Friday, February 20, 2015

Preparing for Spring

Today's blog post is brought to you by Frigid Winds, Ice-Day-All-Day, and the worst month in the entire calendar, F-youary.

I am a winter baby. I love snow and the whole hermit thing. But I'm going nuts, people. I am missing... you know...walking. I am missing fresh air. I am seriously looking up scenic landscapes to put on my computer's background just so I don't have to stare at white, ice, and snow all day. The pics help. I'm not joking.

Here. Go ahead and soak in these images from April 2014.

Motivating, right?? Feeling warmer yet? I was actually lying on my back, on the ground, when I took that pic of the tree and the sky. On the ground! It's so hard to remember moments like that when I look outside now....

So what better way to thaw an icy mood than with a little spring planning, amiright?

Step 1 of the JenThaw: Figure out what you want.
I am trying to move toward more self-sustainable gardening and eating practices. I want like 400 raised beds, 7 hoophouses, goats, chickens, bees, strawberry gutters, and more compost than anyone could ever possibly need. I had to narrow it down a bit. Just a smidge. Here is the sketch I ended up with.

Step 2 of the JenThaw: Prioritize.
I obviously can't get everything I want. I know, I know. Saddest story you've ever heard. You'll notice three colors on my cute lil' sketch up there. Red means it's on hold until further notice. Orange means we'll get it in 2-3 years. Green means it's a go for this year, baby!

Step 3 of the JenThaw: Grab what you can now.
It's always better to shop in the off-season! Stuff is cheaper and I've found it's easier for me to purchase things little by little than buying everything all at once. That being said, it can get really hard to find off-season stuff in stores. I buy online. Amazon mostly.

This year we're getting chickens. This is a huge, huge deal, people. I honestly can't stop talking about it, that's how excited I am. We already have the little brooder set up, heat lamp tested, thermometer ready to rock...just need to rig up that poultry nipple waterer and lay down some puppy pads and paper towels and we're ready for babies.

Planning ahead means less stress later. At least that's what I tell myself as I add yet another item to my backyard diagram....ha!

Step 4 of the JenThaw: Get ready to plant your food - and go heirloom!
I've been seed shoppin like a mofo. I bought these bad boys last fall during the huge year-end seed sale.

Why buy heirloom? Well, aside from the fact you can use a french-ish accent and be all like "mmmyeeesss theese are my eeehhhhrloom tomatoes"'s also better for the environment. And your family. And agriculture in general. The seeds aren't "more expensive" or "more work." They are just better seeds. You'll get better food. You won't be buying some Monsanto GMO spin-off. Did you know the plants you buy from Home Depot and Lowe's are rarely, if ever, heirloom varieties? Might as well pluck some good ol' GMO tomatoes from the grocery store. Heard a rumor Lowe's is working to fix that. Hope they do...but until then, I'm growing from seed.

Planting really isn't that difficult and no, you don't need to have a green thumb. I actually am known for my inexperience in the plant realm. But even I was able to grow spinach, kale, punkins, carrots, and cucumbers last year in my itty-bitty raised bed. Buy some seeds. Plant some seeds. Eat healthy. Be well.

Step 5 of the JenThaw: Remember flowers, too.
A Facebook friend recently shared this Grow the Rainbow initiative to plant 1 billion wildflowers in an effort to help save honeybee colonies. I bought some of their organic, non-GMO wildflower seedles (seeds rolled into a ball with compost and clay and sprinkled with fun, non-toxic, kid-friendly color) and am so, so excited to get this party started.

I don't always plant flowers, but when I do, I do it for the pollinators.

What are you guys doing to stay warm and positive during these cold winter months? Do you have any spring preparation going on in your house? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)


Friday, February 13, 2015

How I Get My Kids to Eat Healthy

Last week in the comments section of my vaccines post, a dear blogger friend suggested I post a few simple, homemade substitutes for commonly-purchased foods. She specifically mentioned her son and his aversion to healthy foods....what parent can't relate to that? (That is a rhetorical question. Don't answer it, especially if you have one of those awesome kids who mows down on a head of cauliflower, k?)

So this friend (if you haven't checked out her blog yet, The Neuroscience Newbie, head on over there and check it out. She is hilarious and relatable and always teaching me something new about the weird mushy brain I house in my skull)....So this friend went on to explain she'd even gone to a nutritionist, to no avail. "What happens when he gets older??" she questioned herself. See? Told you she was relatable. 

I am constantly worried I'm not doing the right thing as a mom. I yell too much. I don't spend enough time with my kids. I don't let them eat enough McDonalds and when they get older they're going to eat it like everyday to make up for all the depravity they experienced as kids. True story, people. I really, truly, seriously worry that I don't feed my kids enough McDonalds. 

There's something wrong with this, yes? This mentality that if we don't expose them to crap when they're young that they're gonna go apeshit and eat every cheeto in sight when they grow up? How sad! And yet the perfect segue to the point of this blog post....

Teaching your kids how to eat healthy lasts a lifetime. It is, in my mind, more important than learning how to count money, how to ride a bike, how to make a bed, or how to ace a job interview. Learning how to eat is, quite literally, vital to human survival and health.

And let's squash those "but, but, but" worries right now. I can tell you from my extensive research that kids raised on healthy foods are not more likely to go rob a candy store when they leave the house. 

You wanna know what kids raised on healthy foods are more likely to do? Eat healthy as adults. 

