The Scariest Thing About Halloween This Year

This post is part of the 2012 Green Halloween® Blogfest. If you would like more information about how to have a greener and healthier Halloween, please check out the posts linked up to this Green Halloween page. 

There are a lot of things to scare us this year on Halloween.  For starters, there are the typical threats of razor blades in apples, errant drivers, boogey men and mean-spirited teenagers.  Then, add in the new threats of lead-tainted face paints, lead, phthalates, and cadmium in a wide assortment of Halloween decorations, toys and accessories. On top of that, we can add in the fears over the abundance of sugar treats made from GMOs and laden with High Fructose Corn syrup which has proven high in mercury and our every day fears and anxieties balloon into monstrous proportions!

Monster!

Do you cringe when you see your child pop a Tootsie Roll in their mouth?  I know I have.  I immediately think “cavities! sugar! GMOs! Oh my!”

Then I look at their costumes, store-bought, flimsy, probably toxic, definitely too expensive and I feel like banning all future Halloween celebrations. And while I’m at it, let’s cancel the Easter Egg hunt and Birthday Parties.  Let’s just hide in the house with the windows open to improve the air quality, or wait, leave them closed to improve the air quality?  Every direction I turn in I’m bombarded with a new toxic threat from the air, the water, my couch, my fridge.  And now I’m stressing and stress is bad!  GAHH!!

And this leads me to the scariest thing about Halloween:  We might forget to have fun. These seasonal celebrations are some of the best parts of childhood and even parenthood.  Holidays bring us together, they help mark the years and seal our memories in our mind in a regular pattern that we can call upon in sweet moments of reflection or laugh out loud sessions of remember when with friends. On top of that, Halloween is the silliest holiday of them all and are a perfect opportunity for you to gain a little ground on the cool factor with your kids. (or lose a lot if you have teenagers, but teenagers need to be humbled, so … win win.)

I am doing my best to reduce my kids candy intake this year as I have in the past.  I have more available to me this year than last year as I have a handy list of non-GMO candy I can use to “swap” with my kids.  I’ve also been through the experience of removing the candy from the house a couple of days after Halloween enough times that it is no longer a battle as my kids know this is part of the process in my house.  (I usually take the candy to work for the break room).  I love the idea of the Switch Witch and wish I’d heard of it a couple of years ago when I could have used this cute story to remove the candy instead of the story I’ve used: “Because I said so.”

I am inspired by stories of parents reducing waste on this holiday filled with what seems like endless, bite sized wrapper trash waste.  One mother I know has decorated a bag of clementines to hand out to the ghouls and goblins who come to her door.  Another friend is handing out spooky stickers and glow in the dark bracelets and necklaces.

I applaud the parents doing their best to reduce their kids toxic exposure to Halloween costumes by making their own.  If I had a shred of crafting creativity and if I had some more time to devote to costume making, I would love to be that mom with the one of a kind costume hand crafted for her child. I’m not that mom.  Incidentally, I met that mom (or one of them) last night at a very creative Halloween party.  Her daughter was running around in a too small Tinkerbelle costume after flatly refusing to wear the creative, time-consuming, brow wrinkling, sleep losing masterpiece costume her mother had worked on for the bulk of the month.  That made me feel better.  It did. But I still applaud that mother’s efforts.  She is fighting the good fight.  But she is also doing something else that I admire, she is not letting her daughter’s rejection of the costume ruin her fun.

The truth is there comes a time when trick or treating is upon us, the sun starts to set, excited kids are running around disguised as dogs and princesses and Ninjas and football players and trains and Elmo and everything else under the sun that captivates them.  Eventually, all the wigs have been placed, the flashlights are on, the doorsteps are lit and we need to let go of our worries and embrace the fun!   There is only so much we can do. If we have made our best effort, we have done our best, and now we need to stop cringing and researching and worrying and start enjoying the silliness of Halloween.

The scariest thing about Halloween is that all our worrying and preparing and researching will make us forget to have fun on the silliest holiday of the year!

My top 5 tips for getting your Spook on this year.

1. Let them eat Candy!

Whether you are lucky or determined  enough to have found non-gmo, organic, waste-free treats and convinced all your neighbors to do the same or if your kids bags will be filled with junk, let them gorge their silly sugar high selves on it on Halloween night.  Dentists agree that the day-to-day sugar indulgence does far more harm to teeth and bodies than the occasional night of gluttony.  We need to fight the everyday onslaught of sugar, candy, empty calories, but when it comes to the big Holidays, we need to let our utopian dreams take a back burner for one night.  Let them eat Candy! Then on November 1, get rid of it.  Hopefully they feel sick enough from the candy they don’t put up much of a fight.

