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Experiments in Natural Parenting: Starting, Stopping, and Gaining Perspective

Welcome to the January 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Experiments in Natural Family Living

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have reported on weeklong trials to make their lives a little greener and gentler. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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Photo Credit: howzey on Flickr

As my regular readers already know, I’m pregnant. As this post publishes, I’m in the final days of my first trimester, a time in pregnancy that for me has been marked by exhaustion, a fair bit of nausea, wacky dreams, and an extreme case of “pregnancy brain.” The latter has meant very brief flashes of brilliance that amounted to nothing at all, because within five minutes I have forgotten about them entirely. Most days I’m just happy that I can remember my first child’s and my names and figure out how to get us to and from the grocery store.

I was so looking forward to this carnival theme, and had numerous experiment ideas, many of which I began in the morning and forgot about by lunchtime. My first idea was to cut out all processed sugar, sweetening foods only with molasses, maple syrup, fruit juice, and such. In the several hours that my brain was actually functioning following the beginning of this particular experiment, I realized that a whole lot more of what we eat contains sugar than I had noticed. We eat a fairly healthy, mostly whole foods diet and I cook a lot from scratch. Being vegan, I’m also a pro at label checking, so I thought we were doing pretty well as it was and I was surprised to really stop and think about how much of my food contains added sugar, to include the almond milk I cook and bake with on an almost daily basis. Perhaps another experiment could involve making my own!

Next, I thought I’d go with a week where I avoided all secondary packaging. Where we live, virtually everything is imported, so it’s hard to get all the nutrients we need without buying some foods that come in a package. There are no bulk bins, so everything from our rice to our nuts and seeds comes in individual plastic bags. My goal was to avoid repackaging things into yet another disposable container after the first one: using only my reusable grocery and produce bags, and my own containers if we went out to eat and ended up with leftovers.  If I got coffee or tea while out, I would have to remember my travel cup. I would also store our leftovers at home in containers with lids, or cover them with my “eco covers” instead of plastic wrap or foil. This is another area where I already thought I was doing pretty well. I already owned all of the things mentioned above, and I use them pretty consistently, at least in my head. On the first day of this experiment, I met friends for lunch at a local vegetarian cafe, and forgot until the food arrived that they serve everything on disposable dishes, with plastic silverware. I always try to bring Pyrex containers when I go, but more often I forget and end up tossing a styrofoam dish for each part of my meal. The next day, I went to the grocery store and realized that, while I had brought my reusable bags, I had completely spaced my produce bags, and I needed mushrooms and other things that would absolutely require a bag. Since I was cooking for a gathering, and this was the only window of time I had to grab ingredients beforehand, I caved and used two disposable plastic produce bags.

Other grand ideas involved three minute showers, taking an hour for myself each day to do something alone and offline in search of “balance in personal and family life”, and cutting off our air conditioning for most or all of the day. The first of these ideas, I remembered when I was soaking in a gloriously full and outrageously wasteful bathtub. The second, I ditched on the first day when I fell asleep while trying to put my daughter to bed and ended up with no time for myself, either online or off. The third was saved for later when I realized that my overheated, pregnant self was feeling far from balanced while trying to clean the kitchen and clean the sweat from my forehead. We did have the air off from sun up until bedtime yesterday, which I was pretty proud of, but then we were also out of the house almost the entire day.

Various leftovers, covered with "Eco Covers" instead of plastic wrap.

While I didn’t complete an experiment as planned, I did gain some interesting insight into just how “green” and “natural” our lifestyle is. I have made some very intentional changes at different times in my life, in an effort to live more gently and mindfully, and it seems that I was so excited, even downright proud of these small improvements that I forgot to keep moving forward. I suppose this is the danger of comparing oneself to others. I look around and see all of the disposable cups in the coffee shop and the feel of the smooth, sturdy ceramic cup in my own hand leaves me with a sense of enlightenment. I smile when the checker at the grocery store handles my reusable produce bags and declares them, “SO cool!” I pass by the plastic wrap, paper towels, diapers, and other disposable products while shopping and feel so thankful and so free for not needing, even wanting to purchase them. This natural high has left me feeling perfectly fine about cranking up the air conditioner when I’m feeling warm, or getting coffee in a disposable cup or lunch on a styrofoam plate, ‘just this once.’ There’s certainly no value in wallowing in guilt over these things, but I’m glad for the renewed awareness.

