Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sugar-free, Delicious Christmas Baking -- Pure Fantasy?

Christmas baking is so hard now that I don't eat sugar! I'm still early on in my experimenting process, but so far the shortbread cookies made with whole wheat pastry flour and honey have NOT been exactly the same as their white-flour-and-white-sugar counterpart. Well, to be more specific, my taste buds were quite happy with their still-buttery goodness, but my mom was less than impressed by their new, healthier personality. Oh, and the lack of icing sugar made them spread out really, really thin, too. They were almost completely unrecognizable as good old Scottish shortbread.


But, I will press on! If there's one thing I've learned over the past week, even, it's that sugar and I do NOT mix well at all any more. If I want to have a "happy holiday," as they say, I'd do well to keep it out of my holiday baking.

Anyone who leaves any tips or recipes will be loved forever and ever...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Confessions of a Skinny Glutton, Part One

I've been thinking lately about food. For some reason, every time the weather turns cooler, I get strong urges to bake things. Pies, cookies, breads -- anything with cinnamon in it.

So, this last weekend, I baked some pies. I'd never really baked pies much before, and I struggled like crazy with some of the pastry, but the apple pies smelled so good and made me feel so cozy. (It helped that it was a cool, rainy fall day. I also did some knitting that day.)

But then... I ate some pie. And it was so delicious! I took two pies to my mom's place, and you should have seen the shocked look on her face. It was great.

However, that afternoon, after eating chips and hamburgers for lunch, with two small pieces of pie for dessert, I felt like I was going to throw up. My whole body was in rebellion from all that sugar and fat and salt. And I thought to myself, "This is how I used to eat all the time. And I used to feel like this, too. But I thought it was normal."

Now, I know better.

The funny thing is, I used to be a skinny glutton (and I still am, deep down inside). I thought that since I was the right size, I could eat whatever I wanted. So, I ate things that were delicious, and I usually ate far past the moment I was full, just because I wanted more of the lovely taste in my mouth.

Then, I got pregnant. The rules of weight gain change when you are pregnant.

Then, I got pregnant again. And again. With twins.

Yes, I had four kids in short succession. And then, after the twins were born, I looked in the mirror and didn't recognize myself anymore. I had put on more and more weight with each pregnancy, and it wasn't just falling off anymore with the breastfeeding. And, silly me, I had no idea how to lose that weight.

So what did I do? Actually, I joined my local Weight Watchers. I realized that I was eating all the wrong foods, at all the wrong times and in all the wrong ways. I ate hardly any fresh vegetables (I had two toddlers and two babies, remember?), I forgot to eat, and then I binge-ate whatever I could find because I was about to pass out. Oh yeah, and I drank a lot of coffee.

I still do drink a lot of coffee, but my other eating habits have changed drastically. But more than that, my attitude towards food has changed. For me, that has been the key to weight loss as well as better health. I no longer think the way the skinny high-school me used to think (thank goodness), and I don't take my health -- or my figure -- for granted any more.

Stay tuned for the next post to find out what changed in my head as well as in my recipes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Carbon Footprints and Skateboard Handbags

Well, I seem to be suffering from writer's block. But I'll plug on ahead, anyway. Forgive me if the topics are muddled.

I've been wondering lately about global warming. Is it really, legitimately a bad thing? Isn't carbon dioxide really good for plant growth? I'm skeptical, and I find it so hard to sort through all the information out there. Plus, wikipedia basically says that "most credible scientists" are on-board. Translation: If you don't believe in global warming, you're an idiot. Well, scientists have been wrong before... and they seem to suffer from mass pressure to back the "in" research.

And I believe in reading the research and deciding for myself.

But the research fades and hides behind layers of websites toting carbon offsetting and the like, as if everyone who's anyone already knows what's going on and, of course, agrees. But how am I to agree when I can't find the basic data? More mining to do, I guess. If there are any great researchers out there who don't have four kids and a house to take care of, let me know. :)

Aside from my personal global-warming crisis, I found the most wonderful website today! I was reading my latest copy of Alive magazine and came across a picture of a clutch purse made out of an old skateboard. Intrigued, I walked my cup of coffee over to the computer and typed in the web address.


As you'll see to the right side of my page, I even added a link to -- music, please! -- the wonderful fantasy land filled with beautiful and weird bags (have I mentioned I love bags?) made out of candy wrappers, cd's, chopsticks, and even juice boxes. Brilliant, creative, and recycled!

All in all, it was a good day.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sugar Crisis: The Update

Okay, I have a confession to make: I suck at quitting sugar.

I thought it would be so easy, since I didn't really eat that much of it to begin with. But once I started thinking about it, I started craving it. Suddenly, I was craving donuts -- which I normally don't like -- and dreaming of ice cream. What was going on???

I still have no answer. And, I still haven't kicked the habit.

