Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cutting Back On Chemicals

It's becoming increasingly obvious to many people that there are an insane amount of chemicals in all of the beauty/cleaning/household products we use on our bodies and in our homes on a daily basis. Harmful, carcinogenic chemicals. When we breathe them or absorb them through our skin, they're going directly into our bloodstream. Yikes!

When I started to realize this, I decided to take it one step at a time and eliminate what I could as I went along. Below is a list of what we've done so far and the next steps I plan to take. I have a long way to go, but I hope some of these things inspire you to make a healthier home for yourself and your children. And I'd love your feedback as well, cause I'm just a beginner at this.

* Laundry Detergent: this has been one of my favorite changes. So easy, so inexpensive. Mix 1 cup Borax (Borax is not the toxic Boric Acid), 1 cup Washing Soda, and 1 bar of grated soap (I use Dove; others use Ivory, Dr. Bronner's, whatever). Stir it all together, then put 1 heaping tablespoon in your laundry load.
* Fabric Softener: even easier than the laundry detergent. Just put 1/2 cup of vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser, plus a few drops of essential oil (I use lemongrass) if you'd like. Don't worry, your clothes won't smell like vinegar (once vinegar evaporates it doesn't smell).
* Dishwasher Detergent: this one is a work in progress. My dishes are coming out filmy, so I'm troubleshooting and trying some different recipes. But I'm determined to get this one right because the smells that used to come from my dishwasher when I used store-bought detergent were so chemically. Right now I'm doing 1 cup Borax, 1 cup Washing Soda, 1/4 cup Citric Acid, and 1/4 cup Salt. Plus vinegar in the rinsing agent compartment.
* Dishwashing soap (for hand-washed dishes): 1 cup castile soap mixed with 3T water and a few drops of essential oil (I use orange).
* Future Project: bathroom cleaners. It's going to be hard to give up my Lysol wipes, but once my Costco pack of those is gone I'll be looking for an alternative.

My overall practice now for beauty products is to look up what I'm currently using on EWG's Skin Deep database. It tells me if the product has toxic ingredients in it. If it does, I look for a better alternative. Although I'm nowhere close to phasing out all of the toxic products I use, these are the ones I've switched so far.
* Body Lotion, Face Lotion, Acne Cleansing Pads, Sunscreen, Self Tanner (Yes, a natural version does exist! The color doesn't last as long, but the tradeoff is worth it to me.).
* Shampoo and Conditioner: this is another work in progress. I haven't found a homemade version that works well on my huge mane, so I'll continue to look into that.
* Toothpaste: we're opting for fluoride-free and sodium-laurel-sulfate-free from Trader Joe's. I've heard that even that is is not ideal due to the glycerin, but it's a good step for us at this point.
* Future Projects: makeup, mouthwash

* Air Freshener: commercial air fresheners put carcinogens straight into your lungs. Not good. I've started putting essential oil and distilled water in a spray bottle and spritzing it around. For a more concentrated smell, use an oil warmer with a mix of essential oil and a base oil.
* Candles: most candles are made from paraffin (a petroleum product) or soy. I've thrown out all of those and will opt for beeswax whenever I purchase them.
* Plastic: I know, it's impossible to eliminate plastic from our lives. But we have cut back, namely on plastic dishes. I got little glass cups for the kids too, at a garage sale. They're so cute.
* Future Project: Sheets, Pillows, and Clothing. I had no idea there were so many chemicals in fabric, especially flame-retardant fabrics. And if you think about how much of the day and night fabric rests on our skin, the toxicity can definitely add up.

Escaping from chemicals, preservatives, carcinogens, etc. in today's society is pretty much impossible. But knowing a little bit about it and making the changes that are doable for your family is a great start. Living naturally -- it's not just for tree huggers anymore.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Our First Family Camping Trip -- A Terrible, Wonderful Adventure

One of two things will happen when you read this post: 1) you'll get a good laugh at our expense and rest confidently in your view that camping is definitely not for you, or 2) you'll get a good laugh at our expense and think we're weak sauce for considering our camping trip difficult. Either way you get to burn some calories laughing, so here goes.

