Category Archives: Health

Holland in 2012

My street
My street

It was the day after my sister’s wedding when I boarded a plane for my first solo trip. This wasn’t the original plan. But life happened and I was no longer going to a wedding in Finland. Instead I decided to visit the country where my great-grandmother emigrated from._MG_9246 As usual, I didn’t have much planned after the first few days. Thanks to the sage advice of Rick Steves, I had a great room in Amsterdam. From this corner of the world, this old city began to feel like my own.

I rented a bike and rode all over town. I stayed a couple blocks away from where Anne Frank once hid through her adolescence. On my third day, I was flagged down while riding my bike and asked why I was alone. They had seen me coming and going over the past few days. I was a regular now.  We visited and kept in touch after I returned home. Traveling alone allows you to meet people and have conversations you otherwise never would._MG_9278

Martine was a beautiful lady I met on the train heading north to the islands. Her husband, a professor, had passed away a few years before. She loved to travel, but her friends would rather stay home. So she traveled the world alone. I loved talking to her._MG_9329

I had only a faint idea of my Dutch heritage. I knew my family were called Freislanders and that they came from the islands. Not knowing which one, I picked Terschelling and had a lovely time there. This was not a big tourist destination. It seemed mostly Dutch people traveled there for holiday, but not foreigners. I inquired about my relatives at the local museum on Terschelling, but the lady there told me instantly that they did not come from that island. She knew from the name._MG_9347 It was a small island. I traversed it on bike and saw some beautiful Dutch horses on the way. She gave me the name of a website which I looked up once I got home. From there I was able to find my relatives and trace them back hundreds of years from marriage license information.

IMG_2485 Some of my favorite books are the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In the “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, the group sails to the end of the world where the water gradually gets more and more shallow. This Wadden Sea went on endlessly shallow. A person could walk for ages and not get deeper than the knee.

The last town I visited was Delft, where the famous blue and white decorative ceramics are crafted. Here I had a fancy bathroom and a sound night’s sleep before returning home.IMG_2505

It was my first solo trip and a great, life-changing experience. I learned that I’m okay on my own. Even then I’m not alone.IMG_2481 IMG_2492

 

rAWWWW Nuts!

Looking for a nutritious snack option?

Since we have been eating healthier and removing pre-packaged, processed food from our pantry and our diet, we are in need of finding alternatives. Nuts in moderation are a fantastic option. Even better- Raw Nuts! The roasting process can trigger the release of harmful chemicals in some nuts, like acrylamide in roasted almonds. So it’s best to eat them raw.

health benefits of raw nuts
photo credit- Steffen Zahn, creative commons

Eating raw nuts can reduce your risk of developing serious chronic diseases. These little gems can reduce the risk of diabetes, lower blood pressure, lower weight, reduce waist circumference and increase heart health.

Will eating nuts make you fat?

It’s a myth that eating foods high in healthy fat will make you fatter. In fact, it’s better to eat nuts that things with more complex carbs. According to this study, people who ate a low-calorie diet that included almonds vs. complex carbs, the almond group had a:

  • 62 percent greater reduction in their weight/BMI
  • 50 percent greater reduction in waist circumference
  • 56 percent greater reduction in body fat

Another study in the journal Obesity also stated that eating nuts two or more times per week was associated with a reduced risk of weight gain.

Which nuts are best to eat?

Look for raw & organic nuts. Note: peanuts are not nuts, they are legumes. They’re also apparently one of the most pesticide laden things you can eat.

 Some of the best nuts for your health are:

Almonds: almond skins are rich in antioxidants, phenols and flavonoids which can help prevent cancer and promote healthy aging. (In North America, nearly all almonds are pasteurized even if they’re labeled raw.)

Walnuts: help get those free radicals and reduce the risk of prostate and breast cancers. For further reading, check this article out about how the FDA says walnuts, broccoli and some other foods should be labeled as a drug for their healing properties!

Pecans: With over 19 vitamins and minerals, these babies can lower bad cholesterol and promote healthy arteries.

Soaking nuts, especially walnuts, can make the flavor better. It can also increase the enzyme activity which increases your body’s ability to absorb their nutrients and digest them. Soak nuts from anywhere between 20 minutes to 2-3 hours, then discard the water. Even better, soak them overnight in glass, not plastic.