So how do we get them there? How do we take a mac-n-cheese-only-please kid (my oldest for the first 4 years of her solid food life) and turn them into a green eating machine?

Well, to be honest, my kids aren't green eating machines. They are both very picky. They both like to complain about vegetables. They both will willingly gobble down McDonalds. Hell, my own mouth loves McDonalds. I keep reading about these people who grow their own food and then "can't stand the taste of McDonalds" and I want to meet them and steal their gardens and their tastebuds because they've got to have some awesome resistance to the chemicals McDonalds uses to keep me hooked. Two cheeseburger meal with a sprite. *insert Homer Simpson drooling noise*

I mean let's just call a spade a spade. Full disclosure: I am a recovering fast-food lover. My kids have eaten McDonalds. Despite all the horrific things I know about the way they process the meat, despite the fact I know it's like feeding poison to my kids, and despite the fact it takes 5 minutes to pack a lunch for 4, I will - I just know it -  someday eat fast food again. So will my kids. It's everywhere. They make it that way. They design the food that way. I almost feel like there is no escape. 

So maybe we should lower the bar. Instead of aiming for green eating machines, how about we take baby steps. That is my key to getting my kids to eat healthy. I've slowly, slowly weened my family off the factory crack by slowly, slowly altering what they are offered for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and during snacktime. 

This method is nowhere near easy, nor foolproof. My youngest daughter refuses to eat any stew-like dinners I make. This is unfortunate, you see, because I'm finding I love to make stew-like dinners. Crock pot that crap and BAM. Dinner. But she won't touch it, and I don't force her.

Didja hear me? I don't force my kid to eat something she doesn't want. I know some of you are gonna hate this, but biologically, when she's really hungry, she will eat. And because I also have a heart that breaks when my kids "go hungry," I soothe myself by acknowledging she had a kickass breakfast, lunch, and snack, and will not suffer if she skips out on dinner. It's like a 1-2 combo punch of science and common sense. Get good food in 'em earlier in the day, and dinner won't be a death match.

Breakfast is the easiest way to swap commercial foods for homemade/home-grown healthy foods. Healthy breakfasts foods are naturally sweet and high in kids love sweets and carbohydrates. Let's break down what I swapped.

Before: Bagels, muffins, sugary cereals, and store-bought granola bars
After: Organic grain cereal, one piece of fruit, and le piece de rĂ©sistance, my homemade granola bars. (Hoping to add hard-boiled eggs once we get our flock.)

I think my favorite swap to date is the store-bought granola bars for my homemade granola bars. My homemade ones taste like oat heaven and can double as granola cereal. My kids devour them. Seriously. They are awesome. They take an hour out of my weekend every two weeks. I use oats, flour, baking soda, butter, honey, dried cranberries, dried cherries, and raisins. 

Lunch is a little trickier. I really like easy (read = commercialized)....but it was getting insanely processed. I had to make some serious changes.

Before: Peanut butter and jelly, fruit snacks, chips, goldfish crackers, easy mac
After: Wallace Farms protein, spinach, yogurt, almonds, block cheese, organic animal crackers with ingredients I can read

Basically, I became a french person. I substituted the crackers and chips with almonds and yogurt. It doesn't taste the same, obviously. But I introduced the almonds as a snack one day, and when both kids ate them up, I decided having a few on their lunch plate would get them the afternoon protein we all need in our lives. I also do my own version of a deconstructed sammich for my little one. She gets all the awesomeness of a deli sammich minus the bread. We buy bread that needs to be frozen and toasting bread every afternoon makes me want to gouge my eyes out. She gets a ton of grains at breakfast, so we're cool. My school-aged angel does get bread with her lunch...but she packs her own lunch. More on that later. Swapping crap bread (read =  anything that can sit for more than 4-6 days without getting moldy) for pure bread (no preservatives - flour, yeast, baking soda, all stuff you can read) is another really easy way to purify your meals. 

The animal crackers act as a "treat" for the wee one when she eats all her food. Some people say not to reward with dessert-like foods. I say screw that noise. I pick the treat and I make it reasonably healthy. Works like a charm! If you don't have crap in the house, you won't eat it. Your kids won't eat it. Your animals won't eat it. Don't buy no crap won't be no crap.

Snacks are normally some mini-form of breakfast. Snacks are also incredibly easy to swap. Even organic food comes pre-packaged these days. My kids love fruit, especially bananas with peanut butter or apples and honey. I'm not kidding, they love sugar. 

Before: Ritz crackers, chips, and fruit snacks
After: dry cereal, granola, popcorn, hummus and carrots, or their favorite, dried berries.

Dinnertime is my experimentation time. 

Before: Boxed "mix me and cook me" meals, hot dogs with Pillsbury rolls wrapped around them, freezer bag-to-skillet meals, boxed mac n' cheese
After: Rice, meat, and veggie skillets, cornbread skillets, pasta with veggie sauce, baked pesto pasta, handmade burgers

To make dinner healthier I just moved away from processed. "No processed food hitting our plates" was my goal. We do still eat frozen pizza. Homemade is way, way better, but sometimes it's just way easier to pop a 'za in the oven and call it a day. I've done about 14 varieties of macaroni and cheese. It tastes awesome, but takes forever. Pasta with veggies in the sauce is pretty easy and kids will often eat anything sauce-coated without question. Garlic, onions, and zucchini are all really good for you.

