Monthly Archives: October 2013

The treats at my house tonight.

Happy Halloween

The treats at my house tonight.

The treats at my house tonight.

 

Over heard at my house this morning:

Steve: “What are we handing out tonight?”

Rose: “bracelets, glow in the dark sticks, spider rings, and some non GMO popcorn.”

Steve: “No way we can’t do that. The neighbors are gonna think we’re weird and kids aren’t gonna wanna trick or treat here. Just give out some of that artificial candy. That is what everyone wants.”

Well, I disagreed with Steve for three reasons. And as you can see from the photo above, this is what we are giving out.

1) I do think there are other parents out there who care about nutrition, or whose children have allergies, or for some other reason don’t “need” all the candy they are going to get tonight. My oldest son has food allergies and is very sensitive to artificial chemicals. There is no way I could deprive him from trick-or-treating, but at the end of the night when we shake out his bag and set aside what he can eat, very little remains. He cherishes the pencils, erasers, bouncy balls, and items he can have. The pursuit is still worth it. He loves being out in the crowd, seeing the costumes, and knocking on the neighbor’s doors. Which brings me to my next point…

2) Just because the stuff we hand out isn’t bad for you doesn’t mean it is not a treat. Dictionary.com defines treat as “anything that affords particular pleasure or enjoyment.” Over the last few years we have given out juice boxes, granola bars, and apples. The little kids love it. You know who complains? The teenagers. Really?!? You are old enough to have a job. Go buy your own candy.

3) The most important reason why I did not buy a big bag of artificially flavored over processed candy is simply because it would make me a hypocrite. I cannot in good conscious say, “I wouldn’t let my kids eat this, but here, I bought some for yours.” Please note that I would never judge a parent for doing so, and certainly my kids will each pick a treat or two before bed tonight, but as a policy I won’t go there.

So, I hope everyone has a wonderful Halloween enjoying the community comradery, the colorful costumes, the eerie sights, the playful atmosphere, and of course the treats, whatever that may mean for your family.

Here is an update. All the "treats" are gone and everyone seemed happy :)

Here is an update. All the “treats” are gone and everyone seemed happy :)

 

Below is a note I posted over three years ago on my facebook page about an event that changed our family. It sounds a little silly to me now but I didn’t want to mess with the authenticity. Switching over to healthy eating was hard at first!

Living Healthy Anniversary

May 9, 2011 at 1:00am

This time last year Steve was helping the kids and I move back to Maryland after graduating from JAOBC. The only show on the hotel tv was the documentary, “Food Inc.”

We watched in horror as amonia was dumped into beef and government subsidized corn was added to virtually every product in the supermarket. The next morning when we left Virigina we were hungry, but we didn’t know what to eat!

Several months before the movie we witnessed our neighbor, Sonja cure her son’s turrets by removing all artificial ingredients from his diet. She found that both her boys were feeling and behaving better. At that same time, Andrew was having some difficulites in school and his teacher complained that he couldn’t pay attention. My research validated what Sonja had discovered, but in January it was time to move to Virgina and survival mode kicked in.

Andrew ate breakfast and lunch at the day care and Sophia was still mostly on breast milk. Dinner was whatever I could slap together in the hotel room we three called home. To be honest, I felt so guilty from leaving him all day I often let him eat as much of and whatever he wanted. At his three year old check up his doctor told me he was overweight, but I couldn’t tell if that was from snacking or the daycare’s menu.

My family on graduation Day after surviving five long months in a hotel.

My family on graduation Day after surviving five long months in a hotel.

When we came home we were committed to eating healthy. I spent the rest of the spring researching organic eating and natural living and developed three priorities for my family:

1) The absence of bad stuff- no artificial dyes, high fructose corn syup, pesticides, growth hormones, genetically altered produce or antibiotic fed meat.

2) The presence of good stuff- whole grains, natural sources of vitamins, calcium, iron, minerals, lean proteins, etc.

3) Environmental sustainability- because the better we felt the more we cared about the world we are leaving our children.

While we did manage to piece together meals, it was really hard in the beginning. You can’t rely on words like “natural” on products. Going in to stores nearby is really stressful, but walking into stores like David’s in Gambrills is like taking a breath of air after being underwater. Also, just because I prepare a meal from scratch doesn’t eliminate the preservatives and additives if they are in the base ingredients.  I look for locally produced raw food: Fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk, and meat. Every now and then I go on a bread making kick and I use organic milled whole grain flour, otherwise I buy it. Same thing with peanut butter, condiments, etc. Snacks and prepared foods are available too, and increasing so over the past year I have noticed.

