Go Green Challenge: Don’t Leave Your Health to Luck


photo by Takashi .M

Kent and I interrupt our ‘move across the country’ blogging break to wish everyone a very Happy Saint Patrick’s Day and present you with a go-green challenge.  As you put on your favorite green clothes and trinkets, make this an opportunity to grow more environmentally green as well.  We are going to take a moment to discuss a matter near and dear to our hearts because the luck of the Irish isn’t the only observance in town, 16 – 22 March is National Poison Prevention Week.

Did you know the average American uses about 25 gallons of toxic chemicals per year in their homes?  I didn’t until I read Prosperity Without Pollution, by Joel S. Hirschorn and Kirsten V. Oldenburg.  Most are cleaning products, but there are other harmful substances lurking deeper and often unnoticed in our homes, workplaces, and schools; One of these invisible substances is asbestos.  Most of us are familiar with the fact that asbestos is not a material we want to be around.  Exposure is so high risk that mesothelioma is often referred to as “asbestos cancer”.  Despite this, roughly 30 million pounds of asbestos are still used each year in the United States according to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Asbestos Quick Facts

provided by the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

  • The number one cause of occupational cancer in the United States is asbestos, even more than 30 years after its use was essentially halted.  View a list of at risk occupations (even hairdressers are on the list).
  • Since asbestos guidelines were issued in 1979, approximately 45,000 Americans have died of asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma.
  • 10,000 Americans will die this year of asbestos-related diseases (including lung cancer and mesothelioma cancer) and 200,000 are currently living with asbestosis.
  • Asbestos is still mined in several countries throughout the world, including Canada, and is exported to many industrialized and developing countries.
  • No amount of asbestos exposure is safe; however, the longer and more intense the exposure, the more likely an individual is to develop mesothelioma cancer or another asbestos disease.
  • Exposure to asbestos can also increase the likelihood of other types of lung cancer. Smoking also exacerbates asbestos-related diseases.
  • Asbestos can still be found in myriad homes, schools, and commercial or industrial buildings.
  • Asbestos was once used in more than 3,000 consumer products, including common household items such as toasters and hair dryers, some of which may still be in use.

So, now that you are armed with the facts, here is the go-green challenge.  This week, take the time to educate yourself about asbestos and eliminate your risk of exposure.  As regular Do-It-Yourself project undertakers, Kent and I are making it a priority to learn about the risks of our exposure during these adventures.  We think the first step is to figure out where asbestos is commonly found.

Places Asbestos is Found

courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency

  • Attic and wall insulation produced containing vermiculite
  • Vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives
  • Roofing and siding shingles
  • Textured paint and patching compounds used on wall and ceilings
  • Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets
  • Hot water and steam pipes coated with asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape
  • Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets with asbestos insulation
  • Heat-resistant fabrics
  • Automobile clutches and brakes

Yikes, we just finished a few major drywall patching projects…I hope there wasn’t asbestos in our compound!  While the United States Environmental Protection Agency regulates asbestos use in products like these, no amount of exposure is safe.  Before you tackle any projects where you might encounter these materials (especially in older homes), be sure to have your home inspected by an asbestos professional.  If there is asbestos present, have an asbestos trained professional handle remodels near the material/removal.  If your inspection is asbestos free, consider keeping it that way.  With many safe asbestos alternative products on the market, there may be little to no reason to accept even a minimal exposure risk.  Consider using one of these green alternatives instead.

Green/Asbestos-Free Alternatives

provided by the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

  • Non-PBDE (Polybrominated Dephenyl Ethers) Polyurethane Foams – insulation
  • Flour Fillers – crack and crevice fillers
  • Cellulose Fiber – insulation from finely shredded and treated newsprint
  • Thermoset Plastic Flour – insulation
  • Amorphous Silica Fabrics – insulation and protection

So this Saint Patrick’s Day, don’t leave your health to chance!  Remember to go green, use green building materials, and call a professional to help you with any asbestos issues.


Food in the City: Growing More Self-Reliant

We just released the second video in our vlog series and we are super excited to share it with you!  We learned a lot from our first video which allowed us to dramatically improve the end product of our second video (below).  We would love to hear your thoughts and feedback–watch as we grow our video production skills!

Ways to be More Self-Reliant in the City

These are some of the methods we discuss in our video

  1. Grow Your Own Food – container gardening, hydroponics, aquaponics, vertical gardening
  2. Grow as a Community – community gardens, herd shares, hive shares
  3. Go to Your Local Farmer – farmer’s markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs), farm stores/stands
  4. Conscious Capitalism – research your grocer and chose to shop at places that provide local organics

Stay tuned as we go more in depth on these topics in future posts!

Spicy Margarita Pizza Recipe

Spicy Margarita Pizza

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • Fresh Mozzarella
  • Tomato
  • Habanero
  • Basil
  • Honey Dough – I add a bit more honey!


