Friday, April 20, 2012

Fresh fruits and veggies, anyone?

I have discovered - and fallen in LOVE with - Bountiful Baskets.

What is it?

"Each week different items will be in the Bountiful Basket! We base the basket contents on what is in season, high quality, good value, and local. We generally have 6 fruit items & 6 vegetable items. We focus on what would be well received in our homes, and the extensive surveys we’ve done with participants over the past 5 years to know what families eat."

For $15 (plus some incidental costs, like $3 if you're a first time orderer) for a conventional basket or $25 for an organic basket, you get enough produce to fill a small round laundry basket above the rim.  It is AMAZING, it is FRESH, it is DIVERSE - I love it.  We order every two weeks, and it's just enough to keep my family of three in fresh produce during that time (and encourages us to eat new things!).  If you have on in your area, I highly recommend it!!!

On that note - I am going on vacation!  This will be my last post until May.  If you are just discovering the site, I hope you will take my little hiatus as an opportunity to read up on some past posts, comment on anything you find interesting, and/or drop me a line via email!  I'd love to hear from you!  And if you need a little incentive...

I will randomly choose one reader who comments on ANY post so far on this blog to win an Udder Cover (sorry non-baby-making females or guy readers - there will be more giveaways for you in the future!).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A unique story time

If you have loved ones who do not live near your kids, this is a GREAT way for them to connect!

My parents record themselves reading stories on this site, and then my daughter watches them here from home.  She can see my parents, hear their voice, and see the book, all at the same time!

And, they have a selection of FREE books, if you do not want to pay!

Toxins and Kids

When I was pregnant, I read - a lot.  I read about what to expect when you're expecting.  I read about preparing for bringing baby into the world.  I read magazines and books and researched everything baby to make sure I was getting the best.  And I learned even more about toxins and how may baby could be exposed to them.  And it scared me.  And I took as many precautions as possible to rid my home, my baby's room, and my baby's surroundings of them.  Perhaps you are pregnant.  Perhaps you already have kids.  Perhaps one day you will have kids.  And perhaps you are also concerned about all the chemicals in our environment that they may be exposed to.  Here are some things you can do to minimize that.

[Good Morning America, with help from the Greenguard Environmental Institute, "set out to investigate exactly what kind of threat indoor air pollution posed to the average person by setting up a child’s nursery with a new crib, changing table, rocker and decorations.  Seven days of testing later, the results were in.  The air in our new nursery contained 300 different chemicals  — compared to just two right outside the same house.  The EPA confirms that indoor air is usually more polluted than outdoor air."]

1) If you plan to paint, do it WELL before baby comes.  And ventilate the house as best as you can.  And use low- or no-VOC paints.  (Of course, if there is potentially lead paint in your home because it is an older home, that's a whole other can of worms you should look into).

2) If you plan to recarpet, again, do it in advance, and ventilate, ventilate, ventilate.

3) If possible, use solid wood furniture in the nursery, though I found this cost-prohibitive.  Look for water-based sealants and the Greenguard certification, which identifies products that have a lower chemical emission.

4) If you buy new furniture, open it outside and let it air out (and thus off-gas) for as long as possible (in a garage or covered area).  You could always buy used furniture (as long as you're sure it hasn't been recalled) and not have to do this.

5) Used is ALWAYS USUALLY good.  Furniture has been off-gassed.  Clothes have been laundered, and thus toxic dyes, etc. have been washed away.  Plus you're recycling.  (Of course, today we have to worry about lead in toys, and sometimes you can't be sure what you're getting if you buy used toys and don't know their source.  Here's a good resource on safe toys).

I had a really hard time finding affordable furniture for my baby that wasn't pressed wood that would emit formaldehyde and other unseemly things.  I did the best I could, but sure wish there were more affordable options out there.  This post has some creative ideas, but still, I wanted quality, real wood, sustainably harvested - and affordable.  It just doesn't exist.  Yet.  This post has some suggestions on getting the best that you can on what does exist, though, sadly, we're pretty much stuck buying low-quality composite wood furniture.

The one thing I did splurge on was my baby's organic mattress.  I figured if I off-gassed her furniture and ventilated her room really well, I could meter some of the toxins, but since she'd be laying on the mattress, I felt it very important to make this as safe and nontoxic as possible.  I'm really glad I went with this decision.  This article has great suggestions for reducing toxins in bedding.  I went with the cheapest Naturepedic crib mattress, which in the long run wasn't terribly expensive.  And if you really just can't bring yourself to fork over the money, read this article for a great alternative.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Removing toxicity from your home

Years ago I went on a quest to "detoxify" my home.  I threw out all the toxic cleaning products, replacing them with kinder, gentler brands.  I eliminated all of my non-stick cooking appliances, opting instead for stainless steel or pure metal.  I started buying more organic food.  I quit using antibacterial soap.  The more I read about all of the toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis, the more I wanted them out of my house.

If you, too, feel this way, here is a great starting point to detox your home:

1. Make or buy green cleaners

Check out my post on this.

2. Cleaning isn’t disinfecting

Loads of cleaning products, personal care products, and even socks contain antibacterials, which have been added to make you believe you’ll fend off harmful bacteria by using them. It’s not true. In fact, antibacterials cause more harm than good by leading to antibiotic resistance. Soap and water gets the job done without harming the environment or creating a new generation of “super germs.”

3. Eat healthy and shop smart

Going organic is healthy and it is possible to do it without bankrupting your family. First, know which fruits and vegetables should always be organic (and avoid the Dirty Dozen) and which have the lowest amount of pesticide contamination. Dr. Alan Greene, a Healthy Child advisor, has compiled a top 10 list of food you should buy organic, starting with milk.

4. Skip cans

Many food and beverage cans are lined with the toxic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA), which has been linked to breast cancer and other health concerns. Avoid cans to reduce your kids’ exposure to the chemical, as they are more vulnerable to the effects of hormone-disrupters like BPA.

