Balance – to me

IMG_3294The point for me in starting the blog wasn’t the blog at all, it was the changes I needed to make in my life.  The blog was a way to capture the process for myself, to think out loud to process my experiences and to share the journey with others.  To date, that has meant that my updates on the blog have been inconsistent, although my attempts to create a healthy balanced future have continued steadily.  In the past two years I’ve accomplished some pretty significant changes.  I do wish I’d posted more of them, but as part of my problem is in having very limited time, this blog has not been a huge priority to me.  Maybe that will change this year as I have had more success in streamlining my life.

  1. Clean Food – I have made a lot of progress with food.  We eat organic, hormone-free, whole foods 60% of the time.  Eight years ago I saw nothing wrong with cooking every meal out of a box in the microwave and even powdered potatoes counted as a vegetable. This was no small task.  And I still struggle with sugar, carbs and pizza.  As a single mom who works full time, shortcuts and conveniences are sometimes a matter of sanity.  It happens.  I don’t get too bent out of shape.
  2. Removing toxins – This step was easier but more expensive as it required simply replacing many items with other items.  Habits stayed the same but the tools changed.
    1. Replaced my non-stick cookware with stainless steel
    2. Donated all my old plastic food containers and replaced with glass
    3. Removed all toxic, chemical cleaners, detergents, soaps and skin care products for me and the kids
    4. Installed a water purifier to remove toxins in the water
    5. Ditched fluoride
  3. Reduced Stress- Reducing stress is hard.  For me it required a new mindset where I would let things go.  This did not mean making excuses for myself.  This meant simply letting go of anger, resentment, fear and that feeling of obligation.  It meant saying no to requests that did not meet my own personal goals.  It meant letting go of friends or acquaintances who were toxic or who did not reciprocate what I had to give or who were just draining me.  It also meant increasing the good stuff; increasing fun, increasing joy, increasing solitude.  Making time for nothing is something when you are constantly on the go and being pulled in different directions, but I’m getting better and it is paying off.
  4. Increasing exercise – Letting go of the obligations I made for other people opened up space for me to do things that were for me alone.  So, I’ve made time for more exercise which includes running and weight lifting which are my loves but I branched out and tried yoga which I am also enjoying.  These all feed back into #3.

So here’s the thing that has happened to my thinking recently, my definition of balance has changed.  Balance to me used to look and feel like a gymnast on a balance beam on the best days and on a tight wire on the worst days.  The point was to get to the other side without crashing off.

Now, my idea of balance does not look like that.  That sounds stressful! My definition of balance has changed to look more like an ecosystem with many various parts that feed off of and fuel each other.  Some things like clean foods are like the water in an ecosystem.  Essential for life and health but made up of complex smaller parts.  It has taken me a long time to get the water right and sometimes I do have to scrape some scum off the top and do some serious tweaking to get the water right again.  Stress can be like a big fish suddenly thrown into the water that needs to be tamed or a storm that troubles the waters and I need to wait it out. OR it can be like an invasive vine attacking my plants and threatening the whole ecosystem and I have to go to war to kill it off.  The toughest part is not training the big fish, waiting out the storm or battling the invaders; it’s sorting out which kind of threat and responding with the appropriate reaction.  But as with any skill, with practice, I am getting better.

So, with this in mind, I’m hoping to continue to nurture my ecosystem of life and add in a few more tropical plants without upsetting the balance.  My goals this year are to:

  1. Grow as much of my own food as possible
  2. Write more
  3. Travel more
  4. Read more
  5. Find more silence and solitude
  6. Include my kids in more of the decisions about this ecosystem. After all, they live here too.  And they are old enough to have a say AND to lend a hand.

It’s been a great journey so far and is well worth it.  I hope to post more of my progress this year (see #2… stop laughing that wasn’t intentional!) And hope to hear more from you what changes you are making.  And what does balance mean to you?

Thanks for reading!


Non-GMO Picnic

I am a huge fan of the picnic. And by picnic I just mean eating out of coolers on the go, whether you are at the beach, a park, the pool, a sports event or just going about your business avoiding fast food.

Here’s a list from GMO Insider on finding non-gmo alternatives

Reduce Your Family’s Exposure to Environmental Threats

  1. Buy local and organic foods whenever possible. Reducing the time from “farm to table” preserves nutrient composition.  Eating organic foods reduces your exposure to pesticides.
  2. Drink clean water.  Instead of buying water in plastic bottles, consider using tap water or using a filter to purify water from the tap. 
  3. Use glass instead of plastic and choose smart plastics and avoid putting them in the microwave or the dishwasher where they can degrade under excessive heat.
  4. Replace cleaning products with non-toxic, pesticide-free, biodegradable, natural products that don’t contain carcinogenic chemicals.
  5. Reduce meat consumption to reduce your chances of developing chronic conditions like some types of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  6. Avoid pesticides in your home and in your food. Buy organic.  Use natural pesticides.
  7. Look for meat and dairy products that are hormone, antibiotic and steroid free.


Host a Healthy Balanced Future event in your home or online to receive discounted products or a free Green PolkaDot Box membership for significant discounts on organic foods.  ($125 value) Ask me how!

Losing Prop 37 Might Be the Best Thing That Could Have Happened to the Food Movement

Photo via Food Babe

I did everything I could, even from as far as North Carolina, to support the Yes on 37 Campaign to label genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) in foods. I posted links, I wrote blog posts, I talked to friends and family and I even volunteered for the campaign to cold call 10 people in California to talk about the issue and let them know how they can get involved. I’m as frustrated as anyone that we’ve had these ingredients in our food for so long without adequate research on their health effects. In my opinion, they are unnatural, foreign products and deserve safety testing. There is nothing I’d like more than to have them out of our food system. But I also know that sometimes small victories create a false sense of achievement that results in a cause stalling out before it truly matures. For this reason, I think the best thing that could have happened after the successful and far reaching campaign, was for it not to pass.

Before you get mad, keep reading. I will put this in perspective. I’m a goal focused person by nature. But I have also learned that sometimes the goal I set is not the best — or even the main — goal in the end. And I’ve also had enough experience falling short of goals to be able to appreciate the successes along the way.

What was the goal of Prop 37? To get food companies to label products that contained GMOs.

That was the immediate goal of the campaign, but the goal of the crusade is bigger: To raise awareness that a great deal of what we eat looks like food, tastes like food, but isn’t food. And might actually be poison. We don’t know.

This is an important crusade for many reasons. Obesity, cancer, diabetes, immune disorders are all on the rise. These diseases are largely preventable but diet and exercise are not working. People aren’t just giving up and ignoring their health. People are actually trying their damnedest to lose weight, subjecting themselves to dangerous surgeries, crash diets, fad diets, etc. While some are losing weight, there are a lot more who are trying their best and still not losing weight– maybe the are even gaining more! On top of that, people are getting very sick at younger and younger ages, with no reason behind it. Something is going on and we don’t know what it is.

Why? Why all these health problems?

1. We have lost an understanding of what our bodies need to function properly.

2. We have lost the knowledge of how to feed ourselves for our health vs. for our enjoyment.

3. We are eating, breathing and absorbing a grotesque amount of chemicals every day.

Companies are taking advantage of our trust and using ingredients that have not been researched for safety. If we want to make choices for ourselves, we need to know what we are really choosing between.

As far as I’m concerned, the campaign made great strides at raising awareness of these issues. The conversation about food, food politics, the real food movement, Big Food, GMO’s, and sustainable agriculture hit the big time with stories in big news outlets including Michael Pollan’s article in the New York Times Magazine.

The campaign also helped propel some real food leaders, like Michael Pollan, Robyn O’Brien and the Food Babe to celebrity status. Celebrity cred is worth more than street cred, and the non-GMO movement has earned plenty of both by now.

Additionally, new organizations like Food Democracy Now, Just Label It, and the Non-GMO project have built strong foundations of supporters and are positioned to build on the momentum of the campaign.

The campaign itself was a massive success. It was executed brilliantly, using social media, grassroots efforts and individual volunteers to spread the word to others. This aspect of the campaign is the most exciting to me as it inspired thousands of people to step out and volunteer for something they believed in. These people became advocates and humanitarians, volunteering for the cause — and not the check– at a time when interests with big money were trying simply buy people’s minds.

The simple fact is that food-industry groups wouldn’t have spent as much as they did if there weren’t so much at stake. For them. For us. The amount they spent bought them another 5 years at least. But it buys us a kind of credibility we never could’ve bought ourselves — RESISTANCE. Think about it: every time one of their paid-for ads told people to “Vote No on 37!” someone, somewhere asked “so… what’s proposition 37 all about?”

And there’s more good news. Our opposition spent ALL THAT money just to fight a little bit of labeling. And a little bit of labeling is only the beginning of the solution. Real change doesn’t come from words — either here or on a little label — it comes from awareness. I wonder how expensive it will be for them to resist the whole shift in consciousness we’re ushering in!

Of course, the conversation needs to continue, and I believe it will, with or without food labeling. First of all, the companies that are responding to the consumer demand for non-GMO foods are already submitting their products for certification with the Non-GMO Project. And the consumers who desire clean food are buying it. Voting with our ballots happens annually, voting with our forks happens three times a day. And we are voting. We are doing the daily work.

The failure of Prop 37 illustrates that when people come together to fight for the common good, there is no such thing as failure. Prop 37 missed a target… that target was a label. But it succeeded in reaching several important goals, those of raising awareness, inspiring people to get involved, creating passion and energy around an issue and taking it onstage in a national debate. People who did not even know that food was genetically modified are now changing their behaviors, eating organic, and cooking at home.

So all those things are good, but why do I contend that it is great for the movement that GMO’s were not, in the end, labeled?

Here’s why:

Reaching the goal of food labeling would have created a false sense of accomplishment because food labels have little to no impact. Food labels do not protect human health. Food labels will not require food companies to be honest about how those ingredients affect the body. Food labels will not require Big Food to assure us the products are safe, nutritious or sustainable.

Labeling is simply, and obviously, the right thing to do, but it is such a small part of the picture. Food labels won’t protect anyone.

There is already a long list of approved additives, preservatives, fillers and other ingredients that are questionably safe in our food. Many of these are plainly labeled on the box. Most to all of these are completely ignored by the majority of people.

Simply labeling doesn’t ward off the dangers. It doesn’t make it easier for companies to study the health effects of the foods. It doesn’t do anything to change behaviors. It simply adds a label, a piece of fine print, that won’t get a second glance by your average consumer.

The real heart of the non-GMO movement is in educating others about how to kick the dependence on processed foods. How can we start cooking at home? How can we eat more whole foods? What do we use to substitute the ingredients we’ve been using for years and decades so that we can still eat the foods we like? How can we introduce new foods into our routines? How can we support more sustainable practices and habits?

These goals can only be achieved by the individuals who are excited and motivated to share this information from the goodness of their hearts, with others. These are the volunteers, friends, family members and acquaintances who have a whole food lifestyle and are willing to help those around them who are beginning on the journey.

Avoiding GMO’s isn’t easily achieved. It’s not like avoiding the sun by staying indoors, or like avoiding caffeine by buying caffeine free soda. Avoiding GMO’s requires an education in a new lifestyle. People must research, plan, prepare foods from home. They need to study labels, not just read them, to find out what the contents are in different products. They need to learn how to prepare foods from scratch. They need to open up time and space in their schedule for the extra learning, shopping and cooking they will need to do. Avoiding GMO’s is a process in changing the way we eat, one meal at a time.

Thankfully, those of us who are concerned about GMO’s have all been on the same journey. There are very few of us who were raised on organic farms with no processed foods. Most of us, even some of the most “healthy” of us probably ate a lot more processed foods than we’d like to think about. We’ve probably consumed far more GMO’s than we’d like to think about. And we probably had someone along the way to help steer us in the right direction.

The Prop 37 campaign created a huge force of individuals who are passionate about food and willing to stick their necks out for something they believe in. They are modeling the behavior and eager to help teach the habits that can change lives and health outcomes. They are devoting their spare time, spare energy, and if they have it, spare money for something they believe in. In addition to the health rewards, they are likely reaping tremendous spiritual rewards as well. There is really no greater satisfaction than in extending a hand to help others. And now we have a huge movement where we can pass it on. We have our momentum. And we may be defining new goals to take the movement further. But the burn of losing the campaign is going to do more to activate and accelerate it than a win ever would have.

The Most Damaging, Naturally Occuring Toxin

The most damaging, naturally occurring toxin we are exposed to on a daily basis is stress.  Now that I’ve said it, it seems obvious doesn’t it?  We know stress is harmful but we probably don’t think of it as a toxin.  But the truth is, stress affects your body in the same way many toxins do and it leads to many significant health problems if not addressed.

Toxins can affect our bodies in several ways. They can alter our cells genetically, they can attack and kill cells, they can leech vitamins and nutrients from our bodies and they can impede our bodies ability to absorb nutrients. Depending on the type of toxin, the side effects can range from headaches, inflamed respiratory tract to neurological problems and brain damage to cardiovascular disease, immune disorders and cancer.

Stress reduces your body’s ability to absorb and utilize nutrients.  So, if you are like many Americans and are already nutrient deprived, this puts you at a further disadvantage.

According to WebMD:

  • Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  • Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  • Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
  • The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.

Because all toxins, including stress, weaken our immune system, an important part of detoxing to both remove the source of the toxin and to radically increase our nutrient, vitamin and mineral intake.  If these come from clean foods, these help your body process and flush out the toxins it has stored.

The physical, mental and emotional impacts of stress are significant and can many times be debilitating.  It contributes to almost all chronic diseases.  Stress is a very dangerous condition and yet it seems impossible to avoid it.   And unlike other toxins that everyone agrees we should avoid, like arsenic, mercury, lead, BPA and others, stress is a toxin we embrace.  Maybe we wouldn’t admit that, but if you watch our actions, the way we put ourselves in stressful situations, the way we take on more than we should, the way we stay in bad relationships and bad jobs, it’s undeniable, we like the stress.

One reason I think we like the stress is because it often produces adrenaline. And we like adrenaline.  It makes us feel like we are involved in something exciting.  It makes us feel present in the moment and alert.  So often, when we are nutrient deprived we are sluggish. Our energy is lacking, our passions are gone, we are tired.  So when we get a burst of adrenaline, even if it’s related to stress, we finally feel alive. We all want to feel alive.   I’m going to challenge myself (and please join me) to feel alive without stress.  Exercise, service to others, raw foods … these all can help us feel that burst of energy we are seeking.  And they won’t kill us, like stress will. In fact, they will help us live longer.

Waste Free Friday

20120921-111309.jpgToday was not 100% waste free, as you can see by the little brown granola bars all wrapped up next to the napkins, but I’m a huge fan of doing your best and being happy with it.  How often do we skip a workout when we only have 10 or 15 minutes with the excuse that it’s not enough time to make a difference?  How often do we give up on our diets after a lunch or dinner out with friends and a single indulgence?  How often do we give up with the slightest bit of discouragement or criticisms?  Let’s not do that anymore.  Let’s do our best and be happy.

Today my best involved a granola bar that was wrapped in plastic.

And maybe my best at work will include a mistake or late attendance at a call.

And maybe my parenting will include a moment of bad listening or indulging the kids or bribery.

And maybe my friends will be a bit ignored and my dog will be scolded.

Let’s not give up over all that stuff.  I packed a granola bar, but I STILL made big steps in saving my kids health, my community’s health, my environment and my finances.  Let’s focus on that part?  Deal.

100% Waste Free Lunch

When I pack my kids their lunch in the morning, I do it out of love and concern.  I love them and want the best for them and I am concerned that the food choices they face when they leave my cozy home will not nourish them and at worst may harm them.  It may cause cavities, it may upset their stomach’s, it may give them a sugar high followed by a crash, it may cause them to put on extra weight and it may, horrendous as it sounds, trigger development of a cancer as a result of pesticide residues or genetically modified foods breaking down essential enzymes.  This is when I even ask myself, “Do I sound totally nuts?” But the truth is, I’m not nuts, but our food choices are.  So, I shop with a focus on whole foods and organic.  I strive for non-GMO.  And then I lovingly pack a lunch for my kids.

But concern for their health and future can’t stop at the food I pack. I must also consider what I pack their food in, because those little baggies are going to be around when my kids are grown and it is a waste and a shame that their highlight is a 3 hour trip in a lunchbox carrying pretzels or grapes and then off to the dump.

In fact, it is estimated that an average lunch packing child creates 67 pounds of waste from disposable packaging in lunches.  Sixty seven pounds!  That is more than each of my kids weigh themselves!  And that is every year.  So if I pack a lunch from kindergarten to senior year, that is 871 pounds. Between my two kids that is almost a ton of trash! Literally!  Multiply that against the other 23 kids in their classroom, the other classes in their grade, the other grades in their school and you can see that the waste of those one use baggies is huge.

But I know how much we love convenience.  I love it too and it has been challenging to switch to waste free.  Additionally, it requires an upfront cost.  Buying the cute reusable baggies and containers is expensive. But, as with most quality goods that are designed to provide lasting use, it is worth it, and in the end, the dollars make sense and you wind up ahead financially.

Waste Free Lunches estimates that on average a waste free lunch costs $1.37 less than a lunch made with disposable spoon, napkin, pouches and baggies.  In a typical school year, that amounts to a savings of $246 per person. Additionally, buying whole foods or snacks in bulk instead of snacks in individual serving packages is a major cash saver.

So, when I add up the cost of the lunchbox, water bottle, reusable baggies and containers, I will have still saved over $150. Next year, of course, I will save the full $250 because these supplies will still be in use.

Here is what I use:

PVC Free Lunch boxes from Hanna Andersson.  Honestly, this is way more lunchbox than we need.  It is too big.  That bottom section goes to school completely empty every day. I spent $26 on these but would have done better to get the smaller $20 or $16 option. Lesson learned. The part of this purchase that I am very happy about though is that their products are non-toxic.  Be careful when selecting a lunchbox or lunch bag that they are not loaded with PVC, have lead traces or other chemical making them stink and stain free.

Stainless Water Bottle by Kleen Kanteen $17.  These go everywhere and are used all day long. If you want huge bang for the buck and can’t go completely waste free right away, start with the water bottle.  And make sure you give your kids clean water inside that bottle!

My daughter’s bottle was purchased 6 years ago at Target and I have no idea what I spent but considering how long we have used it, I’d say it was worth it.  She also has a BPA-free Camelback thermos that I got for her two years ago for $16.

Each kid has a small round insulated thermos for the lucky days I pack them spaghetti, mac and cheese or leftover casserole of some sort.  I can’t find the kind I use online anymore as they are at least 5 years old but these are similar and cost $25 each.

This year, I got a set of Lunchbot containers that are being shared among all of us.  The jury is still out on these.  I haven’t quite gotten into the swing of using them but I do like the design and the feel of them.

I also just purchased some Reusies reusable snack bags.  I got these in the mail yesterday and I already love them.  They were fun and easy to pack, the kids were excited, the size was great for their snacks. After the water bottle, this is the second thing I would invest in for bang for the buck.  Think of all those little plastic baggies you will never need if you use these! Put your sandwich right in there! I combined their snacks this morning, since I got two each.  Pretzels and Pirates Booty in one and grapes and carrots in the other.

ImageI also have Laptop Lunches.  These were my introduction to waste free lunches and are still my favorite.  There is nothing more fun or satisfying than packing lunch parts in all the pretty colors.  The containers are non-toxic, easy to use and fun.  I’ve been using my lunchboxes for over 6 years and they look identical to the day I bought them. I wash them on the top shelf, I throw them in the cabinets. I am not gentle.  These things are sturdy. I really didn’t need to get the other products because these work great, but there are days you want more flexibility than the hard container.

Finally, this was a totally unnecessary purchase but I couldn’t resist; I bought the kids each their own reusable napkin. Why is this unnecessary?  Not because they don’t use napkins, although, some days I do wonder when I see their sticky faces hop off the bus. And not because paper napkins are okay, but because we all have cloth napkins or scraps of fabric that can be turned into napkins at home.  Someone is making a killing on these decorated washcloths and I was happy to fill their pockets.  Honestly, you can find something at home to use like I did for the past several years, but if you want to support a product made in USA by a company focused on sustainability that has a cute design on it like I did, well, I won’t stop you! These are cute. I do, wonder how long they will look this cute especially once they encounter spaghetti day.

Of course, the savings goes farther than just lunch. As you may too, we have an on-the-go lifestyle. Most of our meals are on the benches at baseball practice, at the tables outside dance class, next to the soccer field, on the beach, at the pool, at the park… you get the idea.

When I have portable, reusable containers, I can be prepared with snacks and meals on the go and the temptation or need for fast food or other junk food options is also tackled.  It’s a picnic lifestyle but it works!  Your kids, your planet and your wallet will thank you for giving it a try.