Archive for May 2014 | Monthly archive page

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Written By EcoWomen Guest Blogger Brenna Mannion

You have met those people. The ones who exclaim, “Mosquitos just don’t bother me!” accompanied by a nonchalant shrug. Well I hate those people. Not that it’s their fault, obviously, but mosquitos and all their winged brethren love to bite me. I grew up in central New York, and once the snow melted, all you wanted to do was be outside. To survive, I spent my formative years basically bathing in traditional insect repellants. But as an adult I realize that just because they reduce the amount of bug bites and itchy discomfort, the chemicals contained in those products are harsh (at best) and dangerous (at worst). You know something? I’m wary of spraying myself with bug repellants containing DEET and all sorts of other chemicals that are so powerful, according to the “OFF!” website they can “harm plastics and acrylics”. Um, if it breaks down heavy plastics, imagine the havoc it wreaks on your epidermis. So, outside of wearing long pants and sleeves in the swampy DC summer heat, what’s a natural gal to do?

The answer lies in essential oils. Bugs do not like the smell of things like eucalyptus, rosemary, and lemongrass. There are two avenues to take advantage of various oils, buy one of the many commercially available “natural bug sprays” or make your own. To save yourself a ton of trial and error, there are basic recipes online that you can use as a starting point and customize them to your liking. Most involve a handful of essential oils, putting them into a small hand held sprayer and mixing them with a carrier liquid. But not water! Another reason to buy that large bottle of vodka this weekend. My favorite combination is eucalyptus and lavender. The trick is lots of reapplication – but that’s not hard when it smells so lovely, instead of the inside of a laboratory. This whole homemade bug spray thing may sound hokey, but it really works. I know from personal experience – as well as a raving testimonial from a male friend who used this method while fishing in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota and in Darwin, Australia during the wet season. He said his stuff was just as effective as any pesticide/chemical based spray.

Eucalyptus, cinnamon, and peppermint are all good insect repelling essential oils. If you’re not a DIY-er, there are natural repellants available online and at places like Whole Foods. A couple of good brands to try are California Baby, Herbal Armor, and Bite Blocker. Many of the commercial repellants rely heavily on citronella oil, so if that smell brings back unpleasant memories of backyard barbeques with angry Aunt Betty, then you may want to consider making your own.

Now, with all that being said, if you plan on doing real deep woods hiking, with lots of exposure to ticks that may carry Lyme disease, it might be preferable to wear long sleeves and pants, and carry a backup spray with the powerful, DEET-containing repellents on the edges of your clothes (avoiding direct skin contact). Sometimes Mother Nature just has the upper hand. But for the vast majority of your summer activities, natural repellants will work wonderfully!

If none of this sounds appealing, here are a few more avant-garde ideas. The internet is full of testimonials of people who eat garlic or take vitamin B1 supplements to ward off ‘skeeters. Be mindful though, that your boyfriend may not appreciate you swallowing raw cloves of garlic before going camping in a small tent. Try installing a bat house! If you can get bats to nest near your home or vacation spot, as my friend says “they can hang out and eat all the mosquitos.” Please let us know how that works out. If nothing else, it will be fun around Halloween.

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Your step-by-step Guide to becoming a Bike to Work Day Pro

Written by Nelle Pierson, Outreach Programs Coordinator of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association

Our region’s Bike to Work Day is Friday, May 16th, and this year you have the opportunity to become a Bike to Work Day Pro!

When I started biking in DC three years ago my biggest barrier to biking was a general concern about personal safety. I’d strap on my helmet, enter a bike lane, and instantly feel like I entered a hostile concrete jungle; a confusing world devoid of a social contract, lined with dastardly dangerous pot holes, swarming with 2,000 lb. speeding steel predators. No rules. No regard. I, the prey.

It’s certainly worth mentioning the region is taking steps to make bicycling a safer more normal form of transportation. We have a regional bikeshare program, a growing network of bike lanes, trails, and protected cycletracks. And road users are beginning to expect and accept bikes just about everywhere.

To this day I still have my scares. But I’m convinced all road-users do no matter what form of transportation they’re using. In order to feel as comfortable and confident as possible I took all the possible proactive measures; like learn the local bike laws, take bike classes, join group rides, and seek out friends with good bike behaviors to model.

Even though biking around the city has infinite benefits, it can be intense. But here’s the thing, you can do a lot on your own to be safer on a bike by knowing the rules of the road and how to ride on the road.

So before you strap on your helmet for Bike to Work Day, here’s our step-by-step guide for becoming a Bike To Work Day Pro:

1. Sign up for Bike to Work Day.

If you sign up soon, you will receive a free T-shirt!

