Saturday, February 27, 2010

Are we inadvertently harming our babies?

It is hard for a new parent to imagine what parents did before the invent of the plastic, on-the-go sippy cups that have become synonymous with toddlers these days.

One of my goals in my quest to "live natural" is to "go back to basics" (hence the name of my blog). It is my belief that in a lot of ways, going back to the way things used to be done and living natural merge into the same path. However, there are some things to be said for new inventions that make our life easier.

The problem is that many of these so called "wonder inventions" are harming our environment, they are harming our bodies and worst of all...they are harming our children.

I am not against toddlers having sippy cups. I am just against what the manufactures use to make these sippy cups. Most baby bottles and sippy cups are made with polycarbonate plastics and identified by the #7 recycling symbol.

Studies have shown that they may leach Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is a known endocrine disruptor, meaning it disturbs the hormonal messaging in our bodies.

There is a link between bisphenol-A and phthalates and early onset of puberty. Puberty and Plastics, Dec 2003, Mothering Magazine

Synthetic xenoestrogens are linked to breast cancer and uterine cancer in women, decreased testosterone levels in men, and are particularly devastating to babies and young children. BPA has even been linked to insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes.

In 2006 Europe banned all products made for children under age 3 containing BPA, and as of Dec. 2006 the city of San Francisco followed suit. In March 2007 a billion-dollar class action suit was commenced against Gerber, Playtex, Evenflo, Avent, and Dr. Brown's in Los Angeles superior court for harm done to babies caused by drinking out of baby bottles and sippy cups containing BPA.

For more of the science on the effects of BPA on our endocrine system etc. see these studies: Environmental Health Perspectives Journal.

What do do?

The first, and best (in my opinion) thing you can do is to get your baby off to a good start by breastfeeding. But even breastfeeding moms still sometimes have a need for bottles. And of course, some women are unable to breastfeed or may not have enough milk, and will have to use bottles to supplement.

I would recommend glass baby bottlesover the standard plastic.

In searching for safe sippy cup alternatives (because I am not about to give my two year old a glass cup to carry around!) I found a couple of sites that have compared the different cups available. You can read about the reviews here and here.

Let's Talk Water...

It is my opinion that bottled water is a scam. Here me out...

If, like us, you are on well water, chances are that your water is as clean, if not cleaner than bottled water. If you have a contaminated well, that is a whole 'nother issue. I recommend having your water tested periodically.

If you are on public water, it is the law that they regularly test their water and make the results of those tests available to the public. You can look up the results of your local water utility here.
Although it is true that your local tap water may not be the safest, bottled water is not as well regulated and studies have shown that it is not even particularly pure. A four-year study of bottled water in the U.S. conducted by NRDC found that one-fifth of the 103 water products tested contained synthetic organic chemicals such as the neurotoxin xylene and the possible carcinogen and neurotoxin styrene.

Bottled water that is labeled "purified water" is taken from lakes, rivers, or underground springs and treated, all of which makes it almost identical to tap water.

Other brands of bottled water is just tap water in disguise. In a quote from Jim Shepherd, Dasani's group director of research and development, he says that "Coca-Cola tested Dasani in hundreds of focus groups until it hit on a markedly crisp quality, achieved by adding magnesium sulfate, potassium chloride and sodium chloride to purified municipal water." Which is a fancy way of saying that they simply add salt to tap water in order to make it taste better.

Not only is it more expensive per gallon than gasoline (if that's not a kick in the gut, I don't know what is!), bottled water incurs a huge carbon footprint from its transportation. Meaning that it takes energy, gas, etc. to bottle and transport the bottles. 1.5 million barrels of oil, in the US alone, are used to make water bottles. What's worse (or maybe not, they are both pretty bad) 86% of these bottles are landfilled or incinerated.

And finally, if all of this has not convinced you, let me leave you with one plea. Please do not re-use your plastic water bottles! It is a noble gesture, I know, it will save you money, it will save the bottles from piling up in the landfills. However, this is a dangerous thing to do! The most common plastic used to make water bottles is #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE). If reused, they can leach chemicals such as DEHA, a known carcinogen, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), a potential hormone disrupter. According to the January 2006 Journal of Environmental Monitoring, some PET bottled-water containers were found to leach antimony, an elemental metal that is an eye, skin, and lung irritant at high doses. Also, because the plastic is porous you'll likely get a swig of harmful bacteria with each gulp if you reuse #1 plastic bottles.

I would recommend investing in one of the re-usable water bottles on the market. My family uses Kleen Kanteen and we love them. Others report success with the Sigg Bottles.

More on water...

Since water is so substantial to the survival of the human race, I thought I would do some more research on it and how to conserve it so as to make sure it stays around (in an unpolluted state).

All the water that goes down the drain, clean or dirty, ends up mixing with raw sewage, getting contaminated, and meeting the same fate.

I have found some good tips on water conservation, which is not only good for our Earth but for our water bill (for those who are on public water). Here are some ideas:
  • If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down (does this need more explanation?)
  • This one is probably obvious, but check periodically for leaks and fix them promptly.
  • Take a Navy shower.
  • Turn off the water while you brush your teeth or shave.
  • Always wait until you have a full load before running the dishwasher or washing machine.
  • Plant locally appropriate plants so that you do not have to water your lawn as much. If you feel that you must water, do so at night or in the coolest part of the day in order to decrease evaporation (or go wild and don't water at all - let nature take its course!).
  • Harvest your rainwater. Put a rain barrel on your downspouts and use this water for irrigation.
  • Harvest your greywater. Water that has been used at least once but is still clean enough for other jobs is called greywater. Water from sinks, showers, dishwashers, and clothes washers are the most common household examples.
  • Don’t pour chemicals down drains, or flush drugs down toilets; it could come back in diluted form in your water

As an interesting side note, did you know that using a dishwasher actually uses less water and energy than hand washing? That's good news for me. :)

I do have a confession to make...we are not actually a complete "chemical free" home. And out of the "chemical sins", I am probably committing a biggie. I currently use Cascade in my dishwasher. I have tried homemade detergent (which works wonderfully for us in the washing machine), I have tried different commercial brands of "green" cleaners...nothing seems to work. However, while researching for this post, I ran across someone who swears by Bi-o-Kleen so that will be my next stop.

