Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Guide

I could write a very long post about this book, but I could never do it justice. (Go ahead and read the 350 five-star reviews on Amazon).

Nonie gave it to me at the beginning of my pregnancy, and it has been the greatest gift! Ina May approaches the subject of natural birth in a uniquely sensitive way. She does not show disdain for the medical community --- unfortunately common among many natural birth advocates. Rather, she focuses on the power and the right each woman has to bear her own children in the way she chooses. I confess, it would be hard to choose an assisted hospital birth after reading this book.

The first half of the book contains scores of birth stories written by women who gave birth with Ina May or her assistants. The second half of the book is Ina May's very detailed examination of the birth process, and of the benefits of the midwife model of birth (as opposed to the medicated model). Her long and intensive experience as a midwife over the last four decades has given her a great deal of insight, which she presents very scientifically. The statistics she and her sister midwives have achieved at their birth center will astound. Above all she emphasizes the mind-body connection (Please read chapter 4, "Sphincter Law"), and how our bodies' abilities to function as they are intended depend greatly on how comfortable we are with our surroundings. (And I would add, on nutrition. I don't agree with the soy diet followed by Ina May's mothers, although it seems not to inhibit their healthy, normal births).

The best part, though, is the birth stories. Reading these has given me so much encouragement as I near my son's birth. Cameron and I have enjoyed reading them aloud to each other, and discussing the methods employed by the laboring couples, and how we will deal with this situation or that. Please read the birth stories.

Whatever kind of birth a woman chooses, she will benefit from reading Ina May's guide. No woman should feel ostracized because of the way she has chosen to bring her child into the world --- hospital or home birth, naturally or medicated. But every woman should know what her birth options are.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Apple Butter

This recipe is so easy and so tasty and so autumn-y.  Take the kiddies to the Farmer's Market, pick up some delicious apples and make this yummy apple butter.  You can use it as a fruit spread on toast or pancakes.  I think it's great mixed into my morning oatmeal or on top of vanilla ice cream!  I made this last year and this year and will make it every autumn from now on.  This recipe is one I've altered to make it healthier and easier and (in my opinion) tastier. 
5 lbs Apples (I've used Nittany and Winesap with great results, but I think any flavorful apple will do)
1 to 1 1/2 cup honey or brown sugar or sugar substitute
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of Allspice and Ginger (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Quarter the apples and put them in a slow cooker on low.  Mix the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl and then stir it into the apples.  Leave to cook over night or all day, stirring occasionally as convenient.  When it's soupy and fragrant to your satisfaction, take it out and put the mixture in a blender or food processor in batches.  Serve immediately with fresh bread and enjoy!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scriptures, Plain and Simple

I have been thinking a lot about spirituality in the past week, this may start out a little disjointed, but there will be cohesion by the end. Bear with me, here we go!

In Doctrine and Covenants 29:34-35 God states, "Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created. Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.”

Everything we do has an impact on our ability to feel the Spirit. I believe this from head to foot.

I have witnessed recently an ever growing number of people I know fall away from their belief in God, our Savior, and the gospel as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. I can’t help but stop and wonder if that could ever happen to me, my husband, or my child (someday children). The answer is, of course it could happen. What am I doing to make sure it doesn’t happen?

I learned long ago, (well, it seems long ago to me…), that the real key to spiritual power in my life is reading the scriptures daily, and praying. I’m sure, reading that scripture above, you may be thinking, “Scripture study? Of course that is a spiritual principle!” Sometimes those are the ones in my life that fall by the wayside the most. And as a wise friend recently said to me, it is sometimes hard to do the things you know you should when you haven't connected with God regularly. It is possible to just skim when reading the scriptures. Or to read something just to get that part of the day out of the way. I’ve found myself doing both of these.

There are so many ways in which we are spiritually undermined from day to day, and our personal spirituality has an impact on every other aspect of our lives. Our children, siblings, neighbors, parents, and on and on, see this reflected in who we are. I suppose that last sentence may sound a little scary, it is not meant to be that way at all. It is a lovely and revitalizing truth that we are the makers of our lives. We choose which way we will turn, to or from the Lord. It is a daily decision.