Now my internal debate centres around whether it's really a big deal, after all. What if I was just being a fanatic, and it's really not the end of the world if I eat a brownie now and then? (Especially if it's a really, really GOOD brownie...) Then I wonder if it's my addiction that's talking and telling me it's okay to have just one. Ack!

You see how this could get out of hand.

The solution I've worked out, for now, is that I'll just do what I did when I was losing weight: I'll keep eating healthy, with lots of veggies and water and fiber (and coffee -- so sue me), and when I do indulge in a treat, I'll make it small. I won't completely deny myself, but I won't go crazy, either. A nice, happy medium. Hey, it worked for losing forty pounds, so I figure it could keep me from sugar-induced illnesses, as well. Maybe.

Anyway, that's the update. I hope you're not too disappointed in me.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lessons From A Cottage

As a woman who lives in a small, rural town, who drives regularly past corn fields and cows, I had assumed that I lived close to nature. I take my kids outside to play when I can, and I occasionally pull weeds out of my overgrown flower beds.

But this last week, I was away at a cottage, and I realized how much I'd missed the countryside.

There is something so peaceful about a lake and a wide, spread-out vista of natural beauty. I was without my beloved internet connection; I left my responsibilities and telephone calls behind. I read books. I watched my kids catch frogs. I sat on a beautiful porch and watched the rain fall all around me and make tiny patterns in the lake's surface.

I breathed more deeply than I have in a long time. A deep sense of peace filled my heart.

What's the point of sharing this story? I'm not sure, exactly. I guess I've been thinking about the reason for this blog: I want to encourage each of us, including myself, to think differently. To make our lives better. To start with small things that we can change ourselves, to take responsibility for the state of our world, of our lives. To struggle and wonder towards self improvement. To instill curiosity, even indignation. To provoke change.

I realize that's a tall order to fill.

But there's also this: small things, like spending a couple days reading beside a lake, can make a big difference. They can change our hearts.

So go jump in a lake.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Quitting Cocaine Must Be Easier Than Quitting Sugar

Here are my tips for going off sugar:

Don't do it two days before your best friend moves across the country.
Don't buy Ben & Jerry's the week before, even if it IS on sale.
Don't forget that the sugar withdrawal could be the real reason behind your sudden loss of the will to live... or at least of your desire to get up in the morning.

Yeah, that's pretty much it right now. Oh, except for one thing: Expect your coffee addiction to get worse for a while.

I'll let you know how I feel when the fog lifts from my brain.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Goodbye, Sweet Sugar

After I wandered around in a tired, confused, hungry daze late this afternoon, my husband looked at me and said, "You had too much sugar today, didn't you? You're acting like you're having a sugar crash."

I guiltily admitted that I'd had a delicious caramel macchiato this afternoon. But really, who knew that all that syrup and caramel would be such a big deal?

So, as I drove to the grocery store after supper to restock our pathetic cupboards, I decided not to buy anything with sugar in it. After reading Sugar Blues last week and really learning how destructive sugar is to our bodies, I'd thought then that we should probably eliminate it from our diets as a family. Then, after my erratic and depressed behaviour this week induced by ice cream, oatmeal (those little sugary breakfast packets), and now caramel, I figured it was time to stop for real.

It's hard, though. I mean, obviously sugar is delicious. If it weren't, we wouldn't all be so addicted to it.

Anyway, I started reading labels at the grocery store tonight on things that I'd always just trustingly added to my cart: Cheerios, Special K, bread, tortillas, Miracle Whip, vinegar. They've all got sugar in them!

I had a bit of an inner struggle as I walked past the granola bars, but I decided I'd make my own from the fabulous recipe in The Sneaky Chef, so that gave me the strength to move on.

The most difficult part of going sugar free, I think, is finding healthy foods to snack on that my slightly particular four-year-old will eat. But since he's a die-hard cracker fan, I read the labels on a couple boxes and settled on the President's Choice Blue Menu crackers, of all things. I also picked up some organic puffed corn and kamut for the babies.

I did cheat a little bit on my favourite cereal (which does contain sugar, darn it!), but I figured that since it's so high in fibre, I might be okay. Besides, I've never had a sugar crash after eating it, and it's just so tasty! I used the same theory with the bread: more fibre = less damage from the sugar. I'm not entirely sure if that's true, but at least the fibre regulates the absorption of sugar during digestion (I read that in Alive magazine), so maybe we'll be okay.

I skipped buying apple juice, too. The boys will just have to drink milk or water. Here's hoping they don't beg for it all week!

