June 29, 2009

sunscreens put to the test

My family just returned from a fabulous week at the beach. It was idyllic, with kids playing in the surf from dawn till dusk. The weather was incredibly hot and humid, but thankfully the ocean was refreshing and welcoming.

The scenario was a perfect challenge to find the right sunscreen. You'd think I'd have figured out my favorite product after having reviewed so many, but trial and error still leaves me searching for perfection.

Since I began my quest for the best and safest sunscreen, I've amassed quite a collection. I brought all the tubes and bottles that had not expired to the beach. I wish I could tell you that there was a clear favorite, but in reality it was more like this:

I used Trukid Sunny Days SPF 30 sunscreen on my kids and my own face. It goes on incredibly smoothly and not too white. It can be a little greasy at first but thankfully it is not as thick and uncomfortable as some others and is a decent price-point. This sunscreen has no parabens, is non-toxic and uses titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. It is the brand I carry in my purse year-round for my kids' faces.

For myself, I started with a tube of the UV Natural SPF 30 Sport. I knew it was super thick and greasy from my past experiences, but I was hoping that it would hold up well to the hot sun and swimming. In the end, it was just too humid and uncomfortable to wear such thick creme. It made me sweat even more! No doubt the product works well and is ideal for water sports—I just couldn't bring myself to keep putting it on, despite a fantastic rating on the Skin Deep database (a 1!)

It was so hot and sticky outside that I lost all sense of good judgment and decided to just get a bottle of chemical-laden sunscreen spray. I tried the Neutrogena Kids Spray SPF 70. Comparable products do not get a very good rating on the Skin Deep database. Was the sun ruining all my good judgment? The spray application was so much easier and lighter. It was very appealing in the steaming sun. Even the kids begged me to use the spray in their limbs instead of the creme. I knew it was sinful (the skin absorption chemicals, the wasteful packaging), but it was the first product I reached for whenever I needed to reapply. Unfortunately, the bottle only lasted me about 2 days at the beach.

After that indulgence I attempted to amend my sins by using my tube of Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Green Tea SPF 25. It went on freakishly white. Seriously, I looked strange. It was also a thick yet grainy consistency which was not very comfortable. What really irked me was that where the product got on my bathing suit (which was brown) it would not rub off. I had white splotches all over the straps and edges where my application rubbed the fabric edges. It also stained my white cotton cover-up. After washing, neither the suit nor cover-up have come clean! Plus, after double checking the rating on Skin Deep (it got a 4) I don't think I would even bother with this product again.

I wish I had a solution after all this experimentation in the field. I know many readers have personal favorites and I'm sure they work well. While the conditions on my trip were somewhat extreme–with a heat index over 100 most days with high humidity–it seems a reasonable scenario for any sunscreen to perform in.

I'm torn. Looking at the facts on paper, choosing a sunscreen seems simple. But out at the beach, all bets are off. Rationalization gives way to comfort. How seriously do you take your sunscreen?

June 18, 2009

reader questions and more

I'm headed off for a family vacation next week and I don't think I'll be able to post from the road. I have big plans for the blog when I come back, though. There are many improvements I've wanted to make and I hope now that it is summer I'll have some time to do them.

One such idea is a feature called Reader Questions. So many people ask me excellent eco questions. I don't often know the answers but am eager to see what I can find out and share.

While I'm away, I'm hoping you readers can help me jump start an answer for one of our peers. A soon-to-be new mom wrote me asking about the safest and best options for infant formula. She is adopting a baby very soon and wanted to choose something good (obviously).

I've mentioned before how my first son ended up using formula (using BPA bottles, no less). I didn't really know to look into formula choices at that time. I tried a major brand and went with it. We had no problems, so I stuck with it.

But it is a good question. Knowing what we all know now, what are the best options for formula these days? Please add your advice in the comments below. I'll add my research and summarize when I get back. Thanks!


At the end of last summer, I wished I had tried to can more produce, to try and preserve some of the amazingly yummy things from the farmer's market. Thing is, canning scares me. I've made jam but that is about it. Now each week when I see the quarts and quarts of sweet blueberries I think, "I should buy extra to preserve them" but I panic and procrastinate.

Imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon a slew of articles and photo slide shows on the New York Times website. I'm still going through all the material and loving every minute of it. (There's a slide show of "Canning, step by step" and a video called, "Checking the seal".

I also have signed up for a canning class in August at the Studio for Urban Projects with a very talented local chef.

Who knows? Maybe after reading all the information in the article I'll give canning a whirl before my class starts!

June 17, 2009

earth baby

New parents are always faced with the decision of which kind of diapers to use. Considerations of the environment, convenience and lifestyle are obvious factors.

My kids are out of diapers now, but I was nonetheless really intrigued by a new choice in the mix: a compostable diaper service.

Earth Baby serves the San Francisco Bay Area, with the aim to eliminate disposable diapers and wipes from landfills. The company was started by 3 local families, who "are dedicated to providing our customers with compostable diapers and wipes that equal the name-brand disposables in every way: comfort, absorbency, fit, appearance and most importantly, convenience. In addition, we are committed to responsibly composting, reusing or recycling everything we sell."

They claim to have the most environmentally responsible diapering solution available today. Earth Baby provides compostable diapers and wipes and later picks up the soiled items and composts them in their own special composting piles.

I would have loved to been able to try Earth Baby when my kids were in diapers. You know, sometimes to solve big problems you have to think up a whole new approach, and I really respect that they have brought a new option to the market.