Some nuts are more suited to roasting than others. For example, the health benefits of cashews are not greatly reduced with roasting.

 My favorite place to get nuts, raw or roasted, is in the bulk bins at Sprouts. There are an abundance of choices. Try them all and see what you like best. My favorite is Macadamia Nuts! I pretend I’m in snacking in Hawaii whenever I grab a handful.

What’s Your Story

I took a road trip this weekend. I love road trips. The sun was shining. The music was blasting. The red and blue lights twinkled in my rear view mirror. Wait. That last part wasn’t so great. I’m convinced that the speed limit on the 5 should be no less than 100 mph. Since the California Bullet Train is at least a millenia from completion, please give us this little favor. How many times can a person traverse the vast expanse of the Dust Bowl actually going the speed limit? Nevertheless, I enjoyed my drive to not-so-sunny San Diego. In fact, the only sun I saw while attending the Storyline Conference at Point Loma was this beautiful sunset. If there’s only going to be 10 minutes of sun for the weekend, this is how I’d like to see it.

Sunset at Storyline Point Loma
Storyline at Point Loma

Palm fronds littered the streets and trees fell in the soggy ground and high winds. Meanwhile, I sat in an auditorium and listened to awesome speakers like Jon Acuff, Bob Goff, Donald Miller, Kristen Howerton and Anne Lamott. Also, this guy was here…

And this guy

The Storyline conference is to help people figure out how to live a more meaningful story. I discovered this group after reading several of Donald Miller’s books and then reading his storylineblog.com. We were encouraged to look at the different events in our life, both positive and negative. When we can find a redemptive purpose for our suffering, some meaning behind the negative things that happen, then it ceases to be suffering. “Joy is what you experience after the pain changes you” says Donald Miller. Bob Goff encouraged us all to Live in Grace and Walk in Love and also to see people for who they are turning into, their better, future selves.

When I look back at my life at the age of 75, what do I want it to look like? Instead of ending with regret at not having invested enough in important relationships or ignoring dreams, do this:

-Cultivate deep friendships
-Be Grateful
-Don’t ignore your dreams
-Project who you were created to be onto the world
-Keep work & relationships in balance

This list was made as a warning after a nurse listened to the 5 most common regrets of many elderly dying:

-They ignored their dreams
-The worked too much
-They didn’t say what they thought
-They wished they had made more friends
-They wished they had chosen to be happier

I love that happiness is a choice and it has to do with gratitude.

Storyline Sunset
What will you think of your life when you’re 75?

So, the conference was great. In addition to that, I got to visit with two dear friends. I stayed with one in Escondido. She has three beautiful kids whom she’s homeschooling. I played volleyball with both these girls in college and it was so fun to see them as moms. Tired moms. Are there any moms of young kids that actually have energy? Please, I’d love to hear from you. The second friend I visited on the way home has four boys. This is the girl who said she would never have kids. She’s an awesome mom, and also runs a school. On my drive down, I also got to pay a quick visit to two old surf buddies too. Kids were everywhere, mostly boys. In fact, of the 4 friends I saw, there were 9 boys, one girl, and one more boy being born as I type this.

As I drove into Palm Desert to visit my friend Deb, I was running low on gas. I was running low on oil. I needed to pee. 400 yards from my exit, the car started to sputter and cough. It coughed up the off ramp and through the stop light and into the gas station where it died. I had no power steering as I coasted to the pump. The timing could not have been more perfect. I filled what I needed to. I emptied what I needed to. I got to church almost on time. I got to see my dear friend and not get towed out of the desert. It was amazing. The sunset. The gas pump. The speeding ticket. The old friends. The weekend was a reset. It filled up my gas tank, and my oil, and relieved me. Okay, I’m taking that pit stop analogy a little too far.

If you want to learn more about Storyline, click here. You can also start planning your story on this cool site at mysubplot.com. It’s free.

Two Months in Review

It’s been two months since I first visited EWG.org and read about the different chemicals and carcinogens that are added to almost everything in our lives. Today I’d like to take a look at what changes we’ve made so far and how they’ve affected us.

