Juicing made me lazy

I’m not much of a cook. I like to cook, but I don’t have any natural creativity or talent with food. If it tastes good, it’s because I researched it, made a list and then followed the instructions. No substitutions! I also probably baked or sautéed it. Chances are slim that I did anything fancy like stuff it or wrap it in Philo or put little sprigs of anything fancy on it.

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I taught myself to cook from cookbooks and other than one roommate teaching me how to cut an onion I have no tips and tricks up my sleeve. But I do know how to quickly respond to things like smoke, fire, boiling over, dripping over and fire alarms. In fact, it’s good to get to know your local firemen and this is why I spontaneously invite them over once or twice a year.

I can scrape off toast, disguise with sauce, cut off outside char and when all else fails, I make a great sandwich.

But this isn’t how I want to be. Of course I want to be the mom who can whip up a hearty, healthy meal from the 3 mix matched foods in the fridge in under 30 minutes without dirtying my blouse or a single pan.

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I know how important it is to eat fresh whole foods and avoid the processed junk. So, the other night when I bought spinach and feta stuffed salmon from the fish guy, organic polenta and a bunch of leafy collard greens and kale I was as proud of my healthy choices as I was dismayed by the fact that while not processed, it was all pre-prepared.

But I let that self criticism roll off my back and headed home to cook (heat up) this meal. Of course when I got home, I realized the only food that wasn’t just ready-to-go was the vegetables. I mean, how do you cook kale, collard greens and carrots? I did what any gourmet chef in training would do and I googled recipes. Thats when I realized I didnt have garlic or ginger or any other ingredient to complete a recipe.

What now? Will it even be edible when I finish it? Then as I was washing the vegetables, what did I see but the trusty juicer! What luck!! So, does the fact that I just tossed my veggies in the juicer and drank them make me lazy or brilliant?
Methinks brilliant.

Waste-free Lunches

In this house, we pack 20 lunches a week. That’s 4 lunches a day, every school day. It can get kind of boring. But when you hear that “an average a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year,” triple that, then add in an adult’s waste, you realize that’s a lot of unnecessary trash! So, we’ve been trying to reduce our lunch waste as much as possible. We’ve been composting, re-using water bottles to avoid BPA, and trying to limit things like ziplock bags and paper napkins. Despite these efforts, we still had a bit of waste and we knew it was adding up.

Really looking at the waste your family produces is kind of like writing down everything you spend money on in a week and then looking at it at the end of the week. It can be pretty shocking to tally up the incidentals and realize your retirement is actually going to magazines, Starbucks and vending machines. So, we set out to see just how much we could reduce our waste, and school lunches were a great place to start.

A few years ago I found a company called Laptop Lunches online and I immediately fell for their colorful, BPA free bento boxes for kids. This led me to follow the waste-free lunches movement, which also introduced me to the Ann Cooper, the Renegade Lunch Lady who was the Jamie Oliver of school lunches before Jamie Oliver.

This was a fantastic chain of events for me. I learned so much about school lunches, and nutrition and then food and frankenfoods during this time. If you are also interested in this kind of thing or if you have kids, I encourage you to check out all these pages and watch the TED videos of Jamie Oliver and Ann Cooper. You will not regret it.So, now we have Laptop Lunches for both the younger kids and I really enjoy using them.Unfortunately, at first the kids were not fans. They said they couldn’t open the box; they wanted their lunch to look like other kids’; even worse, they wanted to order their lunches. So, I gave them a lesson in box opening, talked to them about all the different foods they could eat and that they wouldn’t be stuck with peanut butter and jelly every day. I reassured them there was plenty of space for cookies.

Then I explained to them what happens to all the trash and where it goes and how it never goes away.

They were outraged!

It’s amazing how quickly children “get it” when it comes to protecting the earth. They don’t need science or pie charts or long documents of evidence or expert witnesses. You just tell them the bare minimum, the boring old facts about trash and suddenly they want to clean up streets, ban plastics and put litterbugs under citizen arrest. And my kids are no different.

Today they proudly toted their Laptop Lunches to school and came home with rave reviews. They ate everything provided, left no trace and told their friends the reason behind their colorful lunches. Waste free lunches. Kids are the best activists!

