When it comes to germs, are you a pacifist or warmonger?

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a live and let live kinda girl – a pacifist if you will. For the most part that philosophy carries over to germs too. I don’t obsessive-compulsively clean my house (ha! far from it.). I don’t carry around antibacterial hand sanitizer. I don’t worry about my kids washing their hands after playing outside. I don’t balk about them being around another kid with the sniffles. I don’t buy antibacterial soap (although it’s almost impossible to find one that’s not these days!), nor do I own a bottle of Lysol. I figure it’s good for their immune systems to be challenged (in moderation) on a regular basis so that they build up immunities and their bodies learn how to fight infection. Heck, even the New York Times agrees A Little Dirt is Good for You (a very interesting read by the way).

Photo courtesy of hoyasmeg
Photo courtesy of hoyasmeg

For the most part, we live pretty healthy lives. Sure we get a cold every now and then, but true knock-you-on-your-butt-kind-of-illnesses are pretty rare in this house. That is until a couple of weeks ago.

A little over two weeks ago Ava started out with a cough, congestion and runny nose and a few days later the rest of us followed suit. Runny, stuffy noses, coughs, and the phlegm, oh, the phlegm! I ended up having to go to the doctor because the mucus I was trying to cough up was so thick it was lodging in my throat and I was having serious difficulty breathing. (How’s that for anxiety producing?! Like I needed help in that regard.) I started taking a prescribed drug to help thin up my mucus and began drinking a whole lot more water. I also took some homeopathic and herbal remedies (Cold Care, Kick-Ass Immune Activator, and Lymph Mover, just to name a few), as well as gave some to the kids (Elderberry Syrup, Cough Control, Sinus Relief). Jody (who’s not as concerned about treating himself using natural remedies) started on his own regimen of OTC (over the counter) meds. We also cut dairy out of our diets, were taking our vitamins and probiotics, drinking tons of tea and water as well as some fruit and veggie smoothies and kombucha, and even trying hot toddies (Jody and I, not the kids). Nobody was showing signs of getting better. There’s nothing like waking up day after day expecting to feel some improvement, like you are finally on the road to recovery, and then realizing you feel just as crappy and worn down as the day before. It gets old.

Finally, after two weeks of coughing and a runny nose, Ava is mostly recovered. Jody, Julian and I however are still fighting it and, on top of the crud, Jody and Julian developed the stomach flu today. (!!!) Nothing like getting hit when you’re down, eh? Ugh. But Ava’s recovery gives me hope that the other three of us will, at some point, hopefully in the next few days (pretty please??), recover from it too (and also reassures me that it’s likely a viral infection – which is what my doctor suspected – and not bacterial so antibiotics would be useless at this point).

This is, by far, the worst and longest we’ve all been sick at the same time and, seeing how many of my friends and their kids, both locally and elsewhere in the country, are suffering from illnesses lately as well, makes me wonder what the heck is going on? Could these be some type of superbugs or at least new viruses unlike any we’ve seen before? Is my lackadaisical attitude towards germs now biting me in the butt? Should I be arming myself with Lysol and spraying my house into a toxic-smelling box of germ-killing goodness? Of course that goes against everything I just said and would definitely contribute to the whole superbug phenomenon. Is there a fine line – a balance between the two?

How do you handle germs in your house? Are you a pacifist or a warmonger? And when the ickies do infiltrate your home, what methods do you use to get them out and everyone healthy again? I’m not reaching for the Lysol yet, but the longer this goes on, the more tempted I get.

Another reason to steer clear of high fructose corn syrup – mercury!

In case you needed another reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup, here’s a new one – it may contain mercury. According to a Washington Post article, “Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.”

Janelle Sorensen (of Healthy Child, Healthy World) co-authored the studies for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade report along with Dr. David Wallinga, mentioned in the Washington Post article.

According to Sorensen (who spoke with me via email), at this time it is unknown what species of mercury this is. Personally I don’t know that it matters too much, because mercury is just plain bad for our health.

  • The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury.
  • The EPA has determined that mercuric chloride and methylmercury are possible human carcinogens.
  • Very young children are more sensitive to mercury than adults.

You may recall that the Environmental Protection Agency has issued warnings regarding the consumption of certain types of fish containing mercury for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children.

Should there be warnings against consumption of mercury-laced HFCS too? When you consider HFCS is found in so many food and drink products these days, it may seem hard to avoid. Cereal? Yes. Bread? Yes. Soup? Yes. Lunch meat? Yes. Yogurt? Yes. Condiments? Yes. Soda? YES! Even infant formula can contain corn syrup! If you shop at a conventional grocery store (not a health foods store), check out the ingredients listed on just about anything you buy. You’ll be surprised (and maybe even a little freaked out) how many items contain HFCS. According to the Washington Post, “On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS, but teens and other high consumers can take in 80 percent more HFCS than average.”

That’s why the HFCS commercials by the Corn Refiners Association are so laughable. They say HFCS is fine in moderation (though they never quantify what that amount is), but how do you consume it in moderation when it’s infiltrated a large percentage of the products in the grocery store?

What really freaks me out though is to know that corn syrup is in infant formula. It might not be high fructose corn syrup, but still. Does a baby need artificial sweeteners? What about genetically modified (GMO corn) sweeteners as most corn is? And more importantly, how can a baby, who’s diet consists solely of formula, possibly consume it in moderation? Or is moderation only necessary for HFCS, but not corn syrup? I tried to find the ingredients in formula listed online and was able to find a few brands – two listed the first ingredient as water, followed by corn syrup. That’s alarming to me.

