Cleaning your home naturally

One way to take a step back from a closet full of plastic bottles filled with cleaning products that may contain harmful substances is to take a look at time-honored methods of cleaning. Just a few generations ago, people who lived in rural areas, who couldn’t readily run to a store to buy cleaning supplies, depended on using everyday products to clean their home. In fact, some old cookbooks included ‘recipes’ for cleaning solutions.

Now more than ever, it makes sense to step back from those disposable floor cleaning pads and use an old-fashioned mop with a cleaning solution you can mix yourself. Need to scrub out the sink? An all-purpose vinegar solution might do the trick. Vinegar is a very helpful ingredient -our grandmothers regularly used vinegar to wash windows

How about killing germs? Daily wipe-downs of kitchen and bathroom countertops are an important step in clearing away messes that may be inviting to bacteria. When there’s sickness in the house, I do what my friend, a nurse-practitioner does: I pour a small amount of rubbing alcohol on a clean cloth and wipe off all of the door handles and faucet handles in the house.

Here’s a great article on other products you can make yourself to clean your home.

Baltimore County Appeals Board upholds thumbs-down on Bluestem Village

“Woefully inadequate” public sewers – halting a development project near Lake Roland – are reaffirmed as a growing public health problem

The plan to turn six acres adjacent to Lake Roland into a large-scale apartment and retail complex has been dealt another blow.

The Baltimore County Board of Appeals announced, during recent oral deliberations, that it will uphold an administrative judge’s decision to disapprove the Bluestem Village project in Bare Hills.

The board said it will issue a written decision affirming the findings of Administrative Law Judge John E. Beverungen, who earlier ruled that the project could not proceed because it planned to tap into a county sewer line that is already “woefully inadequate.”

The board’s decision not only serves as a major setback to Leonard Weinberg, whose Vanguard group has been trying to break ground for the retail and apartment complex, but it also poses a delicate balancing act for County Executive Johnny Olszewski.

Swept into office last year under the promise of installing an environmentally sensitive and transparent administration, Olszewski is under pressure to crack down on development where sewer lines are deficient.

A coalition of 19 community and environmental groups last month called on him to impose a moratorium on new building permits unless and until the county’s Basic Services Maps (BSMs) are corrected.

At the same time, Olszewski is under pressure to keep development flowing, especially in Towson where the $350 million Towson Row hotel-apartment-retail complex is underway.

Sewage in the Park

The focus of Beverungen’s concern – now reaffirmed by the Board of Appeals – is a 65-year-old pipe that receives sewage from the northern county, then carries it under Lake Roland to a pipeline owned by Baltimore City along the Jones Falls.

Three sewer mains, with a combined total of 96 inches of pipe diameter, are fed into the 42-inch interceptor pipe that goes under Lake Roland.

During extreme storm events, most sections of the interceptor pipe are above 100% capacity and at some points can reach up to 589% overcapacity, according to a report by county consultant RK&K.

“The county is in a tough bind because their own review boards are saying they got to spend money to fix something that’s become a public health issue.”  – Attorney Michael McCann.

Weeks before Beverungen issued his ruling, the county admitted that a major “blow” of untreated sewage had erupted from a manhole below Lake Roland Dam.

The discharge was discovered by a member of the Green Towson Alliance and was reported by The Brew, replete with photos of fecal-contaminated debris hanging from trees and bushes many feet from the damaged manhole.

The county is under a 2005 consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency to end all SSOs (sanitary sewer overflows) by adding “relief points” to its underground sewer network.

Services Maps Defended

The Olszewski administration defended the accuracy of the Basic Services Maps and discounted the need for a “relief sewer” under Lake Roland in a December 2 letter to Michael McCann, an attorney for the citizens coalition.

“The County uses the 10-year, 6-hour storm alternative to evaluate impact on the sewer system,” wrote deputy administrative officer Andrew Vetter. “The 10-year, 6-hour model did not demonstrate deficient capacity in the interceptor under Lake Roland, and, therefore, DPW has not initiated a project for a relief or replacement interceptor at that location.”

Saying “DPW believes that there are no errors in the BSM,” Vetter nevertheless disclosed that “an independent third party” will be hired by the county to complete “a comprehensive study” of the upper Jones Falls sewershed.

“The analysis will include structural condition of sewer pipes, operations and maintenance, future growth, and sanitary sewer system capacity. This report will be shared when it is available,” Vetter promised.

“Felt Bad” for the Developer

The Board of Appeals’ decision to uphold Beverungen’s ruling was announced by board members Andrew Belt, Jason Garber and Kendra Randall Jolivet during a hearing on December 19.

