Go Green in 2017: Clean Up Your Hygiene Routine!

Happy Earth Day! (It’s tomorrow.  Time to make your Earth Day Resolution!

I hope you’ve already switched to greener cleaners and started drinking better milk, and now you’re ready for something new!  There are many ways you could change your habits to reduce your environmental impact.  Let’s talk about the stuff you use to clean and care for your body.

You might think that the Food & Drug Administration is responsible for making sure (in the United States) that any product marketed for putting on or in your body is safe.  Unfortunately, that’s totally false.  The FDA does no pre-market testing of personal hygiene products and does not require full disclosure of ingredients!  (The term “cosmetics” used in that article does not mean just lipstick and nail polish; it includes more necessary products like shampoo, deodorant, and sunscreen.)  Even when a product causes serious injury to consumers and the FDA does intervene, it’s not allowed to issue a recall (that’s a voluntary action by the manufacturer), and other products using the same dangerous ingredients can remain on the market.  Cosmetic companies aren’t required to tell to the FDA if consumers report that a product hurt them.

This means that when you buy, say, baby wipes for your newborn, they can contain just about anything, and the package may not tell you what fibers are in that soft towelette or what chemicals are in that sweet-smelling liquid.  The same is true of most personal hygiene products that don’t make enough medical claims to be classified as drugs.

Not only are your personal health and safety at risk, but many hygiene products also are bad for the environment.  Some of the chemicals common in body wash, deodorant, moisturizers, makeup, perfume, and nail polish are known to cause cancer or disrupt hormone production in people or animals who don’t use them directly but consume water or air polluted with these chemicals from the user or from the factory.  A common ingredient in sunscreen washes off swimmers and kills coral reefs.  Here are 7 ingredients to avoid.

One of the most horrifying hazards found in hygiene products is microbeads, tiny pieces of plastic that increase the scrubbing effect of a facial cleanser or toothpaste.  They are too small to be filtered out of water, which means that plastic microbeads accumulate in our oceans and in the bodies of fish, and we’re drinking them ourselves, with unknown effects.  The environmental audit committee of the British parliament estimated that a person who eats six oysters has also eaten 50 particles of microplastics.

A great reference for checking the safety and environmental impact of your favorite products is the Environmental Working Group’s database.  It’s not perfect–they’re excessively worried about many essential oils, in my opinion–but it gives you a lot of information to help make your decisions.  If you’re curious about a product that’s not in the database but that lists its ingredients on the label, you can search the ingredients in the database.

My family has been moving toward safer, more natural, less Earth-destroying, affordable options in hygiene products for about 20 years now.  Here’s what we recommend for many commonly-used types of products.  Many of our favorites (as well as other green options we haven’t tried) are available from Grove Collaborative; click here for $10 off your first order! Read more of this post

Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion review

I received a free sample of Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion to review.  This is an honest review of my family’s experience with this product, which we probably wouldn’t have tried if we hadn’t been offered a free sample.

Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion is a gentle moisturizing lotion made without mineral oil, petrolatum, parabens, phthalates, or formaldehyde.  It’s made from 98% natural ingredients, including organic coconut oil that is harvested without damaging orangutan habitat.  All ingredients are listed on the label.

My daughter Lydia is the youngest in the family, at two and a half, so she was the first to try this lotion.  After her bath, I rubbed it into her arms and legs, which tend to get dry and flakey in the winter. Read more of this post

How to make it from scratch instead of a package: Chipotle Simmer Sauce

My son Nicholas is 12 years old and often tells us about meals and snacks he enjoyed in his friends’ homes.  Last month, when we were shopping at Target, he pointed out a package of sauce that was the exact type his friend’s mother had used on the delicious fajitas.

I told him I wasn’t going to spend almost $3 on a plastic pouch containing one meal’s worth of sauce.  We could make it ourselves.

“Oh really Mom,” he said with a contemptuous eye-roll, “You don’t even know what it tastes like.”

“But you do,” I replied.  “I will write down all the ingredients that aren’t preservatives.  The first ingredient is the one used in the largest quantity, so I’ll start with that and reduce the amounts as I go down the list, and then you’ll taste it and tell me what it needs.”

He was very skeptical, but I held firm and did not buy the sauce.  I brought home the list of ingredients.

UPDATE: I had not written down the name of the product: Frontera Classic Fajita Skillet Sauce.

This interesting sauce, although designed for Mexican food, contains ingredients I don’t associate with Mexican cooking: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, fish sauce, tamarind paste, ginger, and thyme.  I was curious to find out what it would taste like!  I’d recently bought fish sauce so that we could try making our own pad thai, and we also needed tamarind paste for that.  The only other ingredient in the fajita sauce that we didn’t already have in our kitchen was chipotle chili powder, which I was glad to buy.  I found the fish sauce at the Korean store on our block, tamarind paste at an Indian food store, and chipotle powder in the bulk section at the food co-op.  We finally made the sauce last week. Read more of this post

Go Green in 2017: How to Clean

Photographs by Nicholas Efran.

