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5/30/2013

Every year you’ll find it on your child’s school supply list: hand sanitizer. You’ll find the words “antibacterial” plastered on every home-care and personal-care product across the board. Our culture is obsessed with this idea of killing bacteria yet most of us have no idea what we are really doing.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are nothing new to some of us. With the onslaught of MRSA, mainstream news outlets have covered the story from time to time, but we continue to use products like hand sanitizers, unknowingly turning our children’s hands into little Petri dishes. Doctors are taking steps to curb the problem, such as testing for bacterial infections before simply handing out prescriptions for antibiotics to every child with a runny nose, but the school system seems to have ignored the warnings and, in fact, studies claim the use of hand sanitizers has had a positive effect in the classroom, resulting in less absenteeism. On the other hand, numerous studies show, “these antibacterial hand washes and disinfectants are also contributing to the rapid growth of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that pose a serious risk to human health.” Let’s not forget that using these products also kills off the beneficial bacteria in the environment, just as antibiotics kill off healthy gut bacteria.

hand sanitizer
Photo By SonnyandSandy/Flickr

So what could be worse?

Triclosan: the most popular ingredient in antibacterial products and a heavy endocrine-disrupting substance. Triclosan can be found in everything from clothing to kitchenware, furniture, toys and, of course, in antibacterial soaps, toothpastes and cosmetics. If you don’t know much about endocrine disruptors, go check out Mrs. Green’s explanation or at least throw “endocrine disruptors” into your search bar. Basically, triclosan has the ability to alter your body’s hormones in a negative way. Recent studies have also found triclosan to weaken muscles and hinder the heart’s ability to circulate blood. In layman’s terms, this chemical can stop your heart. Bacteria don’t sound so scary now, do they?

“But these products are regulated by the FDA,” you say.

Well, let me remind you that Michael R. Taylor, the deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, worked for Monsanto and wrote the rBGH labeling guidelines. Turns out, rBGH is so bad even Wal-Mart banned it from its milk. I don’t think two million people marching in opposition to GMOs can all be wrong either, and I’m a firm believer in independent studies so research it for yourself to make your own decision. The FDA is looking into triclosan and you can wait for their determination—or you can simply stop using hand sanitizers and the like and turn to a natural alternative. In my opinion, it’s better to be on the safe side.

Naturally antibacterial essential oils:

• Basil
• Orange
• Chamomile
• Patchouli
• Peppermint
• Coriander
• Cypress
• Eucalyptus
• Rosemary
• Geranium
• Rosewood
• Grapefruit
• Sage
• Lemon
• Sandalwood
• Lime
• Spearmint
• Also spicier oils like thyme, oregano, and clove.

Any of the above essential oils can be added to your cleaning products and will make them antibacterial without the harmful chemicals. As for hand sanitizer? Try making your own with this easy recipe.


Kate HunterKate Hunter enjoys organic gardening, whole food cooking, crafting, making natural products, and following up on politics and the latest health food news. After changing her major from art to biology to English, she finally obtained a B.A. in English with an emphasis on writing from Southern Oregon University and has been writing about nutrition, healthy living, cooking, and gardening for over nine years. Kate is a published author both online and in print and has owned, operated, and published a literary journal. She is a mother of three, speaks sarcasm, some Spanish, but mostly English and spends her time baking, taking pictures, canning, growing and drying herbs, reading, selling natural products and homemade crafts in her Etsy store HomemadeByKate, and checking food labels of course. 



3/20/2013

I brought my kids to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, on Sunday. There was music, dancing and mounds and mounds of candy. We left with our pockets and stroller pouch overflowing with candy! Although I don’t want to deprive my children of the fun experience of collecting candy, I don’t want them to eat a large quantity of artificial colors, dyes and sweeteners.

making homemade art from candy  making homemade art from candy
Photos By Sarah Lozanova

At Halloween, a fairy came along and traded dates and raisins for the candy stash. Thankfully my kids were asleep before the trick-or-treating ended, so we were able to pass the candy along to other children. For St. Patrick’s Day, we decided to make artwork from the candy collection.

We started out by making homemade glue, which contains water, cornstarch, corn syrup and vinegar. My children, ages 2 and 4, then glued the candy on thick pieces of paper. They really enjoyed the project and didn’t once ask for a taste. The candy is still edible if anyone wants it, as the glue is food grade.

I enjoy celebrating holidays with my children, but I keep the emphasis on spending quality time together and enjoying ourselves, and away from heaps of candy. My daughter’s Easter basket last year was filled with carrots and blueberries, and we used polished rocks for our dreidel games (instead of chocolate coins). It keeps me on my toes too, finding creative and fun ways to celebrate the holidays.


Sarah Lozanova is a mother of two, a holistic parenting coach, and a freelance environmental writer. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has an MBA in sustainable development.



3/7/2013

When I was a child, I would often spend time with a group of Italian neighbors in their 80s. We would stroll around the neighborhood together, pick grapes and visit their friends. They were warm, active and social women who were enjoying life, setting a great example of how rich the golden years can be. Aside from grandparents however, my two young children have very limited contact with older adults.

My family will soon be moving to Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BCE), a 36-unit community on 42 shared acres in mid-coast Maine. The homes feature a passive solar design, and a common house with shared space will be constructed soon.

little girl and senior carving pumpkins
Photo Courtesy Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage

“I think we have an amazing mix, from people in their 20s who are just having babies to people in their 70s,” says Judith Grace, a member of BCE and a grandmother of three. “We couldn’t have planned it better.”

I’m really excited for my children to live in a multi-generational community and form relationships with people of a variety of ages, as it can only enrich their lives. When speaking with other parents of young children living at BCE, they were attracted to the community partially for this reason.

“Many kids know their parents, perhaps their grandparents and 50 or 100 other kids their age,” says Dan Capwell, a member of BCE and a new father. “Kids from cohousing know many older adults, middle-aged people and older kids. It gives them a more well-rounded life experience to draw from.”

By design, BCE members have frequent contact with neighbors. Automobile access is limited and homes are clustered to preserve open space and encourage spontaneous interactions. Voluntary shared meals will be offered a few times a week once the common house is completed and all are encouraged to participate in the community gardens.

“Because kids in cohousing have access to all different ages of people, they tend to have a better relational skill set,” says Allison Piper, an expectant mother and member of BCE. “They are more confident in dealing with people of all ages. They can envision being friends with adults as easily as someone their own age.”

quilting with seniors
Photo Courtesy Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage

Many older adults are retired and have more time and energy to invest in relationships. Jeffrey Mabee, Judith’s husband, often goes to the sporting events to watch BCE children play and says he feels almost like an uncle or grandfather to them.

“I’m going to have a room in our house that I call my project room, and I think a lot about having children there, sharing in what I’m doing,” says Jeffrey. “I think of the things I can teach children, and it’s part of what attracts me to the cohousing project.”

As much as my children can benefit from living in a multi-generational community, I believe I will too. My mother is deceased and I don’t currently have many relationships with older adults. Many of the BCE seniors have grown children and a wealth of life experiences and wisdom to share.

“I think with age, we can bring a certain calm perspective and ability to look at the bigger picture,” says Jeffrey. “It is less important for me now to get the things that I thought I wanted. What is most important to me is to create love and connection in our community.” 

These are lessons that I’m still learning. I often prioritize completing a load of laundry above playing with my kids, or cleaning the bathroom above bathtub play.

Certainly we don’t need to move to a cohousing community to have relationships with older adults. Many churches and religious organizations, neighborhoods, extended families and non-profit organizations have members of all ages. Our local botanic garden has many friendly senior volunteers who go out of their way to converse with my children when we visit and seem to really enjoy the interactions with visitors.

I hope the older adults at BCE also find the relationships with families of young children enriching. “I think seniors aren’t getting the feedback that they are still a really valuable part of the whole fabric of society,” says Judith. “I think there are lots of seniors who have low self-esteem about being old. Our culture promotes that, but I think it is good for seniors to be in a place where their voice is just as important as anyone else’s voice in the community.”


Sarah Lozanova is a mother of two, a holistic parenting coach, and a freelance environmental writer. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has an MBA in sustainable development.



2/7/2013

How did Silver Surfer get trapped in a bag on our window sill? And why is he so desperate to escape?

Silver Surfer toy

It's a convoluted tale that began at the Northwest Denver Toy Library. We're fortunate that the toy library is in the basement of our closest Denver Public Library branch. We make it there a few times a month, and the kids each choose two or three toys to check out. Sam usually chooses something that complements his own toys, like the police station below. Isabel always chooses the noisiest toys, with our blessing, since we'll be able to return them in three weeks.

Sam playing with toy police station 

toy piano 

The concept of a toy library exemplifies the idea of playing well with others. Our toy library has been a free resource for Denver families since 1980, and it’s always run and stocked by volunteers. We're usually there on Saturdays, and inevitably run into someone we know. Kids and parents end up playing, talking and building community.

Sam has recently decided to let go of a few of his toys, in order to make room for more Legos, Trashies and Nanospeeds. The toys that he's willing to donate are small, and generally plastic, but for him it's a great start in the process of letting go. You can see that SpongeBob isn't sold on the idea of leaving his happy home.

SpongeBob toy 

The problem is that SpongeBob can't move to the toy library. Donated toys that aren't brand-new, must include proof that they meet federal safety standards. SpongeBob and all of his friends don't have papers, so we've come up with another option. In the tradition of The Toy Society, we're going to start leaving the toys at playgrounds, parks and other spots where a toy might come in handy. We decided to wrap the toys in bags marked "Free Toys" so the finders won’t hesitate to take possession. We’ve been making the bags from old t-shirts, and writing on them with permanent marker, in the hope that they’ll survive all types of weather conditions. We’re looking forward to hiding and sharing many toys during the next few weeks.

Do you have any creative locations, where Silver Surfer and SpongeBob might find appreciative new owners? 


Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff, and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband, and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play



1/29/2013

The weather here is unseasonably warm, so we’ve got seeds and planting on our minds. We didn’t grow very much last year, so this feels like the year to really go big. It helps that I’ve been reading Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail, again. It’s one of those books that makes the idea of planting a lot of food seem possible, even though we don’t have a huge garden space.  Here are some of the steps we’re taking right now, to get on track to grow more of our own food this year:

gardening in purple boots
Making a garden plan while wearing purple boots. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

• Mapping our entire yard space, so we can make better use of the light and shade. I really like this simple mapping tool from Gardener’s Supply Company. We’ll need to make a more detailed map of the small areas that we plan to use in our side and front yards.

• Deciding what we can realistically fit in our space.

• Gathering seeds! Seed Savers Exchange is a great resource.

• Finding and preparing alternative planters, inside and outside.

• Making a space to start some seeds inside; Gayla Trail has devoted a entire section of her You Grow Girl website to seed starting.

Isabel
Isabel, growing in the sunshine. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

In addition to working with the garden spaces in and around our home, I’m also hoping to buy a plot in our school’s community garden. When school began in August, Sam was very interested in the plum trees in the garden, so he’ll be motivated to help care for the trees and help with the fall harvest. We’re also figuring out our CSA (or NSA) budget, and which farm we’ll support this year. We’ve been very happy with Monroe Farms during past years, but we’ve recently heard about some options that are even closer to our home.

Beyond the details and logistics of learning to grow more of our food, we’re simply enjoying our time outside, absorbing the fresh air, the light, and of course the dirt.

What are you thinking of growing this year?


Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff, and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband, and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play



1/14/2013

I thought our intention for this coming week would be centered on meal planning or cooking with healthier ingredients. Those types of goals are important, but through our intention to celebrate during our family meals, it became clear that presence is at the heart of the party. Showing up, staying engaged and being real.

dinner table
Photo By Stijn Nieuwendijk/Courtesy Flickr

Maybe you've been at a party, and even though the celebration part is happening, you don't feel a sense of engagement or truthfulness, from yourself or the people around you. I have to confess that I've been both disengaged and disingenuous way too often, particularly during the past year. Instead of facing uncomfortable realities or situations, I tend toward denial and avoidance.