We just returned from a 2-night camping trip to Land Between the Lakes National Park. It was wonderful and horrible at the same time. I grew up camping and so did my husband. But we're not pros by any means and this was back country camping (no running water, meaning no sink or shower anywhere). There was a community toilet, which we were extremely thankful for. And a fire pit at each campsite.

So we arrived in the evening, pitched our tent and got set up, ate some sandwiches, started building a fire and enjoying the supermoon. Then our 3-year old puked. Not just once. All night long. Poor guy. A stomach bug at home is one thing. A stomach bug in the wilderness with no running water is another. After he puked all over his and his brother's bedding, the 4 of us cozied up on one queen air mattress. And got no sleep.

The puking wasn't the only reason we didn't sleep that night though. The three hours of severe thunderstorms added to our bliss. Actually, though, besides being scared that a tree might fall on our tent and kill us, or lightning might strike the ground next to us and electrocute us, this was a pretty cool part of the trip. I love thunder storms. I've never been a part of them like this though. We watched lightning flash across the lake, brightening the sky like it was daytime. The thunder was so loud and continuous we couldn't even hold up a conversation. But why would you want to? There weren't even words to describe how majestic it was. Truly awesome.

Nick started off the next morning catching a big bass, so that was a highlight. I got to read on the edge of the peaceful lake while the kids slept in after our sleepless night. My sister and brother in law showed us how to cook eggs and bacon over a fire (I'd always just eaten hot dogs, sandwiches and other non-cook foods on camping trips).

While we were rummaging through the woods gathering wood for the fire, lo and behold -- we disturbed a copperhead in its nest 20 feet from our tent. Jump back! Thank God my brother in law who accidentally unearthed it didn't get struck. We watched it for a long time until it buried itself again. And then we prayed it didn't come back out. Oh, but it did...

Or else its friend did. After a full afternoon of swimming in the lake (when Cole got bit by a horsefly and freaked out), we did some more fishing. As we were standing on the shore casting our lines and waiting for fish to bite, a "turtle" kept poking its head out of the water and swimming around. It eventually got closer to shore and the kids were excited that it might swim ashore so we approached it. Look out! Another copperhead. The darn things swim!!! I don't know if it was the same one we saw earlier that day (if so, that means it travelled across our camp site to get to the water) or another one, but either way it was disturbing. Nick threw rocks at it till it swam away. Then we watched our every step after that.

We cooked up Nick's bass for dinner. Ever gutted and scaled a fish, then cooked it whole over a campfire? Me neither. I just watched. Then it was s'mores and playing music and drinking wine by the fire. Very fine.

Oh, but don't forget the tick checks. Cole had one in his hair. We're no strangers to ticks but I still hate the things. And he wasn't too happy to have it pulled off either.

The kids crashed early and we followed suit later. This time we turned the air mattress sideways (with mine and Nick's feet hanging off the end) and enjoyed a decent night's sleep for being in the back country.

The next morning Nick and the boys fished some more, then we ate, packed up camp, and bid goodbye to the adventure that was our first family camping trip.

Camping has so much value that despite the difficulties we'll do it again. Learning how to survive in the wild, experiencing nature, realizing the luxuries we have, spending technology-free time together, seeing the majesty of God --  it was a wonderful weekend.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Give Up! Some Battles Aren't Worth Fighting

Sometimes you just have to be practical.  You can give it a good shot, but if you're beating your head against a wall over and over to try and win a certain battle, maybe it's time to throw in the towel. I mean some things just aren't that important in the grand scheme of life. I don't like to admit that, because I want to win every competition I'm in. But I've recently decided to stop fighting a few battles...and it feels great. And that in and of itself is a WIN.

1. Squirrels in the flowerbeds. If it were legal to shoot them with a bb gun I would. Every spring and fall for six years I've joyfully labored on my hands and knees planting beautiful flowers, only to discover them dug up every morning by the cursed grey animals that rule this part of town. I think they do it just to spite me. Well, the nasty vermin win. I'm giving up on trying to keep them out of my freshly planted flowers every season. Way too much time has been wasted with countless anti-squirrel techniques and products. I'm just switching to rose bushes.

