Our Mindful Life

Our Mindful Life: July 2010

Our Mindful Life

Our Mindful Life is about paying attention to what it is that we do on a day to day basis and how we impact each other and the planet. We will talk about all of the things that we do here at home to make ourselves and the world a better place.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Trash to Treasure - Composting

We have worked very hard at lowering the amount of garbage we throw out every week.  As a family of four, we have thrown out 1 kitchen sized trash bag per week for about 2 years now.  One of the secrets to our success in this area is composting.  By composting, you can literally turn your trash into treasure!

To get started, you will need a location for your compost.  There are several fancy bin style composters on the market, and I know several people who are quite happy with theirs.  The prices range all over the map, depending on many factors.  I am in no way capable of rating them, because I have never used one.  If you are interested in keeping your composter in the garage or basement, then you will most likely want to look into some type of bin.  My preferred method is to place the compost outside.  We've had several different setups at different houses.  At our first house, there was a bin already built in the raised bed garden.  It was salvaged wood, I believe, in the shape of a rectangle, about 3.5 feet long and 2 feet wide.  It was about 1.5 feet tall and had a hinged lid with a hole cut in the top.  The hole made it easy to drop food in and the hinged lid made maintenance and removal easier.  The enclosed structure kept the compost hotter which speeds the composing process.  Most sources say to make your space at least 3 by 3 by 3, but our first bin worked just fine.  Our second house, we used a plastic outdoor trash can.  We poked holes in the lid and down the sides to allow air to flow.  We cut a hole in the front of the can at the bottom that looked like a mouse door.  This one worked fairly efficiently too.  At our third house, we had 4 posts in a square with plastic garden netting around it to hold everything in.  At this house, we just have a heap in the yard.  The heap in the yard has been the cheapest and my favorite method so far.

Once you have a location, you will need to add your compost material.  It is generally considered best to put a layer of sticks and twigs at the bottom of the pile to allow air to flow through from the bottom.  Next, you want to add yard waste and food waste.  You want an approximate ratio of 2/3 yard waste to 1/3 food waste.

Yard waste is grass clippings, leaves, weeds, dead heads from flowers, plant stalks from vegetation that is done producing for the year, and that general type of thing.  You want to avoid adding things like poison ivy, which can still add the oils to your compost and give you poison ivy for years to come.  You also want to avoid diseased and chemically treated matter.  If you have a fungus attacking your plants, you don't want to add it to your compost which you will use to fertilize more things next year.  Likewise, if you add chemically treated matter, the chemicals will leach into your compost.  Even if you aren't concerned with gardening organically, the chemicals can alter the bacteria growing in your compost pile and stop the composting action.  You can also add animal bedding, manure, paper, natural fiber cloth or dryer lint, saw dust and small twigs under this category.

Food waste is simply food that you don't eat.  The peels and ends of vegetables that are cut off when preparing them, spoiled raw fruits and vegetables, and even leftover steamed or roasted veggies that don't get eaten in time are great additions.  You want to avoid fats, oils and dairy products.  Other than that, food is fair game.  Egg shells are great for the compost.  Grains are fine, if you aren't using them for some reason.  Pretty much anything that you are going to throw away can be examined for the compost pile.  If it doesn't have fats, oils or dairy, go for it!

Now you just need to maintain the pile!  It needs to be stirred occasionally, with a shovel or a pitchfork.  The more often you turn it, up to once a day, the faster it will compost.  If you neglect this step altogether, it will continue to compost, just more slowly.  You need to make certain that your compost doesn't dry out too much.  If it is a heap, it is easy to keep it fairly damp as the rain will wet it for you and the compost itself will hold it in.  If you have a bin or a box, you will need to add water regularly to keep it damp - not drenched.  If you notice bugs or a bad smell, you don't have enough yard waste to food, or else you just need to stir it up a bit more.  The inside of your heap should be hot.  If you are stirring regularly, you may notice that snow will melt on top of your heap.  If the inside is cool, your ratios are off somehow.  See if you can figure out what is missing - yard waste, food waste or water.  For the most part, it is a pretty low maintenance process.  You can work at it a lot and it will go faster or you can mostly ignore it when you aren't tossing some scraps in and it will compost slower.

