Saturday, June 30, 2012

Thinking of conceiving?

Of course there are tons of things you can do (and should be doing) after your first prenatal visit to ensure a healthy pregnancy, and once your baby is born that list only increases (I have a series of posts on printable fact sheets by age for baby's development and nutrition).

But, there are also things you can do to maximize your baby's health both before conception and before your first prenatal visit.

Conception of Baby - Sperm and Egg -

Click here for the entire article, or read below.

What One Can Do Before Conception for a Healthy Baby

Once a woman has decided to conceive, there are steps she can take to get a head start on producing a healthy baby before conception ever occurs. The first step should be to break any bad habits that could harm a developing embryo, as conception will occur before a woman knows that she is pregnant.

The next best thing one can do is adopt a healthy lifestyle. Begin a regular exercise routine now. A daily walk is a good habit to take up. A well-balanced diet is crucial. Aim for a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, proteins and calcium to ensure all nutrition requirements are met.

Begin taking a multi-vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid, which prevents neural tube defects in developing babies.

Visit a health care provider for a general health check-up. Informing them of the intent to conceive. Make sure all vaccinations are updated, as some sicknesses, such as rubella, can cause severe birth defects if the mother contracts it during pregnancy.

A female produces eggs when she herself is a fetus, so anything she is exposed to in her lifetime her eggs are also exposed to; keep X-rays and exposure to environmental toxins to a minimum (Vegetarian Pregnancy: Sharon Yntema).

The father can play a role in the health of the baby too. According to Sharon Yntema (Vegetarian Pregnancy), the sperm that will fertilize the egg begins its maturation process two months prior, so the father should maintain as healthy a lifestyle as possible in the two months leading up to conception.

What One Can Do Before the First Prenatal Appointment and Beyond for a Healthy Baby

The first step one normally takes once pregnancy is suspected is an at-home urine test. Once a positive pregnancy test is revealed, a prenatal appointment should be scheduled with a Certified Nurse-Midwife or an OB/GYN. From the positive pregnancy test until the first OB appointment, there are things a pregnant woman can do to maximize her potential for a healthy baby.

Begin taking a prenatal vitamin containing DHA, which is linked to brain development; however, do not overload on vitamins, as too many of some, such as A and D, can be harmful to the baby. Make sure to inform the midwife/doctor at the first visit of the vitamin being taking. Avoid caffeine as much as possible, herbal teas unless they are verified safe during pregnancy, and artificial sweeteners in excess.

During weeks seven to 12 the embryo's organs are forming, making this the most crucial time to avoid toxins (David M. Priver, M.D. "Your Pregnancy Guide" You and Your Family August 2009). Avoid changing the cat's litterbox, painting, or other known environmental toxins. Minimize exposure to chemicals in the diet by choosing organic foods when possible.

Aim to gain about 2.5 pounds during the first ten weeks (Eating For Two: Mary Abbott Hess and Anne Elise Hunt). Avoid any over-the-counter medications until consulting with a health care provider, as many are harmful to the embryo.

According to Hope Ricciotti, M.D. ("The Pregnant Palate" You and Your Family August 2009), iron and calcium requirements reach their maximum during the third trimester, so make sure to continue taking prenatal vitamins and getting enough calcium in the diet.

Following these tips are important, but most critical is establishing a regular prenatal routine with a licensed health care provider. Regular prenatal care is essential to a healthy baby.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Trash, trash, everywhere

We truly, sadly, have become a throw-away society.  We use a lot of unnecessary junk.  Just watch this video by The Story of Stuff project.  It's very impactful.

How big of a problem our garbage has become was brought home to me when I read this article, highlighting the sheer number of Albatross chicks dying from ingesting trash.  I couldn't get this article out of my mind.

Albatross Amid Garbage - How Stuff Works

That led me to write an article about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a raft of flotsam over twice the size of the US made up of our trash, floating around out in the Pacific Ocean.  Disgusting.