Everyone Needs to Know How to Properly Clean Up a Broken Energy Efficient CFL Light Bulb

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL s)  are becoming more and more common in households across the US.  While breaks are not common, if and when a CFL light bulb breaks in your home, make sure you know what to do and are aware of what NOT to do.  You should not handle a CFL light bulp break the same way you handle a traditional break. In fact, you practically do the opposite of everything you would do when a traditional bulb breaks.  So, if you have children or are pregnant and have these bulbs in your house, please read and share this article.

CFL light bulbs are those spiral shaped, environmentally friendly light bulbs that require less electricity and last longer than traditional light bulbs.  By 2014, 30% of all light bulbs must be energy efficient and 70% by 2020. There are many benefits to these bulbs, including reduced energy bills, reduced landfill waste and reduced emissions from coal-fired power plants that produce the majority of our electricity. Energy efficiency, affordability and environmental stewardship are all important issues for me and many families. I strongly believe in the notion of making a big difference through little changes (like filtering water, recycling, participating in Meatless Monday, buying organic, using household brands that do not use toxic chemicals and have a commitment to the environment), so when I went out shopping for light bulbs, I didn’t think twice about spending a little more for the Energy Star approved, CFL light bulbs in the store.

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The problem is that each bulb contains about 5mg of elemental mercury.  Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage the brain, kidneys, and liver. Recent research has linked mercury exposure to autism and other chronic diseases in children. Children and infants are especially sensitive to toxic poisoning because of their size and how their bodies absorb and metabolize toxins. Their immune, neurological, and hormone systems are all still developing and toxic exposure results in more significant complications to their health than in adults.

When broken, even the very small amount of mercury in these bulbs is enough to contaminate 6,000 gallons of water.  It is also (depending on the light bulb) equal to or double the chronic  .  Because your liver and kidneys can not process and eliminate this toxin, it accumulates in your body, contributing to your overall toxic body burden.  Continued exposure to mercury– even in very small amounts– can lead to  long lasting, chronic conditions over time.

Typically, when a light bulb breaks (because from time to time, they do break), the biggest health threat is from cuts in the feet or fingers from tiny shards of glass shattered in the break.  Everyone avoids the path while someone (we will assume mom right now, but it could also be Dad or Grandmom or an older child, etc.) deals with clean up as fast as possible.   She goes to put on shoes to protect from stepping on broken glass, retrieves the small broom and dust pan to sweep up the broken glass if it is on tile or wood or the vacuum if it is on glass and dumps the remains it in the kitchen trash.

Unfortunately, this is EXACTLY the WRONG cleanup protocol to follow.  In doing what you usually do, you have likely just committed 80% of the NEVER DO AFTER A CFL BREAK list. But you didn’t know.  You didn’t know because there is NO WARNING on the box to alert consumers that broken CFL bulbs must be handled differently from other bulbs when broken.

When a CFL bulb breaks, the biggest health threat is not from the broken shards of glass, but from the mercury vapors that are immediately emitted into the air. 

So, if you or anyone you know has CFL bulbs, or is a parent or grandparent, please pass along this information so that they know what to do and what not to do after a CFL break in their home.

What Never to Do After a CFL Break (From www.EPA.gov)

  • Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around.
  • Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury. The vacuum will put mercury into the air and increase exposure.
  • Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.
  • Never pour mercury down a drain. It may lodge in the plumbing and cause future problems during plumbing repairs. If discharged, it can cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
  • Never wash clothing or other items that have come in direct contact with mercury in a washing machine, because mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage. Clothing that has come into direct contact with mercury should be discarded. By “direct contact,” we mean that mercury was (or has been) spilled directly on the clothing, for example, if you break a mercury thermometer and some of elemental mercury beads came in contact with your clothing.

And to add insult to injury, if your bulb broke on carpet you will have to replace the carpet, so that “financial savings” you hoped to realize by using a longer lasting, efficient light bulb just turned into a debt equal to the cost of replacing your carpet.

“Research performed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has shown that, after standard cleanup procedures, some residual mercury may remain on the carpet. If the carpet is in an area where young children or pregnant women may be exposed, it is advisable to cut out and replace the section of the carpet where the breakage occurred in order to remove any residual mercury.”

I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t use CFL bulbs, because using CFL bulbs reduces overall mercury pollution by reducing dependence on coal burning energy. The mercury created from coal-fired power plants winds up in rivers, streams, and oceans. However, using CFL’s transfers some responsibility and risk to the consumer. When we accept that responsibility and risk, we must be informed, clearly and on every package, how to handle, clean up and dispose of CFL bulbs properly.