I heard a woman speak one time about how she knew that if she woke up a little early she knew she would be able to have a very spiritual scripture study, but as things were she preferred to read during the day so that her children could see her do it. I feel so strongly that this is a correct principle. Our families need to know how we feel about the scriptures. This starts with me keeping the proper mental attitude towards reading them, though. There are days that I push my reading to a back burner in favor of doing something else. Sometimes it is even necessary. But I have found that somewhere in the day there will be a moment when the Spirit whispers to me that I could read something then, even something short, and be spiritually strengthened for that day. I hope I will remember to take advantage of those moments, remembering it is not just for me, but for my family’s sake as well.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cloth Diapering with Ease

Cloth diapers. It's a good post for Halloween week. The very words conjure up frightful images: yucky yucky messes, scraping and washing in toilet water, babies and mamas getting poked with pins, not to mention those horrible old rubber pants. I better stop before we all have nightmares.

Well, never more, my friends! Cloth diapering is not what it was!

We decided to cloth diaper our boys because it's gentler on both the earth and pocketbook. And it's truly easy! We made the switch when Sammy was about one, and have been at it ever since (here's my original post on cloth diapering from back then).

Wiggle worm Daniel

My Gear of Choice (the links show where I purchased what)
This combination has been leak-proof, blow-out proof, and cute to boot. I saw far more leaks in disposables than I have in cloth. If I go too long between changes, I might have a little moisture soak into the cloth edging of the covers, but that has rarely happened. (Here is a thorough Amazon review on the Thirsties covers.) These covers are very waterproof and very comfy for baby.

The Changing Routine
I don't have a diaper pail. I searched and searched for the right one, but never found it (though getting a wet bag is on my radar), so I found my own way. I keep a little spray bottle on hand for wetting the cloth wipes (mixture of water and a few drops of Dr. Bronner's castile soap... any gentle soap would do). Here's what works for us: 

See diapers, sprayer, wipes, cream, pail, snappis, and covers.

1. Spray a wipe or two before the change.
2. Remove soiled prefold and place with dirty wipe in diaper container (mine was sold as a pet food container). 
3. Leave cover in place for reuse. I generally use my covers for several diapers in a row before they get smelly. If the diaper is very wet, I hang the cover in its place on the corner of the changing table to air out (you could put a strip of velcro on your table to hang them on). Occasionally, a cover will get a bit messy. Just toss it in the container with the diaper. It is so nice not to have to wash the cover with every use!
4. Put a new prefold in place and, if desired, lather baby's bum with heavenly diaper cream. (This homemade cream is the best thing I've ever tried -- dream come true.)

5. Wrap prefold around baby like regular diaper and fasten with snappi.
6. Wrap cover around prefold, fasten velcro, and tuck in prefold around legs. If any of the prefold is showing, you get leaks.

This only takes 1-2 minutes, depending on the diaper and wiggliness of baby.

Cleaning the Diapers
The idea is to clean every messy diaper immediately (if you wait too long, it's more likely the stains won't wash out completely). So after a change, we go straight to the bathroom, where we have a sprayer attached to our toilet. I purchased mine on ebay for maybe $25 (they're still available there... just checked).

We replace the prefold in the container, which stays on the shelf of the changing table until full (maybe 6-7 diapers), at which point we transfer the diapers to the washing machine with some shakes of baking soda (kept in my laundry closet). We also sprinkle some in the container.

Every 2-3 days we're ready to wash a few containers worth of diapers (still just a small-sized load):
  1. Cold rinse with the baking soda that's already in there. This is a good way to do an initial cleaning without setting stains.
  2. Hot rinse with some detergent added.
  3. By this time, they're quite clean, and I fill the rest of the washer with other laundry (lights or darks), and do a full load, with detergent added.
Use a gentle, earth-friendly detergent. We have mainly used Biokleen, but have most recently tried Charlie's Soap.  (If you go with Charlie's, be sure to follow washing instructions to a T. Here's what they have to say about using their product on diapers.) I found this helpful review comparing all kinds of detergents.  I am very eager to try soap nuts, as they are the most natural and economical way to wash, but have yet to order mine. I'll post an update when I try them.

Drying the Diapers
This can take a LONG time in the dryer, the one of the biggest household energy-suckers. So I usually hang-dry. We have a great collapsible clothesline dryer that we've used both inside and outside. By the way, a former 2-year-old in the house once lost the black tighteners you use to keep the dryer upright. I contacted the company (Household Essentials), and they sent me several extras completely free of charge. I was very impressed.