You can add in some fun things to make it go faster or slower, if you are just itching for something to do.  You can get compost worms, which eat the compost and turn it into dirt faster within their own systems.  It is amazing how much compost a small group of worms can make in just a few months!  The worms are specific, though.  You want red wrigglers or tiger worms.  These are two different names for the same worms.  Night crawlers are not the same thing.  I have had great success with getting my worms from freecycle.  You can also add compost starter, which will sort of jump start the process by adding in good bacteria to your compost.  This is not a necessary step, though, as your compost will make its own good bacteria in time.  The starter just makes the process faster.

Depending on your bin or heap, how big it is, and what all you've put into it, you will have compost in a few months to a year.  You will know it is compost when it stops looking like yard waste and food waste and instead looks like dark, fluffy, good smelling dirt.  When it is black, it is good dirt and it is ready to use.

And once you've got the compost, what do you do with it?  You can use it to amend the soil in flower beds and gardens to make it good for growing plants in.  You can use it to fertilize your lawn.  You can use it to mulch around plants and trees.  You can put it in a cloth bag and submerge the bag in a bucket of water for a few days to let the nutrients pass into the water, then use this water to water your plants (including houseplants) as compost tea.  You can give it away to friends and family as great fertilizer.  You can put it on freecycle, if you can't come up with something else to do with it!

I'd love to see pictures and hear stories about your composting experiences!  Do you have a bin that you can rate for us?  Did you build your own bin?  What great tips do you have for composting?


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Independence Days Part 4: Giving Them The Tools

There is a funny little cabinet in our kitchen.  It sits on the dining room side of our peninsula counter.  There is duct work inside the peninsula and a large cabinet on the kitchen side, so this cabinet is all of 7.25 inches deep.  It is long, and only has the bottom shelf.  It is right where the kids can reach it.  So, the possibilities of what to keep in this cabinet have been rather daunting for the past year.  For a while, we kept Beanie's craft supplies in it.  There was a child lock on it that she could work but the Bug couldn't.  So that worked out for a while, but the craft supplies were always all over the table, with shredded paper all over the floor.  It was a situation that made me crazy often.  We finally got our basement all cleaned up and set up the way I want, and we have a great craft area down there now.  We took all of the craft supplies but paper and crayons to the basement.  Then the funny cabinet sat empty for a month or so again.  And then, inspiration struck!

The kids are ecstatic about it!  I've always believed that the kids should have their own real dishes.  If they are old enough to eat, they are old enough to have the tools, I believe.  The tools vary with age, but I have always tried to give them appropriate tools.

When they are first starting out with purees, they get baby spoons.  For the Bug, he got one and I got one.  He would often try to take mine and so he would end up with two while I had one.  The Bean, being my true lover of food, figured out that it went in faster if I was working the spoon, so she was happy to leave it alone and let me poke it in over and over again.  We find quaint little demitasse spoons at estate sales, garage sales, flea markets, thrift stores and the like.  All metal and the correct size and shape for little mouths.  Plus, they tend to be smaller renditions of real spoons which makes them a little more functional than the ones made for children that don't have deep enough bowls to hold the food in well.

When they move on to finger foods, a good high chair tray with green peas, lima beans, or maybe some diced steamed carrots spread over it.  All they need is a pincer grasp and they are off!  The Bug did not actually start eating until he could feed himself.  He refused to condescend to letting me poke spoonfuls of blended foods into his mouth.  He actually did not progress to the spoons until he discovered applesauce, a few months into his eating experience.  This is exactly why he required two spoons to my one.  He didn't want me to be feeding him, but he REALLY wanted that applesauce!

Once they get a little more control, they are ready for a bowl and a spoon of their own.  The wooden bowls we find at estate sales very easily.  Again, no plastic.  They are heavy enough to not tip at the slightest bang, yet light enough for the kids to lift themselves.  They don't break easily if dropped.  Care is very easy; just wipe out under running water.  Use minimal soap and never soak them.  Do not put them in the dishwasher.  Hand over the demitasse spoon and let the little one figure out how to aim for the mouth.  Or perhaps place the bowl on the high chair tray and both of you have a spoon - take turns aiming for the little mouth.

A bit after they've got the spoon down, they are ready for a fork.  After all, you can't scoop everything!  We get pickle or olive forks from, you may have guessed, estate sales, thrift shops, garage sales, and places like that.  They are little narrow forks with actual tines that are sharp enough to spear a piece of food.  The wide ones with the plastic handles that are marketed for children tend to have dull, wide tines that can't actually spear, and are typically too wide to fit in our children's mouths.  The pickle forks work fabulously!