5. Stay beautiful without chemicals

Personal care products, like shampoo, makeup, lotions, may contain toxic chemicals that have been linked to reproductive harm, cancer, and skin irritation (not to mention many are tested on animals). Avoid parabens in lotions, and antibacterials, like trichlosan, a carcinogen that shows up in toothpaste (yuck). EWG’s Skin Deep website makes it easier for you to find products that are safer for you. Also check out Story of Cosmetics to get the big picture of the problem, and bookmark the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics so you can learn which lipsticks have lead and why it’s always smart to skip fragrances (including fragrance-free)

6. Just say no to PVC

PVC is the worst of the plastics, made with toxic chemicals, including lead. PVC is identified by the #3 on the bottom and that “vinyl shower curtain smell,” which is the result of toxic chemicals called phthalates off-gassing into your home. Unless you make a point to avoid PVC, you’ll inadvertently fill your house with the toxic stuff, as it is ubiquitous and found in plastic food wrap, soft squeeze toys, wallpaper, flooring, and more. PVC is toxic, can’t be recycled, and is often the material of cheap, disposable toys that you don’t want in your kid sucking on or keeping in his or her playbox. Avoiding PVC is good for workers, your family, and the planet.

7. Ban pesticides from your home and yard

Pesticides are poisons and, in most cases, their negative effects outweigh any short-term gain. Pesticides have been linked to a range of health problems, including asthma, hyperactivity and behavior problems, cancer, learning disabilities, reproductive disorders, and compromised brain development. Food storage solutions and good sanitation is the first step to preventing pests from entering your home. Removing your shoes at the door will prevent you from tracking in pesticides and other dirt from the yard and walkways into your living space. Instead of using herbicides on your lawn, yank weeds early, and use mulch to block weed growth. Use natural fertilizers, and plants that bugs don’t like (like marigolds) to help keep pests out of your garden.

[I feel very strongly about this one.  I will NEVER use pesticides in or near my home or my children.  A few years ago 2 small girls died in Salt Lake City after their parents had their lawn sprayed with pesticides.  It is NOT worth it!  Here are some non-toxic pest remedies.]

8. Commit to buying and using less stuff!

Buy and use less stuff! The simple act of bringing a bag to the grocery store and using a refillable coffee mug or water bottle pays back great dividends and sets a good example for your kids. Do your best to avoid buying “throw-away” or single use items. Invest in products and materials that will last; it saves trees, water, and money.

(On that note, if you haven't, you should check out The Story of Stuff).

If you haven't figured out by now, I really love Healthy Child - they discuss such great topics.  Which is where I've obtained the info for these latest posts.  I already blogged about #1, 2, and 5 in this recent post, but here are their "Top 10 Toxic Products You Don't Need":

1. Air fresheners

2. Drain, oven and toilet bowl cleaners

3. Canned food: It's probably shocking to find a food item on a toxic product list, but it's no mistake. Food cans are lined with an epoxy resin that contains bisphenol-A (BPA). Most experts believe this is our main source of exposure to BPA, which has been linked to hormone disruption, obesity, heart disease, and much more. Opt for fresh, frozen, dried or jarred foods (or food in a tetra-pack box).

4. Pesticides: This is a huge category of products, but they deserve inclusion in their entirety because of how extremely toxic they are. They're made to be. That's how they kill things. But, solving your pest problem may leave you with another problem - residual poisons that linger on surfaces, contaminate air, and get tracked onto carpet from the bottom of shoes. There are so many non-toxic ways to eliminate pests and weeds - next time you need to get on the offense, check out the recommendations at Beyond Pesticides.

5. Dry-cleaning

6. Bottled water: Most people buy bottled water thinking they're avoiding any contaminants that may be present in their tap water. For the most part, they're wrong. Bottled water can be just as, or even more, contaminated than tap water. In fact, some bottled water IS tap water - just packaged (in plastic that can leach chemicals into the water) and over-priced. Also, from manufacture to disposal, bottled water creates an enormous amount of pollution - making our water even less drinkable. Do yourself and the world a favor and invest in a reusable stainless steel water bottle and a water filter.  [Please read my post about bottled water -something I feel very strongly about.]

7. Rubber duckies: How does such a cute toy end up on a toxic product list? When it's made from PVC - the poison plastic. Banned in over 14 countries and the European Union, PVC, also known as vinyl, is still legally sold by U.S. retailers although it threatens environmental and consumer health at every stage of its product life cycle, according to the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice. When it's in your home, PVC can leach phthalates (linked to hormone disruption) and lead (a potent neurotoxicant) - contaminating air, dust, and eventually you. Go PVC-free by reading packages and avoiding the #3 in the chasing arrows symbol (usually found on the bottom of a product). If a plastic is not labeled, call the manufacturer.Learn more.

8. Couch cushions: No, you needn't get rid of all your cushions and consign yourself to a future of discomfort. Just avoid cushions, pillows, and anything with foam labeled as meeting California TB 117, as it is likely to contain toxic fire retardants. These chemicals migrate from the foam to dust to people. In animal research, these chemicals are associated with cancer, birth defects, thyroid disruption, reproductive and neurological disorders such as hyperactivity and mental retardation. Don't worry about increasing your fire risk, data does not show that this standard has resulted in increased fire safety. Look for foam and cushions made with polyester, down, wool, or cotton as they are unlikely to contain toxic fire retardants.

9. Perfume and cologne: Colognes and perfumes may make us more attractive. But mixed in with the colors and scents are a wide variety of unattractive chemicals. Perfumes and fragrances can consist of hundreds of chemicals. Testing of Calvin Klein's Eternity by an independent lab, commissioned by Environmental Health Network (EHN), revealed that the perfume contained over 800 compounds. Among the chemicals of concern is diethyl phthalate (DEP) that is absorbed through the skin and can accumulate in human fat tissue. Phthalates are suspected carcinogens and hormone disruptors that are increasingly being linked to reproductive disorders.

It's not so simple to avoid phthalates by switching products because they are rarely listed on product ingredient labels. Phthalates are claimed as a part of trade secret formulas, and are exempt from federal labeling requirements. Find out if products you currently use contain phthalates and find safer ones on Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Searchable Product Guide website.