  • Isn't it gross to wash them out? The diaper sprayer makes this part a breeze! Do it right away and it's no problem; takes less than a minute. Nice side note: if your baby is still 100% breastfed, you can skip this. It just dissolves in the washing machine. :)
  • Do they smell? Before, yes. After, no. I have never had diapers come out smelly.
  • What about stains? If I don't spray a messy diaper right away, a stain can linger (not a smell). If it bothers you, squeeze a little lemon juice on it and leave it in the sun. You'll be good to go.
  • What about diaper rashes? Before switching to cloth, I heard cloth diaper advocates talk about how babies get less diaper rashes in cloth than disposables (less chemicals and processing). I did not find this to be true. It's when we wait too long between changes that we start to see sore bottoms. I haven't used any inserts (though I have yards of bamboo flannel waiting to be tried), so since my prefolds don't wick away moisture, we have to stay on top of the changes!
  • Can you use cloth at night? Definitely. I know lots of people who do cloth at night. I've done it many times myself (and even then, my diapers don't leak). But again, my baby is more prone to get a rash if he's sitting in urine all night (I bet those inserts would do the trick!). Right now I mainly use Nature Babycare or Earth's Best or 365 or Seventh Generation disposables (at least go for chlorine free). I don't change diapers at night, so I need something that will hold through without aggravating that soft skin.
  • I heard that the environmental benefit to using cloth is debatable (consider the hot water use, the energy, the detergents...). I have thought about this, which is why I make the extra effort to hang-dry and use natural detergents. Also, it's easy to live in ignorance of just what it takes to make disposable diapers. Here's a post detailing what goes into the making of a disposable diaper. The author cites a study which showed that in general, when compared to cloth, disposables create "2.3 times as much water waste, use 3.5 times as much energy, use 8.3 times the non-regenerable raw materials, use 90 times the renewable raw materials and 4 to 30 times as much land for growing raw materials." She also discusses the overburdened landfills and the health hazards of human waste in landfills. She may be extreme in her position (??), but it's definitely food for thought.
This is what works for my family, but there are myriad ways to do it! I know some of you silent readers are also committed cloth diaperers. For the sakes of those tempted to try it out, please share what you do. What gear do you like? How do you clean and care for your diapers? Other thoughts?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Line Upon Line

A couple of weeks ago Nonie wrote a wonderful, highly-detailed post on toxins that we ought to avoid. One of her readers made a very thoughtful comment on the post, which I felt merits a response. The reader wrote, "I'm not sure how I feel about this. There are so many toxins all around us that are known and probably unknown to us that I wonder what the point is in trying to avoid them all. Obviously I wouldn't want to purposefully expose my family to them, but I also don't want to be paranoid. Lead and Mercury are easy enough to avoid, but the plastic and other chemicals are EVERYWHERE!"

I think this reader shares the feeling of many of us when encountering such information (especially a lot at once!) --- it's overwhelming. I felt the same way when reading the huge list of toxins, which we're all aware of but prefer to ignore. I have also felt this way as I have learned more about nutrition and realized how far I have to go to perfect my family's diet. Above all, I have felt this way since becoming pregnant in the face of the mounds of information/advice/warnings out there for pregnant mothers --- nutrition, exercise, labor preparation, labor itself... so much information!

The trick is not to do anything cold turkey. Decide what your priorities are, and work on them item by item --- week by week or year by year. Cam and I, for instance, decided to edge away from using plastics by drinking from stainless steel water bottles instead of Nalgenes, and by not heating or freezing plastic storage containers. But I still carry my sandwich to work every day in a plastic bag. We eat organic produce and grass-fed beef almost exclusively at home, but still eat out about once a week and clean our plates at restaurants that I know don't completely share our food values. We don't make our own bread or pasta or even grow a garden yet, but plan to implement those things as our life allows for them.

I feel good about the changes we have made, and little by little I know we'll get there. The trick is always to be chipping away at the improvements that we have decided are important for us. We shouldn't be paranoid; we shouldn't allow ourselves to become overwhelmed. We are blessed to have so much good information on hand; and more blessed to have brains and hearts to discern what is most expedient for our lives and for our families.

(p.s. Posted by Meredith)

Friday, October 21, 2011


It's getting chilly outside, so we know what that means: time to start thinking about Christmas gifts.  My thinking about gift giving has been evolving over the last few years. 
Gift giving is such an opportunity to express love and create something wonderful.  However, at the most basic level, gift giving amounts to nothing more than, "I'm expected to give a gift to _____ in ____ price range."
I try to be sensitive about needless "stuff collecting" for myself as well as for people I'm gifting to.  I really like DIY gifts, and think they're probably the best, but sometimes I don't have ideas for what homemade gift someone would want.