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions!  There are many ways you could change your habits to reduce your environmental impact.  One change you could make is replacing cleansers that harm the environment with cleaning products or cleaning methods that are safer for your family as well as the wider world.

rubbing alcohol, peroxide, baking soda, vinegarWhat’s wrong with conventional cleaning products?

These health risks don’t affect only people who are in direct contact with the cleanser; many cleansers leave a residue on the surface or in the air that can be absorbed through our skin and/or lungs, and some of these chemicals are bioaccumulative–our bodies can’t get rid of them, so over time our repeated exposures can build up to toxic levels.

p1040148Here’s our complete guide to cleaning a typical Earth dwelling.  We’ve tried many environmentally-friendly products over the past 20 years and have found more good ones than duds.  Here, we recommend some brand-name products that work especially well and some inexpensive basic materials that are great for various cleaning projects. Yes, it is possible to make more homemade cleaning products than we do.  We’ve struck a balance between purchased and homemade products that works well with our cleaning habits and the amount of spare time we have.  If you use an awesome homemade cleanser, feel free to share details or a link in the comments!

For basic home cleaning, you will need:

  • dish detergent
  • laundry detergent
  • white vinegar
  • baking soda
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • toilet bowl cleaner
  • all-purpose cleaner

Other items we use regularly that you may or may not need, depending on your home furnishings and cleaning standards, are:

  • dishwasher detergent
  • hardwood floor cleaner
  • furniture polish
  • antibacterial spray
  • rubbing alcohol

Look for these items in your local stores where you shop regularly. If you can’t find them there, encourage your stores to make them available; meanwhile, order online. Many of the brand-name products are available from Grove Collaborative–click here for a $10 discount on your first order!  Here is more information about Grove (formerly known as ePantry).

Here are the details on how to use each type of cleanser. Read more of this post

3 DIY Repairs to Eliminate Health Risks in Your Home

This is a guest post by Charlotte Meier.  Ms. Meier operates Home Safety Hub, which provides resources on preventing injury and property loss.

People don’t like to think that their homes are responsible for their illnesses, but if you feel worse when you are at home and better when you are not, there is a good chance that something in your house is making you sick. If you suspect that your home is making you sick, there are repairs you can make to reduce the health risks found in your home.

Install Water Filters

If your family has stomach pain or unexplained bouts of diarrhea, you may have an issue with your water. Whether you have well water or municipal water, there may be impurities, toxic chemicals, and carcinogens in it that can harm your health. Water filters reduce and remove the impurities, making your water cleaner, better tasting, and better for your skin and overall health.

Some people opt for whole-house water filters that deliver clean, odor-free water to the whole home. By removing chlorine, chloramines, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides, and herbicides, these filters improve the taste and odor of your water. Whole-house water filters improve the appearance of skin by eliminating chlorine and reduce stains in tubs, sinks, and toilets. Other people opt for point-of-use water filters to get clean, delicious, odor-free water from the sink. Point-of-use filters are known to block more impurities than whole-house systems and provide better-tasting water. Read more of this post

Homemade Halvah: A sweet, nutritious, energy snack! (GF) (vegan)

Halvah is a Middle Eastern snack/dessert made mostly of sesame paste and sugar with various flavorings.  I’ve usually had the chocolate flavor and liked it, but I never felt a craving for halvah until about six weeks ago.  Suddenly, late one night, I found myself wishing I had halvah and wondering if I could make something like it with the tahini I happened to have.

p1030665It was easy!  Now I’m making this stuff once or twice a week, to eat all by itself or as an apple dip.  It’s a great way to get a boost of energy that will last a few hours, instead of a short-term sugar buzz like you’ll get from eating candy.

To make one generous serving, you will need:

Mix the ingredients in a small bowl with a butter knife.  It takes just one minute to make!

The recipe analyzer at happyforks.com tells me it has 234 calories, 5 1/2 grams of protein, 13% of the Daily Value of fiber, 35% of Vitamin B1, 37% of Vitamin B2, 12% of Vitamin B3, 22% of zinc, 17% of iron, 15% of calcium, 13% of magnesium, 61% of copper, 60% of manganese, and 33% of phosphorus.  Wow!  Not bad for a dessert.

This recipe has a mild chocolate flavor.  If you want it more chocolatey, add more cocoa powder.

This snack works for me!  Visit Real Food Friday and the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more great food ideas!

Has Your Favorite Soap Been Banned?