Increased corn allergies
Could this prevalence of corn in the diets of the youngest of our species, as well as being the number one thing Americans eat (because it’s in nearly everything), be contributing to the rise in corn allergies in this country? My guess is yes.

Returning to the study…
Sorensen shared with me some of her thoughts after doing months of research about HFCS and mercury:

In essence, we rely on a vastly complicated global food system that has many opportunities to go awry. And, not only is the chain of ingredients and manufacturing very complex, the foods we are eating are very complex and unlike anything people ate even two generations ago. HFCS is one story in this grand theater of food production. And, even though the studies are small, it’s clearly an actor that deserves more attention as a potential instigator in the public health drama we are currently witnessing. First of all, HFCS is an unnecessary part of the human diet. We thrived for millennia without it. Second, the caustic soda used to manufacture it can be made using mercury-free technologies. Safer alternatives exist and are used widely at this very moment. Third, even though the exposure is minute, it’s a repeat offender in the average US diet and should also be addressed in the context of combined daily exposures of modern day society.

The authors of both of the studies recognize the limitations of their findings. There is clearly much more research to be done in order to be able to understand what the true health implications may be. Maybe the impacts end up being nominal, but who wants to risk their child’s health and development waiting to find out when it’s such an unnecessary exposure?

Human development is a miracle. The journey from egg and sperm to adult (and even beyond) is a tumultuous and risky endeavor. Research is increasingly showing how very vulnerable the developing fetus is – susceptible to exquisitely small environmental exposures – so, why take an unnecessary chance? Why even allow antiquated technologies that are extremely pollutive; that have safer, economically feasible alternatives; that are completely unnecessary in food production? There is not a single piece of this story that makes sense.

What is the FDA’s response to the request for “immediate changes by industry and the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply?”

Sorensen says:

The FDA and industry are quickly trying to assuage the concerns spread by these reports, calling us irresponsible for setting false alarms. But, the FDA and industry are notorious at this point for coercing people into taking risks their instincts tell them not to. I’m not anti-FDA nor anti-industry; I simply believe in transparency of information. If you decide this risk is nominal, that’s your decision. For me, and my family, it’s not okay. And, it’s extremely simple to avoid.

How do you avoid HFCS?
You buy whole foods, not processed foods. You prepare meals from scratch. You grow your own vegetables and buy from local farmers’ markets, farm stands and CSAs. You look for certified organic foods. You read the labels and find alternatives to the products containing HFCS. It might seem like it’s in everything, but it’s not. There are brands of bread that don’t contain it (even at Costco), just as there are brands of soda, yogurt, and infant formula, but you have to read the labels to find out. Become a wise consumer and vote with your dollars.

Finding balance
It might seem like the best bet it to avoid HFCS at all costs, but even Sorensen admits that she lets her kids consume it once every now and then. “It’s a very small amount and I know I’m very careful about other exposures. Life is all about balance.” Yes, yes it is.

Lastly, if you are looking to reduce the HFCS in your or your family’s life, you might want to check out the blog A Life Less Sweet One family, no high fructose corn syrup, eating healthier. And here are a few more related posts: from Nature’s Child – HFCS, fortified with mercury, from Ask Moxie – Whoa: Mercury in HFCS, and (a really good one) from AngieMedia – High Fructose Corn Syrup is Dangerous for Many Reasons. A couple more: from Mom-101 – High fructose corn syrup contains mercury and other reasons I think we’re going to start feeding our kids air and from Her Bad MotherPoison In The Ketchup: This HFCS Scare Might Actually Make Me Start, You Know, Cooking From Scratch Or Something.

Great Green Goals for 2009

I was rereading a post I wrote at the start of 2008 – Living Green past and future – where I outlined the things I’d accomplished in 2007 toward living a greener lifestyle and then added more eco-friendly things I hoped to accomplish in 2008. This year I’m going to do the same thing and Great Green Goals for 2009invite you to post about your green goals for the upcoming year too. If you write a post and link back to this one, leave me a comment with the URL and I’ll add you to a list at the bottom of this post.

First, here were my goals for 2008 and my comments on how I did beside them in italics:

Green goals for 2008:

  • Grow a bigger garden – Did it! I grew tomatoes, basil, green beans, carrots, strawberries, zucchini, and yellow squash.
  • Possibly join a CSA to eat more locally and shop at the farmer’s market – Did not join a CSA but I did learn more about them and picked up a friend’s CSA share one week (when she was out of town). And I did some of my shopping at the farmers’ market.
  • Buy some cloth diapers that can stand up to Julian’s nighttime pees and stop using disposables (7th Generation) at night (We cloth diaper during the day.) – Yes and no. We stopped using 7th Generation dipes at night and instead stuff a Fuzzibunz diaper with a prefold and a gDiapers insert (which are biodegradable). Not the perfect solution, but better than where we were at.
  • Learn how to can foods – YES! And here’s proof. I canned three types of jam/jelly, spaghetti sauce and pear sauce in 2008.
  • Learn how to make my own yogurt – YES!
  • Read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” – No, and don’t even have it yet.

In 2008, I also:

  • Made my own butter.
  • Started using a clothesline to dry our clothes/diapers (at least some of the time).
  • Started using an eco-friendly dish soap.
  • Bought a dehydrator and dehydrated apples, nectarines, and strawberries.
  • Joined a food co-op.
  • Started using a Moon Cup (like a DivaCup).