Everything is fine. Where's my iPhone?

I'll give myself a little credit: I believe that I'm getting better at being present. I'm getting better at it because I have the chance to practice every day, particularly when I'm with my family. I'm learning that presence doesn't mean presenting a perfect facade. And I'm learning to give myself a break when I fall short.

At dinner tonight, we were all present. We brought silliness, impatience, laughter, spilled water glasses, complaints about beef ravioli, fights over seating arrangements, scatological humor, and a lot of love. Everything wasn't fine, but I didn't retreat to my iPhone. We all showed up to the party, and it was a come-as-you-are event.

What does being present mean to you? How does being present affect your family meals?


Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play.



1/9/2013

At our house, Sundays will be about setting an intention or focus for the week to come. Last year we focused on more of the practical matters of family meals. We still want to think about meal planning and healthy ingredients, but our most important mission is to celebrate the time we have together. For our family, for the coming week and beyond, our focus will be bringing joy and celebration to our everyday family meals.

floral centerpiece
Our Kings Day celebration centerpiece. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

We're rolling back into a normal routine with all of us spending long days at work and school. Our time together each morning and evening rushes by and is often diminished by stress, frustration, complaints and exhaustion. We've just had two weeks of beautifully slow mornings and evenings, and I'm hopeful that we can carry our vacation ways back to real life.

Kings Day felt crowns
Our Kings Day celebration felt crowns. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

Celebrating Kings Day last Sunday was a foundation for our intention. Our pseudo-party was low key, not too fancy, and didn't require hours of sweating in the kitchen. The celebratory atmosphere was stoked by four kids running around the house with flashlights, a few felt crowns and one delicious, crumby cake.

Kings Day cake
Our alternative Kings Day cake. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

We started our own tradition by using a coffee cake recipe from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. Sam and I also chose some non-traditional "trinkets" to bake into the cake. They included:

■ A nickel: you will have 5 years of good luck!
■ A mini-pretzel: you will have a flexible year
■ Chocolate chips: you will have a sweet year, OR you'll eat a lot of candy in the coming year
■ A dried cranberry: you will eat a lot of fruit in the coming year
■ A goldfish cracker: you will eat a lot of fish in the coming year

I'm glad that Sam's friend Max found the nickel—his expression was pure joy, and he beamed as we all hooted and hollered and celebrated his good luck. We then went on to hoot and holler every time someone found a chocolate chip, and there were a lot of chocolate chips mixed in, to guarantee a sweet year for everyone present. The goldfish cracker still hasn't been found, so we have a few more anticipatory dessert sessions to look forward to.

But the question remains: How can we come back to joy and celebration, when we're tired and burnt out?

To try to answer that question, we had a party brainstorm. Here are our top nine party moves that we'll try to bring to our meals. The caveat is that we'll only use the ideas if they lower our stress levels. If any idea results in even a hint of extra household stress, the idea will be abandoned mid-use and may or may not be entertained again.

1. Great parties have great music—girl, put your records on!
2. Mood lighting: flashlights, candlelight, Christmas lights, or all of these
3. Appetizers that could pan out to be the entire meal
4. Fancy drinks in fancy glasses
5. The “nice” dishes
6. Minimal dishes: napkins make great plates, and who needs forks if you've got toothpicks and skewers?
7. Electronic devices stowed away
8. Be a party person, or better yet, be the witty, charming, funny person that you are when you're at your best. Smile and look other people in the eye, because you want to connect. Ask your fellow party-goers questions, because you genuinely want to know the answers. Relax and enjoy the moment, because that's what you do at parties, right?
9. End the party with dancing, always.

What party tips would you suggest, to bring more celebration to everyday meals?


Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play.




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