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Archive for December, 2007

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It’s been a rough start to our greener lifestyle.

I was going to write about how we were trying to reduce the amount of wrapping paper we used over the holidays, and how we hit some library used-book sales to stock up on reading material for our kids, who adore to read.

But it all came to a screeching halt on Boxing Day night as we drove home to Montreal from a family get together in Ontario. One of the kids complained that her head was itchy and asked if we could do a lice check on her when we got home. Sure enough, we spotted lice eggs — or nits — on her head that night.

In the clear light of the next morning, after a family friend who is a Lice Lady at her kids’ elementary school checked all our noggins, we had two kids with confirmed cases of lice, and me with an itchy head. Doesn’t everyone’s head get itchy when someone says the L-word?

The recommended treatment for lice is definitely not green: a pesticide shampoo kept behind the counter at the pharmacy. Overwhelmed with the job ahead — hours of picking through the kids’ hair looking for lice eggs and doing load after load of laundry (all the bedding, coats, stuffed animals, pillows, and more had to be washed in hot water and sent through the dryer) — I didn’t even think to look for natural solutions. We slapped the shampoo on the kids’ hair and started combing out bugs and eggs.

Three days later, and me with a confirmed case of lice too, we’re trying the non-chemical path now.

After pulling hundreds of eggs out of one kid’s hair, we invested $45 in a battery-operated device (the Robi-Comb, from LiceGuard) that kills lice on contact. It has been worth every penny.

And today, instead of another dose of pesticide, I slathered this tried-and-true home remedy on one of the kids’ hair: equal parts hair conditioner and vinegar. Leave it on for an hour and then rinse and shampoo. Apparently lice don’t like the vinegar and their nasty little eggs can’t stick to your hair as well if vinegar has been there.

Many people who’ve been in the lice trenches have recommended using tea tree oil. Supposedly lice don’t like it. We’ve used the shampoo, and are dabbing tea tree oil behind the kids’ ears as a preventive measure. Let’s hope it works.

If you really want to learn more about lice check out HeadLice.org, which has lots of pictures and info. Quebec’s health department also has a good pamphlet (PDF) on the topic.

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In Saturday’s Montreal Gazette, as part of a series of year-end vignettes by reporters, I wrote this piece:

Monique Beaudin

The wind whipped snow around our backyard, turning snowflakes into skin-stinging pellets. Bundled up against another winter storm, I trudged through thigh-high drifts to our compost bin.

The habits learned during a week of cutting our family’s garbage down to almost nothing die hard, I thought, as I swept 30 centimetres of snow off the bin. In went coffee grounds, clementine peels, onion skins, and two bags of used paper towels from my daughter’s preschool.

Everyone had opinions on our garbage experiment – My Garbage Diaries, a series published in September. Our neighbours were peeking into our garbage can, Gazette readers complained about our use of dryer sheets, and casual acquaintances asked for composting tips. Of the hundreds of stories I’ve written for The Gazette, the Diaries got by far the most reaction.

When we struggled with dental floss – essential for good dental hygiene, but not recyclable – suggestions poured in: Let birds use it for their nests; reuse it (something that everyone in the family thought was gross); even sew with it. We cut down our toddler’s disposable diaper count to one per night hoping we’d get more than a few hours sleep at a time, but got grief from readers for even having them in the house.

Once you kick the garbage habit, it’s hard to stop. I’m overwhelmed with guilt if I go shopping and forget a reusable bag, I won’t buy eggs packed in unrecyclable styrofoam and will only buy toilet paper made from recycled paper. For the first time ever, we’re composting in the winter, even during snowstorms.

And My Garbage Diaries has morphed into Just One Thing, a personal blog about my family’s effort to reduce our environmental footprint, one day at a time.

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Trudging through the snow

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When we decided to try to go greener for 2008, one of the things I knew we’d have to keep doing was composting during the winter. This is the first winter we’ve tried to keep the compost bin in use. Usually by the time there is this much snow on the ground, I throw in the towel and stop composting until the spring. But after writing the Garbage Diaries, and realizing how much of our waste could be composted, it seemed like a huge step backward to go back to throwing our green waste into the trash.

It’s been more challenging than I thought it would be. The snow is thigh-high in our back yard, and both of our big black bins are covered with snow. The trip out our back door and down our deck stairs is treacherous because we haven’t been clearing them regularly and each step has a nice icy slope on it.

With a toddler in the house, one has to do the trip to the bin when one’s spouse is at home because said toddler cannot be left unattended, and there is no way I’m schlepping her AND the overflowing compost bin across the frozen tundra of our back yard. That’s meant a few days where the stuff destined for the composter is piling up on our kitchen counter, but hopefully that won’t happen very often.