Not only do I hate using the Cascade, but the smell is horrible. I am so used to not smelling chemicals now that it is very strong to me (funny how I used to love going down the laundry isle at the store because I thought it smelled "good", lol).

Going Natural at the Dentist's Office...

I had my six month cleaning this morning and thought I would share a few things that I learned. My hygienist says that she always enjoys my visits because I am a "trip"...well that is one way to describe me I guess!

She and I don't always agree on everything, but we remain respectful. She always laughs when I turn down the complimentary toothpaste in favor of my own homemade tooth cleaner.

Most commercial toothpaste contains chemicals that I don't really want going into my body. Not to mention, they cost money. I use the "old time" mixture of baking soda and salt. It costs a small fraction of what one tube of toothpaste would cost, one box (mixed with a little salt) lasts almost a year and the best part is that it does a wonderful job!

I have always hated the part at the end of my cleaning appointment where they use that nasty, fruity tasting gel to polish my teeth. Instead of leaving with a cleaner feeling mouth, I left half sick to my stomach because of the taste.

My hygienist and I were talking about how strange I am that I prefer the Cavitron over the usual scaling (and torturous scraping) with the instruments. She said that since I am so "strange" about that (that word keeps coming up in reference to my personality...wonder if I should look into that?) that I may prefer the "baking soda sandblasting" polishing over the traditional polishing (with the before mentioned cherry gel goop).

So it turns out that there is a (in my opinion) better way! I was all excited that this "new" natural way was out there (I have no idea, nor do I really think I want to know, what is in the gel goop). Imagine my surprise when I was informed that this technique had actually been around for years and predates the gel goop.

One of the chemicals that I have a problem with, and this one has pretty much inundated all of our beauty products these days, is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). Like with everything else out there, there are two camps...the ones who think the SLS scare is a bunch of hype and then there are the conspiracy theorists, like me.

The way I look at it, if I can do without it - then why not do without it? Why take the chance. Not ingesting it has no danger of hurting me. Ingesting it possibly does. I'll err on the side of caution. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. It probably isn't as dangerous as the scare tactics would lead us to believe but it probably isn't as safe as the Food and Drug Administration would lead us to believe either.

The MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet ) on SLS states that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is "Hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation. Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (sensitizer). Severe over-exposure can result in death."

I think I'll take a pass.

The next chemical that I have a problem with is fluoride...yes, good old fluoride.

Fluoride occurs naturally in water at varying concentrations.The general term "fluoride" describes a compound of which the element fluorine is one part. Fluorine combines with other elements, such as calcium or sodium, to form compounds that are usually found in soil and water. When water passes through and over the soil and rock formations containing fluoride it dissolves these compounds, resulting in the small amounts of soluble fluoride present in virtually all water sources in low concentrations (less than 1 part per million).

Here is where the problem comes in. For starters, water municipalities are adding a lot more than 1 ppm to the drinking water (the max allowed is 4 ppm). When you throw in the exposure from the water, the toothpaste, the mouth rinse, the fluoride treatments, etc., that is a lot of fluoride!

Plus, the "fluoride" that they add to drinking water, or use in toothpaste, is not he same as the naturally occurring Fluoride.

UNICEF states that "fluoride a naturally occurring chemical that is sometimes added to water or toothpaste to reduce tooth decay, but which in larger doses is poisonous, causing fluorosis. Fluorosis can stain the teeth, or in very high doses lead to bone damage, bone malformations and even death." They also report, "more and more scientists are now seriously questioning the benefits of fluoride, even in small amounts."

The World Health Organization (WHO) also speaks of the dangers of fluoride.

I have found that the FDA has never actually approved Fluoride for human consumption. Ffluoride supplements were "grandfathered in" before the 1938 law was enacted requiring drug testing. Once a drug is on the market for any reason, doctors can use them to treat any disease or condition. Sodium fluoride was on the market pre-1938, but not to stop cavities and not for any medical reason. Sodium fluoride sold as a rat poison.

Fluoride has been linked to:

  • thyroid damage
  • darkened teeth from fluoridosis
  • brittle bones

Fluoride has also been linked to problems with lead. Evidently, lead uptake is enhanced in the presence of fluoride. This has been linked to:

  • Behavioral disorders in children
  • Alzheimer's
  • Migraine headaches
  • Clinical depression
  • Dementia

Oh, and as an added bonus to my appointment, I found out that I have four fillings that contain mercury, one of the most toxic elements known to man! How cool is that.

Why my microwave is now used as a cabinet...

For those in my age group, you probably didn't grow up with a microwave. If you did, you probably got it later in life. Yet somehow, now it is hard to imagine our lives without them. They are used to heat leftovers, melt ice cream so it is easier to scoop, get the lemon a bit juicier before squeezing, pop popcorn, melt butter...the list goes on. I have even been to restaurants (granted, they were hole in the wall places) where they used a microwave to cook my food!