And when they are handy enough to need a fork, they probably need a plate to go with it!  Nothing like marking up the high chair tray or table with a fork, eh?  We got the enamel coated metal ones that you can see in the picture from Nova Natural a few years back.  They have held up well, but when the Bug dropped the matching cup on the floor about a year ago, it chipped the finish and I've worried about the plates ever since.  Our other favorites are some pottery ones made by Bybee Pottery in Middletown, KY.  We prefer the 6 inch dessert plates.  They are in the dishwasher right now, so not in the picture.  They are a nice, heavy weight pottery plate.  The kids don't lift them often.  They don't chip easily.  They don't scoot around like a thinner plate would, so the kids have a little more control over them.  And they have a delightful little rim that holds the food in instead of letting it pop over onto the table.

They do like to have a drink of their own, too.  We start out with Born Free training cups and have loved them for years.  The plastic is BPA free.  The design is easy to handle.  The kids have gone from using the handles to being able to hold the cup without them.  They last for years, with the exception of the spouts.  The spouts have to be replaced periodically.  But, the benefits of these cups are worth reading about on their website.  We have recently retired all of our Born Free cups in favor of the Bybee mugs you can see in the picture.

Most recently, we have added in the butter knife or the cheese spreader (a less sharp, more kid sized option) for spreading butter (or buttery spread if you are off dairy as we are) or cutting up pancakes.

I think it is so important for them to have the right tools, and get to have the experience themselves.  It is so empowering to them to be able to take care of their most basic bodily needs themselves.  Every time that we take power away from children, we tell them that they can't handle it themselves.  Every time that we tell children they can't handle things themselves, they lose a bit of their ability to believe that they are effective beings.  Take a deep breath, decide that cleaning up the mess won't be that big of a deal, and let them get into it!  I taught the dog the command, "Come clean up my floor."

And the newest development, in their independence; I gave them their dishes.  I put them where they could reach them.  I allowed them to have charge of those precious pottery plates and mugs.  I gave up my ideas about orderliness to allow them to have access to their own tools.  And they couldn't be happier about it!  We've gone through several mugs each day instead of 2.  We've used a few extra sets of silverware.  They have to rearrange the cabinet a few times a day.  There are both spoons and forks in the slots of the silverware sorter.  But their joy in being able to get out a bowl by themselves is unsurpassed.  Again, I will deal with the mess so that they can have the experience.  Without the experience, they can't grow and bloom.


Checking In!

So, it's been a quiet several days around here.  My kids have both had a stomach bug and the outpouring of laundry and my energy has kept me away.  I'm back today, though!

This weekend will be our second to last Independence Days post.  Next weekend will end them, although they have been a lot of fun!  I'll do an extra post for the one I missed this past Wednesday, on Mindful Home life.  Also, I'll be working on decorating our van this week and getting it ready for our upcoming camping trip, so I'll be sharing some of my crafting.  And I'd love to get some conversation going about travel food!

The daily cleaning challenge is going to take on a different format, and I'm still formulating it.  My current system isn't working for me as well as I would like it to.  I'm going to start working out a weekly plan and the daily cleaning challenge will be a good reminder and check in for our weekly cleaning instead of being randomly assigned.  Watch for information on that!

I'm glad to be back in the swing of things!  Off to write some new entries.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Upcycling is a relatively new term that can be rather confusing.  Most of us are familiar with recycling - or taking an item and breaking it down then using that material to create a new item.  For example, taking a glass bottle, melting it, using the liquid glass to create a bowl.  This is great because it keeps the glass bottle from sitting in a landfill for thousands of years, going nowhere, and it gets us great new glass products.  Upcycling, though, is the process of repurposing something without breaking it down first.  Not just using something as it is, necessarily, but using something to create something new and with a higher value than the material it is made from.

Etsy is full of examples, as are many do it yourself or crafting websites.  My big new upcycling project is the curtains for my van.  I'll post pictures and a tutorial later.  For now, I'm going to post some pictures of the inspiration for them.  From Freecycle, I recently received a little over 3 giant outdoor trash bags full to the top of upcycled fabric.  There was cotton, wool, linen and silk.  Patterns that I had never seen before!  Small pieces and large pieces.  It was such an amazing find!  By upcycled, I mean that someone had gone to sales, thrift stores, gone through closets and maybe other people's things, and found fabric that had a lot of life left in it, yet which was on its way out for one reason or another.  She rescued it and stored it.  Then she passed it on to me.  And now, I will create new things out of it.  My first project, patchwork curtains for my van!  I'll also be making lots of clothes for the kids for the winter, and next spring from the fabric.

