Sunday, December 29, 2013

Card Table Fort: India Theme

Front entrance to the Indian themed fort
I bought yellow polyester felt by the yard from JoAnn Fabrics to fit my card table.  I measured from the floor, up to the table, across the table, and then back down to the floor again on the parallel side.  I then measured the length from the horizontal side of the table's edge down to the floor, and multiplied it by two to figure out how much fabric I needed for the fort.  The rolls of felt were on sale for around 30% off so the total cost of the fabric ended up being around $9.

Peacock

I then bought their individual squares of polyester felt in various shades to make my peacock, curtains, (the door was made from the extra fabric leftover from the ocean fort), bougainvillea, plumeria, jasmine bush, foliage, house plants and faucet, mynah bird, koyal bird, parrot, lotus, pond, cow, elephant and lizard.  I ended up spending a few more dollars for these squares, so the total cost of the fort was under $13. 

Side of the fort: A garden with holy basil, cilantro and curry leaf, and a koyal bird in a tree.
I used a Sharpie Stained fabric pen to write the Marathi names of the plants in the garden on the pots.
Koyal
 I cut the length of the horizontal sides off the length of fabric I had and then cut that in half, one for each horizontal side.  I sewed the sides onto the sides of the center of the remaining fabric so that they would fall to the sides of the table and all four sides would be covered.

Back of the fort with bougainvillea, and a cow and elephant. 

Side of fort.  Plumeria tree, parrot at a pond with a lotus, mynah bird and a lizard.
Lizard
Mynah and Parrot

I cut slits for entrances and rectangular windows out and then added all my Indian animals and the landscape.  My son and his friends love to play in this fort and the ocean themed fort.

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.  Coming up in January, posts on how to decrease your exposure to phthalates, information on green toiletries and sleep products, DIY air fresheners, an EC tutorial (elimination communication), and some more felt crafts.




Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Reusable Gift Wrap and Gift Bags


You can repurpose old clothes into reusable gift wrap and bags.

If you don't want to sew anything, just stick with the gift wrap.  Cut the sleeves and upper part of the chest off of a top.  I used an old Indian outfit from the early '90s that I had no use for, so it is a big piece of "gift wrap."  But you can do the same with an old shirt as well and use it for smaller presents.

The easiest way to use an old shirt as environmentally friendly, reusable gift wrap, is to just wrap it around a gift and use ribbon to hold it in place.

With my Indian outfit, I turned it inside out and sewed one end shut so it is like a big bag.  You can see the left side of the fabric has been sewn shut in the picture below.  This makes wrapping a little easier and cleaner looking.

 For the gift bags, I cut off parts of the sleeves and pants with one horizontal cut through each leg or arm of the outfit.  
This way two sides of the bag, (the left and right sides), are already sewn together and the end, (which becomes the mouth of the bag), is also already finished.  

Taller gift bags made from pant legs



Smaller gift bags made from sleeves

Then all I had to do was:
1.) turn the bag inside out and sew the bottom closed
2.) fold a strip of the fabric and sew it into the handle
3.) attach the handle to the bag
4.) turn the bag inside out and it was done!





Friday, December 20, 2013

Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to PBDEs


What PBDEs are: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, some of the world's most commonly used flame retardants, that are extremely similar to PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, chemicals that were banned in 2001 after decades of environmental disasters and health hazzards that led to the destruction of contaminated cattle, pigs, chickens, human illness and death across the world.  Although banned for several years now, traces of PCBs can still be found in humans today because their environmental contamination was so widespread.  According to the book, Slow Death By Rubber Duck, PBDEs are sometimes referred to as the new PCBs.

  • There are three types of PBDEs, Octa, Deca and Penta.
Where PBDEs can be found: Rugs, electronics, sofas, mattresses, carpet padding, pajamas.  Because they easily leach out of the products they are in, they are found in wildlife, bodies of water, and throughout the environment now.

The health effects:

1.) Thyroid hormone disruption
2.) Animal studies have found PBDEs linked to tumor growth and cancers
3.) Animal studies have also found links between PBDEs and problems with brain development.
4.) According to the EWG, "Scientists have found that exposure to minute doses of toxic fire retardants at critical points in development can damage reproductive systems and cause deficits in motor skills, hearing, learning, memory and behavior."

Unlike PCBs, the authors of Slow Death By Rubber Duck point out that the bromine industry hasn't been asked to change because PBDE poisoning is slower than its chemical cousin, and "no one has yet been able to produce a dead body linked to PBDE poisoning."  Mattresses treated with PBDEs were actually banned in the state of Washington and Maine but unfortunately the rest of the country has yet to catch up.  The authors also state that it doesn't help that the bromine industry is also fighting harder to keep PBDEs on the market than the industry did for PCBs years ago.

How to decrease your exposure:

1.) Children's Pajamas: although they aren't clearly labeled either way before the age of 12 months, you're more likely to get pajamas without PBDEs if you stick with 100% cotton for babies.  Over the age of 12 months, I only purchase pajamas with the yellow warning label pictured above, which states the garment is NOT flame resistant and must be worn tight-fitting.  Although almost all synthetic sleepware is treated with flame retardants, (this includes all those fleece pajamas that are commonly available in winter), several cotton pajamas are as well, especially in bigger sizes.  If you're making pajamas from fabric purchased at a fabric store, you will find that most of the material intended for pajamas there have also been treated with a flame retardant.