Which led me to write two more articles about plastic items that we use every day, and absolutely should not be.  Plastic water bottles (and see here for another post about how ridiculous it is that we're wasting money on something that is free and readily available to us, when it's not to much of the developing world) and plastic sacks.

Plastic Water Bottles - MorgueFile

We have to realize that WE are the only ones, through our actions, who can truly make a difference.  So - get yourself a Klean Kanteen and refill.  Buy yourself some reusable shopping bags and refuse to get another plastic sack (I LOVE my envirosax).  For the albatross.

Bloom Bag 4

Because "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

~ Margaret Mead

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sea turtles and Share the Beach

In the wake of BP's big oil spill, sea turtles need our help now more than ever! Additionally, they are faced with drowning in fishing nets not outfitted with TEDs (Turtle Exclusion Devices), because many refuse to use them and are granted the right not to through various loopholes.  And then, some fishermen even slaughter them when they do encounter them, because they are so angered at being dictated to that they have to use the TEDs. Growing up in Alabama, I am most familiar with the Sea Turtles of the U.S. Gulf Coast.  When in college at Auburn University, I had the chance to partake in a two month career development program/Spanish language class in Costa Rica.  While there, we visited Tortuguero National Park and I was blessed to see both a Green and Hawksbill sea turtle laying their eggs.  It was unbelievable.  Then, a few years ago, I had the chance to see a nest of Loggerhead and Kemp's Ridley turtles hatching!  It was awesome. Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles - Roberta Ress

All of our sea turtles are listed under the Endangered Species Act.  If you want to help, click here and check out Alabama's Share the Beach Program.

Save Sea Turtles: Speak out for stronger rules to prevent sea turtle drownings -- Act Now

And finally, this from Defenders of Wildlife:

It's a terrible way to die: Trapped in shrimp trawling nets, sea turtles desperately try to surface for air. But with no escape, these ancient sea mariners slowly drown.

Tens of thousands of endangered and threatened sea turtles are accidentally trapped by shrimp trawls each year. And without Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) -- special equipment that provides sea turtles an escape -- many face the grim fate of drowning at sea.

You can help save threatened and endangered sea turtles now -- speak out in support of the National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS) proposal to strengthen TED requirements.

Record numbers of sea turtles wash shore in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and 2011. When scientists looked closely at these turtles, they found that many likely died after being forced underwater by shrimp trawls.

TEDs are required on many shrimp trawlers. But a loophole in current regulations exempts certain types of fishing gear from these otherwise mandated sea turtle-saving devices. This exemption can lead to tens of thousands of sea turtles being accidentally captured with many drowned each year.

Federal officials have now proposed to close this deadly loophole by requiring all shrimp trawls to use TEDs -- and provide endangered sea turtles with a chance at recovery.

Close this deadly loophole for sea turtles: Urge federal officials to require life-saving TEDs on all shrimp trawls before the July 9th deadline.

Gulf shrimping remains the number one killer of sea turtles in the U.S. -- but TEDs have had an enormous impact on sea turtle recovery. Properly used TEDs have been shown to be 97% effectivein releasing sea turtles unharmed -- and they've allowed the critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle to slowly recover from the brink of extinction.

But TEDs also help other marine species by allowing fishermen to more narrowly target the shrimp they are trying to catch, reducing accidental catch of other fish like red snapper . They also help reduce harmful debris from shrimp nets, cutting down on expensive damage and leading to cleaner, more profitable catch for fishermen.

Please take action today to speak out for stronger protections for threatened and endangered sea turtles.  The deadline for comments is Monday, July 9th.

Thanks for all you do to speak out for sea turtles and other wildlife.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Backyard Wildlife 101

So, you want to attract wildlife to your backyard?

