A Love Letter to Baking Soda

by Mary McDonald

Best Investments in Sustainability

My first encounters with baking soda happened, of course, in my mother’s kitchen. Whenever my mother was getting ready to bake, it was my job to help her gather all of the ingredients. Cinnamon, cloves, sugar, vanilla, baking powder,baking soda. I had no idea what baking soda did, or why it was different from baking powder. I was kind of fascinated with both. The baking powder was almost silvery-white, fluffy, with that nifty top that helped you level your measuring spoon.

Baking soda by contrast, was its gritty, rough and tough cousin. The box had a picture of a huge, muscled arm about to swing a hammer, a strange visual for something that was necessary for baking banana bread. You would think a baking ingredient would have a picture of a cake, or an apron, or a spoon. But, no, there it was, a defiantly masculine visage nestled among all things floury and sweet and spicy.

It looks like the folks at Arm and Hammer knew a few things about their product that I didn’t back then. Far more than a leavening agent for baking, baking soda or natron, its pure mineral form, has been used for thousands of years. Back in ancient Egypt it was used as a cleaner and as part of the mummification process.

The baking soda we are familiar with today came into use in the 1840’s. In modern times, baking soda was used to clean 100 years of grime off the Statue of Liberty. Baking soda has also been used to aid environmental clean-up efforts. People have used to it to decontaminate soil, neutralize the effects of acid rain in lakes, and decrease air pollution in factory smokestacks. How’s that for muscle?

One the home front, baking soda is a non-toxic, inexpensive alternative to a host of cleaning and personal care products. Leslie Reichert, says in her book, The Joy of Green Cleaning, that baking soda was one of only four products her great-grandmother used to clean. It plays a starring role in many of her non-toxic cleaning recipes. Dirty oven? No need for toxic, aerosol cleaners- baking soda and vinegar do the trick. Carpet needs refreshing? A little sprinkle of baking soda before vacuuming neutralizes odors.

Lest you mistake me for something I am NOT, let me assure you, I hate cleaning and domestic chores in general. Nobody will ever mistake me for a domestic goddess. Cooking, cleaning, gardening-I am half-assed at best. The idea of green living lights my fire, though, so I am pretty revved about baking soda as something that helps us live greener, cheaper and more simply.

Again, Pioneer Woman I am not. I can make homemade cleaning recipes, but only if they are super simple. More than three ingredients and you’ve lost me. If I can make these kind of changes, anyone can do it! I have replaced shelves full of toxic cleaners with a few, large boxes of baking soda.

My go-to baking soda cleaner recipe is:

  1. Baking soda
  2. A few drops of essential oil (anything you love)

Remember I said no more than three ingredients? A lot of people recommend tea tree oil, because it helps with mildew and mold. I use orange essential oil because the scent seems to be have energizing, uplifting effect.

Here are some ways I use this mixture on a regular basis (Ooh, wait! Is that a latent Hestia, goddess of the hearth, emerging? Nah. More like Artemis. I just want to save the wild forests!)

Cleaning

Stainless steel sinks

Stainless steel sinks seem to cling to smells and scrubbing with baking soda gets them clean, clean, clean! I spray hydrogen peroxide afterwards and let it sit for a few minutes to kill germs. Voila! Even a half-assed cleaning slacker can do this.

Drains

For some reason, the sink in one of our bathrooms periodically gives off a God-awful stink when we run the water. It’s disgusting. I have to take the stopper out and scrub the drain with a bottle brush. You don’t want a visual on this, trust me! It doesn’t stay clean long. I hate this chore, but I resigned myself to getting it done when it’s needed. Recently, I tried the baking soda-orange oil mixture. I poured it down the drains and let it sit for several hours. I can’t believe it, but it’s been weeks and that gross smell hasn’t come back.

Bathrooms

Weirdly, I get kind of a kick out of the fact that I can take a shower and then clean afterwards it with my baking soda mix and not worry that bleach or some other neurotoxins are seeping into my skin. Or, that I could scrub the tub with baking soda, run a bath in my newly cleaned tub, and even add a little baking soda to the water, which can be good for a lot of skin and gynecological issues. (Note that there are several reasons NOT to put baking soda in the tub, like being pregnant or having diabetes, so definitely check with your doctor.)   I am gearing up to teach my kids how to clean the bathroom this way. Never in a million years would I have them clean with conventional cleaners and 1) breathe in the fumes or 2) expose their skin to the chemicals. With baking soda, I wouldn’t worry. They’ll probably think it’s fun-win-win!

