Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Zoe in the Cat Food

Well, it happened...Zoe discovered the cat food. :) Putting the catfood over into the water was Ben's favorite activity when he was her age. We have it in the closet now so she never knew where it was....until today.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cleaning the natural way...

This is a topic I get excited about so I am kind of unsure how to best direct my ideas when it comes to this post. Do I start with the natural products and tell you all of the wonderful things you can do with them? Or do I start with the different places in the home that need cleaning and tell you how to clean them naturally?

In this post I am going to list the most common household cleaning jobs and then I am going to tell you how you can do them with natural cleaners that will not harm your family and will not harm the environment. Not only that, but you will save a ton of money!

Here is a link on the dangers of common household cleansers. Here and here are some links on the dangers of laundry detergent and fabric softener. I have a feeling that this post will be long enough without me trying to list the danger of each thing you are replacing.


Not only is regular laundry detergent and/or fabric softener toxic but it is expensive!

There are many recipes for homemade laundry detergent floating around the Internet. There are also several commercial laundry cleaners on the market (for a pretty price!). I think that the success of them depends on the hardness of your water. I will tell you what works for me. I have well water and I do not know the hardness of it.

I skipped the recipes where you have to cook things and mix things because as well as wanting to be "natural" and "frugal", I want things to be simple.

We use three things: Plain Ivory Soap, Baking Soda and White Vinegar

We put the clothes in the washing machine, take the bar of Ivory soap and a metal cheese grater and grate a few swipes over the clothing. Dump in a scoop of baking soda and fill the fabric softener compartment with the vinegar. The soap is basically the same as the old time Ivory Soap Flakes that your grandmother used to wash with and the vinegar acts as a fabric softener - without leaving a smell.

This works on my husband's smelly work clothes, it works on the baby's smelly cloth diapers...I have never had a problem.

For stains I use a bar of old fashioned castile soap and an old toothbrush. Then I hang the clothes out in the sun (the sun bleaches clothing as well as bleach).


Again, vinegar and baking soda do the job.

For the toilet, I take a large container of water and pour it into the bowl. I'm not sure why, but this forces all of the water in the toilet to go down but it doesn't refill like it would if you simply flushed it. The toilet being empty of water makes it easier to clean. Then I dump in a few scoops of baking soda and a few glugs of vinegar (which makes a neat foaming volcano that my kids loves, lol) and I let it sit. After a while I scrub it with the toilet brush. I take a cleaning cloth and a spray bottle with a mixture of vinegar and water to clean the seat and outside of the toilet. If I have build up that won't come off with baking soda and vinegar, I use a Pumie Stone.

For the mirror, again I use the vinegar and water in the spray bottle. We don't use paper towels in our home so I use a squeegee. You can also use wadded up newspaper rather than paper towel.

Depending on how dirty your sink and tub are you can either use vinegar/water and a cloth, baking soda and vinegar scrub or the Pumie. I have also read that Bar Keepers Friend is pretty Earth friendly.

For the germ-a-phobes out there, you should know that white vinegar kills bacteria, mold, and germs. Heinz company spokesperson, Michael Mullen references numerous studies to show that a straight 5 percent solution of vinegar—such as you can buy in the supermarket—kills 99 percent of bacteria, 82 percent of mold, and 80 percent of germs (viruses).

He noted that Heinz can't claim on their packaging that vinegar is a disinfectant since the company has not registered it as a pesticide with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, it seems to be common knowledge in the industry that vinegar is powerfully antibacterial.


Studies have shown that when you use a newer model, energy efficient dishwasher, it actually takes less water and less energy than washing them by hand. If you have a dishwasher, my friends have had wonderful luck with Bio-Kleen.

My dishwasher went to the dishwasher place in the sky so I hand wash. I either use a Dr. Bronner's liquid soap or Seventh Generation Dish Washing Liquid. The Dr. Bronner's is amazing. You can wash your dishes with it, dilute it and use it as a fruit and vegetable wash, mop your floors with it, bathe with it, wash your hair with it, wash clothes with it...the list is endless. It costs more than other liquid soaps but it is very concentrated so one bottle lasts me almost a year. However I don't do laundry with it, as that would make it disappear a lot faster.The only drawback to the Dr. Bronner's is that it does not suds in the way that most dish soaps do. If you need suds to feel like your dishes are getting clean, better to use the Seventh Generation.