As I got more into the "natural lifestyle" I found that I used my microwave less and less. It just didn't fit into my "made from scratch" ideas. Now don't get me wrong - I am not against modern conveniences...I use a food processor!, I use a yogurt maker, but once I got used to home cooked food - I found that even re-heated food did not taste "right" to me after coming out of the microwave.

Then, on the advice from a friend, I did some research on microwaves. Just how do they cook our food so quickly?

Microwaves cause food molecules to vibrate rapidly, creating friction that produces heat which then cooks the food. In other words, food cooked in a microwave simply absorbs microwave and turns their energy into thermal energy, which cooks the food.

Here are some things that I found during my research:

There was a case in 1991 where a lady went into the hospital for a hip replacement. She needed blood and for some crazy reason, the nurse heated the blood in the microwave oven, in the nurses lounge, before giving it to the lady. The lady died within minutes. I was a bit skeptical because this appeared on one of the many sites that make some pretty outrageous claims (and in making their claims, they make us who actually do our research look like fruit loops). So I did some further research and it turns out that this actually happened! I think that the case is still tied up in court - because of course, the hospital is saying that she died of something else (just minutes after receiving this microwaved blood, mind you).

Research was done toward the end of the 1980s in collaboration between a Swiss laboratory, Dr. Hans U. Hertel and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). Dr. Hertel's startling findings showed that microwave cooking resulted in:

  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • More leukocytes, or white blood cells, which can suggest poisoning
  • Decreased numbers of red blood cells
  • Production of radiolytic compounds (compounds unknown in nature)
  • Decreased hemoglobin levels, which could indicate anemic tendencies

The publication of the results caused considerable disturbance. The Swiss electrical industry threatened both scientists with legal action if they would continue to talk about the results in public. Under this pressure Prof. Bernard H. Blanc withdrew from the scientifically reached results by declaring in the modern “scientific” jargon that more research would be necessary to prove them. Dr. Hans U. Hertel, however, stood behind the honestly achieved results and was subsequently legally prosecuted and condemned, first by the District Court of Belp, Bern, then by the Upper Court in Bern and finally by the Federal Court in Lausanne. The study was finally published in 1992.

A study reports that a test done on raw broccoli found that: Microwaving raw broccoli drastically eliminates natural health-promoting chemicals. Of particular note in the research was the post-microwaving disappearance of 97 percent of flavonoids -- substances often found in many brightly colored fruits and vegetables. These substances are linked to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. MURCIA, Spain, Oct 17, 2003 (United Press International via COMTEX)

Translation: When you microwave vegetables it changes the food. It diminishes the "good" things in food that help to prevent heart disease, stroke and cancer.

There are also warnings in regards to heating breast milk in the microwave. This from the FDA, who although I personally think they say some pretty quacky stuff, most people take them seriously.

There is a substantial loss of the anti-infective properties of breast milk when it is microwaved. The anti-infective action is a significantly lessened. There's the possibility that other properties of microwaves may also negatively effect the anti-infective properties of breast milk.

More research is definitely necessary. I do not take these few scientific tests and run with it as the "gospel". However it does raise enough concerns, paired with the other reports I have read, that I no longer use my microwave.

And you know what?

I don't miss it! I am actually loving the extra "cabinet" space that it affords. If I want to make popcorn I use my Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper. If I need to melt butter I use my little cast iron melting really doesn't take that long to do. If I need to re-heat food I either put it in the oven or in an iron skillet on the stove top.

The only thing that I have missed in not having a microwave is the way I used to make a huge pile of pepperoni and cook it until crispy (and stinking the house up) and scarf it down. And that is probably so horrible for me that my body is thanking me for not using my microwave!

Steps to take before purchasing new...

When I get it in my head to start a new project (and when you get to know "my head" you will understand that this could be anything from re-organizing the pantry to digging a backyard pond to having another baby!) I have a list of mental steps that I take.

It is my goal to both cut down on my family's consumerism as well as to spend little to no money (because we have little to no money).

I start by making a mental list of the items I am going to need. Once this list is made, I try to find ways to use things that I already have to get the job done. Could I use that basket sitting in the kid's closet to store these canning jars in? Maybe I could use that wooden crate sitting outside for the job?

No? Then I move on to trying to think of ways to make what I need. Could I use those scraps of wood and some nails to build myself a small crate? Could I (and I am stretching here, even for me) use those long plants that my mom calls "weeds" to weave myself a basket?

No? Then the next step is try try to find what I need for free. Could I maybe find a crate in a dumpster? Could I post on and ask for it?

No? Well then I guess I will have to have some patience and wait until it shows up at a thrift store. It usually does and sometimes, in the process of waiting, I decide to take a different path and don't even need the item after all!
I may also look on or as you can often find what you are looking for there at a substantial discount. In addition, I am a member of several online trading posts/swap boards and they will often have what I am looking for.
If, after all of this, I still must have the item, I will start trying to find a way to pay for it. This is a process in and of itself but one that I will not bore you with as I am doubting that you are very interested in my family's finances.
I will also research, research, research. If I am going to actually pay retail price for something, I am going to make sure it is the best product on the market. I do not want to pay hard earned money for something that I am going to be disappointed with or that is only going to last a month.

I usually do the research and the choose the best item in the price range that I can afford. Often times this means compromising on a few of the "perk" features but I can usually find a good quality item that will do the job I need for it to do, even if it doesn't have all of the "bells and whistles".

On that note...I have actually found that the more "bells and whistles" an item has, the more likely that item is to wear out or tear up before its time. If I want a CD player, I want one that will play CD's...that is its basic use. I do not need one that is going to read the names of the song out loud before it plays them. Just play the damn CD, right?