My main motivations for changing to a more healthy, all-natural lifestyle are to try and reduce asthma and allergies suffered by my youngest son and me. I’ve been learning about how much disease in America is preventable with good diet and exercise. Cancer struck very close to home a few months ago too.

warning labelHow many times have we read a label that states that the product we are using in “known to cause cancer” and yet we go ahead and purchase and use it in our homes? How many products do we apply to our skin, our face, our clothes, our dishes, that are absorbed into our bodies that are harmful to us? I’m taking a more thorough look at the ingredient labels. I’m educating myself on what I’m purchasing. I hope to drastically reduce the amount of harmful toxins, chemicals and carcinogens that leech into our bodies.

This journey began two months ago, not long after I returned from the funeral of a dear friend and college volleyball teammate who died of breast cancer. She left behind a two year old daughter, a loving husband and many family and friends who just couldn’t believe that this vibrant, healthy, athletic young woman lost her life so early.

First, I made a list of every product I had in my bathroom. There were about 16 different things I’d put on before I even had my first cup of coffee in the morning between face soap, moisturizers, shampoo, make-up and the cleaners I had in there. I did this for each room in my home and came up with an extensive list of personal care and cleaning products.

Then, I looked up each product on the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, and Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. I wrote down the grades of each product from A to F, just like in school. Almost everything was an F, even the baby laundry detergent that I once bought for my newborns. I was shocked.  There is extensive information on what ingredients cause what harm and I focused closely on which things caused asthma.

After I learned what to avoid, I wrote down next to each of my old products a newer, healthier alternative to use. This has been an ongoing project. I’m still working my way through the list. I’m interested in making a healthier home. I’m also interested in being as frugal as possible. I didn’t just want to throw everything out. I returned unopened products to the store. This gave me about $85 to buy newer, healthier products. There are a great deal of household products that are simply and easily made out of cheap ingredients already in your pantry, namely baking soda, vinegar and honey.

So far, I’ve been using 7th Generation for my laundry and dishwasher and that’s working out nicely. I briefly returned to soap nuts for laundry, but was a little disappointed. I had one load that didn’t smell too fresh. I’ll give them another go down the road. I’m a little concerned about smelling okay since I’ve also changed my deodorant and gotten rid of most fragrance in our cleaners. I’ve asked a friend to let me know if I start smelling “crunchy”. Haha. But so far I’m okay.

I clean my sink with baking soda and vinegar now instead of my old abrasive cleaner and it works like a charm.  I made a solution of all-purpose cleaner and put it in the “GreenWorks” spray bottle. I was shocked to learn that “GreenWorks” got an “F” too! My new disinfecting spray is made of :

1/2 tsp castile soap
3 Tbs white vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda ( I haven’t found washing soda yet)
2 cups hot water

I use this to clean my counters, table, walls, bathrooms, etc. It works great. I’m not a huge fan of cleaning though and pretty much think of it as a complete waste of my time. However, I don’t like to live in filth, so I’m always reaching for that perfect balance: having a clean home and not spending time cleaning it. This is impossible of course, because I have three little boys. It’s like living with little tornados of grime & Legos. Cleaning is a losing battle, but at least it’s more healthy now.

I changed my make-up, moisturizer, face wash and deodorant. It’s working okay. I still have about the same amount of acne, but that might be caused by the change in my diet. I’m eating less processed foods and meat and much more veggies. I’m wondering if all the nuts and avocados I’ve recently been devouring is adding to my youthful looking skin. By “youthful” I mean acne like I’m still in high school. It’s never gone away. I’m getting by without prescription medication for it now. I was on that for the past few years. So it’s improved. I’d just like it to be gone completely. Same thing with allergies in the spring. They’re still there. We’ll see if they’re less severe this year. I just started my sneezing and itchy eye routine this week.

The houseplants I purchased weeks ago are (all but one) still alive. This is a miracle and I’m very pleased with this. I don’t have any way to measure how clean our air is. But supposedly the plants are cleaning it. Asthma does seem to be a little better around here, although both my son and I still need inhalers occasionally.

We’ve been eating much healthier. Unfortunately my sons are not quite as excited as I am about all the new vegetable recipes I’ve been finding. I keep hoping their taste will adjust and they’ll start loving cilantro, avocados, quinoa and sweet potatoes. I’ll just keep trying new things. I hate to admit how poorly I was cooking for them this past year. It was a difficult year personally and dinners suffered. There were plenty of nights when we ate pizza or chili mac and there was no veggie on the plate. Now there are mostly veggies on the plate with a little pasta or fish.

How about you dear reader? Have you made any new healthy choices recently. I’d love to hear about it.

Food for Better Health

There are a lot of different “experts” declaring what we should be eating these days. I’d like to eat things that make me more healthy, as opposed to less healthy. This seems all very simple and basic, but we’ve come a long way from real food in our culture. So it takes a bit of digging, a bit of education, a bit of research to figure out what I should be feeding my family.asparagus

I’ve read quite a few books on the subject of food. I get turned off by diet books because I’m not changing what I eat for the purpose of losing weight. I just want to put healthy things in my body and into my kids.

The Paleo diet is not for me. I’m sure it’s healthy, and maybe if I was more motivated to make drastic changes immediately I would do it. I’m looking to make sustainable changes for the long term. I still want to be able to order something at a restaurant occasionally. The Whole Thirty does a good job of explaining the Paleo diet if you want to look into that book.

I just started reading The Daniel Plan, by Rick Warren. The basic gist of that diet is to eat real food. I like that. Stuff your great-grandmother would recognize as food. Not the packaged, processed stuff we consume lately.  I’m also looking at the Mediterranean diet, which is also referred to sometimes as the Biblical diet. They all seem to be saying the same basic thing:

 Eat whole, real food- fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, eggs, beans, some lean beef and chicken. Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables.

When buying these fruits and veggies, it helps to know which of these are best for you. Look at the Glycemic Index, the nutritional value, etc. Then look at how it’s grown. Some fruits and veggies are grown with a lot more pesticides than others. How can you keep track of all this. Please, let’s just keep it simple!

The Environmental Working Group developed an app that makes one thing easier. Each year they list the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15”.  I can’t remember all of this and I’m not able to buy every single thing on my grocery list organic. So I downloaded this handy app that tells me which are the best foods to buy organic. This free app is called “Dirty Dozen” and it serves as a handy reference while cruising the produce aisle. For example: get your apples organic but it’s okay to get your pineapples and asparagus from the regular section.

There is an app like this for buying skin care and cosmetics too. It’s called “Skin Deep”. You can scan the item you’re contemplating purchasing and see how it rates health wise for you.

 

My Last Cup of Milk

I don’t know when it happened. It may have been a few months ago, or maybe it’s even been a couple years. Obviously the impact hasn’t been that life changing for me. I’m talking about the last cup of milk that I drank. This is surprising considering that only a few years before, when I was pregnant and breast feeding, I was drinking up to two gallons each week, just me. It slowly tapered off. First I drank less as the kids drank more. Then I tried buying organic milk for awhile. Since that is quadruple the cost, we drank even less. Then the pediatrician suggested we try cutting out dairy when my youngest son was diagnosed with asthma. He said it in a kind of shruggy-far-out-suggestion-long-shot type of way it seemed to me. Kind of like… “You could try moving to Zimbabwe for a year and see if that helps”. That’s how it sounded when he said: “You could try cutting dairy out of your diet.” It sounded outlandish and impossible and unpromising. So we just cut back on milk a little more. My kids drink water with meals. It’s been this way for a while. I have coffee with breakfast, wine with dinner, smoothies for breakfast or lunch, and lots and lots of water.

Gallons of Milk
Courtesy of www.bluewaikiki.com

Basically, the only time milk has been getting used in our home the last year or so is to add to breakfast cereal and coffee, pancake mix and French toast. So when I bought a carton of Almond milk a couple weeks ago and poured it in my kid’s cereal, they didn’t say a word. I mentioned it after breakfast and there was no riot. They all tried drinking a glass of the new found stuff. 2 kids liked, one kid didn’t, but that’s the one that didn’t like milk anyway. I won’t guzzle it like I used to guzzle milk, but it’s a pretty good flavor. I get the original unsweetened kind. Unfortunately 2 of the 3 almond milk labels I’ve read had quite a few ingredients that looked preservative-y. I haven’t gone so far as to memorize all the ingredients I’m supposed to stay away from these days. But the “Silk” brand seems to be the healthiest I’ve found so far.

Apparently it’s not hard to make the stuff at home. Here is a recipe:

Rich and Creamy Homemade Almond Milk from The Nourishing Gourmet

2 cups of almonds
Water to cover
salt, optional
4 cups of water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
Sweetener of choice, optional

1) Place almonds in a bowl and cover with warm water. Add a few dashes of salt, optional. (Soaking nuts and seeds in salted water is a traditional practice). Soak at room temperature for about 8 hours. Drain the almonds and rinse well.
2) Place the almonds with 4 cups of water in a blender. If you have a smaller sized blender like me, you may need to do this in two batches. Blend for about 1 minutes, or until the almonds are crushed well. Strain using a nut milk bag or cheesecloth, squeeze well to remove all of the milk.
3) Add sweetener of choice (such as stevia, honey, or maple syrup) to taste (optional) and vanilla (optional). Keep refrigerated and shake before using.

Tips:
You can cut the almonds in half for less rich almond milk (cheaper too).
You can also make a variety of baked goods from the nut grounds leftover. Look at Elana’s nut crackers for an example.

So, why no more milk? Reading up on the subject, one begins to see this is hot topic. People become passionate about it. I’m just trying to make healthier choices for my family, a little more each day. Here is what I’ve found:

According to the Harvard Medical School “When most people in the United States think of calcium, they immediately think of milk. But should this be so? Milk is actually only one of many sources of calcium—dark leafy green vegetables and some types of legumes are among the other sources—and there are some important reasons why milk may not be the best source for everyone.”

These reasons include:
lactose intolerance
high cholesterol
-saturated fat
-possible increase in risk of ovarian cancer. “Women with high intakes of lactose—equivalent to that found in 3 cups of milk per day—had a modestly higher risk of ovarian cancer, compared to women with the lowest lactose intakes”. This is possibly due to modern industrial milk production practices.
-Probable increased risk of of prostate cancer

Further reading on this subject revealed more about dairy industry practices. Most milk is produced on large dairy farms which are more like factories. Cows are given hormones to boost production, impregnated to boost production, fed antibiotics for this like mastitis. 55% of the antibiotics in the U.S. are fed to livestock. The average dairy cow produces 120 pounds of waste each day. That’s a lot of yucky stuff soaking into the water supply- nitrogen, methane.

It’s even been suggested that cow’s milk may increase your risk of osteoporosis! “Here’s how it happens. Like all animal protein, milk acidifies the body pH which in turn triggers a biological correction. You see, calcium is an excellent acid neutralizer and the biggest storage of calcium in the body is – you guessed it… in the bones. So the very same calcium that our bones need to stay strong is utilized to neutralize the acidifying effect of milk. Once calcium is pulled out of the bones, it leaves the body via the urine, so that the surprising net result after this is an actual calcium deficit.” According to Vivien Goldschmidt at saveourbones.com . Perhaps this is why the rate of osteoporosis is much lower or non-existent in countries that do not consume much in the way of dairy products.

Amy Lanou Ph.D., nutrition director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., states that:

“The countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are the ones where people drink the most milk and have the most calcium in their diets. The connection between calcium consumption and bone health is actually very weak, and the connection between dairy consumption and bone health is almost nonexistent.”

Other good sources of Calcium include dark leafy greens like kale, collards, dried beans and legumes as well as broccoli. This makes sense of course. Cows don’t drink milk to get calcium for all of their strong bones. They eat greens.

Harvard’s updated “Healthy Plate” may be used instead of the USDA’s food pyramid. Dairy is very limited on it. It seems the Dairy Council was not consulted on this.

