Thursday, August 30, 2012

Is your child on track?

As parents, we all want to make sure our kids are where they should be developmentally.  I found this great resource from Easter Seals called Make the First Five Count.  It is a free online screening tool that allows you to identify any developmental delays or conditions your child may have.

Click here to take the Ages & Stages Questionnaire.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A DHA review

The more I read about DHA, the more convinced I am of its importance in a baby/toddler's diet (AND a pregnant and nursing mama's).

In searching for the best DHA product for my own 22 month old daughter, I realized the sheer amount of products on the market, and that they vary greatly.  I decided to do a DHA review of companies willing to participate, chiefly to decide on which to give my own baby, but to share with you as well!

I set out to review the following:
Nordic Naturals Omega 3 Gummies

Nordic Naturals Children's DHA liquid

Nordic Naturals Children's DHA chewable softgels

Child Life DHA

Barleans Kids DHA

Oceans Kids Garden of Life DHA Chewables

Carlson Kids Chewable DHA

Spectrum Children's DHA

Dr. Sears DHA

Dr. Greene's TwinLab DHA

Smartypants DHA

The companies that responded included Nordic Naturals, Smartypants, ChildLife Essentials, and Barlean's.

My overview (in no particular order):

For each brand, I give a link to their site (above), a break down of the products I reviewed, and at bottom more information about each company.  For each product, I list the information printed on the package, the ingredients, nutrition information, cost (from Amazon), and my thoughts on the product.  I gave each to my 22 month old daughter and tried them myself, so that I could give her impression and my feedback.

Nordic Naturals -

Baby's DHA - liquid with vitamin D3; 2 fluid ounces/60 mls; suggested use: 1-4 mls daily, with food (5-10 lb: 1ml; 11-20 lb: 2 mls; 21-25 lb: 3 mls; 26-35 lb: 4 mls); nutrition info (per 4 mls): 36 calories, 340-1200 I.U. vitamin A, 250 I.U. vitamin D3, 5 I.U. vitamin E, 988 mg total omega-3s (328 mg EPA, 480 mg DHA, 180 mg other), 480 mg omega-9; ingredients: purified arctic cod liver oil, rosemary extract, d-alpha tocopherol, vitamin D3; no gluten, milk, artificial colors or flavors; $13.55 for 60 mls or $0.68 per serving.
I squirted 1 ml into my daughter's mouth, and she opened for more.  I proceeded to squirt 2 more mls (the total RDA) in and she happily took them down.  I then tried it - yuck!  Tastes very fishy.  But, it is meant to be taken with food, which would mask the flavor.

Nordic Omega-3 Gummies Tangerine Treats - with purified fish oil for children 2 years and up; 3 gram gummies; serving size: 2 gummies; nutrition information per 2 gummies: 20 calories, 4 g carbohydrates (3 g sugars), 10 mg sodium, 82 mg omega-3s: (41 mg EPA, 27 mg DHA, 14 mg other); ingredients: organic tapioca syrup, organic evaporated cane juice, fish oil (from anchovies and sardines), porcine gelatin, pectin, citric acid, natural flavor and color, sodium citrate, organic sucrose crystals, fumaric acid; no gluten, milk, artificial colors or flavors; $33.96 for 120 or $0.57/serving.
We each had one - very tasty.  Like gummy candy.  She wanted more!

Ultimate Omega Junior - great tasting chew or swallow soft gels, great strawberry taste, for ages five through teens; 500 mg; serving size: 2 soft gels; nutrition information per 2 soft gels: 9 calories, 1 g fat, 15 I.U. vitamin E, 640 mg omega-3's (325 mg EPA, 225 mg DHA, 90 mg other), 28 mg omega-9; ingredients: purified deep sea fish oil (from anchovies and sardines), soft gel capsule (gelatin, water, glycerin, natural strawberry flavor), natural strawberry flavor, d-alpha tocopherol, rosemary extract; no gluten, milk, artificial colors or flavors (possible soy); $24.36 for 90 or $0.54/serving.
We each tried one (chewing, not swallowing).  I bit down, and the oil squirted out of the capsule into my mouth - pleasant neutral taste (slightly strawberry-flavored).  I swallowed the oil, but was left with the rather thick capsule.  I just spit it out.  She happily chewed away, enjoying (and eventually swallowing) the capsule as well.

Note: Nordic Naturals also makes a Children's DHA (liquid, just like the Baby's DHA) but it is 8 ounces or 240 mls (although in the photo on Amazon it appears the bottle says 220 mls).  It costs $21.21, and the recommended serving is 2.5 mls, which comes to only $0.22 - $0.24/serving - the best bang for your buck!  I found this review on Amazon:
The label for the infant's DHA lists the amount of DHA and EPA per 4 ml (a serving size is 1 to 4 ml). The Children's DHA lists a serving size as 2.5 ml. When you correct you are getting the same amount of DHA and EPA per serving. But you get 8 ounces here as compared to 2 ounces. For way less than 4 times as much. What you are not getting is the higher levels of D3 in the infant. This one also has a strawberry taste that the infant does not. So if you are buying this for DHA and EPA, this is a much better per ounce price.

I did look up the nutrition info - per 2.5 mls: 23 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 7 mg cholesterol, 2123 - 750 I.U. vitamin A, 0-10 I.U. vitamin D, 15 I.U. vitamin E, 631 mg omega-3s (205 mg EPA, 313 mg DHA, 113 mg other), 300 mg omega-9; ingredients: purified arctic cod liver oil, d-alpha tocopherol, natural strawberry flavor, rosemary extract; no gluten, milk, artificial colors or flavors.

As a bonus, they are a LEED certified facility - one more plus in my book!  AND they are philanthropic partners with nine organizations, from an animal sanctuary to a food bank.  How cool is that?

Other N.N. kids' products include: Omega-3 stix, Children's DHA (liquid and soft gels), Omega 3-6-9 (with or without D) Junior, Ultimate Omega Junior, Nordic Omega-3 Fishies and Gummy Worms, Nordic Berries.


Fresh Catch Kid’s DHA – Best Fish Oil, Essential Fats, Fish Oil, DHA, Fish Oil Concentrate, Liquid Fish Oil , Omega Oils

Barlean's Omega Kids DHA- fruit punch flavored liquid, with vitamin D3; 8 fluid ounces/236 mls; suggested use: for kids from two through teens, take 1/2 teaspoon daily with a meal; nutrition information (per 1/2 teaspoon): 20 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 0-1143 IU vitamin A, 325 IU vitamin D, 3 IU vitamin E, 200 mg EPA, 275 mg DHA, 120 mg other omega-3, 40 mg linoleic acid, 35 mg other omega-6, 270 mg oleic acid, 220 mg other omega-9; ingredients: pure and pristine, molecularly distilled, pharmaceutical grade cod liver oil (harvested from deep-sea, cold water Norwegian cod), natural fruit flavorings, rosemary extract, ascorbyl palmitate, ascorbic acid, soy lecithin, sunflower lecithin, d-alpha tocopherol, vitamin D3; contains soy; $18.36 for 236 mls or $0.20 per serving.
I put 1/2 teaspoon of the liquid in a measuring spoon and gave it to my daughter.  She swallowed it happily, but didn't want more.  I tried it myself - ugh!  Fishy.  Very slight fruit punch flavor, but hardly noticeable.  Would recommend mixing with food as suggested.

Barlean's Omega Kids Swirl - lemonade flavored liquid; 8 fluid ounces/227 mls; suggested use: for kids from two through teens take 1 teaspoon daily, straight or with food or drink; nutrition information (per 1 teaspoon): 20 calories, 1.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 5 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbs (0 sugar),170 IU vitamin A, 2 IU vitamin E, 180 mg EPA, 180 mg DHA, 13 mg LNA, 140 mg other omega-3, 50 mg linoleic acid, 50 mg other omega-6, 345 mg oleic acid, 70 mg other omega-9; ingredients: purified fish oil (salmon and/or cod liver), water, xylitol, glycerine, gum arabic, natural flavors, citric acid, xanthan gum, guar gum, turmeric, vitamin E and ascorbyl palmitate; $11.19 for 227 mls or $0.26 per serving.
I put 1 teaspoon of the liquid in a measuring spoon and gave it to my daughter.  She swallowed it happily, but didn't want more.  I tried it myself - yum!  No fish taste, very lemony and sweet.  I really liked it - not sure why she didn't want more!  I did!