Differences in safety concerns and clean up protocol for traditional bulbs (TB) vs. CFL bulbs include:

1. Ask everyone in proximity to freeze to prevent stepping in the glass pile (TB) vs. Ask everone to leave the room immediately to avoid exposure from toxic mercury vapors (CFL)

2. Clean up immediately (TB) vs. Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system and stay out of the room for at least 10 minutes

3. Wear shoes to protect from broken shards of glass (TB)  vs. Don’t wear shoes to prevent tracking mercury through the house (CFL)

4. Sweep glass shards into dustpan to pick up (TB) vs. NEVER sweep to prevent break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them

5. Vacuum or mop remaining tiny particles of glass (TB) vs. NEVER vacuum. Vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor.

6. Wrap glass in paper towel or newspaper and throw away in trash can (TB) vs. Check with your local government about disposal requirements in your area, because some localities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center. If there is no such requirement in your area, dispose of the materials in your outside trash.

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Additionally, mercury especially dangerous to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, infants and young children. We warn moms not to clean the cat’s litter box, mother’s should also be warned about the dangers in a broken CFL light bulb.

This is why I’m asking the major CFL bulb makers to clearly label their products with safe clean up instructions. If space does not allow this, there should be a warning that bulb breaks must be handled differently from other light bulb. I am also asking YOU to help raise awareness among your friends, coworkers and family on how to handle the break in the first 5 – 10 minutes as this is the most dangerous time, especially if you follow the protocol for cleaning up a standard light bulb.

Safe Break Handling Instructions from the EPA  (From www.EPA.gov)

Before Cleanup

  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
  • Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.
  • Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb:
    • stiff paper or cardboard;
    • sticky tape;
    • damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces); and
    • a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.

During Cleanup

  • DO NOT VACUUM. Vacuuming is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. Vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor.
  • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
  • Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

After Cleanup

  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
  • Next, check with your local government about disposal requirements in your area, because some localities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center. If there is no such requirement in your area, you can dispose of the materials with your household trash.
  • If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.

Please tell your friends, your teachers, your baby sitters and your kids that these light bulbs are different … and potentially dangerous. Any breaks must be handled with extreme care!  Sign the Petition!

Detox for the Whole Family

It may not come as a surprise that there are people who think we’ve gone off the deep end with our focus on non-gmo, non-toxic living. To date, we’ve eliminated as much processed food as possible; gotten rid of as many plastics as possible. We’ve removed every cleaner, detergent, soap and spray made with chemicals and replaced them with something green, non-toxic and biodegradable. We have built a traditional organic garden with a home compost, and we are investing in an aquaponic garden this summer. We buy organic food and try our best to eat plant based whole foods. We are supplementing with all natural vitamins, going for walks, going to church, and seeking in every way conceivable to remove pollutants from our lives –whether they are toxic substances, toxic relationships or toxic thoughts. And our friends wonder … why go to all this trouble?

To be honest, we didn’t plan to go all in; this new lifestyle snuck up on us really. First, we learned about the chemicals in our laundry detergent and how they could be exacerbating our 7 year old’s asthma. Then, we learned about the links between asthma and food allergies. Then we heard stories about the link between fast food, sugar, gmo’s and diabetes. We talked to people about their health and their symptoms, what was working and what wasn’t working. And as we dug in deeper, we uncovered more and more information about potential links, possible links, maybe links and definite links between chronic disease and all of these artificial substances.

The information, honestly, is everywhere and now we can’t see how it took us do long to open our eyes!

So we decided, if we don’t know how these substances are affecting us, why don’t we just opt out? Whats the harm in being a little different? It will be better for us, better for our kids, better for our environment. So we jumped in.

Once we started, we noticed we were feeling better, sleeping better, experiencing less anxiety, having fewer aches and pains, and after more than 5 years of nearly monthly doctors appointments for one of us, we’ve now gone almost a year without so much as a sniffle!

We didn’t know how bad we felt until we started feeling 10 times better!

Now, the kids bring home stories of so and so puking and going home early with flu or being out with strep, but that’s it, they are bringing home stories and not illness. We have perfect attendance and straight A’s, We are out catching fireflies, not catching colds. We aren’t using antibacterial soaps, or hiding from people. In fact we are going out more often and interacting with strangers in public places because we aren’t homebound with a sick kid or a sick parent!