For cleaning the counter top I use vinegar and water. For cleaning the stove top (when it is all gunky and crusty from food), I use baking soda and vinegar. I let it sit and it just wipes off with very little to no scrubbing.

To mop my floors I use a wet dish cloth and a little leg action...or I let my kids slide around on the floor that was wet with a little wet soapy water (they LOVE this!). But I also recommend the Clorox Ready Mop. I don't like the fact that it is made of plastic but it IS convenient. Unlike the Swiffer Wet Jet (which is what I used to use) the Ready Mop doesn't require batteries (we use rechargeable but still, I prefer not to use them at all). The Ready Mop has a refillable bottle and you can use dish cloths for the pads instead of having to buy the ones especially designed to be used with it. The Swiffer Mop has Velcro attachments which makes it hard to use anything other than what they sell to go with it. The Ready Mop has a "catch" system where you stuff the corner of the cloth into the "grips" and it is held on that way. Since the bottle is refillable, you can fill it with the cleaner of your choice...vinegar, Dr. Bronners or I have even heard that Murphy's Oil Soap is pretty "green".

Living room/Bedrooms

We have removed the carpet from every room in the house. We feel that carpet has toxic chemicals on it and that it is impossible to actually keep clean. It can harbor all kinds of mold and allergens.

So to clean the living room and bedrooms, not much is left other than dusting. To dust wood I usually just use a real feather duster. When it needs a good polish I use lemon essential oil mixed with a little carrier oil (which is whatever other oil I have handy). I have ready that Murphy's Oil Soap isn't all that bad when it comes to toxicity, but if I can make my own I prefer to do so as it saves money.

I have also heard that salt and a fresh lemon can do wonders around the house. But I use Real Salt and it could get expensive to use as a cleaner (as could fresh lemons.)

So as you can see, it doesn't have to be complicated or expensive to clean your home the green way, with green and natural cleaning products.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why I try to avoid plastic...

My reasons to avoid plastic:
  • We are trying not to lead a disposable life
  • Plastic isn't very “classy” - my opinion only
  • The feel of plastic is usually “cheap”
  • Less plastic = less petroleum usage = less dependence on the middle east
  • Plastic contains carcinogens
Now, most of my friends will tell you (and I would tend to agree with them) that I have probably gone a bit overboard on the "no plastic" thing. So sue me, finding different ways to do things is a challenge and it is one I enjoy. It gives me something to do.

It is amazing the things you never think about until you have a reason to. I never realized how much the presence of plastic has completely inundated our lives and surroundings. It is pretty much impossible to go completely "plastic free". The keyboard I am typing on is made of plastic, my telephone is plastic, the list goes on and on. Even when I try to be conscientious and research what I am buying - the plastic sneaks up on me. Just the other day I purchased a bottle of olive oil. It was in a glass bottle with a metal lid...I thought I was doing well. I got it home and opened it to find a plastic pouring spout hiding under the metal lid.

Not that I think that the plastic pouring spout (not that alone, anyway) is going to give me cancer or destroy our planet, it is just that it proves the point that you cannot get away from plastic in today's society.

Several research studies have found that when plastic comes in contact with certain foods, molecules of the chemicals in the plastic can leach into the food or beverage.

Certain characteristics of the food item can make it more likely pick up plastic molecules:
  • The more liquid a food is, the more it touches the plastic, so the more opportunity it has to pick up plastic molecules.
  • Acid foods, such as tomato sauce, appear to be particularly interactive with plastic.
  • If you heat a food item in a plastic container—even if the container is microwave safe—the transference of plastic from the container to the food is even more likely.
When molecules of plastic—or more properly, molecules of the chemicals that get added to plastics during manufacturing—get into our bodies, it's not a good thing. They can cause unwanted effects in the human body.(from http://www.megnut.com/)

So what is a foodie like myself to do?