Drinks are pretty self-explanatory around here. No real swaps were needed for this one because I was a pediatric dental assistant for years and, therefore, was scared straight out of the juice aisle. I never buy it. My kids drink water. They don't drink milk. They don't drink Gatorade. They drink water. I'm tellin ya, I like easy. Nothing is easier (or more effective) than water. When they want something special we have kid tea. 

A few final tips on how I get my kids to eat healthy:

1. Let the kids help prepare their food. My oldest daughter is so excited about making oatmeal for breakfast.....because she gets to make it. She takes old-fashioned oats, pours in milk, sprinkles raisins, and eats it with this huge smile on her face. It's just oatmeal. Making the food makes her want to eat every last bite. 

2. Let them plant and grow and nurture their food. It's winter so this ain't happening right now, but when you let little hands plant seeds, water, weed, and harvest veggies and herbs, they are connected and invested in their food. We're fighting against the misled magic of the fruit loop toucan, people. You gotta make food fun, inspiring, and a source of pride. Just give 'em a seed and some encouragement. 

3. Explain why crap food is crap food. My oldest kid loves the human body. I explain the processes behind digestion. I explain what these food companies put in their crap food. I explain why it harms us. I explain how important it is to know your food source. These are real topics and my kids still think I'm God. Choose to talk about food. It's so, so important. 

4. Lead by example. My kids don't get fast food unless I do. It's sad and breaks my heart and makes me feel so, so guilty....but it's true. I can't tell them to eat healthy and then shove burgers in my mouth all night. 

5. Enlist the help of those who love you and your kids. I needed my in-laws to be on-board with our healthy decisions. My kids love Grammie and Grampie and look up to them...what kind of message are they sending if they tell my kids it's actually ok to eat all the foods mommy and daddy say are dangerous and harmful? I am blessed with good in-laws and aside from a few "grandparental treats" every now and then (which we also do), they completely back us up. **Your kid's health should always come first. If you have a troublesome caregiver who doesn't respect your healthy lifestyle, seriously consider having those hard conversations and making decisions that are in the best interest of your kiddo. Our kids need us to be brave. 

Here are a few resources for those struggling with healthy eating and picky kiddos. It pays to keep up the effort. I'd even venture to say it's your job to keep trying! Don't give up. 

...and one of my favorite blog posts regarding the "depriving them of sweets makes them binge later" debate:

If you have other tips and tricks to add, please let me know in the comments down below. Thanks goes out to my dear friend Iva for suggesting this post, and as always, to you for reading :)

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Crunchy Hippie Mama's Take on Vaccines

I don't really dig following mainstream media down the rabbit hole....but I've just gotta talk about vaccines.

I am pretty big on crunchy (non-chemical, self-sustained, environmentally responsible) living. I loved natural childbirth. I've cut the grass with a baby snug against me in her wrap. I make fire cider and elderberry syrup. We don't buy toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, or laundry detergent. I'm heading to Home Depot this weekend to grab supplies for my heirloom veggie seedlings and we're running by Farm n' Fleet to nab some items for our chick brooder. I really, really like Wallace Farms' grass-fed meat. We drink green smoothies for fun.

I've been called a hippie. Someone once told me, "She reminds me a lot of you, except not as flower-child." What does that even mean? 

I hope you get the point, here. I love living as close to the earth as possible. My ultimate goal is to never need a grocery store. I am insane (and I mean insane) about reading and pushing the limits of what I was taught in school. I fight for transparency in our food system and am oh-so-passionate about learning to live a happy and healthy life.

And nowhere in my life does that ring as clear and as true as it does in my role as a mother.

I have a primal, urgent, uncontrollable need to protect my young. I want them to be healthy. I don't want them to suffer. I don't want them to die. It's that simple. And I'm not alone, am I?

I understand you, mama. I am standing next to you, as your sister, wanting nothing more than to wrap my arms around you and hug you for caring so much about your children. Me too! I love my kids too. So let's have a discussion. Let's talk. Let's be two loving parents who share conversation over common ground. Ready? Got your tea? Mind open? Ok, let's go.

I vaccinate.

There. I said it. I hope you aren't walking away right now. I hope you're hanging with me, fellow crunchies. Like I said, I feel you. I know you. I am you. We are so, so similar.

But how can I condone vaccinations? I hate chemicals! I am against all forms of government-mandated secrecy and intervention in both our agriculture and medical systems! I wash my hair with eggs!

Here. I'm going to lay all my cards on the table. Hear me out, friend.

1. Vaccinations help us eradicate life-threatening diseases.
I think even the most devoted anti-vaxers can agree with this one. Let's move on.

2. Vaccinations do not cause autism.
They really, truly, deeply do not. I know you are looking for answers. I am looking for answers, too. Vaccinations are not the answers we are looking for, my sisters and brothers.

3. Our poor health is not because of vaccinations.
Many anti-vax sites I visit say things like, "What have vaccinations ever given us? Our population is sicker today than ever before!" It's true - we are afflicted. We are very, very sick. But let's brainstorm for a second. Can we think of anything else that may cause these spikes in obesity, diabetes, infertility, cancer, and autism?

Could it possibly be the thousands upon thousands of chemicals we interact with and consume on a daily basis? We do not eat vaccinations for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We do eat food processed by companies we'll never see. We do eat animals not found on farms. We do use products filled with substances we can't name. And we eat these foods and use these products every. Single. Day. Do they have something to do with our sickness? I certainly think so.