I really really really hope that we won't go through major sugar withdrawal symptoms -- cravings, headaches, irritability, exhaustion -- but I guess if we do, we'll survive. We're cutting back, but we weren't consuming that much to begin with. Except, of course, for the Ben & Jerry's I got on sale last week. And all the parties I've been to lately that had delicious desserts. But aside from those... Oh, never mind.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Oh yeah, and if this post was a little disconnected, I'm blaming that on the sugar, too.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It Seems That Antidepressants Aren't So Great, After All

In my life, I have been on Zoloft, Celexa, Effexor, and Wellbutrin. The first three of those antidepressants are SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), and Wellbutrin is a dopamine reuptake inhibitor.

I was always told by my doctors that my depression would go away once we found the right drug, and I agreed with them once I started Wellbutrin, which seemed to me to be a magic pill with instant results.

But now I think they were wrong. Completely, horribly misinformed and very wrong.

My depression was most likely sugar-induced. Our bodies are not capable of consuming sucrose without many, many negative effects including anxiety, depression, obesity, hypoglycemia, diabetes, and so much more. (Read "Sugar Blues" for a more complete picture.) But I've written about this in a previous post.

The thing I've learned today, and which is making me cold to my bones, is about the antidepressants that my well-meaning doctors prescribed to cure me.

I always wondered why the list of side effects that came with each prescription were the exact symptoms I was trying to avoid: trouble sleeping, agitation, increased suicidal thoughts and anger. But I took the pills anyway.

I never felt better when on any SSRI. I slept most of the time, was emotionally numb, found it hard to concentrate, didn't want to eat, and, on Celexa, couldn't even drive because I was so out of it. I also never stopped feeling horrible; only a great numbness and lethargy overtook me, and I didn't have the energy to do anything about it except bang my hand against the wall -- to feel, at least, something. (That was on Zoloft.) On Effexor, I had no appetite at all, and my roommate had to force me out of bed and make me eat. Alternately, on that same drug, irrational anger and rage would overtake me, and I would imagine doing horrible things to myself and to other people. Thankfully, I only ever imagined.

In the list of side effects for Effexor, one more thing has quietly been added: homicidal ideation. There are reported cases of people actually acting out things they wouldn't normally do while on these drugs, the worst one I've heard of being the mother who drowned her five children in the bathtub.

I am not kidding.

And Effexor does not stand alone. All these drugs have been shown to be ineffective for treating depression while messing with the serotonin levels they claim to be helping. They act on the brain in the same ways that PCP and LSD do -- the only difference is that they take longer to work.

Even my beloved Wellbutrin, though not an SSRI, is one of the antidepressants that the International Coalition for Drug Awareness claims is dangerous.

I think I can safely say that next winter, when I start feeling blue, I'll cut out all sugar, take some vitamin D, and get lots of sunlight.

If you are taking any of these medications right now, do NOT stop cold turkey. Apparently, that makes the side effects worse. Go to the ICDA's website for their recommendations on how to slowly wean yourself off the drugs, and do it under a doctor's close supervision. The good news is that if you've been having horrible thoughts like I used to have, it's not you. It's the drugs.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Toxic Clutter -- Is There Hope?

Have you ever thought about clutter? Okay, obviously, we all have; we either abhore it and keep it far away from us, or (this is my way), we lament at its ever-present, seemingly eternal state.

But this is what I'm learning about clutter: it sucks the very life-force right out of you.

That probably doesn't come as a big surprise to you, but it did to me. I made excuses for it, like, "I know where everything is," or "I just don't look at it, so it doesn't really bother me."

The truth is, it does bother me. I'd like to be able to sweep through my house in an hour and have the whole place tidied, without having to spend a couple weeks organizing and putting things away first. I'd like to sit down in my living room after the kids are all in bed and prop my feet up on a clean coffee table and take a deep breath and just relax -- without feeling guilty that I'm not picking up junk or filing piles of paper.

I'd like to walk into the house and feel happy to be home instead of tense and vaguely unsettled.

I'm not quite there yet, but I AM getting closer. I finally have my three main living spaces -- kitchen, living room, and attached toy room/computer spot -- down to a fairly manageable level. (Granted, as I type this, I am looking at the clutter still on my desk and thinking I really should tackle that next.) And you know what? It really does impact every area of my life.

Walking downstairs in the morning to a tidy kitchen makes we want to DO things that day instead of running and hiding somewhere safe. It makes the simple act of making coffee enjoyable instead of extremely stressful (which it was when I had to wash all the dishes just to get to the coffeepot).

What does clutter have to do with being an Eco-Newbie? you ask. Well, I think it has a lot to do with it. In my mind, eco-newbie-ness is more about self-improvement than anything else. We try so hard to remove the toxins from our foods and homes, but if we don't remove the stress toxins, what's the point? We want to learn about making our lives better for our kids, but if we let them play in tiny spaces taken up by mountains of __insert clutter vice here__, again, what's the point?

Now, having said that, I still have a long way to go! I let my kids watch too much tv, I still have two thirds of my house in total disarray, and I struggle to find clean, matching pajamas for them at bedtime. But hey, I'm an Eco-Newbie, too, after all. Cut me some slack.

