Monday, August 9, 2010

The Poop on Cloth Diapers: Why You Should Use Them and How to Pick the Right Ones for Your Family

Let's make this a quick tutorial, designed to eradicate the confusion of delving into the cloth-diapering world. It's taken me a couple weeks of researching different kinds to finally decide on what I, personally, am going to use, and I thought maybe I could help you by sharing what I've learned.

First, why cloth diapers? There are a couple of reasons:
1) They're cheaper than disposables. Way cheaper. Think two hundred dollars instead of two thousand.
2) They're easy. Seriously. No, I'm not kidding.
3) They're planet-friendly. They're not made with 2/3 cup of oil, and they don't live in landfills for hundreds of years.
4) They're baby-friendly. No weird perfumes or chemicals or petroleum products. Some women swear that their baby's diaper rashes only cleared up once they switched to cloth.
5) They are frickin' cute. Have you seen those lame denim disposable diapers ads? (Seriously. Who came up with that?) Cloth ones are so much cuter than those could ever be. They come in bright colours and happy prints; you can even match them to your kid's outfits if you want.

Now, let's do a brief overview of what's out there.

If you don't want to scare your husband and you don't care how much you spend:
Then pocket diapers or all-in-one's (AIO's) are your best choice. They are just like disposables in many ways; you use them once, then throw them in the diaper pail to wait for wash day. They have a moisture-wicking layer next to baby's skin, a liner stuffed in the middle, and a cute and brightly-coloured outer layer with snaps or velcro. (The only difference between them is that the AIO's liners are attached at one end to the diaper so they don't get separated in the wash, and the pocket diaper's liners are not attached at all.) The only drawback, which you might not care about, is that you can only use them once. So you need lots, and they cost between $20-25 CAD each.

If you really want to save money and don't mind one extra, teeny-tiny step:
"Pre-folds" are the way to go. Don't be scared by their name. They are not the miserable squares that must be folded just so and then safety-pinned together that made our parents switch to disposables. They have two parts: a liner and a cover. The covers are super-cute, shaped to fit your baby just like a disposable (and possibly even better), and come with either velcro or snap closures. They're also coated on the inside with a baby-friendly substance to you can wipe them off and use them again. The liners are what you need to change with every wet or dirty bum. They come in either long rectangles or large squares. The rectangles go right in the covers as is, and the squares get folded in thirds, then placed in the cover. The liners are made of highly-absorbent layers of fabric, usually organic cotton, hemp, or bamboo. There are also microfiber and polyester liners. The beauty is that because they're all so absorbent, they're actually fairly thin, not bulky. (Seriously, I wondered if my thin little hemp liners would actually do their job. Then they absorbed more water and took longer to dry than the fluffy polyester liners, even after I'd squeezed them all out.)

If you're afraid of clean-up:
No matter what system you choose, you basically just rinse them off if they're super-poopy, drop them in the diaper pail, and forget about them until wash day. Some people buy little spray nozzles to attach to the base of their toilets, then just rinse them right off into the bowl. Some forget the sprayer and just swoosh them around in there. Me, I think I'll dump the poop in the toilet, rinse in my nearby sink, then toss them in the nearby hamper.

I was scared of icky diaper pails, but now you can buy diaper-pail liners that are coated to make them waterproof and are machine washable. How brilliant is that? So basically, every two days, I dump my diapers into the washer, drop the liner in after them, and wash 'em all together. No bleaching of the pail necessary. I can even, apparently, get little deodorizing disks to put in the bottom of the hamper, if necessary.

And when we're on the go, I'm still going to use the cloth. I bought myself a ridiculously stylish "wet bag," which is basically a beautiful square bag with a zipper that's fully lined to make it waterproof. It works the same way as the pail liner: drop it in the wash and re-use it once it's clean. Hm... maybe I should get two. :)

If you're wondering how many diapers you'd need:
The answer is (if you want to wash every two days), 24 liners and 6 covers for pre-folds, and 12 to 24 pocket diapers or AIO's. This is the amount for newborns, who need their bums changed every 2 to 3 hours, the little rascals. For older kids, the amount gets to be much less. If you don't mind washing once a day, you can get away with less, as well.