“The board didn’t buy into the developer’s arguments that the administrative law judge committed an error of law or that his decision was arbitrary and capricious,” McCann said.

“But they said they felt bad for the developer because he is the first to be affected by this problem,” he added. “And the county is in a tough bind because their own review boards are saying they got to spend money to fix something that’s become a public health issue.”

After the board’s decision is rendered in writing, Vanguard has 30 days to appeal to the Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Vanguard is represented by Smith, Gildea & Schmidt, whose principals, Michael Paul Smith and David K. Gildea, co-hosted a fundraiser for Olszewski before the 2018 general election.

Smith is the son of James T. “Jim” Smith Jr., a former circuit court judge who was the county’s chief executive between 2002 and 2010.

Is Green Consumerism Part of the Problem?

By Jacinta Bowler

With climate change an ever-looming anxiety, whole industries have sprung up dedicated to help alleviate the stress. Tote bags. Metal straws. Existing companies are trying their best too: clothing retailer Zara has announced that 100 percent of the fabrics it uses will be sustainable by 2025 while Apple has said it has plans to eventually stop mining.

All of this looks great on the surface, but it doesn’t help the underlying issue: We are still buying way too much stuff.

Woman buying eco-friendly products in a supermarket. Martin Leigh / Oxford Scientific / Getty Images

Australia — as a rich, developed nation — buys a huge amount of product. In 2016, Australian households spent AUD$666 billion on general living costs, including AUD$20.4 billion on clothes and fashion alone.

The UN Alliance has estimated that the average consumer is buying 60 percent more clothes than 15 years ago, but those clothes are only kept for half the time. This is mirrored in a number of other industries including electronics — we are buying more, and using it less. And at the end of these products’ life, most of this isn’t recycled or reused — instead it ends up in landfill, and we dig up more resources to create more products.

So, how do we lower our resource footprint? And will doing so crash the whole economy?

Dr Ed Morgan, a policy and environmental researcher at Griffith University, explained to me over email that it’s possible, if hard, to imagine a sustainable society, because it means a shift of lifestyle and economic systems, which we are currently so stuck in we can’t imagine any alternatives. ‘But no one in a monarchy could imagine being in a democracy!’

The first step is buying less stuff, and what we do buy needs to be used many times. Think a well-used mug instead of a disposable coffee cup.

The second step is significantly harder. Experts call for the creation of a circular economy. This is a system where everything we make and use can be reused, repaired, remade, and recycled. No products are ‘new’ so much as remade from other products. This would heavily reduce waste, and use significantly less resources to produce these ‘new’ products.

To do this, our phones, clothes, and even our buildings would be designed to be easily repairable and recyclable at the end of their life.

Despite all the talk of sustainable fashion, electronics, and products, we are still far away from making this a reality. Our products are made to have a short lifespan. Every year there’s a new model of phone, and even one that is a few years old is seemingly obsolete. The rare earth metals inside them are ending up in the trash instead of being reused or remade.

Despite companies like Apple saying otherwise, once the latest product is broken (or we’ve moved onto the next thing), it’s still likely destined for the rubbish heap.

And on top of that, according to geologist Oliver Taherzadeh and environmental researcher Benedict Probst, the idea of ‘green growth’ is a red herring. They argue that green consumption is still consumption, and while we can make a small difference as individuals, the big difference will be through government regulation.

Businesses — even those pushing more ‘sustainable’ products — have no incentive to sell less, and therefore are always inherently part of the problem.

So unfortunately, as good as a metal straw or reusable cup might look, it’s part of the problem unless it’s encouraging us to buy less, and reuse, repair, and recycle the products we currently have.

Jacinta Bowler is a science journalist and fact checker living in Melbourne.

This story originally appeared in Eureka Street. It was republished by EcoWatch  in its partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 350 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

You can find incredible things at a Thrift Store!

If you shop often at your area thrift stores, you will be amazed at the weird & wonderful things you find.  Sometimes you may ask yourself “What is it? What’s it do?  What’s it for?”

Often things end up in the thrift stores not because there is something wrong with them – but  because they are no longer wanted or needed, and they are too big to continue to store at home.

Allow yourself an occasional impulse buy, but at the same time, shop wisely  – Can I really use this? Do I have the space for it?

Here are some examples of the fabulous finds our intrepid shopper has found in thrift stores.

This toy piano and toy crane were in great condition and made a child very happy.
Towson U pompom gloves, Bird duplex, 1950’s juke box, Dachshund planter/ring caddy.
(Above) Penguin ice bucket , electric drum set. (Below) Whirl Ball arcade game, giant teddy bear.

