Category Archives: Healthy Living

My homebrew. The floaty stuff at the top is strawberry puree.

How We Kombucha

I have had several questions about kombucha lately, so I decided to write a quick post detailing how we brew it. I am still a novice, so please take everything I say as a mere starting point and dig around to see what other info you can find.

My homebrew. The floaty stuff at the top is strawberry puree.

What is Kombucha?

Simply put, it’s a fermented tea beverage that has been brewed for centuries and associated with numerous health benefits. I wrote about that in a bit more detail in The Kombucha Post, or How I Finally Became a Card Carrying Hippie.

Getting Started Continue reading

Everything You Need for Cloth Diapering

… and Anything You Could Possibly Want.

Photo Credit: Amber Bee Cee on Flickr

I was browsing a cloth diaper forum one day when I came across an interesting question: “If your only option was a dozen prefolds and some plain white covers, would you still cloth diaper?”

It was a good question, particularly for those of us who can’t seem to quit buying diapers, but it gave me a bit of a chuckle because it is precisely what I started with. I planned all along to practice elimination communication with my daughter, but to have cloth diapers as a back-up. It wasn’t the cuteness that appealed to me in the beginning; I’m inclined toward all things crunchy as it is, so I didn’t need any convincing. I knew I would do it, I just didn’t know how many options I had and how very simple it could be! My stack of prefolds and my three white covers got me off to an interesting start. I have managed to pass some things up in the interest of saving money, but I have found so many conveniences since those super minimalist early days of cloth diapering. For those just starting out, I present to you a list. This is by no means a list of things every cloth diapering family needs, but it is a list of everything you could possibly want.

Continue reading

Toxins in the Home: Lead

Zinc and lead ores, photo credit: Orbital Joe on Flickr
Used by Creative Commons License.
While I’ve been going on about the dangers of everything you can imagine for months now, I may be the last crunchy mom on the planet to have awoken to the realization that lead is practically everywhere! I mean, we all know about lead paint, but I thought lessons had been learned and putting lead in things was a giant no-no. Silly me, I should have known better. It is still everywhere.

Back when I was reading Green Babies, Sage Moms, I remember some mention of dishes along with a suggestion that families use lead free ceramics. But why wouldn’t ceramic be lead free!? The idea seemed crazy to me, but my prego brain soon moved on to some other worry or plan and I forgot to look further into the matter. That was until one day, when I noted that when scratches appeared on our dishes, the color left behind was a sort of metallic gray. While I realize that what I saw was a mark made by the silverware, and not lead, it reminded me of the issue and triggered a train of thought that went something like this: “That looks metallic. Lead is a metal. Lead free ceramics! I was meaning to look into that!” So, look into it I did, and I found that both of our sets of dishes were most certainly on the list of those containing lead. Even the glaze on Corelle, which is not ceramic at all, contains lead. It seems that most all popular brands of dishware do, though only at or below “FDA approved levels.” I’m not so sure I want the FDA deciding how much lead my child should be exposed to, and when you consider all of the other items in the average home that may also contain the stuff (drawer pulls, painted toys, jewelry, etc), the thought of the cumulative effect of all of it combined is a bit unsettling. 
An Annabelle-sized dinner in a lead free bowl
When I did my searching, I found a list of dinnerware brands that are made with lead, but the site that hosted it seems to be gone now. If you want to check your brand of dishes, you will more than likely be able to find information on their website, or on a product page for the same item somewhere like amazon. Keep in mind that “lead safe” does not mean “lead free.”
Of course we can’t go out and replace everything in our home that contains heavy metals or strange chemicals all at once, because we’d go broke. Disposing of such things is a sticky issue as well, so we’re taking it slowly. Fortunately, however, we’ve been using a combination of the cheesy dishes I bought when I first moved out on my own at seventeen, and my mother in law’s old dishes, so we were due for an updated set all our own anyway. We decided to upgrade to Fiestaware, a completely lead free line made in the US by the Homer Laughlin China Co.  I have yet to find a company that makes a totally lead free slow cooker, however, which has been a real disappointment. For now, mine is waiting in the cabinet until I make a decision on what to do with it. 
Annabelle at seven months. Would you like
some lead with that caterpillar?
Sorry, babe.
Much to my surprise, there was something else in our home that I mistakenly thought was totally safe – some of Annabelle’s wooden toys! I have carefully avoided plastic, not only because the Montessorian in me wants everything in Annabelle’s environment to be reality based, and made of natural materials, but also because of concerns over BPA and phthalates. One of the most accessible brands of wooden toys is Melissa and Doug, and we have several items from them. Each is labeled as being finished with “non-toxic paint,” but this only means, apparently, that lead levels are low enough to be considered “safe.” I discovered this when my googling landed me on a few discussions in the Mothering forums that discussed the issue. Looking further into it, I found numerous places where people said they had tested their own child’s M&D toys, but particularly telling is the company’s own safety statement, which harps on the subject of testing to ensure the safety of their toys, but avoids saying that the paint is “lead free,” or free of anything really. It seems that not all natural toys are created equal.
In the news more recently has been the finding that many reusable shopping bags contain high levels of lead as well. It seems that the stuff is everywhere. Unfortunately, we will never be able to protect our children from everything, but we can do our best to limit their exposure to toxins that we are aware of and continue to advocate for change.
I’m trying not to go too crazy testing everything in sight, but I have been considering the purchase of some home lead test kits if I can find them on island, so that I can test a few other things around the house. If you have items that you’re concerned about, this is definitely something to consider!
Know other parents who might benefit from this information? Please feel free to share! Have info on other toxins in the home? Please leave a comment!

