Christmas Vacation

Dear Readers,

A recent death in the family, the holidays quickly approaching, a list a mile long that I need to finish before Christmas, plus a surge in freelance work (yay!) has consumed my December schedule. I am going to take an early Christmas break and promise to return in 2010 with new and fun posts. I will miss all of you.

Have a very merry Christmas! And remember, the gifts we give and receive are just a reminder of the Ultimate Gift given for us. Be sure to take time, be still, and remember all that God has done for you this year. He is holy.




Wednesday Walkthrough . . . More Comfort Food--packed with protein!

Cookie magazine (RIP) featured this delicious soup recipe in one of their final issues. The picture in the magazine alone makes my mouth water (my picture above is a poor attempt to tempt you) . . . and makes me wish I lived in a log cabin where it snows 365 days a year and I only serve tasty comfort food served in large white bowls shaped as small pots. Ahhh, yes, that really is a dream of mine.

Back in reality, I tried making the soup (especially because it contains kale and lots of beans--two things I need more of in my life), and I LOVED it! The kale turned out to be my favorite part--adds a little crunch and texture to what could otherwise be conceived as your common bean soup.

I froze half of the soup batch, and just last week I thawed it out and was again reminded how much I love this recipe. I just HAVE to share it with you :)

Tuscan Ribollita

Serves 6 | 20 minutes active time | 1 1/2 hours total

3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped (I think I added two because I love carrots!)
1 celery stalk, chopped (again, one just didn't seem like enough, so I used two)
4 ounces pancetta (expensive!) or ham (not quite so healthy . . . I honestly believe you can easily make this vegetarian and it would still be DELICIOUS! I'd just drop the meat).
1/2 cup olive oil
1 15-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
3 15-oz cans cannellini or great northern beans, drained and rinsed (I found these at WF--the 365 brand is really cheap--and locally at Reasor's--their Great Value organic brand is actually a few cents cheaper than WF).
2 cups chicken broth (veggie broth if you're going vegetarian)
1 sprig fresh rosemary (my favorite part of the dish! The flavor really bursts in this!)
1 bunch kale, roughly chopped
1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs (I just toasted some panko on a hot skillet)
Grated Parmesan

1. In a large pot over medium heat, saute the first five ingredients in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil for 5 minutes.

My daughter had to taste-test the carrots for me :)
2. Add the tomatoes and their juices, along with the beans, broth, and rosemary. Simmer, covered, until the beans break apart, about an hour (it took longer than an hour for me).

3. Add the kale and cook for 5-7 minutes more. Stir in the bread crumbs and serve, drizzled with the remaining olive oil and sprinkled with the cheese.

MMMMMMMMmmmmmmmm good!


Christmas Survey

There's an AMAZING giveaway on Today's Mama. It's just what you need to get you in the Christmas spirit!

Here are my answers to some Christmas trivia:

1. What 5 items are on your holiday wish list this year?
  • Kindle
  • Bike Trainer
  • Bike trailer
  • Digital SLR camera
  • Countertop compost can
2. What is your favorite handmade gift you have received?
  • Birthday banners from Rae :)
3. What handmade gift have you always wanted to tackle?
  • Knitting an adult-size scarf
4. What was the best Christmas gift you received as a child?
  • Basketball goal
5. What items are on your kid’s wish list this year?
  • Praise and worship CDs
  • Wooden bowl/silverware
  • Doll
  • Anything from Chasing Fireflies, MiniBoden or Nova
6. What is your favorite holiday food?
  • Hmmm, toughy. Maybe my mom's cranberry salad?
7. What will you be hand-crafting for the holidays?
  • It's a secret. People who read this blog will be receiving one :) Last year I made Christmas pillows and appliqued clothing!
8. What is your favorite holiday movie?
  • The Holiday and White Christmas
9. Favorite holiday song?
  • Let It Snow! :)
10. Favorite holiday pastime?
  • Cutting down our own fresh Christmas tree at Eby Pines in Indiana, and then going to the Blood's or Rozebooms's afterward and eating Christmas cookies and playing with some of my besties. The tradition continues cutting down our tree in Owasso instead :O


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . What's Your Core Strength?

photo courtesy of alpha7allan

Hello dear friends, did you miss me last week? I sincerely apologize for being absent without notice. I took the liberty of a day off since last Wednesday was my birthday. I hope you understand. And, yes, it was a lovely, quiet, and blessing-filled day. I have much to be thankful for. And I am noticing a trend that the older one gets, the quieter the birthday celebrations. I like that. I like it a lot.

Back to business . . . I just heard a really challenging message tonight, and for today's walkthrough I want to take a stroll inward and examine your heart. My question to you is "What's your core strength?"

Recently I've been working a lot on my physical body's core strength. I'm in a kickboxing class, and we don't just do fun punches and kicks; we do tons of core-strengthening exercises as well. My least favorite is the plank . . . followed by a twisting plank . . . followed by more plank. Yikes!

The message I heard tonight talked about the simple truth that what's in abundance in your heart is what will show up in your life. Or, put another way, whatever is strongest in the core of your life, that will dictate your destiny.

I'd like to challenge you to take a moment and think about what's in the core of your being? The easiest way to figure out what's at the core is to look at how you reacted to your last crisis or trial. Did fear consume you? Did you get depressed? Were you overcome with worry? Anxiety? Insecurity? If so, that's a good indicator of what's in your core.

If the opposite is true, and instead of fear, faith and hope rose up inside you, then that conversely is an indicator of what's in your core.

And as simple a truth as "what goes in, must come out"; you can easily identify where the source of that fear or faith is.