2. Nighttime potty training my 4 year old. I changed the sheets every day for over three months in hopes that he'd get it. We tried all the training techniques. No more. This mama got tired of washing wet sheets every single day. He's back in pull-ups until his body figures it out. No more dirty sheets and no more waking up in the middle of the night to make him go to the bathroom -- that's a victory in my book!

3. Home decor that doesn't work with kids. Our kids' room has a double curtain rod in it. It makes the room look like it has some semblance of style. One rod for the flowing, white, airy curtains; and one for the dark grey curtains in front of those. I was pretty proud of putting it all together. The kids, however, use the curtains (still on the rods) for Superman capes, hiding places, or a tent for their stuffed animals. Understandable -- they are a part of the kids' room. But there I was, regularly fixing the rods and straightening the curtains. It was a nuisance. After almost a year of this, one day it dawned on me, "Why am I doing this? The kids should be able to play in their own room and I shouldn't be so worried about having the perfect decor." So I took the white flowing curtains down and just left the grey ones up. They still make good Superman capes; and I have more time to play with my supermen since I'm not busy fixing curtain rods and tangled masses of curtains.

I could go on about how I've given up trying to straighten my wavy hair, or trying to find a 4G connection in my house that's nestled at the bottom of a hill, but I'm sure you get the point.

Life is too short to spend so much time and energy fighting over unimportant things. Giving up is sometimes the better win in the end. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Good from the Bad: what I learned from the difficulty of a miscarriage

Everything was perfect. We had timed our pregnancy exactly how we wanted it. Life was cruising. But there was a big twist around the corner and a valuable lesson to be learned.

When I received the news that my baby's heart had stopped beating I somehow wasn't caught completely off guard. There were signs. Things I previously told myself I was being silly about. But under it all, those signs had prepared me somewhat for the sad truth.

Because of those signs and the way they prepared me, I was spared the emotional wreckage that often appropriately accompanies the news of a miscarriage. My struggle, however, was on the physical, mental, and spiritual sides.

If you've read some of my previous posts you'll know that control is a big issue for me. I like to be in control. Always. Most people will wisely acknowledge that there is actually very little we can control in life. And it will drive you crazy trying to control even those things. Me, I've fought this common sense fact for quite some time. Why? Because I'm an Italian woman maybe? I don't know, it's deep inside me though, so it's taking its sweet time to be resolved.

But this miscarriage brought me many steps along in the control issue. (I'm not saying that God allowed me to miscarry just so I could learn a lesson. No.) What I am saying is that I looked for the good in the situation and this area of personal growth was one thing I found. In this instance I was unarguably not in control. There was nothing I could have done to save my baby; there was nothing I could do to bring him or her back. I couldn't plan the ideal delivery date and guarantee it would happen. The reality hit home and it was a perfect example to me of this: How often do I think certain circumstances are in my control when in reality they totally aren't? Every single day. Every hour actually.

However, even though I was able to acknowledge my lack of control over the fact that I miscarried, I wasn't aware that my physical miscarriage process would last 6+ weeks and would be a much longer lesson in losing control. (Ha. I actually did lose control a couple times -- at my kids and my husband. But that's another hormonal blog post for another hormonal time.)

I decided not to have a D&C, but to wait for my body to do the work itself. For 4 weeks I waited. I searched online to see if there was anything I could do to speed up the process. Nothing. I had to choose every day to trust or worry. I questioned God: "Why isn't my body doing what it's supposed to do?" I wasn't in control of my own body or what it did. That's humbling for someone who likes to control herself, the people around her, and every possible circumstance as well.

When I felt like signs of infection were setting in, making a D&C inevitable, I opted for something else my doctor suggested -- a pill to induce miscarriage. Freaky, I know. I debated for days over whether or not to take it. Because -- again -- I didn't know what the results would be; I wasn't in control of the outcome. I suppose taking the pill was in itself a form of taking charge of the situation. I'll have to think on that one some more.

The pill worked and I didn't have to have a D&C. But my body continues taking its sweet time getting back to normal. I'm still in a state of having to trust and not worry. But isn't that how every day is? I can try to control myself, my circumstances, and the people around me, leading to frustration and disappointment; or I can put my trust and hope in God instead of myself, knowing that whatever happens is for good.