In honour of making our homes better in all aspects, I've posted a link to, which is an awesome website for clutterbugs like me. Hopefully you'll be better at doing what she says, though! Small tip: don't just read her advice; do it. I've also posted a new recommended read, "It's All Too Much" by Peter Walsh, because that book got me to think about clutter in a way I'd never experienced before. Suddenly, it didn't seem so necessary to keep that hideous table cloth for sentimental reasons. His advice made it much easier for me to begin the de-cluttering process because he got me to see it through new eyes.

What de-cluttering advice or books do you have to offer? Don't keep them to yourself!! Share! Share!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Hey, Pass Me A Can of Phosphoric Acid

I found this information by typing "phosphoric acid" into Google. The internet is so handy when it comes to researching chemicals:

"Hazards Identification

Emergency Overview

SAF-T-DATA(tm) Ratings (Provided here for your convenience)
Health Rating: 3 - Severe
Flammability Rating: 0 - None
Reactivity Rating: 2 - Moderate
Contact Rating: 4 - Extreme (Corrosive)
Storage Color Code: White (Corrosive)

Potential Health Effects

Inhalation is not an expected hazard unless misted or heated to high temperatures. Mist or vapor inhalation can cause irritation to the nose, throat, and upper respiratory tract. Severe exposures can lead to a chemical pneumonitis.
Corrosive. May cause sore throat, abdominal pain, nausea, and severe burns of the mouth, throat, and stomach. Severe exposures can lead to shock, circulatory collapse, and death.

Skin Contact:
Corrosive. May cause redness, pain, and severe skin burns.
Eye Contact:
Corrosive. May cause redness, pain, blurred vision, eye burns, and permanent eye damage.
Chronic Exposure:
No information found.
Aggravation of Pre-existing Conditions:
Persons with pre-existing skin disorders or eye problems, or impaired respiratory function may be more susceptible to the effects of the substance.

4. First Aid Measures

Remove to fresh air. If not breathing, give artificial respiration. If breathing is difficult, give oxygen. Call a physician immediately.
If swallowed, DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING. Give large quantities of water. Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person. Get medical attention immediately.

Skin Contact:
Immediately flush skin with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes while removing contaminated clothing and shoes. Call a physician, immediately. Wash clothing before reuse.
Eye Contact:
Immediately flush eyes with gentle but large stream of water for at least 15 minutes, lifting lower and upper eyelids occasionally. Call a physician immediately."


You might be wondering why on earth this matters. What do you care about phosphoric acid? You don't work with hazardous chemicals.

Just read the label on that can of pop you're drinking.

Does anyone else feel sick? 'Cause I feel like I'm going to throw up.

Here's an excerpt from "Sugar Blues," which is what got me looking up phosphoric acid online:

"The Navy nutritionist, Dr. McCay... 'I was amazed to learn,' he testified, 'that the beverage [cola] contained substantial amounts of phosphoric acid.... At the Naval Medical Research Institute, we put human teeth in a cola beverage and found they softened and started to dissolve within a short period.'
While the congressmen gaped, the doctor went on:
'The acidity of cola beverages ... is about the same as vinegar. The sugar content masks the acidity, and children little realize they are drinking this strange mixture of phosphoric acid, sugar, caffeine, coloring, and flavoring matter.'
A congressman asked the doctor what government bureau had charge of passing on the contents of soft drinks.
'So far as I know, no one passes upon it or pays any attention to it,' the doctor replied.
'No one passes on the contents of soft drinks?' asked the congressman.
'So far as I know, no one.'
Another congressman asked if the doctor had made any tests of the effect of cola beverages on metal and iron. When the doctor said he hadn't, the congressman volunteered: 'A friend of mine told me once that he dropped three tenpenny nails into one of the cola bottles, and in forty-eight hours the nails had completely dissolved.'
'Sure,' the doctor answered. 'Phosphoric acid there would dissolve iron or limestone. You might drop it on the steps, and it would erode the steps coming up here... Try it.'
'Since soft drinks are playing an increasingly important part of the American diet and tend to displace foods such as milk, they deserve very careful consideration,' the doctor suggested.
That was in 1951" (Dufty, page 178).

But since soft drinks and sugar are big business, the government hasn't done anything lasting about protecting us from such ingredients. Did you know that the FDA doesn't require ingredients to be proven safe before allowing them for consumption? The new ingredients -- additivies, chemicals, food colourings -- get put on the GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) list until proven they're unsafe, after all.

Who came up with this system?

I am, at this point, fairly convinced that health -- true health -- must be the responsibility of each of us, individually. If we rely solely on government agencies and research to protect us, if we buy products because of their great advertising campaigns, we are doing ourselves and our children a disservice. A huge one.