There is so much more I can do to live in line with my values and intentions, so many new habits I can form, and so many solutions I can find that will help me live a gentler life. As pregnancy brain gives way to the famed energy of the second trimester, I’m excited about the prospect of still more reflection and change. I’m okay with where we are, but I look forward to bringing our family into greater harmony with the environment. There is so much we can do!

What changes has your family made in an effort to live a healthier or “greener” lifestyle? Do you have any goals for the upcoming year that will help you do even more? Do you have any tips or tricks for actually remembering to do the environmentally friendly things you plan on?

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Make your own moisturizer! — Megan at boho mama whips up a winter skin-friendly moisturizer.
  • Cold Water Only — Brittany at The Pistachio Project talks about how you do not need hot water to wash laundry.
  • Family Cloth… Really?? — After lots of forethought and consideration, Momma Jorje finally decides to take the plunge with family cloth.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle : 5-5-5 Things A Day — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about decluttering her home in an attempt to create a gentler living space. She takes on a new project where she sets a goal of reducing, reusing and recycling every day.
  • Pros and cons of family cloth — Lauren at Hobo Mama would love to continue replacing paper products with family cloth … if she could only get over how damp she feels.
  • Craftily Parenting — Kellie at Our Mindful Life finds that crafting makes her a better parent.
  • Changes — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen couldn’t choose just one area to experiment with, so she wrote a long post about all the fun changes initiated in her life!
  • Life without Internet: Not all it’s Cracked up to Be — Adrienne at Mommying My Way tries to go a week without the Internet, only to realize a healthy dose of Internet usage really helps keep this stay-at-home mom connected.
  • My Progression to Raw Milk — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares her natural parenting progression all the way to trying raw milk.
  • mama’s new little friend. — Sarah at Bitty Bird tries a menstrual cup to “green her period,” and is pleasantly surprised when she falls in love with the product!
  • Before you throw it out, try homemade laundry soap! — Jennifer at Practical OH Mommy shows visual proof that homemade laundry soap is cheaper, easier, and works better than the store-bought chemicals!
  • Oil, Oil, No Toil, No Trouble — K from Very Simple Secret talks about her foray into the oil-cleansing method.
  • I Need a Hobby — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro couldn’t decide which experiment to run, so she did them all.
  • 7 days of macrobiotics for a balanced family — The Stones make a [successful] attempt to release the “holiday junking” with 7 days of macrobiotic meals to balance their bodies and souls. Elisabeth at Manic Mrs. Stone includes an explanation of macrobiotics.
  • Chemical Free Beauty Challenge — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction turned to natural alternatives for her daily beauty and cleaning routine, with great results.
  • Greening my Armpits!? My Green Resolution — Shannon at The Artful Mama talks about how she decided to give up her traditional antiperspirant and make the switch over to crystal deodorants and definitely isn’t looking back!
  • Going Raw (for a while) — Jenny at Chronicles of a Nursing Mom shares her family’s experience with raw food.