It is a process and it is one that teaches patience and sometimes humility.


Between food scraps, leaves, garden mulch and other organic material in your garbage, a tremendous amount of waste is created. Yard and kitchen waste account for around 30% of the US waste stream.

This is something that I never gave much thought to until I started trying to "live green". Then I decided that I needed to give it a try, for many reasons. One, I was trying to cut down on the amount of garbage that my family produced. I figured that if I could recycle some of it and compost some of it, my actual garbage production would go way down (and I was right). Two, we were spending money on fertilizer and "good dirt" for our garden and plants. Why spend money when we could make it ourselves?

I'll admit that I was pretty intimidated by the idea of a compost pile. It seemed like an awful lot of work and calculation (how much "green" to put in, how much "brown" to put in). Finally I just took the plunge and went for it.
My compost piles consists of a couple of wooden pallets for the sides and has a chain link fence across the front (because it is enclosed in the chicken coop). Now that i have chickens, they eat pretty much everything that I put into the pile before it actually gets a chance to compost. For those without chickens, here are some things you should know if you are interested in your own compost pile:
First of all, what is compost? Compost is where you turn your garbage into fertilizer by gathering leaves, grass, branches added in with kitchen waste (banana peels, leftover scraps) and letting it decompose rather than throwing it all into a garbage can.

You can go as simple or as elaborate as you choose. You can have a bin in your yard (homemade or purchased) or you can have an indoor bin filled with worms who will compost for you. Either way, your ultimate goal is to create finished compost. Which is defined as a pile of organic material that is so decomposed that it has transformed into something beyond "rotted" stuff and into something useful.

If you want to use it for fertilizer for your lawn, plants, garden, etc. then you are going to want to invest a little time and work into it. If your reasons are purely environmental, you can pretty much just let it go and not worry about the end results. You can either "cold compost" or "hot compost".
With cold composting, you pretty much just throw the stuff in the pile and leave it at that. They will decompose over time and that will be that. The main drawback is the smell but if you can stand that, this is the easiest way.

Hot composting is when you get a bit more involved. With this, you will be able to keep the pile neat and decent smelling and in the end you will have a finished product.

If you choose an outdoor compost you have the choice of purchasing a ready made bin that usually has a built in feature to make it easy to turn your compost. They are also usually compact and more attractive than an actual "pile". Or you can build your own pile. There are directions all of the Internet for different ways to build your own pile. Some of them get pretty creative. A quick google search will bring up pages of links.

I would recommend putting it a few feet from the house, just in case of smell or rodents. Regardless of what you use to build the sides of the bin, you will need to have it well ventilated. This means, keep it a few feet away from fences, trees, etc.

I would also recommend putting it in reach of a hose, unless you do not mind carrying water in a bucket when needed. If you live in a hot area, I would put it in the shade so that it doesn't bake into a hard pile that takes years to decompose. If you live in a really wet area, I would recommend covering the pile. If it gets too wet it will smell bad and will not get enough air to properly compost.

For the pile to be able to reach the temperatures it needs while still allowing the center to breathe, the bin should be between three and five feet cubed (that is, three to five feet wide, long, and tall).

As for what to add and how, the most common ration I have found is a 30-to-1 ratio of "browns" to "greens". Greens are made up of fresh plant matter or animal by-products. They provide the nitrogen, protein, and some moisture to get things going. Browns are made up of dry or dead plant materials. They add carbon and bulk so that the composting microbes can breathe.

If you don't want to get so technical, just follow the general rule of adding more dry bulky stuff than fresh or green dense stuff. To put it simple, if it's fresh, it's a green; if it's dead and brown, it's a brown.

Greens: grass and plant clippings, waste from your garden (plants that were left too long and got too large, etc.), coffee grounds, eggshells, tea bags, vegetable peelings and scraps, leftovers from dinner, fresh manure (chicken and cow), human hair, milk

Browns: Wood, sticks, sawdust, dead leaves, dry straw, shredded newspaper, dead plants, rice, pine needles.

As you add materials, make sure to spray it down with the hose every few inches. It needs to be moist but not wet.

It can take anywhere from six weeks to two years to produce healthy compost, depending on the materials you use and how much attention you give your pile.

What is happening, unseen, is that the center of the pile is heating up. The microbes, who are eating away, are the cause of the heat. You will need to turn your pile (which means that you will mix it up so that the outside is worked into the inside and everything gets a chance to compost. You can use a shovel to do this. You will notice that as time goes by, your pile will shrink. It should also smell "Earthy" and look like dark soil. This is how you will know that it is ready to be used as fertilizer.

You can also compost indoors, on a smaller scale, by using worms. Here is a link that explains more about that. I do not have any personal experience in this area so I will let the link explain more.

As a side note, my journey down the road of having our septic system pumped led me to do some research on composting human waste. I won't go into that here but for those interested, this is an excellent online book on the subject.

Ways to live simple with the added benefit of being frugal...

I have found that as my mindset has changed so have my "needs" and by "needs" I really mean "wants". I have found that the less I have, the happier I seem to be. And the more I can "make it on my own" the more accomplished I feel. It is the endless quest for "stuff" that puts us on the hamster wheel that we so lovingly refer to as "American society".

Don't get me wrong, I too often fall into the trap of wanting brand names. I am a product of this society as much as anyone else. I too, have had it ingrained in me that the more popular the brand name on my shirt, the better I am as a person. Of course, I do not believe this on a logical level but there is still that little man in sitting on my shoulder who tries to tell me that I will finally be "cool" if I just loose that extra fifty pounds (even he knows better than to tell me that fifty pounds is a bit more than "extra") and wear that shirt with the brand name that I will finally be accepted by the "cool crowd".