Laundry

Depending on the type of washing machine you have, you can use baking soda to add a boost to your laundry cleaner. In my old washing machine, I put it right in the washing tub. With a newer model, I add it to the bleach compartment. Baking soda is especially good for getting towels smelling fresh. (You know, because nobody picks up their wet, crumpled towels from the floor.)

Personal Care Uses

Brushing your teeth

If you look at the ingredients, you’ll find that baking soda is in a lot of commercial toothpastes because it’s effective at removing plaque and germs. You can save a lot of money by making up your own paste, or going the slacker route and tapping a fingerful of baking soda on your toothbrush and thinning it with a little water.

Skin care

As mentioned above, you can use baking soda in the bath to help with certain conditions. It makes your skin really feel clean and silky.   It can be used as a face cleaner or even a blackhead remover. This stuff is unreal!

Washing your hair

In a pinch, you can even mix baking soda with a little water and wash your hair with it. There are those who say washing your hair with baking soda regularly isn’t a good idea (and others who swear by it), that it can strip it too much of the natural oils. I’m not willing to take risks with my hair and do it long term, but the few times I have done it, my hair has felt spectacularly clean. Like I said, in a pinch.

How About You?

The list of possible uses for baking soda goes on and on. Cleaning car batteries, freshening up stinky shoes, insect repellent, ……. you name it. What will you use it for?

Mary McDonald is a writer and educator living in Central Massachusetts. You can find her at linkedin/marymcdonald or Good Green News.

 

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Fire and Ice

By Laura Parker Roerden

Laura Parker Roerden

I hate spring. It feels freeing to admit that. When you live in a cold clime, there is too much social pressure to triumph spring’s return as if it were the 2nd coming of Jesus Himself, sliding in on a gaudy skateboard wearing a magnolia wreath and tossing chocolate coins to all the good children.

My mother died in the spring. The next day the forsythia along our garage exploded into riotous golden bloom. My father also died in the spring. The greening of the pasture that year heralded the beginning of a battle against weeds; there were no cows to graze it.

Then my brother died a few springs later, four days after the anniversary of our mother’s death. Huge flocks of geese landed that year in the hayfield destroying any chance of second-cut hay. My brother was not there to chase them away. That’s just as well.

By the time my nephew had repaired all of the haying equipment by himself it was nearly fall. He set out with his brother and a few friends and hayed the slanted field for the first time without his father as the light slid low on the horizon, which matched our moods at the time.

Today is the first day of spring. To mark it, I walked the river with a dear friend I’ve known since grade school. The blazing sun projected skeletal shadows from the trees on the white canvas of snow-cover and still partially frozen ice, giving everything an exaggerated architectural feel that nearly propped me up as we walk.

Busy chatting, we stop when we notice two wood peckers drilling holes for their nests in a call and response pattern that felt less like a territorial move and more like an attempt to erase loneliness. If not for the warmth of the sun, which lit the remaining dried grass peaking above the snow across the meadows as if it was on fire, there would be no sign that it was, in fact, now officially spring.

I’ve always assumed I hated spring because of the losses I have experienced during it. But today something different is afoot. I am comforted by the fire from above and the ice below, as if holding these two extremes is easier than swinging into a field of riotous blooms when your heart is still shattered. It’s not a flip of a switch, or turn on the earth’s axis, that allows us to get to spring, but the long march of winter itself.

It has taken me more than a half century to get it. You cannot have Easter without surrendering to the long march of death that is Lent. If you wait until Thursday, when Christ is betrayed, to prepare for Sunday, when He rises, you won’t get there in time. I know that for a fact. The razor’s edge between the dark and light can be skated, but only within the larger cavern created by tending our broken hearts.

A friend just posted that her mother has had an additional 16 years since today’s anniversary of a stem cell replacement that saved her life. I read this as I grapple with the 15-year anniversary of my mother’s loss of her own battle with cancer.

I do not shrug the coincidence of these two events off. I have at times been sanguine about those years without my mom;  but I’ve also been jealous of the time my friends have had with their mothers that I have not. For today, I will settle into the gap and hold my friend’s celebration with joy while also holding my loss with pain and welcome the advent of spring in a field of snow.

Surrendering does not always mean we come up empty handed. Sometimes it means we simply hold two extremes.

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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

 

The Quest

by Laura Parker Roerden

Photo © Brian Skerry. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

You can find just about anything you could dream
in an ocean. Tiny horses holding on by prehensile tails
to flat vines that float upwards and shimmer in sunlight like cities.

Red squid that fly with vampire wings and shoot out light orbs
to stun predator or prey. A flat ray with a saw. It won’t surprise you
at all then to learn of a swimming unicorn whale: the narwhal.