And in the spring, we’ll have some nice nutrient rich compost for our garden. That is if the squirrels that live in the tree behind our house don’t eat everything in the compost bin before then.

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Passing the Puck

I’m taking a tip from former US Vice President Al Gore and looking to the future. While chastizing his own country’s (and Canada’s) position at the Bali climate-change conference last week, he told the rest of the world to press on with serious steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Referring to hockey players Bobby Hull and Wayne Gretzky, Gore said the world should not wait for the US.

“One of the most famous ice-hockey players in history was asked the secret of why he was so good,” Gore said in this story from The Canadian Press.

“He was the best passer in the history of the game, Bobby Hull. Others might disagree (and say) Wayne Gretzky.”

“And he said in response to the question: ‘I don’t pass the puck to where they are – I pass the puck to where they’re going to be’.”

“Over the next two years, the United States is going to be somewhere it is not now. You must anticipate that.”

So, I’m going with Gore. Maybe our current government doesn’t want to take drastic steps to cut our country’s greenhouse gas emissions. But our family can try.

For 2008, our family is going green. We’re going to reduce our carbon footprint, keep up some new waste-reduction habits we began last year, and do what we can to be ready for when the Canadian government starts doing some serious stick handling on climate change.

Stay tuned to Just One Thing to read about our ecological adventures.

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Two years ago, with wicked morning sickness, I covered the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. Then-environment Minister Stéphane Dion was the chair, Montreal was the host city, and Canada was the belle of the ball. Prime Minister Paul Martin swooped in and gave the Americans a talking-to about what many at the conference considered their backward stance on the Kyoto Protocol and its plans to tackle worldwide climate change. Despite its growing greenhouse-gas emissions, Canada was lauded for brokering a deal to move Kyoto and its climate-change management forward despite American objections.

On more than one occasion during that week, environment groups and other non-governmental organizations (or NGOs as they were more simply referred to) dubbed the American contingent the Fossil of the Day, criticizing them for refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol. This time, in Bali, it’s Canada’s turn to be fossilized.

Now that Australia has a new prime minister, and has decided to ratify Kyoto, Canada has few allies in its position that all countries — developed and developing — must agree to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.

This week, the UN’s top climate-change diplomat, in what is considered a highly undiplomatic move, said: “I personally find it interesting to hear Canada just a little while ago indicating it would not meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and now calling on developing countries to take binding reduction targets.”

The Gazette’s Janet Bagnall has an interesting column on Canada’s actions in Bali here.

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Am I the only one who turns off their car engine when they’re stuck in a long line up at a Tim Horton’s drive thru? On a winter’s day, you can really see how much exhaust is spewing out while coffee lovers wait for their fix. With small kids to bundle in and out of our mini-van whenever we want a hot chocolate or coffee while on the road, it is always much easier to zip into the drive-thru line. I assuage my guilt by turning the engine off and on as the line slowly snakes forward.

But that’s not enough for some people. According to the Canadian Press, communities across the country are considering restricting drive-thru hours, or even banning them outright. They say long line-ups from drive-thrus are spilling out onto city streets, posing safety risks. And all the idling creates a lot of greenhouse-gas emissions.

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Something fishy

When I was a teenager growing up in Eastern Ontario, people used to rave about the Lancaster perch, a freshwater fish locals caught in the nearby St. Lawrence River. It was a speciality at local greasy spoons, and a treat at community events. But it always seemed a risky idea to me to eat it, coming as it did from the St. Lawrence River. My parents never took us swimming in the river, even though it was a quick car trip away. Too much pollution, they said.

I was reminded of the Lancaster perch fish frys, and my parents’ wariness of the St. Lawrence River when I heard this piece by the CBC’s Loreen Pindera on The Current today. The report discussed plastics and chemicals that act as endocrine disrupters — basically, they mimic hormones. What really caught my attention was the work of some McGill University researchers, who discovered male fish downstream in the St. Lawrence from Montreal with ovaries. The researchers said the male fish were becoming females because of endocrine disrupters found in the river. When they fed the fish to rats, they found the rats’ fertility was compromised.

Yet another reason that I’m glad I don’t eat fish from the St. Lawrence. And I plan, on an upcoming trip to Ottawa, to hit this store in Wakefield, Qc. that sells non-plastic food containers. We try to use reusable containers for lunches, but with three young girls at home, I’d rather pack their food in containers that aren’t leaching chemicals into their food.

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