2. Throw a Party!

Don’t count on your friends to go the extra mile to make their party green and don’t judge them if they don’t.  Hey, at one point we were all new to this. Let’s be good to each other!  A great way to introduce your friends and neighbors to your passion for a Green Halloween is to throw a party yourself and use it as an opportunity to casually talk about why you made your food choices or costume choices.  Set up a craft table to let kids and parents make their own face paint.  Offer Unreal foods or other Non-GMO treats.  This is a great way to control your environment while also spreading the word in a non-threatening way.

3.Seize the opportunity

While I love the idea of the Switch Witch and while the “Because I said” so line has worked for me, don’t let these flourishes or dogmas let you miss an opportunity to have a frank conversation with your kids about brushing.  If your kids have teeth, you or they need to be brushing them.  Take this candy fest and use it as an opportunity to talk about or remind your kids about why brushing is important, how to brush their teeth and for how long.  It might also be a good opportunity to swap their toothbrush for a new one from the Switch Witch.

4. Dress up!

If you think your kids love seeing their friends dressed up in fuzzy outfits or decked out in fake muscles or long hair, just imagine their glee when serious Mom and Mr. Rules Dad break out the Cindi Lauper wig and neon stockings or the Superman leotard.  Yes, it is our job to teach our kids the rules and enforce the rules and instill healthy habits and discipline.  But it’s also our job to teach our kids to enjoy the moment, not take themselves too seriously, enjoy the community of friends, laugh play and live with abundant joy.  You can’t really show them how to do that lurking in the shadows in your blue jeans and winter coat checking emails on your iPhone, can you? No.  Don’t be a party pooper.

5.  Keep up your new exercise routine!

What?  You didn’t realize you just went out and got your needed 30 minutes of exercise?  It’s true! Tricked you!!  If you went house to house with your kids, chances are you got at least 30 minutes of intermittent walking into your day.  Good for you! Wasn’t it fun?  Now, you don’t need to dress up or knock on all your neighbors doors this time.  And you don’t have to stay out as long, but do take a walk with your kids after or before dinner. Then do it again and again.  It’s a great way to get ready for the next to gorge fests this season while getting a jump-start on your New Years Resolutions!  Don’t give up on November 1. You already started!  And you didn’t even know it!

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.

Moldy Front Loader Washing Machine

I got my high efficiency, front loader washing machine 9 years ago when I moved into this house and my daughter was 3 months old. I was pretty thrilled with my new washer, which was top of the line at the time. It didn’t take long for my love affair with my new laundry machine to sour. And it wasn’t just the endless loads of laundry I found myself doing as a new mother. It was the dark mold that was starting to stain all my pretty pink and purple bibs and jammies.

The mold was developing in the rubber seal. I scraped it out with paper towels, sprayed it with bleach, hand dried the glass door and the rubber after every load and left the door open to air dry in between loads, just like everything I had read on the internet instructed me to do. But the mold came back anyway. It wasn’t as plentiful as before, but it was still there… stinking up the towels and occasionally leaving a dark stain strip on a pretty shirt or sheet.

20120707-215716.jpgLook at how gross my washer was getting!  I was starting to consider selling the damn thing on Craigslist and getting a top loading, old fashioned washer to be honest. Then I started using Shaklee’s laundry detergent. I was using it because I had purchased a Get Clean Starter Kit in the hopes to help my kids health. I’d read about the chemicals in many store bought detergents and their links to asthma and allergies. As both of my kids had been diagnosed with asthma and suffered many bouts throughout the year, including multiple missed days from school and activities (including missing their own birthday parties!) I was eager to do anything to help them out.

Removing all toxic cleaners and air fresheners and replacing with all natural products had helped immensely with my kids health, but that is another story. The surprise benefit in all of this is that the mold stopped appearing. As it turns out, the phosphates in many store bought detergents don’t just encourage algae growth. It encourages mold growth as well, apparently.

After I noticed that the mold wasn’t really coming back, I decided to do a deep clean on the machine so I could start from scratch. I used Basic G to spray out the rubber, and then I poured a little diluted basic G into the detergent cup and ran a load. Since then, about 15 months ago, I have not had another problem with mold stains or odor! Not only that, but I’ve even gotten a little careless with the machine and left a load in overnight with the door closed and still nothing!

The liquid detergent also works fabulously as a pre-treater. Really a great product.

Living Non-Toxic – Progress

It’s June. Six months into 2012 and I’m assessing my progress in living non-toxic. While I can’t say it’s been easy, I can’t say it’s been entirely hard either.  Some of the biggest changes really weren’t that difficult.  So far this year, we’ve made changes in many of the products we use, the foods we eat and especially (this one is the hardest) in our attitudes.

Our first step was to start eating organic as much as possible.  We memorized the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen and while that was enough for us at the beginning, as we learned more about GMO’s, pesticides and how these chemicals in our foods are potentially linked to a long list of chronic diseases, we wanted to eat all organic.  Honestly, once we learned about the impacts of GMO’s and pesticides, we wanted to live on an organic farm and go off the grid. But that wasn’t reasonable.

So, we read labels and we bought organic and we cooked at home.  The organic foods were starting to get expensive so we started buying our convenience foods through Green PolkaDot Box and we reduced out meat consumption significantly.  Now, we eat meat about once a week and we make sure it is organic meat from a local farmer.

We already avoided soda and sports drinks, so that wasn’t hard, but if I were going to start this journey to get healthier and reduce toxins, that’s the first thing I would do… skip the sodas. Hands down.

We started purifying our water to rid it of lead, pesticides like atrazine, and other metals and contaminants.  This change was one of the easier ones to adapt to.  We bought a Shaklee Get Clean water pitcher and all the water we drank or cooked with went through this pitcher.  We got so accustomed to the taste of this clean water that it became hard to drink anything else.  So, we started bringing our pitcher with us when we would travel and we had to each get non-toxic bottles to carry with us so we would never be forced to drink awful tap or plastic-bottled water.

We sold our non-stick cookware and replaced it with stainless steel.  This wasn’t difficult for the most part, however, scrambling eggs was no fun to clean up.  I still haven’t found a decent way to scramble eggs in the stainless pan without creating a huge cooked-on egg mess to clean up.

We also sold all of our plastic Tupperware and replaced it with glass. This really made no impact in our lives outside of the initial cost to buy the glass containers.

The other big thing we did was change our personal care products (shampoo, moisturizer, sunblock) to brands that do not contain parabens. Once you find a quality brand you can count on, this also is pretty easy.  They often do cost more, but we have cut back in other areas to make this work.  It is important and so, it’s a necessity.

So, what do I have planned for the next half of the year?  There are so many things I’d like to do to reduce our exposure to toxins.  And from here on out, the changes are going to be harder as I will really have to stay on task and stay on top of things to avoid slipping into old habits.  Here’s my list:

1. Stop using the microwave

2. Reduce consumption of products with excessive packaging or that are plastic

3. Always have clean, healthy snacks with me.

4. Find an alternative to plastic bags for dog poo.

5. Find non-toxic make-up.

So, do you have suggestions on my list?  Anything you are doing now that I should start?

Have a great summer and enjoy your families!

Mother’s Day – Junk Free Holiday

I am a big fan of holidays. As I’ve gotten older, and as my children grow and change with each passing season, I can appreciate how important it is to celebrate and mark big events. These events are mile markers in our lives. They are the stuff memories are made of. They are points of reference when looking back. They help us connect, celebrate, commemorate, regroup and move on, despite whatever else is going on. The problem is, so many holidays are now filled with junk. Junk sentiment, junk gifts, and junk foods. In my quest to remove the junk from my body and my home, I’d also like to remove the junk from my holidays.

Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate the one person who seems to hold things together. It is a day to show appreciation and affection for the person who dishes out appreciation and affection better than anyone. And in the face of attempting to do what Mom does best … for mom, Mother’s Day becomes a landmine of trumped up expectations, competition, confusion and disappointment. Father’s, especially new father’s, are tasked at either over spending or overworking themselves on gifts and projects. When kids are old enough to be responsible for their own gift choosing, Mother’s Day seems to be that one opportunity to somehow make up for everything you did wrong the rest of the year. So the whole family fumbles and stumbles with gifts and cards and balloons and chocolates and flowers and all mom really wants … is a couple hours to relax and gather her thoughts. Another misfire.

The top mother’s day gifts are flowers, chocolate, a family outing for mother’s day brunch, hand made crafts, jewelry, and spa certificates.

How can we celebrate Mom without the junk? Without the debt? Without the competition?

  1. Take Mom for a walk after dinner
  2. Write Mom a letter of some of our favorite Mom memories
  3. Thank Mom, sincerely, for her sacrifices
  4. Put down the phone or the iPod and ask Mom about her childhood… then listen
  5. Help Mom finish one of those projects that she doesn’t ever find time to work on

What are your ideas? Thank you for sharing!

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!

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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