ChildLife Essentials -


Cod Liver Oil - strawberry-flavored liquid; 8 fluid ounces/237 mls; suggested use: 6 months through one year - 1/2 teaspoon daily; 2-12 years - 1-2 teaspoons daily; nutrition information (per 1 teaspoon): 45 calories, 5 g fat (1g saturated), 14 mg cholesterol, 870-1950 IU vitamin A, 0-40 IU vitamin D, 0-8 IU vitamin E, 1225 mg total omega-3 (600 mg DHA, 400 mg EPA, 225 mg other); ingredients: purified arctic cod liver oil, natural strawberry flavor; no gluten, casein, alcohol, artificial colors or flavors or sweeteners, no milk, soy, eggs, yeast or wheat; $15.26 for 237 mls or $0.16/serving.
We both took this directly from a spoon.  Very slight flavor, pleasant - mostly neutral.  We both would have taken more.

Pure DHA- natural berry flavored soft gels; 90 250 mg soft gels; suggested use: 6 months through 1 year - 1-2 capsules daily, 2-4 years - 4-6 capsules daily; nutrition information (for 3 soft gels): 5 calories, 0.5 g fat, 0-1 IU vitamin E, 90-195 IU vitamin A, 0-5 IU vitamin D, 185 mg omega-3 (60 mg EPA, 90 mg DHA, 35 mg other); ingredients: purified arctic cod liver oil, purified water, gelatin, glycerin, ascorbyl palmitate, lecithin, natural berry flavor; no gluten, casein, alcohol, artificial colors or flavors or sweeteners, no milk, soy, eggs, yeast or wheat (although the actual bottle says it contains soy); $7.38 for 90 soft gels or $0.16/serving.
I gave her one of these gels, and she said "candy" with a big smile on her face.  She chewed it up, swallowed it down, and asked for more.  I had one - again, pleasant, neutral taste with a slight hint of berry flavor.  The capsule was very thin - easy to chew up and swallow.

SmartyPants -

SmartyPants Vitamins logo

Children's All-in-One Multivitamin Supplement + Omega-3's and Vitamin D- serving size: 4 gummies; nutrition information (per 4 gummies): 36 calories (5 g sugar), 1107 IU vitamin A, 40 mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin D, 20 IU vitamin E, .05 mg thiamin, 1.33 mg vitamin B6, 267 mcg folic acid, 67 mcg vitamin B12, .01 mg pantothenic acid, 100 mcg iodine, 4.3 mg zinc, 101 mg omega-3s (57 mg EPA, 24 mg DHA), 11.7 mg choline, 20 mcg inositol; ingredients: organic cane sugar, organic tapioca syrup, gelatin, pectin, citric acid, natural flavors and colors, pantothenic acid; no wheat, milk, eggs, gluten, peanuts, shellfish, artificial colors or flavors, salicylates, or high-fructose corn syrup; $17.95 for 120 gummies or $0.60/serving.
We each had one.  Yum!  They are sweet, like candy.  We could have both had more!

A GREAT aspect of this company is that they are sponsors of Vitamin Angels - every time you buy their product, they make a matching 1-for-1 nutrition grant to a child in need.

All costs per serving were figured on a recommended serving size for a 22 month old.  Older kids may require a larger serving, thus the cost/serving would increase.

Most sources say it is unknown how much DHA a child should receive each day, but I did find one source, Evelyn Tribole MS, RD who recommends "children 2-3 years old get 433mg of DHA/EPA with a minimum of 145mg of DHA, 4-6 years old get 600mg of DHA/EPA with a minimum of 200mg of DHA and 7 years and older including adults get 650 combined with a minimum of 220 DHA. For pregnant women the DHA minimum is 300mg".  Another source (not recorded) suggested babies from 1-18 months get 32 mg/lb and children 18 months - 15 years get 15 mg/lb (of DHA + EPA).

My opinion

The best way to pack in the good stuff is with the Nordic Naturals Baby DHA.  It contains 741 mg omega-3's, including 360 mg DHA.  It also has vitamin D, which many infants should be receiving anyway.  It is on the pricey side, however, at $0.68/serving.  If you subtract out what you would have to pay for a vitamin D supplement, however, I'm not sure what it would bring that total to.  You'd want to make sure if you give your baby this you aren't over-supplementing with extra vitamin D from another source.

If you just look at value, the best value comes down to a close tie between Nordic Naturals Children's DHA ($0.24/serving, 631 mg total omega-3, 313 mg DHA), Barlean's Omega Kids DHA ($0.20/serving, 500 mg total omega-3, 275 mg DHA), and ChildLife Essentials Cod Liver Oil ($0.16/serving, 613 mg total omega-3, 300 mg DHA).  These are based on a 25 pound 22 month old when figuring serving sizes to compare.

Although the Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Gummies Tangerine Treats and the SmartyPants vitamins were the best tasting - like candy - they also had very little DHA (both under 30 mg), were very expensive, and had added sugar.  If you wanted a healthy "candy" for your kids, you could use these as a way to up their DHA intake (giving the recommended serving each day), but that would be expensive candy for the little bit of DHA they would be getting.

My daughter was happy enough to receive a flavored soft gel, treating it like "candy".  If your kid will go for this, better alternatives for healthy "candy treats" would be the Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega Junior ($0.54/serving, 640 mg omega-3, 225 mg DHA) or the ChildLife Pure DHA ($0.16/serving, 123 mg omega-3, 60 mg DHA).  The former is much more expensive, but packs more of a punch too.

One product I'm leaving out, not because it's not a good product but simply because it falls out somewhere in the middle, is Barlean's Omega Swirl.  At $0.26/serving, it delivers a respectable 500 mg total omega-3 and 180 mg DHA.  It is sweetened with xylitol.  But if you're looking for a less expensive yet tasty alternative to the sugary gummies, this would be a good choice.

However, not only was I interested in value, I was also interested in 1) toxins present in the fish (such as mercury), and 2) whether the fish were harvested sustainably.  This plays a large role in whether I will support a company.  It is also important that the company has their product tested by an independent laboratory (third-party tested), which I could confirm was the case for all four companies.

The NRDC provides information regarding mercury levels in fish.  Anchovies, sardines, salmon (wild-caught) and whitefish (=cod) are all on the safe to eat list (these are the species used in the above vitamins).

The Monterey Bay Aquarium provides information on sustainability by species.  Here's what I could find on cod, sardines, and salmon, though I was unable to locate any information on anchovies.  I was also informed that these lists were intended for the commercial fishery as related to whole fish intended for food, and the standards used here were far inferior to those used in fish oil supplements.  However, that means that at minimum they are as safe as the safest food fish, and according to their more stringent standards, one ingesting their products would be ingesting far fewer contaminants.

It is problematic that there are so many different names for the fish (for example, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Atlantic cod is often called scrod or whitefish.  The fish oil companies refer to it as skrei, which the Seafood Watch list doesn't even reference).  To the best of my ability, based on the location from which they are obtaining their cod (North Atlantic waters of Norway) and salmon (Alaska), and due to the fact that all cod caught in the northeast arctic by Norway and Russia are on the "best choice" or "good alternative" list on the Seafood Watch list, I assume these must mesh.

Nordic Naturals-

Every batch of Nordic Naturals fish oils is third-party tested for environmental toxins, including heavy metals, dioxins, and PCBs.  All fish oils used in NN products surpass the strictest international standards for purity and freshness.  They seem to have a sound foundation for sustainable fishing.  According to the materials they sent, "N.N. has built a direct relationship with the independent fisherman (in compliance with the Norwegian fisheries management system, which has been a model of sustainability for over 30 years) in order to manage the sourcing and production of our Arctic Cod Liver Oil.  Thanks to this relationship, fewer fish are brought to shore each day.  Since it is our mission to operate in an environmentally responsible manner, we work only with fisherman who utilize 100% of the Arctic cod for human or animal consumption."  They also are conscious of bycatch and use methods to reduce this as well as habitat destruction.  They are taking steps to minimize pollution as a result of their practices.  They use "only wild-caught, sustainably sourced fish".