2.) I look for mattresses that are are naturally flame retardant because of their composition.  For cribs and toddler mattresses, Naturepedic is a wonderful company.  They do not use any chemical flame retardants, their mattresses are stuffed with cotton, and if they have a waterproof barrier they are PFOA free as well, (see the bottom of the post for my previous article on decreasing your family's exposure to PFOAs).  Naturepedic also makes mattresses in larger sizes like twin, full, etc.  It is a pricey mattress but if your child is spending most of their night sleeping on a crib mattress or toddler mattress or a twin mattress, it might be worth it to some people to consider investing in one.  The best deal I could find on a Naturepedic crib/toddler bed mattress was at Buy Buy Baby, when you use their 20% off coupon.  Unlike Babies R Us, Buy Buy Baby has the mattress in store so you don't have to pay shipping if you have a store nearby and can pick it up in person.

  • Naturepedic recently started a lower-cost line of mattresses called Lullaby Earth.  Made of food-grade polyethylene foam (not vinyl/polyurethane or PVC)instead of cotton, these mattresses are free of harmful flame retardants and PFOAs.
  • In Australia and New Zealand, many parents practice mattress-wrapping, after a researcher hypothesized that there was a correlation between SIDS and babies breathing in toxins from flame retardants and other chemicals in their mattresses.  You can read more about that here and here.

3.) For adult mattresses, if Naturepedic isn't your thing, you can purchase new mattresses made by Simmons, Ikea, Sealy, and others which claim to not have the most harmful flame retardants in them, although they do not reveal what they use instead as a flame retardant.  Unfortunately, very few mattress store employees are aware of the chemical composition of the mattresses they sell, and most have never heard of PBDEs so your safest bet is to do your research before heading out to purchase a new mattress.  Newer furniture is more likely to be PBDE-free so if you need an excuse to replace decades-old mattresses lying around your house, here it is.

4.) Vacuum and Dust your house often.  PBDEs aren't chemically bound to the products they are in and easily breakdown into household dust and pollute the environment.  With children and pets spending so much time on the floor, frequent cleaning is an easy way to decrease their exposure.  Vacuums with HEPA filters can be more helpful in reducing PBDE dust.

5.)  Seal upholstery tears.

6.) Electronics: according to Slow Death By Rubber Duck, Sony, Philips, Panasonic and Samsung are all PBDE free, while Apple is reducing PBDEs in their computers.

Check with companies if you're unsure.  Snoogle, makers of my favorite pregnancy pillow, state they do not use PBDEs in their production, and you can find other makers of sleep products and electronics that avoid flame retardants as well.

Further reading:

1.) Information on Flammability Regulation from the Chicago Tribune.
2.) Mother Jones on Chemical Mattresses
3.) Information on Deca-BDEs
4.) The New York Times on Less Toxic Mattresses
5.) A Mattress Buying Guide
6.) Toxipedia on PBDEs
7.) The EWG's Guide to Reducing your PBDE Exposure
8.) Information from the LA Times on how the California requirement has led to high levels of PBDE in Californians
9.) The Chicago Tribune's Watchdog Investigation Series on Flame Retardants
10.) The EWG on Children and Toxins
11.) And of course, Slow Death By Rubber Duck, an invaluable resource in decreasing toxins in your life.

Previous Wading Through Soup Posts on Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to Toxins:
1.) PFOAs
2.) BPA
3.) Triclosan

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.
You can see more of my writing on my Amazon Author Page and the Huffington Post.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fox Bag



I made a mini fox bag for a relative who loves What Does the Fox Say?

Materials:

  • An old shirt with a collar
  • Wool felt scraps
  • Polyester Felt
  • Fabric Marker
  • Needle and thread


1.) Cut out a piece of an old collared shirt.  You can see the collar at the top of the picture.  That will be your flap for the bag.

2.) Fold the lower half of the shirt up to form your bag.

3.) Sew the left and right sides of the bag inside out.






4.) Turn the bag right-side-out.







5.) Sew the fox face onto one side of the bag.  I used wool felt and a running stitch.  I used a Sharpie Stained fabric marker to draw the pupils on the eyes.





6.) Optional: sew What Does The Fox Say onto the flap.  I used an old scrap of polyester felt and wrote the words on it with fabric marker.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Card Table Fort: Ocean

The front of the fort with a mermaid, merman, octopus and snail.

1.) To make the ocean themed fort, I bought blue polyester felt by the yard from JoAnn Fabrics to fit my card table.  

  • I measured from the floor, up to my table, across the table, and then back down to the floor again on the parallel side.  
  • I then measured the length from the horizontal side of the table's edge down to the floor, and multiplied it by two to figure out how much fabric I needed for the two sides of the fort.  
  • The rolls of felt were on sale for around 30% off so the total cost of the fabric ended up being around $9.