As for 2009, my green goals are as follows:

  •  Grow a bigger garden still! Although my yard is small, that is not the problem. The problem is that we have three large trees in our backyard that block out most of the sunlight. I’ve been trying to figure out if there are some places in my front yard that get good sun where I might plant some veggies, but we have a lot of trees there too. The only places in the front yard that I can think of that aren’t shaded are right by the sidewalk. We don’t have a ton of foot traffic on our street, but I’m not sure I want to dig up the yard to plant veggies when we want to sell the house in the next year or two. Hmmm. I think I might have to do some container gardening in addition to the small garden I already have.
  • Join a vegetable seed co-op.
  • Can more than last year.
  • Dehydrate more than last year.
  • Bake my own bread more regularly.
  • Continue to move away from the use of plastic and be mindful of plastic packaging.
  • Learn how to sew using my mom’s old sewing machine.
  • Read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (which I already have) by Michael Pollan
  • Learn more about ownership and care of backyard chickens (as our chicken crusade plods on)
  • And, of course, continue with all of the other things I’m already doing.

Now it’s your turn. This isn’t exactly your typical “Green Challenge,” but it is kind of similar. Write a post telling me your green goals for 2009, leave me your link and I’ll add it to the list below. (If you link back to this one, that’d be great too.) Or just leave me a comment telling me what your goals are. I’d love some more ideas! 🙂

Other bloggers making green goals for 2009…

Breastfeeding until age 3, 4, or 5: more common than you think?

When my daughter was born four and a half years ago, I had no plan for how long I would breastfeed her, I just knew that I would start off breastfeeding and then go with the flow. It so happens that in our case going with the flow meant that one month shy of her fourth birthday she was still nursing (albeit only once a day), and as I would soon discover, we weren’t the only ones on this path.

Photo courtesy Alexander Tundakov
Photo courtesy Alexander Tundakov

I wrote my thoughts about this shortly before her fourth birthday in a post titled On Nursing a Preschooler.

I didn’t set out to nurse a preschooler, but somehow along the way, my sweet little baby grew from an infant to a toddler and eventually blossomed into a preschooler in what now seems like the blink of an eye. I am confident this won’t go on forever and when I look back on this time when she’s 10 or 20 or 30, and I look at the young woman she’s become, I am hopeful that I will feel good about the choices I made and have no regrets.

When I wrote that post I was feeling rather isolated and wondered if there were others who’d chosen (either deliberately or unintentionally) to take the long-term (a preferred alternative term to “extended”) breastfeeding route. I soon got my answer. I received 62 comments on that post. Amazingly none of them were negative and several came from women saying that they too nursed an older child and many thanked me for talking about it openly.

Lisa from The Joy of Six said, “I’m so glad you posted this. I’ve nursed mine until they stopped which has been anywhere from 14 mo to 4. Thanks for letting all those ‘closet nursing’ mommies know they aren’t alone.”

Melissa at Through My Window said: “The whole time I was nursing both of my girls past the age of 4 I always wished that I could talk about it and that more moms were willing to admit that they were nursing for a long time too. My girls only nursed at nap-time and bedtime as they became older which meant only 1-2 times/day. Of course, they are weaned now, but I have no regrets and I would absolutely nurse future children as long.”

Liesl from Come, Mommy, who was tandem nursing both her 4 1/2 year old and baby at the time, said:

Got a 4.5 year-old-nursling over here! Sometimes it is a lot to nurse two, but on the other hand, it’s one of the few times Liam will settle down for a bit. Then after he nurses, he’ll sit around and chat, and that’s when I often find out the things on his mind. And I think it’s eased his transition to brotherhood as well. Nursing a 4 year old is a very different thing than nursing a baby, and it is most definitely not for everyone, but overall I’m glad I stayed with it.

Nina (no blog listed) said:

I think it is important for those who think breast feeding a preschooler is *bad* that in many, many parts of the world this is quite normal. Only with the invasion of TVs and computers (whereby the views of more advanced countries are shown) have many moms stopped breastfeeding after about 1 year, they seem to think that the entire world is like that.

My mother was a midwife before she married my father and she very, very strongly rec. breast feeding until the child was ready to wean on his/her own and this was back in the 50’s!

Heather at A Mama’s Blog shared with me a story from her former employer:

My old boss told me an interesting story a few years ago. He was in his 60’s at the time, and grew up in the country. He said when he went to school at lunch time the “little” boys about ages 6 and 7 would go home to nurse. There wasn’t a lot of food at that time, and the mothers also used it as a form of birth control.

I thought that was pretty interesting that just in the 1940s, nursing a 6 and 7 year old was perfectly acceptable. Too bad we have come so far in the other direction in the last 60 years.

I also took an informal poll (if you will) on Twitter to see if others are nursing or have nursed children ages 3 and up. I was rather surprised by the number of replies I received.

Tomorrow evening, Jan. 2, barring any late-breaking big news stories, ABC’s 20/20 is set to air an episode featuring segments on long-term (extended) breastfeeding, as well as home birth (both with and without midwives), serial surrogates (women that have numerous babies for other women), “fake babies” (life-like dolls), and orgasmic birth. I believe the title for the show is “Extreme Mothering.” You can see a preview of the breastfeeding segment, which included an interview with the mother of a 6-year-old boy who still nurses, as well as an interview with the boy, on ABC News.