Consider these sources inputing in your life. How much time are you giving them to "strengthen your core"? TV. Talk radio. Your Family. The Negative Nancy's in your life. Your music. Your church. Your friends. Your reading material. Your favorite websites/blogs/chatrooms. I'm not saying it's time to completely do away with the negative; I'm just saying, keep the scales tipped toward the positive. When the majority of what you put in is based in faith, that faith will surface again in time of trial.

And considering the craziness going on around us . . . yep, that economy, crime, politics, etc., it's good to be in a position where you can respond with faith and hope instead of fear.


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . Oxymoron: Toxic Soap?

Let's take a stroll to your bathroom and check the label on your soap dispenser.

Right now the number-one recommendation to avoid H1N1 is to wash your hands, but is it possible that you could be washing your hands with toxic soap? While the effects may not be as immediately apparent as flu symptoms, the ramifications are worth considering.

The EWG recently posted a great article about choosing a "safer soap." Some of the more outstanding talking points are as follows:

1. When choosing a soap, avoid ones containing triclocarbon, triclosan, or fragrance. Triclosan is one of the EWG's "top seven chemicals for children to avoid." (It has a negative effect on your liver, thyroid, and may cause "bacterial resistance to antibiotics." It is also hard to clear from the water, so it can spread to drinking water and other treated water sources.)
2. Anti-bacterial soaps are just as effective as regular soaps, so they are not necessary. BUT they also usually contain triclosan, which you want to avoid.
3. Hand sanitizers are semi-effective, but they do not remove dirt and dust which can have chemicals in it. If you use a hand sanitizer, it's best to choose one that is alcohol based. And watch out for those frangrances!

To read the entire article, click here.

(Photo courtesy of soapylovedeb.)


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . A Walk Through Your Past

If you were to a write a letter to your 16 year old self, what would it say? I recently read this question in a magazine, and it got me thinking. What would I say to myself before I was a high school graduate? Before I went to college? What do I wish I had known before I moved to Japan, or before I got married? What about before pregnancy? Would I advise myself to do things differently? What have I learned about life that I wish I had known earlier?

A rough draft of my letter would contain some of the following thoughts. . .

Dear Self,

If there was only one thing I could tell you that I'm learning now and wish I had learned earlier, it would be to hold on with unrelenting passion to Truth and refuse to fear. Fear is a cheap trick that has kept many, if not all, people from realizing their full potential. It's a trick that has been played for generations, and despite the fact that I should have learned from the countless people it has crippled before me, I still fell prey to its wiles. Don't do it. Fear not.

Live your life with no regrets. The only regrets I have of my past are the things that I didn't do, or the time that I wasted, the opportunities I missed, all because I was afraid. Do not fear what others will think (Hint: All of the others are dealing with their own fears; they will either respect you for standing up for what you believe in, or they will hate you for standing up for what you believe in. If they hate you, it is because they are insecure. Don't let their hate stop you from moving forward). Do not fear what others will say. Do not fear rejection. Hold unswervingly to Truth and live without fear.

When I saw the shallowness of the "fear factor," I was upset with myself for giving in to such a lame tactic. I won't say that I've conquered fear; but I see its shallowness, and I am determined to not surrender willingly to its predictable maneuvers.

There is a great life to be lived, great opportunities to be had, great people to befriend. Turn your eyes off of yourself and look ahead to the possibilities that await. Go! Live! Love! You won't regret it.

Sincerely and passionately,

Future Joy

. . . what would your letter say?


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . A Word of Encouragement

One of my goals when I started this blog was to provide a balanced perspective on maintaining a healthy lifestyle without getting stuck in a ditch of extremism in any line of thought. I believe the reason people struggle with a healthy lifestyle or quality parenting disciplines is because they get burned out in a line of thinking that's pushes so hard against the norm that they simply tire from being different. There has to be balance in everything, whether you're eating healthier, choosing whether or not to vaccinate, following a certain parenting style, choosing how much to exercise, etc.

These last few weeks have been a good reminder to me about the importance of balance. I am a type-A personality that loves to live by to-do lists and accomplish everything. I want to be super mom, super WAHM, super wife, super friend, super family member, super church member, etc. But in trying to do that, I tend to say yes to everything that fits in my schedule.

But when I say yes just because there's a time slot open on my calendar, that doesn't mean I'm being super; it just means I'm busy and setting myself up for burnout.

Being super is about balance, and it's about saying no too. I can't do everything. Well, I try to do everything (and many times I fit it all in), but that doesn't mean I should be doing everything. And even though I battle the fear that I'm not doing enough, and I dread saying no and disappointing someone; I find that after I turn down an invitation, I actually feel better and more free.

My recent personal goal is to keep play dates/meetings with friends/trips to the zoo/or anything else that requires a lot of planning ahead or other people's schedules, down to one event a week. That doesn't mean I'm not doing anything else with my little girl the rest of the week; it just means we're free to do the normal stuff like grocery shopping, exercise, housework, trips to the pediatrician, errands, etc. and not get burned out in the process.

I know, there are probably some of you who are sure that you CAN do it all. I'm not doubting your abilities. I'm just encouraging you to explore the freedom in saying no and having open slots in your schedule to just sit on the floor and color with your child--times when your to-do list doesn't loom over you because you've already taken care of the day-to-day tasks.

I dare you. Try it.


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . Fading Fruits and Ripe Squash

Tree-ripened peaches, Michigan blueberries, Bixby corn, vine-ripened tomatoes and armfuls of fresh-picked herbs are waving their final farewells as the heartier squashes and versatile apples take center stage. As my baby girl willing explores new tastes and textures on her virgin taste buds, I find it a daily challenge to avoid fall-back foods (Annie's mac and cheese or almond butter/jelly sandwiches) and find new fares for her to try. Today, I reawakened the chef inside and produced a dish that has all the flare of fall: comfort food (lasagna) and fall produce (butternut squash).