But see, to admit that means we'd need to sit down and have a talk...with ourselves. It means taking personal responsibility for what we put on our children's plates and what we wash their hair with at night. It means taking hours upon hours of time to research and fully understand what we buy instead of trusting a label. It means going outside to pick bugs off our spinach plants instead of watching TV. It means absorbing the blame we traditionally push onto the government...which leads me to my next point.

4. The government is not my mama.
I don't know about you, but I am not the government's baby. They have no responsibility to execute decisions on my behalf anymore than I do over you - and please notice the word "responsibility" not, "power." We all know the government has the power to make decisions on my behalf...we give this power to them through law suits/public demand for legislature. We demand the laws. We demand the regulation.

But then we drop it. We assume they've got it. They'll handle it. They'll regulate it. They'll punish those against it. And then when things go south we turn around and say, "they were tricking us to make money!" We trusted someone else to care for us. We were tricked because we didn't take the time to become experts in the things that matter to us the most. We chose not to vote with our dollars. C'mon, people...this "awakening" is what the entire crunchy movement is all about! How about we stop citing a government conspiracy theory as a way to end vaccinations and instead look at the plentiful research in front of us....including that done outside our government? You'll find our planet's health organizations support creating healthy populations through vaccinations. It's so easy to point fingers at the government. I get it. I'm angry too. But the government is not my mama. I need to look out for me and mine. Asking (or expecting) them to intervene only welcomes additional limitations, fines, and the loss of our basic human rights. It's not about lawfully forcing people to vaccinate, dear ones. I understand why you'd want to do that. I'm scared, too. But what if instead we focus on revealing evidence and facts so strong, so irrefutable, that it makes non-vaccination impossible for mothers and fathers who love their children? We need teachers, my loves, not politicians.

5. Choosing not to vaccinate puts you (and others) at risk.
Well, I get why those who can't receive the vaccination are worried...but your kids are vaccinated! Why should you care if my kids are not? Is it because you know vaccines don't work??!?

My response, in three simple words? Vaccines aren't cures. It's true. If a vaccine were 100% effective 100% of the time for 100% of our lifetime, we'd have a cure, not a vaccination. Vaccinations are used to develop immunity. They are not the total answer. They don't work like that.

I find it exceptionally strange that some of my fellow homeopathic medicine bloggers so easily accept the fact that herbal remedies cannot completely prevent or cure 100% of all flu bugs, yet these same, accepting, lovely people are so quick to swear off vaccines because they do not operate at 100% effectiveness. Vaccines are not designed that way. We're not there yet. Fingers crossed we will get there someday. I would love a one-shot cure for life-threatening it wheatgrass or pharmaceuticals. Until that happens, though, we might want to work the prevention angle.

I hope you can see, mamas, daddies, grampies, and grammies, I am totally with you. We're searching for the right answers and we're scared. These kids are our most precious resources. We love them. When faced with challenging decisions, we evaluate risks on either side of the debate and ultimately side with the option that we perceive as having the least amount of possible negative outcomes. This is true for both pro-vax and anti-vax parties. I know it is. I believe it with every part of my being.

And that's why I, the hippie, crunchy mama who'd rather spoon elderberry syrup into my kids' mouths than pink antibiotics, am imploring the wonderful, sweet, smart, loving, incredible parents out there to learn more about vaccinations. Read more. Watch more. Don't take my word for it. Don't take anyone's word for it. Follow the links I posted. Find your own links. But please, please, please, don't let fear and panic cloud your ability to remain objective and open to learning. You're making decisions for your kids, but you're also making decisions for mine. Follow the facts, not the panic.

We want to protect our kids. So let's use the best weapons we have in our arsenal...cited sources, documented studies verified by third parties, and global health publications. Here are some of my favorite sources (many others are linked within the text above)'ll notice I am obsessed with "Fact-Checker" Upworthy. They cite all sources at the bottom of each article. Oh, and these sources below are all videos. I am a sucker for videos.

I'd love to hear what you think. Remember - we all love our kids. Let's use that common ground to help spur some educational conversations!

Friday, January 30, 2015

8 Things I Learned in 8 Years of Marriage

Guess what, my lovely readers? I celebrated my 8th wedding anniversary this week. That's right, 8 incredible years of marriage. 8 incredible years. 8 years.

My regular readers may notice I don't write about my marriage too much on this blog. I keep it pretty hush hush....for good reason. My marriage is....hmmm, how do you say it....the most challenging aspect of my life. 

You might remember from my post, Crazy Hooker to Crazy....Homemaker?, my husband and I didn't meet the "traditional" way. We didn't take things slow. We didn't get to know each other by dating and maintaining a long engagement. Our relationship fired like a bullet from a gun and we ran with it. 

And we have, since the beginning of our marriage, dealt with the kickback. Each and every day.

We've had your standard arguments. 

You need to get up with the baby. Why did you leave the lint trap full? We have too much crap going on. We never do anything! I'll fix it when I get a minute. I thought you were paying on that loan? That is really, really loud. Calm down. I hate sour cream. 

Haha, can you guess who said what?

But we've also had very serious arguments....arguments most marriages try like hell to avoid. 

Are you drunk? I've realized you're just a negative person. You slept with someone else! Can you stop trying to change me? I don't want you to die. I thought you quit smoking? You'd be better off without me. Our child is afraid of you. Do you want to leave? I'm leaving. 