2.) I bought individual squares of polyester felt in various shades to make my fish, shark, octopus, mermaid, merman, treasure chest, algae, seaweed, bubbles, snails, shells, crab, oyster, pearl and electric eel.  I ended up spending a few more dollars for these squares, so the total cost of the fort was under $13.  These squares come on sale for 4 for $1 at JoAnn's so my cost would have been even less except that when I bought them they were 33 cents each.

3.)  I cut the length of the horizontal sides off the total length of fabric I had, and then cut that in half, one for each horizontal side.  






4.) I sewed the two horizontal sides onto the sides of the center of the remaining fabric so that they would fall to the left and right side of the table, and all four sides would be covered.

5.) I cut slits for entrances and circular windows out and then added all my ocean creatures and the landscape.




The view from inside the fort.
Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.
Coming up in the next three weeks: reusable gift wrap and gift bags, a mini Fox bag for kids, my second card table fort, which has an Indian theme, how to decrease your family's exposure to PBDEs, and some more homemade toys.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

You've Got Mail: DIY Mailbox, Mailbag and Postcards

 I made a mailbox, mailbag and three postcards in less than 30 minutes for my son.

MATERIALS:
1.) One or two old shirts.  I used men's shirts for this project.
2.) A fabric ribbon
3.) An empty tissue box
4.) A brad
5.) A piece of cardboard
6.) A red crayon
7.) Optional: wool felt, felt, and/or fabric scraps

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE MAILBOX
1.) Cut a small piece of cardboard out from an old box in the shape of a mailbox flag and color it red with a crayon.
2.) Poke a brad through the cardboard and into an old tissue box.  Your mailbox is done!

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE MAILBAG
1.) Start by cutting the sleeve off an old shirt.
2.) Cut off a little bit of a collar, (seen at the top of the picture), off from the same shirt you took the sleeve from or another if you want the flap on the bag to have contrasting color/pattern.  The total length of the collar needed will be about half of the size of the sleeve, (or an inch smaller than the cuff of the sleeve), as seen above.  Make sure you cut a few inches below the collar as well, so that some of the shirt (green in this picture), is also there.
3.) Sew the sleeve shut at the cut-side of the sleeve, (not the cuff), by turning it inside out, pinching the two ends together and sewing it, sealing your bag.
4.) Turn the sleeve back so that it is right-side-out again.  Since the cuff is already finished, simply sew the collar to one side of the sleeve cuff by sewing the extra fabric of the collar to the sleeve, (in my example, that means sewing the all-green part of the collar piece to one side of the cuff)
5.) Sew your ribbon to the two top corners of the sleeve.  I repurposed the ribbon that held together a pack of cloth napkins from Bed Bath and Beyond for my bag.  
6.) Optional: Cut out the word "MAIL" out of felt and sew it to the front of your bag.  Depending on the color of your bag, you could also just write it on there with a Sharpie Stained Fabric Marker.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE POSTCARDS
1.) Using old fabric scraps, wool felt, polyester felt or other bits of the shirt you cut up for the mailbag, cut out a few rectangles to make into your postcards.
2.) Cut stamps out.  They can be as simple as plain rectangles or you can sew shapes, letters, or patterns onto them.
3.) Sew your stamps to your postcards and you're all set!
4.) Optional: you could write on the postcards with fabric markers or embroider names on them if you'd like.  I chose to leave mine blank.  You can just as easily make postcards out of index cards or scrap paper if sewing isn't your thing.




Sunday, December 8, 2013

My Son Wears Pink


I hope you’re sitting down for this.  My son wears pink.

I know.  It’s shocking and upsetting and goes against the norms of society.  It’s going to change his sexuality, transform his personality, and mutate his very essence.

A bit extreme?  Sure.  But I’ve actually been told all of the above, if not in those exact words. 

It seems like occasionally dressing my son in pink has the power to instantly turn some people into judgmental Dowagers, in a real-life version of Downton Abbey.  But even the Dowager, herself, probably wouldn’t have batted an eye at my son wearing pink because her own son most likely wore a gown as a baby.  A gown.  As in another word for a dress.

In fact, just a few generations ago the colors assigned to genders were reversed.  Blue was seen as dainty and gentle, while pink was strong and manly.  Yet somehow, in the 2000s, young, modern parents have been totally brainwashed by the fact that blue is for boys and pink is for girls.

At my baby shower three people told me I should be worried that the pink burp cloths I registered for would lead to gender confusion in my male baby.  First of all, he’s spitting up on the burp cloths, secondly, there is no way a color can alter a person’s sexuality one way or the other.

What are the lessons we are teaching our kids with this mindless uniformity?  If you are a girl you are an object of beauty and must aspire to be a princess, (something that actually only a few royal women and those married into royal families can be in real life).  You must only dress as a handful of cartoon princesses at Halloween and the rest of the time your clothes must be an acceptable color, like pink or purple, and if they are frilly with flowers and hearts on them, you get bonus points for properly representing your gender.  If you are a boy, you must aspire to be the most macho, masculine, manly-man alive.  You can only express yourself via monsters, footballs, robots, dump trucks and toy weapons.  If you have a sensitive side, quash it now.  (Although I guarantee that when some of you grow up and marry those former child princesses, they’re going to demand some sensitivity out of you).  And perhaps worst of all, if you stray from the norm, you will be ridiculed and judged, regardless of the fact that innovation, invention, and creativity all come from thinking outside the box and being a little different.