Although I put together a decent little list of mothers and children who are long-term breast-feeders (and that’s without searching on the ‘net for other bloggers or celebrities – yes, there are some), there will, undoubtedly, still be those who think it is weird, gross, damaging, or just plain wrong. If you find yourself in that camp, you might want to consider the following.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics says, “Pediatricians and parents should be aware that exclusive breastfeeding is sufficient to support optimal growth and development for approximately the first 6 months of life‡ and provides continuing protection against diarrhea and respiratory tract infection. Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child.” AAP goes on to say, “There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.” (AAP 2005)
  • The World Health Organization recommends “infants should be exclusively breastfed(1) for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health(2). Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that breastfeeding continue throughout the first year of life and that “Breastfeeding beyond the first year offers considerable benefits to both mother and child, and should continue as long as mutually desired.” They also note that “If the child is younger than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned.” (AAFP 2001)
  • Former US Surgeon General Antonio Novello, MD has stated that it is a lucky baby who continues to nurse until age two.
  • When to Stop Breastfeeding Your Child: A Case for Extended Nursing includes the many benefits of extended nursing
  • Additionally, there are more position statements from various organizations linked up on KellyMom

But wait, there’s more. According to Summer Minor in her post Is 4 too old to be breastfed?,”Biologically, 4 years is still in the normal range for humans.”

The book Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives contains a wonderful section called “A Time to Wean: The Hominid Blueprint for a Natural Age of Weaning in Modern Human Populations.” by Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D. Dr. Dettwyler is an award winning anthropologist, professor, and breastfed her daughter until she was 4 years old. In the section Dettwyler compares various primates, including humans, to find what the biological norm would be for humans. She found that the natural age for modern humans based on our size, development, and life span is between 2.5 years and 7 years. A child still nursing at 4 years old is normal, natural, and OK.

If you find yourself long-term nursing your child, there’s a good chance that at some point you will run into criticism from others. La Leche League International has some good advice for handling criticism from family, friends or even complete strangers.

If you’re facing criticism, remember that they may simply be uninformed about the benefits of extended breastfeeding or perhaps they feel guilt about their own parenting choices. Consider responding to unwelcome comments by:

  • Ignoring: walking away or changing the subject.
  • Informing: sharing books, articles, or a medical professional’s thoughts on extended nursing.
  • Using Humor: making a joke about the situation or yourself, not the other person.
  • Acknowledging: recognizing the person’s viewpoint and asking further questions without agreeing or disagreeing
  • Empathizing: being empathetic to demonstrate that you understand the other person’s feeling and meaning (Vakiener 1999).

Dr. William Sears has some advice about handling the criticism as well. Here are some things he suggests you keep in mind:

  • Science is on your side.
  • World opinion is on your side.
  • It’s better for your health.
  • It’s better for your toddler’s behavior.
  • Blame it on your doctor.
  • Let your child silence the critics.

For more information about each of these suggestions, visit Ask Dr. Sears: Extended Breastfeeding — Handling the Criticism.

There’s additional information about Handling Criticism about Breastfeeding at KellyMom.

Speaking of KellyMom, which is a wonderful resource for all things breastfeeding, if you are the mother of a long-term nurser and are looking for support, check out their forums. There’s a forum for nursing children ages 3 and up. There are also forums for the toddler years – ages 12-24 months and ages 24-36 months.

While I decided to focus primarily on older children in this post, many women on Twitter chimed in that they are nursing their kids to age two as well, including: Reiza at Stepping Off the Spaceship, Summer at Wired for Noise, Mom Most Traveled, Annie at PhD in Parenting, Sherri at Recovering Sociopath, and Sara (who was breast-fed herself until age 4 1/2) at Custom-Made Milk, among others.

While I’m sure some of my relatives thought my daughter would nurse “forever,” I can assure you she did not. Her last nursing was on Oct. 3, 2008, at age 4 years, 3 months and 11 days. It was mostly child-led, although I did nudge her a bit at the end. I felt that she was ready, but needed a little extra push (and I knew I was ready). It was bittersweet, but I think it went quite smoothly. I hope to write about the experience one day soon before I forget it. It is yet to be seen what my son will decide to do. As for now, he’s still going strong nursing at 25 months.

It is my hope that as a result of segments like the one on 20/20 and the fact that more women are feeling comfortable speaking out about long-term nursing (as evidenced by all of the comments and Tweets I received), that others will not feel like they need to be “closet nursers” nor feel pressured by family, friends or society in general to wean before they feel it is right for them and their child. Let’s trust our judgment to do what’s right for our child and trust the judgment of other moms to do what’s right for their child too.

Cross-posted on BlogHer. I’d love it if you’d share your comments there too! 🙂

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No Plastic Holiday Challenge check-in

Christmas is just four days away now and I’m wondering how are you all doing with the No Plastic Holiday Challenge?

I’ve been doing pretty good myself. I haven’t been able to avoid plastic completely (and I didn’t expect to), but this challenge has made me much more aware of just how much plastic is out there. I almost hyperventilated walking through Target’s toy department the other day! Seriously! Ugh.

I managed to score some handmade wooden toys for the kids at a local craft show that I’m very pleased with. I also made them felt pizzas and they are getting lots of books, in addition to a wooden play kitchen from Costco, and a few things I picked up at the thrift store. I’m also dyeing some play silks that I will use to wrap their presents and they will, of course, double as toys. Play silks are awesome for imaginative play.