10. Oil-based paints and finishes: There are 300 toxic chemicals and 150 carcinogens potentially present in oil-based paint, according to a John Hopkins University study. Still interested in coating your walls and furniture with this gunk? I hope not. Look for water-based options - ideally those that are low- or no-VOC. You could also explore natural finishes like milk paint and vegetable or wax based wood finishes.

Finally, this report details the use of BPA and NPEs, prevalent in paint, toys, and many other household items.

What can you do?  Ask your senator to co-sponsor the Safer Chemicals Act.

DHA - Who, what, when, where, why, and how?


The developing fetus and children (anyone with a growing brain) needs DHA in their diet.


DHA, or Docosahexaenoic acid, is "the primary structural component of brain tissue".


A baby's brain grows the most while in the womb, and then triples in size by its first birthday - a very important time for baby to get adequate levels of DHA.  However, the brain continues to grow throughout childhood, and there is a second important window during the teen years.


There are many sources of DHA (or the less readily available ALA - see the chart at the bottom of this post) including fish oil, algae, walnuts, flax, canola, soybean, and wheat germ.


"Just how important is DHA for brain development? Consider these research findings:

  • Infants who have low amounts of DHA in their diet have reduced brain development and diminished visual acuity.

  • The increased intelligence and academic performance of breastfed compared with formula- fed infants has been attributed in part to the increased DHA content of human milk.

  • Cultures whose diet is high in omega 3 fatty acids (such as the Eskimos who eat a lot of fish) have a lower incidence of degenerative diseases of the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis.

  • Experimental animals whose diets are low in DHA have been found to have smaller brains and delayed central nervous system development.

  • Some children with poor school performance because of ADD, have been shown to have insufficient essential fatty acids in their diet."


In addition to dietary sources (see table that follows), one may obtain DHA through supplements.  As a vegetarian, I avoid fish, so relied on algal supplements while pregnant/breastfeeding my baby.  I feed my baby fish, though you will want to be sure they are SAFE fish (free of heavy metals), and also prepare her food in canola oil and add lots of flax oil.

This site had some tables showing sources of these substances, if you want to know what to eat to get more in your diet:

Table 1: Dietary Sources of Omega-3 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fatty AcidFood Sources
(i) Omega-6 Types 
LA, linoleic acid
(18:2 n-6)
Vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean), animal meats
AA, arachidonic acid
(20:4 n-6)
Animal sources only (meat, eggs)
(ii) Omega-3 Types 
ALA , (LNA) alpha-linolenic acid
(18:3 n-3)
Flaxseed, canola oil, English walnuts, specialty eggs
EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid
(20:5 n-3)
Fish, fish oils, marine sources
DHA, docosahexaenoic acid
(22:6 n-3)
Fish, fish oils, specialty egg/dairy products

Table 2: Alpha-Linolenic Acid Content of Various Foods and Oils


(100 g raw edible portion)
ALA (g)Source

(100 g raw edible portion)
ALA (g)
Nuts and Seeds Legumes 
Almonds0.4Beans, common (dry)0.6
Beechnuts (dried)1.7Chickpeas (dry)0.1
Butternuts (dried)8.7Cowpeas (dry)0.3
Chia seeds (dried)3.9Lentils (dry)0.1
Flaxseed22.8Lima beans (dry)0.2
Hickory nuts (dried)1.0Peas, garden (dry)0.2
Mixed nuts0.2Soybeans (dry)1.6
Soybean kernels1.5Barley, bran0.3
Walnuts, black3.3Corn, germ0.3
Walnuts, English and Persian6.8Oats, germ1.4
 Rice, bran0.2
Vegetables Wheat, bran0.2
Beans, navy, sprouted (cooked)0.3Wheat, germ0.7
Beans, pinto, sprouted (cooked)0.3Wheat, hard red Winter0.1
Broccoli (raw)0.1 
Cauliflower (raw)0.1Fruit 
Kale (raw)0.2Avocados, California (raw)0.1
Leeks (freeze-dried)0.7Raspberries (raw)0.1
Lettuce, butterhead0.1Strawberries (raw)0.1
Lettuce, red leaf0.1
Radish seeds, sprouted (raw)0.7
Seaweed, Spirulina (dried)0.8
Soybeans, green (raw)3.2
Soybeans, mature seeds, sprouted (cooked)2.1
Spinach (raw)0.1

Data from Kris-Etherton et al. (2000)

Table 3: Fish and Seafood Sources of DHA plus EPA

(100 g portion)



Anchovy, European, raw


Carp, cooked, dry heat


Catfish, channel, farmed, cooked, dry heat


Cod, Atlantic , cooked, dry heat


Eel, mixed species, cooked, dry heat


Flatfish (flounder and sole), cooked, dry heat


Haddock, cooked, dry heat


Halibut, Atlantic and Pacific, cooked, dry heat


Herring, Atlantic , cooked, dry heat


Mackerel, Pacific and jack, mixed species, cooked, dry heat


Mullet, striped, cooked, dry heat


Perch, mixed species, cooked, dry heat


Pike, northern, cooked, dry heat


Pollock, Atlantic , cooked, dry heat


Salmon, Atlantic , farmed, cooked, dry heat


Sardine, Atlantic , canned in oil, drained solids with bone


Sea bass, mixed species, cooked, dry heat


Shark, mixed species, raw


Snapper, mixed species, cooked, dry heat


Swordfish, cooked, dry heat


Trout, mixed species, cooked, dry heat


Tuna, skipjack, fresh, cooked, dry heat


Whiting, mixed species, cooked, dry heat



Crab, Alaska king, cooked, moist heat


Shrimp, mixed species, cooked, moist heat


Spiny lobster, mixed species, cooked, moist heat



Clam, mixed species, cooked, moist heat


Conch, baked or broiled


Mussel, blue, cooked, moist heat


Octopus, common, cooked, moist heat


Oyster, eastern, farmed, cooked, dry heat


Scallop, mixed species, cooked, breaded and fried


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Green Cleaning

A long time ago I quit using conventional cleaning products and opted for greener more eco-friendly options from companies that demonstrate environmental responsibility.  Some of my favorites have become Seventh Generation, Ecover, Method and Mrs. Meyers.