So, is it upcycling to take a piece of clothing and create another piece of clothing?  Sometimes.  The majority of the clothing I was given had an issue and could no longer be used as is.  Sweaters had moth holes.  T shirts had stains.  Pants had torn knees.  Some things were just so far past being in style that no one would wear them now.  But the fabric was all good!  So, taking a $2 pair of size 2X pants from the thrift store, using the fabric to create a toddler sized jumper for my daughter that would sell for $10 or $15 is certainly considered upcycling.

I have a few other upcycling projects in mind for around the house, but haven't gotten them started yet.  I've saved a lovely green ginger ale bottle to create a dish soap dispenser for my kitchen counter.  I use old jars for all manner of things that are worth more than an empty jar is.  I use baskets in for things that other people never think of.  There is plenty more, but I am going to wrap up.  I'll leave you with a few pictures of my new fabric, just for fun.

This is just a smattering.  I can't wait to share the van curtains!  In the mean time, what upcycled projects have you done or are you working on?

Labels: , ,

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Independence Days Part 3: Staying the Night at Grandma's

When ending our visit at Grandma's house this evening, the Bean announced that she wanted to stay the night.  Well, she is almost 4 years old.  What is so amazing about her staying the night at Grandma's house?  Just the fact that many people thought that she would never go; that if I didn't force her to go while she was young, that she would never be comfortable enough to go on her own.

Beanie was an intense baby.  She was born at 31 weeks, and spent 19 days in the NICU, at the mercy of doctors and nurses who controlled her environment and our interactions - to a large degree.  After she was released, she still had to go through many, many unhappy doctors' visits.  She learned very early on that she did NOT like other people.  In fact, she did not like to be away from me for any amount of time or for any reason.  When I would force her to Daddy to go take a 20 minute shower, once a week, they would pace the hallway with her screaming hysterically until I would return.  She would rarely let Grandma or Grandpa even hold her, although we lived with them when she was born.  We moved out when she was 6 months old, but the thought of spending an afternoon with Grandma and Grandpa without me was not something that could even be considered at the time.  In fact, she would rarely even dole out hugs at the beginning of a visit until she was a fair amount over a year old.  At 2 years old, she found that she could go to Grandma's for the afternoon and have a good time, but she couldn't stay the night because she still nursed to sleep.  She finally stayed the night for the first time when she was about 3 years old, after careful planning with Grandma and lots of time to think on it and make sure it would be ok.

I had many a critic at the time.  Many, many people felt that if she were just given the opportunity to try spending time without me she would be fine.  Well, maybe not so much the first time, but that eventually she would stop crying and be happy to play with Grandma and Grandpa, or a babysitter, or whoever.  I was unwilling, however, to force her to be terrified, for any amount of time, without me.  I figured it wasn't a necessity and that if there came a time when I absolutely couldn't be there, then she could deal with it then.  No need to put her through unnecessary stress.  Many predicted that she would grow up afraid of people, painfully shy and frightened about everyone if I didn't force her to go.  I, however, felt that she would be less afraid if she was allowed to come to wanting to explore others on her own.  I felt that when she was old enough to logically understand that Mommy was leaving but that I would return in a while, that she would be better able to handle it.  I wanted her to want to go instead of being forced to go.  And in the end, she did.

One thing that has always confused me is the way people define independence.  Independence isn't about being forced into self-sufficiency.  Independence is about choosing to do what you want to do for yourself, instead of what others might think you should do.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chemical Free Cleaning

How many cleaning products does the average home use?  A dish soap for hand washing, a dish soap for machine washing, rinse aid, laundry detergent, fabric softener, bleach, an all purpose spray, a disinfectant, a window cleaner, a bathroom cleaner, a high grit scrub cleaner and a soft scrub cleaner, a daily shower spray, a kitchen spray, wood polish, carpet cleaner, stainless steel cleaner, range top cleaner, oven cleaner, aquarium chemicals, carpet deodorizer, air freshener and sprays, and probably others that I'm not thinking of.  Do you know what is in those cleaning products?  Probably not, since there are not government regulations that require companies to either disclose their ingredients or to fully disclose their ingredients.  And even if you do get some of the ingredients, what do they mean?  What chemicals are dangerous?  They wouldn't be allowed to put them in products we use if they were dangerous, right?  Wrong.  Very wrong.