I started by purging my kitchen of plastic. I got rid of it all...right down to the very last storage bowl, utensil or measuring cup. I found that as I (slowly) replaced these items with (better quality, no doubt) glass or stainless steel counterparts, I actually felt better about cooking! It was more aesthetically pleasing to flip my pancakes with a stainless steel turner than with a flimsy nylon turner.

For food storage I initially compromised a bit. I purchased glass storage bowls that had plastic lids. I made sure to never put the food high enough so that it would touch the food so as to avoid leaching.

Then one day it dawned on me, (I sometimes have these "light bulb" moments, it's actually quite humorous) why not use glass canning jars!?

And to take that one step further, instead of recycling the glass jars that some of our food comes in (peanut butter, pesto (which I should be making homemade but can't get my basil to grow enough so that I can), salsa (which again, I should be making homemade but I can't seem to get it to taste right!) why not use THEM as well!

Some of these jars are actually quite attractive and some are actually intended just for this purpose (the Pesto I buy come in an actual Kerr canning jar).

Another idea is to just leave it in the pot you cooked it in, put the lid on and store it in the fridge that way. One less thing to wash! (It probably comes at no surprise that I'm a bit anal about what type of cookware I use as well...we will save that for another post).

Just an interesting FYI...Have you ever noticed the little numbers on the bottom of plastic bottles and other plastics? Those tell you what the plastic is made of and also indicates where it can be recycled (some facilities only take certain numbers of plastics).

Safer (not safe but safer) plastics are:

#1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) - usually for soft drinks, water bottles, ketchup and salad dressing, peanut butter, pickle, jelly and jam jars

#2 high density polyethylene (HDPE) - used mostly for milk, water and juice bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners, and grocery, trash and retail bags
#4 low density polyethylene (LDPE) - bread and frozen food bags and squeezable bottles

#5 polypropylene (PP) - margarine tubs

Plastics to avoid include:

#3 polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC)
- 2nd most commonly used plastic in the world. Many toys are PVC too and kids put everything in their mouths so watch out for those!

#6 polystyrene (PS) - foam & Styrofoam

#7 other (usually polycarbonate) - many drinking cups are made of this, baby bottles, big water jugs, kid's sippie cups (more on this issue later)

Book Rentals?

Book rentals...what a novel concept! I love reading and I love for my children to read. But I don't always have the time to get to the library and I rarely have the money to get to the book store. This site solves both problems. It is like your own personal library. You "rent" the books, which are sent to your home, and then mail them back when you are finished...no due dates...no late fees!

Zoe is ONE!!!

Happy Birthday baby girl...I can't believe it has been a year!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Toys...what to do?

Toys for my children is an issue that I have long struggled with. When my first child was born, I was clueless. I was mainstream and thought that cheap, China made, plastic Wal-Mart toys were just the thing that one bought for their babies.

Somewhere during my son's first year I discovered the "natural movement" and rid our house of 98% of the plastic toys (there was still some plastic, the wheels on the wooden trains, etc.). I read about the dangers of plastic toys. Treehugger.com says that "PVC (aka polyvinyl chloride) seems to be everywhere we look. Some beach toys, teethers, dolls, and even (gasp!) rubber duckies are cheaply manufactured with the environmentally dubious material. A dioxin-producing powerhouse, PVC releases toxins into the environment all the way through its lifecycle from manufacturing to disposal. Many PVC toys also contain phthalates, chemical compounds that make the PVC plastic more flexible, which initial studies have linked to both cancer and hormonal disruption."

So then I went a little crazy with the wooden toys (gasp! ME, go crazy with something? Never!) They were just beginning to become popular so they were even found in places like the Dollar Store and Wal-Mart. My house again became over populated with toys, albeit wooden toys. My children and I were slowly becoming overwhelmed with stuff but it was hard to stop when I was finding very expensive toys for less than a dollar at thrift stores. I started weeding out the flimsy, cheap wooden toys but we still had a lot of toys.