Some things to consider when buying a gift:
  • Remember to pay attention.  We (thankfully) have a few months before Christmas.  If someone makes a comment about what they'd really like to have, write it down!
  • Is there something I can give that would help support her/him in a hobby or creative pursuit? 
  • What does this person need? 
  • What is this person's love language? (Hint: The way they express love to you is probably the way they like to receive love.)
    • Words of Affirmation--This is my husband's love language.  Considering this helped me think of his Valentine's Day gift this last year.  I cut out 365 colorful strips of paper, and wrote something I loved about him on every piece and rolled it into a tight scroll, so he could read one a day for the rest of the year.
    • Quality Time--A special outing or date with this person would help them feel loved.  A good Christmas gift might be something that you can use together.  I think that this is my love language, so I love it when my husband takes me on a date, or buys me something that we can use together, like camping gear.  It seems like doing a project that took a lot of time might also fit into this category, even though the the time wasn't spent with them, it was spent for them.  I'm not sure about that, though.
    • Receiving Gifts- My dad loves to give gifts and gives them often, so I believe this is his love language.  Give him a well-thought out, quality piece of gear, and he'd really be feelin' the love.
    • Acts of Service--Coupons to do all the yucky jobs, or preparing a special meal might do the trick.
    • Physical Touch--With a spouse this is easier than with someone else--but can work with children too. 
Here are a few DIY gift ideas:
  • Bibs that tie in the back (my babies pull the velcro ones right off)
  • Lotion or pampering products for a new mama
  • For a kiddie birthday party, consider having your child make the gift, or help making the gift for a friend.  My son decorated a plain white hat with fabric paint for his friend's birthday last year.
  • Picnic Set for newly weds
  • Personalized stationery
  • Homemade preserves (or anything edible I think makes a great gift)
I still have a long way to go to be a good gift giver, so I'd love lots of feedback here.
  • What have been some of your favorite gifts to give or receive?
  • Do you have some websites or books that have good gift ideas?
  • Any good DIY ideas?
  • What's your love language and how does that translate to gift giving?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fatty, Fat, Fat, Fat

Alright, so that title is a little juvenile. Remember how "fat" is a word bad in our society? I protest. I love fat. I LOVE
fat! (If I could have underlined that 'love' I would have.) And I believe that however secretly it may be, we all love fat. You can't really deny it. What tastes better than a fresh piece of homemade bread slathered with butter? Or how about ice cream? A baked potato?

The truth of the matter is we all are programmed to love the stuff.

When I was in college I was under the impression that cutting fat out of my diet was the thing to do. I decided to get serious about exercise and eating healthy. I worked so hard! After about three years of this I looked great, but I just didn't feel well. I would eat, and then literally half an hour later I would get shaky as though I had been fasting. After visiting with a doctor about this, and having some blood tests, I was told that I had Dysmetabolic Syndrome X, aka insulin resistance. I was put on medication, which made me feel awful, but I tried to buckle down and work harder to eat right. For me this meant a continued hardcore lowfat, low sugar diet. Basically your typical diabetic diet. At the end of that semester I had gained 30 lbs, and was so fatigued it was difficult to walk up more than one set of stairs at a time without getting winded. I was devastated.

In time I got off the medication I'd been on, and I began a more moderate approach to healthful living. My last blood test was a few years ago declared me 100% "cured" from any insulin problems. It was a miracle in two ways: I'd prayed and fasted and my blood sugar numbers dramatically changed suddenly. And also because I was put on a path to find a higher road for healthful eating than before.

Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that my sources, (other than my own experiences), are Nourishing Traditions, and Eat Fat, Lose Fat both by writer/researchers Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. This can only really be a brief overview. To get the whole blessed truth go to your local library and check these books out! Or buy them. They dive into the science of fats and why, chemically speaking, some are not just good for your body, but essential, while others are devastating. You won't regret reading these.

I mentioned last time I posted that Nourishing Traditions
was one of the best things to happen in my nutritional life. The main reason for that is it broke through my life long conditioning against eating fat. Don't get me wrong, not all fats are good for you. However, you might be surprised at the fats that are on the list for healthy eating.

After reading this book I began again to incorporate fat into my diet, and not just as a guilty pleasure. Can I just tell you how much better I feel? It has been revolutionary!