They also provide Certificates of Analysis to consumers who are interested.  These are reports on the testing conducted on their products, including environmental toxin and heavy metal levels.  I like this transparency.

And right now:

Nordic Naturals® Back-to-School Promotion Supports Kids’ Health

Company partners with Healthy Child Healthy World

Watsonville, CA (July 31, 2012) Nordic Naturals®, leading manufacturer of omega-3 supplements, has announced a Back-to-School promotion that features selected kid-friendly essentials and benefits its 2012 Cause Partner, Healthy Child Healthy World.

Nordic Naturals and Healthy Child Healthy World are teaming up this year to send an important message to families everywhere: It is essential that we protect our children from harmful contaminants by creating healthy environments where they can grow, thrive, and flourish.

To raise awareness about this important issue, Nordic Naturals will donate a portion of proceeds from selected Nordic Naturals children’s products to Healthy Child Healthy World during its Back-to-School promotion, which will run from August through October.

One dollar of every bottle sold of the following products will be donated to Healthy Child Healthy World:

  • Nordic Berries™ – chewy, sweet-and-sour multivitamins provide 100% of the daily value of the most essential nutrients

  • Nordic Omega-3 Gummies™ – easy-to-chew, omega-3 tangerine treats for ages 2+

  • Children’s DHA™ – chewable, strawberry-flavored omega-3s support brain and visual function for ages 3+

  • Baby’s DHA – omega-3s for babies 5-35 lbs. with a measured dropper for easy addition to formula or food


"Our fish oil comes from only sustainably farmed anchovy and sardine sources (small fish to eliminate contaminants). Our fish oil supplier is a USP certified facility that uses a vacuum filtration process to filter out any possible toxins that are present in the small fish and we are able to guarantee our fish oil is certified toxin-free through third-party laboratory testing. Testing for specific metals, such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury and strontium are performed on all our fish oil before entering into gummies! Also, each type of finished fish oil is tested 3 times per annum for arsenic, lead cadmium, mercury and strontium. Also, we wanted to make a vitamin that was as planet friendly as it was kid friendly. Tuna populations are being fast depleted and small fish are considered the eco-friendly way to get your Omega3's. We only use sustainably harvested anchovy & sardine to source our omega 3 DHA and EPA, and SmartyPants are an excellent source of both of these important essential fatty acid fish oils."


"Barlean’s fish oil is accredited through IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) and we have a 5-star rating which is the best rating you can get. This basically means, Barlean’s fish oil is some of the freshest and purest fish oil available. Here is a link to our IFOS documentation on our website:"  Again - transparency to the consumer.

Barlean's was featured on Naturally Savvy for their sustainability practices:

"Barlean’s is our feature green company of them month, chosen for their commitment to sustainability and responsibility. Barlean’s is committed to adhering to sustainable fishing practices, preservation of endangered species, and governmental fishing laws. While ensuring that their fish oils are high quality (and delicious), they also take great care minimizing their environmental impact. They source their products off the coasts of Norway, Peru, and Alaska, adhering strictly to government regulations to prevent overfishing and endangering other species.

Barlean’s ensures that:

  • The commercial family fishery is 100% sustainable

  • All printed materials are up to 80% recycled stock

  • All packaging materials are biodegradable

  • Pressed flax “leftovers” are provided to local farmers to enrich milk and eggs with Omega-3

  • Only natural products are used in cleaning facilities and equipment

It’s no surprise that Barlean’s has been selected as one of America’s 100 Eco-Friendly companies. We love Barlean’s because not only do they give us products that are good for us, but we can feel great about buying them and supporting sustainable practices!"

ChildLife Essentials-

According to a ChildLife representative, "Regarding the NRDC - The NRDC follows FDA rules pertaining to mercury and utilizes the EPA’s level of mercury to be safe for human consumption of fish. Higher methylmercury levels can lead to elevated levels of mercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children and may harm their developing nervous system. These disabilities have been documented in ability to use language, to process information, and in visual/motor integration. U.S. EPA's 2001 Reference Dose (RfD) for methylmercury was calculated to protect the developing nervous system. Currently, U.S. EPA uses a RfD of 0.1 µg/kg body weight/day (ppm) as an exposure without recognized adverse effects.  The mercury levels in ChildLife Pure DHA/cod Liver oil is Not Detectable which is less than 0.007."

Regarding sustainable fishing practices:

"Norway has the strictest fishing practices with significantly higher standards than those that are set  by the U.S. Government and promoted on the MBA Seafood Watch list. This is what the MBA Seafood Watchlist says about the fisheries in Norway: Atlantic Cod, Iceland and Northeast Arctic (by Norway, Russia).

Most Atlantic cod in the U.S. is imported from Iceland and the northeast Arctic. Atlantic cod fisheries in these regions are well-managed and populations are increasing. The small portion of the fishery that uses hook-and-line gear is the "Best Choice" thanks to the low levels of bycatch and habitat damage.   A portion of this fishery is certified as sustainable to the standard of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

The cod used in ChildLife Pure DHA, meet and exceed the MBA Seafood Watch list for safe, and sustainable fishing, as well as toxicity levels.  The cod caught is considered an Atlantic cod, however the species is native to the arctic waters of Norway. Whitefish would be the closest comparison, which is rated "Best Choice" in the  MBA Seafood Watch list category."

Based on the above, for my child I would select either the Nordic Naturals Children's DHA, the Barlean's Omega Kids DHA, or the ChildLife Essentials Cod Liver Oil.  They each provide a respectable amount of DHA in a daily serving, are reasonably priced, use sophisticated extraction processes with virtually no contaminants present (as evidenced by the third-party reports which you can access), and, according to each respective company (and to the best of my ability what I can reconcile with the Seafood Watch information) participate in sustainable fishing practices. I would feel good supporting any of these companies, and am confident I am getting a good value in purchasing any of these three particular products for my own daughter.

Samples were provided to me by all four companies for review purposes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Starfish Rescuers

I have a collection of great stories and quotes that I have amassed through time, and would like to share them with you.  Hence, the start of a new series, "Words for Wednesday".

To kick it off, I'll share my favorite story of all time.

The Starfish Rescuers by Jeff Roberts

One morning after a particularly fearsome storm, a man arose early and decided to go for a walk along the sea. As he neared the beach, the early riser saw an old man in the distance slowly, yet purposely, ambling down the shoreline. As he watched, the old man stopped, picked something up, and tossed it into the ocean. Then, the old man slowly straightened himself up, walked several more feet, stooped down, and once again picked up something, which he tossed into the sea.

Intrigued, the early riser moved closer. As he drew near, he realized suddenly what the old man was doing. Littered all down the shoreline, as far as the eye could see, were thousands upon thousands of starfish cast out from the ocean by the fury of the now-passed storm. As the early riser watched, the old man bent down, gently picked up a small, helpless starfish, and tossed it back into the ocean. He repeated the same process every few feet.

After a minute or two, the early riser approached the old man. "Good morning, sir" he said. "I couldn't help notice what you're doing. I commend you for what you're trying to do, but the storm has washed up thousands of starfish on this beach. You can't possibly save them all! What possible difference do you hope to accomplish?"

The old man paused for a long time, pondering the early riser's question. Finally, without saying a word, he bent down, picked up a starfish, and tossed it far into the ocean. "It made a difference to that one," he said.

Now, it was the early riser's turn to be silent. As he looked at the old man with growing admiration, it seemed as if the years fell away, revealing someone wise, noble, and strong enough to stand up to any challenge. Deeply moved, the early riser struggled for the right words, but none would come. At last, he too, bent down, picked up a starfish, and tossed it into the ocean. The old man, watched intently. He spoke not a word, but his nod and a wink said all that was needed. "Well," the early riser said as he looked out at the thousands of starfish stranded on the beach before them, "It looks like we've got a lot of work to do."

Just then, the two men realized they were not alone. Others out for their Saturday morning walks and jogs had witnessed what had taken place. When they saw what the old man and early riser were attempting to do, they too bent down and picked up starfish of their own. Soon, the morning sun shone down upon hundreds of good Samaritans - young, old, black, white, rich, and poor; each working diligently to save as many starfish as he or she was able. What had started out as one, had grown into an army of kindness.

