Friday, September 23, 2011

One a Day

It has been said that the United States has some of the most expensive urine in the world. Huh? I know, not really appropriate topic for the dinner table. But since we’re not eating, I felt it might get your attention.

In the US, we spend about 23 billion dollars a year on vitamins (rough estimate from several internet sources, it might not be exact, but basically we spend A LOT of money on vitamins). Vitamins are a bit of a catchall for health. We take them “just in case”, kind of like insurance. This money we’re spending might never help us, but then again, it just might. How could we ever know? Truly, the doctor never says, “wow, your bones look great. It must be because you’ve been taking calcium for the last 20 years!”

Vitamins seem like a safe bet. Your body soaks up what you need and eliminates the rest. That strikes me as just a bit wasteful. So I vacillate between taking my vitamins and not taking them. My kids are a different story. Because we eat very little processed food, they miss out on all the “fortified” this and that, so on my worst days I get pretty paranoid and find myself surfing searching for a better vitamin. Until I think about all the veggies and fruit I cram in to their diets, and then I chill out again. But then I read the news and start to worry….my mind pings back and forth on this one.

According to the Mayo Clinic, and a few other sites, clearly I am not alone. No one seems to know for sure. Most say that kids probably get all they need from their diets and the fortified foods available in today’s supermarket. But then they cover their buts by saying a multi vitamin is probably a good idea. An awful lot of “probably” in that prescription. It comes down to this - basically they can’t hurt as long as you select a vitamin with no more than 100% of the RDA and you follow the label instructions.

As a mother I know there is plenty of guilt coming my way down the road when my spawn become parents themselves and realize just how many ways I messed them up. So vitamins seem like a safe gamble and at least I can’t be held accountable if they realize down the road that the diet I served them was missing some crucial vitamin or mineral. What? I gave you a multi-vitamin for that!

There are two supplemental vitamins I give to my kids. I’ve read enough to be convinced that these two are missing from pretty much everyone’s diet, at least in sufficient amounts. The first is Vitamin D. Research comes out almost daily on the need for more Vitamin D. I give it to my kids and take it myself, and occasionally sneak it in to my husband’s coffee.

Omega-3’s are the other vitamin I’m prepared to take a stand on. Most of us don’t get enough unless we eat fatty fish, flaxseed, and nuts daily. I’ve started leaving nuts out on the counter and on the premium shelving in the fridge, in the hopes that my kids will nibble on more nuts – brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, pistachios. They’re all stuffed with good nutrients that can protect our health. Omega 3’s are not only good for your heart, their brain food and I’m all about feeding those young minds.

Enough about what I think, what do the experts say? The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children do not need a multi-vitamin when there have been no signs of vitamin deficiency. Still, they haven’t examined my child. How could they know? I’ll give them their point about all the fortified foods these days, but my kids aren’t eating much packaged foods. Except Cheeze-its. Still haven’t managed to get them off cheezeits. I should check if cheeze-its are fortified, because that might save me a lot of money on vitamins. (Addie and I are going to test a “homemade cheezit” recipe this weekend – I’ll let you know how that goes)

What’s a mother to do? Well, this mother gives her children a multi-vitamin that has no artificial colors or sweeteners, a chewable Omega 3 supplement, and 400 IU of Vitamin D (but only during the colder months, October – April). I do believe the big guns, and our septic tank is most likely laced with vitamins, but I’m hedging my bets.

A note on choosing a vitamin. Look for a children’s vitamin that does not contain iron in the form of ferrous sulfate. Many kid’s vitamins are the “gummy” form and this can make them seem like candy. Kids can overdose on ferrous sulfate making them sick, even killing them. So while kids do need the iron (unless they’re big meat and bean eaters), look for carbonyl iron, to be safe.

Another thing to watch in children’s vitamins is the sweetener. Many vitamins, such as Flintstones and Centrum, have the warning PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE, which is a sure sign that they contain aspartame (nutrasweet). Artificial sweeteners and artificial colors kind of counter act the whole point of vitamins. Find a vitamin that doesn’t contain either. It’s a unique child (with a four-star parent) who willingly swallows tasteless vitamins. This makes sugar a necessary evil in children’s vitamins. Look for vitamins with 1 gram of sugar or less. Some have more than others – read the label.

When it comes to vitamins, like so much else about parenting, there’s no clear answer. You do the best you can, with what you know. That’s anyone can ask.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What Does Clean Smell Like?

My husband came home with a gift for me the other day. Nope, not flowers. Not chocolate. No gift certificate for a massage. It was a…..steam mop! I’m woman enough to know that this is not a comment on my cleaning abilities, but a man who knows how to get me excited. I’d heard of steam mops. But in the interest of keeping my cleaning closet uncluttered (and staying stuck in my own rut, thank you very much), I hadn’t gone in for one. Now before you think my hubby is all that and a stick of gum, here’s the real reason he brought it home. It was free. A coworker is developing the product for their company and wants some feedback. I’m good with feedback. We all know that.

So I put the steam vac through its paces, but not before noting (and maybe whining a little) that it isn’t cordless. In my opinion a newly developed steam mop really oughta be cordless. Heck, it’s not like other companies haven’t already made these babies. But taking my task as a product tester seriously, I assembled it. Without the directions. I figured no sense in acting out of character. Normal people don’t read directions, at least not for a mop, do they? It snapped together nicely and only took a few head scratches to figure out. That’s a plus. I filled it with water to the big giant “fill to here” line and set to work.