I can’t discuss anybody else’s presents here since they all can read, but (gulp) some plastic is involved.

So how about you? What worked? What didn’t? Do you have any plastic-avoiding tips to share?

A homemade Christmas tree (and BSM)

After writing my holiday eco-friendly crafts post, I got this insane great idea that it’d be lots of fun to make all of the decorations for our Christmas tree this year.  I was hoping to involve the kids in the crafting, but my first two attempts – with popcorn garland and cranberry garland – were not as successful as I hoped. Turns out that popcorn is fairly hard to put a needle through and I didn’t want to risk Ava poking the heck out of herself, so she and Julian ate popcorn while I threaded it. The cranberries were a little harder than I would’ve liked too so I did those myself while the kids ate them and then spat them out because they are, of course, very tart. 😉

I also made the star on the top of our tree by cutting it out of a pie tin (super sharp edges) and gluing it to a piece of black paper.

Finally this morning, I decided on a project we could work on together (at least Ava and I could and Julian could help out later) – salt dough ornaments!

Here’s the recipe that I used.

Salt Dough Ornaments

2 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 cup water
Optional: 1 tablespoon any type of oil (to make it easier to work with – thanks to Brighid for the tip)

I didn’t have enough sea salt, so I used my kosher salt (after grinding it up in the food processor a bit). It worked just as well. I think table salt is probably what they have in mind for this recipe though. 

Mix salt and flour. Add in half the water, then gradually add the remaining water. Knead until the dough is smooth, this can take up to 10 minutes.

I divided up my dough into different segments and used food coloring on some of it. 

For flat dough ornaments roll out the dough (to about 1/4 inch thickness) on baking paper, wax paper, or directly on a cookie sheet. Use cookie cutters, cut-out templates, or just use your hands.

Add details to the ornaments with a toothpick and knife.

Don’t forget to use a straw to make a hole so you can hang the ornament. (I forgot to do this on two of mine. Oops!)

Baking: Time varies based on thickness of ornament
Temperature: 325°F.
Time: 20 minutes or until dry – They should be hard to the touch, but not brown.

After they are done baking and cooling, you can paint, add glitter, spray with a clear finish, etc. We chose not to do this and let me tell you why I’m glad we didn’t.
a) because Julian decided to start tasting several of the ornaments
b) because a few, invariably, got dropped or stepped on and broke, but because they don’t have any extra stuff on them, I can just throw them into the composter. 🙂

Finally, add ribbon, yard, string, twine, etc. and your ornaments are ready to hang on the tree or give as gifts.

And now, the pictures…

Ava hard at work 12/14/08 Decorating candy cane ornaments 12/14/08 Ornaments ready to go into the oven  12/14/08

Putting yarn in our ornaments  12/14/08 Finished ornaments  12/14/08  Ava showing Julian how to hang ornaments  12/14/08

A tree on a tree  12/14/08 My little candy cane 12/14/08 Julian gets the hang of it fast  12/14/08

Ava’s happy tree 12/14/08  Last-minute rearranging before bed 12/14/08 Our homemade-decorated tree  12/14/08

I don’t know if we’ll stick with just the homemade decorations on the tree – I think we may add a handful of ornaments we’ve collected over the years – but I will say that despite the extra work involved, I really enjoy the organic-feel and personality that our tree has this year. It’s been a lot of fun. 🙂

My choice for Best Shot Monday is the one of Ava and Julian together putting the ornament on the tree (2nd row, 3rd picture). Ava was being so sweet and helpful to her little brother. It just makes me smile. You can see more Best Shots over here.

The chicken, the egg, and the children

Wednesday night I went to a meeting about a proposed city ordinance to allow backyard hens in residential areas. Although my city was formerly a farming community, hens and other livestock are currently only allowed in areas zoned for agriculture. I’m interested in having backyard hens myself as a way to live more sustainably and because I feel it would be great for my kids. A teacher who attended the meeting, while pleading her case in favor of the hens, said she’s had students that didn’t know a hamburger came from cows. That got me wondering, how many of today’s children really have no idea where their food comes from?

Penny, a New Zealand mother of two who blogs at Walking Upside Down, reinforced the point when she mentioned her son’s kindergarten teacher told her she once took a class to farm growing cabbages and the kids asked, “Who put them there?” Penny said, “I was so surprised there were kids in my area who didn’t know where veges came from!”

Belinda Moore, who writes Home Grown says, “Children need to know their food, be connected to it. Even if you’ve never grown anything before, learn beside your little ones. Sharing this knowledge now could foster a lifelong interest in gardening, a forgotten skill that some day could become vitally important once again.”

I feel fortunate that we live in an area where we have access to local farms so that my children can see how different fruits and vegetables grow and that they don’t just appear in the grocery store. We also planted a garden for the first time this year and they were able to experience something growing from just a seed into a vegetable we could eat for dinner. Those kinds of experiences, I believe, are important to give our children.

Another thing I appreciate is having access to local free-range eggs. I recently discovered a family farm a few miles from my home, Ollin Farms, that sells fresh, free-range organic eggs every Wednesday morning. The problem is, as I’ve come to discover on more than one occasion, you have to be waiting at the farm stand when they open at 10 a.m. in order to make sure you get your eggs. They only have a limited supply and they sell out fast. Just this week I went to pick up a dozen for both me and my friend Alison. Julian and I arrived at 10:15 a.m. and the eggs were already sold out. According to the farmer they only had 7 dozen this week because their older hens are slowing down production for the winter and their younger chicks still have another month or so to mature before they start laying eggs. Seven dozen in one week is just not enough to keep up with demand.