OSHA requires that employers keep data sheets for every chemical product a company uses so that employees can look at them at any time.  But when we go to the grocery store to buy things as consumers, we don't get a data sheet.  We get advertisements to educate us!  They tell us the floor isn't clean if it doesn't smell like pine!  Good to know, although I don't know what pine scent has to do with cleanliness.  They tell us that we won't have to clean because the bubbles will scrub for us!  I have never seen any scrub brushes actually fly out of that can, though.  They tell us that they are green!  What does that mean, anyway?

The reality is that most cleaners are bad for the environment.  Most cleaners contain known or suspected carcinogens, lung and eye irritants, stomach irritants and skin irritants.  Many contain phosphates that are terrible for water ways and kill off fish and other marine life.  The packaging fills landfills.  Antibacterial agents lower our own ability to fight off germs while causing bacteria and viruses to mutate and become antibiotic resistant.

Are your only alternatives to these cleaners a dirty house or hours upon hours of scrubbing?  Not at all!  Most cleaners can be replaced with a few, non-toxic items that work just as well.

Soap: Soap is an amazing substance!  It kills most of your everyday germs.  It cuts through grease and dirt and allows it to be rinsed away.  And you can get it in a variety of delightful forms that don't include dangerous chemicals.  I prefer a liquid castile soap like Dr. Bronner's.  Soapy water cleans counters, sinks, bathtubs, toilets, floors, tables, hands, feet, faces, stoves, and on and on.  Put it in a spray bottle and it is all-purpose cleaner.  Add 2-3 tablespoons of liquid soap to a 20 oz spray bottle of water and you've got a highly effective bug spray.  Want it to smell flowery like chemical cleaners?  Add a few drops of essential oil in your favorite scent.  I keep a bottle in the van for cleaning up children, spills, dishes at picnics, etc.  This is my go-to cleaner.  *Soap will irritate eyes.

Baking Soda: Another amazing substance!  Sprinkle on carpet to deodorize safely.  Let sit for several minutes then vacuum up.  Sprinkle on dried on messes, or things that need some abrasion and it cuts your scrubbing in half.  Leave a dish of it sitting in an area that smells less than fresh and it will pull the bad scents out of the air.  Burned dinner to the pan?  Wash once, easily.  Sprinkle baking soda on burned on areas.  Wash again.  Repeat as necessary and watch the mess disappear without the elbow grease.  Have a pitted surface that is hard to clean (like plastic toys that hold dirt below the surface)?  Sprinkle with baking soda, then spray on vinegar.  The dirt will bubble to the top so you can wash it off.  I took a glass peanut butter jar with a metal lid and used a nail to poke several holes in the lid.  I put my baking soda inside and now I have a baking soda shaker. *Baking soda poses a mechanical hazard to eyes.

Vinegar: Dare I use the word amazing again so soon?  Vinegar has so many uses that many people don't know of.  It is a good antiseptic and kills almost as many germs as bleach, without all of the harsh side effects of bleach.  It removes rust and lime from coffee pots, fixtures, and other metal items.  It is also a great deodorizer.  Sprayed on baking soda, it will bubble and remove all baking soda residue.  When we've got a sick kid in the house, we will use a vinegar and water (50/50) spray around the house to get rid of germs.  It is also great in those proportions to mop floors.  Some people love it for cleaning windows as well.

The majority of my cleaning is done with these three things.  There are a few things that we do still use commercially prepared cleaners for.  I've just found a great carpet cleaner for pet spots and stains which has come in quite handy for potty learning!  It is made by Earth Friendly Products.  We use Seventh Generation laundry detergent.  We use dishwasher detergent made by Earth Friendly Products and hand dish soap by Seventh Generation.  I have a glass cleaner made by Seventh Generation, but I rarely use it.  And if you don't want to use any commercial products, there are lots of recipes available online for laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, and other cleaning preparations.