The United States Food & Drug Administration banned 19 antibacterial chemicals from hand soaps and body washes.  By September 1, 2017, manufacturers need to reformulate their products or remove the products from the market.  If you’ve been using an antibacterial soap, you may not be able to get it anymore.

Don’t despair!  The reason for the ban is that years of research have shown that antibacterial soaps aren’t as great as advertising has suggested:

“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”

Here’s some detail about the risks of triclosan, the most popular of the newly-banned ingredients. Rather than breed resistant bacteria, breathe chloroform, harm your liver and thyroid, and contaminate your drinking water, why not switch to a new soap?

This is your opportunity to not only get away from triclosan but also do even better for the Earth and your budget by switching to a plant-based soap that will save you money!  I previously explained how to make your own environmentally-friendly foaming hand soap in just one minute using two ingredients at a cost of just 69c per bottle.  If you didn’t do it then, do it now!

If you don’t want foaming soap, just a nice liquid soap to use in the shower, skip the foamer and buy Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, available in 7 delicious scents and unscented.  It’s not only plant-based and all-natural, it’s certified organic, fair-trade, GMO-free, vegan, and packed in a 100% recycled plastic bottle.  This soap is safe enough to brush your teeth with, and you also can use it to wash dishes, hand-washable laundry, household surfaces, etc.

Click here for a $10 discount on a method foaming hand wash and a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap to refill it–you’ll pay just $10.88 for your first 33 foamers full of soap!  This link will take you to Grove Collaborative (formerly ePantry), a household products subscription company that does not force you to buy anything you don’t want; each month’s order can be customized as you like, and you can quit at any time.  But if you don’t want to join Grove, you can find method and Dr. Bronner’s products in many other stores.

Happy washing!  Visit Real Food Friday for more articles on keeping our lives real and the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop and Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips!

Peek Into My Pantry!

This rare glimpse into an actual Earthling habitat shows you what foods we keep on hand and how we organize them!  Get all the details in my article at Kitchen Stewardship!

Exclusively in The Earthling’s Handbook, play “Find the differences between these two photos!”  The one on the left was taken first, but then I noticed a few organizational flaws and made some small adjustments before taking the photo at right.  How many differences can you spot?  Let me know in the comments!

p1030408 pantry-version-2

This practical pantry isn’t slick and beautiful, but it’s functional.  We are able to

  • keep extra stuff on hand
  • save money by stocking up at the sale price
  • buy bulk foods and big packages that wouldn’t fit in our kitchen cabinet
  • plan menus using mostly what we have
  • reduce the temptation to eat poorly by having healthy ingredients handy
  • save time and gasoline by shopping less often
  • be prepared if weather or illness stops us from shopping

Our pantry’s basement location also helps us to stay fit and resist unnecessary eating!  If you have to walk across the dining room and down a flight of stairs to get a box of cereal, either you burn some calories doing it or you decide you’re not so hungry after all.

This is the pantry that works for me!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop and Real Food Friday for more food-related posts!

Drowning in Veggies? 5 Steps for Using a CSA Farm Share

It’s dinnertime on a Wednesday, and you’ve just been handed 10 pounds of fresh, organic, locally-grown, assorted vegetables!

You’re eager to get some of them onto your family’s plates tonight and make sure you use every bit as wisely as you can before next week—when another load of vegetables will arrive—and you never know what kind of veggies they’ll be until you get them. How will you work your way through such unpredictable abundance?

I’ve got 15 years of experience in utilizing the weekly crate of vegetables from our community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm.  I explain my approach in 5 basic steps and explain how it applied to one week’s actual food for my family, in my first post as a contributing writer for Kitchen Stewardship!  Click on the image to read the article.

CSA Overload!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop and Real Food Friday for more great food-related articles!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips on many topics!

Cleaning Products to Avoid if You Have Allergies

This is a guest post by Phoebe Parlade.  Follow the link to her well-researched article about the harmful ingredients found in many off-the-shelf cleaning products and about alternative ways to clean that are better for the Earth’s health as well as your own!

 

Do you suffer from allergies? If so, you know how crucial it is to avoid certain allergens. However, you have to do more than avoid pet dander, foods, plants, and so on. Allergens are found in items and products that you come into contact with on a regular basis. You may be surprised to discover that dozens of household cleaning products are a prime cause of allergic reactions.

Cleaning products are riddled with ingredients like formaldehyde and ammonia. These strong chemicals can cause a wide range of allergic reactions. Some examples include throat irritation, coughing, burning eyes, and more. As you can see, cleaning products pose a legitimate threat to you, your family members, and your pets.

Fortunately, you can learn about alternative cleaning methods that are safe and effective. These methods use everyday ingredients that are inexpensive and easily accessible. Reduce the chance of triggering your allergies by exploring natural options for household cleaning.

 

Alternative cleaning products work for me! Visit the Healthy Living Link Party for more great ideas!