As I share my recipe with you, I'll provide hints/substitutions/suggestions along the way to guide your quest to reawaken your stove and enjoy the swell of heat in the kitchen again.

I printed this off a blog over a year ago and cannot remember the source. A deep apology to the person who deserves mounds of credit for this recipe.

(If you are using a food processor, chop the nuts before you make the fillings to save washing and drying between steps. The filling and sauce can be made ahead of time, and you don't need to precook the noodles.)


9-11 lasagna noodles, preferably whole grain*
1/2 onion, minced
2 teaspoons olive oil**
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups chopped spinach, kale, chard or other dark green leafy vegetable***
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup boiling water

* Since I'm cooking for 2.5, I make two 8 x 8 pans instead of one 9 x 13 so I need at least 12 noodles if I'm making two smaller dishes.
** I used coconut oil so it wouldn't go rancid in the cooking process.
*** This is an excellent opportunity to use kale--so healthy, yet not so common in dishes.

Tofu Filling:

1 1/2 pounds firm or silken tofu
2 eggs or 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons dried basil*
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon back pepper

* I used fresh, and it turned out fine.


3 cups mashed, cooked butternut squash*
3/4 cup milk (dairy or nondairy)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon miso**
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (this is where all the flavor comes in!)

* I steamed chunks of butternut squash until they were super soft and a fork could easily pierce the chunks all the way through. Then I scooped out the meat and put it directly in the food processor with the other ingredients.
** This may be one of those ingredients you're not prone to keeping handy in your kitchen--unless you have Asian flare like myself :). If you're having trouble finding miso in your grocery store or if you're having trouble locating an Asian market, you can usually get the miso soup mixes from most big chain grocery stores (in the Asian aisle) and inside you will find small packets of miso. I have a feeling that if you don't add the miso, it wouldn't affect the flavor drastically.

(the butternut sauce and tofu filling)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Saute onion in olive oil until soft. Stir in garlic and greens. If greens are dry, add a little water. Cover and steam 5 minutes or until soft. Set aside.

(sauteing onions)

(steaming spinach)

Place tofu filling ingredients in food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. Remove to bowl and set aside. Place sauce ingredients in food processor or blender. Puree until smooth.

Assemble lasagna as follows: Cover bottom of 9 x 13 pan with thin layer of sauce. Place a single layer of lasagna noodles in bottom of pan. Leave a little space between the noodles because they will expand when cooked. Spread half of the tofu filling over the noodles.

(after the first layer of tofu filling)

Sprinkle half of the cooked greens over tofu. Spread a third of the butternut sauce over the greens. Repeat for one more layer. Place noodle layer on top and cover with butternut sauce. Sprinkle chopped nuts evenly over squash. Pour boiling water in corners and around edges of lasagna. Cover pan with foil and bake for 35 minutes.

(cooking in the oven, as you can see, the lasagna is fairly thick and fills the pan)

Remove cover and bake 10 minutes. Allow to stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

(yummy walnuts cooked on top)

(view from the side to illustrate the depth of the lasagna)

Makes 8 tasty servings.

Note: To save time, you can buy frozen pureed squash.

Variation: Ricotta cheese can be substituted for tofu. Only use 1 egg or 1 tablespoon olive oil if using ricotta cheese.


Wednesday Walkthrough: Ice Ice Baby (Doll)

My mom recently bought a new baby doll for my daughter. The doll is hypo-allergenic, and it comes with instructions on how to properly clean the doll so as not to stir up allergies or asthma (neither of which my daughter has, but it doesn't hurt to have a clean toy, right?). The first instruction says to seal the doll in a plastic bag and throw it in the freezer for 24 hours.

The freezer? Really?

As I've started searching around on the web, I'm finding that the freeze-the-toys practice is more common than I thought. Apparently it's best for killing dust mites (which trigger asthma), but it's also great for killing germs.

Well, that's easy enough. Another easy, quick step to living a healthier life and not having to spend a ton of money in the process. I think all my daughter's stuffed animals are going to have to start a routine of camping out in our freezer. Hmm, wonder what my hubby's gonna say. :)


Skip the Mask; Grab a Plant

With all the buzz about swine flu going around, the temptation to wear a mask is making people more aware than ever of what they're breathing. First of all, wash your hands! I know, that has nothing to do with breathing, but it seems to be the universal best preventant of H1N1, so do it . . . often!

Okay, back to what we're breathing. Did you know the peace lily ("The peace what?" You know, those plants you get when a baby's born, when you go to the hospital, or when there's a funeral. The ones with long green leaves and one or more white lilies unswirling their white petals as they reach toward the sun . . . yeah, those plants!) is ranked as one of the top ten air-purifying houseplants?

We all learned in elementary school that plants take the CO2 and turn it into oxygen. But our teachers didn't spend much time teaching us that plants can take a lot more than just carbon dioxide out of the air. It turns out, plants are one of the the most effective filters for clearning the air of toxins too. A study in Australia found that air toxicity levels decreased by 75 percent with just six plants added to a room. Seventy-five percent!

It gets better! The same article states: "The World Health Organization blames bad indoor air for nearly 3 percent of diseases. Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, where air is more polluted than outside and can contain more than 900 volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, according to the EPA."

So think about getting some greens to clean up the air in your home. Put one in the office to filter the toxic flame retardants in your PC, laser printer, and TV dust. Make a peace lily a must-have for the baby's room. And consider buying a bamboo palm with your next new furniture purchase to filter all those new-furniture chemical smells and retardants lurking within the upholstery. For an easy-to-read chart that targets toxin sources and the plants to combat them, check out this guide.