Reasons to eat healthy fats:
  • Eating fats helps your body to feel fuller longer.
  • Did you know that if you are eating a food that is high on the glycemic index adding fat will lower it’s number? Take milk for example. Milk is full of the natural sugar lactose. Drinking low fat, or fat free milk will cause a spike in a person’s blood sugar, whereas drinking full fat milk does not. The fat results in a longer assimilation time for the sugar.
  • As mentioned before, our bodies are programmed to want fat because they are needed for energy, carrying out vital functions in our organs, and for the assimilation of certain vitamins and minerals. Because of this, when we cut fat out of or diets we tend to feel strong, sometimes uncontrollable, cravings. Eating healthy fat eliminates this struggle.
Types of fats:
  • Saturated. Yes, it's true! All of those lovely dreams about butter and steak, and that delicate crunchy chicken skin... delicious and oh so good for you! Saturated fat is found primarily in animal fats, (i.e. butter, milk, yoghurt, and cheese), and tropical fats such as palm oil and coconut oil. These fats are called stable fats, and because of their chemical make up they stay solid at room temperatures. These are great fats for cooking.
  • Monounsaturated. You find these as the main elements of olive oil, a large variety of nuts, sesame oil, and avocados. These fats, liquid at room temperature, solid when refrigerated, are also considered stable and good for cooking. They are healthy, healthy, though should be used with some moderation as they tend to accumulate into fats store around our waists.
  • Polyunsaturated. This is the group we ought to be on the look out for. These fats are highly unstable, and will remain a liquid even when refrigerated. Because they are unstable they are susceptible to rancidity to a much higher extent then other fats. (Rancidity= bodily poison, aka free radicals that cause cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a host of other insulin issues, and mood disorders such as depression.) These fats are super cheap to come by which makes them a favorite with most food companies. These fats should be strictly avoided whenever possible. They are derived from safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean, canola, and cottonseed. The exception: omega fatty acids are also in this category, and are essential for our bodies as our bodies cannot make these themselves. Because they are unstable, flax oil (one of the most widely talked about sources), should never be cooked with. Healthy sources of omega-3 include flax seeds, fish, eggs, etc.
  • Trans Fat. I don't really have time to go into the chemical make up of trans fats, what I can tell you in the limited space that I have is that trans fats take up space in our cellular makeup so making so that our bodies don't function on that most basic level. Trans fats and saturated fats used to be lumped into the same category, and so many of the bad effects of trans fats were blamed on saturated fats. So sad!
  • Cholesterol. This is a substance all over in nature that can not be over looked. It is considered a physical offender, which is funny because our own bodies make it in abundance. Cholesterol is one of the building pieces for our cells, it is what gives our cells their sturdiness. It is found in very high percentage in mother's milk because of it's importance as a human growth factor. Cholesterol is also used in our bodies as an important part of the mass messaging system that are our hormones. Sources include the ever-lovable egg, and other animal products, milk, meat etc.
For more information on the subject of fat and cholesterol try Depp Nutrition, by Dr. Catherine Shanahan, and Luke Shanahan.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: The Toxic Sandbox (part 2)

Today I am finishing my review of The Toxic Sandbox by Libby McDonald (click here for part 1, which covers lead, mercury, and plastics). There's a lot of info here, so bear with me.

One of my strongest feelings while reading this book was a mourning for the Earth, who is hurting. Enoch heard the voice of the Earth, bemoaning the uncleanliness of her inhabitants. Today, this surely includes the chemicals and pollution that extend to the far reaches of the globe. I take great comfort in the scriptural prophecies about the Earth, that she will be renewed and glorified, cleansed and sanctified, and will one day rest as a celestial world. The Earth is in the stewardship of everyone who lives on it. God gave it to Adam and Eve, told them to take care of it, and promised them happiness if they did. Caring for the Earth has brought me happiness, too, but I have room for improvement. This book gave me more information about what I can do. Please share any ideas YOU have.

4) PCBs and FLAME RETARDANTS: Old and new carcinogens

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PBDEs (polybrominated diphenylethers, used in flame retardants) are compounds that accumulate quickly and persist longterm in both the environment and our bodies. These compounds are fat soluble, and "can linger for decades in the fatty tissues of virtually every living organism on the planet." PCBs were banned in 1977, but PBDEs ("the next PCB") are used in "literally thousands of consumer products."

PCBs and PBDEs are associated with: low birth weight, decreased intelligence, problems with short-term memory, attention deficit disorders, impaired immune function, hypothyroidism, various cancers, and disruption of sex hormones

Probable exposure to PCBs:
  • Fish high on the food chain. 
  • Fat from animals whose diets were supplemented with fish meal, fish oil, and waste animal fats
  • Breast milk
Probable exposure to PBDEs (used to inhibit ignition in the case of a fire):
  • All of the above, as well as...
  • Fabric, such as children's pajamas, which steadily release the compound into the air
  • Computer and TVs
  • Foam for furniture, upholstery, rugs, draperies, and car interiors
  • Household dust, which "accounts for 80% of total daily PBDE exposure for toddlers."
Unborn/nursing babies at risk from levels in mother? Yes. "Because they accumulate in our bodies more quickly than they are excreted, the older we are when we have children, the more PCBs we expose to our babies, both in utero and through our breast milk." PCBs are "particularly toxic to the fetal brain, affecting both short-term memory and a child's ability to concentrate for long periods of time." 

