Dear Annie & Doug,
On a recent trip to the grocery store, I was confronted with that familiar dilemma -paper or plastic? Once and for all, which should I choose? —Ralph Copleman, E-mail
Of course, these days, "Paper or plastic?" isn't even a question. You get plastic unless you're rude enough to demand paper. But what is the correct answer?
Hard facts are few. Each industry supplies information - but what they tell you is why the other is bad. You discover that paper bags kill trees and pollute water. You find out that plastic bags use precious oil and neither biodegrade nor recycle very well.
What you can't find out is the meaningful information: What's the embodied energy in a paper bag versus that in a plastic one? How do you factor in the cost of oil spills and the odd military excursion? What's the real price of monoculture pulpwood farms?
Not that it really matters, because the answer is much simpler and has nothing to do with these issues.
The correct response to the question, "Paper or plastic?" is: "Here, put it in this cloth bag I brought with me."
Dear Annie & Doug,
Help! Our dog brought fleas into our house, and we don't know how to get rid of them. Is there a non-toxic way to deal with flea infestations? —Itchy and Scratchy in Seabeck, Washington
Dear Itchy and Scratchy:
I am sure you aren't alone with this problem. Citrus peel extract is an excellent choice against fleas because its components - d-limonene and linalool - kill all stages of the flea's life cycle. I have completely eradicated fleas from our home using citrus peel extract. I don't think anything else works as well, but you must use caution: while it is a natural material, and much safer for health and the environment than toxic synthetic pesticides, it is not without problems. A study on rats and mice was conducted in 1990 to find out if d-limonene causes cancer. There was no evidence that it did so in female rats or in mice of either sex, but male rats did develop cancer. The rat was fed very high doses of d-limonene and the study is controversial. Citrus-peel extract is also a strong volatile organic chemical (VOC). It should also be noted that cats are very sensitive to citrus. Assuming you don't own a cat, and you keep your windows open when using these products, I suggest you wash the floor twice a week with a solution of 1/4 cup citrus peel extract (available in health food stores) in 1 to 2 gallons of water. Spray bedding with a mixture of 2 teaspoons citrus peel extract and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle.
Herbal repellents also work well to repel fleas. Make an herbal infusion by adding a handful of dried herbs (available in most health food stores) to a teapot, and fill with boiling water. Let the tea steep overnight, and then strain it into a spray bottle. Recommended herbs include southernwood, rue, camphor, feverfew, lavender, rosemary, sage, catmint, pennyroyal, eucalyptus, leaves from the black walnut tree, and tansy.
Vacuum frequently, and freeze the vacuum cleaner bags to kill fleas and larvae before throwing away.
You can also suspend a light bulb (gooseneck lamps work well) 8-10 inches over a pan of water at night. The fleas will be attracted to the light and drown. During a big heat wave, consider going into an air conditioned hotel for a few days while you work to get the house to 103 degrees F, a temperature that will kill fleas. Close all doors and windows in your home at night to hold in as much heat as possible, and open up the house during the day.
For outdoor flea infestations, use predatory nematodes: they prey on flea larvae and pupae. Another choice for outdoors is to sprinkle gardener's lime in places pets frequent. [Editor's note: gardener's lime will change the pH of your soil, making it more alkaline.]
Make a peppermint spray by combining 2 teaspoons peppermint castile soap (available in health food stores) and 2 cups water in a spray bottle. Add a few drops of eucalyptus or rosemary essential oil for extra strength (optional).
Make a carpet and upholstery powder by combining 2 parts natural diatomaceous earth (not pool-grade), and 1 part each of baking soda and cornstarch. Sprinkle on carpets, leave overnight and then vacuum.
Dear Annie & Doug,
I'd like to make my own tooth powder. Do you have a recipe? —Sara
Tooth cleaning powders can be made with simple ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen cupboard. One of the simplest tooth powders is simply baking soda. Just scoop some baking soda on a damp toothbrush and brush onto your teeth! If this seems unpalatable compared to those sweet commercial toothpastes, make a "Sweet Soda" by adding powdered stevia, an herb found in health food stores that has 30 times the sweetness of sugar and no calories. Mix up a batch of Sweet Soda with 2 tablespoons of baking soda to about 1/16th of a teaspoon of stevia powder.
And here is another flavorful tooth powder I call "Soda and Spice." Add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon to 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Nothing works to take away garlic breath like this formula. You can add a smidgen of stevia to make the "Soda and Spice" recipe sweet.
Combining equal parts of salt and baking soda gives the powder some antibacterial properties. You can also add a little peppermint oil for flavor.
Dear Annie & Doug,
Could you please give me the best window and mirrors cleaning formula you know? Thanks! —Leslie
Around Earth Day 1990, every newspaper in the country (or so it seemed) offered recipes for nontoxic cleaning with the basics we all have in our kitchen cupboards. The recipe for cleaning windows was invariably just plain vinegar and water with the option of drying the windows with old newspapers.
People by the thousands tried this and swore off cleaning with homemade recipes for good because the formula left streaks on their windows. Unfortunately, the commercial products they had used for so many years had left a wax buildup and vinegar alone wouldn't do the job of removing the residue. Adding a dab of dish soap to the vinegar and water would have removed the buildup. Make a great all-purpose window cleaner by combining 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap or detergent, and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle. Shake to blend.
Dear Annie & Doug,
We started off doing the things you said we should do to make fingerpaints.(Ed. note : See Ask Annie #8) We boiled the cabbage to make blue, but when we mixed it with the corn starch, it made green. We added white vinegar to it, and we made PINK! So we tried adding baking soda to the pink, and it got all foamy and white. It' s hard to believe that. We never got blue. Do you have any other ideas of how to make blue? Thank you for your magazine about making fingerpaints. That was fun making them. —Savannah Rose Hauge (5 years old), Ripon, Wisconsin
Dear Savannah Rose:
Oops! Try blueberries! Sorry about that; I know better. My daughter was taught about acids and bases in third grade using red cabbage juice as an indicator - that means that it changes colors when you add acids or alkalines to it. If you add vinegar, an acid, to the blue-purple cabbage juice, it turns pink just as you said. When you add an alkaline like baking soda to the juice, it turns yellowish green.
Add a handful of blueberries to 4 cups of water, and simmer over low heat for an hour or two. Strain and cool. Then add a few tablespoons at a time to the basic fingerpaint recipe, found in YES! #8, until the desired shade of blue is reached.
Good luck, Savannah!
Doug Pibelis a freelance writer living the simple life in Snohomish, WA.