Our role as parents is to show our children the world and let them interpret it.  Kids should be exposed to every color possible without some preconceived notions being attached to them.  My son plays with his pink wooden stove every day.  It’s a blinding, bright pink and he loves it, and I bought it to take a stand and show the world that it doesn’t matter what color toy a child plays with.  Okay, in totally honesty, I really bought it because it was ten dollars cheaper than the red stove.  But my son does have several pink shirts, sweaters, sleepsacks, pajamas, stuffed animals, bibs, and blankets too, much to the chagrin of modern society.

Toymakers and the infant clothing industry must love this century’s rigid gender stereotypes.  Parents clamor to buy new clothes and toys for their second kids, despite already having perfectly good options at home.  God forbid their baby daughter uses a hand-me-down blue onesie from her brother, or their little boy plays with a pink cash register.

It has gotten so bad, someone had to actually invent GoldieBlox to let parents know their princesses had brains and might like using a skill set that didn’t involve parading around in puffy pink dresses.  When I was a little girl my female friends and I all built elaborate and imaginative structures out of Legos.  They were blue (gasp!), red, yellow, and green and no one accused us of having any sort of gender confusion.  But however absurd the situation is that has led to their creation, I am still happy GoldieBlox are around and that their ad went viral.  Hopefully it will change a few minds this holiday season and remind parents that girls love to build and explore and invent as much as they like to comb a pretty toy pony’s hair.

After all, in order to truly experience different things and build their personalities, every boy should be allowed to play with dolls and every girl should get to play with trucks.  (Newsflash for all you parents intent on raising macho men who can only wear manly clothes with angry dinosaurs on them, your child probably played with dolls and so did you: G.I. Joe is just another name for a doll). 

So let’s start the new year off right, as responsible parents who are open-minded, and let’s change this backwards, prudish way of thinking.  Put your boys in pink and your girls in blue.  Take their picture and make it your new profile picture.  Begin changing minds subtly and start a movement to create an accepting environment that fosters independent thinking, sparks creativity and leads to unique, sensitive, strong, intelligent children, whether they’re boys or girls. 

And go get your son a pink toy.  Even if it isn’t ten dollars cheaper than its “male” counterpart, I promise it will be worth it.


See this post on the Huffington Post here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Booger Fairy - Free e-Book!


The Kindle version of my children's book, The Booger Fairy, is free Saturday, 12/7/2013, (starting at midnight, PST), through Wednesday, 12/11/2013!
If you don't have a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle app to read the book on your computer, phone or tablet here.
(If you prefer a hard copy, the book is available in paperback too but, unfortunately, that version isn't free).

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to Triclosan


What is Triclosan?  Triclosan is an antibacterial agent.

Where Triclosan can be found:

1.) Handsoaps
2.) Body Soaps
3.) Antibacterial products, found in most classrooms, workplaces, store shopping cart wipes, and hand sanitizers, like the ones used in children's play lounges.
4.) The inner lining of garden hoses
5.) Other toiletries: mouthwashes and toothpastes like Colgate Total, facial cleansers, shaving gels, toothbrushes and deoderant.
6.) Kitchenware like antibacterial cutting boards or other products with labels like "odor-fighting" or microfiber cloths with microban in them.
7.) Toys
8.) Dishwashing Detergent
9.) Clothing, like shoes and socks, that contain Microban

The health effects of Triclosan:

1.) Early childhood exposure influences immune system development and thus has been associated with an increased level of childhood allergies.
2.) It contributes to the development of antibiotic resistant germs.
3.) Animal studies have shown it to be a hormone disruptor.
 
How to decrease your exposure to Triclosan:

1.) Talk to your children's daycares and schools about eliminating triclosan from their soaps and antibacterial products.  I often worry about this Triclosan Generation we are creating and the rampant germophobia that has sprouted from the overuse of antibacterials.  It is good to remind ourselves that germs are not all bad and can help develop children's immune systems for the better.
2.) I carry my own triclosan free hand soap (Method Free and Clear or Seventh Generation's Unscented soaps are both free of Triclosan, as are their scented soaps) in a small travel container in my diaper bag or purse.  It is a bit extreme but when I'm pregnant and have to use public bathrooms frequently, I want to ensure I'm not constantly absorbing triclosan into my system and exposing the fetus to it.  It's also an easy way to decrease your children's exposure to triclosan, even if you do get some weird looks.  At home, you can also make your own foaming soap using Dr. Bronner's Pure Castille Soaps (I will be posting the tutorial on Thursday).  They come in several fragrances, scented only with natural essential oils, and they have an unscented Baby option too, or you can use a Triclosan-free children's hand soap like California Baby, (although this product does contain Sodium Benzoate, which some people choose to avoid).  The FDA is reviewing the safety of triclosan currently and has found no evidence that its use cleans hands better than regular soap and water.  A University of Michigan study came to the same conclusion, finding that "soaps with triclosan were no more effective at preventing illness or reducing bacteria on the hands than plain soap."  Kaiser Permanente even removed Triclosan from its 37 hospitals and switched to soap and alcohol based sanitizers instead.
3.) Use a less toxic toothpaste like Tom's of Maine or Jack N Jill for kids (which is a zero toxin product), or make sure the commercial brand toothpaste you use doesn't list triclosan in its active or inactive ingredients.  Find triclosan-free alternatives for other toiletries.  Dr. Bronner's is an all-natural toiletry brand, and less toxic brands like Burt's Bees, Desert Essence, Jason, Method and Seventh Generation are all great alternatives as well.
4.) Use natural or non-toxic toys like the ones made by PlanToys or Haba.
5.) Read the labels on your kitchenware carefully to ensure it is free of antibacterials.
6.) Switch to a more natural dish soap like Seventh Generation.
 
Further reading:

1.) Johns Hopkins on the association between triclosan and childhood allergies.
2.) The FDA on triclosan.
3.) Slow Death By Rubber Duck dedicates an entire chapter to triclosan
4.) EWG urges a ban on the non-medical use of triclosan
5.) More on the FDA and Triclosan in soaps

Previous Posts on Decreasing Your Exposure to Toxins:
1.) Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to BPA
2.) Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to PFOAs

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.  As mentioned above, this Thursday I will be posting a recipe for an easy DIY foaming soap.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Felt Ram



1) Using 100% wool felt from Weir Crafts, (other polyester blend or eco-felts usually tear over time), cut out the following pieces:

2) Using black thread doubled, sew two eyes and a mouth onto the front of the face, and red for the tikka.
3) The blue and red pieces are all in duplicate.  Sew the blue pairs together using a blanket or whip stitch.
4) Sew the red pants together using a blanket or whip stitch and attach the feet at the points at the bottom of the pants.
5) Use a running stitch to attach the hair to the back of the blue head and yellow sash over Ram's shoulder and you're all done!

There will be new felt tutorials posted each month, including the rest of the Ramayan set, (Lakshman, Hanuman, Sita and Ravan).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Is Morning Sickness Contagious?

Yummy?

Chances are if you’ve had a baby, you’ve experienced the perks of pregnancy: glowing skin, being able to eat whatever you want, heightened nail growth, thick, shiny hair, and barfing your brains out. 

Morning sickness, feeling nauseated and/or vomiting, affects the majority of pregnant women at some point in their pregnancy.  But as those who have experienced morning sickness at its worst can attest to, it isn’t just “morning” sickness.  It can be an all-day, and sometimes all-night sickness that leaves you feeling weak, hungry, inadequate, exhausted, frustrated, sad and angry all at once.  (Yes, my husband is a lucky guy).

With my first pregnancy, I threw up for thirteen weeks.  I’m now 29 weeks into my second pregnancy, and I've been throwing up almost every day since I was five weeks pregnant.  While now I just feel nauseous briefly before being sick, and am only sick a few times a week, there were weeks when I was always nauseous and puked up to 14 times a day.

It got so bad, my 19-month-old can now imitate me, complete with a horrible gagging sound, any time someone says “throw up,” “puke,” “hurl,” or “barf” in passing conversation.  I guess I should be excited that these 25 weeks of upchuck hell have expanded his vocabulary and led to a strong understanding of synonyms but I've been too miserable to appreciate anything.

I've thrown up water, had to race out of grocery stores because just the sight of produce made me violently ill, and projectile vomited with the mere mention of no-no foods like green beans.  For a few months, someone else had to feed my son his meals because the thought of oatmeal or lentils or quinoa made me sick.  In hindsight, why didn't I just feed him ice cream and fries, the only foods that didn't make me nauseous, even though they never stayed in me more than ten minutes?  Since the sickness started, I have yet to have been able to brush my teeth at night without gagging.  And it’s not just me.  My friends have thrown up on themselves while driving, one poor friend got to experience the joy of a bowel movement while vomiting, and another friend’s grandmother threw up decades ago in her pregnancies just by looking at the puke colored paint in her neighbor’s living room. 

That's right.  The color of someone's wall made her vomit.

If you've experienced morning sickness you know the triggers aren't bound by logic.  But what I find even stranger is that while you’re the one throwing up, your sickness can induce a bizarre verbal vomiting in others, where advice and assumptions spew out of their mouths like bile, without any warning.

I've had strangers advise me to take medications that didn't help me last time, or to eat or drink certain things, when just the mention of those foods made me ill.  When I would tell them that I throw up when I eat apples or crackers or yogurt or whatever else was the cure-all of the day, they would look at me utterly confused, as if I had just asked them to explain what the God Particle was, (side note: I do need someone to explain what the God Particle is but since particle physics might inexplicably make me hurl, maybe we should wait until after I have had this baby).

I've had friends assume I was lying about the severity of the sickness to get out of social events and others who thought I was faking it altogether.

And worst of all, I've been told that I would stop throwing up if I just thought positively, and told myself I wasn't going to be sick.  After all, my advisers would remind me, I can do anything I set my mind to.  Lucky for them I really can’t do anything I set my mind to because these gratuitous recommendations leave me wanting to barf.  On the people dishing out the advice.

Normally, I’m all for the power of positive thinking.  I believe it can help with childbirth, overcoming adversity, and achieving physical feats.  But while I believe in the power of positive thinking, I’m also positive it cannot help in this situation.  And the very suggestion is rather offensive.  No one would dare tell someone who was constantly running to the bathroom with food poisoning that if he just told himself he wasn't going to have explosive diarrhea he wouldn't.  Yet with pregnancy it seems easy for everyone to praise the power of positive thinking. 

These mantras are offensive because they imply that I somehow enjoy having jagged peanut crumbles come out of my nose, burning my sinuses as I’m doubled over throwing up the homemade vegetable pad Thai I spent an hour cooking while holding my breath.  Or that I could stop it somehow.  I’m all for positive thoughts but I can tell you they just don’t help in this situation.

Yes, I get that most of this verbal vomit comes from a good place, that people are just concerned and want me to feel better.  And lest you think I left out the word “bitter” in my list of sickness-induced adjectives, I've been lucky enough to have wonderful friends and family members, male and female, who have and have not had children, who understand what I am going through with no explanations needed.  They offer their sympathy, support and help and without them I’d probably be lying in a pool of puke.

Pregnancy is a steppingstone to parenthood so I guess I should just take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt, be it a family member, friend, or the old lady grabbing my belly at the gym.  (Okay, in line for ice cream.  I haven’t been to the gym in weeks).  Perhaps this is a way to prep mothers for the thick skin needed to deal with all the unwanted advice they will get when the baby arrives.  So I’ll start doing my part, and try not to let other people’s words get to me.  I just wish others could do their part and keep their comments to themselves.

There isn't an easy explanation to this sickness.  Maybe it is hormones, maybe it is the heightened sense of smell, maybe it is stress, maybe it is a combination of all three or something different altogether.  No matter what the cause of the nausea and vomiting, I guarantee it isn't something a pregnant person is doing wrong that leads to it.

So here’s the deal for all you folks suffering from the not-so-silent disease of verbal vomit.  Whether or not you have a uterus, or have had a child, or have had food poisoning, the next time a pregnant woman tells you how sick she is, stop the cycle of vomit and just tell her you’re sorry.  Be a peach and offer her some sympathy, not your judgment, and definitely don’t tell her she can psych her way out of this.

Oh God.  A peach.  Excuse me as I go narf.  I think my son is about to learn another synonym…

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Non-Toxic Baby Toys

Haba Baby Toys

My two favorite brands for non-toxic, responsibly made toys are PlanToys and Haba.

Haba wooden toys are made in Germany and follow strict European standards. PlanToys are made responsibly in Thailand out of the wood of rubber trees that no longer yield latex and are going to be cut down. Like Haba, they use strict standards to ensure they are non-toxic and several of their toys are actually dyed with plant and mineral dyes rather than man-made colors.
Haba Hippo Car

The Haba Magica Rattle was a hit in our family, although it isn't really a rattle that makes sounds.  The vibrantly colored balls make a great clutching toy for a baby though and it can be moved into different shapes.  The Toot Toot rattle makes a little more noise than the Magica Rattle and its colors and shapes occupy a baby nicely.
The Cro-ak Clutching toy makes a fun sound for babies when shaken, as do the Max Stroller Clutching Toy and the other Haba clutching toys with bodies made out of wooden discs.
Haba's Baby's First Blocks are great beginner blocks.  Our son liked to chew on them when he was a baby so we would just remove them from him when he did that.  They may be non-toxic but I still didn't want him accidentally biting off a piece of the blocks.  They do have corners that you should watch out for when your child first starts walking because if they fall on the blocks they could get hurt.

Haba Baby's First Blocks
PlanToys makes wonderful toys for babies and older children.  I will cover more of them in future posts but one of my son's favorite toys when he was younger was their solid wood drum.  We removed the stick that comes with the drum and only gave it to him when he was old enough to not put it in his mouth or hurt himself in another way with it.  The drum still makes noise without it and he had a great time hitting it with his hands and seeing the different toned sounds he could make by hitting the drum in different spots.

Both brands are easily available on sites like yoyo.com, amazon.com, and Zulily (a couple times a year).  I always compare prices and look for deals.  Zulily can have incredible deals on large scale play items from PlanToys like their kitchen pieces, despite the fact that you have to pay for shipping.  Amazon often drops the prices on their toys when they are running low on stock.  Yoyo has sales on PlanToys several times a year and first time customers can save 20% off their entire order, up to $20 off, so you can also compare what the price would be if you bought several toys at once in your first order with them.

miYim makes several adorable soft stuffed toys for children out of organic cotton, (although the stuffing isn't organic cotton).  Among our family's favorites are a musical pull toy owl, a musical pull toy elephant, baby sized monkey and elephant stuffed animals, caterpillar and bee stroller toys that jingle, and toys in the shapes of produce that make a dull rattling sound when shaken.  They are made in China and are not totally organic but they are soft and the pull toys' music sounds like a gentle wind-up music box rather than a noisy electronic toy.  You can find great deals on these toys at Amazon.

Aminals Brand stuffed toys are made out of 100% unbleached organic cotton.  The toys are based off of children's drawings and are dyed with vegetable dyes.  The toys are even fully compostable once they've lived their life and are too battered to donate.  These are larger toys though and are too big and heavy for younger babies. 

Check back for more wooden toy recommendations for push and pull toys, play kitchen sets, blocks, doll houses, toys that involve shapes and puzzles, toys that help develop fine motor skills and more.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Organic Mint Plant

Growing your own organic mint plant is easy and a great way to teach kids about parts of a plant, and how a plant grows.

1.) Instead of buying a mint plant, take a stem from an organic mint bunch that you can purchase in the produce section of grocery stores.
2.) Put the stem in a jar of water.
3.) Change the water daily.
4.) In 2-3 weeks you will start to see roots forming.
5.) Wait until the roots are each an inch or longer and then pot your plant.  Mint is very fast-growing and can take over garden beds like a weed so potting is best.  Potting it separately also helps to keep your plant organic, keeping it away from the pesticides and herbicides most people use in their garden* and it makes it easier for your mint plant to survive indoors in winter.  I make sure my plastic pots are a safe plastic (#5, 4, 2, or 1), and use organic soil to retain the organic quality of the plant.


*There will be more information on why and how to avoid herbicides and pesticides in your garden in an upcoming post.  New posts every Monday and Thursday.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to BPA



What is BPA?  Bisphenol A is an endocrine disruptor found in polycarbonates and resins and unfortunately is in the majority of Americans' blood due to its prevalence in our environment.

Where BPA be found:  Toys, laptops, phones, CDs, DVDs, eyeglasses, water bottles, canned food, (including canned drink like soft drinks and beer), dental fillings, canning jar lids, small appliances, plastic wrap and sandwich bags, take-out containers, plastic items with a #7 recycling code, some plastic items with a #3 recycling code, and receipts just to name a few items.

The health effects of BPA: BPA is a very alarming chemical in that just low, active doses of it can cause so much harm.  Here are just some of the numerous health hazards associated with this chemical:
1.) BPA mimics estrogen and has been linked to breast cancer and several other cancers.
2.) Early puberty.
3.) Obesity and insulin resistance.
4.) Heart Disease
5.) Reproductive issues like lower sperm count, enlarged prostate glands, and chromosomal abnormalities in eggs.

How to decrease your exposure to BPA:  BPA is found in many items in the modern world.  Since you can't control what goes on outside your home, the best way to limit your exposure is to eliminate it as much as possible in your own home.  Here are some ways to start:
1.) Call the companies for the plastic toys and food storage items you do own.  BPA awareness is a fairly recent occurrence so chances are high that those old plastic containers and old plastic cutting boards you have at home are made with BPA and are leaching the chemical into food stored or prepared in or on them.  When you use a plastic cutting board, there are bound to be shavings that adhere to whatever you are cutting.  Switch to wooden cutting boards to eliminate this issue.  Replace plastic food storage containers with glass.  Pyrex is a great glass option, with plastic lids that are BPA free.  I use them to store our food in the fridge and they come in smaller sizes which are great for refrigerating baby food as well.
2.) While some canned drink makers are in the process of eliminating BPA from their linings, it is safest to buy your beer, juices and soft drinks in bottles.
3.) Avoid canned food.  This is not difficult to do.  It just takes a little more time to boil tomatoes into a puree or soak beans and lentils overnight before cooking them in a pot (or save more time with a pressure cooker).  It is worth the extra effort to reduce BPA exposure.  If you absolutely must use a can, Eden Foods, is one of the only canned food makers in America that does not use BPA in its lining.  You can read more about them here.
4.) Look for BPA-free alternatives.  There are now BPA-free canning jars, blenders, and food processors.  And if they are BPA-free they generally announce it all over their packaging so it is not difficult to find. See the Soft Landing's post for more information.
5.) Only buy non-toxic toys for kids.  It is fairly easy, especially for younger children and babies, to completely avoid plastic toys.  Two great, non-toxic wooden toy makers are PlanToys and Haba.  Both are easily found on Amazon, yoyo.com, and Zulily, in addition to several other local specialty toy stores and online retailers.  If you want plastic toys, check with the manufacturer and websites like SafeMama.com to find BPA free options.  Step2 makes several large scale play items like slides and cars that are BPA free.  They print their recycling codes right on the toys so you can check out what they're made of before you purchase the items.
6.) Following the same tactics as listed above, ensure that your children's serveware and bottles are BPA free.  Stainless steel is a great replacement for plastic plates and cups for kids.
7.) Use unlined, BPA-free, stainless steel water bottles that are responsibly made like Klean Kanteens, available on Amazon, instead of polycarbonate bottles.
8.) There are usually several news stories each year around the holidays about how BPA can seep into your system just by handling receipts.  While you sometimes need to handle receipts, on those ocassions where you don't need one, just inform the cashier and skip handling the receipt.
9.) When possible, only use safe plastics.  Check the recycling codes underneath the disposable serveware and silverware used in restaurants and at home.  This easy to remember rhyme, stated in the book, Slow Death By Rubber Duck, can help you avoid BPA and phthalates: "4, 5, 1 and 2; all the rest are bad for you."
10.) Never heat plastic, including cling wrap and those microwaveable splatter shields.  And remember, just running BPA containing plastic in the dishwasher heats it.
11.) Use cloth bags instead of plastic, or if your reusable bag is made from plastic, make sure it is one of the safer plastics.  If you need to use plastic wrap or disposable plastic sandwich bags, use brands like Ziploc and SaranWrap, which are free of BPA.
12.) Use BPA free toothbrushes for your children, such as ones made by MAM.


Further Reading:
1.) Slow Death By Rubber Duck
2.) The NRDC's fact sheet on BPA.
3.) EWG's list of endocrine disruptors.

Previous Articles on Avoiding Toxins:
1.) Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to PFOAs

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.  Up next in the series on Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to Toxins: Triclosan, at the end of November.  And in the upcoming months there will be posts on decreasing your exposure to Herbicides, Phthalates, RBST, GMOs and PBDEs.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Non-toxic/Less-toxic Infant and Child Feeding Supplies

Cloth Napkins

Bibs-- Mimi the Sardine bibs are organic cotton from Europe, coated with acryllic and guaranteed free of BPA, phthalates, and other chemicals.  When our son was younger we would keep one in the diaper bag and then rotate the others at feedings.  We would just handwash them in the sink after each meal and hang them on the towel rack to dry.  They come in a variety of patterns and prices, all easily available on Amazon.

Placemats-- Mimi the Sardine makes placemats that match the bib designs, and can also be found online at retailers like Amazon.  Like the bibs, they are organic cotton with a food grade acryllic coating on top serving as the stain resistant coating.  We rinse them in the sink after every meal and they're usually dry in a couple hours.

Napkins-- You can make your own cotton napkins to reuse and pick patterns out for the different seasons and holidays.  If sewing isn't for you, you can find great deals on 100% cotton napkins in Bed Bath and Beyond's clearance center.  I got two 8 pack cotton napkins in a variety of vibrant colors on separate occassions.  They were $5 on clearance, which made them $4 plus tax with the 20% off coupon, making each napkin a little more than 50 cents each.  They are easy to wash in the laundry machine and cut down on the wastage of paper products.
Plates-- When my son was younger I would serve his food in pyrex glass bowls or stainless steel bowls.  You aren't suposed to heat plastic so I never had any plasticware for him because I didn't want to serve hot food in plastic either.  I never let him handle the glass bowls.  I currently just use stainless steel plates and bowls for my child now that he is handling the dishes and can throw them.  You can buy plates with sections built in that make meals a little more interesting for older children as they finish off what's in each compartment. 
Cups--For cups, I use small stainless steel cups from India and Klean Kanteen cups.  The taller Kanteen cups are too large for a small child to drink out of himself but my son has no problems feeding himself water from the smaller cups.  Klean Kanteen makes fantastic 12oz stainless steel bottles that are responsibly made in China and guaranteed to be free of BPA, Phthalates and lead.  I never leave home without one and my son easily drinks from them at restaurants instead of wasting a plastic child's cup.  We never used a sippy cup but Klean Kanteen has BPA free sippy cup adaptor tops that fit on the 12 oz bottles.  You can buy a regular cap to use the bottle as a regular water bottle when your child is older too.  Unlike plastic and aluminum bottles which can leach products into your water, Klean Kanteens are just made of food grade stainless steel and they don't have any coating like other stainless steel bottles so to me, that makes them well worth the price.
Silverware--We just use stainless steel silverware but when our son first started eating solids at 6.5 months we used the Playtex Toddler Spoon and Fork set.  The handles are pink plastic that is BPA free but the actual spoon and fork are stainless steel.  When he was a little older we used the Oxo Tot Forks and Spoons, which are BPA, Phthalate and PVC free.
Tablecloths and chair covers-- When my son was old enough to sit at his table and chair, I just used old towels to cover the white IKEA table and chairs and protect them from stains.  They easily wash and do a great job serving as a barrier between spills and the furniture.  I made chair covers for the backs of the chairs out of old t-shirts.  Look for a tutorial on those in the upcoming months on Wading Through Soup.  New posts every Monday and Thursday.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Repurposing Old Wedding Invitations

Instead of throwing out those old wedding invitations that pile in the mail in summer, I repurpose them into new cards, cutting up old cards, gift wrap, and magazines into new designs.


Tips:

1.) Pay attention to weight. You don’t want to make your cards too heavy and end up paying more than standard postage for them. I bought a box of A2 envelopes and keep all my cards small enough to fit in there. The size limitation helps limit the card’s weight as well.

2.) I try to use as much of the original card as possible. You can break apart envelopes and remove the decorative lining. And in cards with a lot of writing on them, you can always cut around the words to get nice borders.


3.) I glue cards together, written side facing in, to get a blank surface to work on. Occasionally this isn’t possible so I use cardstock instead.

4.) If you’re reusing the thinner invitations that feel pulpy, Elmer’s glue will show through most of them, and sometimes soak through the thin paper too.










Check back next week for information on how to decrease your exposure to BPA and for non-toxic baby and child feeding products.  New posts every Monday and Thursday.