Here are some Earthling’s Handbook articles about healthier ways to clean:
Recommendations of specific products and a site where you can buy them all!
Make your own kitchen scouring powder and a cute shaker from reused materials!
The easy, Earth-friendly way to clean a microwave oven!
Homemade wonder-scrub for your bathtub, face, pasta pot, or mittens!

Kale Marinara Sauce

This is a very easy way to add nutrition to a convenient, inexpensive, real-food meal anyone can cook!  Other dark-green leafy vegetables, such as Swiss chard, can be substituted for kale.

To make 2 servings, you will need:

  • a big handful of spaghetti noodles (For more protein, fiber, and B vitamins, use whole-wheat spaghetti.  We buy the 5-pound bag from Gordon Food Service; it’s affordably priced, tastes good, and has a smooth texture.)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of prepared spaghetti sauce (In most grocery stores, it’s easy to find affordable sauce that doesn’t contain soybean oil or added sugar and that’s high in Vitamin C and fiber.)
  • 3 or 4 leaves of raw kale (This is a great way to use leftovers after making another recipe with kale–most stores make you buy kale in big bunches!)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cooking pots, and a lid for the larger pot
  • spaghetti twonger or fork
  • large spoon
  • colander (pasta-draining sieve)

Fill the larger pot with water, place over high heat, and cover.

Wash the kale.  Tear the leafy part away from the main stem.  Compost or discard the stems.  Tear or chop the leaves into small pieces.

When the water boils, remove lid and add spaghetti (breaking in half if desired).  Turn down heat a little.  Stir occasionally with spaghetti twonger/fork until cooked to desired softness.

Cook kale in oil in the smaller pot over medium heat, stirring frequently with spoon.

When kale is noticeably less fluffy and beginning to brown at the edges, add sauce.  Mix thoroughly.  Heat until bubbling.

Drain spaghetti in colander.

Divide spaghetti onto plates and top with sauce.  (If you happen to be fighting off a cold, crush a clove of raw garlic onto your portion and stir it in!)  Eat!

 

Adding kale to spaghetti works for me!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop and Real Food Friday for more great meal ideas!

Some Plants Are For Eating

Happy Earth Day!  Before I get to my main topic, I’ve got some special offers to tell you about…

  • First, instead of buying anything, check out the beautiful photographs in the Capture Conservation photo contest sponsored by the Student Conservation Association!
  • UPDATE: The sale on PlanetBox stainless steel lunchboxes has ended, but check out our review of PlanetBox–Nicholas is now finishing fifth grade and still using the same PlanetBox he got at the beginning of kindergarten!
  • Grove Collaborative is having a one-day sale on 42 different Earth-friendly cleaning and hygiene products.  UPDATE: The sale is over, but if you’re new to Grove (formerly ePantry), you still can start your order here to get an additional $10 discount, and I’ll also get a bonus!  Here’s my article explaining what Grove Collaborative is all about, with reviews of many of the fine products they carry.
  • GreenLine Paper Company will donate ALL profits from today’s orders for paper products toward the planting of trees.  UPDATE: That special is over, but still, check out their wide selection of office paper, household paper products, and janitorial paper products.  Buy by the case and save!  (If you live in Pennsylvania, like I do, or nearby, note that GreenLine is in York, PA, so the shipping distance is short–better for the environment than shipping a long distance.)

As spring settles in and you begin to spend more time outdoors, you may have access to some edible plants.  It’s fun to graze on fresh food that happens to be growing right there in your yard!  But if there’s a young child with you, doesn’t that set a bad example?  You don’t want the kid to think that we can just grab parts off of random plants and eat them–he might eat some nightshade berries or poison ivy and get sick or poisoned or itchy!

P1020014Here’s my daughter Lydia on her first birthday, last spring.  Our yard was at just about the stage it is now, with spearmint poking up through the mulch of autumn leaves as the tulips, lilacs, and dandelions are blooming.  Lydia was very interested in all the new, colorful things, and once she had seen me break off some mint leaves and eat them, she wanted to do that, too!

I was surprised how easy it was to teach her that some plants are For Eating while other plants are Not For Eating.  In our yard, spearmint, chives, sourgrass (yellow oxalis/wood sorrel), dill, and purslane come up every year.  Lydia was very pleased with the mint and chives, which are abundant, and within a month was showing us that she recognized “mihtt” and “hifes” as she named them while picking them.  She was rarely incorrect in her identifications, even at first.  Apparently recognizing a particular leaf shape is not so difficult a skill as we might think.