I would like to start making my own green cleaning products.  So, this post is a culmination from my research towards that end, in case any of you would also like to start making your own.

This information was taken straight from the Healthy Child blog (with a few modifications of my own):

Getting started - a few items you will need-

  • Buy a few high quality spray bottles that you can use many times. Bottles with ounce measurements on them are especially useful for measuring and mixing.

  • Be sure to label your mixtures to avoid confusion.

  • Liquid soap means castile soap, a mild soap once made from olive oil, but now may include other vegetable oils as well. Coconut oil soaps are another good alternative to petroleum-based soaps.  [My disclaimer - be very careful in choosing products with palm oil, as currently Indonesian rainforests are being wiped out to obtain palm oil.  I avoid it at all costs.  This link will soon be home to a blog post regarding this.]

  • Vinegar means distilled white vinegar, available by the gallon at your supermarket. Note that while vinegar has a slight scent while wet, when dry, it leaves no odor.

  • Washing soda and borax are minerals related to baking soda, but are stronger and more caustic. Though natural, both washing soda and borax can irritate skin, so use gloves. Borax can be toxic when swallowed, so keep it out of children's reach at all times. Both of these items can be found in your supermarket's laundry aisle.

  • Also buy hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, olive oil, flaxseed oil, lemon juice, and some sponges and microfiber cloths.


  • Countertops: For a "soft scrub," mix together baking soda and liquid soap until you get a consistency you like. The amounts don't have to be perfect. Make only as much as you need, as it dries up quickly.

  • Ovens: To clean extra-greasy ovens, mix together 1 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup of washing soda, then add enough water to make a paste; apply the paste to oven surfaces and let soak overnight. The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime; rinse surfaces well.

  • Microwave ovens can be cleaned with a paste of 3-4 tablespoons baking soda mixed with water. Scrub on with a sponge and rinse.

  • Cutting boards: Disinfect them by spraying with vinegar and then with 3% hydrogen peroxide (available in drug stores). Keep the liquids in seperate spray bottles and use them one at a time. It doesn't matter which one you use first, but both together are much more effective than either one alone.

Kitchens are one place where disinfecting is recommended for other select items like utensils and countertops.


  • Tub and tile cleaner: Mix 1 2/3 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup liquid soap and1/2 cup water. Then, as the last step, add 2 tablespoons vinegar (if you add the vinegar too early it will react with the baking soda). Immediately apply, wipe, and scrub.

  • A good all-purpose disinfectant: 2 teaspoons borax, 4 tablespoons vinegar and 3 to 4 cups hot water in a spray bottle. For extra cleaning power, add 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap to the mixture.

  • Toilet bowl: Pour 1 cup of borax into the toilet before going to bed. In the morning, scrub and flush. For an extra-strength cleaner, add 1/4 cup vinegar to the borax.

  • Drains: Prevent clogged drains by using hair and food traps. To de-grease and sweeten sink and tub drains, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down drain followed by 1 cup vinegar; let bubble for 15 minutes; rinse with hot water. You might have to repeat the whole procedure more than once or leave the baking soda and vinegar to "cook" overnight.


  • General dusting is best done with a damp cloth. Dry dusting simply stirs up dust and moves it around. Also, try 1 teaspoon olive oil per 1/2 cup vinegar. Mix together in a bowl and apply with a soft cloth.

  • Furniture polish: Mix olive oil and vinegar in a one-to-one ratio and polish with a soft cloth. Or look for food-grade linseed oil, often called omega-3 or flaxseed oil, rather than the type found in hardware stores to finish furniture. Linseed oil sold for furniture use often contains dangerous petroleum distillates to speed evaporation.

  • Windows: Put 3 tablespoons vinegar per 1 quart water in a spray bottle. Some recommend using half vinegar and half water. For extra-dirty windows try this: 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap, 3 tablespoons vinegar and 2 cups of water. Shake well. The best way to get streak-free windows? Use newspaper instead of paper towels to wipe them.


  • Brass, copper, bronze and aluminum: To remove tarnish, rub metal with sliced lemons. For tough jobs, sprinkle baking soda on the lemon, then rub.

  • Sterling silver: Put a sheet of aluminum foil into a plastic or glass bowl. Sprinkle the foil with salt and baking soda, then fill the bowl with warm water. Just soak your silver in the bowl and the tarnish will migrate to the aluminum foil. Finally, rinse, dry and buff your silver with a soft cloth.


Vinegar and baking soda are great room fresheners. Vinegar deodorizes, while baking soda absorbs odors. A simple recipe of 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar (or lemon juice) and 2 cups hot water in a spray bottle can be spritzed in the air to remove odors. Zeolite, like baking soda, absorbs odor. Set out either in bathrooms and closets.


  • Vacuuming is an important part of floor maintenance. We recommend using a machine with a HEPA filter, which traps very small particles that are otherwise blown back into the room in the vacuum's exhaust. Consumer Reports, which ranks appliances, has found that some vacuum cleaners without HEPA filters were also effective. No matter what kind of vacuum cleaner you use, be sure to pass over carpet several times and more in heavy traffic areas.

  • Linoleum: For extra grease-cutting, try this formula: 1/4 cup washing soda with 1 tablespoon of liquid soap, 1/4 cup vinegar and 2 gallons hot water. Put the washing soda in the bucket first and add the liquid ingredients — this way the soda won't splash out. Caution: Do not use this formula on waxed floors! For an extra polish, combine 6 tablespoons of cornstarch per cup of water in a bucket.

  • Disinfect floors: Add 2 gallons of hot water to 1/2 cup of borax. (Put the borax in the bucket first, then add water to avoid splashing.)

  • Wood floors: Vinegar is a natural disinfectant, and it pulls dirt from wood. After a large party, I used 1 cup vinegar per pail of hot water to clean my wood floors — the smell disappeared immediately. You can also use it on other types of floors — it's a gentle yet very effective floor cleaner.