Did you know that many of the illnesses we have today did not exist a couple hundred years ago, except in cultures whose diet was saturated with refined sugar, like ours?

The way around it is proper nutrition. Whole foods -- not stripped, enriched processed foods like white flour, white rice, and white sugar -- contain essential nutrients in proper balances. The key is training our tastebuds to enjoy them again!

Just some food for thought. ;)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Great and Eternal Sugar Conundrum

I used to get anxiety attacks. I was also diagnosed with clinical depression when I was 19, but that diagnosis has changed to Seasonal Affective Disorder. But last winter was actually pretty good with a minimal amount of medication.

Want to know my secret?

The anxiety attacks stopped completely when I cut sugar out of my diet. (I have since then re-introduced it, but I sure don't consume as much as I used to.)

I did have a Pepsi about a year ago when my husband and I were out at a restaurant, but the next day I had an almost-complete mental breakdown (well, I guess it was an all-day anxiety attack), so I haven't had any pop since. And I haven't had any anxiety attacks since then, either.

I've been reading "Sugar Blues" by William Dufty today, and I just have to share this great quote from it about what endocrinologists have discovered:

"The brain is probably the most sensitive organ in the body. The difference between feeling up or down, sane or insane, calm or freaked out, inspired or depressed depends in large measure upon what we put in our mouth. For maximum efficiency of the whole body -- of which the brain is merely a part -- the amount of glucose in the blood must balance with the amount of blood oxygen."

Makes sense, right? The whole book is just blowing my mind. I wish I'd read it years ago, but I've only just discovered it. I bet I could have avoided years of fatigue and depression if I'd just known what sugar does to the body.

Then again, I was so addicted to it that I might not have cared.

Seriously, when I first went sugar-free, I had three days of absolutely insane withdrawal: headaches, grouchiness, utter exhaustion. Thank God it only lasted three days!

But what happened afterwards is just what this endocrinologist, John W. Tintera, said emphatically (and which was quoted in "Sugar Blues"):

"It is quite possible to improve your disposition, increase your efficiency, and change your personality for the better. The way to do it is to avoid cane and beet sugar in all forms and guises."

In case that's unclear, "cane and beet sugar" is sucrose: white, refined sugar as well as the less-refined brown sugar.

Isn't that amazing? And totally scary for our sugar-addicted & saturated society? It's even in ketchup, in beer, in bread... It's in places we'd never think to look and places that are obvious but soooo delicious that we wouldn't want to live without them.

We even give it to our small children as treats.


So, after reading about sugar today, I've realized how much has crept back into my diet. Those delicious granola bars I've been addicted to have a huge amount of sugar in them (which I read with dread, knowing that I'd have to give them up). So even though I've been drinking my coffee -- another vice I'll have to give up someday -- without sugar, I've been filling the void with other snacks. And here I thought I was doing such a good job eating healthy.

I also give the boys apple juice to drink, which is full of fruit sugar. I bet if I do some investigating into our pantry, I'll discover all sorts of things that I'll have to quit re-stocking.

I think it's worth it, though. I'd like my boys to grow up without the extra lethargy and the inclination towards mental illness that's obviously in my family. I'd like to have some more energy so that I won't "need" my coffee anymore. I'd like to just see what life is supposed to be like -- life like I can hardly even imagine because I've been entrenched in the subtle culture of sugar since I was born.

Is it possible to "escape"? Other people have done it and lived to tell the tale of less illnesses and more vitality. I think I'd like to join them.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

SRI's -- What The...???

Socially Responsible Investments. This is what I'm currently trying to puzzle my way through. It's about time we started saving for retirement, but I don't want to just randomly get some mutual fund that will give me a great return while funding the companies and practices that I'm currently trying to phase out of my life.

So I tried to do a little research today into funds that I could invest in. I thought it would be simple.

What was I thinking?

First of all, I have no idea how to read one of those investment charts that supposedly tell all about the funds' yearly returns. Is a minus sign before a decimal-point number good or bad? Is that the percentage of return earned or lost or something else entirely?

Honestly, I'm not even sure what other questions I need to ask. I can tell this is going to be one of those things that I plod my way through slowly, procrastinating and dreading each new step.

In short, I'm thrilled.

But it has to be done. We have to retire eventually, unless the world ends between now and age sixty-five. But I'm going to be optimistic and assume it won't. So that means I'm stuck delving into the scintillating world of percentages and ethics in big, money-making machines called investment companies.


I'll let you know how it goes. (Unless, of course, somebody out there reading this has already figured this all out. In that case: HELP!)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Eco-Newbie Challenge

So, two things to think about today:

The first is the Eco-Newbie challenge, whose event is hosted on facebook. Just thought I'd throw out some ideas for anyone trying to decide what to do. The challenge is to find one little thing to change this week about your life that will make your life healthier, greener, or better in some other way.