Yikes, right? It's not even fun to try guessing who said what with those statements.

I thought it was important to name names here and lay it all out as a preface to my lessons list. You just read the reality of my marriage. It is far, very far, from perfect. We didn't take a traditional route to get to love and we're not taking the traditional route to get to peace. But we're trying. And isn't that all any of us can ever do when faced with challenges? Try and learn as much as you can, then use it for the greater good?

So here's what I've gathered so far:

1. Marriage is compromise on steroids. 
One of the greatest life skills we'll ever learn is how to identify which battles to fight and how to negotiate during moments of war. Coffee rings on the table? Fine. Coffee grounds all over the wall? Not cool. Clean that stuff, man. If you clean the coffee grounds, I'll clean the coffee rings, ok? Yea. Simple, trivial example, but this is my life. Battle-picking and compromise. I'm not proficient yet...but I'm getting there.

2. The power of forgiveness is underestimated. 
Telling someone you forgive them does not weaken you, or make you a pushover, or signify an acceptance of abuse. Forgiveness is a gift to bestow upon those who harm you. It is a freedom you grant yourself. Don't let the opinions of others sway you from doing what you know is right.

3. People will judge your marriage more than they judge your home, clothes, job, or parenting.
I cannot tell you some of the things I've heard, both to my face and behind my back, about my marriage. It's natural for those who care about you to want nothing but the best for you. But the other fools? The ones who talk just to talk? The ones who form opinions without getting all the information? Those people have a name - ignorance. 

4. Marriage requires (and I mean absolutely requires) both participants to become experts in determining what they need....and then become fully capable of communicating it.
When bad things happen everyone wants to know why. How. What could I have done. It's my personal belief that every relationship, no matter how happy, how introverted, how stable, and how subtle, should go in for regular "need check-ups." Sometimes simply stopping and thinking about what you need in your relationship is enough to prevent tragedy.

5. You will encounter friends of the relationship and enemies of the relationship. 
My closest friends support my marriage. They don't need to like my husband, or agree with the things we fight about, or even enjoy being there for me when I cry, but they need to respect me. I'm a grown woman, a smart one at that, and unless I'm high off my ass or doing nothing to rectify my problems, they will stand by me. I've learned I need to hang with friends of my marriage if I want to maintain marital health.

6. If the biggest problem in your relationship is a toilet seat in the upright position, there is no problem. 
Perspective is everything. Just look at the toilet seat, Neo. There is no toilet seat. I mean really, people. If a toilet seat is what you fight about, I'm happy for you. It means you've officially got one of the most blessed relationships on earth. Congratulations. 

7. Just because you're married doesn't mean you won't get lonely. 
This one is so hard for me. I am a "quality time" love language (oh yea, I've read it. I've read them allllll, people). I want to spend genuine, heartfelt time with my spouse. If he spends his free time doing something without me, I feel I'm missing out. I've had to learn how to find my own moments of happiness without him. I joined a mom group. I joined a choir. I wrote a book. These are my intentional things. And wouldn't you know it? I'm happier because of is my husband.

8. Ultimatums can change...and even.....disappear.
When I was in college, I knew exactly what the man I would marry was going to be like. I knew what my marriage would look like each morning. I knew where my lines in the sand stood and what I would or would not allow. It's not wrong to have these expectations or ultimatums. Just be aware that once real life happens, it will kick those ultimatums right in the vagina. Nobody can predict what her final decision will be before actually experiencing the sequence of events leading up to the choice. Nobody. Not even me. Not even you. Not even Gandhi.

8 years. It may not sound like much to you, but to me, it's an accomplishment. 

Now I know my story is not the same as yours. Maybe you can relate to the arguments I wrote about up there in the beginning. Maybe you're disgusted by this whole post. Maybe you're worried. Maybe you're relieved. Regardless of how you feel about my admissions and hard-earned lessons, I truly hope this list will inspire some sort of resolution, comfort, or perspective in your life. If nothing else, at least promise me you'll have a glass of wine or a beer later in my honor. 

As always, my lovely, wonderful readers, thank you so much for reading.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Why Replacing Facebook with Failbook Needs to Be a Thing

I joined this mom/woman/church group a while back. It meets twice a month. There's free food and childcare (translation: worth my time). At our most recent meeting, another mom spoke up about Facebook posts and it went something like this:

"Does everyone really need to know about every single milestone your baby reaches? I mean, I feel like every time I go on, my news feed is filled with achievements, like this baby rolled over, this one said another word, this one can read a dictionary. Moms of older kids, has this gotten worse over the past few years? I feel like it's getting worse! Is it getting worse? What is going on?"

Now this particular mom is one of my favorites. She is the sweetest, most articulate little thing this world's ever seen. Coming from her, this was somewhat of an outburst. I'd never heard her sound irritated. My heart ached for her. I knew what she was feeling.

She'd been sucked into the Facebook pit of doom.

We've all been there. Annoyed, irritated, and feeling like deactivating our accounts...tired of people and posts and pictures. On the surface, we say it's because we're just "tired of seeing it!"...but why are we truly tired of seeing anything our supposed "friends" post? What is it that's really driving us nuts and making us want to block people? Sometimes it's because friends and family don't always share our belief system (I can name at least 3 people who continually make me scream "MORON!" at the top of my lungs).