But when I get my act together, which is becoming more and more often thankfully, I am able to swat the little man off of my shoulder and realize that it is about quality, not brand name. Ironically enough though, on quite a few of the things, I have found that "quality" and "brand name" actually are synonymous. But there still are plenty of times that "brand name" still equals "made in China and will last one week before it craps out".

One way I have found to weed out the crap is to buy most everything used. This serves more than one purpose. Not only does it save me a lot of money, it is also better for our is the ultimate recycling. And finally, usually if it has survived another family's use and has been donated to a thrift store and is still in decent shape, it is probably a pretty decent product! This helps me work towards my goal of not contributing to consumerism.

I have found that for the things I feel I must have, that if I will wait long enough, the gods of thrift will provide them for me via the local Goodwill Store! If the gods of Goodwill do not provide them then the gods of fortune usually will. For these things, the things that are unlikely to show up at the Goodwill more than once in a blue moon (and it is inevitable that I will miss that blue moon and someone else would buy it anyway), I usually run across a free offer, a gift card, surprise birthday money, etc. If you put it out there, the Universe will usually provide.

For those who don't feel that they have the time to bother sorting through the "junk" at thrift stores, I am going to start a list of my "finds". I will list the item I found, the price I paid and the original retail price (found via an Internet search). I will consider it an honor if I can convert at least one person into a thrift store queen. I think some of you will be duly surprised at what turns up!

Walmartization of America...

Out of all the places of which I could shop, Wal-Mart is probably the biggest on my "no-no" list. I encourage everyone to think long and hard before they make their weekly (or daily) trip to the new god of America.

There are many reasons to avoid Wal-Mart and while they are all great reasons, I want to first discuss the one that finally flipped the switch for me. Did you know that Wal-Mart actually has a say in which products are manufactured and which products are scrapped? For example, a company who makes yogurt decides to market a new flavor. If Wal-Mart likes it, that flavor will stay around. If Wal-Mart doesn't like it, that flavor will end up on the cutting room floor. The reason is that Wal-Mart is now the largest purchaser of grocery products in America. So if they don't buy it, there is really not an economical reason for the company to make it. Do you really want this giant company having that large of an influence on what is on the market? Should that not be up to the customer base instead?

These business practices have also people on a local scale. One Toledo company used to produce Crayola crayons. Its biggest customer was Wal-Mart; but when Wal-Mart refused to pay three extra cents per box, the company was ran out of business and many people lost their jobs. Wal-Mart took its business to Mexico

In 1994, Rubbermaid was one of the most admired company in the United States -- but five years later, its fortunes fell so hard that the company had to sell to a competitor. When the price of a key component of its products went up, Rubbermaid asked Wal-Mart for a modest price increase -- but Wal-Mart said no, and stopped sales of Rubbermaid products. At a Rubbermaid factory in Wooster, Ohio, that meant the loss of 1,000 jobs. [PBS Frontline, 11/23/04]

With Wal-Mart, there is no room for negotiation. They tell you what they will pay you for your product. If you don't like it, they will buy it elsewhere and most likely, you will be out of business.

Wal-Mart perpetuates the cycle of poverty. They drive other stores out of business because their prices are so low. Thriving downtown areas turn into ghost towns. Their prices are so low because of their unethical practices. But with the other stores gone, the wages driven down and nowhere else to shop the people are pretty much forced to shop there. If not forced, they are definitely not given an incentive to go elsewhere.

While Wal-Mart kills family retail businesses and pushes out jobs that pay well, it also forces suppliers to relocate their plants overseas to meet its low-price demands. Wal-Mart is the single largest importer of Chinese goods, buying some $18 billion in merchandise in 2004, nearly 10 percent of all Chinese goods sold in the United States, which currently has a $124 billion trade deficit with China?
And in its own category of general merchandise and groceries, Wal-Mart no longer has any real rivals. It does more business than Target, Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Safeway, and Kroger combined. Wal-Mart is not just the world's largest retailer. It's the world's largest company--bigger than ExxonMobil, General Motors, and General Electric. The scale can be hard to absorb.

Something else that is very disturbing is the unethical means they use to produce their inexpensive items. Something that I read really struck a nerve with me. "Close your eyes. Think about the shirt you are wearing. Trace it back through the store, back past being packaged, past being shipped, and to the place it was stitched and sewn together. I’m terrified when I do that and I see a small child, dirty and weary from 18 hours a day of labor, looking into my eyes and awaiting an explanation. What will I say to that little girl? What does taking responsibility mean for me there?

So while the poor stay poor, Wal-Mart's owners, the five members of the Walton family split the profits equally, and their total net worth is somewhere around $100 billion. The Waltons prefer to take a passive role in the company, so they may not be the people making the decision to use their workers to make a buck.
If the Waltons are worth more than 100 billion dollars, why will they not pay three cents extra for a box of crayons? Why can't they provide decent wages and benefits to its employees? Wages are notoriously low at Wal-Mart. Not only that but they hire many employees as "part time" help which means they do not have to provide insurance benefits. How ethical is it to take advantage of people this way while the people who own the company are five of the ten richest people in the country?

On Attachment Parenting...

What is this Attachment Parenting (AP) that we have been hearing so much about in the past few years?

According to Dr.Sears, who is credited for starting the AP movement, Attachment Parenting AP is an approach, rather than a strict set of rules. It's actually the style that many parents use instinctively. Parenting is too individual and baby too complex for there to be only one way. The important point is to get connected to your baby. Once you have a connection, stick with what is working and modify what is not. You will ultimately develop your own parenting style that helps parent and baby find a way to fit with each other.