The first room I tackled was the kids bathroom. Ew. Figured I should start with the room that needed sanitized the most. Other than wishing it was a vacuum too, I was very happy. To a point. When I was finished, the bathroom looked pretty clean and the mop head looked pretty filthy. But the room didn’t smell clean. It didn’t smell like anything. Tiny disappointment here. The steam mop is great at being green – no chemicals, no phosphate laden detergent, no fumes. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I missed that fragrance of vinegar or Murphy soap or lemons that tells me the room is clean. I wondered how clean it really was. No way of knowing. It looks clean. But does clean have a smell?

Which led me to put down the steam mop where it lay (actually on the handy little pad that came with it for parking it) and head for the computer. I looked up what gives cleaners that lovely clean smell and discovered something not so lovely. The smell comes from fragrances in the cleaner. And the word “fragrance” on any label could mean anything. In fact, manufacturers don’t even have to tell you anything beyond “fragrance”. The fragrance could be made from all kinds of chemicals and apparently the powers that be are not worried about how those chemicals might affect us. They could be natural chemicals or petrochemicals or synthetic chemicals. Really, they could be anything. So now I’m wondering if the smell of clean isn’t actually – nothing. No smell. If you want more information, check out the blog, econovice. There you’ll find more specifics on what exactly could be in the “fragrance” found on cleaning products, deodorants, air fresheners, and detergents and how they can affect your health.

So I’m all about appreciating my steam mop and have used it on tile, vinyl, and wood, all with wonderful fragrance-free results. Great idea for green cleaning. Glad I thought of it.

I guess he was on a roll, because my husband soon appeared with another eco-friendly, fragrance-free cleaning tool - a squeegee. When he first came home with the giant green window washer thingee just like the one the kids fight over at the gas station, I was skeptical. Really? Wipe down the shower every time? At first I skipped my share of turns, figuring he was already out of the house and he’d never know I didn’t squeegee today. But then curiosity got the best of me and I had to try it out in earnest. You know what? It’s great. Wiping down the walls of the shower, all the way down to the caulk, leaves them clean and only takes a moment. It’s kind of a thrill to be cleaning in the nude. Plus there’s no scrubbing, no smelly cleaners, nothing. The caulk even lost that pink sheen it had been developing.

I’m sure Nick is going to need to go split some wood or watch some football or find some other manly task to take on as soon as he reads this. But for a guy who dodges the cleaning bullet whenever possible and teases me about my green efforts, he sure did score big this week.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Road Trip!

Just found this unposted post I wrote a month ago. Best intentions, you know.

My favorite - headless child on the beach!
 Summer is all about letting things slip like bedtimes, house cleaning, and diets. I know that all of the above have been in free fall for the past month in this family. We just returned from a roadtrip through the south where it was 99 degrees most days and all anyone really wanted to do was sit in the AC with a cold beverage. We still managed to see a few sights and of course sample the local cuisines. I discovered I love shrimp grits, and we were treated to not one, but three different ice cream/yogurt venues. Then there was the movie theater popcorn (another great way to escape the heat) and plenty of adult beverages. There was not a whole lot of organic going on.

So it was comforting to me to reflect on what a wise pediatrician said to me back when one of my little darlings was refusing to eat balanced meals. She told me that it’s not what they eat in a day or even a week. It’s what they eat over a month. So I don’t stress a few fat-laden or even chemical-laden meals. It won’t kill them.

Here’s a couple ideas for road trips with kids –

1. Pack lots of healthy food. We parked a cooler stuffed with fruits, veggies, cheese sticks, yogurts, and water bottles between the youngest two and let them have at it whenever they wanted. Once we got where we were going, of course they opted for much more colorful packaging, but I at least I knew I got a good first layer in there.

2. Pack lunch whenever possible. It’s just so much easier when you have a carload of kids. Pull over at a rest area or park or even a church cemetery (that makes for a very interesting stop) and enjoy some fresh air. You’ll save time, money, and know your kids got at least one decent meal. Just like the snacks, I think of it as stock-piling some healthy stuff to counter all the not-so-healthy stuff I know will come.

3. Pack extra headphones, batteries, and books. Put an emergency bag somewhere that has –

Benedryl cream (bee stings)
Sweat shirt (in a size that will fit anyone in a pinch)
T-shirt (same as above)
Shorts (elastic waist so it’ll fit most of the kids)
Flipflops (no shirts, no shoes, no service is a foreign concept to kids)
Sanitary pads/tampons
Plastic bags (just plain old grocery ones)

I have all of these things stuffed in to the secret compartment in the back and have used all of them at some point or another for my kids or someone elses. Especially the benedryl cream – don’t forget that one. It takes the ow out of a bee sting.

4. Give everybody a map with the route clearly marked. This is easy to do with mapquest or AAA. I like the big paper maps because it provides a little origami opportunity too.

I think the perfect philosophy for summer traveling is relax and enjoy what comes your way. Plan for pitstops and surprises. We like to play the game, “the weirdest thing” where everyone looks out the window and tries to spot the weirdest thing. We saw peacocks in a parking lot, all manner of interesting lawn ornaments, ground hogs in broad daylight, and laughed ourselves silly over the faces people make while driving (and how many of them pick their noses!) It’s a great game because it gets all of us looking out the windows and appreciating all the strangeness this world has to offer.

So enjoy the summer especially if it includes a road trip or two. Don’t stress what your kids are eating (or you for that matter) too much. There will be plenty of time for reading labels and counting calories when fall rolls around. As long as you don’t slip completely off the wagon, or at least you remember where you parked the wagon, it’s all good.