Things to keep in mind:
Babies start out small. Then they grow. We all know that. So, if you don't want to keep buying bigger diapers to fit your growing baby, you need to think about getting the kind that will grow with his or her lovely little behind. Thankfully, the nice diaper people thought of that. Some models come with several rows of snaps, so you can adjust the length of the diaper to fit anywhere between 8 and 35 pounds. Not every diaper has such a large range, though; some are 6 to 18 pounds, then 18 to 40 pounds. Still, buying two sizes is better than buying four.

If you're wondering whether to get hemp, bamboo, cotton, or microfiber:
Don't worry about it. They all work. Go with what you can afford. The hemp and bamboo are more absorbent and have anti-microbial properties (isn't nature amazing?), but are a bit more expensive. You can start off with a basic cotton system and add a hemp or bamboo "booster" if your baby really pees a lot. Try a bit of everything, and see what you like best. You might find your needs change as your baby grows.

If you're wondering by now what I picked:
Well, I'm really cheap, so I picked a pre-fold system. I spent a couple hours deciding on whether to get adjustable covers or not, then picking my favourite colours and prints... Oh! The choices! Anyway, in the end, I ended up buying two boxes of Flip diapers. (They're made by BumGenius, if anyone cares.) Each box contains two covers and six liners. The covers are covered in snaps, and fit from 8 to 35 pounds. Since my babies tend to be small, I also bought two Thirsties covers, sized 6 to 18 pounds, just in case. If all else fails, the little baby girl will just have to wear disposables *gasp!* for her first couple weeks until she grows into the cloth diapers. To be honest, I'm not sure if I bought enough, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. I might go back and buy a six-pack of Bummis organic cotton liners to try as well. The bonus? Those Flips also fit my three-year-old, and since he's not so keen on the potty training, I'm using him as my test kid to get me used to cloth before a newborn shows up. So far, I'm loving the cloth! It's much easier than even my optimism hoped for.

If, after reading this, you're still not too sure on what to get, I highly recommend going to your local baby store and asking the staff. They are a wealth of knowledge! Some stores even offer a little class to get you started. If you're not lucky enough to have a specialty baby shop in your area, I know of at least one online store that can help you: There must be others, as well. Those helpful shop people taught me most of what I know about cloth diapers, and I'm sure I'll have more questions for them as I go.

Happy diapering, everyone! (If there is such a thing...)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Homemade Chocolate Pudding

My good friend gave me this recipe, and since I had a craving for it tonight, I figured I'd go ahead and share it. It's a super-easy recipe for chocolate pudding, and the best part is that because you're making it, you can sweeten it in whichever way you choose, and you don't have to worry about weird thickeners and additives. I made some up while I unloaded the dishwasher after supper tonight.

Chocolate Pudding:

2 cups milk
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup sugar (or 1/4 cup honey or agave syrup or maple syrup, or 1/4 tsp stevia powder) *note: you can adjust these amounts a little bit to taste. Feel free to make it a little sweeter if you're in the mood.
3 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla (optional)

You can either microwave this recipe or cook it on the stovetop. It's up to you. If you're going for health, then use the stovetop. :)

Whisk together the milk, cocoa, sweetener, and cornstarch in either a microwavable glass container or a saucepan. If microwaving, put it in for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, stir, and repeat until it thickens to your satisfaction. If you're using the stovetop, stir it periodically, making sure it doesn't burn or stick, until it's nicely thickened. Stir in the vanilla once the mixture is thickened.

Pour it into little glass or ceramic bowls, and eat it either warm or cold. Refrigerate any leftovers. Yum!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sugar-Free Fruit Crisp Goodness

I love fruit crisps. They are the easiest thing in the world to make, they're a delicious dessert, and they're nutritious enough to even eat them for breakfast (or so I tell myself).

Maybe you think I'm weird to be writing about crisp in the summertime. Maybe I am a little crazy. But my goodness, so many summer fruits have made my crisps practically magical lately! I just can't keep it to myself any longer.

So, in honour of this year-round favourite of mine, I present to you my "recipe," which is really more like a whim-driven cooking experiment each time. It's always free of refined sugars, though, so if you're sensitive like me, or just want to eat a little healthier, dig in!