According to Dr. Sears, and I agree, Attachment parenting is one of the oldest ways of caring for babies. In fact, it's the way that parents for centuries have taken care of babies, until childcare advisers came on the scene and led parents to follow books instead of their babies.

I am always fascinated by the studies done by anthropologists on tribes of native peoples who have been untouched by Western society. I am sure that it has just as much to do with their entire culture as it does their parenting (but then again, the two are very intertwined) but they usually do practice what we have coined "AP" and they usually do not have the same problems with their children as we in more "civilized" (and I use that word lightly) societies do.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there that AP is a permissive style of parenting or that it spoils the child. This is a very informative link on what AP is "not".

I, by no means, am a "perfect mommy" and I do find that as my children grow so does change the way I parent. But for infants, I do firmly believe in the things that usually go along with the AP and Natural Family Living movements.

These things can include (but do not always include all), but are certainly not limited to:

  • Natural Birth
  • Homebirth
  • Co-sleeping (aka The Family Bed)
  • No CIO (letting baby "cry it out")
  • Leaving baby boys intact instead of circumcising
  • Gentle Discipline (no spanking)
  • Cloth Diapers
  • Breastfeeding
  • Child led weaning
  • Wearing baby in a sling
  • Homeschooling

Where do our priorities lie?

Before I get into today's post, let me first speak to the "Love it or leave it" folks. Do you really realize how asinine of a statement it is to tell someone "Well if you don't like it here in America, you can just get out"? That is such a backwards viewpoint that I honestly have a hard time even formulating my thoughts into words. First, there are now laws, no rules, that say that one must "love" their country - or even like it for that matter - in order to reside there. Second, I was born here. My home is here, my family is here. Who are you to tell me to pick up and leave everything that i have ever known, simply because I don't share your viewpoint on America?

And the irony is not missed on me that it is because I live in America I am free to state that opinion. I don't hate this country but I do think that it has its values really screwed up.

Moving on...I think that this country started out with noble enough values. I just think that they got really turned around somewhere along the way. Nor do I think that every other country in the world is so much better than my own...not at all. There are some countries that are way more screwed up that America. But there are some that have it together a lot more as well. And America does have its good points, it has its beauty, it has its things that make me proud to be here.

I think that love of one's country is just like anything else...there are good points and there are bad points. You embrace the good things and you work to change the bad.

I guess that my biggest problem is that a lot of my countrymen do not share my viewpoint on what the "bad" is, so it makes it hard to make positive changes.

That said, I was looking at the newly released Forbes List for the 400 Richest Americans. The fact that we even have such a list speaks volumes to me. It reiterates my point that we have our values screwed up. Why would anyone care who the "richest Americans" are? Does that make them somehow better than the rest of America? Do they really work harder than the average American?

I would say not. I would say that some of them got where they are from studying hard in school and working their way up. But for the most part I would say that most of them got where they are because they had access to decent schools and then a lot of luck happened. I know that some of you think that we make our own luck, and I agree to an extent. But a child born into a middle class/upper middle class/wealthy family is going to have a lot more "luck" than a child born into a low income family.

Your average sanitation worker works a lot harder than the wealthy man in the cushy office does, yet the difference between their wages is startling.

The average stay-at-home-mom works as hard as the major league baseball player (granted, in different ways) and she arguably has the more important job, yet compare the for the mom versus millions for the baseball player.

Why is it that we promote music, screen and sports figures to an almost god like status? What makes us so much more interested in them than in the people who teach our children, put out our fires and clean our toilets?

Looking again at the list of the 400 richest Americans shows me where America's priorities lie.

Our interests lie in Wal-Mart - out of the top eleven on the list, five of them are affiliated with Wal-Mart. Moving on down the list, candy (junk food), casinos and entertainment are also among the top. And even more disturbing are the number of people in the top 400, even the top 100, who are wealthy because of oil. That means that while we are paying upwards of $4.00 a gallon for gas, we are lining the pockets of the wealthy, the government and the Middle East.

In going over this list, I really do not see where any of these people have done anything truly noble. This reinforces my belief that money isn't really the "good" thing that so many believe it to be. Money is nice to have. It would be nice to be able to pay the monthly bills without worrying where the funds were to come from, but beyond that - I think that money usually changes people for the worse. I realize that I am hugely generalizing here, but that is my personal opinion.

Did you know that the U.S. has second worst newborn death rate in modern world?

More than 46.6 million Americans are without health insurance, yet the rich keep getting richer.

In 2004, the most recent year from which statistics are available, 29,569 people were killed in America from firearm related incidents. Another 64,389 were injured. Go back and read that, let those numbers really sink in. By contrast, in the United Kingdom, there were 163 deaths (in 2003, the latest stats I could find). I just can't figure out this American fascination with owning what are essentially tools for murder.

With all of this, do you know what many of our countrymen are focusing on? They are focusing on the oh so ever important issue of denying their fellow countrymen (and women) the right to marry, denying women rights over their own bodies and making sure that we all live by their morals. America is a beautiful country but I fear for its future if something doesn't change. We need to get our priorities straight.

Killing ourselves to feed our lawn?

This post is for Jeffery.
A beautifully landscaped, green lawn is something sought after by many Americans. It has became the new "keeping up with the Joneses" to make your lawn more full and more green than your neighbor's.

The standard way of doing this is to use lawn treatment chemicals, fertilizers and lots of watering; all of which are harmful to our environment, animal life and most scary of all, harmful to us! The only way to reduce a dependence on chemical fertilizers is to develop a healthy lawn, which is naturally resistant to weeds, insects and diseases.

Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 have studies pointing toward carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants, and 11 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system.
(references). In addition, for you pet owners, pet bladder cancer has been linked to lawn pesticide applications (Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association, April 15, 2004.)

I am aware that it is easy to become bogged down with facts and figures. It has become so easy to read the above paragraph and it just go right over our heads. There are so many warning out there today that we have become desensitized to them.

This link offers some personal stories about the harmful effects of lawn pesticides.

Making a change to "green" lawn care doesn't have to mean turning into a hippie. It can be done a lot easier than one may think.

Starting with one of the most basic aspects of lawn care, if you mow your grass to the proper height and disperse the small grass clippings evenly, this can provide many benefits. Here is a link that discusses the different types of grass and the proper mowing heights for each.

If you mow grass too short it discourages deep root growth and results in a rapid loss of the moisture in the soil. On the other extreme, if you let grass grow too tall it causes the excess grass clippings to smother the turf.
Some other things to keep in mind about mowing your grass:
  • Raise the height of your mower blade during the hot and dry season. A higher setting reduces moisture loss and encourages deep root growth.
  • Keep the blades on your mower sharp and clean, and mow when the grass is dry.
  • Mow over leaves so they will decompose along with grass clippings.
  • Collect leaves and grass clippings for mulching or composting (instead of sitting them on the curb for garbage pickup).
How to combat weeds the natural way
If you maintain a thick, healthy lawn this will almost always out-compete weeds. Proper mowing, fertilizing, watering, and soil conditioning will easily eliminate or prevent up to 95 percent of weeds. Why not prevent the problem instead of using a chemical to solve the problem?
For the minor weeds that do grow, why not pull them by hand? Consider using household vinegar rather than conventional chemicals. Believe it or not, this is a very effective treatment. (Vinegar can burn grass and garden plants, so be sure to spot treat weeds only.) If you must use chemicals, why not spot treat instead of treating the entire yard?

Here is a site that sells natural lawn care products.

You have heard of recycling but what about grasscycling?
Grasscycling is the natural recycling of grass by leaving clippings on the lawn when mowing. There are many benefits to grasscycling.
  • It makes turf greener and tougher.
  • It prevents common turf diseases.
  • It reduces or eliminates fertilizer needs. Grasscycling provides about 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn per year.
  • It cuts down on watering needs
  • It eliminates the disposal of grass clippings and leaves.
Instead of using fertilizer, why not use compost?
Having a compost bin is an easy thing to do. It isn't just something that people in rural areas do, suburbanites and apartment dwellers can do it too! You can compost with a small compost bucket under your sink (complete with lid and filter, no odor), you can compost with a backyard bin or you can build your own composting system. The possibility's are endless. Here are some commercial composters and here is a link to a great composting guide.

Smart Watering can also cut down on the amount of chemical you use on your lawn.

Watering your lawn, on average, accounts for 40 to 60 percent of residential water consumption during the summer months. This makes lawn maintenance not only a chore but also a drain on the pocketbook and water supply. What is worse, is that much of the water applied to lawns is never absorbed by plants.
The greatest waste of water is from watering to often or too rapidly.

Water applied too rapidly is lost as runoff, which may carry polluting fertilizers and pesticides to streams and lakes. Water is also lost into the air when applied as a spray, especially on hot afternoons.

What do do?
Water infrequently yet thoroughly. In the absence of rain, most ground covers will benefit from a very thorough, once per month watering (during the growing season). Saturate to a depth of 8" to 10". This watering schedule will create a deep, well-rooted lawn that efficiently uses the water stored in the soil.
Your watering practices should be influenced by the weather. Decrease the amount and duration of your watering during cool or humid conditions and skip a scheduled watering after a moderate rainfall.

Water during the "right" time of day. If you water early in the morning it will prevent mildew diseases and it will cut down on evaporation. The type of soil you have will determine how often you should water and how much you should water.

Here is a link on how to determine the type of soil you have and how to water accordingly.

Set your sprinklers so that you are actually watering the plants and not the driveway. Use timers and/or moisture sensors to prevent over-watering. Soaker hoses deliver water directly to the base of the plant, reducing moisture loss from evaporation. A sprinkler head should spray large droplets of water instead of a fog or fine mist, which wastes water by evaporation and wind drift.

Going Out Green...

A few weeks ago I heard a knock on the back door. It is rare that we get visitors this far out in the sticks so I answered with wonder. There stood your typical looking Southern Baptist preacher type. Being the friendly host I am, I smiled and said "hello".

He said that he worked for the local funeral home, selling burial insurance. Before I knew what was coming out of my mouth (because honestly, I'm mostly full of shit) I said "Oh, we are going to compost my body, but thank you anyway". The worst part was that, completely involuntarily, as I was saying this I was motioning to the compost pile just a few feet away from him! I swear, I didn't mean to point at it as I was telling him hand just kind of raised up, all on its own, and motioned that way. But the look on his face after I did was completely priceless! He uttered "Oh my!" and then just stood in dumbfounded silence for a few moments.

Well then, of course the next logical question out of his mouth was "Honey, do you go to church anywhere". Now you've got to get a mental image of this man in order to make this story worthwhile. What you have got to focus on are his eyebrows. The more I talked, the higher up on his face his eyebrows went. The wider his eyes got. It was priceless really.

So I answered, "No sir, we are a Pagan family...we haven't found a church for us in this area so we worship at home". So the eyebrows shit up a little more and he uttered another "Ohhhh my".