Food and Our Family

Food is an interesting topic in our house. You see, mealtimes are important to all of us, but all three of us eat quite differently. It’s quite a challenge to bring all of the pieces together sometimes, but the more time goes on, the more it just…works.
I’m vegan, and have been since long before I met The New Daddy who happens to be a Texas boy, and until recently did not feel that a meal was complete if it didn’t include meat of some kind. When we were dating, he used to humor me by accompanying me to my favorite vegetarian restaurant, eating, and then asking to stop someplace afterward so he could get some meat! He’s actually fine eating largely vegetarian now, but does still enjoy both meat and dairy in moderation. The babe, of course, is slowly expanding her repertoire of solid foods, but at this point is 98% breastfed with solid food still filling a sensory role more than anything.
Fortunately, the daddy and I both like to eat healthy and since our goals for food and our family are essentially the same, it’s not impossible to prepare meals that will please everyone. I’ll either prepare a vegan meal, with a bit of meat on the side that the daddy can mix in when it’s time to put food to plate, or prepare two nearly identical meals side-by-side. I’ll make a vegan stir fry, for example, with rice and plenty of veggies, plus strips of chicken with the same sauce, in a separate pan. When it’s time to eat, we both serve up some stir fry, but he tosses a bit of chicken in with his. The babe gets a selection of veggies in her bowl, and we’re all happy. Or, I may prepare two types of enchiladas, one with chicken and cheese, and one with black beans and cashew “cheese.” Since I make it all at the same time, it’s really only a bit of extra effort.
When it comes to the type of food we buy, we’re relatively like-minded. We avoid over-processed foods and things like high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors. We buy organic where it’s available. Sadly, it’s quite limited on Guam and there is virtually no fresh, organic produce at all. I buy the few things we do get organic (celery, baby carrots, salad greens, and recently apples) on a consistent basis and try to use exclusively the “clean 15” for the rest of our cooking and snacks. The more research comes out on the dangers of pesticides, the stronger I feel on this one. We also avoid canned foods, not just because of concerns over BPA exposure, but also because we prefer to cook primarily from whole foods, for our health and for our wallet.
For Annabelle, we simply want to provide healthy food from the start. What and how she chooses to eat as time goes on will largely be up to her, but we are making every effort to model healthy eating habits.
Does everyone in your household enjoy similar foods? How do you reconcile your differences and share meals together?

My Pantry, My Home Pt. 2: My Pantry, My … Bathroom?

