot. The grease will harden and can then be scraped off with a knife. Then iron a piece of cloth over the grease spot.

FRAGRANCE: Essential oils. You need a lot to cover the smell of vinegar…eucalyptus works well in small doses, though.

Fabric Brightener:
1. Add a 1/2 c. of BS to the wash when you add your regular liquid detergent. The BS has been known to give you whiter whites, brighter brights, and odor free clothing.
2. LINENS: Add ½ c to wash w/old, age-stained linens
3. 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the rinse cycle
Fabric Softener:
1. ½ c. VG in the rinse cycle. Breaks down detergent.
2. And Odor remover: ½ c. BS in the rinse cycle.
Stain Remover (Clothes):
1. Rub a paste of 6T of BS and 1/2 c warm W onto stained clothing before laundering. Be sure to check for colorfastness first.
2. BX and W
Acids: Drain Opener, Battery Acid, Toilet Cleaner, VGomit, Urine: Quickly rinse acid spills and then sprinkle BS on your clothing to neutralize the acid and prevent damage to your clothing.
Blood Stains: BS rubbed onto a dampened blood stain can help lift the stain from the fabric.
Crayons in the Wash: Crayons accidentally washed with clothing, there may still be hope. Rewash in the hottest W allowable for the fabric, adding a 1/2 box to a box of BS.
Fruit/Wine Stains: Treat immediately, in a hurry, pour a little BS on, and then later run hot W through the back of the stain.
Sweat: A BS paste. Rub onto the clothing. Tough stains may need to let the paste sit for 1-2 hours before laundering.
Vomit: BS.

Aluminum: using a soft cloth, clean with a solution of cream of tartar and W. brass or bronze: polish with a soft cloth dipped in lemon and baking-soda solution, or VG and salt solution.
Brass, copper and aluminum: Paste of LJ and cream of tartar
Chrome: polish with baby oil, VG, or aluminum foil shiny side out.
Copper: soak a cotton rag in a pot of boiling W with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 c. VG. Apply to copper while hot; let cool, then wipe clean. For tougher jobs, sprinkle BS or LJ on the cloth before wiping.
Gold: clean with toothpaste, or a paste of salt, VG, and flour.
1. Line a pan with aluminum foil and fill with W; add a tsp. each of BS and salt. Bring to a boil and immerse silver. Polish with soft cloth.
2. Aluminum foil, BS, Salt, Very hot W (boiling, maybe). Combine in clean sink. Put tarnished silver and silver-plated items in and let set a few min. Watch tarnish disappear, reappear on foil. Natural chemical reaction kids love & teaches them science!

Air Fresheners: Commercial fresheners coat nasal passages to diminish sense of smell.
1. Absorbtion. BS or VG with LJ in small dishes absorbs odors around the house. Houseplants help. Prevent cooking odors by simmering VG (1 Tb in 1 c. W) while cooking.
2. Vanilla. Soak vanilla in cotton ball place in car or anywhere. Reported to even remove skunk smell.
3. Ventilation. Open windows or doors in the house for at least a short period every day. This will also help to reduce toxic fumes that may be building up indoors.
4. Potpourri. Make your own potpourri from your
favorite herbs and spices. Place the potpourri in a small
basket or jar or in small sachet bags. Boil for more effect.
5. Sprays: Mix water and your favorite essential oils in a spray container. Freshens clothes, air, etc.

Odor Removers:
Carpet: a.) Sprinkle the carpet with a mixture of 1 cup Borax and 2 cups cornmeal. Let this mixture stand for an hour before vacuuming. b.) Use baking soda in same way.
General: BS.
Garbage: Put at bottom of garbage in newspaper to soak smells.
Laundry Hamper: BS at bottom of bag or BS sachets.
Musty Smell: Try mopping an uncarpeted floor/shelf with one gal warm W, 1/2 c. of VG, and 1/4 c. of BS.
Refrigerator: Put a box there. Wash w/BS & W. Sprinkle in bins.
Shoes: Sprinkle BS.
Baking Soda: Soaks up musty smells in fridge, garbage, etc.