Swords drawn, several narwhales move as one. It’s impossible
to know what they seek, but something in their quickening suggests
a quest, as strips of Arctic ice fall away around them like sunburnt

skin shedding. They move in now open ocean. There’s no place
to hide from killer whales; no escape from our hand. If we follow them
we’d see: that everywhere we suffer from wounds that need healing.

The Fisher King himself, we are told, guards a holy grail
in a vast wasteland of destruction; where seas now rise. Is it any wonder why
the narwhals are headed there? Or perhaps they have already arrived?

And what will they discover once their journey is complete? Are they trying
to show us that we should come too? For surely their quest is our own:
for a home where towers of ice do not tumble down around us;

where we heed a wild call for full hearts and heroes to wake.

© Laura Parker Roerden. All rights reserved.

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth,

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About the Photo by Brian Skerry
Sea ice and ice floe edge around Navy Board Inlet, Baffin Island in the high arctic of Canada. At this time of year (June) the ice begins to break up and wildlife become more plentiful with animals such as seals, narwhals, bowhead whales and polar bears feeding in the rich waters. Climate change is having an effect on this region, with ice melting earlier during many recent years. (Pristine Seas expedition team working/filming documentary)

An Un-Poem About the Falling Snow

by Laura Parker Roerden

1. I woke up this morning with the phrase, “something uplifting” in my mind, then saw that among the snowfall out my window many snowflakes were rising up on unseen currents.

2. I’m sure a mathematician could help us understand the exact preponderance that falls at a predictable speed to their place on the ground.

3. And a scientist, God bless, could scan our brains to see the landscape of light that begins the chain of chemical reactions that soothes our fraught hearts.

4. If the scientist and mathematician were together drinking wine they might tumble upon fractal geometry rooted in our genetic evolution to explain this, and in days of computation arrive at formulas and the universal concepts of negative and infinite variables that hold the ideas together like gravity.

5. In all of their graceful complexity, they would simply be explaining our heart’s shape is rooted at core to the natural world.

6. That if everything expands and can be plotted on bells, the only thing keeping us from flying apart on rising and falling currents is this singular fact shrouded as mystery.

7. That even simple snow when it falls is able to call us home.

© Laura Parker Roerden 2018. All rights reserved.

(Inspired by dinner with a scientist, mathematician, musician and writer.)

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

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Pass the Pastured-Eggs, Please!

Best Investments in Sustainability

by Laura Parker Roerden

What kind of eggs should you buy? Most of us make the decision standing in the grocery aisle, the refrigerator door open scanning cartons with claims like “cage-free,” “organic,” “antibiotic free” and the ever-confusing “natural,” while we mentally calculate how much more we are spending for the eggs that sound healthier and more humane and asking ourselves: is it really worth it?

While a complete discussion of the real meaning behind these labels is helpful to every consumer, I’d like to make the case for pasture-raised eggs. Pasture-raised eggs are those lain by chickens that are given free-range access to actual pastures. Some are driven around in what are called “chicken-tractors,” which conjures up images of hilarious antics. But a chicken tractor is really just a wagon that can hold many chickens at a time for flexible transport and shelter. Hens transported by chicken tractors are allowed to roam an area of grassland that is rotated, assuring that high volumes of hens do not ruin the area. The chickens get what they need in terms nutrition, but they also leave their droppings as a natural fertilizer before moving on to greener, and (now rotated) pastures.

Hens that are raised on healthy grassland in the fresh air and sunshine have all of the benefits of eating as nature intended birds to eat: they have free choice access to worms, insects, seeds. These nutrients the hen eats end up concentrated in the egg itself. You could say that the birds are transferring healthy nutrients from the soil and mother earth directly to you through their eggs.

Pastured-eggs are EGG-cellent.Their large dark orange yolks even LOOK healthier, because they are. Their color, flavor and texture are made distinctive by high amounts of Vitamin A, D, E, K2, B-12, folate, riboflavin, zinc, calcium, beta carotene, choline, and tons of omega 3 fatty acids, including DHA, EPA, ALA, and AA. A pasture-raised egg is a true superfood.

Scientists are increasingly looking at open grassland/pastureland as one of the many promising solutions to global warming. Effectively managed agricultural grassland takes carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it back in the ground. Why not give farmers a boost whose efforts to raise animals on pasture are often the only thing keeping land that takes carbon out of the atmosphere from being developed?

Your search for the best possible egg might even bring you to join a CSA or develop a relationship with a local farm, where you can be reconnected to the rhythms of light and nature that have sustained our bodies and psyches for millennia.

Waiting for first eggs can feel like waiting for a pot to boil. The days shorten, the shadows lengthen. Just as darkness descends, the eggs arrive in a blast of nature’s promise of spring.

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Laura Parker Roerden

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth,