All posts by Ian McKenzie

Tips for Reducing Household Water Consumption

Water conservation is important, even where there seems to be an abundance of water. In addition to saving money on your utility bill, water conservation helps prevent water pollution in nearby lakes, rivers and local watersheds.

In 2004, the average Canadian daily domestic use of fresh water per capita was 329 litres (87 U.S. gallons). We can reduce water consumption in the home, and in business, by 40% or more, without having to make major lifestyle changes or invest in costly infrastructure.

Here are a few easy-to-implement suggestions for cutting back on water usage:

1. Check for leaks and fix them. A dripping faucet can allow up to two gallons per hour to be wasted. Toilets are also prime suspects. To check, simply drop some food coloring into the tank (not the bowl) and wait 15 minutes. If colored water shows up in the bowl, you have a leaker.

2. Use water-saving shower heads and faucets. High-flow shower heads spew water out at 6-10 gallons a minute. Flow restriction devices can cut the flow in half without reducing pressure. Take short showers – five minutes or less should do. If you prefer baths, fill the tub only one-quarter full.

3. Water your lawn and plants early in the day. This practice will reduce the loss of water due to evaporation. Late watering also reduces evaporation. During the summer, water your plants slowly and infrequently. Consider drip irrigation for garden areas, which help add water just where it is needed.

4. Use a pistol-grip nozzle on your hose. When washing your car, you can easily shut off the water after each hosing. Remember, a full-open hose can discharge upwards of 50 gallons of water in just 5 minutes. Better still, fill a bucket with water and use a sponge.

5. Don’t let faucets run continuously. This is especially true when shaving, brushing your teeth and rinsing the dishes. An open faucet allows 5 gallons to pass in as little as 2 minutes.

6. Review your toilets’ water consumption. Don’t use your toilets as an ashtray or wastebasket. Flushing gallons of water for these purposes is very wasteful. Old toilets use 3-5 gallons per flush; new toilets are low-flow (1.6 gallons per flush) models to help conserve water.

7. Run only full loads in the washing machine and dishwasher.

8. Keep a bottle of drinking water in the refrigerator rather than letting your tap run to get cold water when you want a drink. (Rinse the bottle every few days.)

22 Uses for Used Coffee Grounds

If you’re a coffee drinker, chances are you brew coffee each day. That leaves you with a load of used coffee grounds to dispose of. Here are 22 ways to make use of spent coffee grounds, culled from around the web. I haven’t tested all of these, so YMMV.

  1. Deodorizer: To remove unwanted food smells inside the fridge or freezer, dry the coffee grounds in the oven, on a cookie sheet and then put it in a bowl in your fridge. Fill old pantyhose with the dry grounds and tie off the ends. Hang this in closets and it will absorb odors.
  2. Plant food: Those plants that prefer acidic soil will benefit from coffee grounds sprinkled around the plant. Also, the grounds can add nutrients if you are composting plant waste.
  3. Grow your own mushrooms: One of the most interesting uses for used coffee grounds, as well as a technique you can enjoy indoors year-round. If you are a fan of mushrooms and coffee, you will be surprised at how easy it is to combine them and have your own mushrooms growing within days.
  4. Insect repellant: Coffee grounds are a good ant repellent. Sprinkle coffee grounds around ant hills. Coffee grounds also repel snails and slugs. Sprinkling coffee grounds around your garden eliminates cutworms and ants. To get rid of ants in the lawn, mix 1 pound of used grounds in 1 quart of hot water and pour on ant hills.
  5. Dye: By steeping coffee grounds in hot water, you can make brown dye for fabric, paper and even Easter eggs.
  6. Furniture scratch repair: Make a paste of coffee grounds and a little water and apply to furniture scratches with a Q-tip.
  7. Cleaning: If you have tough grease on dishes, or on floors, coffee grounds act as an abrasive and can be used as a scouring agent. Flush them down your drains to clean the pipes.
  8. Freezer deodorant. Put a bowl full of coffee grounds in the freezer overnight. For a flavored coffee scent, add a couple drops of vanilla to the grounds.
  9. Fireplace clean-up: The next time you go to shovel the ashes from your fireplace sprinkle wet coffee grounds on top of them first. The wet grounds will damp down dust from the ashes and make them easier to scoop up.
  10. Kitty repellent: To keep cats from using the garden as their personal toilet, sprinkle coffee grounds mixed with orange peels around your plants.
  11. Flea dip: Rid your pets of fleas with old coffee grounds. Shampoo your dog or cat as usual and while they are still wet, rub their fur with coffee grounds all the way to their skin. Rinse the coffee grounds away. This will make the pet’s fur soft and clean and fleas will disappear.
  12. Cellulite reducer: Here is the procedure: Mix 1/4 cup warm used coffee grounds and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. While standing over an old towel or newspaper, apply the mixture to your problem areas. Wrap the area with plastic wrap and leave on for several minutes. Unwind the wrap, brush loose grounds off your skin and then shower with warm water.
  13. Skin care: Used grounds make a good skin facial pack like a mud pack. They can be used for skin dermabrasion.
  14. Hair care: Brunettes can benefit from rinsing their hair in coffee. Darker redheads can also use coffee to rejuvenate the color of their hair. Steep used coffee grounds in two cups hot water for 15 minutes or so and then rinse through hair for a darker, more vibrant shine.
  15. Tanning: Here’s a cool way to rejuvenate your summer tan without damaging your skin with the sun’s harmful rays. Add a cup of water to the day’s old coffee grounds and boil. When it is cool to the touch rub it all over your body, you can even put it in a sprayer, get in the shower and soak yourself down that way. Let your skin absorb the coffee for about twenty minutes and then rinse in cool water. The coffee will stain your slightly to give your tan an extended life.
  16. Cooking: For cooking, don’t reach for those used coffee grounds. Instead, opt for your leftover coffee or fresh grounds. Rather than throwing away the leftover coffee in the bottom of the pot, use it as a meat tenderizer; marinate your steak to add a great new flavour. You can also add fresh grounds to chocolate cakes and brownies for a richer flavour.
  17. Trick or Treat: Beards for Halloween costumes can be made with a little honey and coffee grounds. Warm up a little bit of honey in the microwave until it is warm and runny, but not so hot that it burns the skin. Spread the warm honey over the face in the pattern of a mustache and beard. Spread coffee grounds that have been dried out over the honey.
  18. Children’s toy: Coffee grounds are great for making homemade play dough. Mix a bunch of old used coffee grounds with ½ cup of salt, 1 ½ cups of cornmeal and add enough water to moisten it into a dough. You decide how sticky and wet you want your play dough.
  19. Crafts and Hobbies: Make Treasure Stones for a children’s party.
  20. Tats: Fans of homemade tattoos sometimes mix coffee and henna to create a dye for permanent tattoos.
  21. Fireplace fuel: The Java Log fire log is made from used coffee grounds, wax, and molasses.
  22. Keep bait worms alive by mixing coffee grounds into the soil before you add worms

If you don’t have enough used grounds to meet your demands, local coffee shops often package their used grounds, and you can have them for free.

Build Stronger Intergenerational Connections

Grow old along with me!
The Best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith ‘A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all nor be afraid.’ —Robert Browning

There are few places today where people of different ages interact. With the demise of the extended family, the segregation between generations has gotten worse. As a result, younger generations don’t receive direction and advice from their elders.

Heritage, stories, and wisdom are not passed on. It’s no longer possible for every family to care for aging parents or grandparents at home. However, much can be done to bridge the gap and bring generations together.

To build stronger, healthier, and happier communities, we need to encourage more intergenerational interaction. The elderly may not be as productive as the younger people who have displaced them in the workplace, but they still have a lot to give.

Young people can benefit by caring for the elderly or simply spending time with them. The friendship and mentoring relationship that develop have the potential to transform a young person’s life. Children, youth, and young adults can break the loneliness, isolation, and boredom that so many seniors suffer. These bonds between young and old are the glue that hold communities and society together.