**Bake at 425 degree until the cheese melts and crust turns a golden brown (approximately 10-15).  Check out our video for further instructions.

 What to Learn More?

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What LIES Beneath Your Makeup


I just threw out hundreds of dollars worth of makeup…

Why?  Because I am makeup hating feminist who has liberated herself from the archaic and non-achievable beauty standards of society and the profit hungry cosmetic industry (girl power).  JUST KIDDING (at least about the makeup hating part)–I am a mascara and lip gloss wearing feminist who just discovered that after you carefully finish applying your favorite shade of lipstick and glance up into the mirror, your makeup could be hiding more than a few blemishes.  It is unbelievable how many carcinogens and other insane unnatural ingredients lurk inside those pretty little compact cases.  I challenge you the next time you pull out your beauty kit to take a look at the ingredients list–I found cancer, cancer, and more cancer.  One major theme Kent and I have learned along our self-reliance journey is that you cannot blindly trust the government or industry to ensure your safety. While there are great companies out there and government regulation may try to protect us, it is ultimately up to the consumer to learn what is in the products we use and protect ourselves from things that are potentially harmful.  Just because a product is on the market, doesn’t mean it is safe.

But what about the FDA?  Don’t they ensure that everything on the market is safe?  Well, sort of…

FDA does not pre-approve cosmetic products or ingredients, with the important exception of color additives. However, cosmetic firms are responsible for marketing safe, properly labeled products; using no prohibited ingredients; and adhering to limits on restricted ingredients. It is also considered good practice to follow industry safety guidelines and recommendations. – FDA on Cosmetics and U.S. Law

Okay, so the FDA doesn’t mind what is in your makeup unless it is a color additive.  They must test and approve the product before I use it, right? Umm, I don’t think so…

Although U.S. regulations do not specify any particular testing regimens for cosmetic products or ingredients, it is the cosmetic company’s responsibility to substantiate product and ingredient safety prior to marketing. – FDA on Cosmetics and U.S. Law

Safety testing and approval seem to be entirely up to the company that will be profiting from these products.  Yikes, talk about a fox in the hen house!  So major cosmetic companies build an empire tricking women into feeling inadequate so we buy their products and now we’re supposed to trust them to be honest with us about the safety of these products (there goes my feminist streak again–not all cosmetic companies are like this–some are pretty awesome).  Yea, I don’t so–not this self-reliant lady.  If you want to learn a bit more about this, below is a great video from youtuber storyofstuffproject concerning cosmetics and the broken chemical merry-go-round we are all riding.

Okay, ready to learn about these chemicals so we can become educated, health and environmentally conscious consumers?  Where do I start?  Well, I did some internet digging and came across a Chemicals in Cosmetics article produced by the the Breast Cancer Fund.  Then I wandered over to Treehugger.com (love them) and found a list of 20 toxic ingredients to avoid when buying body care products and cosmetics.  Then I found the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and learned even more about the problem.  This was great, but it seemed the more I dug, the deeper I found myself.  This is a lot of work for a safe tube of lipstick!  Why do I wear this stuff again?

Skin DeepRather than try to memorize the ever growing list of toxins and bad companies, I discovered an online database called Skin Deep that is maintained by the Environmental Working Group (love them too).  The best part is that they have a free app (apple/android) that allows you to easily search their database and access health scores for over 70,000 products.  As if that doesn’t make navigating this makeup maze easy enough, it even has a bar code scan!  So I downloaded the app and grabbed my makeup kit (most of which is now in the garbage), and went through each product.  Seems I now have an excellent excuse to play with some all natural DIY recipes or make a trip to Sephora with my ‘handy’ app in hand.

So the big takeaway, next time you swipe those luscious lips with the perfect shade of pink, make sure you check the ingredients.

Self Reliance in the City (Time to get Vlogging)

Under Open Skies has entered the world of vlogs!  Below is our first video featuring my husband, Kent (I stuck with filming and editing–he was much braver than I).  We would love to hear your thoughts or any self-reliance questions!  We both had a lot of fun making this video and can’t wait to produce more.

Open the Door to Self-Reliance


“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.  Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

Serenity is the peace of mind gained by living a life that is in line with your values.  For Kent and I, this meant living a more natural and self-reliant lifestyle, but we had one major hurdle to doing this–we live in the city!  Living in the city while trying to live life the way we imagined made us meticulous researchers and creative experimenters.  Bottom line, we discovered that you can choose to what extent you provide for yourself or depend on society no matter where you live.  Now we want to help you discover that–whether you find yourself in the city, suburbia, or the country–there are several actions (with tons of options) you can take to bring yourself closer to your ideal way of living.  Aren’t options a wonderful thing?