Sugar-Free Fruit Crisp Official Creative Guidelines:

1) Cut up lots of fruit, enough to fill your favourite baking dish to within an inch of the top. Some favourite combinations of mine this summer are apples & blueberries, strawberry & rhubarb, and apples & peaches & blueberries. (I tend to stay way from raspberries because I don't like picking them out of my teeth. If you love them more than you hate their seeds, more power to you.)

2) Sweeten your fruit in any of the following ways:

a) for a small pan (about 8x8 or 9x9), use either 9-12 drops of liquid stevia or a nice criss-cross drizzle (about 1 inch-ish between lines, to give you a rough idea) of agave nectar, maple syrup, or honey. Sometimes, I do a smaller drizzle of maple syrup and 9 drops of stevia. Then, mix the fruit and sweetener together so everything's nicely blended.

b) for a large rectangular pan, use twice as many stevia drops (about 18-24) or just drizzle your honey/agave/maple syrup all over the pan.

*note* If you're using tart apples, like Granny Smith, use the larger amount of sweetener. If you're using sweet apples, like MacIntosh, use less.

3) Sometimes, it's nice to add a good sprinkle of cinnamon to the fruit. It's delicious with any apple combination, but, as it turns out, not so good with strawberry-rhubarb. I'd recommend leaving the strawberry-rhubarb combo alone to do its own thing; it's happier that way. (You can also use a pinch of nutmeg, or use a yummy spice blend that's meant for dessert. Experiment and find a new favourite.)

4) Now, the crumble topping. (I'm afraid it's yet another adventure in getting around measuring. Less dishes to clean that way!)

First, you need butter. You can, if you must, use oil of some kind, like plain old canola or coconut oil, but butter has such a great taste. (Hmmm... I wonder what extra-virgin coconut oil would taste like in a crisp. If anyone's brave enough to try it, let me know how it goes.) If you want the flavour of butter and the health of oil, try using half of each. I melt about 1/4 cup of butter for a small pan, and obviously twice as much for a large one. Melt it in a large glass measuring cup, then you can add the rest of the ingredients without having to dirty another dish.

Mix in 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats and a heaping tablespoon of flour (double these amounts for a large crisp). Drizzle on your sweetener of choice (maple syrup is my favourite for flavour, and stevia is my favourite for healthiness; sometimes, I use a combination of both) in the same way you drizzled it on your fruit. (As you keep making your crisp, you'll know just how much to drizzle each time. This is an exercise in getting to know your cooking well.) Add one egg white for a small pan, and two for a large pan. Don't use the yokes. I've tried it, and the texture just wasn't as nice.

If the mixture looks too dry, add a little more oil or syrup. You want it to be clumpy and damp, not wet and gooey or clumpy and dry.

You can also add some cinnamon to the topping, but it's really not necessary. Oooh, and pecans are also a nice touch. Yum!

5) Spread the topping on the fruit and press it down just a little so it's not too bumpy. You'll want it nice and even or else the top bits will brown faster than any valleys. If you're using pecans, make sure they're squished in for the same reason. (I had sprinkled them on top one time, and discovered that perfectly cooked crisp is not so good with over-cooked pecans on top.)

6) Bake it at 350 F for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the crisp and the temperature of your oven. I always check mine ten minutes early, just to make sure it doesn't over cook. (It never does. I should really stop checking.)

You'll know it's done by sticking a fork in it to see if the fruit is tender of not. The topping will brown if you've used honey, but it won't really brown much with stevia, so that's not always a good indication. I know it's almost done when my kitchen starts to smell divine.

7) Eat it right away, or cover it and eat it later. It's really up to you. It's your crisp. I like mine re-heated if I've left some 'til the next day, which I always aim for because, like I said, it makes awesome breakfast. I do find the pecans are best freshly toasted, although still decently good once they've softened in the leftovers. If you hate slightly soft pecans, eat it all up right away.

You can keep it in the fridge if you want, especially if you're in the throes of a summer heat wave (and fruit-fly season -- ick), but in the winter and fall, I just leave it covered on the counter.

Okay, to recap, and to give you a coherent ingredient list:

cinnamon (optional)
sweetener (liquid stevia, agave syrup, honey, maple syrup, or date sugar)
*If you're using really juicy fruit, like peaches, you might want to throw in a tablespoon of flour or cornstarch or arrowroot starch to thicken it up a bit. You don't have to.