That is just one of the reasons that I would like to be able to own a few hens of my own. Not only would I like the organic, free-range eggs (which are far healthier than factory-farmed eggs), I would like to expose my children to the experience of caring for animals and to get better acquainted with their food. My daughter Ava, 4 years old, has already told me with pride on numerous occasions that she will be the one who collects the eggs every day.

Owning your own chickens is also better for the environment. According to Meg Hamill who writes for Planet Save, “Making backyard chickens legal is a good move for cities interested in reducing their ecological footprint. Urban chickens provide a local source of eggs, meat and manure.”

Ever since the proposed backyard hen ordinance came about several months ago, it has received a lot of attention here and quickly became a very contentious subject. There are several people in favor of the ordinance, most of them interested in knowing where there food comes from (these are also the folks who grow their own tomatoes and other veggies), and in living more sustainably. There are also a good number of people who are opposed to it, citing concerns like smell, noise, unhealthy for children to be around, increased predators, decreased property values, etc.

It was the mention of chickens being unhealthy for children to be around that piqued my interest. Although a physician who was present at the meeting dispelled those concerns, I decided since I know quite a few people, both in person and on the ‘net, who raise chickens and have children, it was worth it to ask them about their personal experiences too.

My sister-in-law Jennifer who lives in Kansas with her husband and 8 children, as well as numerous chickens, a cow, some pigs and goats told me, “Some people think that the feather mites that chickens have are a problem, but they are not transferable to humans. Any pet that is not cared for well or cleaned up after obviously poses a health risk of some kind, be that cats, dogs, rabbits, etc.”

I think that is the real concern in our city. People are understandably concerned about the few folks who won’t be responsible chicken owners and either won’t care for their hens properly and/or won’t clean up after them. While I’m sure there will be a few bad apples, I say why not cross that bridge if and when we come to it? Let’s trust in our neighbors that they will do the right thing rather than assume the worst right off the bat. I believe most of the people who want to get backyard hens want to do it for the same reasons that I do and will likely be responsible hen-owners.

When properly cared for and cleaned up after, chickens should not pose health risks, and from what I heard from several people I asked, kids can’t get enough of them.

Sarah with a chickenMy sister-in-law Jennifer said:

Our kids love their chickens. I don’t know that chickens should be a petted-type pet, but ours certainly are. My children love carrying them around. They have put chickens in a swing Andrew holds a chickenbefore (not sure the chicken liked that so much, but she didn’t throw a fit either). We get so much enjoyment from watching them. They go nuts for watermelon rind and tomato scraps and everyone in the house loves to check for eggs. They have found new and creative places to lay their eggs and thus we often have to hunt for them. It’s Easter every day at our house!

Angela from Rahn Family Blog told me her daughter Shraddha spends hours with their chickens. She’s got some adorable pictures of her daughter with her “babies.” “I never realized how much fun we would have with chickens. We are always so excited to run out and feed them leftovers and they jump all over us in excitement whenever we come to visit…especially when leftover oatmeal is with us.”

Amber from Berlin’s Whimsy writes the Chicken Chronicles about her little flock. In her post Chicken Therapy she relates how she and her two kids have been too busy to spend time observing their chickens lately and they all miss it.

We miss our chickens. We see them fairly often but it isn’t the same as walking out to the chicken house in the morning and watching them flee from their confinement—-a spectacle of legs, wings, and squawks, leaving feathers floating in the air. I especially long for sitting outdoors with a bit of knitting while absent-mindedly watching our chickens interact with one another, listening to their chicken conversations. As much as it is amusing, it’s just about the best prescription for stress relief—-another lesson in simplicity. I know it sounds odd, but until you’ve tried it, you just won’t understand.

Monica Brand, a home schooling mom to two girls and two boys, shares a picture of three of her kids, the Chicken Wranglers.

Leslie, from Recycle Your Day says her little boy loves having chickens.

Tristan loves to go every morning and feed them and check for eggs. He always crouches down and points to one and says “egg”! It’s really cute. When my niece and nephew come over they love to watch them and my niece will go and retrieve eggs if she see’s one or two! She always asks about them. Kids really find them to be fascinating. I’m happy that Tristan has the opportunity to grow up with chickens and horses. He loves em’ both.

Dawn from Kaiser Alex told me on Twitter that she has fond memories of hatching chicks in an incubator back when she was a kid in elementary school. I asked her how she liked it and Dawn responded, “Well it was 25 years ago and I still remember, so I guess pretty well.”

I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that this ordinance will pass so that we can take the next step in living more sustainably and so my children can have these special kinds of experiences and memories too.

Additional resources:
The City Chicken
Backyard Chickens
Chicken Raising with Toddlers
How to Keep Chickens in the City
Nine Books for Newbies to Urban Chickens
Raising Chickens on an Urban Homestead
Raising Urban Chickens: Part 2 – Building a Coop
Raising Urban Chickens: Part 2A – Building a Coop

Cross-posted on BlogHer. Feel free to check out the discussion over there too. 🙂

My video blogging (of sorts) debut

Earlier this week I was asked to be a part of a project by Purple States called 50/50/50 – where 50 bloggers, in 50 states respond to questions about the current economic crisis. A new video is added to the site (in alphabetical order by state) for 50 days. There is also an ongoing discussion about the economy and politics in general on the site.