Some time later, an amazing thing happened. As the last starfish was tossed into the ocean, a spontaneous cheer broke out among the starfish rescuers. People hugged and high- fived each other. Some exchanged names and numbers and promised to stay in touch. Others walked off together to share breakfast with new friends. To a person, each one felt they had done something important and had made a difference.

That morning, in the span of only two hours, five thousand starfish were saved, and hundreds of lives were transformed. All because one person cared enough to try to make a difference.

I love this story.  It highlights why we should all care.  Why we should all make a difference.  Why we should all do something.  Because even if you make a difference in the life of ONE - one person, one animal, one being - you made a difference.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Meatless Monday - Pizza Bites

I recently made these for a potluck, and they were a big hit.  I had some fillo dough leftover from another dish, and found the recipe right on the box!  (Athens brand)

Pizza Bites (Makes 24)

4 cups tomatoes, finely chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

cooking spray

20 sheets fillo dough (9x14), thawed

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

2 cups mozzarella, shredded finely

1/2 cup parmesan, grated

Mix tomatoes, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Coat 2-12 tin muffin pans with cooking spray.  Lay out a sheet of wax paper, and on it layer 5 fillo sheets, lightly coating each with cooking spray.  With a sharp knife, cut the fillo (5 sheets thick) into 6 squares - cut it once lengthwise and then twice across the width.  (Or use a biscuit cutter to cut out 6 rounds.)

Press each square of 5 layered sheets into a muffin cup.  Repeat 3 times to make 24 tarts total.  Bake in oven at 350 for 8 minutes.  Spoon 2 tablespoons tomato mix in, sprinkle with basil, top with 1 tablespoon mozzarella.  Bake 3-4 minutes more, until cheese melts.  Sprinkle with parmesan.  Serve warm.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Kid-friendly programming

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you do not show TV to your kids until they are at least 2 years of age.

A favorite author of mine, Dr. Jenn Berman (author of Superbaby) recommends (and for good reason) that you hold out until age 3.

I had every intention of waiting until at least 2.  The verdict was still out beyond that.

Intentions are often good, but...

My husband was resistant.  As a TV addict, it was futile trying to convince him to turn off the TV whenever our daughter was in the room.  He saw no harm in her watching cartoons, citing we both did it growing up and, look how great we turned out!

He also preached the "educational value" in good children's programming, and thought she was missing out.  (That's the argument everyone uses, by the way, but extensive research has shown they have little educational value, even the good ones.)  Then my mom started in too.  I mean, I grew up on Sesame Street, they taught me all I know, yada yada yada.  (Just kidding about that last part.)  So I went to our pediatrician, husband in tow, hoping she'd side with me and the AAP and all the research I'd read.  And what did she do?  She towed the party line.  She gave the answer so many give, the whole "okay in moderation" thing.  Argh.  Not what I wanted hubby to hear.  So what did I do?  After holding out for 18 months of zero TV for my baby girl, I caved.  I decided I'd made it most of the way there, and really - could a little SuperWhy! really be all that bad?

Fast forward 4 months.  I now have a 22 month old who is ADDICTED (like, asking to watch 5 times a day, even after she's already watched the same 4 DVDs we own 5 times that week) to the Wiggles.  And I've slipped into the oh-so-easy routine of simply popping the disc in and giving her some sliced kiwi in the living room while I escape to the kitchen to clean up the breakfast mess.  And I feel - guilty.

Do I wish I would've stuck to my guns?  Maybe...  It's not so much that I hate that she's watching TV, but maybe that I've become a bit too apathetic.  I don't think TV has to be a terrible thing, but it should be used in the most educational way possible.  I do only limit her to 1 (VERY rarely 2) hours a day of TV, and feel okay with that.  But, seriously?  How much can her little brain be getting stimulated by the same four guys doing the same ole song and dances for the 46th time?

So, I am making it my mission to at least revisit the idea of her TV watching to make it as educational experience as possible.  I mean, the kid is only awake for 10 hours a day - this hour is very important!  I am going to do my best to phase out the Wiggles (at least maybe only letting her watch once a week) and turn on more stimulating programming - something different and new each day!

And for this, I turn to PBS.  In our area, between the two stations we get, they have a GREAT morning line-up.  It goes like this:

6:00 (heaven forbid we're up that early): Curious George

6:30: Cat in the Hat

--- and now the really good stuff starts ---

7:00: SuperWhy!

7:30: Dinosaur Train

8:00: SuperWhy!

8:30: Dinosaur Train

9:00: Word World

9:30: Word World

10:00: Sesame Street

And that gets us through 11:00, which is nap time!  The point is - from the time we get up (usually 7:00) until the time she goes down for her nap, at any point during that 4 hour period that we're not going for a bike ride, eating breakfast, playing in her room or swinging outside, we can turn on PBS and find a commercial-free, quality program (after screening a few shows, I've decided for her age these above are my #1 picks - Dinosaur Train, SuperWhy!, Word World and Sesame Street).

So, from now on, whenever that hour of TV watching falls, I will do my best to make sure it is tuned in to one of these!

And to do more, check out their website just for kids!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Captivity for marine mammals - what do you think?

Many of us grew up with an iconic marine mammal television star - Flipper, Willy, and now there's Dolphin Tale.  Several of us have probably seen these creatures housed in captivity, at a place such as Sea World.  And some of us are probably familiar with a case in which a trainer has been killed by one of these captive animals.

Many emotions are likely involved with these captive animals - whether emotions of excitement and awe, as you get up close and personal with them, only a slab of glass between you and them as you stare into their eyes - or emotions of sadness and guilt as you get up close and personal with them, only a slab of glass between you and them as you stare into their eyes.

I must admit, recently on a trip to San Diego, as I found I had a day to kill and could take my young daughter anywhere I wanted to kill it, I had to remind myself of all the reasons I should NOT go to Sea World.  Instead, we spent the day at the coast, looking at wild harbor seals and playing in the sand.  I was tempting, but I couldn't justify it.

I recently watched The Cove, and it broke my heart.  Thousands of dolphins are being slaughtered in Taiji, Japan.  "But in a remote, glistening cove, surrounded by barbed wire and “Keep Out” signs, lies a dark reality. It is here, under cover of night, that the fishermen of Taiji, driven by a multi-billion dollar dolphin entertainment industry and an underhanded market for mercury-tainted dolphin meat, engage in an unseen hunt. The nature of what they do is so chilling – and the consequences are so dangerous to human health – they will go to great lengths to halt anyone from seeing it."  (To watch it, click here.)  If you want to do more, click here and here.

The mastermind behind this, Ric O'Barry, is also outspoken against keeping marine mammals in captivity.  As is PETA:

"SeaWorld confines orcas—who often swim up to 100 miles a day in the wild—to concrete tanks that, to them, are the size of a bathtub. They are also forced to perform meaningless tricks for "entertainment." SeaWorld strips animals of everything that is natural and important to them—their families, the open ocean, and their happiness.  Animals trapped at SeaWorld often die prematurely from stress and other causes related to captivity, but you can help them today.  Explore to learn more about the abysmal record SeaWorld has, including the premature deaths of countless orcas—and say "No!" to SeaWorld. You can help by refusing to support this cruel industry, which uses animals to make a hefty profit. Please sign the letter to urge SeaWorld to release its animals to coastal sanctuaries and never purchase tickets to SeaWorld."

To distill it down - if you are opposed to these animals being kept in captivity, sign this letter and never purchase tickets to places that display them.  If you are not opposed to it, well - I hope you've read all the supporting evidence and thought it over.  If you have and still can't see reason to oppose it, that is your choice!



Sunday, August 19, 2012

My new obsession - cookie dough hummus

I remember when I first found this recipe online.  I mentioned it to my dad, and got a look of disgust.  It does sound odd - I mean, hummus - spicy, salty, anything but sweet, right?  Wrong.

This stuff is DA BOMB!  It is the perfect dessert.  Sweet, with chocolate (if you so desire), and - wait for it - healthy!  Seriously!  I took it to a potluck, and EVERYONE wanted the recipe!