  • Carpeting And Rugs: Regular vacuuming will help keep carpets their cleanest. Sprinkle baking soda over the surface of the carpet and let it stand for 15 – 30 minutes before vacuuming to soak up and eliminate odors. Healthy Child recommends against the use of chemical carpet cleaners because of health concerns associated with their ingredients.  If you want to steam clean your rug, use plain water and make sure it dries thoroughly.


  • Laundry brightener: Add 1/2 cup of strained lemon juice to the rinse cycle.

  • Fabric rinse: Add 1/4 cup of vinegar to the washing machine's rinse cycle to remove detergent completely from clothes, eliminating that scratchy feel. This will not leave your clothes smelling like vinegar!

  • Detergent booster: To reduce the amount of laundry detergent you need to use, add baking soda or washing soda. These minerals soften the water, which increases the detergent's power. For liquid detergent, add 1/2 cup of soda at the beginning of the wash. For powdered detergent, add 1/2 cup of soda during the rinse cycle.

  • Bleach: Use hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach.

  • Dry cleaning: Many delicate "dry clean only" items can be washed at home by hand. In general, it's best to use cool water and a mild liquid soap. Squeeze or wring gently and lay flat to dry.


If you discover mold and mildew in your house, first find the source of moisture and stop it. It's pointless to clean mold if it's only going to return!

  • To clean mold: Remember to wear gloves and a facemask, since mold spores can be inhaled. Use a stiff brush, a non-ammonia detergent and hot water to scrub mold off of non-porous surfaces. Use a stiff bristle toothbrush to get in between tiles. You can also use a paste of baking soda and water. Don't rinse.

ALL cleaners, whether homemade or store bought, and cleaning ingredients should be kept safely away out of the reach of children and pets in locked cabinets or high places.

Clean and Green (Library Journal, 1990), by Annie Berthold Bond.
The Safe Shopper's Bible (Macmillan, 1995), by David Steinman and Samuel S. Epstein.

Be careful about being TOO clean.  Many "cleaning" products will clean you right into toxicity.  From Healthy Child's "The Top 10 Toxic Products You Don’t Need", three of them deal with cleaning products:
Air fresheners: Most air fresheners mask odors with a synthetic fragrance or numb your sense of smell with chemical anesthetics. But, they do nothing to eliminate the source of the odor. Also, aerosol air fresheners spew out tiny droplets of chemicals that are easily inhaled into the lungs. Instead, ventilate well and choose natural deodorizers, such as zeolite or baking soda, which contain minerals that absorb odors.

[Here is a good article on How to Freshen Indoor Air Naturally.  Also, plants do a great job of this.]

Drain, oven and toilet bowl cleaners: Yes, three products instead of one, but they all fit under the category of cleaners - and these are the three nastiest. Corrosive or caustic cleaners, such as the lye and acids found in drain cleaners, oven cleaners and acid-based toilet bowl cleaners, are the most dangerous cleaning products because they burn skin, eyes and internal tissue easily.

* To clean extra-greasy ovens, mix together 1 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup of washing soda, then add enough water to make a paste; apply the paste to oven surfaces and let soak overnight. The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime; and rinse surfaces well.
* Prevent clogged drains by using hair and food traps.
* To de-grease and sweeten sink and tub drains, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down drain followed by 1 cup vinegar; let bubble for 15 minutes; rinse with hot water. You might have to repeat the whole procedure more than once. This same mixture can be used prior to scrubbing your toilet bowl to deodorize and scour away grime.


Dry-cleaning: Okay, it's a service and not a product per se, but the chemical used to do it, perchloroethylene, has been linked to cancer as well as nervous system, kidney, liver and reproductive disorders. Even bringing dry-cleaned clothes home is risky. EPA studies have found that people who reported visiting a dry-cleaning shop showed twice as much perc in their breath, on average, as other people. EPA also found that levels of perc remained elevated in a home for as long as one week after placing newly dry-cleaned clothes in a closet. A Consumers Union study found that people who wear freshly dry-cleaned clothes, like a jacket and shirt, every week over a 40-year period, could inhale enough perc "to measurably increase their risk of cancer" - by as much as 150 times what is considered "negligible risk." Try wet-cleaning, CO2 technology, or even hand-washing.

Some of us, however, just plain want to buy premade cleaning products, and as I mentioned earlier, there are great products out there if this is your preference.  Another article from Healthy Child tells us what to look for in these products:

Look for Cleaners with One or More of the Following:

1. List of ingredients. I like the ingredients listed right on the package, but I also think it's fine if the package tells you how to easily access the full ingredient list online. If you have a favorite cleaning product that doesn't list its ingredients and want to investigate how toxic it might be, consult the Household Products Database (published by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services). Click HERE and enter your cleaner in the "Quick Search" in top of left sidebar or click on a Category.

2. No fragrance. If the ingredient list includes "fragrance," don't buy it. "Fragrance" is a trade secret, so companies don't have to disclose the individual ingredients, which means that any product with "fragrance" has one or more undisclosed ingredients. Note that "unscented" does not mean there is no fragrance. If you trust the company to not use toxic ingredients (such as phthalates) in its products, you might still consider purchasing a product with fragrance. However, I don't purchase products with fragrance period, just on principle. I think companies should disclose all ingredients used, and that means no fragrance.

3. No toxic chemicals. Check the ingredient list for harmful ingredients. Healthy Child Healthy World recommends avoiding nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), triclosan, ammonia, chlorine bleach, DEA, TEA, hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide, and sulfuric acid.. Here is another longer list of Hazardous Ingredients (published by Harvard's Green Cleaning Program) you can consult to see what kinds of things to avoid.

4. No scary warnings. "DANGER" is the strongest warning and any product featuring this warning should be avoided all together as safer alternatives almost always exist. "DANGER: corrosive" is used on products such as oven cleaners, drain cleaners, and some toilet bowl cleaners. "DANGER: harmful or fatal if swallowed" shows up on solvent-based cleaners. A less strong warning is "CAUTION," which even less-toxic or "green" cleaners often have. If you want completely harmless cleaners, you should probably be making your own.