Being able to recognize some plants that are For Eating didn’t stop her from wanting to experiment with others, though!  We did have to watch her carefully and redirect her many times.  It’s a lot like learning to stay out of the street–which has required surprisingly fewer reminders than I expected, actually.
Read more of this post

Seeking the Greatest Sliced Bread

Like many families, we don’t bake our own bread.  We make quick breads sometimes, like Raisin Bran Bread, but baking with yeast is not something that any of us finds soothing or fun or worth the time.  We really appreciate the convenience of buying bread that’s already neatly sliced and ready to use!

The only trouble is that many of the breads sold in stores contain corn and/or soy, and most of these are not organic or labeled non-GMO, which means that they probably contain genetically modified organisms–92% of all corn and 94% of all soybeans grown in the United States in 2015 were GMO.  We don’t trust GMOs to be safe for our health or the environment, so we’re trying to avoid them.  It can be difficult.

Trader Joe’s store-brand products are GMO-free (except meat and dairy) so we’ve often bought bread there . . . but they don’t make any variety of whole-grain bread that all members of our family like!  (They have a white bread we all like, but white is not as nutritious as whole-wheat.)  We end up buying multiple varieties of Trader Joe’s bread to please everyone, and that’s confusing, and whoever runs out of acceptable bread first starts agitating to buy new bread while we still have the other kind.  Furthermore, the nearest Trader Joe’s is several miles away, so we only shop there about once a month, but we use about a loaf and a half of bread per week.

Last time the kids and I went to Costco, we tried a free sample of Angelic Bakehouse Sprouted 7-Grain Bread.  We all liked it!  My 11-year-old Nicholas was begging me to buy it, but I figured it would turn out to contain some kind of crappy ingredients and/or to be really expensive.  But the 3-loaf pack is just $7 ($2.33 per 16 slices, similar to Trader Joe’s or most whole-wheat supermarket breads) and it contains no GMOs, no corn syrup, no soybean oil, no weird chemicals, no refined sugar–just real food ingredients!  The fiber, protein, and iron levels are just as good as most other whole-grain breads and better than some.  It’s lower in sugar and sodium than a lot of breads, yet it tastes just as good.

The package says you should refrigerate after opening and freeze any bread you are not going to eat within six days.  That’s the downside to not using preservatives.  Still, six days is a decent amount of time for food to stay fresh, and we always keep our bread in the fridge anyway.  Also–while I would never recommend that you disregard a manufacturer’s instructions–our three loaves lasted two weeks without being frozen and didn’t show any sign of spoilage.  (If your bread gets stale, here are 4 things you can do with it!)

Why sprouted grains?  Well, they’re supposed to be more nutritious and easier to digest.  I don’t see a difference in the Nutrition Facts between this bread and most other whole-grain breads, as I said.  I mainly bought this bread because it’s crap-free and tastes good!

What about packaging?  Like nearly every bread you can buy in a store, a loaf of Angelic comes in a plastic bag.  Like nearly every bread sold at Costco, it’s multi-packed inside a larger bag.  Yes, that’s a lot of plastic.  Yes, it is recyclable–but let me take this opportunity to remind everyone that most curbside recycling programs do not accept plastic bags, that you probably need to take plastic bags to a bin outside a store such as Target or Giant Eagle, and that it doesn’t matter how recyclable an item is if you don’t actually recycle it properly!  Before you recycle, see if you can find another use or six for your bags: Put a bowl of leftovers inside a bag instead of covering it with cling-wrap.  Use an old bread bag to carry a snack.  Use it to hold vegetables or cheese that you’re freezing.  Use the large outer bag to carry your muddy shoes.  You could even save up a lot of plastic bags and make an awesome crocheted thing!

Buying bagged bread that’s been trucked from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania does have an environmental impact greater than baking my own bread at home.  But realistically, I can’t do everything, and baking bread is one of the things I’ve decided not to do.  I’m glad to have a new option in healthful, real-food sliced bread!

Costco is also a once-a-month shop for us, but it’s in the opposite direction from Trader Joe’s, so we tend to visit the two stores at different times.  Being able to buy good bread at both stores might make it possible for us to avoid GMO bread completely.

If you’re having trouble finding GMO-free food, check out this directory!

Visit Real Food Friday and the Hearth & Soul Hop for more thoughts on food!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for other ideas as great as sliced bread!

Coffee in Moderation: The 7-1-7 Plan

When I was in college, in each September’s first meeting of my social organization, a few people would get up and make an earnest speech entitled, “Caffeine Is an Addictive, Psychoactive Drug” in which they tried to convince the new students to respect the power of caffeine by saving it for times when they really needed it.  They were right: If you get too accustomed to caffeine, it quits working, and if you routinely consume too much caffeine you’ll get irritable when you’re on it (but won’t realize that you’re irritable, thus increasing the irritation to everyone around you) as well as experiencing withdrawal symptoms whenever you miss a dose.