When it comes to creating a backyard wildlife habitat, here are the basics:

Food (including nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies)

Lazuli Bunting and Black-headed Grosbeak on feeder - Roberta Ress


Water Tub Fountain for Wildlife - Roberta Ress

Shelter (either natural or in the form of nest boxes) - check here and here for general info, and here for the first in a series of bird house plans if you want to build your own!

Chipmunk under rock - Roberta Ress

It is so much fun to feel the satisfaction of providing for your very own critters!  Have fun!


Eggplant Parmesan Sandwich

Yummy sandwich!

1 lb. eggplant

1 cup marinara sauce (I used store bought)

1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs or crushed croutons

1/3  cup shredded Parmesan

4 sub buns, sliced in half

Preheat oven to 400.  Spray a baking sheet.  Peel and thinly slice eggplant (1/4 inch thick).

Pour the marinara in one dish, and in another mix the breadcrumbs and half the cheese.  Dip each slice of eggplant first in the sauce and then the mixture, coating well.  Put the eggplant on the baking sheet, spray again with cooking spray (I like to use organic canola or olive oil), and bake 15 minutes.

Toast the buns, if prefer.  Warm any leftover marinara.  Place the eggplant on the buns, and top with marinara (and basil, of you like).

4 servings, each: 420 calories, 9 g fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 1,000 mg sodium, 73 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 13 g protein.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


A term that basically means companies use the desire of consumers to be more green against them for profit.  In other words, they market products that aren't really green at all in such a way that people purchase them, thinking they are being more ecofriendly.  An egregious practice, in my opinion.

When I originally wrote this article, in 2009, there were much fewer green options available on the shelves.  Two I could readily find were Seventh Generation and Method.  Today there are MANY options for consumers - just make sure you do your homework!


With the recent campaign toward green living, many companies have decided to jump on board and make their own version of an environmentally-friendly cleaning product.

Clorox has come out with a line called Green Works, and SC Johnson developed its own "Greenlist" label to "certify" products it manufactures as green (although this is controversial as many argue that since the label does not come from an independent agency it is meaningless; in other words, SC Johnson can slap the label on any product it wants if it increases sales).

Consumer Power

As a consumer, whenever you make a purchase, you are supporting the company that manufactured that product. If the company is an environmentally-conscious one, then you are making an impact towards conservation. If, however, the company as a whole is not environmentally-friendly, then your purchase is a vote against conserving the environment.

Do Your Research

Assess your purchase – is the company a wolf in sheep's clothing? Just because a company develops one green product line as a business ploy to appeal to environmentally-conscious consumers, it does not make them an environmentally-friendly company. Rather it could be interpreted as a scheming tactic to prey on consumers trying to spend responsibly.

If they really cared they would switch their company focus and make all of their products environmentally safe. The majority of these companies' profits come from their non-green lines, which are harming the environment. So by purchasing a product from their green line you are supporting a company that largely inflicts harm.

Support Companies Who Are Green Through-and-Through

Choose cleaning products manufactured by companies who pride themselves in sustaining environmental health. Two great ones are Seventh Generation, named after the Iroquois Confederacy's belief which states that we must consider the impact of our decisions seven generations from now, and Method. Seventh Generation can be purchased at Target, Walgreens and Kroger, to name a few. Similarly, one can find Method products at many locations, including Target; Bed, Bath and Beyond; Lowe's, and Publix. Not only are these companies environmentally responsible, but they do not test their products on animals either!

Seventh Generation's Products

  • Laundry: Detergent, bleach, fabric softener

  • Household Cleaners: All-purpose, glass, kitchen, bathroom, shower, carpet, toilet bowl

  • Paper Supplies: Toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, napkins, trash Bags

  • Dishwashing: Soap, detergent, gel

  • Feminine Care Products

  • Baby: Diapers, wipes, training pants

Method's Products

  • Laundry: Detergent, dryer sheets, fabric softener

  • Household Cleaners: All-purpose, glass, bathroom, shower, toilet bowl, floor, granite, steel, wood

  • Dishwashing: Soap, detergent

  • Personal/Hand Care: Body bar, body wash, hand soap

  • Baby: Bubble bath, shampoo, diaper creme, lotion

  • Air Fresheners

The next time you purchase a cleaning product for your home, support an environmentally responsible company and feel good about your buy!