PBDEs in North American women's breast milk has been measured at 75 times higher than that of European women. In Sweden, PBDE levels in breast milk were found to double every five years from early 1972 to 1997. Sweden banned PBDEs in 2003, after which levels in Swedish mothers' milk decreased significantly.

Suggested Action for Safety
  • Buy meat from grass-fed animals
  • Buy wild salmon (not farmed!)
  • Avoid fish high on the food chain
  • Breastfeed. "Although breast-fed babies test higher for PCBs than babies exposed only in utero, as a group they consistently perform better than formula-fed babies. Indeed, duration of nursing is positively related to health, memory, and language -- in other words, the longer kids nurse, the better of they are. Researchers surmise that this is because breast milk is actually formulated to protect our babies against harmful chemicals."
  • Vacuum floors and upholstery regularly with a vacuum (with HEPA filter)
  • Wipe dusty surfaces with a wet cloth and mop floors regularly
  • Buy children's PJs not labeled as flame-resistant. An alternative is snug-fitting jammies, which allow less air to circulate between the fabric and skin, lessening the chance that it will catch fire.
  • Choose furniture, electronics, cars, and carpets not treated with flame retardants. There are lists of PBDE-free companies at
  • Contact manufacturers and let them know you will not buy their products until they stop using PBDEs.

5) AIR POLLUTION: Dirty air harms our children's brains

Children are very vulnerable to air pollution. Their small airways are "susceptible to closing up when irritated or inflamed;" they inhale "higher doses of air pollutants per pound of body weight;" and they spend more time running and playing outside "when smog is at its worst." The most harmful culprits affecting our air are particulate matter (PM), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and ozone (aka smog... not the ozone in the stratosphere).

Associated with: increased onset of asthma, reduced head circumference, lower IQ, slight increase of SIDS, low birth weight, premature births, retarded lung growth, cancer

Probable exposure to PM (the most dangerous specks of pollution that we breathe; can pass through lungs into the bloodstream):
  • Diesel trucks, buses, and cars (especially SUVs)
  • Inefficient home heating systems and home fireplaces (indoor and outdoor)
Probable exposure to PAH (a family of more than 100 chemicals formed during the burning of gas, diesel fuel, oil, coal, wood, tobacco, and garbage):
  • All motorized vehicles
  • Power plants
  • Fossil fuels and wood combustion (even backyard BBQs)
  • Cigarette smoke
Probable exposure to ozone (that yucky toxic haze):
  • "Formed when raw ingredients from tailpipes, smokestacks, gas stations, paint, refineries, and chemical plants come into contact with heat and sunlight" (i.e. filling up your car on a hot, sunny day can contribute to the layer of smog)
Unborn/nursing babies at risk from levels in mother? Yes. One doctor researched PAHs (which attach to chromosomes and can be counted in white blood cells) in umbilical cord blood, concluding that "the higher the hydrocarbons in a mother's air, the more frequent the abnormalities seen in an infant's chromosomes." Exposure to PAHs in utero has been linked to lower scores on mental development.

Suggested Action for Safety 
  • Cut down on driving your car.
  • Do not idle your car.
  • Keep your car in good running order and drive a low-emission car if possible.
  • Replace lightbulbs with energy-saving bulbs
  • Make your indoor environment lung healthy: no smoking, clean regularly to reduce dust/insect droppings, fix leaks/moisture issues that might cause mold, reduce usage of woodstoves/fireplaces.
  • Limit outside time on high-ozone days.
  • Keep outdoor activities as far as possible from heavily trafficked roads.
  • Look for warning signs of undiagnosed asthma (prolonged, regular bouts of coughing, shortness of breath when playing sports/exercising)
    • Breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma and allergies than formula-fed babies
    • If your child has asthma, have his particular allergens identified by a specialist and take measures to avoid them
  • If your child rides the bus to school, help regulate school buses:
    • Ask administrators/school board what obstacles need to be cleared to prohibit the idling of school buses (and other vehicles) outside your child's school.
    • Designate the newest/cleanest buses to the longest routes and field trips.
    • Do not allow buses to closely follow each other. Stagger departure times.
    • Keep buses maintained
  • Work with community leaders. Be willing to help bring about the changes you seek!

6) PESTICIDES: Which foods are safe?