In summary: If you're someone who likes to be in control, just go with the D&C from the start unless you want a potentially long lesson in how to give up your desire for control. Ha ha.

A note about miscarriage: Losing an unborn child is something so many women go through (at least one in five pregnancies). Friends and family members were coming out of the woodwork when I shared that we had miscarried. Of the women I know, more HAVE had a miscarriage than have not. That was shocking, but it was also very comforting to know that I could talk openly with others who could empathize. It was also comforting to know that it wasn't a sign that I couldn't become pregnant in the future. I'm extremely thankful for the people who stood by me through our trial. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My battle with depression

I think depression among mothers is much more common than many of us will admit. Granted, we may not all have depression on a clinical level, but I'd venture to say a LOT of us have it on some level. Here's my struggle with it; maybe it can help you feel more comfortable with where you're at.

My entrance into motherhood was rough. Five things had me spiraling downward. 1) Recovering from an emergency C-section took much longer and had many more side effects than I had anticipated. 2) Breastfeeding was the most painful and discouraging thing I'd ever tried. 3) Hormones 4) My child wouldn't do anything the books said he should do or anything I wanted him to do. 5) I was feeling bad for not enjoying motherhood.

In short, nothing was going according to my plans or expectations. It still isn't, of course. But I'm learning to accept that and roll with it. My depression level isn't nearly what it was post pardum, but it's still a struggle I'm quite prone to. Let's call it Depressed Mood, since it's not like get-to-the-psychiatrist's-office-right-now depression.

A lot of my struggle is caused by these expectations that are somehow deeply ingrained in me:
  • I'm used to being successful if I work hard at something
  • I want to be able to follow a formula to accomplish a desired result
  • I get quite upset when things are less than easy
  • I'm driven by perfection
  • I like to be in control
You may be laughing right now -- that's ok. I know it's ridiculous and difficult (yes, impossible?) to subconsiously operate this way as a mom and not get discouraged/upset/impatient every single day.

Motherhood carries extreme highs and lows each day for all moms, not just those with my personality. Letting the highs and lows determine my attitude, my outlook on life, and how I react to my children is where the crux of the battle is for me. My tendency is to let the lows totally throw me off and ruin my day. It spirals like crazy: one spilled milk or potty accident can lead to me thinking my parenting is totally wrong, my clothes are out of style, I'm ugly, my husband works too much, I don't get enough sleep, I have nothing to fix for dinner, my children are going to rebel when they're teenagers, and can't I just get a break?!

This kind of thing doesn't just happen once a month around the same time of the month; it can happen every day if I let it. This is why I call it depression (depressed mood) instead of just typical motherhood combined with hormones. In fact, the example I gave above is a mild one. (Don't worry, I don't have thoughts of harming myself or my kids.)

So here's what I'm doing about it. First, my husband thought maybe I needed more breaks from the kids or time to myself. That is great and definitely something I needed, but I found myself still getting down after even short amounts of time with them. That showed me that it wasn't my circumstances that needed to change -- it was ME.

Next I made a page of inspirational quotes and Bible verses that speak to me on this issue, which I keep handy to read whenever I start on my downward spiral. (Helen Keller, Elisabeth Elliott, and Mother Teresa have a way of putting things in perspective.) I also admitted that my perspective on life was more whacked up on the days that I didn't spend a little time -- even 10 minutes --  reading the Bible or doing a devotional. Those few minutes don't always feel like they're accomplishing anything at the time, but I know they are.

And finally, I recognized the bents in my own personality that draw me to depressed moods: comfort and control. I'm addicted to both of those things. Unfortunately, neither is present in motherhood. And even more importantly -- I'm  not entitled to them either. I have to remind myself of this multiple times a day.

So my journey continues. Ups and downs of course. But my vision is clearer. Spending time with other mothers who are honest and real helps a lot too. Support - Perspective - Honesty: those are my "pills" in this battle. If you need the real prescribed pills, you're not alone.

There is so much more that could be said. Talking about it at all is a good start though. And I bet if you share your experience you'll find many others who can relate.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pumpkin Paradise

Pumpkins are so versatile and delicious. This November we ended up with 6 large pumpkins. I knew they were cookable, but I had no idea the undertaking of processing 6 pumpkins. For two days my kitchen was covered from top to bottom in pumpkin (if you've ever gutted a pumpkin before you know what I mean. It's slimy and it sticks to everything). But the results were soooooo worth it.

After de-seeding, baking, scooping out and pureeing these guys, I ended up with almost 40 cups of pureed pumpkin. Check out the recipes I've used so far.

Pumpkin Pancakes : These will be a staple in our house as long as we have pumpkin puree in the freezer. Delish. (That's pumpkin butter on top.)
Pumpkin Soup : Always a winner, especially with roasted pumpkin seeds stirred in when serving.

Pumpkin Souffle : This turned out too watery, probably because it's actually a sweet potato recipe. If I do it again, I'll tweak the recipe. Flavor was good.

Pumpkin Seeds : If you do nothing else with your Halloween pumpkin, at least save the seeds. They are amazing roasted and have a lot of health benefits. I use garlic salt instead of regular salt on mine. I've also made a spicy version with hot sauce.

Pumpkin Bread : This recipe uses less sugar and more pumpkin than most. My first loaf I forgot to put the sugar in! It actually wasn't even bad, but I made a second one anyway and added raisins to it (anyone know how to keep them from falling to the bottom?).
Pumpkin Butter : Very simple and it made great Christmas gifts for friends.

And I still have 14 cups of puree in my freezer. Aaagghh!

So next November, when you're tempted to throw out your pumpkins, try a few of these recipes, or send your pumpkins my way.

(And please excuse my photos. I'm definitely not a food photographer.)

Singing the Praises of a CSA

I just picked up the last basket of produce this season from our CSA. Each week when we've picked up our delicious locally, organically grown fruits and vegetables I've thought, "Why didn't we do this sooner? It's so incredible. I need to tell other people how great this is."

I eschewed the CSA thing for a long time because I thought it would be too expensive or that I'd end up throwing away any food that I didn't like. I was so wrong.

You may think CSA's sound very southern and country, but I bet there's a CSA near you! And I highly recommend trying it out. Here are the benefits I've found so far:
  1. It's very inexpensive. The cost comes out to $15 a week. Pictured above is one week's pickup to give you an idea of how much we get. Several weeks in the height of summer we received even much larger shares. This is organic produce; it would cost signicantly more that $15 in the grocery store for all of that. I was shocked.
  2. It's organic and locally grown. I won't go on about the benefits of eating food that's free from pesticides, not genetically modified, and picked only a day or two before you get it.
  3. It's expanded our food horizons. Many of the foods we've received in our share I've never previously purchased or eaten. Some of the foods I didn't even know existed, like these long beans, purple peppers, and yellow watermelon. Thanks to being in the CSA we now enjoy a much larger variety of fruits and vegetables than we ever have. And have you ever seen how brussels sprouts grow? Wow.
  4. It's forced me to find new recipes. I used to get stuck in food ruts, cooking the same things over and over. Not with a CSA. In addition to learning to cook and eat foods I've never had before, I've also had to find a variety of recipes to use up the large amounts of certain items. (See my posts on Zucchini Crazy and Pumpkin Paradise.) It's always good to add some new recipes to the lineup.
  5. It's stocked my freezer for winter. Our $15/week of produce not only lasts the week, it feeds us for much more. I have two freezers with stockpiles of anything we couldn't eat or give away before our next share arrived. I've learned a lot about what can/can't be frozen and how to do it.
  6. It gives me food to share with others. Whenever I know there's something I won't eat or won't freeze, I call up a friend and ask them if they want it. I don't like to see things go to waste, and it's fun for me to know someone else is enjoying it.
  7. It provides fun times with my kids. They go with me to pick out the vegetables, so they get to learn what's what. Together we've shelled black-eyed peas, shucked corn, and sliced bowls and bowls of watermelon. And they absolutely LOVED farm day, where we went to the Amish farm where our food is grown, met the farmers, picked some vegetables straight out of the ground, rode horse-drawn carriages, and chased farm animals -- a dream day for my kids.
So give it a try! You may even like it so much that you'll start getting your meat and eggs from a CSA too...We absolutely love the farm we get our meat and eggs from. Maybe I'll blog on that later...

Happy Eating!