A few tips for buying commercially prepared cleaners:
* Buy something that states what is in it.  If a company won't disclose its ingredients, it has something to hide.
* Avoid chlorine bleach.  It has devastating effects on living beings and the environment.
* Avoid antibacterial products.
*Be very careful with pine and citrus products.  These are very strong and can cause great damage to anyone who might accidentally ingest them.  Ingesting pine oil (as is used in Pine-Sol) can cause pneumonia among many other physical issues.
* Avoid unnecessary cleaners like air fresheners.  Use baking soda or essential oils (or both) instead.
* Be careful with anything that you spray.  Sprays are inhaled, and can cause irritation, even if you aren't using chemicals.
* Be careful with packaging.  Buy containers that can be refilled or recycled.  Aerosols are terrible for the environment and should be avoided if at all possible.
* Avoid corrosive drain cleaners.  Invest in a plumbing snake instead.

What tips do you have to add?

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Independence Days Part 2: Potty Time!

A certain little man in my life is very fond of purple.  A few weeks back, he called Grandma to ask her to make him purple boxer shorts.  Grandma, being very fond of a certain little man, obliged.

For two weeks now, he has not worn diapers during the day.  This is not an unusual leap for a toddler.  Most will decide, somewhere between 18 months and 4 years that they will be done wearing diapers.  The difficult part, sometimes, is for the parents to reign in their desire for the child to stop or to continue wearing diapers.  It is very easy to fall into a pattern of bribery, coercion, shame, and even punishment at potty learning time.  But what can a child have more ownership of than his or her own bodily processes?  Bribery, coercion, shame or punishment only hurts and frustrates those involved.  Nothing that a parent does can take the control away from the child.  Bribing only teaches that the child can get something more for his or her efforts and will often result in lapses of ability once there are lapses in prizes.  Also, most items used as bribes are less than healthy for a child's body.  Coercion teaches a child to doubt his or her ability to make a sound decision.  Shame and punishment simply tear a child down for not being able to control some part of their body, which is never healthy for a child.  Adults aren't punished for bad hair days and children should not be punished for similar involuntary processes.  A child will easily learn about the potty when he or she is ready, with a minimal amount of help.

There are some signs that tell that a child is ready to learn.
* The child is capable of letting an adult know that he or she needs to go.  If this is not met, it is not time.
* The child may be able to put clothing on or off.
* The child is able to hold their urine for a while and urinate a lot at once instead of "dribbling" all of the time.
* The child is able to recognize that he or she is going to go.  This is very different from knowing that it has happened already.
* The child has a desire to use the toilet.
* The child is able to understand directions.

Some signs that this might not be the best time to start, just for balance.
*The child is in the middle of some major changes such as getting a new sibling, moving to a new house, divorce, parent starting a different work schedule or spending more time away from home, friend or close relative moving far away, or death of a loved one.
* The child does not want to use the potty.
* The child is in a negative phase where he or she usually responds to any request with "no!"
* The child does not have the physical capacity to accomplish the goal of using the toilet consistently.

My non-coercion method of potty learning:
1. Give your child as much freedom as possible in daily life.  Let them make choices about the things that affect them.  Let them do as much as possible for themselves, as long as they want to do it.

2. Let your child go to the potty.  Do not take your child to the potty.

3. Model, model, model.  Do it without shame.  Let your child come to the potty with you and talk about it as much as he or she wants to.  Talk about the clothing you wear and that the child will one day wear similar clothing.

4.  When the child asks, consent and aid.  If the child wants to go to the potty, help him or her.  Don't be too busy and push it off.  On the other hand, don't coax the child on to the potty either.  This is entirely the child's decision.

5. Don't assume your child is ready to ditch the diapers because he or she has asked and used the potty a few times intermittently.  The child is ready to ditch the diapers at about the time that you are tired of taking the diaper off so many times today so that the child can use the toilet.

6. Stay plugged in to your child.  Listen, watch, follow closely.  Your child will let you know when he or she is at the prime point for leaving the diapers behind.

7. When it is time, don't switch back and forth from diapers to underpants during the course of the day or week.  This confuses the child and makes it harder for him or her to remember what the proper course of action is before the function is performed.  When it is time to ditch the diaper, ditch it.  Take it off for the entirety of the time that the child is awake.  Some kids may be ready to take it off permanently while some may need them at night for a bit longer.

8. Let the child decide what to wear when it is time for the diaper to go.  The Bug hated trainers.  Wouldn't wear them for a minute.  He loves his boxer shorts, though, even though it meant that Mama and Grandma had to make them for him.  He is happy to wear them.  If yours isn't happy with one option, it may not mean that the child isn't ready, it may just mean that a different style is in order.  Also, if you can be open to "naked tush" it can be a very good option.  The Bug prefers to have naked tush at home because that truly allows him to go to the potty by himself since he hasn't quite got the hang of working his shorts yet.