Cookie Dough Hummus

1 1/2 cups chickpeas (if canned, drained and rinsed)

1/4 cup cashew butter

1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk

1/4 cup honey

2 packets Splenda (or similar sweetener)

3 tablespoons ground flax

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup chocolate or carob chips (optional)

Process all ingredients (except chocolate chips) in a food processor - then stir in the chocolate chips.

Serve with animal crackers, graham crackers, or slices of fruit.

I promise - you'll love it!

Manatees from A to Z

Manatees!  My favorite marine mammal.

Note - special section for kids at bottom of post

I wrote two articles about them - one regarding their natural history, and the other their conservation.  I hope you'll check them out!

Manatee -

 I have had the amazing opportunity to snorkle with them, and let me tell you - there are few experiences as awesome as being side by side with an extremely large yet extremely gentle marine mammal like this.  And even more amazing to me is that they seemed to seek out human company.  At times they would swim into the "off-limits" zone (meaning off-limits to human divers, to afford them a peaceful human-free zone when they wanted it), only to turn around and come back to me once they realized I was no longer with them!

Manatee -

If you are interested in manatees and conserving them, you must check out this organization.  I hope you will sign up to receive their action alerts, helping manatees whenever possible.

Save the Manatee Club logo

They also have the option to "adopt" a manatee - these make great gifts!

Manatee Kid Zone

The Save the Manatee site has a great page just for kids!  And another for educators!  Whether you're a teacher looking for classroom materials, or a parent looking for fun activities to do with your kids, you're sure to find something usable!  Here and here are links to a bunch of free manatee stuff.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Food friendly fish


Sustainable Fish Options for the Summer Dinner Table


We often play on the surface of our planet, and usually this is just our local environment, so it is easy to forget that we have so many different ecosystems on this globe! There is nothing like swimming with leopard sharks, sting rays, huge bass and other marine life to remind you of the beautiful diversity within our oceans. As close as I live to the beach I don’t make it half as much as I would like to, but this month I have been fortunate to have several close encounters with a slew of fishy friends at both the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the USC Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island. They have reminded me of the impact that we have on the oceans as fish consumers and pollution makers.

It was a treat to be so close to the marine life. We got to watch them, touch them, and swim along side of them which was very cool. At the Wrigley Institute, Marine Researchers shared details about their discoveries and connected the links between our level of interconnectivity with the oceans (whether we are aware of this or not). Both of my kids were in total awe of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. My daughter even started to put two and two together, making associations between what she was seeing, our pet fish “Jewel,” and the sauced up filets that usually end up on her dinner plate. She kept asking me “Mommy, can we eat that one?” which got me thinking about the choices that I make when selecting my seafood for meals.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great snap shot resource called the Seafood Watch which offers suggestions for “Best Choices” in fish to combat destructive fishing and poor farming practices. On their website you can learn more about the differences between wild-caught and farmed fish and the sustainability issues related to both. DOWNLOAD one for your region today, or get their APP for iPhone or Android to stay in the know while on the go.

Turtle at Monterey Bay Aquarium Monterey Bay Aquarium Fish Monterey Bay Aquarium Touch Tank Monterey Bay Aquarium Welcome Sign Leopard Sharks in the cove on Catalina Island Research Tanks at USC Wrigley Institute

Turtles and tots - which will you help?

Two organizations are having fundraisers right now, and I wanted to share those with you in case it is something you'd like to support.

First, Mercy and Sharing is having a t-shirt drive called "Promise 126" to raise funds for the 126 orphans in their care.

tshirt front

There are 126 orphans at Mercy & Sharing Village in Haiti. We have made a promise to each child to care for them and raise them. Mercy & Sharing provides food, shelter, education, therapy, education, and LOVE for each child.  Our latest project—"Promise 126"—gives you a new opportunity to help us care for these precious kids. And you'll get to proudly wear this colorful "Promise 126" t-shirt design.  We need at least 126 donors to donate $39.11 for each t-shirt. From that gift, $25.00 will go directly to helping these orphans. WE HAVE JUST 21 DAYS TO SELL 126 T-SHIRTS.

Order your "Promise 126" t-shirt today »

Second, HerpDigest is trying to raise funds to keep the site going through the sale of books, such as this one:


An excellent, must have for every turtle owner and every turtle & wildlife rehabilitator

Covers everything from general information such as: turtle anatomy, diet, stress, hibernation, brumation, outdoor and indoor enclosures and more --- to over 250 pages on shell fractures, tube feeding, bacterial and viral diseases, parasites, diagnostics, antibiotics in chelonians, and with supporting photographs. The author took great time and care to translate her and others experiences in turtle rehabilitation without the jargon, so all turtle owners enthusiasts can understand.

Full-color photographs. (2012) 393 pp. Softcover, by Amanda Ebenhack  $39.85 plus $6.00 S&H see below on how to order (Overseas email us at for S&H price.)

Help HerpDigest Survive. Buy a book, an important book, add on a small donation. $5.00? $10? $20? more. Longer list of other books available upon request. Book is $39.95 plus $6.00 S&H. Use PayPal our account is  THE EXACT SAME PRICE AS AMAZON, BUT REMEMBER ALL PROFITS HERE GO TO HERPDIGEST NOT AMAZON SHAREHOLDERS.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dairy cows

I sure do not want to be a hypocrite.  Let me start this post by stating I AM NOT VEGAN.  I deeply admire those who are, and aspire to be.  What then, you ask, is holding you back?  This is going to sound extremely shallow and selfish, but honestly?  Time.  I have not had the time to build a cache of vegan recipes.  I feel like it will take a lot of preparation, which I also worry I do not have time for.  However - I am slowly working on using less dairy in my cooking (substituting almond milk for cow's milk, for example), in the hopes that I can always work towards a more vegan lifestyle.  I was under the false impression until recently that milk from organic cows was milk from humanely-treated cows.  Not so.  So after spending, I'm sure, thousands of dollars on organic milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and other dairy, I am now at a crossroads.  Now that I can't feel good about eating my organic dairy, I feel much more pressure to make the transition.  Why, you ask?  Here is the long explanation - read as much as you are willing.

From a PETA email:

Did you realize that nearly all cows used for milk are born with tissue that should develop into horns? That's really bad news for cows born into the dairy industry, which tends to pack animals into cramped spaces where horns aren't easily accommodated. So can you guess what happens to the cows?

In order to keep the horns from developing, many farmers press red-hot irons into their heads and burn this sensitive tissue out. While this happens, the calves bellow and thrash in pain. For grown cows whose horns have already fused with their skulls, farmers may use blades or hand saws, cutting or sawing away until the horns come off, often leaving gaping, blood-squirting holes.

Calves rarely receive anesthesia for the hideously painful dehorning procedures and may suffer in agony for hours after the mutilation occurs. Full-grown cows can take up to three months to heal. The calves don't understand why they're being tortured, and they can't do anything to lessen the intense pain.

There is a solution, and it's simple: The dairy industry can breed for naturally hornless cows, as most of the beef industry already does. But the most effective way for consumers to save cows from the barbarity of factory-farming is by choosing from the many readily available vegan milks, ice creams, and cheeses instead of those that come from suffering calves and cows.

Be an informed consumer. Watch PETA's new video about dehorning now, share it with others, and pledge to go vegan today.

Many people are surprised to learn that nearly all cows used for milk are born with tissue that will develop into horns. That's because most farmers remove the sensitive horn tissue or the horns themselves from the cows' skulls using searing-hot irons, caustic chemicals, blades, or hand saws.

Animals often struggle violently and have to be restrained manually or in a head bail (a metal apparatus for restraining a cow by the neck) during the painful dehorning process, which is frequently performed without anesthetics or painkillers and results in severe pain that lasts for hours and can become chronic.

Click here to watch some video (warning - disturbing to watch).

This procedure is extremely traumatic to young calves, who are often just a few weeks old when their horn buds are burned or cut out of their heads. Older cows fare even worse. Dehorning in mature cattle usually requires amputation of the horn, which has already attached itself to the skull. Tools used for this procedure include saws, sharp wires, or gruesome guillotine dehorners, which also slice off the surrounding skin. Horn removal in older animals can lead to post-operative problems of hemorrhage, tissue necrosis, bone fracture, sinusitis, and even death. The wound caused by this amputation can take three months or more to heal.