Then came the toy recalls. I feel like I should preface that sentence with some classical piano music to make it sound more dramatic....Don Don Don Daaaaa. It finally dawned on me that just because a toys is made of wood, that does not make it any better than a cheap plastic toy. You need to know what kind of wood is is made of, where it was made, how it was made, what kind of paint is on it, etc.

I also began to realize the importance of "non toys". My children still have a lot of toys, despite my endless pruning. But the things they seem to enjoy the most have nothing to do with actual toys. When children play with natural toys their imaginations are being awakened. They are using simple materials, that are readily available, to create their own world. A stick can be a sword, a magic wand, a mixing spoon for a cauldron...the possibilities are endless. They are not limited by the design of an executive who designed a one dimensional product simply to make a profit.

Beside that, when I buy toys for my children I think about the "play value" of the toy. I don't want a toy that is going to do all of the work for my child. I think such toys dull the imagination. Why buy a farm set where the cow moos for your child at the push of a button? Why not buy a basic set where you child can moo for the cow...or if she wants her cow to bark, it can bark. Or even better, why not let her use materials found in nature...that interesting piece of wood can be a cow one day and be carrots for her pot of "soup" the next. Does your baby really need to be surrounded by loud, flashing, blinking, beeping toys? What does this do to the developing brain? To the developing imagination?

Photo of my son making soup in his toy drum

Another thing that I do to encourage my child's imagination is to give my son dolls and my daughter tractors (as well as the other way around). I don't limit my children's play based on backwards (in my opinion) stereotypes.

It is hard and often frustrating to be so diligent in today's world. My children do not watch a lot of tv, yet they are still bombarded with the American idea of "You NEED this product to make your life better, to make you better". My son already knows that if he sees it advertised on television that there is a huge chance that he isn't getting it.

So this has been a wake up call for me. I am again purging toys, even the wooden ones. Any toy that comes into my house now has to go through my mental checklist. I try to buy natural wood toys, toys without paint. I also check to see where it is made. If it was made in the US or Europe I allow it. Things seem to be of better quality from these places.

One need not go to the boutique toy shop on Main Street in order to purchase good quality toys. In addition to using what is found in nature, I have found most of our toys at the local thrift stores or re-sell shops. I have also traded for toys on online parenting boards.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cloth Diapers...

My daughter Natalie, in a prefold

Cloth diapers are not what they used to be. I found that they were really no more trouble than disposable. There were a few extra steps involved but it wasn't the tedious chore that some make it out to be. For those interested in trying them out, here is an overview.

There are four basic types of cloth diapers.

There are prefolds, which are just the flat, "old-time" diapers (not to be confused with "flats" which you have to fold a few times in order to create the thickness).

You either pin them or use a plastic Snappi to hold it on. Or, some diaper covers are made so that they will hold the diaper in place without having to use a separate pinning mechanism. In the summer, my babies just wear a pre-fold without a cover.

The pros are that they are cheaper and a lot less trouble to maintain. You don't have to worry about stuffing them (like with the pocket diapers). You can just wash them, dry them and throw them in a pile until you need them.

The cons are that they can be bulky (although if you are having a girl it isn't as much of an issue because she can wear dresses and you don't have to worry about fitting pants over them).

Then there are fitted diapers, which are like disposable diapers in their shape and in the way you put them on. They have elastic around the legs and either close with Velcro or snaps. You have to use a cover with these as well.

The Pros are that you don't have to worry about pinning them and you just put them on like a disposable.

The cons are that they are more expensive, you still have to use a cover and they can take a long time to dry. They do come with inserts though. The inserts looks like cloth maxi pads and you snap them to the inside. This is nice if you have a heavy wetter. Some of the extra padding already sewn into them and that is what makes them take forever to dry.

AIO Diaper on my son

Next are the all-in-one diapers(AIO's). These look like the fitted diapers and have elastic around the legs and also close with either Velcro or snaps. The only difference is that you don't have to use a cover. They have a layer of waterproof PUL already sewn over them or as a layer inside of them.