Yes, it is a lot of work to remove the toxins, eat naturally, exercise daily, be mindful of our excuses and bad habits
and focus on wellness, but you know what? It was a lot more work to manage illness, be unmotivated, battle exhaustion, feel sluggish, and struggle with our weight. We spend more on organic and less on doctors bills.

So, if you are considering better living through nature. Just go all in. You will never regret it!

Purging the Plastic

I’ve been purging the junk, switching brands, minimizing, recycling, reusing and changing habits. It sounds like a lot of work but it has been easier than I expected and loads of fun.

Reading about the toxicity of plastics, particularly the harmful chemicals Bisphenol A and Phthalates, that are present in so many plastics, I really took a long look at all the things in the house that I can replace with safer products.

One product that seemed to be potentially one of the most harmful was in our reusable plastic food storage containers. Replacing these posed a dilemma. What do we do with the old containers? We certainly don’t want to throw them away in a great big nasty landfill? So, we decided to keep them but use them for non-food items, like crayons, beads, thread, buttons and markers.

We replaced them with glass storage containers by SnapWare. These are BPA free, nesting and stackable. So far they are working out great. Storage is easy, they are easy to clean and they stack well.

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Not Sticking With Non-Stick

When I got my very first apartment as a single gal out in the world, my mom took me to Macy’s and together we picked out a gorgeous 13 piece set of non-stick cookware. I always had an interest in being healthy, but back then (way, way back then, wow), my focus was on fat-free, low-fat cooking. Butter was out, Teflon was in. It was also, in hindsight, an introduction to the easy sale of “Better Living Through Chemistry” because the non-stick would supposedly free me from all that time scraping pans of burnt on crud. Instead, my burnt on crud would slide magically off the nonstick. That is, until roommates of one sort or another would get their dirty little forks in it, scraping and tearing up the lining. Thankfully, this didn’t happen much as whenever I lived in a house with roommates, I would tuck my precious cookware away and we would use theirs.

And now that we know the dangers of perfluorochemicals (PFCs) in nonstick cookware, as well as in GoreTex (another favorite when I was living in Portland and Seattle during this time), I had it in the back of my mind for some time to replace my non-stick with stainless.

15 years later, I finally replaced that stuff last month. There was a sale at Costco on a 15 piece set of Stainless Steel Cookware over Christmas and I snapped it up for myself. My swanky nonstick cookware was almost a grand, and this new set was less than $200. Why hadn’t I done it sooner? Well, I think in my head I imagined another thousand dollar purchase and that is really a pretty big deterrent for me! So when I saw this inexpensive but very nice looking set, I snapped it up!

It is lovely and functional and it is not as difficult to scrape burnt on crud as you might think. I’ve tested it’s capabilities. You see, water is corrosive and if you just let something sit in the sink filled with water and a drop or two of soap, it will loosen up. Don’t tell me you clean it right after you cook. I know you’re not that perfect!

So anyway, that was a big, but easy, $200 change that hopefully will save us from all kinds of chronic illnesses as a result of their nasty composition.

The big question is, how do I dispose of them? According to the Environmental Working Group “unlike any other toxic chemicals, the most pervasive and toxic members of the PFC family never degrade in the environment.” I guess they’re here to stay? Maybe I should consider an art piece of toxic household crap that no longer has a use and won’t ever go away. Should I call it “Still Life with Slow Death,” “Domestic Disease?” You tell me? What do you think?

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My Health Goals

Here is a brief list of some of my goals this year.  I’m sure we will be adding to this list and hope that our posts will reflect these goals.

  1. Invest in my family’s health by preparing the best food ever.
  2. Invest in my family’s prosperity by giving back and pushing myself to be more generous and charitable.
  3. Invest in my family’s education by turning off electronics and turning on our minds.
  4. Invest in my family’s fitness by getting a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day every day (1 hour for the kids).
  5. Invest in my family’s longevity by removing toxins from our home, our environment and our foods.
  6. Invest in my family’s immunity by boosting our vitamin and mineral intake through juicing and all natural supplements.
  7. Invest in my family’s spirit by embracing our talents, accepting our differences, loving fearlessly, and protecting each other from things that limit us.
  8. Invest in my community by sharing what I learn with others and helping them make these changes in their own lives.
  9. Invest in my future by teaching my kids about food and nature, creativity, love, vulnerability and purpose.