This is a puppy foot massager – perfect for that tween who has everything.





Sky-high platforms.









Happy Shopping …and don’t forget- When you’re done,  RE-DONATE!


Recovery Work

By McKay Jenkins

On the late July day that President Trump called my hometown a “rat and rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live,” I found myself dumping 200 pounds of compost into a vegetable garden across the street from a Baltimore methadone clinic. The compost had been cooking in my backyard for almost a year and included a dozen large Hefty bags of leaves from our silver maple and black cherry trees and all the watermelon rinds, avocado skins, and broccoli stems my family of four had eaten over the last 12 months.

Photo credit: McKay Jenkins

The finished compost was a beautiful thing, full of vast colonies of red wriggler worms that had been turning in a green metal barrel beneath the sour cherry tree in our backyard. Every ounce of organic matter that had fallen onto our one-eighth of an acre or been tossed from our kitchen had been transformed into a rich, integrated growth medium whose diverse, biochemical interactions would help transform depleted soil into a potent source of community nourishment.

Even more beautiful were the garden beds where we turned the compost. Planted on an abandoned lot, the gardens were situated across the street from the Glenwood Life Counseling Center, an addiction clinic in northeast Baltimore. The neighborhood was a “food desert” in more ways than one: there were no supermarkets in the area, so people had no access to fresh produce; and there were very few native plants, so songbirds and butterflies no longer came around looking for a meal. But on the day I arrived, children scrambled on a new swing set, in what the neighborhood was now referring to as “the park.” Raised vegetable beds were bursting with bright yellow cherry tomatoes. Native black-eyed Susan, coneflowers, and butterfly weed formed a tapestry of yellow, purple, and orange, mobbed by monarch and tiger swallowtail butterflies. The garden absorbed rain that once cascaded off the abandoned lot and joined storm water and trash in the Chesapeake Bay.

Continue reading here.

Wild by Design – Here’s how to garden for all your neighbors, domesticated and otherwise

By Nancy Lawson

Years ago, a colleague was relaxing in his backyard when he heard a noise. Upon investigation, he discovered a stranger heading through an open window and toward his couch. It wasn’t a traditional home invasion, though. The squatter had taken one look at the property and assumed it was unoccupied: Why else, he reasoned, would the yard be so “overgrown” with wild plants?

This was not the scenario I’d envisioned when my workmate first asked for wildlife gardening advice. While offering ideas and plants from my habitat, I’d assured him he’d see butterflies and other animals taking up residence. It never occurred to me that his efforts would also encourage fellow humans to climb through his windows.

The problem was that the new gardener had implemented only half my suggestions, putting his plants directly into the old lawn that sloped to a busy sidewalk. He didn’t feel like bothering with part 2, which would have involved digging out the turf around his plantings or smothering it with newspaper and mulch. Instead, he let that old lawn grow high. The result was not the layered native plant garden I had imagined but a smattering of wildflowers engulfed in out-of-place fescues and invasives gone to seed. (Adding to the abandoned-home effect was an ascetic and nearly opposite approach indoors, where all walls, tables and shelves were bare.)

Though the front-yard planting was partly intentional, it didn’t look that way to other people. Without “cues to care”—a phrase coined by landscape architect Joan Iverson Nassauer to describe visual hints of human stewardship—the property resembled an abandoned lot or roadside ditch. While I find such free-range, self-willed patches beautiful because of their high value to wildlife, most suburbanites accustomed to mowed-down yards and sterile office parks see them as aberrant.

(Read the complete article on how to create a beautiful native planting in your yard here.)

Five changes I’ve made because of climate change

By Patty Mochel

The scientific data we’ve been getting from the news media reached a pivotal point in the past year – our climate is changing, the natural world is changing and soon we will see consequences of extreme weather events in our own communities. My friends at Green Towson Alliance have talked a lot about what the scientific data is telling us – that many people will suffer as a result of climate change. While we are working to make bigger, positive changes to mitigate climate change – such as planting as many canopy, shade trees as possible in our Towson and Baltimore County neighborhoods– I felt a sense of urgency after the Climate Strike in September. I felt I must make immediate changes in my own habits.

The first change I made was picking up plastic. For a year now, I have been looking for and picking up what I call “fish chokers” – bits of plastic that, when washed into a stream, river and eventually the Chesapeake Bay and ocean – appear to be food to a fish or other marine animal. We’ve all read heartbreaking stories about animals who have been found to be full of plastic that they accidentally swallowed. So I always look for these bits of plastic when I go to my neighborhood YMCA to work out. I usually find them in the parking lot surface, near the curb where they have been accidentally dropped. Now I try to find five fish chokers every time single I am out walking. The very sad thing is that I often find bags worth of plastic junk.