Some plants to consider to get you started (you'll have to look these up if you don't recognize their names, but that's why God invented Google, right?): Eureka palm, peace lily, lady palm, bamboo palms, and rubber plant. Happy planting (or in my case, happy trying-t0-remember-to-water-so-my-plants-don't-die-and-my-husband-scorns-my-plea-to-buy-another-plant-to-replace-it-because-"You'll just kill it.")

**And if you're having trouble keeping your peace lily alive (my thumb is more of a murky yellow rather than green), try tea!


Wednesday Walkthrough...your bathroom scale

In the quest to find balance and choose the road (rather than a ditch on either side), magazine article titles with promises to lose "30 pounds in one month" make me cringe. Those theories can't be healthy, and there are usually some serious (i.e. impossible) lifestyle changes that would discourage the normal person from following through, or that would send an OCD person into rehab.

So, when I read an article that claimed to lose an exorbitant amount of fat in a short amount of time, I scanned the bold subtitles with the intent of scoffing at the recommendations. Instead, I found some interesting research that lured me to read the article in its entirety. The article focused on one source of obesity--toxic fat; and it suggested two steps toward eliminating it--increase your omega-3 intake and reduce your refined carbs and vegetable oil intake. The basic premise is that increasing omega-3s will fight the toxic fat in your body (fat from refined carbs and vegetable oil is toxic to your body, so your body creates fatty cells to store the toxins to keep your body alive--fat to store fat, yum!)

One article explains: "the underlying cause of chronic diseases (like allergies, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Lupus, etc.) comes from the increased production of a natural fatty acid called arachidonic acid (AA), which can be toxic at high concentrations. Oddly enough, accumulation of excess body fat is your body’s initial attempt at protecting you, by encapsulating or trapping the toxic fat in your fat cells. The problem is that the toxic fat doesn’t stay trapped forever. Once it begins to spill into the bloodstream, Dr. Sears says you now have Toxic Fat Syndrome (TFS)."

Dr. Barry Sears is the man behind this research, and while I don't agree with all that he says (e.g. "if you're fat, it's not your fault" or "eat less or exercise more is meaningless"), I think there is some good truth to pull from this research--increase your omega-3s. That's something we all can do. This is one of those cases where you don't "throw the baby out with the bathwater." Yes, the Zone Diet (purported by Dr. Sears) is difficult to follow; yes, I disagree that a person can shirk responsibility for their obesity; BUT, yes, there is great value in increasing your omega-3 intake. So, baby step number one: buy some fish or flax oil and add it to your daily routine (I drizzle flax oil on my baby girl's toast in the morning; I take fish oil with my breakfast.) It's easy; it's something you CAN do!

Great sources of omega-3s: Fish oil (if you take capsules, you can freeze them so that the oil doesn't float to the top of your stomach and give you yucky fish burps); flax oil (be sure to keep heat-sensitive flax oil refrigerated, and don't cook it in your food--drizzle it on top of things like salads or breads so that it maintains its structure); walnuts (5 a day keeps the doctor away).

Not bad; not too big of a lifestyle change; feasible; something that you could do/afford.


Wednesday Walkthrough...your child's playroom

This week I had my first visit from a Parents as Teachers rep. Parents as Teachers is a program offered by our public school where they send a representative to your home once a month to gauge how your child is developing and suggest ways to increase their learning. Since this was our first meeting, it mainly centered around answering questions and evaluating where my baby girl is on the growth, ages and stages chart.

One of the handouts she gave me during our session caught my eye. It's simply titled "Your Role as a Parent," and it suggests three primary roles that a parent is supposed to take on for his/her child: 1) Consultant 2) Authority 3) Designer. Designer caught my eye. I am a designer for my child. The handout elaborates, "As a designer, you provide interesting play materials and experiences that promote your child's natural curiosity and problem solving."

Designer. I've never thought of myself as a designer. I investigated more. The dictionary defines designer as "one who creates and often executes plans for a project." Designer and creator go hand-in-hand. Creation didn't end at conception; it continues as a living member of my job description as a mom.

Suddenly my flippant attitude about playtime metamorphosed into a desire to meet the challenge and DESIGN the most creative and learning-filled play room/time possible. Maybe it's the writer in me, but a challenge to design, to create, to take an empty room and make it a world of learning inspired me. An indignation rose up within me to be the best designer of my child's playtime possible. It's not just about burning the time until the next meal or nap; it's a world of creativity where every color, shape, movement, etc. counts for an opportunity to learn and problem solve.

I only remember moments of my childhood, but what stands out to me are the feelings that swelled within when I was given a crayon to draw on a new sheet of paper, a toy with buttons and doors that opened and closed, a play set made of wood with swings, ladders and bars. That sense of possibility. Oh the things I could do with those objects.

My goal is to cram as many possible of those swells of desire into my daughter's childhood. My pledge is to never impede my child's ability to learn because of my laziness to provide an atmosphere of learning and creativity.

What about you, dear reader? Please share with all of us some of your favorite designs--activities you've planned or decorations you've deliberately used in your playroom to tickle the imagination and release creativity.


It's Wednesday. . .in Guam, right?

Today's Wednesday stroll takes us off the water filtration system path (to give me some time to conduct more of my own research), and down a path that I am equally as excited about. Today, I want to share SvelteGourmand.com with you--a website that I believe is closest to the heart of On Finding Balance than any other blog I've read thus far--especially concerning balanced eating.

photo by JP Pagan

SvelteGourmand's desire is to provide a site where the balance of eating well and staying slim is accessible to anyone. Like this blog, they believe that a healthy lifestyle is a step-by-step (not leap-by-leap) process that anyone can find success in. They do not/will not promote binge or extreme dieting. In fact, their website even says:

Celery sticks and diet soda? Not here. At SvelteGourmand.com, we’re passionate about really good food—and how you can stay slim and healthy eating it.