If you're just getting started like me, a great thing to do is to pick up a book and read it. There're great recommendations on the right-hand side of the page. One that's not listed there is published, as far as I can tell, only in Canada, and it's called Green For Life by Gillian Deacon. A warning, though: there's a lot of information in that one little book. Don't try to renovate your whole house this week!

I find the biggest part of my eco-journey is gaining knowledge. The more I learn, the more I can make informed decisions.

Another simple thing to do is to test out baking soda as a cleaning product. Try scrubbing your sink with it along with a little water and a stainless-steel scrubber. Then rinse it out, dry it, and shine it with a couple drops of olive oil on a cloth. Your sink will gleam happily at you when you wake up in the morning, and you won't have to worry about any weird chemicals fuming up your kitchen. :)

Here's another idea: drink more water. It's good for you. Or eat more veggies. I like salad with little bites of broccoli and orange pepper and some creamy poppyseed dressing. Yum!

See how simple this is? There are so many little things we can change that will improve our quality of life. So have fun with it!

As for the other thing I was going to talk about, forget it for now. This is a lot. I'll write about vitamins later.

Friday, June 27, 2008


So you'd think that since I'm blogging, I'd be pretty familiar with technology and computer stuff, right?


Yup. I will freely admit that I am a wide-eyed techno-newbie, gaping in amazement at all my new discoveries online. For instance, did you know that you can download movies? As in, buy them without a box? Amazon calls them "Unbox Movies." (How cute is that?) Amazon also sells mp3's (another thing I'm getting used to. Imagine -- buying whole CD's without the packaging or the trip to the store! Very eco-friendly.).

I'm also drooling over the new Amazon Kindle. Have you heard of this thing? I am a die-hard reader who'd like nothing better than to spend half of each day at my kitchen table sipping a coffee and devouring a book. This Kindle thing is a little hand-held, electronic device with a screen that's supposed to read just like real paper (no sore computer-screen eyes!), and you can download a gezillion different titles onto it. Imagine! I could take my whole library with me everywhere I go. And I wouldn't have to cut down trees to do it. :)

Again, I'm in awe.

I'm also starting to consider the merits of iPods, which I'd up to this point considered to be trendy, unnecessary money-wasters. (Confession: I was also afraid of them. They seem so mysterious.) But someone recently pointed out that they're actually very eco-friendly, too. No CD packaging... or shelves and shelves filled up with CD cases, taking up valuable space in my kitchen cupboards. No gas wasted driving in to the music store. Interesting thought, eh? To think that all those teenagers are actually saving the planet.

I guess the only problem with all this technology is its end-of-life cycle. Since we go through it all so quickly, upgrading to the latest and greatest models, a lot of perfectly useful things get thrown out and fill up the landfills. Plus, according to Greenpeace, some of them have pretty unfriendly electronic components that need to be properly disposed of. (Or better yet, phased out and replaced with something else.)

I'm not quite ready to go out and buy myself an iPod just yet, but I'm getting more and more comfortable with all these new things. (Okay, I realize that iPods aren't new. It just takes me a while to adjust. Give me a break.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Evil Estrogen Shampoo Adventures

Since I am PMS-ing today, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about estrogen.

Did you know that there are a gezillion chemicals out there, in our everyday products, which mimic estrogen? No wonder PMS is so scary!

The most common ones are parabens (found in shampoo and other beauty products as a preservative) and sodium lauryl sulfate (found in shampoo and anything else that foams, like toothpaste and hand soap and the stuff garages use to de-grease engines).

Let's focus on sodium lauryl sulfate.

Last fall, I heard a speaker talk about her experiences with breast cancer and the things she had learned about natural products as a result. One of the substances she mentioned was SLS, and her casual comment about its being a skin irritant found in shampoo caught my attention.

For months, my scalp had been super irritated and itchy and tender, and I was starting to wonder what was wrong with it. Was I not washing enough? But no matter how often I shampooed my hair, I got no relief.

So, when I got home that day, I googled sodium lauryl sulfate. (Thank goodness google is so forgiving of spelling! My guess wasn't quite right.) May I just say, Yikes! I was so upset by what I learned that my husband had to tell me to take deep breaths and calm down.


SLS causes skin and eye irritation. It strips oil away, dries out the scalp and hair, and even made my dry hair frizzier (even though the shampoo says "deep moisture" on it). It breaks down the skin cells and gets absorbed into the body, as well as making an avenue for other nasty chemicals to soak through. It's possible that it can cause eye problems even if it doesn't come into contact with the eyes (since it gets absorbed by the skin). It also, once absorbed, mimics estrogen -- and we all know how important that delicate balance of hormones is!

And get this. This was the kicker (aside from my sore head, that is): since it's an eye irritant, it stings when it gets in your eyes. But do companies take it out of shampoo? No. They add one more chemical that numbs your eyeballs.

I'm. Not. Kidding.