But I don't think my mom friend was talking about that. She wasn't bothered by the beliefs of the other moms. She wasn't saying they were idiots for hitting milestones. No, she was bothered by the perceived boasting....the in-your-face attitude....the "look at me, look at me" behavior.

I've come to the conclusion that Facebook can absolutely break down self-esteem and turn perfectly normal people like me into stalkers. I'd say 50-60% of the time, I leave my Facebook page feeling awful.

Whoa, how is she still so skinny?!
Alright who is this hooker my ex is dating...
Um, crazy that they can afford that?

And to take it one step further, when you're in charge of directing and guiding and creating another person, the potential for Facebook damage is taken to a whole new level. Yes, I'm suggesting Facebook harm can be even more daunting, even darker, even more harmful for those trying to raise little people.

Her kid willingly eats vegetables?
Huh. I wish my husband would do that with our kids.
Another family vacation??

Now this topic has been beaten to death by bloggers all over the country. Stop comparing yourself to others - the New Years resolution for millions of us. But how many of us actually do anything about these feelings? How many of us willingly put ourselves out there, flaws and all, and let people see the reality of our lives? Is it really all that gross? Is it really all that terrible? Would it really hurt to only keep people in our life who accept us, crazy faces, misbehaving kids, and all? Could we potentially change the face of social media comparison by posting less pictures of perfection...and more pictures of imperfection?

Yep. That is exactly what I'm suggesting. Instead of posting only the good, the beautiful, and the perfect, let's flip the switch and post our epic fails, our uggo moments, and the imperfection that encases every one of our lives. I'm not saying no pretty pics, or successes, or fun times.....but how 'bout less Photoshop, more insane face pictures? I think there's a thing called Snapchat for that.....but why only a few seconds of funny? How about saving that moment for all time? How about making someone laugh? How about making ourselves laugh?

If you scroll through the contacts on my phone you'll see all assigned contact pictures are INsane. My girlfriend went running and was hit on by some dude so she snapped a picture of herself looking all sweaty and said, "Really?" Bam. It's now her contact picture. I think she looked gorgeous. My buddy used one of those crazy photo editors to make his nose abnormally long and freaky looking. BAM. His contact picture. He is totally handsome, partially because he can make me laugh at my saddest moments. My sister sent me a picture of herself in front of a gym mirror, no makeup, making a totally crazy face. Contact picture. My sister, the little kiddo I grew up with, does not need makeup to be one of the most stunning, kindhearted persons on this planet.

Are you catching my drift?

These pictures light up my life. They are the real people I've come to love and know and treasure with all my heart. They are the imperfect, flaw-filled loves of my life. I don't mind seeing professional pics and updates on how great your kid is doing....but when push comes to shove, those moments don't remind me of the reasons why I love you.

I have one Facebook friend who talks about getting her period and dying under a plate of nachos all the time. Another friend purposely closes her eyes in every picture she posts. Hilarious. This is what I'm talkin' about, people. Turn Facebook into Failbook. Believe me, everyone wants to see your mistakes. And no, I'm not talking about those emo, moody posts with some creepy song lyrics and an open-ended phrase that leaves everyone wondering if you're somehow mad at them. I'm talking about real, honest-to-goodness life fails. Reality.

Like when you're doing a rare workout and your little one stacks her ice-cream-lookin' legos next to you and you instantly want to eat them even though you know they are plastic.

And when you buy your daughter sparkle powder and then realize it's a poison pink cloud of shimmer and shame that wont come off your skin and gets literally everywhere.

Or when you try and schedule time to read to your kid but you take so long at the computer that she ends up reading books without you.

These are the real stories of my life. And we all have them. The woes my brave mom friend shared that day during our meeting resonated with everyone in the group. We now have a thread dedicated to posting our fails. Some of them are hilarious. Others are gut-wrenching. All are relatable. Knowing you aren't alone is the best feeling in the world.

And you know what else? You have the power to remove yourself from situations that you feel are non-conducive to positive self-image. I chose to narrow down my friend list dramatically, keeping primarily those people who add value to my feed (I'm still working up the guts to delete all those who add no value....I'm sucha sissy). I also choose to follow bloggers who celebrate imperfection and write about interesting, thought-provoking topics. I am slowly weeding out the "perfect mommy" blogs from my feed and instead dedicating my online reading time to improving myself and my flaws.

Life isn't a one-size-fits-all garment, nor should it be portrayed as such. We are each so unique and so powerful in our own way. We all struggle, even the moms with the perfectly-advanced kids. Who knows, maybe her marriage is in shambles. Maybe her kid can read a novel but still wets the bed. These are the things Facebook doesn't tell us...and we sometimes need to remind ourselves that regardless of how perfect it looks, everyone is struggling. Everyone. So add some comfort to the Facebook feed and toss out your latest fail. I guarantee it will make somebody's day.

Have any of my readers experienced problems with Facebook comparisons (or Pinterest, or Twitter...)? I know I've got some strong souls out there but let me have it - how many of you sign into your social media and feel awful when you're done checking your feeds? Tell me about it in the comments down below. As always, thank you so, so much for reading :)


Friday, January 16, 2015

Is the Crunchy Life Worth It?

The beauty product crunchy life experiment is over, dear readers. I made face wash, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and lotion, and I must admit, I'm a complete convert.