5. Directions on label do not say "clean with potable water after using on a surface that comes in contact with food." Many years ago I noticed that this little tidbit was on my bottle of 409 cleaner, which I sprayed all over my kitchen counters and table. Was I rinsing the counters and table after cleaning with 409? No. Even after noticing this warning, I rarely rinsed these surfaces with water after cleaning with 409, even though my counter tops and table constantly came in contact with food. Maybe you are diligent enough to always rinse your counters and table with water after using a household cleaner, but I know I'm not, so I don't buy any all-purpose cleaner that includes this instruction.

6. Specific, verifiable claims about eco-friendliness. There's a lot of greenwashing going on these days. Specific and quantifiable claims which can be proven or disproved are more meaningful than vague, feel-good terms. Look for "phosphate-free" rather than "environmentally-safe," "phthalate-free" rather than "non-toxic," and "90% post-consumer content" rather than "eco-friendly packaging." Even better is a claim backed up by a third party (see next item). Many of the terms used on products -- green, natural, pure, biodegradable, eco-friendly, environmentally-friendly, non-toxic -- at this point are still unregulated and potentially meaningless.

7. Meaningful Eco-label. There are now a few third-party certifications out there for cleaners, including the EPA's Design for the EnvironmentEcoLogo, and Green Seal. You will have to look at the individual certification standards to decide if each is "green" enough for you. You could also consult Good Guide, which rates products according to Health, Environment, and Society (cleaners are under the category "Household").

8. Not tested on animals. Look for the Leaping Bunny logo.

9. Eco-friendly packaging. Look for cleaners with packaging that is made from recycled materials and recyclable. Cleaners that are concentrated and can be diluted are also good because they reduce packaging, energy for transportation, etc.

10. Trusted source. If you don't feel like doing a full-scale investigation whenever you need to purchase a cleaner, it can be nice to find a few brands (or stores) you trust and stick with those. I have been happy with the ingredients and effectiveness of Seventh Generation and Biokleen products. I've also posted about my favorite kitchenbathroom, and laundry cleaners. If you purchase your cleaning products at Whole Foods or another store with its own more-stringent standards for ingredients, you will avoid the most toxic cleaners.

Additional Resources:

She mentions "greenwashing".  It is for this reason that I advocate against buying mainstream companies' "green" cleaners, like those from SC Johnson, Unilever, Johnson and Johnson, etc.  These companies are not inherently green (AND they test on animals), but are trying to get on the bandwagon and swindle consumers.  I am very careful to buy from companies who I believe in, and these I do not!  For a great way to check up on the companies you buy from, check out this post.  There is also a link included there with information for contacting these companies to demand they change their ways.

I hope you find something useful here in deciding to green your cleaners!

My favorite freebie sites

Freebies 4 Mom has all kinds of deals, from free magazine subscriptions (just today is one for BabyTalk magazine), printable coupons, deals on free photo prints, etc.

BabySteals offers a different deal each day on a baby item.

KidSteals offers a different deal each day on a kid item.

Zulily is great for deals on items such as clothing, books and toys for moms and babies.


One Step Ahead, a site that is great for kids educational toys, babyproofing equipment, etc. (albeit rather expensive), has a daily deal you can sign up for.

One Step Ahead

No More Rack has eight daily deals, ranging from clothes to jewelry to electronics to toys - pretty much anything!  Sometimes they even have charity deals.

The nice thing about all of these sites is that you can have their deals delivered straight to your inbox - no visiting several sites every day to check the deals.  If you're interested in that day's deal - click over to them.  If not - delete!

Do you have any favorite deal sites you subscribe to?  Please share!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hoteling it with kids

We like to travel.  We like to do it cheaply and comfortably.  If you do too, here are some tips for traveling cheaply and comfortably with small children with regards to hotel rooms.

1) Get a room with a refrigerator and microwave.  That way you can pack your own snacks, lunches, whatever you'd like.  This really cuts down on meal costs.

2) Get a hotel that offers a free breakfast.  This also greatly reduces meal costs.  (We recently stayed at Hawthorne Suites, and they had a great hot breakfast buffet.)

3) Make sure the hotel has free parking (usually they do, but sometimes this is not the case in large cities).

4) If you have small children, you can either take your own pack and play, or if space is an issue, many hotels offer cribs/pack and plays.  However, I've ended up with some pretty crappy "cribs" - whether filthy or falling apart (slats missing and leaning) - so I would make SURE you know what you are getting by calling and talking to the staff.

5) Some hotels only have showers, so if you have a little one who takes baths, you may want to ask about this.

6) My husband likes to watch TV at night - sometimes WAY past our daughter's bedtime.  This can make it difficult for her to sleep.  If you can find a hotel with a half wall or some kind of partition, this can alleviate this problem.  (This is often a problem for us.  I'd love to come up with a portable room divider to take with us when we travel.  Suggestions?)

7) If pools are important to your kids, keep that in mind when searching.

8) If air travel is part of your plan, some hotels offer park and fly programs, where you can stay one night and park your car there for free for a pre-determined amount of time.  They also often offer free airport shuttles.  Make sure they have a car seat, or bring your own.

9) I book all hotels through  No matter where you stay, after 10 nights you get a night free.  Can't beat that!


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When you buy something, how do you really know what you're getting?

Here is a compilation of some great sites to check out products you normally buy on.

Good Guide - everything from personal care to pet care to apparel to electronics

Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database tests everything from car seats to teethers to jewelry (though the site isn't very user friendly and it may be difficult to find the particular item you want).

If you want to examine a company, here's a site to help you do that.

Hopefully this will help you in your quest to not only be "compassionate", but to "act".  In other words - you as a consumer are a powerful commodity.  Be careful what you buy - each purchase is a vote.  Make sure you vote for companies who practice environmental and social responsibility.  Make sure you vote for products that impose minimal impact on the environment and that were not tested on animals.  Make sure you vote for products that are healthy for us, as human beings, and won't give our children cancer or cause respiratory illnesses or hormone disruptions.  If more of us vote for these products, they will become more commonplace, as will the companies who make them.