I looked at every brand of shampoo in the drugstore, and they all contained either sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, or ammonium laureth sulfate. Even the kids' shampoos.

Some companies and scientists maintain that SLS isn't so bad, but my tender scalp and I beg to differ. Since switching to my Aubrey Organics brand, my head has gradually healed and is now feeling great (except when I've gone four days without showering because I've been pulling my hair out over my four boys). My hairdresser even commented that my hair is much healthier -- shinier, with much less split ends and less frizz. Yay!

A note on the brand I chose to switch to: It was the only brand in my health-food store whose label contained only familiar-sounding ingredients. You know, things like coconut and allspice. The consistency's a bit more liquidy, but it smells heavenly. And the conditioner! My hair just drinks it right up, and there's hardly any left to rinse out. Pure bliss.

Oh yeah, and even though I'm PMS-ing today (and yesterday. Sigh.), the mood swings aren't nearly as bad as they used to be. It's more like a general case of the blahs with a little bit of teary-eyed sentimentality than a full-blown I-Hate-My-Life-And-I-Need-To-Get-Out-Of-Here surprise attack when my husband walks though the door after work.

Who knew reducing chemicals could be so good for a marriage?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What Do I Do About Plastic?

This has become a big dilemma for me -- because I sell Tupperware. Tupperware is plastic. Plastic, plastic, and more plastic.

When the news story about bisphenol-A broke, I watched it with avid interest. I'd been starting to wonder about plastic, but since I enjoyed my Tupperware business, I'd done a teeny bit of research, shrugged my shoulders, and moved on. I kept telling myself, and my customers, that Tupperware plastic was high quality and wouldn't leech into their foods like the cheap, dollar-store containers and water bottles would do.

But after all those baby bottles were recalled, I went online to see if I could find more information about the plastic used in Tupperware products.

Much to my surprise, Tupperware had recently posted information containing the exact type of plastic used in each container as well as the "official" response to BPA. It was a wealth of information! Tupperware maintains that, although they'll be following upcoming research closely, their containers made with BPA are still food-grade and safe.

I'm a little more skeptical.

But then, I'm becoming a little cynical towards big companies and non-natural substances in general.

As one of my friends says (approximately), "I figure if it's wood, glass, or metal, it's probably safe."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Every Woman Should Have This!

About a year ago, a friend of mine told me about the DivaCup. She raved about how it had changed her life. I wasn't sure it would make such a big difference for me, but since I trust her, I searched online and came across the website.

I avidly read through all the FAQ's and customer feedback, and decided that I would try one, too.

Are you ready for this? It is the most amazing thing ever invented in the history of the world for a woman's period.

I can't feel it. I only have to empty it twice a day. It's sanitary. It doesn't smell funny. It's easy to use once you get the hang of it. I paid for it once, and it'll last for about two years.

In other words, it's one of the easiest, most pleasant, money-saving ways to make my life better AND help the environment. How cool is that?

Basically, even if I cared nothing at all about saving the planet, I'd still love it. The whole eco-friendly thing is just an added bonus. :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

I'm An Un-Trendy Eco-Newbie

One thing I find frustrating about trying to get healthy is the current trendiness of all things green.

Here's a controversial question: Is global warming really a big deal, or is it being made into a big deal by the people who profit from our worries? Honestly, I haven't done much research into it, but I'm starting to think I should.

A totally different trend that bugs me a bit is that of major brands now coming out with green product lines. I'm learning to read labels, and from what I can tell, they're only doing the bare minimum to make their products qualify for the green label. I mean, if they really cared about our health (and not just adding more profits to their pockets by jumping onto the latest bandwagon), wouldn't they do away with the other, non-healthy products that their companies produce?

I also find that trendiness makes people think about one part of a large issue for mere minutes... before they settle back in to their usual ways of life. It's all too confusing to figure out if the Atkins diet really works, or if it'll be de-bunked in five years and we'll feel ridiculous for trying it. What if green stuff is like that, too?, we wonder.

Being trendy takes away credibility. Trends come and go. So what of this green movement is lasting? And how much of it will really make a difference?

I'm a firm believer in starting the change that I want to see. Why wait? Maybe on my own, I won't accomplish much on a global scale, but I can at least change the atmosphere in my house. And I really do think that a lot of these "trendy" things have merit. It's just sorting through it all that's the hard part...

I Love My Cast Iron Pan So Much, I Think I'll Give It A Name

After my success with my little bitty cast-iron frying pan, I told my husband that I'd like to get another, bigger one. He replied that he might have an old one from camping hiding somewhere in his parents' garage.

Oh. My. Goodness.

He didn't tell me it was for frying whole fish or a side of elk. He presented me with a huge, 13 3/8 inch frying pan, encrusted with layers of dirt, rust, and old grease. But he said I could use it. If I could lift it, that is.