  • Do we get to eat gluten today? — Sheila at A Gift Universe has been trying to figure out if her son does better with or without gluten in his diet … but it’s really hard to tell for sure.
  • Hippies Can Smell and Look Fabulous Too! — Arpita of Up, Down And Natural details her experience of going shampoo-free and overhauling her cosmetics to find the balance between feeling beautifully fabulous and honoring her inner hippie.
  • Our cupboards are full…but there’s nothing to eat — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud takes on the challenge of chomping through the contents of her storecupboard rather than going shopping — but there’s something that she just can’t bring herself to do …
  • Elimination Experiment 3.0MudpieMama recounts the messy adventures of her baby daughter trying to be diaper free.
  • Family Cloth Trial — Amyables at Toddler in Tow talks about making and using family cloth wipes in the bathroom for the first time.
  • Taking a Hiatus — Amy at Peace 4 Parents shares how her experience of much less internet interaction affected her family and how it will change her approach in the future.
  • Trying Out the Menstrual Cup — Lindsey at an unschooling adventure ditches the tampons and gives menstrual cups a try.
  • Managing Food Waste in Our Home — Tired of the holiday waste, Robbie at Going Green Mama takes a weeklong focus on reducing food waste in her home, and learns some lessons that can take her through the new year.
  • Going Offline, Cloth Tissues, and Simplicity — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama muses over her time away from blogging and social networking. In addition, she shares her newfound love of cloth tissues and simplicity.
  • The Oil Cleansing Method — Erica at ChildOrganics explores an easy, organic and natural way to tackle skin care.
  • Experiments in Natural Family Living – Natural Toys! — Lani at Boobie Time enjoys the silence of natural toys and being more present with her son.
  • Discovering a New City and Organic Foods — Amy at A Secure Base describes her family’s switch to and search for organic foods for one week.
  • My Experiment in Homemade BreadCrunchy Con Mommy tried — and loved — baking her own homemade bread.
  • Menu Planning: Stop the Excuses — Gaby at Tmuffin stopped the excuses and started planning her weekly meals, drastically cutting her grocery budget and stress level and improving the quality of foods she fed her family.
  • My First Menstrual Cup — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children was pleasantly surprised with her first experience using a menstrual cup.
  • My Natural Beauty Regime — Christine at African Babies Don’t Cry shares the results of banishing cleanser and soaps from her bathroom, as well as a couple of natural homemade recipes that have worked well on her skin.
  • Unplugging and Creating a Rhythm: Our Experiment in Natural Family Living — Dionna at Code Name: Mama focused less on gadgets and spent more time with her family to create a healthy rhythm for the new year.
  • Experiments in Natural Family Living: 5 First Steps Toward Preparing for a Natural Birth — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama discusses how she tackled the pressing matter of how to begin preparing for a natural birth.
  • All you need is…vinegar! — Kristen at My Semi-Crunchy Life learns that one household product can replace all the cleaners in her cabinet.
  • Nope Nada Ixnay Negative Pass Decline — Zoie at TouchstoneZ finds out what shakes loose if she says, “YES!!” to anything anyone asks of her over the space of 10 days.
  • My Experiment in Natural Family Living: Natural Family Planning — Birth control options are seriously limited for those of us trying to live a little closer to the earth, so Mama Psalmist experiments with natural family planning.

31 Responses to Experiments in Natural Parenting: Starting, Stopping, and Gaining Perspective

  • TwinMama says:

    Ah yes, *pregnancy brain*! In my case, it was simply replaced by *baby brain* and 10 months on I still can’t quite think straight!!
    It sounds as if you have already consciously changed your habits in many areas of your life, and there is nothing wrong with feeling happy with that! I think that once the wheel starts turning, it’s easier to gradually make changes that feel right, without needing a big initial push. Your mind-set is already eco friendly, so you know you will keep moving further in this direction without thinking. However, this blog carnival is really inspiring. For instance, I never thought of those eco-covers you have shown… did you make them, and how?
    TwinMama recently posted..Reducing our exposure to toxins found in plasticsMy Profile

    • melissa says:

      Thanks for the encouragement! I remember baby brain, too, and can only imagine how I’ll fare this time around – a toddler, a newborn, and a complete inability to remember anything. It should be interesting! ;)

      I didn’t make our covers, though I’d like to be that crafty! They’re made by a local woman here, but I have seen similar things on etsy and hyenacart and I know there are tutorials online as well, or if you google “reusable bowl cover tutorial” several pop up that look great!

    • Emilia says:

      Haha, baby brain! That is what they call it! After having 3 kids, I still have it. Gosh! Anyways, we try to avoid plastic and tin foil in my house, and my cupboards are overfilled with reusable plastic food containers.

  • Heh, I’ve been there. I love how thoughtful your post is and how you’ve brought out the point of continuing on, looking for new changes to make (or remembering the old ones). I definitely have a tendency to get complacent, when there’s always room for improvement.

    • melissa says:

      Oh, pregnancy brain. There’s proof – I didn’t even *think* of the word complacent, but that describes it perfectly!

  • Thomasin says:

    You’re my kind of experimenter, if only because, with a now-5-mo-old I can sympathize. It was so exciting, thinking up things to do, but you went one beyond me and actually started some (many!) which is fun. But I agree with you conclusion. When you live an already “green” life, while it can be fun, experimenting with other ways to continue the eco-friendly lifestyle, there’s no need to stress about every instance. Sounds like you’re doing well. So have a latte (ceramic mug or no), soak in the tub, and grow that baby. Best wishes to you!

    • melissa says:

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who took a relaxed approach to this whole thing. We all do what we can, when we can! Enjoy that baby of yours!

  • Really enjoyed reading this…I love how you remind us that awareness is the first step, and a very important step, towards change!

    Congrats on your pregnancy!

  • One of my big goals is to buy more things made in America. i hate thinking that some child or slave in another country made my kid’s stocking stuffer. kwim? An added bonus is that it is eco friendly…buying as local as possible means less gas being used!

    Today I wrote about 3 things that I bought in the last week—all USA made.

  • Amy says:

    I know what you mean about sugar. I’m trying to do a complete overhaul of our diet now, and sugar is a tough one. I’d try to replace it with honey (we are obviously not vegans), but Q-ball can’t have honey. Also, I’ve been trying to stop using plastic to wrap up leftovers, but I can’t think of anything else to use to prevent freezer burn on my husband’s meat products. If you think of something, I’d love to know!

    • melissa says:

      Sugar definitely is not easy – it’s in EVERYTHING. Have you tried coconut sugar? I’ve been using it instead of cane sugar in much of my baking and it’s great!

      I’ve been thinking a lot about what to use in the freezer myself, and I’m a little stuck. I know some people do freeze in glass jars, but that could get messy (and dangerous) if something were to break. If I were crafty, I might make something like these: http://www.wrapnmat.com/ to wrap things in for the freezer. It seems like if you wrapped tightly, it would work just the same as plastic. What I’m trying to figure out is how I could do a whole freezer meal, say a lasagna, without disposable containers. Just get several new, metal pans that I can freeze in? I’m at a loss. A brainstorming session is in order! Let me know if you think of anything!

      • Anna says:

        I used to freeze in the pottery/ceramic trays that I baked the food in. A lasagne would go from the freezer to the oven without any problems.

  • You are so cute – pregnancy really does a number on us, doesn’t it? ;) It sounds like you do a lot to lead a more natural life style! btw, be sure to talk to Mandy/Living Peacefully with Children about making your own almond milk. She did a class for our co-op on it, it’s super easy!

    • melissa says:

      Ooh, I’ll definitely have to ask Mandy about that. Thanks for the tip! There’s no such thing as raw, organic almonds here on Guam, which is what I’d like to use, so I think I’ll defer that experiment until we get moved but I’ll have to remember to ask Mandy then :)

  • Rach says:

    This pregnancy is making you very funny, seems like you are on a high! You go far beyond most people already on green issues. I love those cloth covers. I usually use re-useable containers, but there are times I crack out the cling film, so those covers could be just the thing to avoid that.

    • melissa says:

      Ha, thanks Rach! I’m glad you can appreciate my dry humor ;)

      We absolutely love those covers – not only do they save on plastic waste, but they save me on dishes. I can just cover up the dish I served food in instead of putting leftovers in an entirely new container to wash later. It’s the little things!