9.  Have some rags, spot cleaner, and patience ready.  The child will not get it perfect from the get go.  In fact, it will likely be several years before a child can keep dry all of the time.  Relapses will occur.  Sometimes, the child will simply forget.  Sometimes it takes a bit to figure out the amount of time it takes between sensation and production.  But ultimately, the parents' job isn't to instruct, but to aid.  This is truly the child's journey - not anyone else's.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Safer Cosmetics

We’d like to think that the cosmetics we use on our bodies are completely safe for us. That science has given us ingredients that work well and are completely safe. However, that just isn’t the case. OSHA tells us that:

The absorption of chemicals through the skin can have a systemic toxic effect on the body. In many instances dermal exposure is the principal route of exposure, especially for chemicals which are relatively non-volatile…

For chemicals which are absorbed through the skin and which are hazardous, the levels of exposure on the skin must be maintained below a level at which no adverse effects would be observed.

And yet, many people don't realize that much of what we put on our skin - including our scalp - isn't good for us. Many lotions, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, make-up, and other toiletries contain known carcinogens, allergens, irritants and toxins. These things are allowed by the FDA, even in the face of science that says that they are not really safe for us. Skin Deep is a great resource for finding out about safer cosmetic options. Skin Deep is a safety guide to cosmetics and personal care products brought to you by researchers at the Environmental Working Group.

Skin Deep's cosmetics database has information about most cosmetics and toiletries available. It gives each product a rating of 0-10. Zero through 2 are the safest ratings, and are color coded green. Three through 6 are color coded yellow. We still try to avoid anything in the yellow zone at our house, but will have the occasional product that ranks a 3. Seven through 10 are color coded red and are completely out for use at our house. This makes it easy to rank products at a glance, but that isn't all they do at Skin Deep. They give a hazard score to each ingredient in the product, and a description of what concerns science has found about the ingredients. This really empowers the consumer to make an educated decision and to know why a product is good, bad or otherwise. They also have a Sun Protection category with incredible information about sun care products, with effectiveness ratings included. I was amazed to learn how many sunscreens are available that don't actually block the sun.

And if you don't have Skin Deep handy when you are standing there in the store, trying to pick out what you want to buy, you can print up this list and keep it with you for a quick reference. It doesn't have everything, but will typically give you a product that is lower ranking.

Ingredients we don’t use (Soaps, Cleaners, Shampoos)

1. Fragrance – Also called perfume or perfume, this ingredient is a known human immune system toxicant. Moderate evidence of human neurotoxicity. Not assessed for safety in cosmetics by industry panel and it is just generally nasty stuff. Essential oils for fragrance are just fine, as long as they are not used in conjunction with chemical fragrance oils.

2. SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate) or Sodium Myreth Sulfate – Moderate human health concern based on exposure and toxicity. Designated as safe for general or specific, limited use in food. One or more animal studies show brain and nervous system effects at moderate doses. One or more in vitro tests on mammalian cells show positive mutation results (cancer risk). One or more animal studies show broad systemic effects at low doses. One or more animal studies show skin irritation at very low doses. One or more animal studies show endocrine system disruption at high doses. One or more animal studies show reproductive effects at high doses. Wildlife and environmental toxicity.

3. Parabens - also called methylparaben, propylparaben and others. We avoid anything ending in paraben. Used in food or as an additive with limited or no toxicity information available. One or more animal studies show reproductive effects at very low doses. One or more studies show endocrine system disruption at low doses. One or more in vitro tests on mammalian cells show positive mutation results (cancer). One or more animal studies show brain and nervous system effects at moderate doses. Limited evidence of sense organ toxicity. Not assessed for safety in cosmetics by industry panel.