Contrary to what some health and diet websites would have you believe, you really can have a hanger steak, sip a glass of Cabernet and even splurge on a cupcake while keeping the numbers on the scale in check. How do we know? Because we’re living proof that good and good-for-you can go hand in hand.

Eat well and live well: we’ll show you how. Pull up a chair, pour yourself a drink and prepared to be informed and inspired. Bon appetite.

Don't just take my word for it. Check out this interview where one of the founders of the site, Camille Noe Pagan, shares her heart and passion concerning this new venture.

I've already found myself engrossed in the entries on more than one occasion. Titles to tempt you include:

Not only do I feel empowered to enjoy the food I'm eating; I've also found this website to serve as a virtual support system where I can join with others and realize that I'm not alone. Plus, I find myself reading facts and information that I have heard before and being encouraged that I'm not the only one out there thinking this way. Please, stroll on over to SvelteGourmand.com and enjoy!


BPA Free!

I've known since my baby girl was born that BPA is bad, but I didn't really know how bad, or even why. I've learned since then, and today I found an article from Seventh Generation that sums it up pretty well.

To quote from the article:

"There don't seem to be many health problems it doesn't cause -- hormone disruption, chromosome and reproductive changes, low sperm counts, impaired brain function, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset diabetes, obesity, early puberty, cancer, and resistance to chemotherapy; you name it."

Remember, it's all about taking steps, not leaps, toward a better lifestyle. Step one, as mentioned in the article, stay away from canned foods that have high citrus content. That's doable. One step at a time. You can do it!


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . sterilizing pt. 3

The way that I found out about changing the alkalinity (also known as ionizing) water was through a water filtration system demo done at my home. I'm not one to just jump in and buy something because it promises to fix all the problems in my life. Neither am I one to start selling it to all my friends for the same reasons.

So, in my quest to find other ionizing techniques, I've run across some interesting videos about the ionizing filtration systems available right now. Here are a couple that compare the leading brands available today. Take a deep breath; the price tag is steep. But, as I research this more, my goal is to find out if there's a principle here that can be generated at home without paying thousands of dollars. For now, I don't have an answer to that theory. But I will keep you posted.

What you need to know before you view this video: The first video tests three filtration systems for a high pH (rather than a low pH--which I was talking about to use for sterilization techniques). This will just give you an idea of the range that the machines are capable of. The value of a high pH water is the level of antioxidant power the water has. We all have heard how good antioxidants are for you, so you can see the value in that already.

The next video warns of scams and unbelievable (not in a good way) stats that a water filter seller may try to sell you. Buyer beware!

**Please note, this is in no way meant to sell you a product. I've only seen one of these three filters demoed, and I'm not even going to mention which one it was. Nor do I own any of these systems. My goal is only to familiarize you with the practical value of varying the pH level of water. How I will do that in my own home is still up for debate. More to come.


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . sterilizing pt. 2 con't

Ok, to continue from yesterday...

If you can get water down to a pH level of 2.5, it turns into a natural sterilizer (it actually smells similar to a mild chlorine). This can be used on a range of things, but the clearest example I've seen is soaking vegetables.

If you soak cherry tomatoes in a cup of normal filtered water (I use a Pur filter) and a cup of 2.5 water for a few minutes...the water from the Pur filtered cup comes out murky, but the water from the 2.5 water comes out bright green! It pulls all of the pesticides off of the tomato, and it makes the tomato taste 10 times better. When I saw that, I about gagged. We're talking BRIGHT green water. Ewww!

Supposedly, you could soak a raw chicken filled with salmonella for a minute in 2.5 water, and it would be safe to eat. Imagine what you can do with your house, your food, your body if you had 2.5 water! Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

2.5 water instantly cleans bottles...even ones that set out overnight with milk inside and have a rotten smell--eliminating the need for boiling, microwaving, etc.

My next step is to test the water and how if there's anything left to pull off if I wash the veggies in Veggie Wash first, or if I soak the veggies overnight. I'd really like to see what comes off after I use my normal washing methods. I will keep you posted!


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . sterilizing pt. 2

First, a quick apology for missing last week's walkthrough. So sorry, but I've got some good stuff to make up for it.

I've had a couple of people ask me about safe alternatives to bleach and sterilizing. At first I was at a loss for what to say because I hadn't found any, but I've found something really interesting this week that may answer a lot of questions:

To begin, a little biology. I'm not a scientist, so this will be basic: The body must be ph-balanced or else it will die. Too much acid or too much alkalinity and, sorry charlie.

Japanese scientists have discovered a way to change the molecular structure of water so that you can control the acidity or alkalinity of the water. . .this means a lot of different things, but it particularly relates to cleaning. . .

. . .but you'll have to wait until tomorrow because it's too late to explain now. Hey, at least I got the start of the Wednesday walkthrough out on Wednesday, right?

more to come....................


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . sterilizing

Recently one of my friends posted as their status: "Are u kidding? @ the entrance of the super market. What a great idea, lets wipe our hands with TOXIC Clorox bleach!"

Her first comment underneath was "'TOXIC' that sounds slightly dramatic..."

But is it? Clorox bleach wipes have always made me leery for a couple of reasons:

1) You can smell them from far away (even if they're tightly sealed in their container), and when you smell them up close, you tend to cough and choke involuntarily because the fragrance is so strong.
2) The smell doesn't go away for a long time after you use them. If my body's natural reaction is to eject those smells out of my body, I take that as a warning sign that I should stay away.

With that said, let's take a stroll through your sanitation and sterilization procedures...this will be a two-part journey.