1. 2 p. olive oil, 1 p. LJ.
Mix together in a clean new spray bottle. Use another clean cloth to polish the surface dry.
2. Mix three p olive oil and one part vinegar.
1. Banana Peel
2. Olive oil with a few drops of LJ can be applied to shoes with a thick cotton or terry rag. Leave for a few min; wipe and buff with a clean, dry rag.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Composting 101 - My Secret in the Backyard

I have been going into the backyard at night with a shovel for two months now. Usually I go after dinner once the dishes are in the washer and MaGreen has gone into the computer room. Our backyard does not have much lighting and I walk out to the darkest corners where there isn’t any grass. I dig a hole that’s at least one foot deep. And when the hole is made, that’s when I dump our vegetable peelings in. OK, so I'm not burying a body or anything illegal. But you have to admit that whether you are burying a body or vegetables, both lead to decomposition, worms, and enriched soil.

I started burying things because MaGreen and I are a bit lazy. MaGreen always wanted a compost pile, but we just didn't get around to starting one. It was frustrating. Putting the peelings in the garbage disposal often clogged the sink. If we threw leftovers away, the garbage smelled after a day. Once I tried to dump our vegetable peelings out the window into a flower bed, but the next morning we were embarrassed to find them scattered around on the grass and sidewalk. Then on a short trip to Brooklyn, MaGreen’s friend Sarah showed us how she just buried stuff in a tiny patch of ground underneath the patio. It was like shortcut composting. If Sarah could do it in a tiny Brooklyn “backyard”, we felt we could do it in Houston.

Soon I found myself addicted to burying things. I tried to find excuses to peel more things. Cooking and eating at home became more appealing because then I would have something to bury. Since we don’t cook meat at home, just about everything is suitable. Eggshells, onion peels, carrot shavings, the scrapings of leftover food that it wouldn’t make sense to eat, or the Vietnamese food in a doggy bag that’s been sitting in the fridge for a week. I loved how the shovel slipped into the dirt more and more easily each night. It was astonishing how quickly stuff turned back into dirt. Once I went during the day and when I turned the soil, there were three huge earthworms, flipping around in a glorious panic.

“I saw three earthworms,” I told MaGreen. She was delighted.

“That means it’s working,” she said.

As the soil assumed a moist and black consistency, I was reminded that I wasn’t only burying things for the sake of burying them. We wanted to start an organic garden and that beautiful worm-laden decomposing trench was the beginning. Our child will eat vegetables picked just before they are served. She will see the cycle of life and death – not in some Disney flick – but in her own backyard. Maybe she will go with me one night soon. And I will hold the peelings as she works the shovel. The sound of a critter scurrying along the fence or a tree branch might alarm her, but she will concentrate on the hole.

Composting 101 - A Wormderful Intro Podcast

MaGreen's aunt and uncle give us a tour of their compost bins and share with us the joys of rot. Click on the title to hear the podcast.

Composting 101 - You Don't Have to Be Perfect to Let Things Rot

On one of our visits to Missoula, MaGreen’s Uncle Stephen and Aunt Patricia walked us out back behind their fence to show us their compost piles. They were neatly organized in a series of wooden boxes. Three or four of them, perfectly constructed, each one holding a mix of yard waste and food scraps in varying states of decomposition. Stephen described the system, but I couldn’t really follow it. He has that kind of voice you would expect from an respected doctor who sees cancer patients every day. Each of his words is enunciated and weighted at the end, inflected with erudition and wisdom. Like their cooking, their exercise regimen, and their communes with nature at Glacier National Park, I found their compost piles to be impossibly perfect. MaGreen and I could never do that. Their rotting waste was neater than our office desks.

And yet, when we got back to Houston, our guilt about throwing away massive amounts of organic matter grew, burdened us with the weight of all the clippings that we’ve ever thrown away. Everyday it seemed we learned something new about how bad it is to throw away your food scraps and yard waste. When organic matter decomposes in big city dumps, it combines with the surrounding garbage to make all kinds of toxic stink that seeps into the ground and the water supply. And there isn’t much space left in dumps as it is. And if you haven’t figured it out already, MaGreen and I have overactive consciences. Knowing we are hurting the world out of carelessness and inaction bothers us.