4. Petroleum, Petrolatum, or other petroleum products - (Petrolatum) Persistent, bioaccumulative in wildlife and humans. High human health concern based on exposure and toxicity. Designated as safe for general or specific, limited use in food. Not assessed for safety in cosmetics by industry panel. (Mineral Oil) Possible human immune system toxicant. Human immune and respiratory toxicant - strong evidence. Human immune and respiratory toxicant - moderate evidence. Moderate human health concern based on exposure and toxicity. Designated as safe for general or specific, limited use in food. Cancer - limited evidence (products that may be aerosolized). One or more animal studies show sense organ effects at low doses. One or more animal studies show skin irritation at moderate doses. Not assessed for safety in cosmetics by industry panel. (PETROLEUM DISTILLATES) Possible human carcinogen. High human health concern based on exposure and toxicity. Persistent, bioaccumulative in wildlife and humans. Human immune and respiratory toxicant - moderate evidence. One or more animal studies show sense organ effects at low doses. Wildlife and environmental toxicity. Nervous system - weight of evidence unknown/unassessed/unreviewed: published lit review or major tox study.

5. Other unidentifiable chemical ingredients. If I don’t know what it is, I won’t use it.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Days

The Bean has lately realized that red, white and blue means the Fourth of July, and she is ecstatic about it.  "Look at that Fourth of July flag, Mommy!" came bubbling out of the back seat a few days ago.  At nearly 4 years old, she doesn't at all understand the freedom she has by living in America.  She doesn't begin to comprehend that this space used to belong to other people.  She has no idea how our forefathers and foremothers struggled to create this amazing country where she can wear her rainbow skirt with her red, white and blue flag shirt, and eat food she picked out herself, while sitting at the table in the air conditioned house.  All she understands is that red, white and blue mean that we love America.  And since she loves her life, she is happy to love the place in which she lives it.  In her honor, I'd like to write a series on independence in children.

This is my Bean and her shopping cart.  She loves her shopping cart.  I love her shopping cart.  It has saved us both a lot of tears.

Shopping used to be a miserable experience for us.  Bean wanted to push a cart.  She wanted to help shop.  She wanted to do what we were doing.  And it was a constant battle.  She couldn't see around a cart or maneuver something so big.  She couldn't carry a basket.  And she was so busy grabbing things that I could barely get my shopping done for keeping up with her.  We would often end up leaving the store, both of us tired and cross, and at least one of us in tears.  I was at a complete loss as to how to get her to cooperate.  The evening of one particularly rough day, after she had gone to bed, I told Papa to go down and get one of the toy shopping carts from the basement, put it together, and put it in the trunk of my car.

The next day, we went off to shop and when we pulled the bags from the trunk and discovered a miniature shopping cart, our world changed!  Her face lit up.  She listened to every request and pushed her cart as carefully as possible.  She got a "friend" from the back seat to put in the seat of the cart.  And we were off on a great adventure, instead of a great argument.  The struggle for independence was over.  I had let her win.  I had given her the proper tools to be independent, instead of forcing her into my mold.  I gave her something she could control, and I let her have a chance to show what she could do.  And she performed beautifully.

I could have come up with a different answer.  I could have put her in my cart (although I don't know what I would have done with the Bug at stores where each cart only holds one child), and made her ride when she couldn't listen.  I could have dragged her out of the store, crying, on the days when she couldn't listen.  I could have tried to force her to what I wanted her to do.  But none of those would have truly caused satisfaction for either of us.  Empowering her to explore in a way that was satisfactory to both of us was a much better answer.  Her sense of pride with her cart is so evident - wherever we go.  She is neither reckless nor careless with it.  It is hers, and she takes good care of it.  She participates in the shopping, instead of hampering it.  I tell her what we are shopping for and she helps to look for it.  When she finds things that are light enough for her to lift, she confirms that it is the correct item and puts it in her cart.  Her own sheer joy about having the power to do a job well keeps her from getting into trouble.

Occasionally people will tell me that I shouldn't let my kids fall asleep in my bed, nurse as toddlers, cry when they fall down or some other such thing, because I will hamper their independence.  I always just chuckle.  I know what true independence is.  So do my children, even if they don't understand that they know it yet.  True independence is being allowed to do what you are capable of.  It means stepping out and testing the waters, even when you aren't sure.  It means having the opportunity to try something new.  It isn't being forced to do what you don't want to, so that you will learn to do it.  That isn't what our forefathers did.  They struck out on their own, bravely, into new territory and learned how to make a life in an untamed land.  They supported one another.  They helped one another.  They fought the restraints that kept them from true independence.  And they won.  Just like my Bean, stepping bravely into the untamed land of childhood, where anything can happen and there is little control over what will happen to you next.  She is brave, and I am brave.  Together, we don our red, white and blue and step out into the world.