Mindful of their admonitions, I got through a very demanding educational experience on one cup of coffee most days!  If I felt drowsy on my way to an afternoon lecture, I’d get a caffeinated soda from the famous 35c pop machine.  If I had to pull an all-nighter, I’d drink a cup of black tea after dinner.  (Sodas and tea have less than half as much caffeine per serving as normal coffee.  Note that Starbucks is not normal coffee, and beware!)

I kept up similarly moderate habits throughout my twenties.  Then I became a mother.  Nicholas was the kind of baby who wakes frequently in the night and sometimes stays awake screaming for an extended period.  I went back to work only part-time, but I did have to get to work at a predictable time, and my work is the kind that requires intense focus on tiny details.  Some breastfed babies react badly if their mothers drink coffee, but Nicholas didn’t.  For a long time I stuck to tea at work (because I can drink it without milk in it, and also it has less caffeine), but I kept having days when I would decide to go out to lunch at a place with good coffee and free refills . . . and then my office moved to a building across the street from a mini-mart with affordable coffee, just before I was assigned a big proofreading task . . . and then Nicholas weaned and I started having migraines again, and with the freedom of being alone in my body with no worries of harming my baby, I started just drinking coffee whenever I felt like it.  (Is caffeine a headache treatment or a headache trigger?  It can be either.  The National Headache Foundation summarizes the science.  It was reassuring to find that on days when I stayed home sick and didn’t have any caffeine at all so that I could nap, I didn’t get a headache unless my illness was one that causes head pain–so my headaches weren’t caused by caffeine withdrawal.  Here’s some information on caffeine and health in general.)

After Lydia was born, I had to come back to work full-time.  She’s a somewhat better sleeper than Nicholas at the same age, but she did wake for nursing several times a night, and fitting in baby care around a full-time work schedule is stressful, so I was tired and tempted to slug down coffee constantly.  However, I’ve discovered a simple system that limits me to 3 cups a day by spacing them 6 hours apart.

I drink one cup (10-ounce mug) of coffee at 7:00 a.m., one after lunch at about 1:00 p.m., and one after dinner at about 7:00 p.m.  This system keeps me consistently alert enough but rarely jittery.  If I need to be awake until 1:00 a.m. to finish all the stuff I’m doing at home, I can manage it, but I can get to sleep as early as 11:00 p.m.  What I really like about the after-dinner coffee is that I stay awake while reading Lydia’s bedtime stories and then nursing her to sleep, so I’m able to get up afterward and finish the laundry or whatever.  It’s a big improvement over the frantic “Please go to sleep before I do so I don’t run out of time!!!” feeling that I used to have while lying next to Nicholas struggling to keep my eyes open!

The other crucial component of my system is a hot drink without caffeine.  I drink a cup of peppermint tea when I get to work every day, around 9:15 a.m.  Usually I feel like I “need more coffee” at that point, but if I have some water I’ll feel more alert.  Peppermint may serve a perking-up function, too.  I’ve started buying peppermint tea by the case to save money and time.

The exact spacing, times of day, and amounts of coffee that work best for your body might be different.  If you feel like you’re drinking too much coffee for your health, or you want to drink less so you can afford to drink only fair-trade organic coffee, try my plan and make adjustments until it suits you.

The 7:00, 1:00, 7:00 system works for me!  You can see it in action (actually 6:52, 1:55, 6:45) in this day in my life a year ago.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop for other life-improving tips!

Coffee Hour at Midnight (how to host on short notice)

Real Food FridayMeatless MondayHearth & Soul HopWorks-for-Me Wednesday

I’ve written before about hosting church coffee hour.  The people in my church are willing to eat packaged coffee-cakes and things of that ilk, but most of them prefer healthier snacks, and so do I–our coffee hour begins just before noon, so my stomach is ready for lunch, not just simple carbs! I try hard to avoid making the excuse that I’m too busy to serve healthy, basically “real”, vegetarian food with some nutrients.  This article explains how to be prepared to serve real food for a snacky gathering on short notice, and gives one example of the specific array of food one might serve.

My church’s coffee hours are coordinated by a volunteer called the Hospitality Chairperson.  I was Hospitality Chairperson for three years, started to feel burned out, and turned over the position to the awesome Barb Curlee, who did it for nine years but finally decided it was too much work for a cancer patient–and nobody else wanted the job, so I took it back!  It was something of a leap of faith, since at that point I was newly pregnant and starting to feel queasy, but for a long while it was easy to recruit volunteers and I only had to bring the food once every few months.  But then we hit a dry spell.

Every Sunday, I set out the coffee hour sign-up book on the table next to the food.  It’s a nice little binder that another parishioner fills each year with pages listing the dates of all the Sundays and special events, with Bible quotes chosen to inspire generous food-sharing!  Ideally, people notice the book, sign up for a Sunday, remember to bring the food, set it up, and clean it up–and all I have to do is thank them graciously and keep an eye on whether or not they remembered to put out the napkins and fill the cream pitcher.  Sometimes, though, everyone’s busy or not paying attention, so I spend coffee hour begging people to sign up, and then I fill in for the Sundays nobody wanted.