Healthy Plate

Further reading:
http://www.collective-evolution.com/2011/12/15/the-dairy-myth-milk-does-a-body-good/

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/calcium-and-milk/

Milk Letter

Asthma and Milk

Houseplants for clean air

Golden PothosIn an effort to breathe cleaner air and rid our lives of asthma and allergies, I recently put little houseplants in each room of my house. After two weeks, they are all still alive. Well, almost all. There is one in my office not looking too good, but I think it might pull through.

Did you know that NASA has done studies on which plants clean indoor air the best? How else are you going to keep a nice space station living space? These plants take carcinogens and other harmful toxins out of the air you’re breathing at home. I think that’s spectacular. Over the years, I’ve tried having a couple flowering plants inside. They don’t last long. Apparently they need sunlight and fresh air. There is a good list of plants that will survive inside, even in some low light situations with only occasional watering. This is great for me.

 I paid attention to how much light each plant would need and planned which room to put it in accordingly. The living room is my darkest room, so it got the snake plant, which also needs the least amount of attention in regards to regular watering. So I have high hopes for that.

Ivy

 There are plenty of websites that list various plants and their benefits. Here is a short list of what I found and have managed to keep alive so far:

Aloe Vera– It cleans formaldehyde from the air in addition to being a great natural remedy for burns and scrapes.

Baby Rubber Plant– It purifies & cleans formaldehyde and other toxins from the air by giving off high oxygen content.

English Ivy– “It’s known for removing the chemical benzene, a known carcinogen found in cigarette smoke, detergents, pesticides, and the off-gassing of other synthetic materials, is said to be fantastic for asthma and allergies and also removes formaldehyde” According to sustainablebabysteps.com. The allergies and asthma are my main reasons for making these changes. I’m still looking for this one. Until I find it, I got a different kind of ivy for the bedrooms.

Gerbera DaisyGerbera Daisy– According to NASA, this beautiful flower removes benzene which is a known carcinogen (causes cancer). In addition, it absorbs carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen. This beauty sits on my kitchen window sill and makes me happy. It needs bright light.

Golden Pothos– This is one of the top 3 types of houseplants that effectively remove formaldehyde according to NASA. It also increases general indoor air quality and removes carbon monoxide.

Snake Plant– NASA found this hearty plant to absorb toxins like nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde. It tolerates low light levels and irregular watering which is just perfect for my living room.

Please see the more comprehensive list with photos found on sustainablebabysteps.com for more info on each plant.

Three of the main household chemicals causing trouble for us are benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. These chemicals are carcinogens and they’re off-gassed from synthetic materials in your home. So having these plants clean up to 90% of these chemicals from your air in just 24 hours could decrease your risk of cancers, asthma, allergies, auto-immune disorders etc. That’s what I’m hoping for. Every little thing helps. Plus they look nice.

How to Sprout Lentils

Sprout your own sprouts!

These are so yummy and delicious. You won’t believe how easy it is to do. Mung Bean Sprouts

When I’d seen “sprouts” on a deli sandwich or sold at the grocery store, I think they’ve always been alfalfa sprouts. I never liked these much. But sprouts are super healthy, packed with way more vitamins and nutrients than just eating the thing un-sprouted…like lentil soup, whole wheat grain vs. sprouted wheat, etc.

Healthy enzyme, proteins, fiber, vitamin and essential fatty acid content increase dramatically during the sprouting process which takes a couple days on your counter top. Get a super boost of vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E.
As I type this, I’m enjoying a small bowl of mung bean sprouts with Italian dressing. It’s a fantastic healthy snack. Ready to learn how?

Red Lentil Sprouts1. Begin with a mason jar and the outer ring of the lid so the top can stay open.
2. Fill jar up less than 25% with your little red lentils, or whatever your grain/bean of choice is. They will nearly triple in size.
3. Fill the entire jar with water.  Cut out a square of cheesecloth and cover the top of the jar, screwing the lid ring over it to hold it in place. (Don’t put an airtight lid on.)
4. Allow beans to soak for 12 hours, (overnight) then…
5. Drain water & rinse thoroughly!  When rinsing, fill the jar, swirl water around beans vigorously and several times before draining. Drain thoroughly. Do all this with the cheesecloth still covering the top so water drains out and beans stay in.
6. Leave drained bean on the counter out of direct sunlight and repeat rinsing process 2-3 times daily.
7. When sprouts are desired length, spread them on a paper towel to dry, then refrigerate in airtight container.