Farmers are fully aware that dehorning is painful, and it is up to the industry to phase out this excruciating mutilation. One simple solution is to breed for naturally hornless cows. A single gene determines whether or not a cow will have horns, and this approach has proved effective in the beef industry.

However, the easiest and most effective way for consumers to save cows from the misery of factory farms is to stop buying cow's milk and other dairy products and choose instead from the dozens of vegan milks, cheeses, yogurts, coffee creamers, and ice creams available in grocery stores. Browse PETA's website for hundreds of free vegan recipes, and pledge to be vegan today!


Cows produce milk for the same reason that humans do: to nourish their young. In order to force the animals to continue giving milk, factory farm operators typically impregnate them using artificial insemination every year. Calves are generally taken from their mothers within a day of being born—males are destined for veal crates or barren lots where they will be fattened for beef, and females are sentenced to the same fate as their mothers.

After their calves are taken away from them, mother cows are hooked up, several times a day, to milking machines. These cows are genetically manipulated, artificially inseminated, and often drugged to force them to produce about four and a half times as much milk as they naturally would to feed their calves.

Animals are often dosed with bovine growth hormone (BGH), which contributes to a painful inflammation of the udder known as "mastitis." (BGH is used widely in the U.S. but has been banned in Europe and Canada because of concerns over human health and animal welfare.) According to the industry's own figures, between 30 and 50 percent of dairy cows suffer from mastitis, an extremely painful condition.

A cow's natural lifespan is about 25 years, but cows used by the dairy industry are killed after only four or five years. An industry study reports that by the time they are killed, nearly 40 percent of dairy cows are lame because of the intensive confinement, the filth, and the strain of being almost constantly pregnant and giving milk. Dairy cows' bodies are turned into soup, companion animal food, or low-grade hamburger meat because their bodies are too "spent" to be used for anything else.


Male calves—"byproducts" of the dairy industry—are generally taken from their mothers when they are less than 1 day old. Many are shipped off to barren, filthy feedlots to await slaughter. Others are kept in dark, tiny crates where they are kept almost completely immobilized so that their flesh stays tender. In order to make their flesh white, the calves are fed a liquid diet that is low in iron and has little nutritive value. This heinous treatment makes the calves ill, and they frequently suffer from anemia, diarrhea, and pneumonia.

Frightened, sick, and alone, these calves are killed after only a few months of life so that their flesh can be sold as veal. All adult and baby cows, whether raised for their flesh or their milk, are eventually shipped to a slaughterhouse and killed.

The good news is that removing dairy products from your diet is easier than ever. Today there is a multitude of nondairy "dairy" products on the market, such as soy, rice, and almond milk and soy ice cream. Check out a list of our favorite dairy and meat alternatives.

And, please, visit this link.  As a mother, this really tugged at my heart strings.

So - are any of you vegan?  Or do you have some tried-and-true vegan recipes at least?  If so, please comment and share!  Help me move towards a more vegan lifestyle!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why I am a vegetarian (and why, sometimes, I'm not)

I am a vegetarian.  I have been since I was 15 - that makes it 17 years now.  So - for over half of my life I have abstained from eating meat.  Well - mostly.  But more on that in a moment.

I have always had a soft heart for animals.  My heart bleeds when I hear a story about animal abuse.  So it was only natural that, as I grew older and learned where the meat I ate came from, I was turned off by it.  Around the age of thirteen I started toying with the idea of giving up meat in my diet, but my mother was adamantly opposed to it, worried that her growing daughter would miss much-needed nutrients and not develop properly.  However, as time went on, my conviction grew, and finally she agreed to let me try it - with one caveat.  I had to see a dietician in the early stages, to make sure I was eating properly.

So, at age 15, in the year 1995, I decided that my New Year's Resolution would be to cut meat out of my diet.  Gradually at first - I planned to allow myself meat 2-3 times per week.  However, upon making my resolution known, I never again felt the need to eat it, had a craving for it, so just like that - cold turkey - I became a vegetarian.

I did it because I didn't want to be part of the populace who inflicted cruelty upon animals.  Not because I think it is cruel to eat animals; I have no problem with people who humanely (and legally) harvest animals from the wild for meat, or who raise meat in a humane and sustainable way to eat.  However, the meat produced for our grocery store shelves is anything but raised this way (a series of posts on that to follow soon).  And I did not want to play a role in their horrible treatment.

After seventeen years of being a vegetarian, reading more on the subject, earning two science degrees, and becoming generally more worldly than I was when I was fifteen, I have become further convinced that this lifestyle is the right way to go, and have more reasons as to why.

1) Whether cage confinement of chickens, mass crowding on feedlots of cattle, poor treatment of pigs, or lack of compassion towards dairy cows, the conventional method for raising mass amounts of meat for human consumption is cruel and inhumane.

2) Raising feed animals is extremely environmentally destructive.  Some examples are in order (with sources at the end of the post):
Livestock accounts for as much greenhouse gas emissions as transportation.


The sheer amount of pollution coming out of feed lots is devastating to the local environment (air and water).


The production of food animals consumes a vast amount of natural resources (such as water, fossil fuels, and topsoil).


Vast tracts of rainforest are being clear-cut to make room for raising food animals, erasing valuable wildlife habitat and causing species endangerment and extinction.


Switching to a plant-based diet is the single most important thing one person can do to help the environment.

2)  Antibiotics given to animals are creating drug-resistant strains of bacteria.

3) Meat is an extremely inefficient way to feed people.  There is enough food on this planet (currently, at least, though if we continue growing at this rate...) to feed the entire population.  However, there are the haves and the have-nots.  Many survive on one meal a day, if they are lucky.  And they do not have meat in that meal.  Few survive on a diet consisting largely of meat.  And it has been reported that you could feed ten people on the amount of grain it takes to produce enough beef to feed one (not to mention the amount of water livestock uses, when water is so precious and scarce in many places).  When there are so many in this world who are starving - how can one consciously eat meat?  I can't.

I strongly suggest you read this article in the New York Times titled "Rethinking the Meat Guzzler".  I found it staggering.

But to revisit the "why sometimes I'm not" statement...

I can't honestly state that in 17 years I have had no meat.  The first time I was 26 (11 years after becoming a veggie) and on a tropical ecology course in Costa Rica.  We were staying at a high mountain cloud-forest farm where the owner raised trout on his sustainably-modeled eco-farm.  Because I strongly believed in what he was doing, I opted to taste some of his home-grown trout.

The second time was when my husband was about to throw out some deer chili that his best friend had made (with a deer he had shot) because he didn't like it.  I hated the thought of that deer going to waste, so for the second time made a conscious decision to eat some of the meat.  I wasn't contributing to the take of the animal, and it had lived a good life - I could feel good about it.

The third time was shortly after.  My husband (who is a hunter, though VERY selective and ALWAYS humane, only taking certain shoot-to-kill shots) made some deer jerky, and really wanted me to try it.  I did.

After that, I quit counting, though I can say it has been less than ten times I have partaken.  And only in circumstances where the meat was humanely taken, and when it was not taken on my behalf (in other words, the animal would have died regardless).  I never purchased it, contributing to the demand for food animals.

I am not raising my daughter vegetarian.  I want that to be a choice she makes.  I do not feed her a large amount of meat, and when I do, it is always organic, environmentally friendly, and humanely raised.  Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, organic free-range chicken, local grass-fed organic beef, etc.  And sometimes she doesn't finish it.  And lately, I've been known to take the last couple of bites, rather than throw it in the trash (after, of course, I've frozen and preserved and reheated and just feel I can't do it anymore).

Because, I do NOT have a problem with people eating meat.  As long as it's humanely grown and harvested, and grown with minimal impact on the environment.  However - by definition, it is hard on the environment, even when that effect is maximally minimized, and it does use resources that could be more evenly distributed to the world's hungry.  So, for this reason, even if you decide not to be vegetarian, I encourage you to eat less meat.

Thus, I begin my weekly series of "Meatless Monday" posts.  Every Monday I will post a vegetarian recipe.  Hopefully, you will give some of them a try (or other tried-and-true veggie recipes you have) and try to go meatless, at least once a week!