My second change was to go through my kitchen cabinets to find my old recyclable coffee cup that someone gave to me for Christmas many years ago. I remember to put it in the car so my Sunday morning Starbucks coffee is not in a paper cup (which is NOT recyclable because it is lined with plastic!)


Next, I began to refuse to use any plastic bags of any type. Some time ago, I was at the grocery store and saw a clerk emptying the plastic bag recycling bin that stands outside the store. I asked him, “Do those bags really get recycled?” and he replied, “No.” He told me that someone always puts a plastic bag with food in it into the bin – and that once there’s an old sandwich or whatever in the bin, they have to throw out all of the plastic bags because they have been contaminated.  Now when I do my weekly shopping, I do not use plastic bags, and I ask the checkout person to not put anything in a plastic bag.

At the grocery store, I try to choose foods that come in recyclable glass, metal, or cardboard. I can usually find what I am looking for in a cardboard box that has no plastic. My family likes applesauce, and now I purchase apple sauce in a large glass container, and freeze portions for my family for future meals.

Farmer’s Market quiche ready to go in the oven.

Finally, I decided to make one more weekly meatless meal. I am a vegetarian, and my meat-eating husband and son are good-humored about eating vegetarian meals a few times a week. Instead of alternating days that I served meat for dinner, I added one more vegetarian meal a week.


These are small changes, and within a few weeks they had become habitual. What changes are you and your family making?

Beeswax wraps as an alternative to plastic wrap

By Phoebe Evans Letocha

This past year, I vowed to try to find ways to reduce my use of single use plastic. I had already switched from plastic baggies to paper snack bags, so as I finished off a role of plastic wrap in December, I searched for a plastic free alternative to wrap my cheese and use to cover leftovers. A quick search on Pinterest led me to Beeswax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are an alternative to plastic wrap. They are made with a piece of cotton fabric, cut to desired size, beeswax, pine resin, and jojoba oil, melted to saturate the cloth. I bake mine on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper in a 300 degree oven. The same method can be used to rejuvenate old ones so you remelt and evenly distribute the wax. The wax repels moisture, the pine resin helps give it a tacky feel, and the jojoba oil has anti-microbial properties. They are great for wrapping cheese, covering bowls, and wrapping baked goods. I don’t use them for anything with meat. Wash with cold water and soapy sponge, and let them air dry.

Handmade beeswax wraps

This is a great way to recycle fabric scraps and add some fun color to your kitchen. Dark fabrics tend to look better than light ones when they take on the yellow tint of the beeswax. The ingredients are easy to find online. If you make them in batches, you can make a variety of sizes for yourself and some to share as gifts with friends and family.

Here is a useful description on how to make them.

For those who are not crafty, Traders Joe’s sells beeswax wraps and bags.

Commercial beeswax wraps available at Trader Joe’s.

You can also find them online at Etsy, Amazon, and other retailers.

Thrifting for the Holidays and Special Occasions

You can find very special things for the special times in your life in thrift stores.


Thrift stores have long been a great source for Halloween costumes- Bell bottoms and disco platforms from the 70’s are a great example of used items you might find. Since thrift stores have come to realize that folks who generally don’t shop there do show up this time of year, many have started to stock new costumes, masks, decorations, etc.   (Shop early for the best selection.)


You can find everything you’d look for in a full-price store at a thrift shop, including decorations, dishware, wrapping paper and gift cards.


weddings, proms, and formal occasions

Most stores stock a limited selection of wedding dresses, prom dresses, and other formal wear.

Many of these items have been worn only once.





Plan ahead and shop early – and often … to find the perfect outfit for your special occasion.

And when you’re done…DONATE your items to a thrift shop!






Click here for tips on how to shop at a thrift store.


Climate change: stop talking and start doing

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report to the United Nations last week confirming what we at the National Aquarium and so many others in our field already know: Our planet is changing in ways that will soon be irreversible and we must take significant, immediate steps to combat the harmful effects of climate change.

The findings in A Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate are not a worst-case-scenario warning of what might happen if we must someday contend with humankind’s untenable reliance on fossil fuels; they are a detailed compilation of the sweeping, intense effects climate change has had on our ocean planet. The IPCC’s report was compiled from 6,981 independent studies and verified by a consortium of 100 leading climate scientists from countries around the world, including our own. It cites perceptible sea level rise, flooding, dangerously erratic weather, habitat loss and species extinction as current effects of climate change sure to intensify without intervention. The science supporting the scope and severity of the problem is clear, and we have been handed a global consensus on how to best intervene on behalf of our own future.