All I have to say is, it's a good thing my excitement about cast iron cookware is still so new.

I rolled up my figurative sleeves and started scrubbing away at that thing last night, determined to get it back in shape so I could make monstrously huge berry cobblers in the oven to feed forty people (you know, just in case).

There are muscles in my arms which I never would have discovered if it weren't for all that rust. As each arm began to burn, I would switch to the other arm, scrubbing as hard as I could with my little stainless-steel scrubber. My husband had the idea of pouring pepsi on the pan to loosen the rust, and, I must say, it worked like a charm. And, it gave me one more reason never to drink soft drinks again.

By the time I was done, an inky black liquid had been sprayed all over the kitchen. With each scrub, drops flew across the sink and landed on the clean dishes, the not-so-clean floor, and even my shirt. (Oddly enough, once I put my apron on, I didn't get any more on my clothes.) It looked like a very stressed-out octopus had been put in a blender with the lid off and the power on.

But the deed was done. The pan was as clean as it was going to get. We lovingly coated it with (a little too much) oil and placed it in the oven to season for an hour.

This morning, I got up, put on some coffee, and wondered if it would be silly to scramble four eggs in a pan that would fit two dozen. I decided, sadly, that it would be. But that's okay. I'll just think of a dinner dish that will put the pan through its paces tonight.

And maybe I'll do some online shopping, gazing wistfully at stove tops with bigger burners while I run my fingers over the smooth, black surface of my new old cast-iron pan.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

What On Earth Is She Doing?

My (borderline) obsession with going natural and chemical-free began innocently four years ago, after the birth of my firstborn. I was invited to a Melaleuca party, where I learned about all the nasty chemicals in Lysol and other cleaners found in the grocery store (but Lysol in particular). I was so horrified by all their possible effects -- cancer, asthma, poisoning, lung irritation -- that I switched from using chemical cleaners to using, of course, the Melaleuca products. (Lately, I've been branching out.)

Since then, I've been slowly learning more about chemicals in our everyday products. I'm already frightened, and I have a feeling that I'm just touching the tip of the iceberg.

This last year, though, has been a bit of an accelerated learning time, especially in the last few months, and I'm finding that as I learn more, a couple things happen.

1) I get extremely frustrated and angry for a couple moments.
2) I get a little obsessed.
3) I get weird looks from my friends.
4) I change things in my immediate environment.

I can't believe all the information out there that most of us just don't know. I mean, it's not like I'm a Greenpeace activist or anything. I'm just a stay-at-home mom who likes to paint and try to keep up with the dishes. But maybe that's the problem: most of us "normal people" just go on with our lives, too busy driving kids to doctors appointments and trying to pay the bills on time, without ever stopping to think about what's in our shampoo. Why would we? The drugstore sells it, and Dove has those really great commercials about self-esteem, so they wouldn't hurt us, would they?

Anyway. I don't want to rant. (I might a bit, though, depending on the day and how much coffee I've had.)

But here's the deal: that innocent shampoo with the unreadable label contains, it turns out, a chemical that explains why my scalp has been so irritated for the last year. And when I switched to a shampoo whose label I could understand and which didn't contain sodium laurel sulphate, I paid a bit more, but I got a happy head back. (And my hairdresser said she's never seen my hair so healthy.)

This is the journey that I am on. Health-discovery. It's a bit weird to some people, but I'm confident that as I learn more, I'll be able to prevent more silliness like my itchy scalp. And hopefully, I'll be able to give my kids a safer home environment to grow up in.

Cast Iron Isn't Sticky After All

I have been so surprised and delighted with my new cast-iron frying pan. I picked up a cheap one at Ikea for $10, then looked online for some good tips on how to season it properly. Bingo! Instant non-sticky, non-chemically goodness. And I even get to wash it with soap!

The impetus behind this completely out-of-character purchase (since I've been known to complain a lot about my in-laws' cast-iron pan whenever I've made scrambled eggs with it) was a tidbit I picked up from reading Green For Life by Gillian Deacon. She mentions that non-stick coatings are made of VOC's (volatile organic compounds, like formaldehyde), and I swear, every time I cooked with my pretty, expensive non-stick pan, I could smell the ugly chemicals leaching into the air and the eggs. Ugh! (Over-reaction? Maybe.) How could I eat that? How could I let my kids eat that?

Not long after that, I happened to come across an Ikea catalog, which I picked up to see if they had any cute curtains. I discovered the frying pan instead and figured that for $10, I could surely give the hated cast iron one more chance. After all, our safety was at stake.

And, what do you know?! I love it. (If it weren't for my husband's teasing me over my sudden change of heart when he'd known all along how well cast iron worked, I'd love it even more.) Properly seasoned, the eggs slide right out, the omelettes flip perfectly, and ... well, that's really all I've tried so far. But still. I'm a convert.