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.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Green Baby Toiletries


I use the following products on my child.  They are all either totally natural or very close to it.  They are all free of animal testing and animal products and contain no phthalates, unlike several of their more commonly available competitors.

1.) Shampoo and Bath Soap: California Baby Calendula Shampoo and Body Wash (8.5 fl. oz.).  This is a gentle soap and despite the price, to me, it is worth it to avoid toxins.  A little of this product goes a long way, as it doesn't take much to create a lot of suds.  If you have more than one child, California Baby has a few different scented shampoo/soap combinations available in larger 17.5 fl. oz. sizes as well.  This product is easily available at stores like Target, Babies R Us, and Buy Buy Baby, as well as at online retailers.

Since some people are concerned with the addition of sodium benzoate as a preservative to this product, a good alternative is Earth Mama Angel Baby's body wash/shampoo.  This is a zero toxin certified product.  For more information on why even natural products need preservatives, check out Earth Mama Angel Baby's blog article on it here.

2.) Cream: California Baby Calendula Cream.  I find this cream to work very well on my son, especially in dryer, winter months.  The 4oz size is cheaper than the 2oz size but is a bit harder to find in stores.  I have found the best price on this cream at Target, when it is on sale, or at Vitacost.com

3.) Eczema Cream: California Baby Eczema Cream.  This is one of the few California Baby products with allergens in it, the allergen in this case being organic colloidal oatmeal, so I waited until my son had eaten oatmeal before applying this cream to his skin.  While it never cured his mild eczema that he had on his arms during winter, it did contain it and prevent it from getting worse.  This is a pricey cream but it is on sale every so often at Target.

4.) Toothpaste: Jack N' Jill Toothpaste is a natural toothpaste for children that is certified to have zero toxins.  It is an Australian company whose products weren't available in the United States until recently.  We buy their two-pack Strawberry flavored toothpaste at Amazon because, well, it is the cheapest of the flavors and the two-pack is less expensive than buying the tubes individually.

5.) Handsoap: California Baby Moisturizing Handwash Calendula.  This is free of Triclosan, phthalates and other toxins.  It is a bit pricey so you might want to spend some time showing your child how much soap to take since the pump can release quite a bit if you're not careful.  I buy mine at Vitacost.

Again, this product now has sodium benzoate in it.  If that is an ingredient you are looking to avoid, you can always make your own foaming soap using Dr. Bronner's Baby Castille soap, water, and an old foaming soap dispenser.  I prefer to use a less toxic company's foaming soap bottle, like Method, rather than the more conventional ones whose soaps have triclosan in them.  I will be posting a detailed tutorial on making your own foaming soap in the upcoming months.

6.) Coconut Oil: If you want to use coconut oil on your child but are looking for a less toxic one, I prefer Trader Joe's organic coconut oil, which comes in a glass jar.  Costco also carries a much larger size of organic coconut oil in a plastic container for less.  As an Indian American, putting coconut oil on my child is a part of my tradition but I started to doubt the Indian coconut oils that were available here a few years ago, since there is no way to know what, if any, pesticides are used on the coconuts, or what the type of plastic is that the oils are packaged in, (and whether or not they're BPA or Phthalate free), since there are no recycling codes indicated on the bottom.  I have also seen a couple ayurvedic Indian coconut oil brands that have EDTA and other chemicals in them.  I just find it easier to buy organic coconut oil from Trader Joe's or Costco, where I can easily read the recycling code on plastic containers to know if it is safe or not, and the ingredients only list "organic coconut oil" and nothing else.

Click here for my post on non-toxic and less-toxic toiletries for adults.

There will be new posts every Monday and Thursday.  Check back in for more non-toxic product lists for sleep, feedings, summer, toys, adults, children's clothing, and more in the coming months.