In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned some organophosphate pesticides, one of the most dangerous pesticides to human health, significantly decreasing their levels in children. "Nonorganic farmers use around 200 approved chemicals on their crops. Children who eat a conventional [nonorganic] diet are exposed every day to tiny amounts of more than 30 chemical pesticides designed to poison insects."

Associated with: cancer, birth defects, kidney damage, liver damage, reproductive disorders, also...

Case Study: In 1993, Dr. Elizabeth Guillette, an anthropologist from the University of Florida, "traveled to northwestern Mexico, where a tribe of Yaqui Indians had split up in the late 1940s." One group stayed in the valley, where pesticide-ridden fields bordered the town. "The other group moved to the foothills, where they practiced traditional ranching methods free of chemicals. The children provided a perfect study subject in that the two groups shared a genetic background, diet, and cultural practices." Dr. Guillette tested them several times, and this is what she learned:
  • 4 and 5-year-olds: pesticide-exposed children "repeatedly scored lower in the tests designed to measure stamina, gross and fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, thirty-minute memory, and the ability to draw a person."
  • 6 and 7-year olds (same children): pesticide-exposed children "on the whole had an inferior sense of balance, difficulty solving easy puzzles, and poor hand-eye coordination. Perhaps related to these low ability levels, they were easily frustrated and had trouble completing tasks."
  • Prepubescent girls: pesticide-exposed girls had early breast development, with no mammary tissue in the developing breasts; the pesticide-free girls had some breast development with a normal correlation of fat deposits and mammary tissue. "Dr. Guillette inferred that the girls' abnormal breast development was most likely caused in utero. Mammary gland tissue is first laid down at six to eight weeks and then again at twenty weeks. If pesticides somehow inhibited the proper development of mammary tissue, when these girls... become mothers they will be unable to breastfeed their babies."
Probable exposure:
  • Nonorganic food (accounts for 80% of exposure)
  • Drinking water
  • Home pesticides for insect and rodent control
Unborn/nursing babies at risk from levels in mother? Yes, as in case study above. Another doctor (Dr. Xiaomei Ma) studied the correlation between pestides and childhood leukemia, finding that children with leukemia are twice as likely to have been exposed to pesticides applied by professional pest control services. "The study also showed that risk of leukemia is significantly elevated if the application occurred when a child was in utero."

Suggested Action for Safety
  • Eat organic food. McDonald cites one study that concluded: "an organic diet provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against pesticide exposure." The USDA regularly tests samples of organic and nonorganic fresh and processed foods for pesticide residues. The Environmental Working Group used the USDA's results of more than 100,000 pesticide tests on produce between 1992 and 2001 to develop a ranking of contamination by type of produce. Here is what they learned:
    • Highest pesticide contamination (buy organic!): apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries.
    • Lowest pesticide contamination: asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi, mango, onions, papaya, pineapple, frozen sweet corn, and frozen sweet peas.
  • Avoid food imported from other countries, even if it is organic. Though they have to meet the same federal standards as domestic produce, there is a debate as to whether or not the FDA is aggressive enough. 
  • If you buy baby food, be sure it's organic.
  • Use non-chemical methods (integrated pest management, or IPM) for deterring insects and rodents in the home:
    • Make your house unappealing to insects/rodents: sponge down spills, eliminate clutter, seal food in containers, don't leave food out overnight, be aware that pet food can also attract bugs/rodents
    • Keep home well maintained: repair leaky faucets or pipes, block all holes into home by caulking cracks/crevices, make sure there are no gaps where pipes pass through walls/floors
    • Set traps at night when pests are most active (try peanut butter in trap)
    • When necessary, use least toxic alternatives
  • Be very wary about using chemicals on your lawn and garden where people walk and play. These can also be tracked in to your home and leach into your groundwater.

Additional thoughts from me: 
  • I've been concerned about a dangerous new pesticide, methyl iodide, recently approved for use on California's strawberry crop (we supply 90% of the nation's strawberries). The decision is under review, but just in case the regulators fail to be dissuaded, I second McDonald's urge to buy organic strawberries, especially if they're from California.
  • Last year I was reading Cure Tooth Decay, a fascinating book by Ramiel Nagel. Regarding pesticides, he wrote: "Pesticides can be deadly, and they do get trapped in the body. These chemicals often cannot just be washed off the food because many pesticides are designed to be systematically present in every cell of the food. Foods that are not organic also contain intentional chemical food additives, many of which have never been carefully tested for safety. A recent study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, documents how pesticides from fruits and vegetables rapidly appear in children's saliva and blood stream after being eaten. It is now a proven fact that the poison sprayed on food will enter your body."
  • Though McDonald has explored some of the main toxins threatening children today, this book doesn't scratch the surface. She writes, "...given the pace at which new chemicals enter the marketplace (in the United States about 1,500 new chemicals are unleashed into the environment every year), this book will probably have to be written all over again before today's schoolchildren graduate." I am happy, however, to have more keys and be more alert than I was before.
With every fiber of my being, I believe that what we eat can keep us well, fortify us against disease, and cleanse us from environmental toxins. Though it takes vigilance and planning, it is incredibly worthwhile. Eating whole, real foods, properly prepared, is the best health insurance that exists. The information in The Toxic Sandbox might make us feel rather helpless, but we have so much more control over our health than we are led to believe, just by eating real.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Birth Art