June 15, 2009

poor old water heater

It was a lucky thing that we decided to go out to dinner Sunday night. If we hadn't walked down to the garage, we may never have seen the river of water flowing from our water heater through our garage and out into the street.

I've always had it on my list to research tankless water heaters, but suddenly the choice was thrust upon me. If we wanted to try one, now might be the time to do it.

I spent the day today talking with plumbers, researching online. I still am not clear on the entire breadth of tankless water heater solutions, but I am clear enough to decide what we will install.

It went something like this:

Traditional plumber is wary of using tankless in our situation. It will require lots of new pipes (flue, water, gas, etc.), a longer install time and higher labor costs. Plus, he's skeptical the heater will provide for our 3 bathroom home.

Tankless expert claims they have heaters that will work very well in our home and have a way to install very simply and quickly (next day, just like the traditional guy!) Cost is almost 8 times more.

Needless to say, at this juncture we just need to go with the more affordable solution. There are many variables to choosing the right tankless system, and I hope we can do it someday.

Everyone I spoke agreed tankless water heaters are the way of the future. I wish I could afford to make the leap right now. There are federal tax rebates available for systems installed this year. Not to mention the savings to your utility bill (some claim your gas usage should drop by 30-40%)!

For the record, I'm not trying to talk anyone out of buying a tankless water heater. I'm only acknowledging that at this critical moment (I really do need to take a shower) it is out of my budget. Feel free to leave a comment on any experiences or research you've done on them. It will come in handy when I am finally in a position to make the switch.

June 11, 2009

save the parks!

Wherever you live, you've probably heard about the huge budget mess in California. I won't pretend I have any ideas on how to fix it. Of course there will be tough choices and painful cutbacks. But closing all our state parks just seems like a bad idea.

The state parks in California are so special: beaches along the Pacific, trails through the redwoods, mountains and more. Closing the parks will hardly make a dent in fixing the budget. It remains to be seen how the state would actually put a closure plan into effect, and how they would maintain them or reopen them someday.

I'm sad because my family loves camping at the state parks. We cannot imagine having this amazing experience and resource unavailable to us. We spend long weekends completely outdoors, playing and having fun. Plus, the trips are especially important now when fancy vacations are less of an option. They are the highlight of our year!

If you live in California, or can lend some support, please check out the California State Parks Foundation. They have links to ways you can help stop the closure of the parks. Next weekend, June 20th, will be Save Our State Parks Weekend. You can help in many ways, and it doesn't involve sending money.

June 10, 2009

san francisco trash alert

San Francisco Supervisors voted yesterday to make not sorting your trash properly against the law. Lots of towns have mandatory recycling programs, so that in itself isn't new.

What is unique is that since San Francisco has a curbside composting program in the mix. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, it will soon be a violation to throw "orange peels, coffee grounds and grease-stained pizza boxes in the trash."

I think it is a good thing. I like taking a progressive stance with these programs and have confidence that once people get used to it, that it won't be a big deal.

I've read some criticism that the city should be spending it's efforts elsewhere and that checking our trash is big-brotherish, etc. I don't agree.

I do think that one little glitch the city will have to be mindful of is that on the night residents put out their 3 cans (recycling, trash and compost) that many folks come scavenging for the refundable bottles. If someone on the street inadvertently mixes up the contents of your bins while they are taking the bottles, should you be fined for that? I should hope not.

There will be kinks to work out for sure, but I'm glad the city has taken a progressive stance with greening the city.

June 8, 2009

scrub sponge follow-up

I seem to be on a kick with follow ups to my previous posts. Here's another, this time about my favorite new scrub sponge, the Sandclean.

I'm so glad to have tried this very unique and effective scrubber! It works wonders, I tell you. It cleans all my pans effortlessly. My pans are stainless steel and about 20 years old. Now they are sparkling like they haven't in years.

I suppose that if you had spiffy new pans this scrubber might be too abrasive. Mine are worn enough that there isn't a noticeable scratching problem.

The best part of this scrubber, as you may remember, is that it is biodegradable. Not that it will be done scrubbing anytime soon—they estimate at least 6 months per scrubber.

And just for reference, I am using the fine grit and it removes everything easily. Hooray!

June 4, 2009

recycled aluminum foil

I have a confession. I've tried recycled aluminum foil and I don't like it.

I usually am happy to switch to greener solutions all around my home, but this particular product (the one on the right in the photo) was a little disappointing.

There are many environmental benefits to using recycled aluminum. It's possible that I just need to try another brand, but until recently, I didn't know there were other options.

A few months ago Reynolds Wrap introduced a 100% recycled aluminum foil. I love when mainstream brands offer an environmentally responsible option! I haven't tried it yet, but will keep my eyes out for it. Hopefully this product will be a keeper.

June 1, 2009

improved compost bin

Remember my compost mess?

I hadn't figured out a good solution because of all the potential cans and bins available, I knew I couldn't fit one under the sink and I also knew I didn't want a small one on the counter. So I continued in denial about our eyesore of a system.

Then the other day I had an epiphany—I decided to re-purpose the swanky trash bin we had bought for diaper disposal many years ago. It is the perfect size, has a metal insert with handle that we can carry to the large compost can, and has a step on lid to hid the unsightly contents. The can originally cost a small fortune, so you can be sure I'm glad it is assuming such a big job.

Voila! It is easy to use while cooking and holds over a day's worth of scraps. Sure it would be nice if it wasn't sitting in the middle of the floor, but hey, I'll take what I can get! I'm glad I was able to help this fancy can find a new purpose in life.