I am so grateful that Steve was my partner in the decision to make this lifestyle change. I absolutely needed his support. Not only did our grocery bills go up, especially in the beginning, but I needed more time to get the food, and prepare the meals. We had to change other aspects of our lives too.  There were a few factors that led me to leave my law firm in October, but this new lifestyle was a major one.

By the fall, we were really transitioned. I knew that at home the children were eating according to our principles, so I could relax when we were out and allow them to eat commerical products in moderation. Andrew is doing well at school and is at his target weight. Steve’s cholesterol is perfect this year. The most amazing thing to me is that we all four made it through the winter without getting sick. Steve had lyme disease which is random. Sophie had an ear infection in her left ear, where she has a small ear canal, but last year she had four so I think it was an improvement.

There is a lot of scary stuff out there if you look for it, or stumble upon it in our case. For us we couldn’t turn back. I am so pleased where this year has brought us.

The challenge this summer is my heirloom (non genetically modified seed) garden. Right now we have tons of lettuce and spinach, the rhubard is ripening, the peas are climbing, and the broccilli looks awesome, so come over for a salad :)

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We don't mind the dirt, it's the cleaner that worries us.

Get the Lead Out

Before 1978, when the EPA banned the use of lead paint, we covered our walls and furniture with a substance later proven to cause mental impairment, kidney failure, seizures, coma, and even death. Before that we regularly used tin cans to store food, though we now know that the tin leeches into food and causes severe damage to the nervous system. There are things in your home right now, bought at the grocery store and advertised on TV, that are toxic to your family. Many of these chemicals are absorbed into the body through inhalation or the skin. Unlike toxins which are ingested and filtered through the liver, these chemicals go straight to the organs to wreak havoc. Below is a list of the most common toxic household products I see in my friend’s houses that have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and neurotoxicity.

Flame retardant pajamas: In order to comply with federal requirements, manufacturers of children’s pajamas must make certain categories flame retardant (16 C.F.R. Parts 1615 & 1616). Cotton pajamas can be made flame retardant by adding PROBAN (tetrakis hydromethyl phosphonium chlorida, or THPC) into the fabric. THPC has been linked to genetic abnormalities and damage to the liver, skin and nervous system. It also promotes the growth of cancerous tumors. I look for snug fitting cotton pajamas with the label “not intended for sleep wear.”

Pretty scents: These are plug in or aerosol air fresheners, dish soap, even scented toilet paper. The fragrance contains a chemical called Phthalates. According to the Center for Disease Control, Phthalates are a known endocrine disruptor, meaning they can effect fertility or create complications. They are also known to cause migraines and trigger asthma. I struggled with headaches for the longest time. In the last several years since we have made efforts to get rid of toxins in our home, I never get headaches. According to the Environmental Working Group, “fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.” What to look for? Because fragrance is considered proprietary (trade secret) they don’t have to tell. Try using essential oils, and opening the windows as much as possible to allow fresh air in the house. Also, house plants help clean the air naturally. Here is a tip, to keep house plants from dying I tell the kids to give them ice cubes.

Carpets: Carpeting has come under scrutiny EPA lately for containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It seems to be worse at the time of installation and abates within a few days. Older carpet brings another problem- carpet cleaner. Most carpet/upholstery cleaners and spot removers contain a chemical known as “PERC” which is short for Perchloroethylene. PERC is a known neurotoxin, and a “possible carcinogen” according to the EPA. California plans to eliminate all uses of PERC by 2023 and the EPA has ordered a phase out of PERC used in dry cleaning facilities in residential areas by 2020. When having carpets installed asked to have the carpets aired out before installing. When cleaning spots look for a simple soap like castile. We have almost no carpet in our house, just a few rugs by the door to trap mud. Chemicals not withstanding it is hard to keep carpets clean and even natural pests like fleas and dust mites can abound. So bottom line with carpets- yuck.