We plan to share what we learn with you, starting with our city adventures in the Northeastern United States, and are here to help answer any questions you have along your own journey.  We are all in this together!  Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the details of our three years of city self-reliance (in varying degrees).  This includes composting, container gardening, rain water collection, and other city reliance adventures!  You won’t want to miss out, so be sure to subscribe to our blog for all the FREE tips!

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Come April 2014, we will be finishing our segment on city self reliance as we prepare for our big move out west to the desserts of New Mexico!   Once in New Mexico, you can learn with us as we share our journey for self reliance in a rural dessert climate.

And always remember…

“Its the not the Destination, It’s the journey.”Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance


This post is inspired by the theme serenity from the Weekly Photo Challenge.  If you enjoyed this, please check out other fun interpretations of this theme!

Dreaming Up an Off the Grid Paradise


In a busy world of social and industrial dependence, my husband and I have been longing to create our self reliance oasis. A home where we can break away from the norm and live more in tune with nature. We want to build a way of life that enables us to choose how we interact with society rather than being bound by our dependence on it. To us, this home embodies four areas…

Artistic and Eco-Friendly
Home is where the heart is with The Art House Project. Being an eclectic artist has it’s advantages, like turning our future home into one giant art project to promote eco-friendly living. I will be infusing our off the grid home with my original art pieces in a variety of mediums. From metal work to mosaics, I will also be striving to reuse, or up-cycle, as many “discarded” materials as possible in my pieces.

Life Cycle Management
The best way to know where your food comes from is to grow it yourself. We plan to produce a majority of our plant based food needs (including those for our animals) on site. The hope is to symbiotically grow gardens and raise animals together; joining animal, compost, and garden back into a natural cycle. This means gardens engineered specially for our chickens to roam, pastures planted with optimal nutrition for our horses, varietal orchards for our bees, and dog friendly edibles for the pups.

Natural Heating and Cooling
We plan to construct the home in a manner that takes advantage of the earth’s natural heating and cooling mechanisms. There are a few easy things we can do to accomplish this. First, we plan to construct our home with a southern facing exposure, allowing us to use the abundance of sun to heat it. We also plan to use earth berm walls for superior insulation from the cold in the winter and for cooling in the summer. Second, we will build with materials, like tiled floors and double paned windows, that enable heat or cooling when we want it without using a traditional furnace or air conditioner.

Generating Power with Clean Energy
We still desire to have some modern amenities so we want to have local electricity generation. The house is going to use as much free energy as the site allows. This may require a few different methods of production. Starting with solar, some photo voltaic cells are an easy kill for electricity generation. Depending on a wind survey, a wind turbine may also complement or completely meet our electricity demands. Finally, if there is a stream nearby with enough vertical drop we could install a water turbine. We believe that some combination will be prudent for our electricity demand. What we end up installing will be dependent on the property we can find and purchase. Our search will be with all of these methods in mind.

Interested in growing greener? Join us on our journey as we learn and explore how to make this dream a reality by following our blog, Under Open Skies. Each week we will be diving into something new and sharing what we learn with you.

This post was inspired by the prompt Oasis from The Daily Post.

Mapping out a New Direction

Sometimes in the winds of change, we find our true direction – Unknown

Thank You Mucho!
First, I would like to extend a huge thank you to our visitors and followers this past year! You have helped me to grow more confident in my writing and truly find my voice as a blogger.  Writing and creating artwork has been a childhood dream of mine, so it is unbelievably exciting to experience this coming together. Under Open Skies, has been an amazing adventure that I couldn’t have done without your encouragement!

I took a week off over the holidays to really think about the blog, how it has evolved, and where it is headed.  I wanted to refocus and incorporate the new big adventure in my life.  My husband (Kent) and I have been enthusiastically talking about living off the grid since we met in 2009.  With our big move back west coming up this year, we decided now is the time to start planning and preparing.

The new things you’ll find at Under Open Skies:

Author, Kent Reichle
My husband will be joining me in this blogging adventure, writing posts about sustainable living topics from his unique perspective.  Learn more about him on our Meet the Reichles page.

The Art House Project
Home Plans, Craft Skills Development, Design Sketches and Inspiration
Join me in the creative development of our low-impact, off the grid home.  I plan to incorporate as many of my handcrafted art pieces in various mediums as possible, turning our home into a collective work of art.

Sustainable Living (Refocused from Positive Living)
Raising Animals, Gardening, and Off the Grid Plans
Join Kent and I as we plan and embark on our journey toward self reliance and natural living.

What about Prior Topics?

Wanderlust is Here to Stay
Travel, Exploration, Adventures
Sharing some of our random adventures and travels.

The Fur Kids have grown up and moved to their own place.
PAWtrait Artwork, Classy Canines and Equines
Check out and continue to follow us at Playfully Refined, my new blog dedicated entirely to all things canine and equine.


This post is inspired by the theme new from the Weekly Photo Challenge.  If you enjoyed this, please check out other fun interpretations of this theme!