Safe sunscreen for a cause

I already posted about how to locate a safe sunscreen.

Magento Commerce

Just wanted to share with you an offer that not only puts a great, safe sunscreen in your hands - Dolphin Organics - but when you purchase from then before June 30, they will donate 100% of the proceeds to a great group - Healthy Child Healthy World!

Healthy World Healthy Child - CHEC Creating Healthy Environments For Children

They use no palm oil in their product (currently destroying massive amounts of rainforests), and it rates a level 2 on the EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.  Go for it!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Apple-Cheddar Muffins

A nice mix of cheesy gooey sweetness...

A Southern Living kitchen-tested recipe.

Makes 12 muffins:

1 Tbsp. butter

1 medium sized Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup chopped sweet onion

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 Tbsp. baking powder

1/3 Tbsp. salt

1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar

1/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 cup milk

2 eggs

1/3 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Melt butter in skillet - add apple, onion and 1 Tbsp. sugar - saute 6 minutes.

Combine rest of ingredients - mix well.  Stir in apple mixture.  Pour into greased muffin pan, then sprinkle with chopped pecans.

Bake 14 minutes.

Per muffin: 208 calories, 10 g fat (4 g saturated), 9 g protein, 24 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 51 mg cholesterol, 1 mg iron, 441 mg sodium, 255 mg calcium

Friday, June 22, 2012

Free place mat (for kids or otherwise messy eaters!)

My daughter is still in a high chair, but eventually we'll need to make the transition to a real chair at the table.  Thinking ahead, I couldn't pass up on this awesome deal from Ink Garden.  A laminated place mat, personalized with her name and photo!

I chose the rhino dots pattern above, inserted her photo and name, and presto!  For only $3.99 shipping, she has a new place mat for when she's ready to join us at the table!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Great American Backyard Campout

Spend the night under the stars with National Wildlife Federation and take your family’s first step into a lifetime filled with healthy, outdoor fun.

On June 23rd, thousands of families like yours will come together for a night of exploration and fun as part of Great American Backyard Campout. All you need is a taste for adventure and a desire to share the great outdoors with your children.

The Great American Backyard Campout is Saturday, June 23, 2012

When you participate in the Great American Backyard Campout, you can support NWF’s programs to get kids outdoors as part of our Be Out There™ movement– dedicated to getting children outside so they can enjoy a lifetime of healthy, outdoor play. Step up and turn your family fun into an activity the whole family can rally around and earn prizes.

Click here for event details and to register, and here for tips for preparation and ideas to do with your kids.

Why Camp

2012 Great American Backyard Campout

Did you know that today, 25% of kids play outside daily—as opposed to 75% a generation ago? Be a part of the Great American Backyard Campout and set an example for children that will get them excited about the great outdoors. Join thousands of campers on June 23 (or you can choose another day that's convenient for you). Embrace an active, healthy outdoor lifestyle.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

To buy organic or not to buy organic?

Is that the question?  One of my favorite groups, the Environmental Working Group, has just updated their Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.  Maybe you're not ready to go all in when it comes to buying organic, maybe you don't have the budget for it...  whatever your reason, they've made it easy to focus on the items you really NEED to buy organic, and know what is okay to buy conventional.  After all, "Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day from the Clean 15 list rather than from the Dirty Dozen can lower your pesticide intake by up to 92 percent!"  Isn't that amazing?