Anything “Antibacterial:” Oh how I cringe all the time when well intentioned grown-ups squeeze hand sanitizer on my kids’ hands. No one ever thinks to ask because “anti bacterial” seems so safe right? Wrong. There is no replacement for good hand washing. Watching TV commercials will make you feel compelled to go out and buy every product available as “anti bacterial.” Most of these products are harmful for two reasons 1) They are leading to bacterial resistance and 2) They are toxic to us too. There is an appropriate use for these powerful anti bacterial agents, such as hospitals or individuals with compromised immune systems, but these are not appropriate or everyday household use. Products like hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps are leading to an increased risk for developing treatment-resistant bacteria. Certain strains of bacteria are becoming resistant to even our most powerful antibiotics, the “Super Bacteria.”

The most aggressive antibacterial agent is Triclosan. It’s found in everything from soaps to toys to clothing, and in many popular hand sanitizers. According to the FDA “there is no evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.” The American Medical Association has published a similar opinion. Other studies have now found dangerous concentrations of triclosan in rivers and streams, where it is toxic to algae. Another chemical added to antibacterial sanitizers and shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and soaps is paraben, which can prevent microbe growth in products. They are also linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation On a label it may read: ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben.
Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS” are found in fabric softener liquids and sheets, and some household cleaners labeled “antibacterial.” Similar to Triclosan they are helping to create the Super Bacteria. They’re also a skin irritant, in fact a leading cause for contact dermatitis, and to blame for some respiratory disorders such as asthma.
Look for a cleaner without these chemicals or make your own. Tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant. Vinegar works great too.

Powerful Cleaners: There is an alphabet soup of toxins in many common household cleaners. The bottom line is vinegar and baking soda work just as well without the side effects. Many of the additives in household cleaners are also listed as toxins in the U.S. Clean Air and Water Acts. Some of these below have been banned in other countries.
Butoxyethanol is found in window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners. Might be listed as “glycol ethers,” or not at all as current law doesn’t require labeling of it. According to the EPA high levels of glycol ethers can contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. Chlorinated phenols found in toilet bowl cleaners are toxic to respiratory and circulatory systems. Diethylene glycol found in window cleaners depresses the nervous system. Phenols found in disinfectants are toxic to respiratory and circulatory systems. Nonylphenol ethoxylate, a common surfactant (detergent) found in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners. Butyl cellosolve, common in all-purpose, window and other types of cleaners, damages bone marrow, the nervous system, kidneys and the liver

Beauty Products: Like the household products discussed above, shampoos, soaps, lotions, perfumes, anything you would use to get yourself clean and pretty scented could potentially contain toxic chemicals too. Your body absorbs these chemicals through the skin as you apply them, accelerating free radicals, causing respiratory damage, and causing other aging and health affects, as well. Be on the look out for shampoos, body washes, cleansers and bubble baths that contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), which can damage mucous membranes, the respiratory tract, and the immune system. They may also contain DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine) or TEA (triethanolamine). These chemicals are carcinogens and hormone disrupters, which can prematurely age you.

I applaud my sister-in-law who now makes her own products. We are not “there” yet, but we like products such as Burts Bees and Arbonne, which guarantee an absence of these chemicals. Look for products that promise “NO SLS, SLES, DEA,” otherwise they could be a hidden ingredient.

I am a coffee person. My kids know not to task me with anything too difficult until I’ve had the chance to at least sip my coffee. Usually one cup, maybe two, is enough for the day though so last year I put the new-must-have coffee device on my Christmas wish list. My husband bought me the Keurig coffee maker, as well an assortment of K cups. He even remembered to get the Fair Trade Certified brands.

Oh my Keurig

Oh my Keurig

Once the thing was set up and I brewed my first cup, I took the used K cup to the refuse bins. Recycle or Garbage- which one? I hated to do it, but this thing was plastic, foil, and food waste. It went in the garbage but over the next few days it began to pile up. So I did some experimenting. Despite what Keurig’s website says…you CAN recycle these cups.

Question
Are K-Cup® packs Recyclable?
Answer
The challenge of protecting the freshness of roasted coffee while using environmentally friendly packaging is one that both Keurig and the coffee industry are committed to overcoming. We are very sensitive about the waste created by the K-Cup® packs and are investigating alternative materials. Finding a solution for this is a priority for us, and one we hope to have before long

The process works best if you wait until you have 10-15 cups ready to toss. We put the used ones in a bowl next to the Keurig. When it is full we prepare the empties for recycling. Here are the steps:

Step 1- Peal the foil off

Peal the foil off

Peal the foil off

Step 2- Shake out the grounds. We like to shake them into house plants. Coffee grinds make great compost matter. Hypothetically if you had enough it would be worth the trip to the outdoor compost bin. Coffee grounds are also bug repellents so that is another reason to put them in the house plants.