This week Cam and I have started doing "birth art." I have been reading Birthing from Within by Pam England, who did her thesis research on art produced by pregnant women. She found that women often have an easier time expressing their concerns/fears about pregnancy and labor through art than through words, as well as their hope and their excitement. I'm not sure I'm uninhibited enough in my artwork for her to read anything in it that I couldn't say aloud, but I have really enjoyed the process!

Here's why I've loved doing this so far:
  • Each project has given me a couple of hours in which I simply sketch, color, and meditate on my pregnancy. I have not taken enough time for such meditation up until now and it has been very relaxing and welcome. Thinking back on coloring time, my mind was engaged in little else than the colors and lines. How rarely do I give it such an opportunity to wind down!
  • I did actually learn about the way I view my pregnancy. For one who was not settled about her pregnancy in the beginning at all, and really not through the whole first trimester, I have most happily discovered that I am perfectly at peace now --- and more. I know where I fit into this picture.
  • Cam and I were able to learn about each other in the process, and the way we each understand how our life together is changing. I think it gave him the same kind of opportunity for expression and meditation that we so rarely take time for.

In her book, England gives a list of 12 topics that can form a Birth Art series for an expectant couple. This week we did the first two:

Pregnant Woman: How do you see yourself (or your partner) as Pregnant Woman?

"Pregnant Woman" by Meredith
(Forgive the nudity--- it tends to come with birth art). I have come to see myself as a growing thing --- and not just in the physical sense! Pregnancy is a time of spiritual stretching. I am suddenly playing an important role in the ages of the human race, linking its roots to its branches. My mother and my three older sisters are also in this picture, who have gone before me as mothers.

"Pregnant Woman" by Cameron
I really love this one --- Cam is a master of color and motion. He says the central section is the womb, with light radiating outward. The green circles resembling eyes are the onlookers, watching the womb develop.

Being Pregnant: What is being pregnant like for you? (a physical experience, a spiritual feeling, a thought or even an abstract image.)

"Being Pregnant" by Meredith
I sat for a long time before beginning to sketch this one. I thought of all kinds of adjectives that I feel describe my "state" of being pregnant, which I'm not sure are traditionally associated with pregnancy. Keep in mind it's my second trimester! I will probably change my mind in a couple of months. But right now I feel stable, strong, full of unusual energy, and at the same time more delicate and more beautiful than usual. So I drew a star, with "stained glass" as my medium.

Cam is still working on his second one. I hope to post it when it's finished!

Though I'm not always the "get in touch with your innermost self" type, I really enjoyed this exercise. England makes the strong point that you don't have to consider yourself an artist or even spend a lot of time. But it was time my baby and I are glad I spent.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sweet Potato and White Bean Soup with Sage-Walnut Pesto

I tried this recipe and was really very pleased with it!  It looks difficult, but was actually quite fast and easy.  All my boys gobbled it up and went away filled.  My only regret is that I didn't double the recipe!  It comes from Cooking Light.



  • Cooking spray (I used olive oil)
  • 2 cups thinly sliced leek (about 2 medium)
  • 3 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled sweet potato
  • 4 cups chopped Swiss chard (about 1 bunch)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice  
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Asiago cheese (I used Parmesan)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts (I thought I had the nuts but I was out.  I just skipped the nuts and the pesto was still great, but I'm sure inferior to what it would have been)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage (I used dried)
  • 1 tablespoon walnut oil (I used olive oil)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled


  • To prepare the soup, heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add leek to pan; cook 8 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in broth and 1 cup water; bring to a boil. Add potato; cook 10 minutes or until potato is tender. Stir in chard, pepper, salt, and beans; cook 3 minutes or until chard wilts. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice.
  • To prepare the pesto, combine cheese and remaining ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Ladle 1 cup soup into each of 6 bowls; top each serving with about 2 teaspoons pesto.