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....

Monday, March 29, 2010

Saving the planet while reducing clutter? yes please!

I've always been distrustful of technology. I am like an old person in that way - it takes me a long time to warm up to the newest ideas, and even longer to start using them, even after they've been mainstream. I still don't use twitter (nor have I ever checked it out), despite the fact that my Dad mastered it a full year ago. My digital pictures are backed up more times, than as Phil says "Career Education Corporation's entire system of servers". I literally downloaded them to my desktop, uploaded them to shutterfly, printed many of them into paper copies, have started compiling them onto an external hard drive, and save them on the memory cards themselves. I just buy a new memory card rather than delete the old pictures. I still don't feel completely comfortable that they won't be lost, but at some point it stops being a rational system and starts becoming an obsession.

That is why, when Phil suggested we go look at the Sony e-reader I was very hesitant. I love going to book stores and just browsing. I probably read a book every week when I have the time, and at a minimum a book every month during times like Christmas. I don't want to lose the information in my books and more often than not, read non-fiction. Being a history major, I have come to view non-fiction books as an excellent resource to understand our world. In much the same way I don't want to lose my digital photographs, having books in a digital format seems like risky business.

There's also the issue of sorting my books. When I have them in print, I can organize them by subject and look over my collection to easily find a book I want to reference or re read. Because I consider books to be reference materials, I generally mark any sections I deem particularly important. Despite the vast number of books that I have, I can easily find most of the passages I'm looking for within 15 minutes.

Which brings me to the e-reader. Why would I want one of these crazy new machines? I am terrified of the technology, and it is hardly mainstream yet, which means all of the kinks have not been worked out at all. BUT a little voice inside my head kept reminding me that an e-reader would be far more eco friendly. No trees would need to be chopped down. I would have more space and less book clutter. I could still organize my books by section in my digital library and because the digital library exists not only on my computer but in cyberspace, it would be protected should my computer crash. The e-reader even has ways to bookmark passages that I wish to reference later.

I realized, that at a conservative estimate, if I read 14 books a year, each having approximately 250 pages, I would be using 3500 pieces of paper PER year, and that doesn't include the covers, title pages, or tables of contents. So in an effort to be slightly more eco friendly I allowed him to convince me, despite having some serious reservations.

I have only had the ereader for the weekend. We bought it last Thursday and Friday I bought my first book ("Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollen), and I have already torn through 150 pages of that book, as well as 50 pages of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". I absolutely love it. In one of my college courses I had learned that reading information on your computer versus in print reduces comprehension by 30%. I feared that would be the case with the e-reader, but because it is made to actually look like the page of the book, I have not experienced that yet, and seriously doubt that I will. It is very compact so I can actually bring my reading with me to a great number of places that I would have hesitated to do so before, due to size. The downloading is quick, easy, and painless. I feel quite spoiled that I get to save the environment by owning such a quaint little device.

Who knew being eco friendly would be so wonderful??

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hotslings - the carrier of the week

This wasn't my first carrier, that honor goes to "The Ultimate Baby Wrap" stretchy wrap, but this was my first carrier I used all the time. A "Hotsling" is a pouch style carrier, meaning you fold the fabric into a pouch the baby will sit in, and it slings across your shoulder. There are some definite issues with a one shouldered baby carrier - mainly that it only distributes the baby's weight on which ever shoulder you have slung it across. There is also the issue that this carrier is not good for babies between four and seven months because there is no convenient way to carry them. It is also a front or hip carrier, so chores such as cooking are not recommended, because the baby cannot sit safely on your back. It is a sized carrier, so it isn't easily swapped between two different sized parents, meaning a family needs to purchase two if both parents plan to babywear. Finally, whichever shoulder has the sling across it, is generally constricted, so while you may have two free hands, you don't necessarily have two free arms.

All of that being said, I would recommend this sling to any new mom who was looking for a good, easy carrier to use. It is one piece of fabric, so you just fold, slip it on, put baby in and go. There's no wrapping, knots, or tying involved. It's incredibly compact so it easily fits into any diaper bag or can remain in the car inconspicuously. Newborns can be held in a cradle carry, which is the position where they are laying down horizontally across mama's chest (or papa's depending on who is wearing the carrier). Supposedly moms can nurse in it, which I never tried, but I can believe it would work well. It is quality made, so the fabric doesn't pull as the baby grows. Around 3 or 4 months, the baby can sit kangaroo style, where they are sitting up in the cradle position and able to look out and hide in mom's chest. At about 6 or 7 months, the baby will be able to sit in a hip side carry, where the carrier holds the baby on mom or dad's hip. This is convenient for babies who are on the go and wanting to be picked up and put down frequently, or for a parent who is grocery shopping. The sling allows plenty of arm movement, despite one of the shoulders being restricted, so shopping, running errands, and visiting people is a breeze. Because the baby is so close to the parent, it thwarts the efforts of random strangers who reach out to touch the baby (hand sanitizer please!), and it comes in plenty of different colors.

I've spoken with a lot of different moms and many of them find this carrier to be too complex. It honestly isn't, but it's intimidating LOOKING. If the carrier comes with a DVD (as hotslings does), I recommend watching it, if not, youtube has many videos that instruct how to use the pouch style carriers. It doesn't matter if you have a "Peanut Shell", "Amy Coe", or "Hotslings" brand - the videos are interchangeable because it is in the same category of sling. I highly recommend practicing around the house until you get the hang of any carrier. Put the baby in the pouch over the couch or bed, so you don't risk dropping him/her on the floor. Then, walk around for a bit, see how it feels. Check out the Baby Wearer Forums where you can see videos, post pictures, and ask for advice if you still need help. Some mom's claim their baby hates the sling, and while that is sometimes true, it's not true nearly as often as many moms claim. Baby's don't like anything new, but if you keep moving and soothing your baby, within a few minutes he or she will love the sling. It has the additional benefit of swaddling the baby tightly because it is fitted.

In the world of slings, this one is quite affordable running about $50 (many other types of slings are upwards of $100-200 for a quality, lasting carrier). It is definitely possible to find a used one for even cheaper.