Here are a few ways to build intergenerational connections:

  • Intergenerational arts programs: uses the skills of the community’s older artists in schools and other community settings.
  • Community service programs: Youth serve the elderly in a variety of settings nursing homes, adult day care facilities, and individual residences.
  • Drug prevention programs for high-risk youth involving older people as mentors to students.
  • Intergenerational acting ensembles address social issues through improvisational theater.
  • Students provide respite to families caring for frail elders.
  • Older students help elders enhance their reading and writing skills.
  • Students provide language, literacy and citizenship tutoring for elderly immigrants and refugees.
  • Generation clubs facilitating long-term, one-on-one relationships between urban youth and isolated elders.
  • After school programs bringing a group of older adults into a school or community site to work one-on-one students reading below grade level or are academically at risk.
  • High school students are linked to homebound elderly to learn their life history.
  • Intergenerational language lessons from seniors who are native speakers of foreign languages help students improve their ability to speak and understand foreign languages.
  • Link with nursing homes and hospitals with the purpose of helping students clarify their career goals and to help recruit youth into the field of gerontology.

3 Simple Steps to a Healthy Home

We spend a substantial percentage of time indoors. Between the workplace, home, shopping, entertainment, etc., we can spend as much as 90% of our time in a building. On average, we spend 50% of our time at home.

Recent studies have shown that indoor environments can contain a range of harmful pollutants including mould, radon, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and that old classic, cigarette smoke.

While there is not much you can do about air quality in most of the public buildings you frequent, you can easily make changes to improve the air quality in your home.

There are three steps you need to look at:

  1. Eliminate
    • products that give off gases: treated drapes, vinyl, plastic, composite wood, etc.
    • chemical cleaners
    • paint and solvents—store them in a shed or garage, away from the house.
    • Standard air fresheners
    • cigarette smoke
  2. Ventilate
    • make sure your home has adequate ventilation
    • make sure the fans exhaust to the outdoors and not into the attic or back into the room
    • run bathroom and kitchen fans for 20 minutes after showering or cooking
  3. Filter
    • Make sure you have good furnace filters and change them regularly
    • Use the kitchen exhaust fan while cooking to eliminate grease and clean the filters regularly
    • Regularly change or clean vacuum bags and filters

This Summer Leave No Trace

We’re preparing our travel trailer for several weeks of camping over the next couple or three months. Part of our preparation is ensuring that our activities do not leave a mark or effect on the natural or cultural environments we visit.

What does it mean to leave no trace? It means enjoying outdoor activities to the fullest yet leaving no sign that you were ever there.

Leave No Trace Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting outdoor ethics, promotes an environmental education program to raise public awareness regarding the importance of respecting Canada’s wilderness and natural areas by providing the public with proven solutions to protect and enjoy our natural areas.

The program has seven principles:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What you Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impact
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Others.

Some of the ways you can put the principles into practice:

  • Pack out all garbage, and pick up garbage left behind by other campers
  • Take only pictures
  • Hike along existing trails whenever possible
  • Don’t wash dishes (or bathe) directly in lakes, rivers, streams or ponds
  • Use biodegradable soaps and shampoos
  • Don’t feed or harass wildlife
  • Use stoves, where possible, instead of an open fire
  • Respect the rights of fellow campers – keep voices low and leave radios at home
  • Don’t cut down living plants or trees
  • Buy or repackage food into burnable or reusable containers
  • If you have a large group, divide into several smaller parties and camp on different sites at least 100 metres apart to lessen environmental impact
  • Don’t dig trenches around tents, and don’t dig holes for grease pits

7 free or almost free things to do this summer

This week marked the solstice and the start of summer in this part of the world. You may have your summer activities marked out, or you may still be wondering how to spend your time. There are lots of inexpensive summer activity in which to indulge.

  1. Catch up on your reading – take advantage of the extra daylight and free time to dig into those books you’ve been putting off reading. Make sure you add some fiction to the list.
  2. Make a kite – with some newsprint, some sticks and string, you can build a basic kite and fly it in the park.
  3. Tune up your photography skills – dust off the camera, read some photography tips and spend some time taking pictures of everyday objects.
  4. Get active – turn off the television and unplug the video games. Get the whole family active. Your heart will thank you.
  5. Become a social media influencer – Alright, this is not so much a one-off summer activity, but if you think you have something to share, why not start this summer?
  6. Attend concerts or plays – find out where local entertainers are performing in your community. There will often be free or inexpensive outdoor performances.
  7. Plant a garden – planting a garden usually takes place in the spring. There are also plants you can use to enhance your landscape, which are best planted in late summer or early fall.