Freebie Family Recipe Planning Offer

This came from one of my favorite freebie sites I am subscribed to -

Free Premium Food on the Table Lifetime Membership ($60/yr value)


Food on the Table

Enjoy a free Premium Lifetime Membership at Food on the Table (a $60 annual value) with code SPRINGFREE to plan unlimited meals each week for your family. It’s easy to signup by entering your email address and the code SPRINGFREE thru April 30. Pick your local grocery stores, pick the foods your family likes, enter any food restrictions, and then create a customized meal plan taking advantage of current sales at your local grocery store. This post contains affiliate links, please visit my Disclosure Policy. (image credit: Food on the Table)

Subscribe to Freebies 4 Mom for more Recipe Tips

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Would you feed your kids fake food?

Are you sure?

Most processed food is laden with artificial preservatives, dyes, and nasty things you definitely wouldn't choose to give your kids - yet you are, each time you offer them one of these "kids" foods (as they're often marketed towards them).  It has been suggested that these additives can interfere with a child's brain, learning processes, and modify their behavior.

One of my faves, Dr. Greene, provides a list of additives you should avoid:

1. Artificial Colors – anything that begins with FD&C (e.g. FD&C Blue #1)

2. Chemical Preservatives – Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Sodium Nitrate, Sodium Benzoate

3. Artificial Sweeteners – Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Saccharin

4. Added Sugar – High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Corn Syrup, Dextrose, etc

5. Added Salt – Look at the sodium content and choose foods with the lowest amounts.

Healthy Child also suggests that you "Read labels! Particularly keep an eye out for the following. Some of these cause allergy-like symptoms or are suspected carcinogens."

  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT).

  • Propyl Gallate

  • Sodium Nitrate/Nitrate

  • Sulfites (Sulfur Dioxide, Sodium Sulfite, Sodium And Potassium Bisulfite, Sodium and Potassium Metabisulfite)

  • Potassium Bromate

  • FD&C Blue No. 1

  • FD&C Blue No. 2

  • FD&C Green No. 3

  • FD&C Red No. 3 (Erythrosine)

  • FD&C Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine)

  • FD&C Yellow No. 6

  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

  • Acesulfame-K

With all kids are exposed to in the environment these days, it only makes sense to avoid purposefully giving them extra bad things to ingest (including these).

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kids' Cereals - Healthy?

I am a big cereal eater.  A bowl every morning for breakfast.  Perhaps it's Kashi, or Multigrain Cheerios, or, if I'm bad, every now and then I purchase a box of Raisin Bran Crunch.

I thank my mom for instilling in me a love of "healthy" cereals, while my husband noshes on his Lucky Charms (yuck!).  Growing up, we could pick ANY cereal we wanted - as long as sugar wasn't listed in the top three ingredients!  Do you know how hard this is???  So, we usually ended up going with Fruit and Fiber (no longer made, sadly).

But, perhaps what we perceive as healthy isn't, really, all that healthy?  Here I refer you to research conducted my one of my faves, the Environmental Working Group.

Based on percent sugar by weight, they came up with the 10 worst children's cereals.  Ready for this?

1Kellogg's Honey Smacks55.6%
2Post Golden Crisp51.9%
3Kellogg's Froot Loops Marshmallow48.3%
4Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch's OOPS! All Berries46.9%
5Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch Original44.4%
6Quaker Oats Oh!s44.4%
7Kellogg's Smorz43.3%
8Kellogg's Apple Jacks42.9%
9Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries42.3%
10Kellogg's Froot Loops Original41.4%

No biggie.  I don't know how anyone eats that crap anyway.  (By the way, in case you glanced over those numbers, for Honey Smacks, that translates to over half of that cereal's weight is sugar...  yep, that's right.)  As a matter of fact, according to EWG, "A one-cup serving of Honey Smacks packs more sugar than a Hostess Twinkie, and one cup of any of 44 other children's cereals has more sugar than three Chips Ahoy! cookies."  (Yes, one of my faves, Honey Nut Cheerios, is on that list - bummer.  Even my Multigrain Cheerios have 6 grams of sugar per serving - that's over 20% by weight!)

And, here are there recommendations for the BEST cereals to feed your kids, to get 'em up and at 'em in the morning...

  • Ambrosial Granola

  • Go Raw

  • Grandy Oats

  • Kaia Foods

  • Laughing Giraffe

  • Lydia's Organic

  • Nature's Path Organics

And in case these are hard to find, here are the best name-brand cereals:

  • Kellogg's Mini-Wheats:
    Unfrosted Bite- Size,
    Frosted Big Bite,
    Frosted Bite-Size,
    Frosted Little Bite

  • General Mills Cheerios Original

  • General Mills Kix Original

  • Post Shredded Wheat (all varieties)

  • Post Grape-Nuts Flakes

  • Quaker Oats Oatmeal Squares Cinnamon

  • Post Bran Flakes

  • Post Honey Bunches of Oats with Vanilla Bunches

EWG recommends looking for the following in your cereal:

  • Cereals with a short ingredient list (added vitamins and minerals are okay).

  • Cereals high in fiber.

  • Cereals with few or no added sugars, including honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, brown sugar, corn sweetener, sucrose, lactose, glucose, high- fructose corn syrup and malt syrup (USDA 2006a).

The Cornucopia Institute also has a great cereal scorecard, in which they place important emphasis on whether or not the cereal is organic.

A good rule of thumb is no more than 1 gram of sugar per 25 calories.  So I think I'll follow suite after my mom - I think I'll let my kids pick ANY cereal they want...  so long as it has 5 or less grams of sugar per serving!

Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

My grandparents always made these eggs when we were growing up.  I wanted to give them a go.  You need some white eggs, yellow onion peels (I used from 6 onions), Easter flower leaves (what my grandmother calls them - I know them as daffodils), and string.  Oh - and it takes 2 people to do them.

You wrap the leaves around the eggs, in whatever configuration you want, then tie a string very tightly around the leaf to hold it in place (this is why it takes two people).