I distinctly remember when James was about six or seven weeks old. We had just bought the Hotsling, and I was just getting the hang of it. I was doing laundry as dinner was cooking, and baby was sleeping peacefully in the sling. At the time, we hadn't realized he was allergic to dairy, so it was hard to get him to sleep peacefully without a lot of screaming. As I folded the laundry, I remember thinking "wow, I'm getting the hang of this 'mom thing' a little bit. With this sling, I can actually do the bare minimum housework i need to do without sacrificing my baby's comfort or happiness" - and that was a big deal to me. My baby never had to sit alone in a swing while I cleaned because he was securely sleeping in my pouch carrier (of course, we definitely allowed him time in the swing - all things in balance). I did have to be careful as to what cleaners I sprayed because with him up against my body, any toxic cleaners would inevitably be within his breathing range. That of course led to two observations on my part:
1. Cleaning wipes such as clorox, windex, or murphy's oil soap, etc. are wonderful inventions.
2. Going green and getting rid of toxic cleaners is even more wonderful. Not only does one avoid the spray as with the wipes, but the fumes as well. Just one more reason to be a Hippie Earth Mama.

Basically, i would say that if you can get two baby carriers, this would definitely be one of the two I would recommend. There are solutions to almost every problem, and many resources to help people learn to use the sling while keeping baby comfy!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Turn those Lenten Fridays into Meatless Mondays!

Lent is a time of year, where many Christians observe 40 days of strict guidelines. For many, it is a time of year to forego something particularly significant, or add a new habit that will last at least the 40 days. Starting Ash Wednesday, and every Friday until Easter, those observing Lent give up meat. It used to be that the entire 40 days were meat free, but just as the fasting for the 40 days was amended, this period of no meat turned into meatless Fridays.

As I think of this no meat time, it occurs to me, that one of the challenges of going meatless, is finding healthy, non repetitive vegetarian recipes. But yet, if one picks up a copy of "Cooking Light" a magazine full of relatively healthy recipes, or reads "In Defense of Food" or "Eating Animals", if one turns on the T.V. and watches several interviews, or listens to the latest diatery guidelines, that person will find that having at least one meatless day per week is the newest suggestion. Perhaps it is a fad, just as the low carb craze or sugar free twinkies was, but I'm disinclined to believe so. Our anscestors never had the access to meat we have, and even our closest older relatives didn't require pounds of meat per meal. We have more access to meat than any other group of humans in history (even than others in some parts of the world), yet we have the highest rate of diseases.

Can meat be blamed for all of societies problems? I believe it would be silly to suggest that. I do, however, believe that choosing a day of the week - "meatless Mondays" is the typical suggestion, to cut meat out of all meals, may be a very wise decision. First and foremost, it forces us to look beyond the scope of steak, baked chicken, and pork chops. It requires a type of cooking that can't be microwaved, and a certain level of knowledge of how to spice dishes up with herbs, seasonings, and citruses. It also significantly helps our wallets. If a family of four, spends $10 for the chicken breasts that are picked up for dinner, not buying those chicken breasts 52 times per year adds up to $520 savings. Some families spend more and some less, but the point is that no matter how much your family spends, there will be some savings involved. Meatless meals can also be high in the same proteins and nutrients that meals that include meat have. For example, combining rice with beans and guacamole, in some type of vegetarian, Mexican inspired dish, would provide the same amount of protien(if not more), healthy fat, and vitamins as a dish with meat.

Of course, if we decide going meatless one night per week means having a cheese pizza every Monday, then the health benefits are fewer, but the monetary value remains the same. It also will contribute to the health of the soil, animals, and plants that are involved in the industry by sending a clear message that meat that has been pumped with hormones, soil that has been fertilized with only 3 elements versus the wide variety necessary, and plants being under utilized to make room for more soy and corn are not what we need or want. We need and want to be able to choose from a wide selection of healthy foods at the supermarket. If every family gave up meat for one day a week, I am fairly confident (though blindly guessing) that the impact of lost revenue would wake the industrial farming industry up. It may send a clear message that we are going back to our roots, and eating the way we know we should be, verus the way they have demanded of us. And when that message gets sent, and the industry cleans up, we'll keep our Meatless Mondays, because we will have built such a wonderful library of vegetarian choices, but we will also invest back into the meat trade, choosing our 6 other dinners every week based on how honestly and healthfully our meat is raised.

So, I challenge you, can you turn your Lenten meatless Friday into a Meatless Monday? What can and will you learn from doing so? And how much better do your pants fit now??

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Let me begin this post acknowledging that breastfeeding is not for everyone. Some women have medical problems that prohibit breastfeeding, others have emotional issues that prevent them from having a successful time breastfeeding. Still others are just uncomfortable with it, and that is absolutely fine - a happy mom, lovingly feeding her baby a bottle is far more emotionally important than a mom who is sending uncomfortable and unhappy signals while breastfeeding. So, please, upon reading this, realize I am not passing judgement on those who have chosen not to or cannot breastfeed - this is purely a post based on my point of view as a mother who has chosen to breastfeed for the first year.

Breastfeeding is one of those things that is viewed as uncomfortable in our society. A woman nursing in public, depending on where she lives, can be arrested for indecent exposure. Many people think nothing of sending dirty looks towards a mother who has chosen to feed her child while out and about. Other mothers get comments from their in laws, families of origin, or friends about "why don't you just use formula, it would be easier". In a society where the women on the cover of "Maxim" or the swim suit edition of "Sports Illustrated" pose in far more revealing ways, this absolutely confounds me. Surely, in a society where Mardi Gras is most famous for the beads given to topless women, it can't feel all that offensive to see a woman nursing in public.