I LOVE making my own crap. I thought I'd be stressed by it....another thing I need to do with my time? But no. No, I actually really enjoy it. I feel good about the ingredients and the product I create. I get a little excited about trying a new recipe. I love hearing from friends who've tried it and found their own success. It is awesome.

But I know what you're thinking. 

Great Jen, glad about your feel-good crunchy feelings...but what about some tangible benefits? 

Has it impacted my health? Have I noticed any significant changes in my bank account? How do I feel physically? Do I sleep better? Do I have more energy? Do the products actually work? What do my doctors think? ANY positive effects other than, "Ooo, goodie, look at me! I'm crunchy!"

Well, in one word, kinda.

Feel Healthier?
I have to admit, aside from feeling mentally calm and more emotionally stable, I feel, physically, much the same. My new toothpaste doesn't make my teeth any cleaner or whiter. It cleans them really well and my mouth tastes and feels great, just like when I used regular toothpaste. My face wash has impacted my skin health - my skin has never been more blemish-free and smooth. My hair bounces between terrible and great. Right now it's having a great moment, but that could change tomorrow. My armpits can't tell the difference. I rarely, if ever, use the lotion.
Basically, I feel pretty much the same. I don't regularly get blood work and I can't test my internal toxicity. I did get that terrible respiratory flu, so take that for what it's worth. I haven't needed to go to the doctor, but then again, I rarely go to the doctor for anything. My weight hasn't changed at all. Basically, I feel, physically, pretty much the same as I did before I tried the crunchy products.

More Money?
I have not seen a significant difference in my bank account. Granted, I have yet to go through one full container of anything I've created yet....I might end up seeing some changes down the road. But right now, no - I am not raking in the dough from making my own products. I haven't felt a difference at all. 
Sleep and Energy?
No difference here. I am not jumping up and down with bountiful amounts of energy and I'm sleeping like I always do...about 7 hours a night, waking up maybe once in the middle of the night, no real problems falling asleep, and I always, always wake up groggy. I have never woken up like the Folgers wife. Ever. 

Do the Products WORK?
Check out the individual posts for more details...but in a nutshell, yes. The products do what they are supposed to do. My toothpaste cleans, my face wash cleanses and softens and controls acne, my deodorant leaves me stink-free, my shampoo cleans my hair, and my lotion moisturizes. They do what they're supposed to - in some cases, they work better than the commercial products I was once using....but in most cases, they work the same. Nothing crazy to note.

What do Doctors Say?
I have only seen one medical professional since starting my experiment...and to be honest, I wasn't even the patient...the patient was my older daughter. She's been using the toothpaste. She saw the dentist. Perfect teeth, needs to floss more. These are the same dental visit results she's always had. No cavities. Same.
So there you have it. If you ask me in terms of tangible, scientific, measurable results, I can honestly tell you I haven't seen much of a difference.

But if you ask me how I feel about it all? How does my heart feel? How happy do these things make me? Is there a difference in my overall life?

Huge. Enormous. Significant uptick in personal satisfaction and emotional well-being. I feel wonderful about it. I feel safe. I feel secure. I feel self-reliant and independent. I feel smart. I feel like I'm doing something good for my kids. I feel like I'm standing up for what I believe in. 
In that regard, the emotional one, commercial products don't stand a chance against the crunchy life. I am hooked. I am actually pumped about growing my own herbs this spring and creating my own infusions for next year's cold and flu season. I feel like I'm teaching myself something I can pass to my own kids, and maybe grandkids. I'm learning new things and feeling wonderful about it. I am not afraid of putting lotion on my kids anymore. 

It's freeing....and all other reasons aside, that feeling of freedom deems the crunchy life absolutely worth it to me. It's worth the time and effort and research to feel this good about the things I put on my body everyday. I may not have lab results and dollar signs to prove it....but I've got a lighter heart, a more knowledge-seeking soul, and a happier spirit. 
So, I hereby conclude Jen's Crunchy Life Experiment, Personal Care Edition. I hope you've enjoyed yourself as much as I have. I will post updates as I continue to tweak recipes and formulas. Thank you so much for learning along with me! 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jen's Crunchy Life Experiment: Homemade Lotion

You may have figured this out already....but I'm a bit of a homebody. One of the main reasons I like winter is because I relish the excuse to stay home.  I like being inside my house, with my family and my animals, doing things, or doing nothing. And as much as I hate to admit it, plans are normally met with a knee-jerk, "panicked" reaction.

It's not that I don't want to see people. I'd just rather do the things my heart tells me I need to take a full hour to sit with my kids without looking at my phone. Or remember what life is like when you scrub away the constant attempts to be the perfect daughter, sister, wife, and friend. Or making time to cook a meal that takes close to 3 hours simply because I've always wanted to. I like these things. I love the freedom of a wide open day. Makes me feel calm. And so for me, winter is perfect.

Snowstorm, sorry, can't hang. Frozen temps, sorry, can't come to your meeting. Power outage, my bad, can't send that email.

Yep, beauty aside, I treasure winter for offering me a break...especially after the holidays. It's like releasing the pressure valve...if only for a few months.

But amid all the bliss of the winter season, there are two things I do not enjoy, two things that really "chap" my ass, if you will....

1. Dry skin
2. Lotion

Funny, isn't it? Try as I may I cannot stand the feeling of lotion. So why would I have a homemade lotion recipe? Well, because the rest of my family is obsessed.