We were trapped by our feelings of inadequacy and our guilt. Did I mention our fears? What if we started our compost wrong? Would it attract cockroaches and rats? What exactly can you put in it? Should it be closed and made of plastic? Do we need the kind of compost that has red worms? If you make a hot compost, can it explode? It seemed there were so many ways of composting, we would need to take a class to figure out how to start. Ultimately, we got over our fears. As with our other greening attempts, MaGreen’s being pregnant has gotten us motivated. In the next few weeks, I’ll be writing more about composting. Before I get to the specifics, I wanted to acknowledge that the first hurdle, if you are like us, is to realize that composting is not rocket science. You don’t have to be perfect to let things rot.

Brown Man, Green Dad

Miah and I went to a fair for parents and expecting parents at the Houston United Way building. Our friend Jay was helping at a booth for a new Waldorf school. The La Leche League, the Women’s Health Specialists, two birthing centers, a Montessori school, photographers, chiropractors, a life insurance company, and the guy who rents big storks to put in the lawn were among those passing out brochures and trinkets. We snagged a free bandaid holder. Most tables only had hard candies to give away. One lady – I don’t remember what her booth was for – handed MaGreen a free doll. Then when I walked up, the lady said, “You might like this one instead” and gave MaGreen a different doll. We moved on to the next table, the Nativiti Birthing Center, which had pictures of bathtub births.

I forgot about the doll until MaGreen told me that the lady had exchanged a fair doll for a dark doll after seeing me. It’s a little brown man waving one arm. The letters OBW are sewn into his breast for “Official Baby Watcher.” When we passed that booth again, I looked more carefully at the other dolls. There was a whole box of the fair dolls out. I wondered if the lady had a special one or two dark dolls to pull out on need? I appreciated her awareness. She was clearly well intentioned. Maybe if my school teachers back in Mobile, Alabama had been that alert and if they had materials like brown dolls that validated my presence, things would have been better for me. MaGreen noticed later on that the white lady who gave us the brown doll had a brown man with her.

Actually, two groups at the fair had missions that focused on people of color. The community doula program trains Latinas to become doulas. And there was one booth for African-American women breast-feeding. Those booths weren’t very busy. Getting the dark doll for our expected little one, as nice as it was, ultimately made me especially aware of how “white” the whole fair was. You could count those who were obviously people of color on one hand. In my experience, this type of demographic is typical of progressive or environmental events. Even though groups want to reach out to ethnic and racial “minorities” – we actually constitute the majority here in Houston – the actual people who show up, well let’s just say it’s like vanilla ice cream sprinkled with chocolate chips.

One explanation is that there is a history of racism in progressive and environmental movements. For example, many conservationist policies take no consideration of the largely dark-skinned people who live amidst the world’s remaining wilderness. It’s as if they never existed. “Over population” can be code for “too many dark people.” Take a look at these two articles, Los Angelos Times and Common Dreams, about the recent failed attempts by nativists to take over the Sierra Club.

But there are all kinds of explanations. You know, maybe it’s that people of color have a different set of material concerns and we organize in ways that make sense to our different communities. Here are some examples:

Chipko Movement
Did you know that Indians, as in people from India, invented tree hugging? The Chipko movement was begun by women and men in Himalayan villages to stop commercial logging. Their embracing of trees led to inhabited wilderness initiatives. Bina Agarwal is a brilliant economist who has written extensively about this movement and its results.

African American Environmentalist Association
This organization seems to really be a one-man show. Here’s a link to an interview of the director and founder, Norris McDonald. Believe it or not, he’s an African-American Republican environmentalist.

Land Rights in New Mexico
The Hispanos of New Mexico are fighting for rights to land grants and water rights that were recognized by the Treaty of Hidalgo. And they are often at odds with the mostly white conservationists. Here's a link to a related activist site, La Jicarita News.

I’m curious what readers think. Issues of race/ethnicity, poverty, gender, rights, and the environment are all linked. Or “tangled up” might be the better phrase. It’s hard to get your mind around.