Tah Dah!!

When you’re done, you can eat them plain, add them to a salad or use them however your would use unsprouted lentils. You’ll just get way more good, healthy stuff this time.

Read more here

Vegetable Garden- Seed Catalog

I just got 10 new packets of seeds in the mail. It’s more exciting than it sounds. There is so much potential in those little envelopes, unknown flavors or healthy veggies that I’ve never tasted. There is such a deep sense of accomplishment and reward plucking home grown veggies from my garden and tasting how much more flavorful, fresh and vitamin packed these home grown varieties are compared with what can be purchased at the store.Planting Seeds

I first started growing vegetables 11 years ago. I started with seeds and they almost all died. I didn’t know anything about what I was doing. So for my next attempt, I bought the seedlings and that worked out fairly well. Apparently you have to pay attention to things like when certain vegetables can grow and where in the world, what kind of soil they do well in, etc.

Now that I have more experience under my belt, I’ve started growing more veggies from seed. Part of the reason it’s so exciting is because I’m not just getting the hybrid packets from my local big box store. I pour over the seed catalog from my favorite heirloom seed company. There are dozens and dozens of varieties to choose from all with helpful descriptions about flavor, yield, the history of the particular kind of tomato or bean or melon. They come from all over the world. These seeds are alive and have a history all their own. I think this year I’ll make an attempt at saving my own. You can do that with these seeds. You’re not allowed to save many seeds these days. Large corporations are suing farmers for saving their seeds after they’ve been contaminated by their GMO products. The world is going crazy. I’ll try to stay sane in my little backyard garden and grow what I can to eat.

Have you ever tasted the difference between a home grown cucumber or tomato compared to the grocery store? I just didn’t think I liked them until I grew my own. After that, I was hooked.

For my veggie patch, I use something called the “Square Foot Gardening” method. I have four 4×8 raised beds with special square foot garden soil. This consists of one third each of peat moss, vermiculite & compost. There is no dirt in it. The soil is nutrient rich, light and airy and it retains moisture well. Weeds are a snap to pull out and there aren’t any besides what blows in from other parts of the yard. There are no rows, just 1 foot squares with vegetables packed in. A guy named Mel Bartholomew, a retired engineer, developed a different way of growing veggies which requires less seeds, less weeding and more vegetables in a smaller area. It works great for me. I’m excited to get started on this year’s planting.

I buy my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company at rareseeds.com.

Soap Nuts for Laundry

Soap nuts
Photo courtesy of Victoria @ greenideareviews.com

Apparently the laundry detergent that I’ve been using has some problems. Some of the chemicals in it are known to cause asthma and respiratory problems. Like this:

SODIUM BORATE
High Concern: developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects; Some Concern: skin irritation/allergies/damage, respiratory effects

And this:

ETHANOLAMINE
Moderate Concern: respiratory effects, general systemic/organ effects; Some Concern: chronic aquatic toxicity, nervous system effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage

…and a long list of others.

It got an “F” on the EWG’s healthy cleaning guide. So I’m going back to my soap nuts. These fantastic little round nuts clean my laundry just fine. There are no added perfumes or hazardous, cancerous, toxic chemicals added to them. They grow on trees, contain Saponin, and clean my clothes. Saponin is “an effective, hypoallergenic, biodegradable organic cleaning agent that ends our reliance on sulfates, synthetic chemicals and other toxins” according to Naturoli.com, which is where I bought mine.

I first tried these about 6 years ago when I still had two kids in diapers. I started using regular detergent again because they were not getting the smell out of my little guy’s urine soaked footie pajamas. That was a tough smell to get out. We don’t have that problem anymore. I’ve started using the soap nuts again for the past two weeks and the laundry all looks and smells nice and fresh, but not perfumed. Thank goodness for potty training!

Soap nuts are super easy to use. If you buy them from Naturoli, they come with a little canvas drawstring bag. You put 5 soap nut berries in there, pull the strings tight and place them in the washing machine. They need to be replaced after 4-5 loads. That’s it.
There is a good review and more info on Soap nuts here.