The pros are that these are probably the most convenient as you literally use them just like disposables. You don't have to worry about stuffing them (as with the pocket diapers), you don't have to worry about a cover, you don't have to worry about pinning.

The cons are that they can be bulky and that if you have a heavy wetter they can leak. They are also pretty expensive. Depending upon how many layers are sewn into the diaper, they can take a long time to dry.

Last are the Pocket Diapers. They are "All-in-ones" in that they have the waterproof cover already sewn on. The difference is that you stuff these with 'inserts' (which can be anything from a pre-made insert to a folded up flat diaper).

The pros are that you can stuff them with as little or as much "stuffing" as your child needs (or as the situation calls for, stuff it heavier for long car rides, lighter for around the house). They also, for some reason, tend to be more trim and not as bulky as some of the others.

The cons are that you have to take the stuffing out before you put them into the hamper and then after you wash them, you have to stuff all of the inserts back in them.

The Pocket Diapers were my favorite with my now four year old. But I got so that I literally dreaded getting them out of the dryer and having to stuff them all. That's why I switched to the pre-folds....they were so much easier. I am also concerned with using synthetic fabrics...I much prefer natural fibers. With Zoe I use unbleached prefolds with wool covers.

I also had times when I used the cloth at home and disposables at night and when we went out. Every little bit helps with finances and with the environment. It doesn't have to be "all or none".

Within the four basic style of diapers you will find different features and different materials. It can get pretty overwhelming. You just have to break it down in your mind. Categorize it into one of the categories and then go from there.

One of the variations is that some of the fitted diapers and AIO diapers are what they call "one size". These are made with tons of snaps so that you are supposed to be able to fold them down and snap them so that they will fit a newborn and then unsnap them as the kid gets bigger and use them all the way up to toddler years. I've never had much use for these as I never could get a good fit with them.

With all types, you will find a few "store made" brands and then tons of WAHM (work-at-home-mom) brands.

Then there are the covers. That opens a whole new Pandora's Box. The basic two, though, are wool versus synthetic waterproof materials.

I much prefer wool. Wool can store moisture up to 35 per cent of its own dry weight yet it remains dry to touch and speeds up the body's own cooling system. Wool is breathable, it doesn't hold in the heat like plastics would. It allows for the circulation of air. This helps to prevent diaper rash. Wool contains natural lanolin which creates a natural waterproof barrier. Wool is also an anti-bacterial. It does not have to be washed between every diaper change. Once every few weeks should be sufficient. Just let dry between uses.

You could also use a cover made with PUL. Some people find these to be less intimidating than wool...although, once you get the hang of wool, it really is quite simple.

There are many places online where you can buy and/or trade for new and used cloth diapers. Unfortunately, ebay has prohibited the selling of used cloth diapers at this time. There is a petition circulating to try to get this rule amended but in the meantime you will have to look elsewhere. Some of the sites where I have found mine are http://www.diaperswappers.com/ and http://www.mothering.com/ as well as http://www.amitymama.com/. You can also do a google search on the type of diaper you are looking for and find tons of sites.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Native American Festival

We went to a Native American festival at Red Clay today. We went a few years ago when Ben was little and were pretty disappointed. We bought an Indian head dress and when we got to the car we saw a tag on it that said "made in China". We have been going to classes at Red Clay during the week recently and I mentioned our disappointment to the ranger who was teaching our class. She said that the whole festival had been revamped and that now only Native Americans were allowed to be vendors and that they were only allowed to sell thing that were actually hand made. So we went today and were very pleased. Ben bought a much coveted blow gun. These are made from hollowed out river reed and they are what the Natives used to hunt. The kids got to practice with one at their class and when Ben found out that there is a tournament every year at the festival...well, I'm sure you can figure out the rest of the story! He is waiting until next year to actually be in the tournament as he feels that he needs more practice than just a day's worth.

Natalie wanted her face painted at one of the booths but it was hot and she was sweaty and I knew that it would get smudged within minutes so we told her that we would paint her face when we got home. It looked so much fun that the entire family got into it and we all ended up with war paint.