I'm pretty sure my daughter will have lighter skin than me and this new brown-skinned doll. She’ll be half Indian and half white. She’ll also be a relatively privileged child, like I was. I’m her father and I don’t want her to be among the unprivileged, those doomed to toxic food, toxic air, and too little fuel and water. But I don’t want her to be among the privileged either, because privilege can be its own type of suffering. I want to believe another world is possible.

Natural Cleaning and Green Cleaning Podcast

MaGreen and GreenDaddy talk about switching to green, home-made cleaning supplies.

Toxic Loss

Like GreenDaddy says, being pregnant has changed our perspective about things. So although I’ve known about the evil nature of toxic products since I was a kid, when I heard the Pacifica radio show about the way one woman eliminated toxins from her world, I was listening more carefully than usual. She noted a few studies – like women who spend most of their time in their homes have a much higher cancer rate than women who work outside the home, because of poor ventilation and the multitude of toxins present in the items we construct, furnish, & clean our homes with. The World Health Organization links cancer to industrialized nations, and in the US cancer rates are up by 49% since 1950 [].

Of course, there are thousands of causes for these higher rates. It is not just the products I choose to clean my house with. Or the plastics I fill it with. Or the plastics I wear. Or the pesticides on my food. Or the pollutants in the air. Or the 90% of synthetic chemical compounds in fragrances, personal products, cleaning products, and the air that have never even been measured for toxicity. My own geneology might work against me, or my sensitivity to products most people aren’t effected to. Like carrots. Carrots aren’t toxic to me, but they are toxic to some people, I’m sure.

But the point is, there are all these things, some of which I can control without much effort at all, effecting my life. Whereas before pregnancy I sort of shrugged off this information, and found it annoying, I’m feeling more revolutionary lately: I thought, well, we might as well try to do what we can to eliminate some of the risks. I quit drinking alcohol during pregnancy – why wouldn’t I quit hanging out in a house filled with petrochemicals? What harm will it do me not to buy milk in a jug? Or to give up my Windex for some old fashioned vinegar & water?

As it has turned out, I am still the girl that liked mixing Ajax and Laundry detergent to make ghost-paste. Another time, in childhood, my friend Scotty and I made a formula out of the forgotten chemicals in my father’s shed that not only killed stinging red ant populations for two and half minutes, exactly --- but if you used it to paint it would seep up through later layers of paint years down the road, so that even now, at least twenty layers of paint later, the brown letters we painted are still barely discernable on the whitish picket fence in the city park. And I reiterate: I am still this girl.

In terms of seeking out new solutions and supplies to clean my house, this is finally a good thing. I spent three or four hours on the internet, searching out different sorts of cleaning combinations that make different sorts of cleaning products. As it turns out, I am not the only person interested in “greening” my home. Hundreds of websites about eliminating toxic substances from your life exist. Hundreds more sites with recipes from people who just want to clean the house like “grandma” and don’t want to be reliant on buying cleaning products from the store. Between these two sorts of sites, I came up with my list. I think I’ll post the whole list on a separate post that details what we’ve found that works, and what we’ve found that doesn’t work.

For now, I’ll say I like knowing that I can clean my silver by leaving it in a sink filled with boiling hot water, a couple teaspoons of salt and baking soda, and a sheet of aluminum foil. The method is certainly faster than trying to rub all the nooks and crannies of the silver with silver polish. It makes me feel giddy and smart because its cheaper, its smarter, and its more fun than cleaning with products that give me headaches. I feel like I’m picking up knowledge my grandmothers’ knew, and that was if not stolen, hidden from me by the people who said my house isn’t clean if their product hasn’t touched it.

And most of all, I like knowing I’m doing this at the same time that I’ve taken a pretty simple step in making my house safe for our little girl. I’m grateful not have to worry about her crawling through a puddle of leaked bleach and dying of burn wounds or of eating toxic dishwashing detergent and dying of intestinal damage – two causes of baby and toddler deaths in American households more terribly common than you’d guess.