It seems to me that nursing in public certainly takes some common sense from everyone involved. The mother ought to be aware of her surroundings. If she is in the middle of a restaurant, or perhaps at a place such as a baseball game, it would probably be prudent to use a nursing cover. However, if she is at a mom's only group, or her pediatrician's office, it would probably be okay to bare all if she desires. The people around her ought to also consider the circumstances. If a woman has a nursing cover on, and she is feeding her child - there is no need for dirty looks - does that person honestly prefer there be a screaming, and starving baby in the venue? Or if a mom is nursing in the back of her car, and a pedestrian peers into the car, there is no need to be offended - that pedestrian chose to look in the car.

But nursing in public isn't the only reason that people should be more comfortable with breastfeeding. For a society that is so largely image based, people neglect to remember that for some women, breastfeeding actually helps them lose weight because of the calories required to keep up a milk supply. A woman who nurses her child is actually less at risk for developing breast cancer than a mother who never has. Considering the expodential rate of cancers in our society - that seems to me to be reason enough to give it a try. While bonding with the baby is one of the perks, it a minor one because formula fed babies bond with their mothers just as well, but in different ways. It is also much easier in the first several months to be able to nurse the baby in the middle of the night than to have to make a bottle. Breastfeeding is virtually free compared to the costs of formula, bottles, and other accessories. The baby gets even more benefits - all of the immunities and antibodies that the mother's system creates gets passed along to the child. The hungry baby never has to wait for his meal or for a bottle to be the right temperature.

Mothers choose to nurse for different lengths of time. For some, the first week is enough, others stop at the 3, 6, 9, or 12 month mark or anywhere in between. Still others choose to do what is called "extended breast feeding" which is breastfeeding past the first year. Some mother's can take this to an extreme, while others go a little over a year to all the weaning period to be mutually desired by mom and baby. As a matter of fact, in many other countries, it is the cultural norm to breastfeed for at least two years, most probably because those cultures do not have very good formulas for, well, formula.

Breastfeeding poses many challenges as well. A baby may be allergic to a different number of things, from milk and soy to peanuts and citrus. Mothers must choose at that point whether it is more important to be able to consume those items themselves or if they will abstain from the allergins and continue breastfeeding. Breastfed babies are often vitamin D deficient because the mothers are. Babies who are breastfed may also have trouble keeping their stores of iron up if the mother is anemic. These problems are easily solved by giving the child a daily vitamin with iron. Supply is an issue for some women and it is best to contact a lactation consultant who can point you to the right suppliments and instruct the proper ways to increase supply. Breastfeeding moms and babies can contract a yeast infection called thrush, and it may take a perscription strength cream to clear it up. Finally, breastfeeding hurts for the first several weeks. Everyone says it is so natural, but the truth is, that while mom and baby are both learning, the mom is likely to be uncomfortable. Again, in that case, I highly recommend seeing a lactation consultant to find advice on how to survive those painful moments.

Why a post on breastfeeding you may wonder? Well, breastfeeding falls under the hippie, earth, and mama concept of my blog. It also is a misunderstood nutrition system in our country. But the reason it has been on my mind 11 months after having my baby is that recently I was taking medication that prevented me from breastfeeding. I had to pump and dump my milk while my husband had to feed the baby bottles. It was only at that point that we truly understood the wonders of breastfeeding. The entire household was disrupted for the midnight feedings where I would have to rock the baby until the bottle was made by a completely sleep deprived and dazed dad. The baby had to try to adjust to a new system of feeding, and mom had to spend 20 minutes every few hours pumping instead of spending time with the family. While I dare say it was during this time that my hubby truly started to understand the incredible toll sleep deprivation takes on me, having finally experienced it for himself, it was also during this time that I realized that soon, the baby will be weaning himself, and all of these benefits will no longer be conferred upon us.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day

It's Saint Patrick's Day!!! Whether you are Irish or not, St. Patrick's Day is a day full of fun - whether the leprechauns come and dye your milk green, you drink green beer, or you eat your yearly dose of corned beef - most people in the U.S. find a way to celebrate. Being from Chicagoland, one of the time honored traditions for Saint Patrick's Day is the green dying of the Chicago River. After the river gets its yearly pigment, the parade kicks off, and for those of us who enjoy running, the Shamrock Shuffle snakes through downtown the following weekend.

But these traditions, as quaint and fun as they are, come at a price. Perhaps in our festive moods, we have forgotten the original reason that the river gets its green bath every year. Before I was born, and certainly before I could say "top o' the morning to you", Chicago was an industrial city. Not only were there "The Jungle" type food processing places, but workers created a plethora of materials. And the companies needed somewhere to put their waste. The Chicago River, which feeds into Lake Michigan conveniently wound through the city, and big business did not hesitate to dump their waste into it. So much so, that at one point, the river was so saturated with junk, that it caught on fire. The river became so polluted that it was no longer a topic to be avoided - people could literally see the filth floating in the river. The city needed a solution, but telling its revenue generating companies to stop dumping wasn't on the agenda. Due, in part, to a large Irish population, the city decided to dye the river green. It hid some of the worst parts of the pollution, and created a fun festival the city could be proud of.

Now, we still dye the river green, both out of tradition, and because of the Irish population in our city. But those parades celebrating the dying of the river attract crowds. The Shamrock Shuffle (one of the largest 8Ks in the country) brings 36,000 runners from all over the country. And these people don't leave only footprints. Confetti, lost mittens, thrown aside water glasses all line the streets as their owners ignore the trash they are leaving behind. Drunks leave beer cans. Smokers leave cigarette butts. Runners leave empty Gu packs. Children leave lollipop sticks, and on it goes. And that litter is dealt with in one of two ways. The first option is the amazingly speedy and precise clean up crews come through and collect it all, and put it in a dumpster where it goes to a landfill. There it may or may not biodegrade, but will definitely leave its carbon footprint in our environment. The second option is that it will be overlooked, or outside of the clean up crew's jurisdiction. At that point, it becomes an eyesore, litter literally lining our streets, and on our street corners it will either biodegrade or not.

So while we all celebrate this holiday, that I for one, absolutely love, let's keep in mind that celebrating is fun, littering and pollution are not. Make yourself a promise that you won't litter - at parades OR during the work week. Make yourself a promise that when you find out a company is dumping their waste, you are one of the outspoken critics. And then make yourself the promise that you will eat as many servings of corned beef as it takes to make yourself full :)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Clean 15, Dirty Dozen, and what we should do about it

How I wish the "Dirty Dozen" was simply a film to be studied. It would make eating that much less of a strategic game, trying to balance cost versus the health of entire families. Unfortunately, it's not. The Dirty Dozen is a serious list put out by the FDA and Environmental Working Group (EWG) of the twelve foods that are most likely to have pesticide residue on them. Keep in mind the "most likely" part of that sentence. It in no ways guarantees that if one buys organic fruits and vegetables that are on that list, but buys regular produce otherwise the person will be protected from ingesting chemicals. It only suggests that the best bet is to at least eat those twelve foods organically grown, if not all foods. In fact, it's extraordinarily sad that there is a list at all. I once heard a great idea that it shouldn't be "organic apples" or "organic cotton" it should be "apples" and "cotton" and then those mainstream items would be labeled "apples sprayed with these toxins" or "cotton treated with these pesticides" - I'm willing to bet we'd see the prices of organics go down quickly and we'd see the industrial farm industry change its habits fairly quickly.

But unfortunately, we still live in a world where we need to follow a list of foods that WILL contain toxins if we do not purchase organic, and have to hedge our bets on the rest of our produce. No wonder convenience foods haven't lost their appeal after the recent health movement - at least those list what crap is going into their customers, whereas in produce, it's completely unknown.

The list, which includes mostly foods that consumers will eat with the skins on is as follows:
1. Peaches
2. Apples
3. Bell Peppers
4. Celery
5. Cherries
6. Nectarines
7. Strawberries
8. Kale
9. Lettuce
10. Imported Grapes (yet another reason the local farmer's market is so appealing)
11. Carrots
12. Pears

In conjunction with the "dirty dozen" list, there is also a "clean fifteen" list that appeared at the same time. These are the 15 produce items "least" likely to contain pesticides - but again, notice the language. There are no guarantees - even in the "best choice" scenarios, the language still requires the word "least". The clean fifteen are as follows:
1. Onion
2. Avocado
3. Sweet Corn
4. Pineapple
5. Mango
6. Asparagus
7. Sweet Peas
8. Kiwi
9. Cabbage
10. Eggplant
11. Papaya
12. Watermelon
13. Broccoli
14. Tomato
15. Sweet Potato

Not surprisingly, the list includes mostly produce that has a thick skin that will be peeled off. I recently read an article that said that even potatoes, which one would think would be less likely to contain pesticides, can contain immense amounts of pesticides, and the toxins can even penetrate up to 1/4 inch below the skin. The article recommended buying organic, or peeling off the skin and soaking in cold water before boiling. Makes enjoying a baked potato a little harder, doesn't it?

Sadly, it seems to me that the best solution is in 4 parts. First, if you can find a local farm, purchase all of your produce, beef, eggs, and milk from them. Many small, local farms follow all of the organic standards (actually, most far exceed the minimal standards set forth by the government) but do not have the funds to get the certification. The beauty part of a local farm is that you can actually speak with the farmer - ask about what methods are used. If you are friendly enough, they might even take a request for a certain crop from you. It is also a bonus to be able to see where your food comes from without having to worry what is going on behind closed doors so to speak. If no local farm is available, I would suggest step two - go the the local farmer's markets. There you will be able to find many local (or more local than not) farmers with a great variety. Typically, the people manning the tables are employees of the farm and can answer any and all questions. The third option would be to eat all organic foods from the grocery store. This, of course is the least desirable because the costs will be the highest - both in your wallet, and in the amount of waste created by shipping the food to the market. However, this is still a good option if you cannot find anything locally. Finally, the fourth suggestion would be to contact everyone you can. Write to your local grocery store that you would like to see more organic and local produce. Write to your local farmers that you would like to see a bigger presence at the farmer's market. Write your the person in charge of events in your town and present ideas to expand your farmer's market, or create one if none exists. Write to your senators and representatives - both state and federal - requesting that they represent YOU, their constituents, rather than the industrial farming companies when they vote for stricter laws on what our food is allowed to be exposed to. Write to your family, your friends, your children, your church, and help spread the word about what is in our food. It's an uphill battle, but we have the man power to get to the top - it just takes a little effort from all of us.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Me versus Clutter - the 100 Year War

Clutter. It is such a nasty word, full of negative connotations. Surely if you asked someone to identify the clutter in her home, she would point to the stack of mail that's grown over the months, that never seems to be gotten to. Or perhaps she would point to the bin of mismatched socks that have neither been turned into dust rags nor found their mates. But what about the other clutter that isn't so apparant? What about the kitchen cabinet that houses a panini maker, a quesadilla maker, and a bread maker - all of which only get used once a year and other pots and pans would substitue for them just fine? What about the emotional clutter people carry around with them? That ugly painting Aunt Betty gave to the household? The memories that haunt and return every so often?

It may seem that clutter doesn't belong in the categories of hippie, earthy, or mama, but yet, it actually falls into all three. As a hippie, I have the goal of reducing as much waste as possible. Maybe not as much as a zen monk, but enough that I am not collecting junk in my closets rather than in the landfill (as both are bad). As an earth lover, it's important that I reuse my clutter that I can, and recycle what I cannot. And finally, as a mama, it's absolutely necessary for me to reduce my clutter. Not only will it make for a cleaner environment for my child, but it will also create a cleaner emotional environment for him as well. Not to mention that as a mom, my first job is to lead by example.

The process of decluttering is always hard. Even the "simple" steps recommended by every article, specialist, and magazine one might come across can be difficult. One of the best, most useful pieces of advice for decluttering is to get rid of anything that hasn't been used in the past 6 months. That's great advice, and it seems completely logical and simple. That is, until I put it into practice. What about my prepregnacy clothes? It's been over a year since I've worn them, but prior to my pregnancy, I had many of them for 5+ years. Eventually I will be that size again, and do I really want to have to go out and buy all new clothes because I was in a decluttering mood? Then again, the specialists will tell you, "understandably you don't want to buy new clothes, but if you keep clothes too big, you're giving yourself permission to stop with healthy habits, and if you keep clothes that are too small, you aren't accepting yourself for who you are at the current moment." Great - I want to accept myself, but I don't want to go bankrupt trying to buy clothes in every size! Or what about seasonal items? I don't mean decorations, which can easily be boxed up and put into storage in an organized, non cluttered way. But what about those items that don't quite make it into the seasonal bins, but yet are taking up space? For example, fake fruit to be kept in a bowl on the countertop. It only goes out during the spring and summer, because there are different motifs for the winter and fall, yet if it was packed with the Easter decorations, it might come out too early or too late.

I think the best answer to this dilemma is to de clutter everything else around the item in question and see if there is storage capacity for it afterwards. After getting rid of the panini maker, I might actually have a spot for the fake fruit. If I don't, then I can evaluate if the fake fruit is important enough to create a space for, or if it might be easier to let the item go and replace it with something that serves more than one function (in this case, real fruit that can be enjoyed throughout the week).

Another problem I always face is the emotional attachment to my clutter. "Oh but my mom bought me those pants that don't fit" or "my dad gave me this pen that has no ink" is a common issue I face in the challenge of decluttering. I recently read a great article that says that just because you are getting rid of the item, doesn't mean you are getting rid of the memory of that person, or ignoring their thoughtfulness. The article advises us to acknowledge the memory attached to the item, and say out loud "this item is not the person who gave it to me", allowing us to seperate the person and relationship from the possession itself.

Two areas that always tie me up in my decluttering journey are the kitchen and bathroom. Ideally, I recognize that it is important to keep only the items that will be used within three months. Especially in rooms such as the kitchen and bathroom, it is incredibly important to be minimalistic because the capacity for germs to grow are amplified in both of these rooms. No one wants to drip defrosted meat across their silverware or accidentally throw a used q-tip into their toothbrush holder. But yet, these two places also have the highest incidence of the "what if" items. "What if I get a cold, and need saline solution for my nose?" "What if company is coming and request a freshly baked cake, 4 pounds of tomato sauce, and maybe some croutons?" Besides the "what if" issue, there is the issue of cost. Buying in bulk is cheaper, especially when dealing with food and hygene products. I think that in this case, as we declutter our spaces, we will find more room for the bulk items because there won't be as many unnecessary items taking up space. The "what if" items need to be inventoried and seriously considered. Maybe saline solution is important to have on hand, but is it important to have 3 of them? Maybe tylenol is good to keep, but that doesn't mean that there need to be 5 opened bottles throughout the house. Streamlining these products not only saves space, but it also eases the pressure of looking for these items.

Maybe at this point, it seems as though throwing away all of these things is not as eco friendly as we would like. Don't get the wrong picture - when I say throw away, I actually mean find a way to reuse the product first. Can the item be given to Good Will? Can you give the extra vitamins and travel sized shampoo to a local homeless shelter? Do you have two bottles of a favorite lotion that your friend or sister might enjoy using? If so, give her one. Reusing is also important in things like used toilet paper rolls. Do you have a toddler who would enjoy the end being taped off, the tube be filled with rice, and sealed at the opposite end for an instant musical instrument? Can your carton from your milk be reused to make a bird house?

Once we've exhausted all of the ways to reuse an item, recycling comes NEXT. Why not recycle everything first? Well primarily, because not all items are recyclable. But secondarily, because recycling still uses immense amounts of energy and resources. It is far better than using all new materials, don't get me wrong, but ideally, if we can find uses for things to make them useable rather than laying in a pile of clutter, we will not be using any extra resources. Only after having tried reducing, reusing, and recylcling should an item be considered for the trash can.

As I try to de-clutter my house, I realize more and more how much I need to reduce, reuse, and recycle my items. I take my piles of used undershirts and mismatched socks and create cleaning rags out of them. I give away my clothes that are still in good condition, or donate them somewhere. I recycle the things that are no longer useable. Despite my efforts, my house tends to be cluttered no matter what I do. As long as I am battling clutter, my house will never stay clean the way I want it to, because clutter does not have a designated space. It isn't a sudden thing, but it creeps up on us when we least expect it. This clutter battle will not end quickly, but I am bound and determined to be victorious over my clutter in the end!

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Babywearing has been around as long as women have been having babies, but yet, in our culture, it is rarely utilized. It is such a wonderful art - there are literally thousands of brands and types of carriers. Within each brand there are hundreds of designs that can be chosen to meet the personality of the mom and baby. It's entirely easy to make your own carrier, which, if you have the skills, can be far cheaper. It is important to make sure that the design you choose is a safe one. There are also some carriers that are simply unsafe and constructed poorly. Unfortunately, that's how most people hear about babywearing - a baby gets hurt or worse in an unsafe carrier and it makes the news. Suddenly there are warnings on every news venue out there, and it scares people away from experiencing the beauty of sharing the closeness with their children. Even when there isn't frantic news coverage, the most popular mainstream carriers are brands such as Bjorn which are incredibly bad for both mom (or dad) and baby. The way that the baby sits in the carrier, it can potentially hurt his spine and it does hurt his posture. Having the baby face outwards means that the baby has no way to turn his head away from the action when he is overwhelmed. Also, the Bjorn type carriers hurt the parent's shoulders, so they are more likely to stop using the carrier more quickly. Another problem is that men using these carriers is less common here in the U.S. than in Europe, so a fantasic carrier that could be used for 90% of trips gets used only when the mom is feeling up to using it.

A good designed carrier will last until the baby is 35-40 pounds, and last comfortably! There are tons of benefits. Primarily, it allows a frazzled mom or dad to put the baby in a sling or carrier and get things done around the house. I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have been able to eat during the first 3 months of James' life if I hadn't had a pouch sling to let him sleep in! The slings allow the parent to hold the baby close, while being hands free, and allows the baby to feel as though they are being held at all times. Scientifically, babies have fewer cases of apnea and their heartbeat stays in synch with the parent's - keeping the breath and heartbeats steady and strong. There are many different positions to carry the baby in, both in front, on the hip, or on the back, so there is a way to carry him no matter what you are doing. The carriers are much less bulky than the stroller alternative, and the baby can nuzzle up in mom or dad's shoulder if he feels overwhelmed. They come in many types of fabrics, so it is entirely possible to have a light weight option for summer, and a heavier type for winter. Also, for those of us northerners who had to buy maternity coats during our pregnancies - we will get at least one more winter out of the coats, because the maternity coat will zip up around the baby comfortably.

There are many different types of carriers, and once a week, I will be reviewing a different type (this would be beyond lengthy if I chose to do it all in one post). There are many used carriers for sale in excellent condition if a new one is out of budget. There are also local babywearing groups that have monthly meetings. Many of them have sling libraries so you can borrow a sling for the month to try it out before purchasing one. The groups also help each other learn how to properly wear a well constructed carrier. Online, there are several fabulous resources. My favorite is - there is a ton of information on there, and the forums are a great place to ask questions and get practical advice. I would also recommend the babycenter babywearing forum.

One only needs to look at pictures from women in all parts of the world to recognize the practicality and closeness these carriers confer upon the parents. I love the amazing photographs of women in Africa, Latin America, and all over the world - each carrying their babies on their backs while going about their life. I love when Phil puts on his sling and carries James around - and better yet, James loves it! I still use my carriers, even as James is now almost 11 months, to get work done around the house or carry him safely around places such as the county fair. I look forward to a time when babywearing is one hundred percent common place, and people are using the safest carriers!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

I have found the most wonderful, all purpose item!!! I was on a forum on about a month ago, and I read a thread where someone recommended "EVCO" for diaper rashes. I thought she just mistyped "EVOO" since Rachael Ray had popularized the term in her cooking shows. It seemed to me that olive oil might soften but probably wouldn't do terribly much to heal. Then I saw the recommendation for "EVCO" for a hair moisturizer, at this point, I thought "either EVCO is something else, or these ladies all mistype EVOO every time it comes up." After more research, I found out that the substance is called Extra virgin coconut oil. I've read that regular coconut oil is just as effective and cheaper, but I went with the extra virgin just to be sure.

What are the many purposes of coconut oil? Well for one, you can cook with it. It has a very high burn point, so it can withstand a ton of heat. But even if you have a jar to cook with, I highly recommend getting a second jar to keep in your bathroom. It clears up diaper rashes with one or two applications (if you use cloth diapers, be sure to lay down a flannel scrap or cloth wipe down to avoid getting a grease stain on the diaper). It is hands down, the single best moisturizer I have ever used. It's wonderful on the body, and works on the face as well. It doesn't cause break outs and works on all types of skin. Added bonus - coconut oil has a natural SPF of 15, so if you're running errands but not going to be in the sun long enough to need a heavy hitter sun block - it will be just the right amount of protection. It is great for cradle cap, and also as a conditioner for all hair types. It can be used as a cuticle softener, or put on a patch of mild excema.

Extra virgin coconut oil comes in a jar and is typically in solid form. It melts instantly against skin and will spread very easily despite it's solidness when taking it out of the container. It's also easy to just run the jar under hot water for a few minutes (its melting point is 76 degrees) to soften it up. As we still have cold weather and our heat turned on, I keep mine over the vent in the bathroom to keep it in oil form. It runs between $7.00-$12.00 a jar, and will last a very long time. I recommend checking in the food section before looking in the health and beauty section. The exact same bottle might be a few dollars cheaper in the food aisles for no real reason. Coconuts are actually seeds, not nuts, so allergies are basically non existant to the oil.

I can't encourage people enough to go out and try this miracle cream! The only ingredient is coconut oil, unlike so many moisturizers we expose our skin to. It's baby safe, mom safe, and even has a pleasant, faint, coconut smell to it! Most wonderfully of all, it's cheap!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Household cleaners get cleaned and cleared up from toxins

In an effort to remove as many toxins from my home, I've begun making the switch to homemade cleaning supplies. The essential oils I use, can end up being a bit pricey, but in the long run, making my own cleaners is far more cost effective, and I don't need to worry about James accidentally getting poisoned some how. Another perk is that I don't have 50 cleaners for one specific job each, but I have a general all purpose spray. If I want to switch from cleaning the floor to cleaning the counter, I only need to switch cloths, not cleaners!

First, I went to Target and bought empty spray bottles - 2 large, 2 small, and 1 travel size. The three smallest were for wipes solution to use with my cloth wipes for diaper changes, and the two large were for my homemade cleaning solutions. I really liked the idea of making a homemade wipes solution - that way I know exactly what is being put against my baby's skin, and I don't end up throwing a million wipes in the garbage to end up wasting away in a landfill. I cut up 4 flannel receiving blankets into squares, and set them aside. I've since learned that it is a very smart idea to hem the sides prior to using and washing, or else the sides will fray! I am going to actually be hemming mine in the next week or two so they don't fray down to nothing, because the damage has already begun. Then I made my wipes solution. It was incredibly simple - 4 parts water, 1 part witch hazel, 1-2 squirts of baby soap (I use California Baby or Dr. Bronners), and if desired a few drops of essential oil. Easy as pie, then I just squirt the solution onto my super soft cloth wipe and use as necessary. I feel much better knowing where all of the ingredients come from and not having to worry about harsh chemicals being used.

Of course, as cute as James' butt is, his wipes solution wasn't the only homemade cleaner I focused on. I also put together an all purpose spray and a disinfectant spray. The all purpose spray is simply a mixture of half water, half white vinegar, and 20 drops of essential oil (I chose grapefruit). My mom has always cleaned with vinegar and we used to complain that the house smelled like we were dying Easter eggs, so to me, the essential oil is, well, essential! I'm able to use the all purpose spray to clean my hardwood and tile floors, counter tops, stainless steel, and windows.

The disinfectant spray is just as easy - it's water, 2 tablespoons of liquid soap (I use Dr. Bronner's Tea Tree oil soap), 30 drops of tea tree essential oil. Again, while this is a wonderful disinfectant - I have no worries about James being poisoned while using it!

Now, making these solutions is more than just about safety, it's also about reducing the number of toxins we have in our homes and in our Earth - after all, we're just borrowing the Earth. Have you ever lent someone something and had it returned destroyed? Were you incredibly angry and hurt? I imagine that's what mother nature and God feel like watching the way we treat our borrowed treasure of the Earth. Because of that, I would feel ridiculous bothering to make these solutions and then using paper towels. Thankfully, old undershirts are the PERFECT wipes! They don't fray at all, and at least in my house, we always have plenty of old ones. When I'm doing the laundry, I pull out any of Phil's old undershirts with holes in them (despite his protests) and cut them up and keep them in a drawer under the sink. Socks, and other ripped clothing works well too! The vinegar is actually a natural fabric softener, so I don't even have to worry about them scratching my furniture because they soften themselves!

Those are just my spray cleaners! I also am able to use lemons for a variety of purposes. I cut one in half and use it to clean my wooden cutting boards in the kitchen, or to remove stains from the counter tops (let the counter soak for a few minutes before wiping). It's important to note, do not use this method on granite or marble counters, because the acid can be too corrosive. Combine half the lemon with coarse salt to wipe off the bottom of pans or remove hard sticking stains. When you're done with the lemon - throw it down the garbage disposal for a clean smelling sink! Here's the best use for a lemon - add a quarter cup of it into the rinse cycle while doing laundry, and your clothes will be instantly brighter, softer, and smell better!

The same vinegar used for the all purpose spray, is truly all purpose! In the bathroom it effectively cleans soap scum, hard water stains, and grout. Soaking mildew in vinegar for 30 minutes and washing with warm water removes the mildew from your tub. Your toilet can be cleaned by pouring 1 cup into the bowl and leaving for several hours. It will deodorize, kill germs, and make the stains easier to remove. microwave a cup of half vinegar, half water for a few minutes and it will not only remove any left over smells, but also loosen any stuck food. A half cup of vinegar added to the laundry rinse cycle will break down the laundry detergent and make your laundry softer, and remove any soap build up.

Tea tree oil, can not only be used as a disinfectant, but also help prevent bacterial and fungal infections of soiled clothes such as cloth diapers or dirty towels by adding 1 teaspoon to each load of laundry. This will come up again when I post about my eco friendly beauty routines, but tea tree oil is also a very effective dandruff relief product!

Finally, baking soda! It removes marks from the floors, by sprinkling it on and either cleaning with a warm mop or vacuuming up after 10 minutes. When combined with water (1 part water to 3 parts baking soda), it will make a paste you can use to scour things like dishes, sinks, and tubs. Poured at the bottom of your trash can, left open in your refrigerator, or cupboards it will instantly neutralize odors. Pouring this wonderful product on dishes and soaking for an hour or two will make cleaning up dishes with burnt or cooked on foods easy. Keeping it on hand in the kitchen has the added perk that it will put out grease fires! Finally, you can add a half cup of baking soda to your laundry to help remove dirt and grease.

I think the last Hippie Earth Mama tip I have for the category of home cleaning is not to use scented candles or air fresheners. These both release chemicals into the air and cause health problems. If you are looking for something to make your house smell great, I suggest one of two things. The first, is to bake something. Nothing smells better than coming home to the scent of fresh baked brownies! However, if you're like me, you probably lack the time to be baking all of the time, in which case, all natural incense is a wonderful alternative. Personally, I love several scents, but in particular I love Jasmine, Lavender, or sandalwood. While I have yet to try this, I've also read that you can take a few drops of those essential oils (lavender or grapefruit would be my top two choices depending on if I wanted a perk up or something to calm me down) and put them in a mister or humidifier. The smell will permeate the room without using laboratory made ingredients!!

Thankfully, this seemingly long list of cleaners is just the tip of the iceberg, and as we continue on our journey to remove toxins and treat the Earth better, we will be able to add to this list. Eventually, I hope to remove all chemicals from everything I do!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Starting small - our herb garden

Being half Italian means I was brought by a mom who loved to cook. She made everything from scratch (my dad helped of course!), and taught me the basic ways to make things from spaghetti sauce to baked chicken. These basic dishes always had fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, or thyme in them. We never had an "Italian seasoning mix" because we just added our own herbs to taste as we desired. When I was growing up, she had even created an herb garden in a circle - designed to look like a clock. Every "number" was a different herb, and a sun dial was sitting in the middle to complete the theme. It was beautiful and functional.

Now, these many years later, I am reading my "Natural Home" magazine, and they're writing about edible landscaping. Edible landscaping is the concept of creating your vegetable and herb gardens in the same creative way you might lay out a flower garden - to be astheticly pleasing. But more importantly, it will be functional, and because of the beauty, you will be even more likely to spend time out there collecting your crops. My mom has always said she was ahead of her time, and this is just another thing she did way before it became popularized. I've had the ultimate mentor in my edible landscaping, and I've started thinking of which veggies I will want to grow when I move.

Unfortunately, right now, we live in a townhome, and do not have a yard. That makes edible landscaping quite impossible, and while some might let that deter them from having a garden at all, we won't! We have a faux balcony which is just wide enough to fit a small planting box outside. We chose a 6 foot long one to grow our herbs in. Herbs seemed to be the best option for us to grow, since they don't need especially deep soil, nor do they need to be able to climb up a vine or anything. While choosing my herbs, I thought about what I largely cook. We had to have cilantro, because we eat salsa like it's going out of style in the summer. But what else? I thought back to those homemade Italian dishes my mom had instructed me on, all those years ago, and we decided to add basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. We also got a small window pot to grow a one time crop of strawberries.

We started our seeds off in these jiffy pot type things, that can be planted once the seeds have been germinated. We'll be transferring them into the window box this weekend (14 days later), and keeping it inside until the dangers of frost are gone. I'm extremely excited - not only to have fresh herbs, but to know exactly where they've been, how they were grown, and to know there were no eco costs of travel to get them to our table! I'll post pictures of the herbs as they grow. It's nice to benefit from fresh tastes while being eco friendly! :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cloth Diapers - the newest accessory

When I first heard cloth diapering, I pictured those cheap white ones everyone uses as burp clothes. To be fair, for years, that's what a cloth diaper was. I read statistic after statistic about how many diapers (that will never biodegrade) will end up in a landfill for one average baby (3,000 pounds worth or 8,000 diaper changes), but I didn't want to stick my child with pins, or *gasp* have poop in the same place I put my clothes. Plus, at least the disposible diapers had cute designs.

Of course, disposible diapering wasn't without it's own problems. When we had used Pampers, we had a special name for when the poop came out of the diaper - a "poopsplosion" which happened very nearly once a day. When we switched to Huggies, the problem of poopsplosions slowed down, but there were the other problems of running out, constantly worrying about which size he should be in, and knowing I was putting harsh materials against my son's very sensitive spots. I had heard several friends raving about cloth diapering for the first ten months of my baby's life, and finally got around to trying them. I went to CC BUMS on facebook - a wonderful mama who works from home making cloth diapers. She was recommended to me by my good friend Angie, and was a huge help. She custom created 3 "All in ones", the cloth equivalent of a disposible - just put it on the baby (it snaps closed) and go. She also made 2 one size diapers with a fleece liner for waterproofing. They were adorable, comfortabe, and had no leaks. I was excited, but I wasn't entirely sure I was ready to try cloth diapering over night yet. Afterall, we share our bed with our baby, and any leaks would not only negatively impact the poor Bubba, but us as well!

I then heard about a store one town over, in Naperville, called Comfy Bummy. Phil and I took a trip over there, and found all sorts of wonderful things. We picked up 7 all in one diapers made by Bum Genius. They're extremely cool - there's a pocket you can stuff with extra pads to make the diaper more absorbant. They have velcro rather than snaps, and they're one size - the one diaper will last through potty training. Of course, over time, the leg elastic might start to wear out, or the velcro might get pilly -but in that case, you contact the company, and they replace the defective part, or the entire diaper, and you go on your merry way. Plus, all of my research indicated these diapers will NOT leak. And, oh boy, let me tell you - they don't! Plus we found biodegradable liners for the diapers. That means that when he goes number two, we can just lift the entire liner out, flush it down the toilet, and it will break down - genius!

We also found a soap called "soap nuts" and I absolutely LOVE it!!!! It's made the nuts in a tree, and it's completely all natural. They have natural sudsing agents and natural fabric softeners so the clothes and diapers come out incredibly soft and clean - plus when you're done with them, you can compost them if you feel so inclined. It was about $13 for 85 loads which is actually CHEAPER than my tide which is $15 for 64 loads.

So now, I've got my cloth diapers and I love them. They are so wonderful, eco friendly, and soft on the baby's bottom. I love the designs that are out there to choose from and I love the fact that I can make a small difference by doing this. But I better watch out - this may become my newest obsession - making sure James' butt looks fashionable at all times!!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The money grubbing "green" movement

Well, I hate to start this blog with a vent, but I think that's exactly what I'm going to do....

I have to say, that I really hate this whole "green movement" we're seeing in the world. Not that I hate the education that's taking place, or that other people are starting to care about the planet - I love that part of it. What I really hate is the corporations who are trying to fit into the green movement. They aren't making changes in the things they do (many of them), but finding new, un-green ways to make a buck off of people trying to do the right thing for ourselves and our environment. It makes me sick!

For example, I went into Caribou Coffee the other day. Surely, brewing a cup of coffee at home would probably have been cheaper for me, and ultimately the environment (think of all the energy it takes to keep the store running, keep hot, fresh coffee brewed at all times, even when people won't drink it), but I like to treat myself occassionally. And Caribou tends to lean towards making a difference. Long before it was in style, they had Rain Forest Alliance certified coffees, and fair trade options - and those things are absolutely important. But, I walk in, and they have reuseable sleeves (the cardboard things that go around the outside of your cup). I think to myself, what a great idea! Let's be honest, if I'm out and about, I don't always take the whole cup and sleeve back to my house to recycle it, even though it's made out of recycled paper, and belongs in my recycling bin. I grab two of them, one for me and one for Phil. Of course, it seems at the time, that the whole thing is silly, because the BEST option is to buy a reusable mug, and bring it in - they'll even give you ten cents off for doing so, but I'm more comfortable spending the $3.50 for the sleeve than $30 for a good mug. They hand it to me - in a paper bag. I could have carried it, with no bag, but what the heck, it's paper - I can recycle it. I get home, I tell Phil about my wonderful new eco friendly sleeve, and he starts making the point about the recycling of the sleeves is hardly the worst thing we do. Meanwhile, I'm about to make the argument about the energy it takes to recycle, and I notice the tag on the sleeve. It was made in China!!! Talk about the energy it takes to make things - not only did a factory probably release tons of toxins in the air while creating it, but I don't even want to think about the emissions from flying the merchandise (or shipping), and then the in country shipping via trucks. So much for being green - that little sleeve probably ended up emitting more carbon than I had ever wanted!

Or take for example, Clorox. They now have a green line of cleaners. Um, what? Why do you have an entirely seperate line of cleaners for the green movement. Is there a reason that Clorox doesn't fix its practices and original cleaners? Seriously, if the company truly cared about the environment, all of their products would be becoming green and there would be no need for a seperate label. Instead, they are catering to a growing market rather than trying to make a difference.

I could go on and on about all of the things I've noticed corporations doing, to appear "green" to increase their sales bases, meanwhile not changing any practices that matter, but I think the point has been made. It really fries my fritters that despite all of the evidence about the damage that we, as humans, are doing, money is still the number one priority for these corporations. I hope our children's generation will fix this culture of greed and indifference!