I’ve never done any interviews or video blogging before so this was all new to me (and, I admit, a little nerve-racking at first). I took nearly 20 minutes total video of myself (some recorded between midnight and 1 in the morning(!), when the house was actually quiet LOL and I’m nursing Julian in one of the clips too – can you spot it? Ava even got to “man” the camera in part of it) answering various questions and showing off some of my every day life. It was all edited down to a 2 1/2 minute clip.

Previous projects by Purple States were featured on the Washington Post and New York Times sites, and this particular project has the potential to be picked up by sites like CNN.com, iReport.com and others. I’m excited to be a part of it and honored to have been chosen to represent Colorado.

You can check out my video and those from other states on Purplestates.tv or just watch my video below.

The No Plastic Holiday Challenge

Plastic is all around us. From our kids’ toys to their sippy cups, from grocery bags to Tupperware bowls, from furniture to toothbrushes. That’s not even including all of the plastic involved in packaging – from food to appliances to toys to clothing. Plastic is everywhere and while it’s not good for our health, it may be even worse for our environment, so this holiday season I am challenging all of you to become more aware of your plastic consumption and make conscious choices to avoid plastic whenever possible.

Consider this information from Plastic Bag Free.com:

  • Plastic production uses 8% of all the world’s oil production.
  • At the current rate the world produces 200 million tons of plastic a year. Less than 3.5% is recycled. In other words, 96% of all the world’s plastic is not recycled.
  • The world plastic production is increasing at 3.5% per year. This means every 20 years the amount of plastic we produce doubles.
  • The world produces over 200 million tons of plastic annually. Around half of this is used for disposable items of packaging that are discarded within a year. This debris is accumulating in landfill and the problem is growing.
  • Plastics do not biodegrade, they photo degrade, breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil, waterways, oceans and entering the food web when ingested by animals.
  • The dawn of the plastic era was in 1950s. This was when we first started to use plastic for consumer goods on a mass scale.
  • Scientists estimate each plastic item could last in the environment anywhere between 400 to 1000 years.
  • In short, since the 1950’s almost every piece of plastic that we have ever made, used and thrown away is still here on this planet in one form or another, whether its in our homes, in landfill or in the environment; and it will be here for centuries to come.
  • Worldwide, at least 143 marine species are known to have become entangled in marine debris (including almost all of the world’s species of sea turtles) and at least 177 marine species (including 95% of all the world’s sea birds) have eaten plastic litter.

Additionally, Plastic Bag Free.com reports,

People often ask, “What is the most concerning form of plastic marine debris? Is it discarded fishing nets (ghost nets), is it plastic bags, is it six-pack rings?”
The truth is it’s everything plastic in the ocean. All plastic breaks down into particles. It does not dissolve; it just breaks into tiny pieces and stays there. At this size it is small enough to be ingested by every single organism in the world’s oceans – animals as small as krill and salps (plankton feeders) right up to the great Blue Whale. These particles known as oceanic microplastics are now so prolific in the oceans that they outweigh plankton. In some large areas it is at a ratio of 30 to 1 (so 30 times more plastic than plankton) and the problem is growing fast.

Disturbing? Yes. Frightening? Sure. Hopeless? No. While we may not be able to do anything about the plastic that is already in the environment, the choices we make today will affect our future as well as our children’s and our grandchildren’s. This needs to be a collective effort. Remember, we vote with our dollars. The more we buy plastic products, the more plastic will be manufactured. Conversely, the more we buy sustainable products, the more sustainable products will be made.

The Challenge
I challenge all of you to do something about the growing plastic problem. When shopping for gifts this holiday season, try to find alternatives to plastic items AND look for items that don’t come with excessive plastic packaging.

Of course I’m not going to tell you, “Plastic is everywhere” and then say “Don’t buy it!” without giving you some suggestions on how you can avoid it, because I try to be helpful like that. Here are several suggestions to help you with this challenge.

Homemade Gifts
Kalyn Denny wrote 10 Great Homemade Food Gifts, and No Cooking Required for Some! with a wide variety from cookies and biscotti to meals in a jar and pet treats.

Over at Lighter Footstep there Ten Elegant, Inexpensive Handmade Holiday Gift Ideas including homemade bath salts, holiday wreaths, reusable fabric shopping bags and home-canned fruits.

Kit Bennett has tips for Making Gifts on a Budget over at Amazing Moms.

If you don’t want to make the gifts yourself but like the idea of purchasing something homemade, check out Pledge Handmade where people can “Pledge to buy handmade this holiday season, and request that others do the same for me.”

Of course, one great place to find homemade items is Etsy. I can’t say that you won’t find anything crafted out of plastic there, because that’s just not true, but many things containing plastic have been upcycled. According to Wikipedia, “‘Upcycling is the practice of taking something that is disposable and transforming it into something of greater use and value.’ This process allows for the reduction of waste and use of virgin materials.”

Buy From Women
Over at Tip Junkie, is the 2008 Holiday Mom-preneur Shop-a-thon, where “the challenge is to buy your gifts from women & fellow bloggers.” “With so many struggling with the economy, we have the combined power and influence to make a difference in these women’s lives and give their families a wonderful holiday. All while enjoying their fabulous products in our own homes and those of our loved ones.” There are over 200 women-owned stores listed here in a wide variety of categories.