If she’s anything like I was, it’s good we’re getting rid of the toxic stuff. I’ll teach her [and any other little ones we have] to mix things that make useful products. I’ll dissuade her from putting Barkeepers’ Friend (a scouring powder sites say aren’t toxic) on her face, but I’m not against helping her search out and creating some sort of healthy, pasty natural “beauty product” she can use for pranks of her own. That’s awhile off, now, but I’m glad ahead of time.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Toxic Love Podcast

MaGreen talks about how she used to love smearing toxic chemicals on her face when she was a child.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Toxic Love

It does not take a rocket scientist to know bleach is toxic and dangerous. Or that nasty commercial mildew eater is. I mean, if you use a substance in your home that nauseates you, gives you a headache, or otherwise makes you want to leave said home for a couple of hours afterward for it to "air out" there's an eighty percent chance you're using something toxic and poisonous. And though you could continue to use toxic chemicals to clean your home for the rest of your life anyway, and though many of us do even though we know they're toxic, we don't have to.

This is not to say that I was not once the little girl who made a paste out of Ajax and dish soap, smeared it all over my face, and then tried to fool Arthur Young into thinking I was a minty-green faced ghost. Or that I didn’t understand my family friend Margot’s rage when she caught me coming home that day, or that I didn’t believe her horror when she said the Ajax was full of harsh chemicals. As a child, I believed adults weren’t lying about dangerous, poisonous things that could kill children, but I also believed that what they said was only true of most children in the world. I wasn’t most children. I was tough. I didn’t even get a rash when I put Ajax on my face and tried to convince Arthur Young that although I looked like little Miah Arnold, she was dead and I was her ghost. I was too tough to be effected by chemicals. Tougher than the rest of the world. Of course, I was also the type of kid who didn’t remember bad things, and so couldn’t recall how as a toddler I’d tossed back a jar of my aunt’s shellac, thinking it was milk, and actually would have become Miah Arnold’s ghost if not for the Duchesne County Hospital’s stomach pumper.

What I am trying to establish here is that I have had a long, intimate, and maybe even loving history with toxic chemicals. By the time I hit my mid-twenties, a statistically significant portion of my friends and acquaintances began developing weird allergies and sicknesses, my mother was increasingly bowled over by intense migraines, and for me, walking into the perfume section of a department store or the cleaning product section of a grocery store was liable to cause me a painful headache of my own. Did I choose to eschew these products ever afterwards? Of course not. I was resistant to the idea of eliminating toxins because:

Number One: It seemed wimpy in the same way smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol seemed cool. What kind of drip is afraid of a bottle of Windex? (Which, by the way, ought to be feared as it is particularly noxious according to countless sources as it contains butyl cellosolve, toxic to blood cells, kidneys, and livers. It's not listed on the label either. This irks me as I always imagined Windex as the most virginal of the cleaning products in terms of toxicity.)

Number Two: The whole comet smearing and other like episodes made me figure I was already too contaminated to save. I knew I couldn’t get out all the toxins, so I figured, why try?

Number Three: Some risks you take, even if they’re bad for your health, because their perks outweigh their downsides. Like smokers or drinkers (or breathers of the air in Houston, where we live) I figured so what if its bad for me. It’s too hard not to use them.

Number Four, which is really a subcategory of Number three: I don’t believe something is clean if it doesn’t have a brand name smell: windows like Windex, floors like Pine Sol, wood should be Lemon Pledgey…and I fully admit that if a bathroom doesn’t smell like its been the site of an industrial waste explosion, I don’t believe its clean. And if you think about this particular line of reasoning is illogical: I don’t believe something is clean unless it actively smells. Wouldn’t it be more logical to assume that something with no scent at all is cleaner than something I’ve wiped scent all over?

I should mention here that my transfiguration from badass-deer-ignoring-the-headlights into the crazy pregnant woman dumping all the chemicals in the house down the drain and declaring a moratorium on plastics was not immediate. As the conservatives would argue, it was part of a slippery slope most any liberal is in danger of falling into: a couple years ago we bit the financial bullet and started shopping at Whole Foods where we bought organic vegetables, free-range eggs, and hormone free milk. At some point, we joined a vegetable co-op to supplement this change. We toyed with and rejected (after watching SuperSizeMe) the idea of becoming vegans. We hovered at this stage a couple of years, through courtship and into marriage. And now we’re pregnant and we’ve taken enough small steps to consider taking a few larger ones, though, like GreenDaddy says, knowing which steps to take is proving tricky.