While I have always had and admired my handful of activist friends, I have never been one to hold protest signs, hand out pamphlets, or do banner drops.  It’s just not me.  In lieu of the traditional animal rights activism, what I do love is being quiet about the fact that I’m vegan so that no one has any preconceived notions.  This way, by the time it comes to anyone’s attention, they have already, unknowingly, tasted a number of my signature dishes and seen that they were good.  I get all giddy over the surprised looks on people’s faces when they ask for a recipe and discover that they have been drooling over vegan food(!?) all night.  I have long considered this my quiet activism.  I like to prove that things can be perfectly normal without being the norm.  You don’t need to make unhealthy choices to maintain your lifestyle.

That said, here’s a picture of me and Annabelle this morning.  She only wanted to make silly faces, but don’t we look fresh and clean, and well-kept?! ; )  

I like to think that I can do the same with my new rejection of most all of the standard cosmetics.  Like my overhaul of our household cleaners, this is still a work in progress, but I have learned so much!  It’s sort of liberating in a strange way to be able to ditch some of the things that I used to stress over running out of.  It’s a money saver, too, which makes my husband very happy!  Here’s what I have changed so far.
  • I have gotten rid of shampoo and conditioner.  I know this sounds both disgusting and insane if you haven’t encountered the idea before, but I assure you it is not.  While I’m not a big fan of the term, folks call it no ‘pooing, and no ‘pooers wash their hair with baking soda, and generally rinse it with vinegar (what else, right?).  With our super hard water, I have found that I need to add a bit of salt to my baking soda to get it to work really well.  It removes any build up and excess oil, without stripping the scalp of its natural oils and necessitating a strong conditioner.  The vinegar rinse (and I promise, hair does not retain the vinegar smell) keeps it from tangling and makes it nice and soft.  I like to test these things for myself, so I tried skipping the vinegar rinse once and it left me with a whole lot of static.
  • I have stopped using styling products.  With my new wash routine, I find that I really don’t need them anyway, as my hair is much more manageable.  I just use a tiny dab of coconut oil to tame any flyaways and add moisture to the ends of my hair, where the natural oils can’t quite reach.  My hair has never been more cooperative!  Since I’m naturally blonde, I keep forgetting, but had also been spraying a mixture of chamomile infusion (strong tea, basically) and lemon juice on after a wash.  It was helping the sun to bring out some natural highlights, but since I keep it in the fridge it has been sort of out of sight/out of mind.
  • I have stopped using lotion.  I read many recommendations for olive oil, so I put some in a spray bottle and used it for both myself and Annabelle a few times.  It works great as a moisturizer and is wonderful for the skin, but leaves one smelling a bit like a salad, so I think I’m going to discontinue its use.  Instead, I am awakening to the wonders of coconut oil.  Not only is it great for moisturizing, but it is also anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.  I have used it with great success in place of diaper cream as well.
  • Makeup, of course, is not necessary and it would probably be best if I ditched it completely, but the truth is – I like it.  So I’m going to continue to wear it.  I have started to take a much closer look at the products I use, however.  The Environmental Working Group has a great resource: cosmeticsdatabase.com, that assigns a hazard score between 0 (low) and 10 (high) to everything from sunscreen to mascara based on the ingredients it contains.  I was surprised to find that even some of my “natural” and “vegan” cosmetics had some not-so-natural ingredients.  I am now using makeup from a company in California called Coastal Classic Creations.  All of their products have a hazard score of 0-1, which means they are free of parabens, fragrances, etc.  Even their containers are BPA and phthalate free.
  • I ditched my Jason deodorant, since even though it is supposedly natural, it still contains fragrances and other questionable ingredients, giving it a hazard score of 5 on cosmetics database.  Instead, I’m using the Crystal Deodorant Spray, which has a hazard score of 0.
  • I’m still working on perfume for when I do want to smell especially sweet.  I’m experimenting with essential oils for natural fragrances.  Until I find something I’m comfortable with, I’m using none.  Toothpaste and mouthwash are two I’m still trying to find a system for as well (don’t worry, I’m using something now!).  I have found a few recipes to make your own, but haven’t tried any out yet.

With these changes, I feel generally better about our home environment and don’t sweat it when Annabelle decides to gum on my chin, nose, knees, elbows, etc – and believe me, she does!  What goes on her skin at this stage is even more important than what goes on mine, so I’m glad I’ve been able to find safe, inexpensive alternatives to keep us both fresh and clean!
Do you have any homemade cosmetic tips?  A favorite natural product?