This particular coffee hour was in late September (I just now found the photo and remembered I’d planned to post about it!) five or six weeks after I’d been in a car accident.  I was doing kind of okay, but I needed a lot of rest and was having trouble remembering and/or getting around to all of the things I usually do.  It was Thursday or Friday morning when I suddenly grabbed my ten-year-old Nicholas and gasped, “Did anybody sign up for coffee hour?  Did we even put out the book?!”  He couldn’t remember, either.  Luckily, the church is on my way home from work, so I stopped by and tiptoed around the AA meeting to check out my little binder.  Alas, Sunday’s sign-up space was bare! . . . and then I forgot all about it until Saturday morning, when we were shopping in Trader Joe’s and Nicholas said, “Can we try Eggplant Garlic Dip?  We could serve it at coffee hour!” and I agreed  . . . and then I forgot all about it until Saturday night at 11:22 p.m. when I had finally gotten my toddler to sleep and was tidying up the kitchen and noticed the jar of dip sitting randomly on the counter. Read more…

Delicious Roasted Broccoli Leaves

Real Food FridayMeatless MondayHearth & Soul Hop
The past few years have taught us what Earthlings really want to know, and we are pleased to be spreading the word that cauliflower leaves are edible!  In that spirit, we’d like to tell you that broccoli leaves are edible, too, and explain a slightly easier method of preparation.

Our local organic CSA farm has had a good crop of broccoli this year, and they give it to us with leaves intact.  Fresh broccoli sold in supermarkets often has had its leaves trimmed, at least the larger ones.  What do you suppose happens to them?  I hope they don’t just get thrown away, because broccoli leaves are highly nutritious, with a slightly different nutrient profile than broccoli florets or stalks.  They’re particularly high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that our bodies convert into Vitamin A.  I wasn’t able to find a nutrient analysis for cooked broccoli leaves, but a one-ounce serving of raw leaves contains 43% of the Daily Value of Vitamin C, 5% of folate, 3% of potassium and manganese, and some Omega-3 fatty acids–and less than 8 calories!

Broccoli leaves could be substituted for spinach or kale in many raw or cooked recipes.  When we cut up broccoli from our farm to steam as a side dish or use in High-Protein Pasta Salad or Broccoli Casserole, we typically include the leaves, but we think they don’t taste as good in those contexts as the other parts of the broccoli do.  Roasted leaves, though, are an addictive snack food or yummy side dish!  They have the crispy crunch of thin potato chips and a tasty, toasty flavor that is quite different from the flavor of steamed broccoli. Read more of this post

Why My Toddler Doesn’t Watch Sesame Street

I remember, when I was 3 or 4 years old, sitting in front of the television watching the test pattern waiting for my local public television station to begin its broadcast day.  I liked the pretty colored stripes.  Finally they would disappear, the station information would be displayed along with a drawing of a scissor-tailed flycatcher (the state bird), and an authoritative voice would announce, “This is OETA.  Public television for all of Oklahoma.”  Then I would hear that cheerful song about sweeping the clouds away and going where the air is sweet, and for the next hour my television would show me a wonderful world in which fuzzy monsters and real people of all colors live side-by-side in a place where you can find a friend just by stepping out of the house.

My daughter Lydia is 18 months old and has never seen an episode of “Sesame Street”.  Why do I deprive her of this experience I loved so much??  There are two reasons.

One is that children under 2 years old should not watch any television at all.  The American Academy of Pediatrics still says this and has updated its statement to include the use of computers and tablets–no screen-time for toddlers.  I know, a lot of my parenting peers think this is simply impossible.  I agree that it’s impossible to avoid any screen exposure at all, in a world where electronic screens are incorporated into many public places and most adults are constantly poking some kind of PocketFox.  (Just yesterday, I was in a hospital elevator with a wall-mounted screen relentlessly playing hospital publicity videos!)  Still, it’s worth the effort to save our babies’ eyes and hearts and brains by keeping them away from the screens as much as we can and certainly not encouraging them to watch TV.  I’ve explained how we kept our first child off the screens until he was 2 and phased it in carefully after that.

Everybody told me it would be harder with the second child.  Yes, it is, because her big brother loves to play computer games, and our computer is in the living room.  It’s true that Lydia sometimes toddles over to watch what he is doing, so she’s probably had more total screen-time than he had by this age.  But when we rearranged before she was born, we placed our L-shaped computer desk such that the screen is turned 45 degrees toward the wall, instead of facing the center of the room; that makes it less eye-catching.  Our television set faces the couch, but we hardly ever watch it when Lydia’s awake.  Neither parent has a smartphone, so she’s not seeing a screen while we’re holding her.  I try to keep my iPad out of her sight; if she climbs into my lap while I’m using it, I finish up as quickly as I can.  Most importantly, we never turn on a video for her or let her play with the iPad herself.