2. Get a bike,  or get your bike in working order.

If you don’t have a bike, go to your local bike shop and find a bike that works for what you need in your price range. Black Women Bike DC has a great bike-buying guide. If you already own a bike, similarly go to your local bike shop and make sure it’s all tuned up for the season.

3. Plan your route.

Find bike-friendly routes that include side streets, bike infrastructure, lovelysights and sounds and tree canopies. If you’re new to planning routes ask a friend who bikes for their input, post your question in the Women & Bicycles Facebook group, consult a bike map, or use the bike feature on google maps.

4. Pack your bag.

I keep it pretty basic. I’ll toss my rain jacket, lock, and the normal stuff (cell phone, wallet, keys) in my backpack. If I know I’m going to get sweaty or have plans after work, I’ll pack my change of clothes and shoes, bring some wet wipes for a quick cleanup, and bring my make-up bag.

5. Know how to ride safely,  comfortably,  and confidently.

You can check out a WABA bike class to become your own expert. In the meantime here are the basics: follow the rules of the road (Click here to learn about your local bike laws). Make sure other road users see you by biking in the right place on the road, and by using bike lights and reflective clothing. Make sure people know what you’re doing by riding predictably, and by communicating your turns with hand signals and eye contact.

Less than 24% of bicyclists in the D.C. region are women. So we work through the many barriers to biking like: selecting a bike and gear recommendations, safety concerns, logistics and routines, hygiene, and riding with children.

If you’ve never bike commuted before, Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s (WABA) Women & Bicycles Program offers great resources, including access to all the important tips and tricks of the bike trade. If you already bike around town, you can still join the community of women committed to skill-sharing and mentorship. They host monthly rides, workshops, and weekly meetups to build a close-knit network and inspire more women to bike.

Some other important must-knows: ride with the flow of traffic – never against it, avoid the door zone – that three foot area beside a line of parked cars, always yield to pedestrians, and most importantly HAVE FUN. Because if you aren’t having fun on your ride, you’re doing it wrong.

Happy riding!

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For Mother’s Day this year, consider giving a gift that’s good to Mother Earth as well — keep sustainability in mind.

There’s no better place than DC to find these gifts. The Eastern Market, a haven for localites, overflows with colors, produce, and life. Shopping at a local market is inherently sustainable, as the products don’t travel far from producer to consumer. Many of the vendors take sustainability even further, with recycled or used materials. You can find a beautiful, unique gift at the Eastern Market — and be good to the earth too!

Hand-made Artwork

The artwork at Eastern Market is incredibly diverse and beautiful. Some of the bigger pieces might be a bit pricey, but most artists have small, affordable pieces as well that make great gifts.

Tiles and Magnets

Jeannette Landphair makes tiles and magnets from old newspaper clippings. The bathroom tiles have a retro look to them, and could easily be used as coasters. The magnets are signs from San Francisco newspapers, and would make a very entertaining addition to the door of your refrigerator full of produce you just bought from the market.


Antique mirrors that come from the East Coast can be found at the market in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Some of them are quite old, and some are quite strange. But they are all astoundingly beautiful.

Old magazines,  maps,  postcards

If you know someone who wants history in their art, you can browse through the multitude of vintage Life magazine covers, posters, maps, and postcards. And as an extra plus, these are much less expensive than the newly made art.


At a stand called “Vintage Bling” you can find boxes upon boxes of old, vintage jewelry. For the treehuggers, there are plenty of butterflies, frogs, and other creatures as pendants and earrings. It doesn’t take a lot of digging here to find some beautiful pieces.


“Raices Handcrafts” is a vendor selling hand-made Ecuadorian scarves and jewelry. The owners of this stand travel to Ecuador twice a year to purchase the most beautiful fabric, scarves, and jewelry from local artisans and craftmakers. Take it from a bona fide scarf-lover: these scarves not only warm, they are truly stunning. If you’re preparing for another ‘snowpocalypse’ winter, why not do so with sustainable style?

Household Goods

Handmade pottery, crafted mosaic lanterns, and gorgeous cutting boards from the woods of the Shenandoah. These are just some of the sustainably-made household gifts at the Market.

Homemade Soaps

Handmade just outside of the city, the creator of Peacock Botanicals, Olivia, has been making soaps for over 15 years. The visual beauty of the soap blocks is only surpassed by their aromas. The lavender and oats soap – with real oats in the soap – and the soap called “Remembrance,” with a beautiful color palette, were my favorites. But most intriguing was the “Soup du Jour.” I still don’t know exactly what was in it, but it smelled amazing.

My mother is always happy to receive a simple necklace or flowers, any act of love. But with so many options to choose from at the Eastern Market, you can find something unique and beautiful and still give the gift of meaningful sustainability.

How will you celebrate Mothers’ Day this year?