If you partake in Meatless Mondays, I would love to know!  Please leave your comments!  And, to get you started, here is a link to past veggie recipes I have already posted!

Sources (I encourage you to take a look for some sobering statistics):

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Shot at Life

The United Nations Foundation supports a campaign entitled Shot at Life, in which they aim to use immunization to save more than 2.5 million children's lives each year.  Isn't it amazing, to think that for only $20 (probably about half of what it takes to fill your gas tank) you could literally SAVE the life of a child?  That's right.  It has already saved the lives of at least 6.4 million people worldwide.

Check out this infographic on the power of vaccines, because it is - well - powerful.  And click here for even more information.

Add your voice to the movement!  Check out their homepage here.

Email Congress and tell them to support global vaccine funding - it only takes a few seconds!

DONATE!  It is amazing what such a SMALL AMOUNT can do!  Check it out!

And if you feel compelled to do more - read here.

And a WAY cool event going on this month is Blogust - simply by going to a different blog each day and leaving a post, your comment will donate another $20 to save a life!  I challenge you to go - every day!

What to splurge on when it comes to organic

I have been a proponent of organic food for about 5 years now, but got really serious about it when I got pregnant in January of 2010.  Many people find it overwhelming, however, to change their eating habits drastically.  If you'd like to start slowly, here are some good starting points.

An MSN article titled The Dirty Dozen: Top 12 Foods to Eat Organic suggests starting with the following, and gives the reasons why.  They state "Not all of us can afford to go 100% organic. The solution? Focus on just those foods that are laden with the highest amounts of pesticides, chemicals, additives and hormones and deploy your organic spending power on buying organic versions of these whenever possible."


There's the likelihood that chicken, pork, and cow feed is grown with the help of pesticides, antibiotics and chemicals. Similar to milk and milk-based dairy products, many chemical pesticides could end up in the animal, which may end up in you.

It's been widely reported that meat has higher concentrations of pesticides than plants, but the Environmental Protection Agency says that isn't so. Their findings suggest that "meat does not contain higher levels of pesticides than plants" and go on to say that "In general, meat contains much lower concentrations of pesticides than plant products. Moreover, pesticide residues detected in fruits and vegetables are generally at least ten times lower than what is legally allowed under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act."

(Note from TWK - this may be true, however, chemicals concentrate in fat, so whenever you eat animal products, especially fatty ones such as red meat and whole milk, you are getting larger doses of these concentrated chemicals.)


The fat in dairy products is another haven for pesticides, antibioltics, and bovine growth hormones. These get passed on to you through commercial milk, cheese, and butter. Organic dairies do not use chemicals or growth hormones like rGBH or rbST.


Many of the beans you buy are grown in countries that don't regulate the use of chemicals and pesticides. Look for the Fair Trade Certified label on the coffee package or can; it will give you some assurance that chemicals and pesticides were not used on the plants. It will also mean that fair prices were paid for the end product in support of the farm that supplied the coffee, and that the farm workers are treated fairly.


Forty-five different pesticides are regularly applied to these delicately skinned fruits in conventional orchards. Can't find organic? Safe alternatives: Watermelon, tangerines, oranges, and grapefruit.


Scrubbing and peeling a fruit doesn't eliminate chemical residue completely so it's best to buy organic when it comes to apples. Organic apples taste sweeter than conventionally grown, too. Can't find organic? Safe alternatives: Watermelon, bananas, and tangerines.

Sweet Bell Peppers

Peppers have thin skins that don't offer much of a barrier to pesticides. They're one of the most heavily sprayed vegetables out there and may be coated with nearly 40 commonly used pesticides meant to keep them insect-free. Can't find organic? Safe alternatives: Green peas, broccoli, and cabbage.


Celery has no protective skin, which makes it almost impossible to wash off the twenty-nine different chemicals that are used on conventional crops. Can't find organic? Safe alternatives: Broccoli, radishes, and onions.


On average, strawberries receive a dose of up to 500 pounds of pesticides per acre. If you buy strawberries out of season, they're most likely imported from countries that use less-than-stringent regulations for pesticide use. Can't find organic? Safe alternatives: Blueberries, kiwi, and pineapples.


Leafy greens are frequently contaminated with what are considered the most potent pesticides used on food. Can't find organic? Safe alternatives: Cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.


Imported grapes run a much greater risk of contamination than those grown domestically. Vineyards can be sprayed with 35 different pesticides during different growth periods during the season and no amount of washing or peeling will eliminate contamination because of the grape's permeable thin skin. Can't find organic? Safe alternatives: Blueberries, kiwi, and raspberries.


America's popular spud ranks highest for pesticide residue. It may also be tainted by fungicides added to the soil for growing. Can't find organic? Safe alternatives: Eggplant, cabbage, and earthy mushrooms.


The standard regimen of pesticides used on conventionally raised tomatoes numbers 30. Their easily punctured skins are no match for chemicals that will eventually permeate the whole tomato. Can't find organic? Safe alternatives: Green peas, broccoli, and asparagus.

And when should you NOT worry about buying organic?

"If the cost of buying all organics isn't within your budget, fear not. Check out The Daily Green's top ten list of fruit and vegetables you don't need to buy organic, with tips for buying, cleaning, storing, and using them in delicious recipes."

For yet another source, from Shine: 11 Things You Should Buy Organic (and this one goes beyond just food):

By now, we all know there's a benefit to buying some stuff organic. But these days you're faced with the option of getting everything organic-from fruits and veggies to mattresses and clothing. You want to do right by your body, for sure, but going the all-natural route en masse can be pricey.

So we wondered: What's really essential for our health? That's why we came up with this definitive list. Here's what should be in your cart-and what you don't have to worry about.

You've probably read plenty of stories about the risks of eating chicken. But the most important protein to buy organic may well be beef. "Research suggests a strong connection between some of the hormones given to cattle and cancer in humans, particularly breast cancer," says Samuel Epstein, MD, professor emeritus of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. Specifically, the concern is that the estrogen-like agents used on cattle could increase your cancer risk, adds Ted Schettler, MD, science director at the Science and Environmental Health Network.

Though there are strong regulations about the use of hormones in cattle, "not all beef producers are following those regulations strictly, and some studies continue to find hormone residue in cattle," Dr. Schettler says. When you buy beef that's been certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), you're not only cutting out those hormones, you're also avoiding the massive doses of antibiotics cows typically receive, which the USDA says may lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in people.


Strawberries may be a superfood-but they pose a potential risk unless you go organic. In addition to having up to 13 pesticides detected on the fruit, according to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) analysis, conventional "strawberries have a large surface area and all those tiny bumps, which makes the pesticides hard to wash off, so you're ingesting more of those chemicals," explains Marion Nestle, PhD, a professor of nutrition and public health at New York University and author of What to Eat.

If you can, also skip conventional peaches, apples, blueberries, and cherries, which are typically treated with multiple pesticides and usually eaten skins-on.

Your pots and pans are just as crucial to upgrade as the food you cook in them: "Most nonstick cookware contains a fluorochemical called PTFE that breaks down to form toxic fumes when overheated," says Olga Naidenko, PhD, a senior scientist at the EWG. "Those fumes can coat the inside of the lungs and cause allergy-like symptoms."

Tests commissioned by the EWG showed that in just two to five minutes on a conventional stove top, cookware coated with nonstick surfaces could exceed temperatures at which the coating emits toxic gases. Switch to stainless steel, ceramic, or cast iron cookware.


The linings of microwave-popcorn bags may contain a toxic chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which is used to prevent the food from sticking to the paper. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFOA is a likely carcinogen. "We don't know all of the hazardous effects of PFOA yet, but we have some evidence of a link to cancer, as well as to effects on the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems," says David Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany.

Pick up an air-popper or make your popcorn in a pan on the stove top.

Yard pesticides
Some lawn and garden pesticides contain suspected carcinogens, according to EPA data. Long-term pesticide exposure may be related to changes in the brain and nervous system, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center reports. "Not only are you breathing the chemicals in, but you bring them indoors and onto carpets via your shoes," says McKay Jenkins, PhD, a journalism professor at the University of Delaware and author of What's Gotten Into Us?