Put all of the eggs in a large pot.

Add your onion peels.

Cover everything with water, and turn it up to boil.

Boil the eggs ten minutes, then - here's what you get!


Aren't they beautiful?




Have fun!  I'd love to know if you try it!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Better the World with Books

Hopefully you are instilling the love to read in your children.  We are slowly building a little library of children's books, and I always love to hear about others' favorites to add to our library.  I often do this by ordering them through Better World Books.

It's nice, because I can often find children's books in great condition for $3.50 or less, and shipping is free!

The nice thing about this company is that every time you purchase a book, a portion of each sale is donated to literacy organizations AND a book is donated to charity!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a... raptor?!?

A raptor, you say?  You mean, one of those prehistoric dinosaurs?

He he he - well, not exactly.

A raptor is a bird of prey.  You know - hawks, eagles, owls, falcons - things of that ilk?

Let me give you some examples.

[caption id="attachment_405" align="aligncenter" width="308" caption="Barred Owl"][/caption]


[caption id="attachment_409" align="aligncenter" width="303" caption="Red-tailed Hawk"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_406" align="aligncenter" width="308" caption="American Kestrel"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_407" align="aligncenter" width="312" caption="Barn Owl"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_408" align="aligncenter" width="448" caption="Red-shouldered Hawk"][/caption]

I am a birder.  The Random House Dictionary defines this as:

birder  bird·er

noun   bird watcher.

(and then-)

bird watcher

noun    a person who identifies and observes birds in their natural habitat as a recreation.

I have a life list of a little over 600 birds.  Respectable, but nothing to brag about.  My husband and I watched The Big Year last night.  I mean, I hardly compare to the bigwigs.  But, I enjoy it.  My dad is a birder.  He has birded my whole life.  I have always loved animals and nature, but didn't really identify myself as a birder until my senior year of college, when I took ornithology and began to keep a life list.  Then, it slowly became somewhat of an obsession.

However, my freshman year of college I began volunteering at the Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center (now known as the Southeastern Raptor Center), affiliated with Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine.  Although it was volunteer, I'll always consider it the best job I ever had.

I jumped in with both feet, thinking this was the coolest opportunity ever.  I mean - how many people got to cut, skin, weigh and measure dead mice and scrub bird poop out of water dishes each day?  Okay - so maybe THAT part doesn't sound the coolest...  but soon I was assisting with medical exams of incoming injured birds, and training a Harris's Hawk to fly on command for our education programs.  Now, THAT was cool.

After a while I was given the title Director of Internal Education and Volunteer Affairs.  It was my job to recruit, train and mentor new volunteers. With the exception of one paid employee, the center was entirely volunteer run.  And run it we did!  Those of us who were involved were really involved, spending every spare second at that place.  During our tenure a new center was built, and we moved from a small delapidated barn tucked behind the vet school to a new state of the art facility on a parcel of land all to ourselves.  It was fantastic.  We had a modest collection of permanent education birds, nonreleasable for one reason or another, that we regularly used to give programs to the public.  And we took in injured and orphaned raptors which we rehabilitated for the purpose of release.  As volunteers we were on call to pick up injured animals, we did initial assessments upon their arrival and administered emergency care if necessary, we gave medicines, wrapped wings, tube-fed, radiographed, toted animals to the vet school to see various specialists (eye, bone, etc.), and ran anesthesia during surgeries.  We performed necropsies when a bird didn't make it or had to be euthanized - oh, and we did that too.  We fed birds and exercised birds on creance lines to condition them for release.  We did it all - and it. was. awesome.

Then there was some drama, as the center moved to take over the housing, care and training of Tiger, the Golden Eagle flown at the football games, from a fraternity.  We successfully gained control of the eagle, and she was moved to the center.  So, now we were also in charge of flying her before all of the Auburn home football games (and Auburn fans are fanatical about their football...).

I was promoted to Director of Rehabilitation.  I loved it.  I was responsible for taking over the care of every rehabilitated bird once it was deemed releasable, and preparing it for release.  This meant managing its diet and conditioning it via flight cage time and a creance line in order to build its endurance.  And finally, once I concluded the bird was ready, actually releasing it back to the wild - the coolest part of all.

At some point the center underwent some internal turmoil, which resulted in a large percentage of the volunteer force, including myself, leaving, and ultimately the paid director being fired.  It was a chapter in my life I will always cherish, as I have such fond memories.

Anyway - this is quite a random post, and you're probably wondering why I may think you're interested in all of this, but 1) today is my birthday so I wanted to blog about something I loved, and 2) this is the precursor to two posts that will soon follow:

1) animal rehabilitation


2) falconry (the current director of the raptor center was my sponsor and also officiated my wedding!)

So - hopefully you enjoyed reading about these magnificent animals, nonetheless, and perhaps you'll find more relevance in these posts, which will be out soon...

Green Bean Casserole and Mac 'n Cheese

Green Bean Casserole (modified from Paula Deen)

2.8 ounce can French-fried onion rings
can cream of mushroom soup
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups sliced green beans
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup diced onions
1/3 stick butter
1 cup grated chedder cheese

Preheat oven to 350.  Melt the butter in a large skillet.  Saute the onions and mushrooms.  Boil the green beans in the broth for ten minutes, then drain.  Mix everything together along with the mushroom soup and onion rings.  Stir well, then pour into a greased baking dish.  Bake for 20 minutes, top with cheese, and bake ten minutes more.

Mac 'n Cheese  (Weight Watchers magazine)

1/2 pound whole-wheat macaroni
3 Tbsp. light stick butter
1 small onion, diced
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups fat-free milk
2 cups shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350.  Cook the macaroni according to package directions.  Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in saucepan over medium heat.  Saute the onion.  Add the flour and cook one minute.  Whisk in the milk, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes or until thickened.  Add the cheeses, salt and pepper.  Continue stirring until the cheese melts.  Remove from heat, and stir in the macaroni and tomatoes.  Pour into a greased baking dish and top with bread crumbs.  Bake 25 minutes.

8 servings, 5 points/serving