1/4 to 1/2 cup butter, melted, or oil
1 1/2 cups to 3 or 4 cups rolled oats
1 to 2 heaping tablespoons (I mean huge) flour
ample drizzle of sweetener (see above)
1 to 2 egg whites
pinch of salt (optional)
cinnamon (optional)

Now go, and have as much fun as I do making up new flavour combinations. And, for goodness' sake, tell me if you discover something great I haven't mentioned!

p.s. My mother-in-law recently picked up an apple corer/peeler/slicer thingamabob at a yard sale and gave it to me. It is the best thing EVER for churning out apple crisp in no time at all. Even my three-year-old can turn the handle while I mix the topping. How cool is that?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Home-Made, Chemical-Free Deodorant

I don't know about you, but I've tried a couple different "natural" deodorants with no success. Crystal deodorant: still smelly. Random other deodorants from my health store: still smelly. Ick. I can deal with the sweatiness, but I did not want to smell. I didn't even want to smell like mostly roses with slightly smelly undertones. Again, ick.

So, when my friend smelled her armpits in the rest room one day and announced, "My deodorant seems to be working! And I made it myself!" I was all for getting the recipe from her. I told her if it worked well for her, I'd give it a try.

Now, a couple months later, I am in love with my home-made deodorant. I seriously don't smell anything, not even on the sweatiest, most disgusting days, like we've had around here lately. (Holy heatwave, Batman!) I am so in love with it that I will share the recipe with you. It originally came from somewhere else out there in interwebland, so let me know if you know its source, and I'll give credit where credit is due.

Drum roll, please... :

6-8 tbsp coconut oil, in its liquid state
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup arrowroot starch or cornstarch (I used cornstarch because that's what I had the most of and because it's cheap. My friend used arrowroot powder because some people are sensitive to cornstarch and she didn't want to take any chances.)
Mix it all up, and store it in a jar.

Now, over the last month, when the weather here got really hot and my deodorant completely liquified (coconut oil is such fickle stuff!), I've had to tweak the recipe to make it summer friendly. I basically re-melted it in the microwave, then stirred in another 1/4 cup each of the baking soda and cornstarch (or so -- maybe more). I guess you could say I re-saturated the mixture because the top layer had become only oil, which was completely useless as deodorant on its own. Now, it's back to working like a charm. Just be aware that its consistency will change based on the temperature in your house. The fridge, which I thought would solve this problem, only served to make it rock-solid and almost impossible to scrape out.

Well, I'm off to do some air-conditioned shopping right now. And I know that when I get there, I will still smell like... nothing!

p.s. If you want scented deodorant, I'm sure you can guess it's pretty easy to add some essential oil to the mixture to get the effect you want. Or, if you love the smell of coconut, you can use the extra-virgin variety for a nice, tropical flair. Just don't lick your armpits! (Well... I guess you could, since all these ingredients are edible, but it might be kind of gritty.)


Friday, March 12, 2010

It's been ages since I've written because I didn't think I had anything to say. Plus, life around here is kind of busy, and I like to keep it simple.

But, reading through my older posts, I have to laugh at myself. I was so worried about having more energy and getting better sleep back then, and now, after my writing hiatus, I find I come back with answers! How weird is that?

It turns out that caffeine suppresses the thyroid, which is, of course, a regulator of the body's energy levels. I was so full of caffeine that my body couldn't make its own energy.

Also, eating fresh vegetables has been a great way to get a boost of energy in the mid-afternoon when I usually droop. Cucumbers and hummus are a favourite snack of mine.

I've also been going to bed at a reasonable hour most nights, so yay for me! My new wake-up time? 8 or 8:30 am. Woohoo!

Kicking the coffee habit was pretty hard at first, but I asked God to help me and I stuck with it. I'm drinking a funky "instant coffee substitute" called Bambu, which at first seemed like a pretty weak imitation to my yummy strong coffee, but now satisfies my taste buds well. I've also come to crave water. Plain old tap water. Who knew it could taste so good and be so satisfying?

I assume that all these positive changes show up in my blood, which I had my homeopathic doctor friend look at in a live blood analysis. (It turns out that all my red blood cells were stuck together and unable to do their job properly. Ick.) I'll have to go back and see her in a little while for another peek at the little guys.

Keep finding new ways to be healthy! :)