Healthier brands like BurnOut and EcoClear are made from vinegar and lemon juice, and are effective weed-killers.

All-purpose home cleaners

Time for spring-cleaning? Using common household cleaners may expose you to potentially harmful chemicals. Ammonia and chlorine bleach can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. And some cleaners contain phthalates, some of which are endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with normal hormone activity, says EWG senior scientist Becky Sutton, PhD.

Although there's no definitive proof that phthalates cause problems in humans, "the greatest concern is how early-life exposure will affect male [reproductive] development," Dr. Carpenter says. There's weaker evidence, he adds, that phthalates affect the nervous and immune systems. Go natural with the cleaner you use the most frequently and in the most places, such as kitchen-counter spray-look for brands approved by Green Seal or EcoLogo, two organizations that identify products that have met environmental label guidelines.

Water bottles
You've probably heard that many hard, reusable plastic water bottles could be bad for you because they may contain BPA, or bisphenol A, another endocrine disruptor according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

"For adults, the biggest concern with BPA is that it may increase the risk of breast cancer in women and reduce sperm counts in men," says Dr. Carpenter, who explains that BPA can leach out into the water in the bottle. To be safe, sip from an unlined stainless steel or BPA-free plastic bottle.

Food-storage containers
BPA strikes again: Many food-storage containers are made of the hard, clear polycarbonate plastic that may contain BPA. As is the case with water bottles, the BPA can leach out of the plastic in these containers and seep into your leftovers.

"The leaching is increased during heating, but it also leaches to a smaller degree even when cold foods are stored," Dr. Carpenter explains. Glass containers are your safest-not to mention planet-friendly-bet. Both Rubbermaid (at left) and Pyrex make glass ones with BPA-free plastic lids.

The milk you're drinking may not be doing your body good: Dairy products account for a reported 60 to 70 percent of the estrogens we consume through our food. If that seems like a shockingly large number, it's mainly because milk naturally contains hormones passed along from cows. What worries some experts is that about 17% of dairy cows are treated with the hormone rBST (or rBGH), which stimulates milk production by increasing circulating levels of another hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1).

"Elevated levels of IGF-1 in people are associated with an increased risk of cancer, including breast cancer," Dr. Schettler explains. In fact, the use of rBGH is banned in Europe and Canada. Although research has yet to definitively conclude whether drinking rBGH-treated milk increases your IGF-1 levels high enough to cause concern, Dr. Schettler says it's advisable to buy milk that hasn't been treated with it. So pick up milk that's labeled rBGH-free, rBST-free, or is produced without artificial hormones.

When researchers at the EWG analyzed 89,000 produce-pesticide tests to determine the most contaminated fruits and vegetables, celery topped the chart. "In terms of the sheer number of chemicals, it was the worst," says Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at the EWG. Celery stalks are very porous, so they retain the pesticides they're sprayed with-up to 13 of them, according to the EWG analysis. Lunder also advises buying organic bell peppers, spinach and potatoes because they scored high for pesticides, as well.

Tomato sauce
When picking up tomato sauce or paste, choose the glass jar or box over the can. "The lining on the inside of food cans that's used to protect against corrosion and bacteria may contain BPA," explains Cheryl Lyn Walker, PhD, a professor of carcinogenesis at MD Anderson Cancer Center and past president of the Society of Toxicology.

In 2009, Consumer Reports tested BPA levels in a variety of canned foods and found it in nearly all of the brands tested, suggesting that the chemical leaked in. "What can happen is that BPA in the lining can leach into the food," Walker explains.

And my ever-present favorite Environmental Working Group puts out an updated Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce so you can always make sure you have the most updated info.  I posted about the cleanest and dirtiest produce options here, and a tip to help you at the grocery store.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Eating turtles to extinction?

As a lover of all animals, I must admit, my deep appreciation for herps (reptiles and amphibians) came later in life.  Don't get me wrong - I was always fascinated by them.  I always picked up frogs and toads, despite the "warts" warning from my friends, always stopped (or made my parents stop) to move box turtles across the road.  But it wasn't until I married my husband - a bonafide herpetologist (and more specifically rattlesnake biologist) that I gained a real appreciation for these little understood animals.

Like how the metabolism of a turtle is so slow, if they are fatally injured it can take days or even weeks for them to expire.  Consider that the next time you see an injured turtle on the roadside (or even worse - consider running over a turtle in the road).  Not to mention many of them are probably older than you are.

Or like how a limbless snake must rely on it's extra-sensory organs, such as heat-sensing pits and scent-sensing Jacobson's organs, to catch its dinner - which it then must do with its mouth and nothing else.  Could you do that?

They are fascinating creatures, with fascinating life histories and roles within the ecosystem, and contrary to popular belief, were NOT put here for the sole purpose of harming us.  Trust me - after tracking many timber rattlesnakes with my husband in east-central Missouri, and finding myself on more than one occasion standing inches from a coiled snake yet never receiving any indication it was there (hiss/rattle/strike), I know these animals have a "live and let live" attitude.  They want to be left alone.  The only reason I ever knew I was inches from them is because of the transmitter implanted in their bodies which my husband was able to to track to, well - just beside my foot!  Otherwise I would have stepped right over/past them and never even known.

So, this is the first of what will probably be a few posts on hazards facing herpetofauna, why we should care, and what we should do.  I hope you also find them interesting, and worth protecting, enough to do something for them.

The first article I encourage you to read was a New York Times editorial titled Eating the Wild.  Here's an excerpt:
As global wealth rises, so does global consumption of meat, which includes wild meat. Turtle meat used to be a rare delicacy in the Asian diet, but no longer. China, along with Hong Kong and Taiwan, has vacuumed the wild turtles out of most of Southeast Asia. Now, according to a recent report in The Los Angeles Times, they are consuming common soft-shell turtles from the American Southeast, especially Florida, at an alarming rate.

Here's a National Geographic article about the same topic.

The second was a BBC News article titled A Billion Frogs on World's Plates.  Here's an excerpt:
Up to one billion frogs are taken from the wild for human consumption each year, according to a new study.  France and the US are the two biggest importers, with significant consumption in several East Asian nations.

What can you do?  First of all - refuse to eat wild-harvested reptiles and amphibians.  In the US they are popularly prepared as turtle soup and frog legs.  And don't put any other pressure on these already dwindling populations, such as having them for pets.

Second, write to your state legislature and encourage them to list native herps as protected species.  In some states, they are.  In others, people are free to do with them as they please - including collecting them for mass export to other countries.

Finally, become informed, and participate in action alerts having to do with these matters when possible.  I encourage you to join : The Only Free Weekly E-Zine That Reports on The Latest News on Herpetological Conservation and Science as well as Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.  Their mission?  "To conserve amphibians, reptiles and their habitats as integral parts of our ecosystem and culture through proactive and coordinated public-private partnerships.”

Friday, August 3, 2012

My charitable organization

I have fallen in love with an organization, Mercy and Sharing, who helps orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti (I wrote this post about them earlier).  As a single-income family (though I feel we live well compared to many, and are very blessed) I have struggled with how to work this organization into our budget.  One way I have decided to do this is to donate any funds generated from this site to them.

If you, too, would like to donate to them, click here.  And thanks for any support you give the blog, as through that you will be helping as well!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

So you wanna teach your baby to sign?

I HIGHLY recommend it.  I did it with my daughter, and it is one of the best things I chose to do!  A friend of mine actually gave me a copy of the book Baby Signs, which is what prompted me to do it.  However, another friend of mine had taught her baby to sign, and watching him do it, I always thought it was so cool.  So, I set out to teach my little C sign language, hoping it would give us an avenue to communicate long before she was able to speak.

It didn't happen until she was 11 months old, and we were actually in Italy for my brother's wedding, sitting at a restaurant, when she signed "more".  I was ecstatic - it was the coolest thing ever.  For a long time, that was her only sign.  Then they started up like crazy - eat, bath, diaper change, drink, help...  It is awesome, when your baby can tell you what s/he needs.

And right now is as good as time as ever to get started, with this 40% off offer.

To take advantage of this special, click here.  And make sure you enter the code DVD40 at checkout.  If you order, or if you use sign language with your little one(s), I'd love to know!  Leave me a comment!