Today, Clorox wipes. . .and the other wipes offered for you to clean your grocery carts, your desks, your counters, etc. My first google of "Clorox wipes toxic" brought up this report about household cleaners. The fact that it was done in Europe (where the toxicity standards are a lot higher than America, hence their toys are safer for your kids) doesn't surprise me. The findings are startling. You can read the entire report here, or I'll bullet point some of the more alarming stats below:

* The report examined three leading products: Clorox wipes, Pledge, and Lysol Disinfecting Spray.
* When the VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) were tested (keep in mind that anything above 500 is concern especially to those with sensitivities), Pledge registered at 273 ppb, Clorox at 1,000 ppb, and Lysol was 1,200 parts per million which means it was 1,000 times stronger than Clorox wipes--and we're using this to spray and "clean" our children's toys and play area?!
* Testing is going on now to determine the effect of these compounds in the workplace, and preliminary studies show that pregnant women are not only putting their own bodies at risk but also their babies'. Current findings are linking exposure to these chemicals with affecting the vision of their developing babies. (Compounds absorbed in the mother's body is transfered to the baby via the umbilical cord.)
* Clorox wipes had two primary hazardous ingredients: dimethyl benzyl ammonia chloride and dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonia chloride--both are pesticides!
* Ingredients for Clorox wipes directly from their home page:

Isopropyl alcohol
Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride
Alkyl dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonium chloride
Alkyl polyglucoside
Disodium EDTA
Propylene glycol propyl ether
* Pledge doesn't list its ingredients, but one researcher found that some of the ingredients are sillicones, butane gas and propane.

I know at my local Whole Foods, they offer a wipe for cleaning off your shopping cart, but I haven't read the label yet to see what exactly I would be wiping on my cart. Please, do your research before trusting a label simply because it's on the shelf (and many think that therefore it must have been tested for safety).

There are many, many safe cleaning options to replace your Clorox wipes. This article has comprehensive list of cleaning solutions for all areas in your home. The daily green is also a good source for alternative solutions.

Which cleaners have you found that cause you to cough and choke if you get too close and inhale a little too deeply?


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . IOU

It's 10:30 p.m. I'm up way later than I should be, and I owe you a Wednesday Walkthrough. I have a lot of ideas floating around concerning what to talk about, but, alas, dear readers, I must sleep. Please know, you are not forgotten, and I promise to make good on my IOU.

Until then...


Wednesday Walkthrough. . .the sun

Today's a rainy day. . .alas, my hubby is hoping for even more rain than the few sprinkles we've already had, but let's take a moment and talk about the anti-rain, a.k.a. the sun. Toss aside your umbrella and search the clouds for rainbows when the sun peeks through to say hello. He's such a lovely friend, and he's good for so much more than just a good tan.

Fun fact about the sun: Did you know that when an eagle is sick, it will go to the highest point on a mountain, closest to the sun, sprawl its wings along the rocky ground, and just lie there and let the sun pull the sickness out of its body? It's true.

English nerd fact about the sun: When discussing the sun in technical terms (e.g. when referring to science), sun is capitalized. For example, straight from my Chicago Manual of Style, "Solar neutrino experiments provide unique information about the interior of the Sun." (You know I didn't write that sentence off the top of my head!)

Today's walkthrough fact: Sunlight is a natural bleach. It makes white clothes whiter and sterilizes and deodorizes more than just your tighty whiteys and your cloth diapers. Lately, I've been taking advantage of its natural purifying properties and using it for more than just my laundry:

1. Sterilizing toys. When friends' kids come over and slobber all over A's blocks, stuffed animals and the like, I leave them out on a blanket in the sun for a natural cleaning.

2. Sterilizing and deodorizing diaper pails. Again, a quick rinse and wipe with a clean cloth, then the bucket is set out in the sun for a nice sun bath and smells oh-so-fresh when it returns to its respectful place next to the changing table.

3. Cleaning animal dishes. Recently a friend came over and filled one of my plastic bowls with water for their dog. Before that bowl made it back to my kitchen, it took a long soak in the sun, then took a swim in my soapy sink.

What about you? What do you use the sun to clean?


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . You Tell Me

It's Thursday, I know. Wednesday must've knocked me out because this morning I woke up and realized it was already Thursday. Sorry this is late, but I thought I'd try something different today.

In the spirit of my fav blogger Nathan Bransford, let's do a "You Tell Me" day.

Let's take a walk through your wallet today. You tell me, what's your favorite way to save money while providing a safe environment for your family to live and thrive in?


Sippy Cup = Spill-All-Over-Me Cup

Help! My daughter has learned the finer art of using her sippy cup as an indoor milk sprinkler. Every time I turn around, she's spreading it over her carseat, her legs, her clothes, the couch, the floor, etc. etc.

She's still pretty young, so the harder spout sippy cups are a bit much for her to handle. And I hear that the straw sippy cups require one to be able to bite and suck at the same time. Is that true with all of them?

Anyone have any suggestions of sippy cups that really are leak proof?


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . your freezer

Because of my childhood spent in Michigan, the concept of an entire week of 100+ degree days
is, well, wilting. So when spring threatens to wind down and summer temperatures take up residence in my steamy backyard, I have to focus on the good to keep from curling up in my refrigerator and waiting for cooler days and Friday night football games to return. The one redeeming factor of Oklahoma summers (yep, there's only one) is the abundance of fresh produce for cheap prices. Farmers' markets (a recent trend in the Tulsa area), local produce stands and nearby farms have me almost giddy about summer again. This year, being a SAHM, I have had more time than usual to really explore and try all the different local produce stands to find my favorites. I've also had time to dream about fresh summer meals topped with yummy romantic toppings, like. . .arugula. That just sounds fresh and healthy, doesn't it?

While my fridge is brimming with organic raspberries (only $3 at Sam's!), blueberries (if only they were fresh-picked from MI, sigh), tomatoes, corn that melts in your mouth and cucumbers that beg to be crunched between my teeth, I am keenly aware that this bounty of fresh foods is only for a season and soon winter days will once again draw me toward comfort-food baked dishes begging for a least a hint of veggies in their thick batters.

So, why not bring summer to winter? There are certainly ways to stock up and hold on to the fresh all year long.

The first step is to invest in a bigger freezer. Right now we only have the stock freezer sitting atop our fridge, and since it is already filled with ready-to-grill-at-a-moment's-notice items, there is little room left for frozen veggies or fruits. I've noticed a reasonably priced external freezer available at Sam's, and I'm sure they're even more to find with a little hunting.

Step two: stock up. By a few extra ears of corn (or buy a dozen at a time at your local farmer's market), and when you're finished with dinner, throw the rest of the ears in boiling water for just a minute or two, then cool, shave the corn off with a big knife, and stock the remains in freezer bags. Don't forget to label and date the bags!

Sam's always has bigger-than-my-family-eats-in-one-week quantities of fruit, so take the leftovers, stick them in a freezer bag, and stash them away before they start to grow hairy.

Step three: Take up canning. I don't have any storage in my current house, so I'm saving this step for a bit later, but if you have the room, by all means, get to canning. In Michigan, we had a basement with a shelf reserved just for canned items. We canned beans, jams, pickles (my personal fav), and tomatoes. Other friends canned fruits and pie fillings. Yum, my mouth is watering. When I tackle canning, I'll blog about it. But until then, canned dill pickles will continue to haunt me in my dreams.

It doesn't have to be an entire day's worth of work to stock up. Start with buying a little more and freezing the leftovers. Come the crazy ice storms of January, you'll be glad you did.

ps. Thanks, Mom, for the inspiration :)


Northern Exposure

Wednesday Walkthrough . . . your beach bag

The recent trend in my Inbox right now is sunscreen. Lots of people are encouraging you to slather it on when you hit the beach or even when you just walk outside. So, let's take a stroll to your beach bag and pull out the lotion that called your name from the store shelves because of its high/low level of SPF, promise of organic matter, colorful and cute (or not-so-cute) label, or price tag.

If you're like me, there's a draw between two main factors: 1) Ingredients 2) Price. I'll buy the product that has the best ingredients with the most reasonable price tag. But what's really important when it comes to buying sunscreen?

According to the Enviornmental Working Group's 2009 Sunscreen Guide, just because the label promises a waterproof lotion with a high SPF rating, doesn't guarantee that it's the best sunscreen for you. The FDA standards that the sunscreen industry is abiding by are 31 years old. And even those out-of-date standards are not necessarily being followed by all companies. Your best bet for buying sunscreen is to follow the EWG's guide that tested hundreds of sunscreens, moisturizers and lip balms for actual-SPF-protection and ingredient toxicity. Here's their top 10 list:

1. Soleo Organics Sunscreen SPF 30+
2. Badger Sunscreen SPF 30
3. Purple Prairie Botanicals Sun Stuff, SPF 30
4. UV Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30+
5. Mexitan Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
6. Lavera Sunscreen Neutral, SPF 40
7. California Baby Sunscreen Lotion No Frangrance, SPF 30+ (I've found this at Target!)
8. MyChelle Sun Shield SPF 28
9. Little Forest Sunscreen Lotion for Babies and Kids, SPF 30+
10. Trukid Sunny Days Facestick Mineral Sunscreen UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum, SPF 30+

A couple of other thoughts before you slather your sunscreen on:

1. Why aren't babies under the age of six months allowed to wear sunscreen? There were so many things that I was told not to do/consume during pregnancy and nursing that I previously had had no idea could be potentially harmful to my growing baby. It got me thinking. . .if I shouldn't be doing this when I'm pregnant, should I ever be doing it? This thought still haunts me now and then.

2. A friend of mine has been fighting skin cancer. One of the first things her doctor told her when she was diagnosed, "Stop using sunscreen." Ironic, huh?

3. Large brimmed hats and oversized sunglasses are really popular right now, and rash gaurds for babies are in abundance. So, it's stylish to shade your skin. That's easy enough.

4. One thing you can inject (or rub on topically) is coconut oil. And the research says it not only moisturizes, but it prevents premature aging.

5. A tan is your skin's natural form of protection against the sun.

My personal sunscreen habits fluctuate around a few key principles:

1. Stay in the shade/wear a big hat and long sleeves as much as possible.

2. When I know I'll be in the sun for a long time (i.e. when I have been in this situation before and burned my skin), I'll grab an EWG-approved sunscreen and double it with a big hat.

3. Start the sunny season with short sessions in the sun to build a tan and naturally shield my skin from harmful UV's.

What have you learned about sunscreen that left you feeling more exposed than protected?


Happy Fourth of July! 
Take time today to remember the sacrifice so many men and women have selflessly given for the sake of our freedom. Thank you.


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . your medicine cabinet

In my (too) early morning stupor, this news story flashed across my TV screen: FDA Panel Urges Cuts in Acetaminophen Dosage. Recent research has linked high levels of acetaminophen (most commonly taken in the form of Tylenol) to acute liver failure. Despite the FDA's findings, they are not required to follow their own advice: "The FDA usually follows the panel's advice. A final decision by FDA is likely months away" (emphasis mine). It should be noted that the FDA found that people who take high dosages of acetaminophen or who mix it with something dangerous like alcohol are most likely to be affected.

While the mysteries of Michael Jackson's cause of death are still weighing heavily on many people's minds, the timing of this story is, well, interesting, to say the least. So, today let's take a stroll through your medicine cabinet, and perhaps, more importantly, your trained way of thinking. 