Here is their list:

Dirty Dozen Plus™ (Buy these organic)








Red Pepper

Sweet bell peppers









– imported















– domestic




Green Beans

Green beans



Clean 15™ (Lowest in Pesticide - can buy conventional)





Sweet Corn

Sweet Corn












Sweet peas















- domestic


Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes










So, hopefully that will take out some of the guesswork when you go to the store.  I hang a small printout on my fridge with these items, and when I make my grocery list, I simply put an "o" beside the items I should buy organic, which makes it easy to remember when I get to the store.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gardening for Ivory-bills

In 2005 groundbreaking news was passed around the University of Arkansas one day as I was working away on my thesis up in my lab.  The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a bird not seen since the 1940s, had been rediscovered in the cypress swamps of eastern Arkansas.  It was the news of the decade - no wait, the CENTURY, if it proved to be true.

Image: Ivory-billed woodpeckers

I was part of the search team, deployed to two areas of Arkansas, the Cache and White Rivers, with one mission - to find and obtain evidence of the existence of the "Lord God Bird".  I did not see, hear, smell, taste nor touch the bird while in those steamy mosquito-laden woods that April, nor did anyone else gain any worthwhile evidence that season.

Today, I have mixed feelings.  Does the bird still exist, tucked away in the remote, rugged, woolly, swampy forests somewhere in the southeastern United States, eluding searchers (though some claim to have seen them, including my old Auburn ornithology professor, Geoff Hill)?  Or is this a case of wishful thinking?  I can only hope this majestic bird still flies out there, but I may never know for sure in my lifetime.

Anyway.  The point of this post is not, exactly, about Ivory-billed Woodpeckers at all, but rather about an article by Jesse Greenspan that I read in the September-October 2005 issue of Audubon.  Whether or not the bird exists, there is value in conserving the habitat it shares with numerous other creatures, including hundreds of birds, black bears, cottonmouth and water snakes, many species of amphibians, and numerous small mammals.  The cypress swamp is a unique habitat, declining drastically, that I was able to experience first hand, and, trust me - it is worth protecting.

So - in order to save the cypress swamp, one must preserve the cypress trees.  Old growth mystical looking giants rising out of the water, surrounded by their own "knees" - stumps rising to my kneecaps, a tell-tale sign of cypress.  And they are being logged at an alarming rate, for...  mulch.  That's right.  You can run down to the local Wal-Mart, Home Depot, or Lowe's, and for a couple of bucks walk out with a bag of wood chips that used to be one of these majestic living organisms to spread around your peonies.

PLEASE be mindful of your daily actions.  You, as a consumer, are powerful.  Choose pine bark at the store, or even better, rake up those pine needles and leaves around your yard and recycle them!  Don't buy cypress mulch!  For the Ivory-bills!  :)

Monarch Butterflies - miracles of the sky

I taught high school for 3 1/2 years after obtaining my MS, and while waiting on my husband to finish his PhD.  I had my classes build an outdoor wildlife habitat, and one of the things we did was obtain milkweed seeds from Live Monarch to plant in our habitat, in order to attract monarch butterflies.  You can actually get FREE seeds (well, please donate the recommended minimum of at least $3 to offset postage so that they can continue the work that they do) to raise your own milkweed!  Or, you can get plants for only $1!  What a deal!

Their goal: The education, involvement, assistance and acknowledgment of persons directly acting to benefit the Monarch Butterfly and various native creatures who have suffered a decline in their natural habitats.

Did You Know? Each year aproximately 180-280 million Monarchs start migrating, mate, lay eggs along the way and their children continue the round trip. Milkweed is needed along the entire route or they will not survive. It takes more than one milkweed plant for each surviving adult due to natural predators. That is an enormous ammount of milkweed! Most North Americans were very lucky to have seen even one Monarch Butterfly over the past few years.

Visit their site map, where you can learn all sorts of things, from how to fix a butterfly's wing to ideas for a monarch-themed birthday gift to care instructions for eggs and caterpillars.

Kids can adopt a FREE online butterfly, enter an art contest, or visit this site full of fun links.

What are you waiting for?  Check them out!