  • I also become a bit complacent as there is so much I already do that others don’t. There is always so much more to do isn’t there?! I think you are entitled and should be proud of yourself, and I know you will keep moving forward :) I look forward to hearing about it in your energetic trimester ;)

  • Anna says:

    preganancy brain is replaced by baby brain and later, you and Annabelle will be co-ordinating your cycles and you will getting MEGA-PMT brain. Not pretty!

    We got solar panels installed the week before Christmas, so we are feeling very eco-smug. Although winter in the UK doesn’t yeild and awful lot of energy. We are looking forward to the summer!

    • melissa says:

      Oh, dear! It will be interesting to see how Annabelle and I combine in the post baby wackiness. The possibilities!

      Eco-smugness is definitely warranted – I would love to install some solar panels! I’d love to hear how that works out for you.

  • Such a great post for the carnival. I wonder how many people didn’t participate because of lofty goal-setting. It’s good to challenge, but also remember the living part of it. The only way to succeed at actual change past the week is to make it liveable! I’d call your challenge “how to make mindful changes that are actually liveable!” That’s a huge challenge.

    Pregnancy brain. Ah. I kind of miss it. At least, I think I do. I can’t remember ;)

  • Terri says:

    I think it’s cool that you thought up all these different things to do even if they didn’t happen immediately, every change starts with our awareness. I like you think I’m being green and eco and then notice where things slide… I’ve just moved over to family cloth but then my latest horror is using disposable diapers when I am such a committed cloth user. My kiddos are wetting REALLY HEAVY in the night and I’m so sleep deprived right now that I resent waking up and having to change their entire clothing and sheets at 3am. So when I go to bed I swap the wet cloth for the dreaded ‘sposie…I feel terrible and maybe this comment is like a confessional…I hope I get more sleep soon and get back to my all cloth commitment. Onelove Mama!

  • Your post made me smile, Melissa! It’s been a long time since I had “pregnancy brain.” Of course, now I have “blogging brain,” which may not be any better. I loved reading about all your ideas for experiments and am impressed with all the positive and “green” changes you’ve made already! :)

  • tinsenpup says:

    Hmm… For some odd reason, my new gadget does not like your website and hasn’t let me comment. Annoying.

    I just wanted to say that I think that those grand ideas are our ambit claim on life. I say, embrace the compromise and when you let them go for now, know that they’re filed away to be re-used or re-written for another day or situation.

    Please remember to be extra kind to yourself. Pregnancy is “really super awfully” hard work. ;)

  • Do you have more info on your “eco covers”? That is idea is brill! We used to always run out of plastic wrap and now I am concerned about PVC anyway, so we need a good alternative. We have reusable tupperware but sometimes it’d be nice to just throw a covering over a plate. My family was not happy with me when I had to shove a whole pie into a tupperware container to get it home with them after Christmas!

    Love your goals – The most important thing to me is to prioritize them along with your happiness. A pregnant woman NEEDS her bath. I personally am useless if I don’t have the heat on in my house – I will literally wrap myself in a blanket on the couch and not move for hours! I think that a few creature comforts are necessary, and having them makes you feel better about the things you do sacrifice.

    • Melissa says:

      Hey, Janine! The eco covers are something I picked up at a local market here – sort of like a farmer’s market/flea market deal. I know there are WAHM-made versions you can buy online, or there are loads of tutorials for making your own. People seem to refer them as simply reusable bowl covers and I found some great results by googling reusable bowl cover tutorial, or here’s a link to some on etsy: http://www.etsy.com/search/handmade?search_submit=&q=reusable+bowl+cover&view_type=gallery&ship_to=US They’re pricey there, as they are here, but with as much use as I have gotten out of them, I’ve decided it’s worth it. Definitely easier than sticking a pie in a tupperware ;)

      I love your message about the importance of balancing eco goals and creature comforts. Such a great point!

  • You are such a great mama! I love the conclusion you came to at the end of all of this, and the ideas you gave me for living a little greener. I love the bowl covers too. And I need to make some produce bags! I tend to just use nothing, but yes, sometimes you just need to use something. Thank you for the reminders!

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