If you've been taught all your life to pop a painkiller when you get a fever and drink some cold medicine when you're feeling under the weather, take a moment and reconsider that advice. The human body is designed to self-heal, and something as seemingly inconvenient as a fever is not always something to fight. When you're body has a fever, it is because it was designed to heat up to kill bad bacteria. Of course, all of this needs to be considered in moderation. 

There are two main factors at work here:
1. The miraculous design of the body to self-heal 
2. Simple common sense

If your common sense is telling you that you're dealing with something serious, go see a doctor. But if you're dealing with something minor, think twice before popping a painkiller as a quick fix. Do your research and find out how much acetaminophen is in your OTC meds and choose carefully.


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . cloth diapers

Today I thought we'd take a stroll through my cloth diaper cleaning process. Recently I've discovered The Cloth Diaper Whisperer blog, and already I have learned so many valuable bits of information from her. One entry that I found most interesting was about her cloth diaper washing routine. It varies a lot from mine, but it sounds just as efficient. I've already started considering which parts I could adopt as part of my own routine to possibly make it more efficient.

My cloth diaper washing process begins at the changing table. I have two buckets with sealed lids. The buckets are 5-gallon buckets bought at Lowes which came in pink and yellow. The yellow bucket stands next to the changing table, and anytime A has a wet diaper, the pre-folds go in the bucket and the cover (Bummi Super Brites) sets on top so it can dry out and be re-used. If it's a poopy diaper, the whole thing is taken to the bathroom where I have the pink bucket set up. The pre-fold gets swooshed in the toilet and goes in the other pail while the non-soiled cover goes on top.

On wash day (about every other day), both buckets and all liners are dumped in the washer and run on a cold cycle (no detergent). Immediately after that, I run them on a hot cycle with a small amount of detergent (usually about half of what I would use for a normal load). Currently I just use the detergent I use for the rest of the family (Seventh Generation), but I am contemplating ordering some Charlie's Soap and seeing if I can notice a difference.

Once the diapers are washed. I either line dry them in the sun for a nice natural bleaching, or I throw them in the dryer (the covers always are line-dried) and dry them on Hot for a soft comfy feel.

The finished products are dumped in the top drawer of the changing table, and the process begins all over again. 

A couple of extra thoughts:

1. I do have some light stains that probably could've been avoided if I used flushable paper liners, but I really didn't want to add another monthly expense to the budget. This is one of the reasons I'm considering Charlie's Soap--I'd love for it to clean more thoroughly than Seventh Gen.

2. I recently purchased my first pocket diaper (SwaddleBees), and I LOVE it! It seems to be more stain-resistant just by nature of the material. Perhaps the material on my pre-folds is more absorbent.

3. I started with covers and pre-folds because I could register for them and they were cheaper overall. Now that I'm into the cloth diapering thing a lot more, I'm about to purchase a batch of one-size Bum Genius 3.0. If they are as efficent as the SwaddleBees, then I'm really excited to use them and have my work load become even easier. 

4. When the buckets start to smell, I just set them outside in the sun for a day while the washing and drying are going on, and the sun naturally bleaches them clean and fresh-smelling for me.

What's your cloth diaper cleaning routine? Please share what has worked and not worked for you.


Wednesday Walkthrough . . . your television

Suppose we were to stroll through your television schedule of the past...Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, Bugs Bunny, Popeye...ahh, stop right there. Popeye. We all remember his near failures to Bluto and the panic that gripped our hearts when we thought Olive Oil would be lost forever; and we all quietly (or not-so-quietly) chanted under our breaths, "Eat some spinach, eat some spinach" when the story hit its direst moment. Pause. Apply that to your own life. Well, don't wait until your direst moment; start now. "Eat some spinach."

I am continually amazed at how many good-for-you stuff is packed into those small green leaves, and it seems that every time I read another health article, spinach is the answer to most health problems...need antioxidants? Eat spinach. Need protein? Eat spinach. Need omega-3's? Eat spinach. Need iron? Eat spinach. When I was prego, I started to get a metallic taste in my mouth, and the doctor prescribed more iron. I wanted to stay away from red meats, but the nurse couldn't offer any other sources of iron besides a hearty steak. Of course, with a little research, I discovered that spinach was my answer.

Check out this chart and how many nutrients are included in one cup of boiled spinach (that's a lot of spinach since spinach shrinks so much when boiled).

Note the health benefits to just a few of those ingredients:

Vitamin K--aids in blood clotting. Babies are given a vitamin K shot within 24 hours of birth for this very reason. Nursing moms, think of a diet rich in spinach and what can be transferred to a baby via nursing. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that help treat osteoporosis and arthritis.

Vitamin C--it's not just in oranges. Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin C. It fights stroke, heart disease, contains antioxidants that build our immune systems, lowers blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels, protects colon cells from free radical damage, and the list goes on. 

Omega-3--known to help the brain and eyes. Especially great for pregnant and nursing women because omega-3's play a key role in helping with both the developing fetus and newborn. 

Protein--"Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood."--quoted from WebMD

Iron--Plain and simple, iron gives you (and your children) energy.

The list goes on and on. In general, (and this is strictly my non-professional opinion), when it doubt, if you are fighting any sort of health condition, eat spinach. You really can't go wrong loading your body up with this many good nutrients.

I get a huge container of organic baby spinach from Sams for about $4. It easily lasts me 1-2 weeks, and I'm always looking for new ways to incorporate it into my meals. Right now it's most commonly found in my scrambled eggs, chopped small and added as a topping on Mexican food, boiled and mixed in with any baby food, and, of course, the main ingredient in spinach salads. (Here's my favorite Oriental Chicken and Spinach Salad--I substitute the Equal with a healthier sweetener.)

How do you eat your spinach? Please comment and leave any favorite spinach recipes or suggestions for adding more to your diet.