But “Sesame Street” is so sweet and charming and a rich source of cultural references in our family and the wider society!  As I said in my previous article:

But then, when I was 7 months pregnant, an odd sound made by the elevator at work reminded me of the “Rubber Ducky” song from “Sesame Street”, and I suddenly felt devastated–how could I deprive my child of the joy of knowing Ernie and Big Bird and…and LOVABLE FURRY GROVER?!

Well, here’s what we learned when raising Nicholas: Read more of this post

What Insurance Is For

Although I’ve managed to get 5 articles posted in the past 6 weeks, I’m actually not doing all that well, and I finally decided that I owe my readers an explanation.

I was driving, with my whole family in the car, when our car was rear-ended on August 15.  Nobody else was hurt.  I didn’t notice that I was hurt until we were back in the car after exchanging insurance information with the other driver, so it must not have been that bad, right?

Oh, it could be worse.  It could be so much worse.  Riding in cars is very dangerous!  We are lucky and grateful.

But my back still hurts.  This is my 46th day of continuous pain.  Much of the time it’s quite mild, but it wears on me, makes me tired, dulls my appreciation of every good thing in life.  Then there are the times when I try to do some ordinary thing like picking up a half-gallon of milk or my 22-pound toddler, opening a heavy door, or scooting back my desk chair by pushing with my feet–or I’m not even doing anything at all–and my lower-back muscles send out blinding flashes of pain.

I thought it was just the cumulative pain that was making me so tired that I had trouble stumbling through my daily life, so distracted that I found myself wrapping up work days realizing that I’d done only two hours’ worth of work in eight hours, so irritable that I was shrieking at my ten-year-old.  I thought it was because my lower-back muscles were yanking on my upper-back muscles yanking on my neck muscles that I was having more frequent and more severe headaches.  These things are probably true, but there’s more to it than that. Read more…

Two Healthy Breakfasts for Late Summer

Tomato season is in full swing and apple season has begun here in Pennsylvania, so I’m alternating between these two delicious breakfasts!  Both are quick to prepare, with minimal dirty dishes.  They make good snacks, too.  You get plenty of vitamins and fiber from the fruit, plus protein and fat to keep you feeling full.

We planted two tomato plants in our front yard this year and had another tomato plant come up by surprise, and they’re all producing well.  We also get both tomatoes and apples from our CSA organic farm share.

Tomato Toast is simply buttered toast with nutritional yeast flakes, a nice thick layer of sliced tomato, salt, and dill.  (Cilantro instead of dill makes a different flavor, also tasty.)  If you’re really hungry, add a scrambled or fried or sliced hard-boiled egg.  An affordable gluten-free variation is a bowl of warmed-up leftover cooked rice or other grain, with butter, nutritional yeast flakes, diced tomato, salt, and dill.

Easy Fresh Apple Yogurt is simply a diced apple quickly cooked with seasonings and stirred into plain yogurt.  Sometimes I add granola or other cereal.  This morning, I made this with a pear instead (because we were given a bag of home-grown pears) and that’s good, too.  This recipe is ideal for people who get an itchy mouth or upset stomach from eating raw apples–a problem I had only while pregnant with Lydia, which is when I developed this recipe.

Enjoy the season, and check out all the great ideas at Real Food Friday and the Hearth & Soul Hop and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Works-for-Me Wednesday!

Sckoon Menstrual Cup and Cloth Pad Review

WARNING: People who are offended by graphic discussion of menstruation should go read something else.

I first tried a reusable menstrual cup in 1997 and reusable cloth menstrual pads in 2001.  Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different brands, and I’ve written about why these alternatives are better than disposable pads and tampons and lots more about how great they are, with details about how to use them.  This article is about one specific brand whose cup and pad I’ve tried in the past year.  This is my new favorite cup, and the pad is very good, too.

Sckoon is primarily an organic-cotton company.  They make lots of baby clothes and some other cotton items, including cloth menstrual pads.  Recently, they also started making a menstrual cup out of medical-grade silicone (and it comes in an organic cotton storage bag).  Their organic cotton is grown and processed in Egypt, but their menstrual cup is made in USA.  They use recycled materials in packaging.

What I haven’t been able to find out about Sckoon is how to pronounce their name.  They didn’t answer my question, choosing instead to maintain an air of mystery…so I’m going with “Skoon” unless I learn otherwise.

I have joined Sckoon’s affiliate program, so you can click here to get 10% off your order (or manually enter the discount code ER01HG) and I will earn a 10% commission! Read more of this post