Also, over at Thoughtfully Simple is the Pledge to Buy Mom-Made challenge, where mompreneurs can leave a link along with a coupon code if they like to their store in the comments.

Eco-Friendly Gifts
Over at Green and Clean Mom, Sommer reviews the book Green Christmas which “gives some great suggestions on involving my family in the green Christmas movement. Suggesting ideas on cutting energy, reducing the waste of wrapping paper, recycling gifts and reducing the number of gifts given and received.” She’s also giving a copy of the book away.

At Modern Eco Homes, Kristen Banker wrote Top Eco-Friendly Charities and Fair Trade Gift Sites.

Give to humankind, and the betterment of life on earth, or to someone else’s life, which will make a mark on your own heart and soul. Giving charitable donations creates a feeling unlike any other. Buying from websites that give back to indigenous communities, creates a global unity. Just knowing that you are doing a small part to better this earth we inhabit makes all the difference in the world.

At Peekaboo, Caryn Bailey highlights some fabulously green gift ideas for moms and tots.

Reduce Plastic Packaging
Beth from Fake Plastic Fish wrote a great post with ideas on how to cut back on plastic packing materials too. Some of her suggestions include: “When ordering online, request zero plastic and Styrofoam packaging specifically” and “Find ways to wrap gifts without paper or tape.”

What do you think? Avoiding plastic doesn’t sound quite so hard now, does it? Are you game to give the challenge a try? Leave a comment below if you will take the No Plastic Holiday Challenge and I’ll add your name (and blog URL if you have one) to a list in my sidebar of challenge participants. Feel free to grab the button above to put on your blog (or email me if you need the code). I don’t expect perfection on this challenge, but I’m going to give it my best shot and I hope you will too. Don’t forget to take your reusable bags shopping with you!

Related blogs and posts:

Cross-posted at BlogHer

A look at where our food comes from

Last week on Oprah, Lisa Ling gave us a glimpse into some of America’s farms – factory farms as well as organic farms – to see just how some of the animals we eat live before they become dinner on our table. They showed what the living conditions look like for egg-laying chicken, Lisa Ling in a factory chicken farmpregnant pigs and veal calves. Oprah had replica cages and crates on the stage to demonstrate the cage/pen sizes of animals in factory farms. “In an egg-laying hen cage, five to six hens could be in a single cage. The typical crate for a young male calf being raised for veal has enough room for him to stick his head out. Pregnant pigs—which can weigh more than 500 pounds—are about 5 to 6 feet long, while the cages they live in are about 7 feet long.”

There was also information presented about Proposition 2, the proposed Standards for Confining Farm Animals (specifically egg-laying chicken, pregnant pigs and veal calves) initiative statute that will be voted on in California’s general election this November. “The new regulations, which would go into effect in 2015, would require cages to be large enough to allow these animals to be able to stand up, lie down, turn around and to be able to fully extend their limbs without touching the side of an enclosure or other egg-laying hens.” My friend Melissa (Nature Deva) has some information about Prop 2 on her blog and there’s more information from Cameron at The Thin Green Line. If you live in California, I encourage you to look into it before you head to the polls so that you can make an informed decision.

The point of Oprah’s show was not to scare anyone into vegetarianism or veganism, but to educate people so that they can make conscious choices when it comes to buying their eggs or meat.

In the past, I’ve bought cage-free eggs from Vitamin Cottage because I assumed that meant the chickens were treated better and able to go outside, but after looking more into it, I’m not sure that’s the case.

According to Health Castle:

  • Free-Run or Cage-free eggs are produced by hens that are able to move about the floor of the barn and have access to nesting boxes and perches. The nutrient content of these eggs is the same as that of regular eggs.
  • Free-Range eggs are produced in a similar environment as cage-free eggs but hens have access to outdoor runs as well. The nutrient content of these eggs is the same as that of regular eggs.

I recently discovered a local farm stand (thanks to Alison at Green Me) where they have free-range eggs every Wednesday, as well as locally-grown fruits and veggies available Wednesday through Saturday. We’ve been going there for the past few weeks for some produce, but I bought my first dozen eggs this past Wednesday. They open at 10 on Wednesdays, I got there at 10:30 and got the last dozen they had! Seems I need to be on the ball Wednesday mornings if I want to continue to get them each week because they sell out fast.

Free-range eggs from our local farm standAnyway, the eggs have been wonderful! Ava enjoyed carefully examining them all at home on the kitchen table (and I admit, so did I) because every egg looks different. There are slightly varied sizes, different colors, different shades of those colors, some with spots, etc. They aren’t cookie cutter eggs like you get from the grocery store and I think that definitely adds to their appeal.

On Saturday we went back to the farm stand and, because Julian wants to see the animals they have every time we stop in, we asked the owner if I was OK if we went back to look at the sheep and chickens and he was fine with that. That was cool to show the kids exactly where our eggs are coming from. I think most people want to believe that their chickens get to run around in a big open space like these chickens do, though in reality, they are generally packed 6 to a small cage for their entire lives.

Someday I’d love to have some chickens of our own, but that will probably need to wait until we move into a different house with a slightly larger yard. Ava already talks about how she will go out and collect the eggs every day. 🙂

Here are the kids and Jody observing the animals this weekend, and, at least with regard to the chickens’ eggs, seeing just where our food comes from:
Checking out the sheep - 10/18/08 Looking at the chickens 10/18/08
Thanks for the eggs, chickens! 10/18/08 “Come-ere sheep” 10/18/08