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.


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.
 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.
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?


  • 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.

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

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!

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.

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.