My kiddos use lotion in various forms, from baby lotion, to diaper rash cream, to windburn prevention, and sunburn treatment.

My husband uses lotion every single day to take care of dry, flaky skin on his face and to calm his frequent razor burn.

Both my man and my kids have uber-sensitive skin that is prone to redness and irritation. Winter is what you might call the Skinpocalypse of our home. Despite using a number of lotion brands, strengths, and therapies, they needed something different. And so I thought I'd make 'em their own.

The Procedure
1. Decide your application preference. I was looking for a lotion I could use anywhere - hands, feet, booty, lips, you name it. This is the recipe I ended up working with, courtesy of the Wellness Mama.

  • 1/2 cup olive oil (I buy the California Olive Company olive oil from Target)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (I use the organic kind from Target)
  • 1/4 cup beeswax (I purchased some pellets from Amazon)
  • 1 teaspoon Vitamin E oil (got mine from Amazon)
  • 2 Tablespoons Shea Butter (another Amazon purchase)
  • **I did NOT add any essential oils to my batch - I wanted it to be fragrance free. It smells like wax! Next time I will add lavender oil!

2. Stick everything into a large mason jar.

3. Put a few inches of water into a saucepan and stick it on the stove over medium-high heat. 

4. Cap your mason jar (not too tight) and stick it in the saucepan. Congratulations, you've just made yourself a makeshift double boiler. 

5. Stir every now and then as everything melts. This took a while for me - the beeswax took to liquefy. 

6. Once everything has melted, pour the jar contents into containers of your choosing. I chose two medium-sized jelly jars. They work awesome. 

This is a creme lotion, not a pump lotion, so keep that in mind. No pumpin', people. You can use this for up to 6 months...if it will last that long in your house!

The Cost
I only did a cost analysis against my husband's most recent lotion brand. The homemade lotion, however, also takes the place of diaper rash cream and cocoa has many uses that are not included in the following breakdown.

Here are the lotions we were using before:

Now the Organix lotion cost $6.29 for 13 ounces, or $0.48 per ounce.

The total for all lotion ingredients is high - $47.64. Break it down further by dividing the price by what the recipe calls for and the ingredients cost $4.59. The recipe makes 8 ounces, so the total cost is $0.57 per ounce, or $0.09 more per ounce. Negligible, but an increase in cost nonetheless.

Health Factors
I checked up on the ingredients of all 3 products shown above. Ready? Here's some highlights from EWG.

  • Fragrance: Ecotoxicology, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Miscellaneous, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)
  • DMDM Hydantoin (Formaldehyde Releaser): Cancer, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Contamination concerns (FORMALDEHYDE), Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs)
  • Idopropynyl Butylcarbamate: Ecotoxicology, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Use restrictions
  • Phenoxyethanol: Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Occupational hazards, Use restrictions
  • Triethanolamine: Allergies/immunotoxicity, Contamination concerns (NITROSAMINES-in the presence of nitrosating agents), Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Use restrictions
Butt Paste:
  • Fragrance: Ecotoxicology, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Miscellaneous, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)
  • Boric Acid: Developmental/reproductive toxicity, Endocrine disruption, Multiple, additive exposure sources, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Use restrictions
  • PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate: Allergies/immunotoxicity, Contamination concerns (ETHYLENE OXIDE, 1,4-DIOXANE, ETHYLENE OXIDE, 1,4-DIOXANE), Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)
Palmer's Cocoa Butter (Fragrance Free):
  • Methylisothiazolinone: Ecotoxicology, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Neurotoxicity, Use restrictions
  • Propylene Glycol: Enhanced skin absorption, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Use restrictions
  • Tocopheryl Acetate: Cancer, Ecotoxicology, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Contamination concerns (HYDROQUINONE)
So glad I smothered my pregnant belly and baby's booty with chemicals that are known to cause cancer, allergies, and developmental/endocrine disruption! Mind you, those are just a FEW of the ingredients in each product. Check out the rest if you feel like crying.

What about the side-effects of the ingredients in our handmade lotion?

  • Olive oil: hypoallergenic, shown to protect against sun damage and cancer
  • Coconut oil: helps skin retain moisture, disinfectant/antimicrobial, repairs tissues/cells
  • Beeswax: protects against irritants, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral, smooths skin
  • Vitamin E oil: antioxidant, fights free radicals, protects against cell mutation, moisturizes
  • Shea Butter: moisturizes, heals, aids in treating blemishes, eczema, and burns, anti-inflammatory
My family loves this lotion. I use it on diaper rashes and to protect faces when we need to go outside in the cold. My husband uses it every day and says for the first time ever, his dry skin has cleared up. 

The texture is at first very off-putting, perhaps because I hate lotion to begin is thick, almost waxy. I think it's that beeswax forming the barrier or whatever. Give it a few minutes, though, and your skin absorbs the ingredients. The waxiness does disappear. 

This is a thick, protective lotion, not some wamby-pamby pump bottle filled with watered-down hydrochemicals. Think emu oil, or udder balm...not milky in the least. I get the worst gardeners hands ever so come this spring, I may be using this stuff a whole lot more than I am now. But until then, I will continue putting it on my kiddos bum and packaging it up as a gift for new mommies. This one is a keeper!

Do you have a favorite lotion? Would you consider giving a homemade recipe a try? Why or why not? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below! Thank you so very much for reading :)

And in case you missed the other subjects of my experiment: