Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Water, water, everywhere...

It's been a while since I've posted, and I wish I could say it's because I have cut down on my electricity usage and couldn't access my computer, but that is simply untrue. The truth of the matter is that I've been overcome by busy-ness, cleaning, re-cleaning, decluttering, doctor's appointments, gardening, family time, etc, that living life has prevented me from having too much time to ramble in my blog. Regardless, I have a few moments now while James sleeps and thought it was high time that I went ahead and wrote something.

Today I really feel moved to discuss water conservation. My household has been using more water the past month or so than ever before and I don't see it stopping any time soon. When we have a "house" where we have room for a rain barrel, we will of course utilize one of those. A rain barrel for those of you who have not heard about them, cost approximately $60-100 (generally more towards the $100) and naturally collects rainfall. You are then able to pump the water out for things such as watering plants, washing the car, etc. A crude rain barrel could of course be made out of any sort of container, although it is important to make sure that the container has a lid to prevent bugs from finding their way into the water. A rain barrel is an incredibly great investment, and will make collecting rain water as easy and painless as possible.

But unfortunately, we, the Resslers, do not have a big yard where we are able to keep a rain barrel, and we have plenty of plants that need watering, fish that need water changes, amongst other uses for our water such as showers, dishes, laundry, and plain old drinking. So the question becomes, how do we conserve as much water while still enjoying the perks of having nature in our home, and the perks of modern plumbing. There are several ways people can do this. There are shower heads that reduce the amount of water used per shower by up to 40%. Definitely a great investment and a good way to cut down on your water bill. When you change the water from your fish tank, it can go directly onto your plant soil, where the extra nutrients will actually enhance, not hurt the plants. There is the awkward, but effective "if it's brown flush it down, if it's yellow, let it mellow" adage about toilet flushing, which can save several gallons per day. Of course, running the washer or dishwasher when they are not full is another colossal waste of water. There are a decent amount of people out there who still don't shut the water off while brushing their teeth, or leave the shower running for 5 minutes while they prepare to get into it. Preventing water waste like that is easy and effective as well.

Drinking water is a vital part of our lives, and I don't recommend conserving water by not drinking it, but I do recommend making sure that you buy a good filter (either a filtration system or a simple brita filter) to make sure your drinking water is safe. Be sure to drink from the faucet (with your filter) rather than drinking bottled water which adds plastic waste to our earth, and if you have half a cup of water you didn't finish, set it aside for later, or use it to water those plants rather than dumping it down the drain!

Buying products that are close to home, particularly foods (from the farmer's market rather than the grocery store), or buying foods that are not from industrial farms is another way to conserve water. The amount of water used by industrial farming, and used in transit is staggering. Simply by having your own garden or frequenting the farmer's market, we can support farmers and food growth with minimal water waste.

It isn't always easy to conserve water, and it will become harder as the pressure mounts with our resources dwindling, but it is vital. I have only written out a few suggestions but there are millions of ways that water can be conserved. And it's our job to do so, in any and every way we can.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Running.. barefoot... barefoot running

The book "Born to Run" by Christopher MacDougall is worth reading - whether you just want to hear a good story, or you enjoy running, or you enjoy reading about other ways of life, this book will keep you turning the pages. It's an amazingly true story about a "secret" tribe called the Tahumara. They live fairly "simple" lives in canyons in Mexico. They run more than they do anything else, and are incredibly good at it. While the story weaves information about their incredibly interesting culture, and the equally strange culture of ultramarathoning, (culminating in an ultra marathon foot race between several members of the tribe and a few brave U.S. ultra marathoners), what struck my interest in a "Hippie Earth Mama" way, was the information presented about barefoot running.

There is contradictory evidence on the topic of barefoot running from all sources - runners, shoe companies, scientists, and physical therapists. It does strike me as ironic that doctors encourage parents to have babies walk around barefoot as often as possible to learn balance and proper foot strike, but people doubt the efficiency of a barefoot running community. My overall understanding is that people love it or hate it, and there are even varying degrees of barefoot running. There are the "true" barefoot runners, then there are people (like me) who will keep their socks on and do a brisk walk on the treadmill, there is the Vibram Five Finger shoe which for all intents and purposes is just enough rubber to prevent the runner from stepping on glass while maintainging the feeling of barefootedness. Some runners simply run barefoot long enough to regain a more natural heel strike, while others run barefoot at all times, including while running in marathons or ultra marathons.

The evidence presented in the book made an extraordinarliy strong case for barefoot running, and I must admit, I was intrigued. I didn't want to hurt my feet on pebbles and nature, so I jumped on the treadmill, putting it at the speed I normally ran at. The clomping and stomping that ensued scared the pants off me! I obviously did not have a good footstrike, and was not going to achieve one if I kept up at my normal speed. It turns out, other people have made the same mistake I made and ended up with huge blisters. The recommendation is to start slowly. Seriously slowly. At a walk. Build up from there as you feel more confident. Also, don't do all runs barefoot at first, because you won't have the proper calluses formed yet, and the skin is more liable to tear.

Personally, I feel this idea of barefoot running really does help a runner, walker, or general person gain perspective on how we use our feet. The shoes we wear make our feet so numb to the way we walk, we can often develop problems. I won't run barefoot all the time, but I do think its a worth while thing to do at least once a week at a walk. It helps us gain the proper footstrike and it connects our feet directly with nature - which we can always use more of.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Want cleaner air? Get one of these!

I often get the winter blues, or "seasonal affective disorder" as the medical community call it. This year, I wanted to be prepared so I went to buy a small house plant, thinking bringing green into my home might help alleviate some of that drab "dead" feeling. It turns out that house plants, are in a weird way, incredibly addictive. I first picked up a peace lily or "spathiphyllum" and a curly bird's nest fern (or lasagna fern). I brought them home and put them strategically in the living and dining rooms to lighten our home. We already had 6 stalks of bamboo, split into two vases in our living room, so now I was up to 4 plants. But while I was at the flower store, I found a ficus I really loved, so for Valentine's day, Phil got me flowers and a ficus. Then I went and bought an aloe plant in case someone gets burned, and for St. Patrick's Day, Phil bought me a shamrock plant. I also found another baby sized peace lily for the upstairs, and we started our herb planter box. I went from having a few lucky bamboos to having 9 different things to water throughout the house.

It turns out, that having a mini forest in our home, really does liven it up more. And as I did some reading, it does even more than that! NASA came out with a study naming the top 10 house plants that help reduce indoor air pollution. Here is an article with more information. It turns out, that our homes have more than just our hearts in them. Formaldahyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide often lurk in our houses, and certain house plants are very good at filtering those toxins out.

The top ten house plants listed in the study are:
Bamboo Palm – Chamaedorea Seifritzii
Chinese Evergreen - Aglaonema Modestum
English Ivy Hedera Helix
Gerbera Daisy Gerbera Jamesonii
Janet Craig - Dracaena “Janet Craig”
Marginata - Dracaena Marginata
Mass cane/Corn Plant - Dracaena Massangeana
Mother-in-Law’s Tongue Sansevieria Laurentii
Pot Mum – Chrysantheium morifolium
Peace Lily - Spathiphyllum
Warneckii - Dracaena “Warneckii”

If possible, I highly recommend bringing a bit of nature into your home and helping remove the toxins we breathe. Plant Care Guru is a wonderful place to start gathering information on how to care for your plants. Most plants require water and access to light. Some plants, such as the peace lily, require very little light, whereas an aloe plant requires high amounts of light. It is often as simple as that, although some plants to require other things. The ficus, for example, does not like to be near drafts (i.e. air vents) or in a place where temperature changes frequently (right in front of a window). Some plants require the dead flowers to be pruned off, but this is suprisingly simple. All house plants need to be repotted every 3 years, and my recommendation is to re pot the plants as soon as you purchase them. We have bought plants from "Phillips flowers" which is a high end flower shop, Home Depot, and Jewel (a grocery store). I ended up re potting all of these plants because I wanted to change their pots to match each other and my decor. EVERY single plant was already needing to be repotted. The roots had no where else to go and were growing in circles around the pot.

For a variety of reasons, house plants are a wonderful asset. They do not have to cost a lot of money, and plants, much like people have a variety of personalities. You can use one to fill up an empty space, clean your air, brighten your mood, or add a little color to your decor. Whatever your reasoning, go buy a house plant! :)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Alex is four years old today!!

I have no idea how this happened. Four years ago today, I came to visit my sister in the hospital and she handed me a very tiny, under 8 pound baby. He reached up, grabbed my hemp necklace, and I declared him adorable, and promised him then and there I would buy him a hemp necklace of his own when he turned 10. Now, somehow this adorable little guy is four years old. I know it didn't happen overnight, but it is still pretty awe inspiring. For his birthday, we will be going to his house and enjoying a family style party. We will shower him with presents, necessary and unnecessary, but all chosen with his happiness in mind, and we will eat lots of yummy cake!

As a "big boy" now, he will be moving into a bigger bed. I wanted to get him something fun (a basketball hoop), but also something practical, so I went to JoAnn fabrics and got 2.5 yards of blue fleece and 2.5 yards of yellow and set to work making him a tie blanket. I like to think it came out really well, and it goes great with the Thomas the Tank Engine theme. But what is great about this blanket, is that it ties in with being a Hippie Earth Mama. Not only in the sense that if it is cold, he can add this blanket to his bedding instead of needing the heat turned up, but I was able to make the blanket in a meaningful way for far cheaper than if I had just purchased it.

Sewing my own things slips my mind quite often. I have to make a conscious effort to make placemats instead of grabbing the really cheap (and cute) ones from Target. But it's important that I remember, because sewing (or tying in the case of Alex's birthday blanket) is not just cheaper financially. It is more earth friendly. When a blanket is made commercially, wherever it is made, there is generally a factory. The factory uses water, electricity, pollutes, and then ships the goods using even more fuels. The factories are hardly ever all in one places, so where the fabric is made is different than where it is cut and sewn, and that place is different than the warehouse it stays until a big store buys it, the big store is different than the warehouse, and of course, the consumer's home is different than all of the above. I can cut out quite a bit of travel costs, electicity uses, and water consumption by simply purchasing the made fabric from a store and cutting out two of the steps (the factory and warehouse). I end up with the satisfaction of making something nice for my family, saving money, and saving a few resources.

I hope Alex has this blanket for many years, and I think he will. The beautiful part of a blanket like this is that even if he no longer uses it on his bed, he can use it for picnics as a teenager or in his car to protect valuables as an adult. He can reuse and recycle the blanket as many times as he wishes, and it will make me happy. Happy Birthday Alli bear!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Putting the Earth back into Earth Mama

It has occurred to me, that this is going to turn into the "food earth mama" blog if I don't start covering other topics too. Of course, that's because currently all of my research is directed towards food, reading all of Pollan's works and the Safron Foer book. As a result, I am making some fairly drastic changes to my eating and cooking habits that seem worth sharing. Plus, the changes certainly fit under the "Hippie Earth Mama" lifestyle, but I don't want this blog to become too focused on one aspect of that, so I will digress for a few posts...

This morning, I pulled out the sunscreen. The past two days I've taken James to Cantigny park, a huge property full of flowers (well soon to be full of flowers anyways), open grass, and off to the side, a military museum. We got a membership there because it was only $60 for the year, and I wanted to have two options of places to take James to play with having no yard. We already have an arboretum pass, so this seemed like a logical compliment. Yesterday, when we came home, James had gotten no color, and somehow I had gotten a minor sunburn! So I've pulled out the sunblock for me and Alex, my nephew, and will take the boys there this afternoon.

The past few days, and looking ahead to this afternoon and this spring, Cantigny really signifies the Earth part of "Hippie Earth Mama" to me. I had read somewhere that it is a good idea to let babies walk around in barefeet because shoes and even socks can hinder them from learning proper balance and foot striking. Cantigny seemed like the perfect place to put that into effect - allowing James to feel the earth and grass under his feet. While there, it occurred to me that I would probably benefit from some barefoot time as well, so I kicked off my shoes and played in the grass with James. This foot/earth connection really caused me to think. First, I felt more connected with the earth, not having a man made inch of shoe to seperate us. Second, it caused me to stop and think about how this grass is maintained. At Cantigny, because it is an audobon certified property, I don't need to worry about pesticides, and toxic chemicals, but even at a park district park I do. I literally just read in the park district catolog about how they "have" to use pesticides and toxic chemicals and blah blah blah. Interesting considering the grass has grown for thousands of years without chemicals, but hey, what does mother nature know? Anyways, can I, with good conscience, really allow my son to go barefoot in chemicals? What will his skin absorb? What will get on his hands and eventually, as we all know, into his mouth? And why has this world become so science based that nature is no longer allowed to do what it does best?

Sitting out at Cantigny, I also developed an appreciation for the sun. It was definitely on the warm side, and will only get hotter as the summer approaches, but for now, it's comfortably warm, and it feels as though it is helping not just the plants, but us humans grow as well. It's no suprise that spending as little as 90 minutes per week in the sun have the same effects as taking prozac daily. After spending time in the sun, my body feels more tired, but in a good way. Phil and I were discussing this and we both came up with two theories that are likely wrong, but indicate the sun's massive power and benefits. He hypothecized that the human body spends more energy processing the sun than living in climate control, and it causes fatigue, whereas I assumed spending time in the sun put our bodies more in line with the natural rhythyms of the sun and caused us to be tired when the sun went away. Both or neither might be true, and it doesn't matter, because regardless, the sun is a powerful tool. James has a vitamin D deficiency. Sunblocks prevent the absorption of this important vitamin, so these early spring days where he can be sunblock free are important so he can soak up as much of the vitamin D as possible. In talking to the endochronologist, we learned that a vitamin D deficiency (present in 76% of caucasian North Americans) can cause fatigue, headaches, and general sluggishness.

Another thing Cantigny provides is nothing. That seems like I'm being silly, but it's true. James and I can sit in the grass just playing with the grass and sticks for literally an hour and a half, and we are happy. Neither the baby nor the adult gets bored. Granted, I expect that once we add a four year old into the mix this afternoon we'll probably have to introduce a playground ball, but still, the three of us will manage to have a blast without our computers, TVs, radios, or climate control. That is beneficial for us in particular, but also the earth, as we won't be using electricity during that time.

It's amazing how sustainable the earth is, and what rejuvinating effects it can have on us are. I have always shunned barefooting in the past, but now, I am advocating for it, saying "kick off those shoes and feel that cool earth" - it might really change your viewpoint!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Hippie Earth Mama" food or just "food"?

A few weeks ago, my baby brother and I set up a date for him to come over. When I asked what he wanted me to make him for lunch, he said "what about some of that Hippie Earth Mama food of yours?" so I agreed. But that question caused me to look at the food choices I've started incorporating into the diet of my family and self, and determine, "are any of meals Hippie Earth Mama foods, or are they simply 'regular' meals?"

It turns out, the answer is both they are regular meals but also Hippie Earth Mama meals. I wake up and have a half of a cup of blueberry almond granola with a cup of coffee, and some home brewed iced tea with my vitamins. I'd say that's fairly "regular" or mainstream, but then at second glance, maybe not. The coffee is inevitably sweetened with soy or coconut milk due to James' milk protein sensitivity. The granola is more filling, but completely different than a "fortified" cereal from general mills. The iced tea isn't from Lipton, but home brewed and poured over ice. The baby eats his coconut milk yogurt mixed with a little wheat germ and has a sip of water or, more recently, a sip of goat's milk.

After nap time, I have the classic American meal: a sandwich, an apple, and a veggie of some sort. Except, my bread is whole grain (actually whole grain, not white bread turned brown again), and my peanut butter is actually almond butter. Instead of jelly or honey, I add agave nectar to my sandwich. The apple, of course, is organic, as I share it with James as part of his lunch, the other part being a piece of the whole grain bread. I either roast asparagus which the two of us chow down on, or I have a bowl of cold quinoa salad. The quinoa salad is truly delicious, similar to a rice or pasta salad, but with more protein (recipe at the bottom of the page). The baby either enjoys some of the quinoa or just the cucumbers, and we move on to our play time.

Dinner is a fusion of things. Obviously, unlike breakfast and lunch, where we eat basically the same thing every day, dinner changes every night. The structure of dinner remains the same, the classic American "meat, starch, and veggie" with different meals rotated depending on season, my mood, if I've recently grocery shopped, and my energy level. About once a week we end up having a frozen pizza or Subway sandwich because I've gotten caught up in playing with the baby rather than cooking. Occassionally we even go out to Chili's as our "mom is lazy today" meal. But the nights that I do cook, which tend to be about five per week with one day of leftovers, I cook from scratch.

Cooking from scratch really isn't an option for a mom who works full time and gets home at 6 p.m., having to cook dinner. I love Sandra Lee's concept of "semi-homemade" for this reason - buying pre cut veggies, or starting with a jarred spaghetti sauce is a good option for some people, but I am a firm believer those short cuts should remain all natural. Instead of a spaghetti sauce jar with preservatives, one made with organic tomatoes, spices, and olive oil only is a better choice. After all, we are responsible for what goes into our bodies. It's our duty to know what those ingredients are. Again, I invoke Pollan's 5 recognizable ingredients or less rule. The vegetables pose a challenge. My hubby is only willing to eat corn, green beans, spinach, bean sprouts, or salad. He IS willing to try new foods as I force them upon him, and has honestly taken both me and himself by surprise by announcing he enjoys some of them. Others, like sweet potatoes have failed miserably, but he is willing to try. We mainly rotate between the green beans, corn, and salad (which was one of his suprise likeables). I top our salads with different things. Mine gets carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and crutons, while his remains a fairly simple mixture of lettuce and spinach with crutons.

The starches inevitably are rice pilaf, brown rice, white rice, potatoes (red, Idaho, or yukon in varying forms from cubes to mashed), spaghetti or pasta, or bread. Brown rice is a new addition to our list, and thankfully it went over well. I will be trying millet, bulgur, and quinoa at some point, but we've agreed a new ingredient should only be introduced every other week or once a week at most. it's a fair compromise. Tabule was a definate no go, for both of us, but I hope it's because of the seasoning and not the bulgur itself.

Onto the meat. Now here is where it gets tricky. After reading "Eating Animals", I've switched this to "protein" rather than meat because I have taken to making two proteins. Phil and James get some sort of meat, and I get some sort of protein (left over quinoa salad is a staple for me). I've begun to scale our meat consumption down so that it comprises less than half of the meal as suggested by my recent readings. Of course, I now only buy my meat from Whole Foods and make sure it is antibiotic free, free range, blah blah blah. This summer, I intend to buy meat directly from a local farm, presuming they can answer my questions regarding the slaughter meathods.

Of course, one of the most effective ways to get a wider variety of nutrients is by varying our menus, so once every two weeks, I try a new recipe. Once a month, I try a recipe from a part of the world we don't typically cook from. Tonight, we'll be having pork chop suey (i'll be picking the meat out of mine, of course, enjoying the sauce and veggies) over udan noodles with a side of white rice just in case we don't like the udon noodles.

After analyzing my diet, I have to say, it seems completely normal to me. It also seems fairly healthy. Then again, if I were more concerned with image rather than health, I could also completely understand it being considered a "hippie earth mama" specific diet. Nothing is completely main stream, and yet, it's all mainstream. I encourage everyone to follow this type of a diet, following what is natural, tastes best, and provides the most nutrients rather than following traditional foods that come in packages. You'll feel healthier and that attitude will spill over into your life enriching it!

Because I mentioned it specifically, here is the cold quinoa salad recipe. I will post the pork chop suey recipe tomorrow because it is downstairs and the baby can't be left unsupervised :)
Cold Quinoa Salad:
Cook quinoa according to directions. Cover and put in fridge for 30 minutes. Take out of fridge, and fluff with fork. Toss grains with olive oil, diced carrots, peppers (any color), cucuumbers, tomatoes, or any other veggies you enjoy. Olives would probably be good as well :) Keep refridgerated for up to 5 days.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sure I'll defend my family, country,!?

The book "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollen truly is a must read for anyone who eats while living in the United States. Unlike "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Saffron Foer, there are no gory scenes or disgusting details (more on "Eating Animals" in a future post), but a few simple ideas that would help our population learn to balance what to eat, how to eat it, and with whom. The tagline, and major theme of the book is simple: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

What a novel concept! Notice it doesn't say "don't eat meat" or "become a farmer" or even "deprive yourself", it simply expands upon three reasonable, intuitive, and easy to follow rules. The first, "Eat food" sounds simple enough. After all, unless you're like my 11 month old son who is willing to eat paper, food is the only thing we DO eat. Except that's not true. Not according to the expanded (and truthfully realistic) definition Pollen describes. My favorite of his rules regarding eat food, are to not eat anything that has more than five ingredients in it, and don't eat anything with an ingredient you can't recognize. This doesn't mean you have to know specifically what a turnip looks like before you can consume it, it means if the ingredient sounds more like it was created in a lab than in a field, skip it. Some people may feel like this limits their diets, but in fact, it truly expands our diets, and our palates, by reintroducing a great number of foods that have fallen out of popularity in favor of "food science" created concoctions. This way of eating may even be a bit pricier (a pound of apples does in fact cost more than a pound of refined white sugar), but the environmental, physical, and societal implications save much more than money in the long run.

Some might argue that we need to be able to have convenience foods because of our fast paced society, and that plays directly into the "not too much" category. Pollen spends a good amount of time discussing our societal problems with food. And they are problems. The book explains that a majority of Americans consume well over 20% of their calories in the car. To be honest, I don't even know how that is possible, but I suppose the Starbucks' white mocha I had on my way to Whole Foods had double the amount of calories as my entire breakfast. He writes about the "French paradox" and how it really isn't a paradox at all. The French culture appreciates food. Dinner isn't consumed as quickly as humanly possible. TV isn't on in the background, and children eat with their parents. Dinner is an affair. A daily event. In our culture, that is the way it is supposed to be, children learning social norms, manners, and the art of conversation at the dinner table, teh family gathering for a beautiful meal. More often than not though, this isn't what we do, or if it is, we consume our dinner's so quickly there is no way to know when we are full. Pollen writes of a poll where people were asked how they know when they are done with their meals. The majority of French responders said "when I feel full" where as the majority of Americans said "when my food is gone." This is because it takes a full 20 minutes for fullness to register. If you've finished your entire meal in 10, how will you know you're full until you've eaten past that point already? Pollen encourages us to eat at a table (and "no, a desk is not a table"), and to eat thoughtfully and slowly. By eating food rather than commodities, we will be more able to eat slowly and appreciate the different tastes and how the food was prepared.

Finally, "mostly plants" may seem like a call for vegetarianism, but it is quite the opposite. He encourages us to eat meat, but the right types of meat. Instead of our meals comprising of 70% meat, Pollen says to, in the words of Jefferson "make meat a condiment to the rest of your meal". Pollen also calls us to know what we are purchasing, and when possible, purchase meat that is not factory farmed. Alongside of the less meat argument is the mostly plants argument. It is from different plants that we actually gain the most vitamins, nutrients (minor and macro as it turns out), and minerals from. If we eat too narrow of a diet, we will become deficient in many areas of our health. This can cause problems from feeling sluggish, to actual bone density loss.

After reading this book, I handed it over to my father, so he can read the information. It is a quick read, available in paperback so it is not too expensive, and well worth the hour or two that it takes to finish. I highly recommend this book to everyone. If the strategies listed are implimented, the reader will likely lose weight, become healthier, and enjoy dinner more. Off to read "Omnivore's Dilemma" next....