I should have, at this point, invited him into my home...just for pure meanness, to see if he dared to enter my lair (bwwwhahaha). But no, I just stood, with a fixed smile on my face, as he invited me to his church. I then bid him a good day and shut the door as he left.

That did get me to thinking though...are there "green" ways to handle ones body after death?

So evidently, you can actually compost your body! That is if you can get through all of the red tape first. What to do, what to do...I have so many causes that I could take up in order to cause a stir in this small town of mine. Do I do the gay cause? The Pagan cause? Women's rights? Or should I campaign for the right to compost my body?

There are also a few companies who make "green" coffins. Read about them here and here.

There is a company by the name of Promessa who offers to essentially freeze-dry the body, eventually turning it to powder (at 1/3 its original weight) for storage or burial in a small urn.

Then the good folks at the Green Burial Council want to make green burials the standard, doing away with embalming, vaults, conventional markers, and metal caskets.

Green Endings will even organize an eco-funeral in your own backyard. Which would be groovy.

There are also places, easily found by a Google search, where you can be made into a diamond, launched into space or sank to the bottom of the Ocean (although I don't think those are necessarily "green").

Heading down South...

Today I am going to write about some products for areas down south of the head and neck.

Let's get something out of the way first. I'm not sure when it started nor who started it, but a woman's "time of the month" has gotten a bad rap. I will give you that it can definitely be annoying. But the rest of the descriptions it gets "gross", "nasty", "the curse", etc. are largely undeserved, in my opinion.

A woman's cycle is a completely natural part of being a human. It is what lets our race continue on generation after generation. It is a normal bodily function just as eating, sleeping and using the bathroom. It is the body's way of naturally cleansing itself when a pregnancy does not occur that month. It may not be something that will ever be kosher to speak of at the dinner table with honored guest, but it is definitely not something that should carry the stigma it does.

And I will tell you this, for the unfortunate women out there who have, for some reason, gone through early menopause - they would probably give up an arm or a leg in order to have it back so that they could have children.

My cycle coming each month is what lets me know that my body is still able to conceive and carry a child. And after having gone through infertility, that is a wonderful thing to me.

I personally call it my "moon time". This is because in the days before electricity, women's bodies were influenced by the amount of moonlight we saw. Just as sunlight and moonlight affect plants and animals, our hormones were triggered by levels of moonlight. And, all women cycled together. Today, with artificial light everywhere, day and night, our cycles no longer correspond to the moon. Just as the moon controls the tide, it can also control our bodies.

Throughout all cultures and time, the magic of creation resided in the blood that women gave forth. This blood was regarded with reverence: it had mysterious magical powers. The blood was shed without pain, which was an experience that was not understood. Early menstrual rites were perhaps the first expression of human culture.

There are many things that I do not like about disposable pads and tampons. I don't like the waste. Think about how many menstrual cycles a woman will have in her lifetime. If she starts at age twelve and goes through menopause at age 51 (which are the national averages), she will have had roughly 468 menstrual cycles...less if she has children or breastfed. But just going on that average, if she uses 20 disposable pads per cycle, that is 9360 pads in the landfill. Think of how many women are in America alone...can you even imagine? You could fill a huge landfill with pads alone!

Traditional tampons and disposable pads currently on the market are made from cotton, rayon and blends of these fibers. The cotton used in these products has been grown using as many as 35 different pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Then they are manufactured using a chlorine process to whiten or transform the wood fibers to make rayon.

Chlorine bleaching produces an unwanted by - product called dioxin - a toxic substance linked to breast cancer, endometriosis, low sperm counts, cancer, birth defects, miscarriages and immune system suppression.

These products are also run through acid baths and caustic sodas during manufacturing to enhance absorbency. Disposable pads and tampons are left un-rinsed of these toxic residues. Deodorizing chemicals are sometimes added. All this is a danger because the vagina is a main entry point into the body. What is absorbed through this skin goes into the blood circulation.

Tampons and disposable pads are often a source of vaginal irritation as well, due to the wood and chemicals that together form their extreme absorbent fiber. An additional problem is created by synthetic backing on disposable pads that prevent air from circulating, which can lead to bacterial growth and odors not normally associated with menstruation. From this site.

For women who choose to wear pads, there are several cloth pads on the market. Glad Rags is probably one of the most popular. They are used the same as disposable pads but instead of throwing them out, you wash them. For those who use cloth diapers, this should not really be much of a stretch. Most women simply keep a container with a lid beside the loo and at the end of their cycle the simply go dump the contents into the washing machine.

I personally prefer the re-usable cup. I use the DivaCup. There are many brands on the market but they all work the same way. A menstrual cup is a type of cup worn inside the vagina. Instead of absorbing the blood, like a tampon, it holds the blood. It is them removed, emptied, washed and reinserted. This site has a comparison of all of the cups currently on the market. I found it to be a big help when choosing which one to use. This is another site for cup users.

Since we are on the subject of "down South" we may as well discuss other things that can be inserted into the nether regions....condoms.

Most condoms are made of latex or Polyurethane (Plastic), neither of which I relish the thought of being in my yoni. Not only are they made of these synthetic materials, but they usually contain chemicals meant to lubricate or to kill sperm. Again, not something I want in such a personal place. The body does it own job of lubricating and the condom should hold the sperm, killing them in addition is...well...over kill!

The only alternative that I have found are sheepskin condoms. They are quite a bit more expensive than the old standby. And they are only good for protection against pregnancy, not against STDs. But for those in relationships where you know you are STD free and are only worried about pregnancy, they seem like a wonderful choice.People seem to prefer them because they "feel more natural." By the way, unlike what the name implies, they are actually made out of lamb intestines, not sheepskin.