Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Getting Ready for a Healthier Easter

It’s almost Easter weekend. Which means it’s almost time for me to rush to the store in a panic looking for healthy-ish things that fit in to plastic Easter eggs. Usually I find myself wandering around Target on the day before the day before Easter, fighting off my cravings for Cadbury Crème eggs (which are displayed on EVERY endcap in the store) while consumed by guilt for buying in to the whole consumer-fueled Easter spectacle. Still, my kids expect something inside those plastic eggs.

When they were little we filled them with “loopy loops”. Fruit loops were the greatest treat they could imagine, so each year I bought one box and we stuffed the eggs with them. Easter morning they were thrilled to find plastic egg after plastic egg filled with loopy loops. But then they discovered chocolate and sour patch kids and jelly bellies, and those hideous peeps. They are kind of grossed out by my Cadbury Crème Egg fixation (as am I), but other kinds of chocolate eggs figure in to their plans.

This year I’m trying to get a jump on the holiday by making a list of alternative treats for the eggs that won’t cause my youngest to sigh as he says thank you or my oldest to roll his eyes and close the egg back up. I’m thinking money might be good, so I’ll stop by the bank and see if I can get some gold dollars. I hide a stash of yogurt covered malted milk balls in the back of the cupboard for my own sugar fixes, but the kids know about them and sneak in to my stash on a regular basis. I think the yogurt covered malted milk balls (purchased at the health food grocery store) must be healthier than snickers eggs, so I’m going to stock up on those too.

I can’t get around the chocolate, but at least I’ll be sure it’s the best I can afford and preferably hand made. There’s a new hand made candy store in town, so I’ll check it out to see if any of the goodies are made on the premises. At least then I’ll feel good that I bought local. Easter eggs were much less complicated and stress-inducing when I didn’t know better.

I’m also thinking of making up some great coupons like “you pick the dinner menu” or “one night excused from chores” or “you pick the movie night movie”, but I’m not sure how to word it so that it’s not so completely obvious that I’m in cahoots with the Easter Bunny. If you’ve got some great ideas for Easter treats, I hope you’ll add a comment to this post and help us all out!

One of the best things about Easter is the giant crème filled eggs made by the nice ladies at the Methodist church. Of course, those eggs have enough calories for the rest of the year and enough chemicals, colorings, and non-organic ingredients to put my kids in bed with a tummy ache, so last year I figured out how to make them myself. Granted mine weren’t quite as big and I didn’t really decorate them, but still they were AMAZING. The calorie content was probably almost as high, but at least I recognized all the ingredients. If you want to make some of your own, I’ve included the recipe in this post. I made vanilla cream and chocolate cream eggs using organic cream cheese, organic confectioners sugar, grass-fed dairy products, and grain-sweetened chocolate chips mixed with traditional semi-sweet chocolate baking chocolate. I’m hoping to make a little icing this year to decorate the eggs. Just so you know – you don’t have to eat them in one sitting, they freeze great. I found a pack of them this past September when digging in the freezer and not wanting to risk anyone’s health on expired candy eggs, I ate them all myself. WOW. Still good.

Easter Baskets have evolved in our house each year. I’m working very hard to reduce the “junk” (my term, I’m sure my kids wouldn’t agree) in our house by not buying plastic, crappy, cheap toys simply because I have to get something for their baskets. Beginning the day after Easter I always find myself repeatedly picking these toys up off the floor where they’ve been abandoned by incredibly illusive resident, Not Me. Eventually I will throw what’s left of them away because they are so junky and broken even Goodwill won’t want them. Not this year! This year the Easter Bunny will fill my kids baskets with mostly useful things – books, CDs, hair accessories, and school supplies. I’m sure you have as much pull as I do with the rabbit in charge of the holiday, so you might want to exert your influence on the baskets too. Kids like almost anything that arrives in a basket filled with plastic grass.

I hope you have a wonderful Easter Weekend, no matter your tradition. Enjoy the break in the routine and splurge on some really good food. And try to think outside the egg this year for some healthy changes in the definition of “treats”.

Chocolate Covered Easter Eggs

½ cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 (8oz) package cream cheese, softened
2 ½ lbs confectioners’ sugar

1 cup creamy peanut butter (optional)
1 cup flaked coconut (optional)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
2 cups semisweet chocolate pieces
2 tablespoons shortening or vegetable oil (optional)

1. In large bowl, mix together the butter, vanilla, and cream cheese. Stir in confectioners’ sugar to make a workable dough. For best results, use your hands for mixing.

2. Divide the dough into four parts. Leave on of the parts plain (vanilla cream eggs). To the second part, mix in peanut butter. Mix coconut into the third part, and cocoa powder into the last part. (or skip the coconut because it makes your kids go ‘eww’ and peanut butter because you know too many kids with allergies and just make half vanilla and half chocolate like I did. Do what you like, they’re your eggs.)

3. Roll dough in to egg shapes, and place on waxed paper lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate until hard, at least an hour.

4. Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler (or a heat proof bowl over a pan of simmering water). Stir occasionally until smooth. If the chocolate seems too thick for coating, stir in some of the shortening or oil until it thins (only if you have too since shortening and vegetable oil are not healthy ingredients!).

5. Dip the chilled eggs in chocolate, and return to waxed paper lined sheet to set. Refrigerate for ½ hour to harden.

6. Try not to eat them all at once – even organic cream eggs make your tummy hurt.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Be a Part of Earth Hour!

I hope you’re making plans for this Saturday night! Saturday March 27 from 8:30-9:30pm (wherever you are, time zones don’t matter) it’s EARTH HOUR. This event has been building each year. In 2009, almost one billion people turned out their lights for Earth Hour, involving 4100 cities in 87 countries on seven continents– this year will be even bigger. And you need to be part of it!

People from all walks of life are participating in Earth Hour. You can go online and watch live as the lights go out in places like the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the strip in Las Vegas, the Eiffel Tower in France, and the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Your house and your lights are just as important as those places. Turning off your lights for Earth Hour makes a statement that we are united all over the world in our need to change our ways – stop wasting energy, develop new sources of renewable energy, combat climate change, and work together as a world-wide community to save our planet.

If you need more than my word for it, and even if you don’t (because it’s a really cool site), check out www.earthhour.org.

My kids think Earth Hour is one of the best holidays around. They’ve been planning the event for weeks. Their grandmother will be here to experience it with them. Last year we made popcorn and played Apples to Apples, this year’s plans are much the same except there is a grandparent here who is happy to indulge them, so the snacks may be a little fancier and the hour may stretch on a big longer than 60 minutes.

When we celebrated Earth Hour last year, we turned off more than lights – we tried to turn off every electrical appliance in the house and get our power usage down to nothing. I wish we had high speed internet, because it would be fun to watch Earth Hour on the rest of the East Coast.

By participating in Earth Hour we raise our kids’ awareness of the need for our world to work together for change to save our planet, but it’s also a great family memory. It’s one hour where we are all together, with no screens, no noise, no work to do. We’re joining together to make a statement, but we’re also gathering together just to be together. Last year the happiness was palpable. It felt a little like Christmas Eve. Everyone was in a good mood enjoying the “differentness” of our time. My youngest said to me nostalgically a few months later, “I wish we could have Earth Hour more than once a year.” Maybe we should.

I hope that this year you will honor Earth Hour in your home. Make up your own tradition. Like a lot of green initiatives, Earth Hour may not bring about change now, but it will change our children so that they will bring about change later. I believe this.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Voodoo Doctor

This past weekend we were visited by a Voodoo Doctor. At least, that’s how we think of her. I’m not truly sure what she calls herself – animal naturalist? That sounds a little strange since some naturalists are people who like to be nude and some naturalists just eat strange things. Animal healer? She is certainly that, but that seems to have American Indian connotations. I checked her website (http://www.perfectanimalhealth.com/) and she never really spells it out. But what she does say is the reason I asked her to come here and work on my animals – “Do the basics properly and nature will take care of the rest.”

I met Sandy when I attended the Horse Expo a few months back. Just in case you’re scratching your head and wondering, “what the heck is a horse expo?”, the Horse Expo is a convention-type gathering of people who are a little too much invested in their four-legged friends where you can find just about any product, trainer, or attire for just about any kind of horse. I’ve got fantasies of actually one day getting on the unbroken four-year-old Quarter Horse that lives in my pasture, so I went there looking for a clue. I met lots of cowboy trainers that kept saying things I didn’t understand, poked gentle fun at us amateurs, and then finished every explanation with, “It’s that simple, folks.” They left me feeling more than a little inadequate. In between the training demonstrations, there were lectures held in the far corner of the building, where you could sit on metal chairs in bad lighting and listen to horse experts struggle with bad AV equipment to share information on Equine nutrition, pasture maintenance, choosing the right trailer, and the lecture that caught my eye, “Natural Horse Keeping”. That’s where I met Sandy.

I was impressed by her intelligence, and her common-sense approach. She didn’t let on at first that she was a Voodoo Doctor. Mostly she said the same things about horse care that I say about human care. “Feed them what their bodies were designed to eat. Don’t cram them full of chemicals and toxins. Help their bodies heal themselves by giving them the nutrients and care they need.” This all made sense and it was as if a light bulb went on in my slow mind - why don’t I apply the natural methods to my animals that I apply to my own life? Why do I think that feeding them whatever’s on sale at Target will do? Why do I pay too much money for a supplement with ingredients I’ve never heard of to fix a problem I don’t understand? As Sandy talked about the horses she had worked with and clicked through her powerpoint (when the AV gods allowed), I grew more and more convinced that I needed to change the way I was caring for my four legged friends.

When the lecture was over, I went to find Sandy’s booth, I needed to know more. Sandy’s friendly demeanor and her incredibly soft sell drew me in. I learned that Sandy travels all over the country healing animals and educating owners. She happily listened to me drone on about my creatures and my epiphany during her lecture. She even seemed interested; although I’m sure she’d heard my story a thousand times over. I was desperate to gather all the information I could from her because I was certain I couldn’t afford to fly her to my little town to see my animals in person, so imagine my excitement when she told me she’d be visiting clients just 20 minutes away in a few months. We made tentative plans for her to include me in her trip to York, as I mentally tried to figure out how I would pay for it, and more importantly, how I would explain the expense to my skeptical husband. Turns out, I didn’t need to worry on either front – Sandy’s not expensive and my husband’s a smart man who likes dogs more than horses. Sandy works on dogs too!

So that’s how this past weekend’s visit came to be. As usual, you get much more information than you really wanted. Sandy arrived in her BIG pick-up truck. The size truck I dream of that can pull a huge horse trailer and sounds like an 18 wheeler coming up my driveway. I imagine it’s not a hybrid. The first animal I presented her with was my four-year-old uneducated, oversize horse, True. She was unflustered by his squirreliness and lack of manners, gently suggesting a few things I might want to do differently as I handled him (so he might grow up to be a bit less rude). Then she got down to work. Hard to explain what she did. I was determined to understand it, but honestly, I have no clue why she did the things she did. What I do know is that True never wants to stand still for long, but he would have stood for her all day. He relaxed and stood for more than 30 minutes as she maneuvered his joints and poked and prodded him in all kinds of ways. I tried to ask questions, but I couldn’t keep up with her mind. True has always been funny about people touching his head, but for Sandy he dropped his head down and practically begged to be scratched behind the ears.

My other two horses reacted much the same way. My 27-year-old gelding, Shoebee, became almost stumbling drunk. Sandy told me she was “realigning” them and “getting them right”. I would compare it to sacral-cranial massage or maybe the things a chiropractor would do, although I’ve never seen either in action. Or maybe it really is Voodoo. My old horse’s back used to sag like the old horse he is, but after Sandy showed me some exercises I could do to manipulate his muscles, he was standing noticeably taller and some of the sag was gone. She assured me if I continued to do the exercises with him, the sag would be completely gone in about a month. Amazing.

Next Sandy talked to me about what I was feeding them. She explained, without a trace of schoolmarm in her voice, that I was feeding my horses like cows. In my defense, I must say that I’m feeding my horse the way “everybody else” feeds their horses. At least all the horse people I know. I give them a salt block to lick, which Sandy explained is fine for cows which have salt-paper tongues, but a horse’s soft tongue (my horses eagerly showed her their tongues, licking her all over like a puppy) can’t gather as much of the important minerals. She told me to take a sledge hammer to my salt block and then offer the mineral salt loose so that the horses could get all the minerals they needed.

We talked about the alfalfa hay I’d been feeding my old guys because all my life I’ve been taught by much more experienced horse people than I that when you want to get weight on a horse and give it energy – feed alfalfa, if you can afford it. I’ve paid a premium over the years for thousands of bales of alfalfa hay thinking I was giving my horses the best. Turns out alfalfa hay is also cow food and very hard on a horse’s more delicate system. But they love it- much the same way a kid loves candy but it’s not good for their system either. And candy will make them fat and give them energy – but at the expense of their health. And then we looked at the molasses laden feed I was feeding – they love that too, but here again I’m throwing all kinds of stuff at them because they like it with no thought to what I’m actually feeding them. If they were my kids, it’d be like feeding them a steady diet of Lunchables, M&M’s and Kraft Macaroni and cheese, and making them lick their vitamins off a jawbreaker. I learned a lot this weekend, but I’m not sure why none of it occurred to me sooner.

Sandy also encouraged me to get my animals on probiotics to help their poor stressed systems and suggested I think carefully before worming them with chemical wormers which effectively bombard their system with toxins to kill worms they most likely don’t even have. The most “effective” wormers are designed to kill pretty much any bacteria and parasite growing in their system, including the good guys and the bad guys. She suggested it might be better to test their manure to see what kind of worms they have, if any, and then treat those worms only. Duh. Why didn’t I think of that? She was skeptical on the vaccine front too, and again encouraged me to learn more about them.

I know if you’re not a horse person, you’ve either already stopped reading or you’re rolling your eyes right about now, but next I’m going to tell you about the Voodoo she worked on the dogs.

She applied the same kind of hands-on therapy to my 12 year old running buddy, Lucy, who has been struggling to move about these days and hasn’t been able to run with me for nearly a year. We talked about what I’m feeding her and she suggested some brands that might be better choices because they aren’t full of fillers and grain products – more unnecessary feed that we use simply to get our animals to eat it and fill them up, but not necessarily to actually give them the nutrition they need. Sandy asked me what’s in the feed that I’m feeding now and I had no idea. Pretty crazy that I adore this animal and yet I haven’t given a second thought to what I’m feeding her. Actually that’s not completely true, I’ve been spending a fortune on IAMS food for seniors on her, but I’ve never read the label.

The crazy part is that it’s not like with my kids – Lucy doesn’t get a choice. She’ll eat whatever I give her and she won’t complain at the dinner table or beg for junk in the grocery store aisle. I learned that Lucy needs to be eating more vegetables and protein instead of the grain-laden food I’ve been giving her. She also suggested the probiotics for her to help repair some of the damage done. Now, I know some people think of their animals as little people in furry suits, but I don’t, so I’m not ready to start cooking for the dog. I will seek out a better feed for her and already have my feed store searching for a supplier that carries Eagle River or Canadie, the two brands Sandy suggested. And I will stop giving her pasta leftovers and offer her the kids’ uneaten broccoli instead. I’ll also stop buying her “treats” and try the treat Sandy says some dogs like – frozen spinach. And if she doesn’t like the spinach, I’ll just offer her my affection instead.

So what do you take away from this? If you’re still reading, you must have an animal you care about in your life. I think the basic premise is - think about what the animals you own would have eaten in the wild and try to find the food that was designed for their bodies. That means reading your labels, just like you do for your own food. If you’re creative and more inclined to think of your pet as a person in a furry suit, maybe that means cooking their meals. My Mother-in-law, who was here for the visit with the Voodoo doctor, cooks hamburger and brown rice for her elderly dog, Ginger. Sandy also laid hands on Ginger, who is nearing the end of her life and hadn’t eaten a bite since they arrived a few days prior. After Sandy left, the dog had a spring in her step and gobbled down an entire bowl of food. The morning before Sandy visited, Ginger had blood in her stools, which is scary and indicative of bad things. We treated Ginger with trace minerals that were purchased from Sandy and she’s had no blood in her stools at all. My MIL says she’s not a Voodoo doctor, she’s a Miracle worker.

This isn’t meant to be an unpaid advertisement for Sandy Siegrist, it’s meant to make you consider how you’re caring for your four-legged friends. They mean a lot to us and we owe them the best care we can give them. I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge this past weekend and it’s changed the way I care for my animals. I’m headed out this morning to buy a different feed for my baby chicks. Our animals are even more dependent on us than our children; we owe them our best efforts at feeding them what they need.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Worms From Heaven

It wasn’t manna from heaven, it was worms from the garden gods. All week I have been contemplating purchasing a few wiggly helpers for my compost. When I finally pulled out a catalog, I was shocked to discover the prices. Our compost isn’t composting fast enough and I’ve decided that what it needs is more worms. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that worms are not cheap! In fact 500 worms (the smallest increment available) would set me back $39.95 (plus shipping). This completely goes against everything I believe about gardening, which is that it shouldn’t cost much. Growing vegetables is supposed to save you money, ditto for compost. I pushed the idea aside for more desperate times and moved on to other projects.

One of those projects was moving the hay delivered during the blizzard from where it’s been sitting under a tarp on the driveway (the only place accessible for the hay guy at the time) to the barn where it belonged. I was tired of lugging the 50 lb bales of hay up the hill to the barn every day. The big storm we had over the weekend had pulled the plastic tarp off the hay so now the bales weighed much more than 50 pounds, soaked as they were. Lucky for us the storm also washed away nearly all of our mammoth snow fall. So my husband and I loaded all the hay in to our little pick up and after several trips had the hay neatly piled in the barn. The miracle occurred when we picked up the pallets that were underneath the hay pile. Below the pallets, squirming all over our driveway were hundreds of worms! Free! All we had to do was scoop them up, which we did, loading them in to the back of a plastic dump truck that was handily abandoned in the driveway by one of the kids.

We laughed at our luck. There was only one moment when I was kind of grossed out at the idea of touching all these worms. That happened when I was holding the worms for the picture my husband took and I felt several worms “worming” their way between my fingers to dangle below my hand. Ehhh! I deposited the worms in the compost bin and could almost hear them shriek with happiness. They had spent the previous month under a pallet on our cold cement driveway and now they had been dropped right in to a larger than life smorgasborg. They must have felt like the messiah had come and carried them right to the Promised Land. Another win-win in the natural world.

If you compost you need worms. I don’t think you need to store a half ton of hay on your driveway to attract them. I bet you could leave a piece of plywood on your driveway through a rainstorm or two and you’d find plenty. Worm catching would be a great “chore” for your kids too – I’m sure they can find a few hiding under rocks or under the leaf layer in the woods. (Just be sure they aren’t harvesting worms from your garden!) When you consider that worms cost about eight cents each in a catalog, I think you’d be getting a bargain if you offered five cents – and the shipping would be free!

I’ve been shaking my head and smiling to myself ever since we received our worms from heaven. It’s very easy to spend your fortune on garden gadgets. In fact, that’s kind of second nature to us Americans. We always want the latest, greatest, quickest fix. My husband works for a tool company so he’s all about having the “right tool for the job”. And having the right tool for the job does make it easier. But all those tools, gadgets, boxes of worms, etc., add up in terms of the money you spend, the piles of stuff you accumulate, and the disappointment you feel in your soul. Why do we always need more/new/better stuff?

I learned that lesson all over again this weekend with the worms from heaven. Look around, open your eyes. Maybe what you need is already all around you. It may require a little work and resourcefulness, but it will feel much better on your wallet and your heart to use what you have – or what your neighbor has. We’re headed to a neighbors later this month to borrow his splitter for the trees the storm pulled down. And we’ve already begun trying to figure out which neighbor is most likely to have a pressure washer we can borrow. The father of one of my daughter’s friends called us up yesterday and asked if we wanted the cherry wood from a tree he had cut up for a job he’d just finished. (He’s a hardworking landscaper/do-any-job-outside guy if anyone wants a referral) We heat with wood, so the load of wood he dumped on the driveway (where the worms appeared!) will heat our house for a week next year.

Another great way to keep costs down when it comes to gardening is to swap seeds. Most seed packets hold way more seeds than an individual gardener needs. Nobody needs 25 zucchini plants. Order with a friend and share the seeds. Some gardening clubs organize seed swaps, but you could also organize your own. Our local library is having a plant swap this May. I’m already growing all kinds of extras to take and swap.

Gardening, and living organically for that matter, shouldn’t be expensive. It certainly doesn’t have to be. Look around you. Talk to friends, neighbors, and farmers in person and online. Offer to share your resources, labor, knowledge and you’ll be surprised how much stuff you can get for free!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No Impact Man

My children and I watched the film, No Impact Man recently. It’s a documentary about a young couple and their baby daughter who live on Fifth Avenue in New York City and attempt to live for a year making no impact on the environment. This leads to eating locally grown organic food, generating no trash except for compost, using no traditional electricity, and using no carbon-fueled transportation. The film was premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

I will confess to allowing my younger children to believe No Impact Man was some kind of super hero who never touches anyone, right up until the moment we dimmed the lights and hit the remote. For the first ten minutes, my seven-year-old kept turning to me and asking, “Are they just going to talk the whole time?” but soon he was just as interested as I was in the adventure unfolding before us.

The point is brought up several times during the movie that perhaps this is all just some gimmick to allow Colin (No Impact Man) to promote his blog and sell his book. A tactic I can completely understand. I confess to feeling not a small amount of jealousy that I didn’t think of this first and that my blog doesn’t attract radio interviewers on the phone and Good Morning America to my door. Colin is tortured emotionally by this issue as he deals with the hate mail his project generates. He definitely hit a nerve. The surprising thing was not the nasty letters from meat-eating, liberal hating, materialistically motivated folks, but the letters from environmentalists and sustainable-living proponents. They felt that his project was embarrassing and silly. He faces his own demons here and comes to the conclusion that he’s going to do what it takes to publish his books, so why not actually use that energy to do some good with his writing. If he can change his own lifestyle and maybe inspire someone else to change theirs, even the tiniest bit, than he’s doing something worthwhile (and increasing his odds of selling his book and becoming famous in documentary-land). I respect that. But I’m still jealous.

We enjoyed learning about the “Pot in a Pot” refrigerator, how quickly added worms can make compost, and the art of washing your clothes in the bathtub with your feet. We were grossed out (as were No Impact Wife’s co-workers) at the idea of not using toilet paper. (They used scraps of washable fabric.) We were very self-satisfied when they talked about making their own cleaning supplies (altogether now: “We already do that!!”). I think this film put my own efforts in to perspective for my kids. Maybe mom isn’t so crazy, she could be a lot worse. I caught my 13-year-old watching me warily to see if I was getting any ideas.

I did get a few ideas and spent some time the next day journaling out my fantasy of living a sustainable life off the grid. But now I’ve come back down to reality and begun to ponder what I can take away from the film. I think it makes me even more conscious and committed to living an earth-friendly life. Especially because I know that an earth-friendly life is a human-friendly life and it makes us all healthier.

I’m not ready to shut off my electricity, but I did send away for a solar-powered water heater information packet. This morning I flicked on the light in the bathroom and then realized I was doing that out of habit. There’s plenty of light in our bathroom. I don’t really need that light. I’m just programmed to reach right and hit the switch each time I walk in to a room. So I’m making a resolution to stop using lights I don’t need. My children have the same habit. I’m setting out to break the habit for all of us. I happily chirped, “Let’s have less impact!” as I remind them to turn off their lights.

The No Impact Family doesn’t use any kind of carbon-fueled transportation. They use their bicycles and scooters. I’ve got several serviceable four legged animals in the pasture, but I’m not sure my town could handle me riding up to the post office on my aging pony. So as much as that seems like a great option, it’s not really an option. I guess I’m not ready to risk public humiliation in my quest for a greener life. Bicycle riding is also an option although we live in a bike un-friendly area with narrow winding, hilly roads with no shoulders. The sidewalk-free shopping areas in town would be just as dangerous for bikers. I’ve even found that as I bike for pleasure, cars pass frighteningly close to me and some drivers seem to scowl in annoyance that I am on the road. Public transportation in this little rural/suburban outpost is virtually non-existent, although we do have two Park-n-Rides, which is a good thing.

Still, I do think I can do less driving. I need to combine all my errands in to one or two times a week. I tend to jump in the car and run out whenever I need something or the longing for wi-fi hits me. I’m going to commit to putting less miles on my car. Truly I have no idea how to do this since my kids have a myriad of activities that require my taxi service. I will start by driving them to practice and bringing my laptop or book and hanging around rather than dropping them and going home, only to go back an hour later. That will cut out a few miles. But at least I have an excuse when they beg to go to Rita’s or want to burn through their allowance at Wal-Mart – “Let’s have less impact!”

My kids were uncharacteristically quiet at the conclusion of the film so I don’t know for sure what they thought. I do believe the things they saw on the film will stay with them and hopefully lead to some questions down the road. I’m also, of course, hoping it generates a little more buy-in on their part for all my living organic shenanigans. I will caution anyone who is offended by the occasional foul word, that these are New Yorkers living in New York in the film, so there is a little f-this and f-that here and there. When the first one came flying across the screen, my kids raised their eyebrows in unison and looked at me. I said, “I think you’re smart enough to handle adults using bad language.” And we moved on. That said, I think it’s a great movie to watch with your kids. It’s tempting to be defeatist when it comes to saving the environment when you see the incredible waste that is generated every day by our culture. Most likely we can’t change the majority of people, but we can change the mindset of their kids. Kids are much more flexible and easily inspired. They want to help.

I know my little noble efforts don’t amount to much. But I keep thinking about No Impact Man and his sadness and desolation when he wonders if what he’s doing is silly. He laments that he is only one person. But we are all only one person and if each of us made just a few changes we could have a great impact for good. I don’t think No Impact Man was successful in having no impact on the environment, but I’m hoping that he is successful at having an impact on the rest of us.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Buy Fresh, Buy Local

I’m going to assume since you’re reading this blog that deep down inside you believe in the need for environmentally conscious, locally grown food. If you don’t, you could just click over to something more your speed right now. I think the biggest stumbling block for all of us is reconciling the desire with the practicality. It’s just not that easy to find the good stuff and it’s not that easy to know if it truly is good stuff or just the same old stuff with a new label and a higher price tag.

It’s discouraging, but it’s not something we should give up on. The more we seek out and support local products, the more options will become available to us. If you want to incorporate local, fresh foods in to your life, but don’t have the land or knowledge or time to grow it yourself, than get yourself to a CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. These farms sell “shares” of produce which means that each week you stop by the farm or the designated pick-up locations (many CSAs have drop offs in the cities or suburbs) and receive your share of that week’s produce. You don’t have a whole lot of say in what you get, but that makes it kind of like Christmas each week. Besides how great is it that someone else did all the grunt work and you get the ultra-fresh veggies?

When you join a CSA, I promise you will discover fruits and vegetables you never knew existed. Many CSAs also offer information on how to prepare the things they grow. Some allow you to come to the farm and work off part of the cost of your share through your labor. This is a great way to learn about gardening. Some CSAs offer eggs, flowers, milk, and meats in addition to produce.

Another great benefit of a CSA is that you can meet like-minded people and come away not just with a box of fresh veggies, but some life long friends. So it’s really a win-win for everyone involved. To find a CSA near you check out www.localharvest.org. Sometimes there’s a waiting list for a share, so if you think this is something you are even slightly inclined to get involved in, get your name on a list. And don’t think it’s too early in the season to start receiving produce. Despite the snow around us, spring is upon us.

Another way to find locally grown foods is to visit a Farmer’s Market. And be sure to talk to the “farmers” there. Ask questions and be skeptical of anything packaged or out of season. Not all Farmer’s Market organizers are very discerning when it comes to their suppliers. When you find real farmers who use organic methods, make every effort to support them. That means making a commitment to getting there each week. If that’s difficult for you, talk to them about other ways of buying their produce. Maybe they sell their products on additional days in other places or maybe they’d sell directly to you from their own farm. I think we get stuck in the grocery store mentality of our only options are the ones on the shelf in front of us. Speak up and you’ll appreciate the flexibility of buying directly from the farmers instead of the marketing specialists.
For those of you who live in Southern York County, let me be the first to tell you about a new Farmer’s Market starting up in my hometown – New Freedom. It begins this April on the third Saturday of each month. You can find it in front of the Red Caboose along the Rail Trail in “downtown” New Freedom from 10am-1pm. The organizers are just getting it together and are looking for more local farms to set up stands. If you or someone you know would like to apply for a spot, send me an e-mail and I’ll put you in touch with the right people.

I’d like to also let local readers know about another new opportunity to enjoy local foods that just turned up in our area. Well, actually it’s in Maryland, but since we basically hug the border around here, it feels like “our area”. There’s a new restaurant open just north of Hereford in the old Wagon Wheel Restaurant on the Susquehanna Trail. Souper Natural opened a few weeks ago and serves scrumptious soups, sandwiches and out of this world desserts made from locally and sustainably grown ingredients. They have fruit juice “sodas”, handmade breads, creative soups, and an inspired menu with reasonable prices. A friend and I recently had lunch there and couldn’t begin to describe the bliss experienced from their Blueberry Bread Pudding with Lemon Curd and Fresh Cream. Amazing. I watched as the elderly couple at the table next to us shared a Hot Fudge Sundae and were overcome with delight, so much so, that the other couple sitting with them relented and ordered one too. Wonderful place. I hope you’ll give them a try and help make Souper Natural such a success that more restaurants are inspired to follow their ways.

Finding local food is not always easy, but it’s the right thing to do not just for your mind and heart, but your stomach too!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

You Put That Thing Up Your Nose?

I really don’t believe in jinxes. I like to joke that I do and I do tend to knock on wood whenever I mention some amazing stoke of luck I’ve happened in to. But just last week I was contemplating doing a post on natural ways to treat colds/allergies and I thought, “I haven’t had a cold in years.” So guess what happened only three days later? Yep, I got a head cold. Completely annoying.

I’ve slowly been working towards a more drug-free version of myself, so the idea of pumping my body full of chemicals to treat the foggy head, dripping nose, and lack of energy didn’t appeal to me. I don’t have anything against taking medications in general. I give my kids Tylenol anytime they complain of the slightest ache and my youngest son who is plagued with migraines regularly goes through entire bottles of motrin. My husband is a big fan of allergy medications and my oldest son is on a daily med for his asthma, so it’s not like I’m a hard-core naturalist who never sets foot in the pharmacy. But that’s for them. For me, there are only two drugs that I still take on a regular basis – alcohol and Tylenol. Perhaps if I gave up the former, I wouldn’t need the latter. But I’m not quite ready to take that step. Probably has something to do with parenthood.

So when I started sniffling and sneezing repeatedly, I made a beeline to the grocery store and bought all kinds of vitamin C packed foods. I’ve been pounding through the oranges and strawberries and even ate a pint of kumquats. I made red pepper soup and three pepper salad for lunch. Basically, I started mainlining vitamin C. I also bought a bottle of Echinacea and popped a pill every time I ate anything. The bottle recommended 3-6 pills per day preferably with food. I also tried using zinc lozenges, but found them to be particularly disgusting. Steamy showers and hot tea helped a little too. I read somewhere that garlic is particularly good to fight off colds. I couldn’t bring myself to eat any straight, but I did use it in recipes as much as possible.

Because I believe endorphins flood your immune system with even more powerful ammunition, I went for a long run each morning. When I arrived home my head was clearer physically and emotionally. But the one thing I tried which seems to have helped the most, and I’m still surprised (and maybe embarrassed) to be writing an entire post about, is nasal lavage. I know, just the name sounds kinda gross. I tend to encounter a fairly large number of hippie-like healthy people and they swear by their “neti-pots”. I just smile and am thankful I don’t have sinus issues because having grown up swimming on the swim team each summer I have a strong aversion to water up my nose. But Friday I was desperate and miserable, so I finally opened the Nasaline package that my mother-in-law bought the last time she was here. She told me that purists use neti-pots, but the syringe version is easier to use. She actually bought it for my daughter who was SUFFERING (as only my daughter can) with a stuffed up nose. The nasal syringe shut her up, but she never broke the seal on the package.

The neti-pot teapot-like structure is much more inviting than the giant syringe with the bulbous tip. I called a friend who uses a neti-pot and she happily explained how you tilt your head to the side and pour water in one side and “it just goes out the other”. I struggled to picture it and pressed her for more explanation, but she just kept telling me you simply pour it in one side and it comes out the other. I asked if it ran all down your face and made a mess and she said “No”. I tend to spill my tea water just aiming for a cup, I can’t imagine aiming for a nostril, while tilting my head sideways over a sink. I asked if it felt like when you get water up your nose at the pool and she said, “not really”. Not really? Either you get that awful burning water up your nose feeling or you don’t, there doesn’t seem to be much leeway for “not really”. So I read the directions on my Nasaline package skeptically and looked at the picture of the woman with a syringe up her nose registering no expression of pain. It seemed simple enough, albeit pretty gross.

The “water” you use is actually homemade saline – water plus salt. My Nasaline system came with prepackaged salt (1/2 teaspoon to one cup), but according to Mayo Clinic, you should use ¼ teaspoon for 2 cups of water. It’s a good idea to used noniodized salt since you don’t need to be adding iodine to your system and some people have iodine allergies. And you definitely want to use warm, rather than hot or cold water. Tap water is fine.

Once you have your mixture of warm water and salt, the directions said to squirt in one nostril and it runs neatly out the other, unless it doesn’t. In very non-alarming language, the notes said that sometimes the water could come out your eyes and several hours later your nose might start dripping, but this was all to be expected. It instructs you to breathe through your mouth normally or say “Ahhh” as you push the plunger. Apparently our bodies are designed to protect us from drowning from water up the nose and the palate involuntarily closes. This must be why it’s safe to use the blue bulb squirty thing they sent home from the hospital with my new baby kit. I never used it because I was too afraid I’d drown my baby, but apparently I couldn’t have.

For the sake of this blog and my own desperation to feel better I took the plunge (literally). I can report that nasal lavage works really well. I truly did feel almost instant relief that lasted for several hours. I used it twice a day. There was a very slight water-up-your-nose burning, but it wasn’t unbearable. Luckily no water out my eyes, but when I did one side I got water back out my mouth which makes we worry that I have a leak in there somewhere. If you tilt your head slowly side to side after you’re finished most of the remaining water will come out. But I have to warn you that the whole process is a bit messy and it’s best done over a sink or in the shower and not wearing your best duds. My friend who told me it isn’t messy was definitely playing with me.

My cold only lastest three days and the symptoms got better each day. Further reading revealed that nasal lavage is useful in the prevention of sinus related infections and for relief from symptoms associated with the excessive use of nose sprays. It’s also a drug-free way to relieve pregnancy congestion. I, for one, am now a believer and will most likely use nasal lavage anytime I feel stuffy. Guess that makes me a real hippie-like healthy person.

I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of myself peforming nasal lavage, (I do have this one teeny, tiny remnant of pride left), but you can watch a video at the Mayo Clinic website, just for fun: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nasal-lavage/MM00552

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Peep Show

We’ve got quite a peep show going on over here at our house. We are seriously overrun with chicks. I’m not completely sure how this happened. Actually, that’s not true, I know exactly how it happened. It happened because I am a weak mother and I have chick problem. But going back further it happened because of a gray fox that entered our chicken pen at dusk a few months back. The roosters alerted me to his presence and I went running in to the pen with the only weapon I could find at the moment, an empty manure bucket. My husband pointed out later that there was also a pitchfork available to me and I said “Ah! I should have grabbed that!” And then he gently asked me if I could have truly speared a fox, to which I had to honestly say, “No.” So the manure bucket was as good a weapon as any considering the situation.

I waved my manure bucket and yelled all kinds of hateful things I never knew were hidden in the far recesses of my brain. The fox ran back and forth along the fence line in a panic because of the crazy woman with the big blue bucket blocking his escape through the gate from whence he came. This stand off went on for what seemed like hours, but was probably only 30 seconds before I realized I was blocking the only way out for the fox. Since I just wanted the horrid beast gone, I stepped out of the way and he darted by me while I jumped up and down (just in case he was planning on nibbling my toes as he passed by RIGHT NEXT TO ME!).

In the aftermath of the fox’s visit, we were left with only eight living chickens, six of which are hens and two of which are worthless, noisy roosters. Unlike our first rooster, Snowball (may he rest in peace) who gave his life for our hens, the two useless roosters had high-tailed it to the top end of our pasture where they commenced crowing their lungs out while the hens were savaged in the chicken yard. True, it was their yelling that alerted me to the situation in the chicken pen, but still, if the fox had to kill so many chickens why couldn’t it have been one (or two) of the roosters? Why did it have to be my best laying hens?

We have been down to 1 or 2 eggs a day (at the most) since the fox incidence. I’ve even had to go to the market and buy eggs, which felt completely wrong. And our whole family learned again that no store bought egg tastes as good as a fresh one.

This set the scene for what happened two weeks ago on my laptop. My daughter and I were taking advantage of some free wifi at the music studio where she sings with her rock band (think School of Rock) and we surfed over to the McMurray Hatchery website. We explored all the options available for ordering peeps (one day old chicks). In my mind I was thinking we might order as many as a dozen peeps, but as we paged through the options there were just too many beautiful choices! Hens that lay blue eggs, pink eggs, brown eggs, speckled egss. Hens with fluffy feet, pompadours on their heads, jet black ones, speckled ones, striped ones, and fancy chickens with extra long tail feathers. And they only cost about $2.50 a piece, so what’s the harm in throwing in a few more? We were up to 18 chicks when I attempted to place the order. A message came back quickly, “Minimum order is 25 peeps”. Well, we don’t really have a choice do we? And what if the fox comes back? He hasn’t been back since the fateful night. Either he was freaked out by the crazy woman with the bucket who trapped him in the chicken yard or he’s terrified of the ferocious puppy that has been turned loose to patrol the barn (chase the cats and bark her fool head off at fast moving spiders) and has been forced to move to more lucrative venues. But what if he decides to come back? A few extra chicks aren’t a bad thing.

In the end we picked out more Arucanas (they lay blue eggs!) and Rhode Island Reds (my favorite and the smartest chickens, if there is such a thing as a smart chicken). To that we added some Buff Orpingtons (because our neighbor has the most beautiful one named Julie who hatched our roosters for us last year, even though they weren’t her eggs), Black Giants (they lay lots of eggs, even in winter and they look really tough), Silver Laced Wyandottes (because they are just so pretty), and Buff Laced Polish (they have the pompadours on their heads). Then when I was ready to place the order, another message from the hatchery appeared, “Would you like a free exotic chick with your order?” Well, of course we’d like a free exotic chick – how exciting! It’s almost as if there was a wizard behind the screen in the next room pulling my strings. My only defense is temporary insanity and an overly-excited daughter.

So that’s how we came to have 26 chicks in the Pack n Play in our mudroom. It was easy to do. None of us can figure out which one is the “free exotic chick” because she looks kind of like an Arucana, but then again she might look like the Silver Laced Wyandottes. And who’s to say what’s exotic anyway. We’re talking about a chicken.

I could spend hours just watching the chicks as they scurry about and peck at each other. Every once in awhile one of the chicks picks up a piece of bedding and tears around the enclosure like she’s got some kind of treasure and several others will start chasing her wanting what she has and setting all the chicks to peeping. And sometimes one chick will be happily lying under the heat lamp and another one will walk right over top of her like she’s a simple speed bump, or worse yet, a chick will stop and peck the prone one in the head for no apparent reason. And even though the chick feeder has 24 holes to eat from, whichever one the first chick starts to eat out of becomes the one every chick wants to eat from and a tussle ensues. And then there’s the mess - it’s everywhere.

Funny, these chicks act a lot like my children but I don’t find it nearly as entertaining or as relaxing to watch their antics as I do the chicks. Still, I have to enjoy the peep show while I can. Pretty soon instead of 26 little balls of fluff that peep and play, there will be 26 big noisy hens attacking my gardens and leaving their eggs everywhere. Now if the fox comes back for a visit, we can spare a few hens because I’m wondering just how many eggs we can eat.

Note to my local readers – feel free to stop by to see the peep show!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Hydrogen Peroxide?!

Cleaning is a dangerous activity. This was brought home to me once again last Thursday when I attempted to vacuum the stairs and got whacked in the head by the vacuum cleaner. I parked the vacuum at the top of the stairs and used the hose attachment to vacuum all the nooks and crannies, completely forgetting that the hose was attached to the vacuum and had a limited range. You can imagine the rest. One side of my head is still swollen. More proof that I really shouldn’t be cleaning – much too dangerous.

But if you feel the need to clean, let me tell you about the other bottle you should have in your cleaning closet right next to your spray bottle of vinegar (see post from March 16, 2009 The Virtues of Vinegar). Hydrogen Peroxide is cheap (I think it’s just a buck a bottle these days), safe for the environment, and as effective as bleach in killing germs, making it a superhero in the battle against bacteria. The form of Hydrogen Peroxide we’re talking about here is 3%. There are some higher percentage formulas out there on the market, but don’t mess with those – the 35% solution sold to some commercial operations can be highly corrosive and fatal if ingested, so stick with 3%. That’s enough power for what we want to do.

A friend forwarded an e-mail with information about some great ways to use hydrogen peroxide and it had a few uses that were new to me. That piqued my curiosity, so I did a little more research and came up with this expansive list below. I checked www.snopes.com to make sure all the information on the forwarded e-mail was on the up and up. A few uses were questionable – mostly in regards to using it on your body to treat cuts or foot fungus. The danger here is that hp might kill off the good cells too and slow the healing process. Doctor’s also warn that hp can irritate skin, so use caution. I do have to add that until my dear EMT friend told me (only a year ago) it wasn’t a good idea, I used hp on my children’s cuts and scrapes to kill germs. It doesn’t sting and it has this cool bubbling action. I’ve also used it on horses to clean puncture wounds to no ill effect. Luckily, both the children and the horses seem to have survived my ignorance. But as a cleaning agent – the rumors were true – peroxide is a superhero.

So what’s in it? How well did you remember high school chemistry? Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is water with an extra oxygen molecule. So when it breaks down it breaks down in to water and oxygen – that’s what makes it much safer for your home and the environment than bleach. H2O2 is created naturally in plant and animal cells and forms in the environment by sunlight acting on the water.

Which brings me to a very important point - be sure to keep your hydrogen peroxide in the brown bottle it comes in. Light will destroy its power (I told you it was a superhero!?). I just remove the spray nozzle from a generic plastic spray bottle and swap caps with the hydrogen peroxide bottle. I use the other one to store smaller amounts of vinegar for cleaning.

Here are some great uses for Hydrogen Peroxide in the home:

1. Use as a vegetable/fruit wash – kills bacteria and leaves no taste. A 2003 study showed it is effective against E Coli.

2. Soak your toothbrushes in a cup of hp to kill germs (it’s a good idea to do this anytime you’ve been sick or had a cold). It doesn’t need to soak long, the hp won’t be very effective after it’s been exposed to the light and air anyway, but a good swish or two should do the trick.

3. Clean your counters, table tops, cutting boards, and other surfaces with hp to kill germs, including salmonella and other bacteria.

4. Spray the 50/50 on wet hair after you get out of the shower to bring out highlights and gradually lighten hair.

5. Use hp to clean bathroom sinks, toilets, showers, floors. It’s safe for septic systems (unlike bleach and many of the cleansers on the market today).

6. Use as a mouthwash. Take one capful and swirl it around your mouth and spit it out. Also heals/prevents canker sores. If you’ve got a toothache, the hp will ease your pain too. Be careful here, though, because you should not swallow hp, the FDA has warned against ingesting it. I don’t think it’s fatal, at least in the small amount in a capful, but it’s not good for you either. I wouldn’t try this with kids.

7. I hope you never need this one: Put half a bottle of peroxide in your bath to help rid boils, fungus, or other skin infections.

8. I’m planning to try this one: Add a cup of peroxide instead of bleach
to a load of whites in your laundry to whiten them.

9. Use hp to clean mirrors and windows.

10. Use hp to kill mold.

11. Remove yellowing from lace curtains or tablecloths - fill a sink with cold water and a 2 cups of 3% hydrogen peroxide. Soak for at least an hour, rinse in cold water and air dry.

12. Make whitening toothpaste by mixing baking soda and enough hp to form a paste. This will taste nasty, so you have to be seriously motivated to use it. I think you’re better off springing $3.95 for a store-bought version – but you do what works for you.

One word of caution - the thing to remember is that hydrogen peroxide works like bleach, so be careful when using it the first time on fabric or painted surfaces, it might remove the color. I came across some pretty spooky stuff about hydrogen peroxide curing cancer and other serious ailments, but none of that information is founded on anything real, so just like I tell my kids – don’t believe everything you read. Except this – hydrogen peroxide is a super hero when it comes to killing germs.