Shake out grounds

Shake out grounds

Step 3- Rip out the paper liner. Not all K cups have this. Some have a plastic disk at the bottom which you can pop out with your finger nail. It depends on the brand but I haven’t come across any filter methods I couldn’t remove.

Peel out the filter

Peel out the filter

Step 4- Recycle or Re-purpose. In my county we have a great recycling program. I have noticed that other counties don’t though. If you can’t recycle here are some ideas for re-purposing K cups.

Ready for the recycling can

Ready for the recycling can

Platter or dish holders. They are sturdy and can handle heat.

Holding up a plate or dish. They can handle heat and are very sturdy.

Holding up a plate or dish. They can handle heat and are very sturdy.

Sorting cups for small items like pills, beads, change, etc.

Sorting cups for pills, change, jewelry, beads, toys.

Sorting cups for pills, change, jewelry, beads, toys.

And my favorite idea by far…
Seed starters. They are the perfect size and already have a drainage hole. Line them up in a tray, fill them with 3-4 tablespoons of dirt, and put a seed in each cup. You can label the seed right on the cup. Give them water and sun and yout garden is on it’s way.

Seed starters

Seed starters

Speaking of Peas

By tomorrow these babies will be crawling up their poles

By tomorrow these babies will be crawling up their poles

They are finally up! I dug their bamboo teepee poles out from alongside the garage this afternoon so they can start climbing. Peas are such a great crop with which to start and end the season. Because they are hearty and fast-growing kids enjoy planting them and watching them climb and bare pods. My kids love to eat the whole pods right off the plant. 

 

This is the time of year where I really need to dig deep and get my second wind. I’ve already sowed and reaped two harvests and now I need to nurture my winter garden. This is the first year of our “expanded garden.” Stay tuned for a blog post on how we built a garden where our neighbor’s used to have a pool. Here is a teaser…it was a ton of work. I have to remember there will not be a whole lot of local organic produce at the store this winter.

Kale...or as the kids say..."more green stuff please."

Kale…or as the kids say…”more green stuff please.”

Right now I have lots of kale and coming up. The spinach I planted is not doing so well. I have some lettuce but plan on planting more. I also plan on seeding more carrots. I plan on sowing some radish too. No one in my family really likes radish but they pop up fast. It is kinda like a home pregnancy test “yes your garden is growing.” Because we do our own composting you never know what will start growing where. We do have some random lettuce and potatoes starting to grow here and there as well. Last year I planted lettuce and carrots alongside the house and they grew through much of the winter. Kale and swiss chard can both take a frost and even a little snow.

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Tomorrows battle is to fight the mildew

Tomorrow’s battle is to fight the mildew

The wintersquash is full of potential. Beetles got at my summer squash. After losing that crop we planted a ton of marigolds and the beetles got lost. However today I noticed some mold on the vines. Any tips?

I will be excited if this beautiful plant bears fruit too

I will be excited if this beautiful plants bears fruit too

A lot of plants from earlier in the season are still doing well. The broccoli is just now starting to bolt. The heirloom tomato plants are heavy with big green tomatoes. This year on a whim I put in a tomatillo plant and it looks cool, about 4 1/2 feet tall with lots of foliage and but no fruit yet. The pepper plants are yielding the sweetest peppers ever. The funny thing is they are only about a foot high. We grew them from seeds from peppers we bought at the store and started them inside back in May. They grew so slow I was sure they were duds. Then one day there were peppers almost as big as the plant itself.

 

These pepper plants are tiny but the yellow and orange peppers are delicious

These pepper plants are tiny but the yellow and orange peppers are delicious

 

There is a watermelon plant that we transplanted from the back yard. My dad calls these plants volunteers. I think the kids were spitting seeds early in the summer and one took hold. Steve asked me to clean up the yard so he could mow and I spotted it. The vine has since grown long but t won’t last through a frost so if it is going to grow fruit it is now or never.

Here goes nothing

Here goes nothing

Because we are still building up the beds from nothing (sand and clay) we are trying some new this year called green composting. I bought a small bag one pound bag of winter rye. The plan is to let it grow in the beds over the winter and come spring till it in. From what I have read it sounds like the plant will pull nutrients up from deep in the soil to the top layers where our spring crops can thrive. I am sure I am over simplifying that process but like I said this is a new one. I’ll keep you posted.