Monday, November 14, 2011

Sunday Morning Pancakes

A few years ago my hubby decided to start a Sunday morning tradition of making pancakes. My thought at the time was, "Really? Like, every Sunday?" I was still begging for every possible moment of sleep I could get and this sounded like more work than a bowl of Cheerios (recall: Cheerios don't have BHT).

So it began. But, come to figure out it's not so bad! You can make a big batch and freeze them for the week and when the boys want pancakes during the week: 2 minutes later, they are on the plate! Bottom line: homemade pancakes (not from a box) any day of the week. Note: to my knowledge I've never had pancakes from a box, but I'm guessing these are way better!

Buttermilk Pancakes (I normally triple the recipe)
1 C flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
dash of salt (roughly 1/4 teaspoon)
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1 C buttermilk (you can mix 1 Tbsp lemon juice with 1 C milk & let sit 5 min if you don't have buttermilk). Sometimes I add a little more buttermilk to get the right consistency.

Put the griddle on the stove over low heat (so it's nice & warm when you're ready). Mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the wet ingredients & mix. Add a little oil to the griddle & put batter on. Flip when middle starts to bubble.

Variation: Banana-pecan: Mash a very ripe banana & add with wet ingredients (do a 1/2 banana if you're only doing one batch) and add chopped pecans at the end. I also throw in chocolate chips at the end (often I just toss a few to each of their pancakes after they are on the griddle) for the boys. They love them!

When you freeze: put a small piece of wax paper between each of them & place in a big Ziploc.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hedge Apples...they do have a purpose & it involves bugs!

My mom recently told me about a friend who collects hedge apples every fall, takes them to Oklahoma & sells them. What? Why? She claims there are a bunch of Oklahomans who believe these things are spider-deterants so they put them in their basements. To clarify: hedge apples are those large lime-green balls that look like brains and fall out of large trees. I'm extremely thankful I've never been hit on the head by one!

A few weeks after hearing this story, I took my kids to the botanical garden to take Christmas pictures. And what just-so-happens to be on the ground that my kids decide to turn into a toy while mom tortures them taking pictures? Yes, hedge apples! In my later efforts to distract them from a melt-down I tell them what their granny told me about hedge apples getting rid of spiders. So they insist on bringing these things home & putting them in the basement.

About our basement...I've done some things to make it fun & slightly inviting if you're into riding bikes, crawling around in tent-tunnels or working-out (for me & the hubby), but it is officially unfinished & we get lots of bugs down there. Mostly rolly-pollies, crickets and a few spiders. If I don't sweep every couple weeks there will be dozens or hundreds (depending on the time of year) of dead rolly-pollies down there. Gross!

They put 2 hedge apples down there about 3 weeks ago & I swear I haven't seen a live bug since! There are maybe a handful of dead rolly-pollies, but as big as our basement is you have to go searching for them (as I did). I'm finding this truly unbelievable! For a girl constantly on the look-out for chemical-free ways to get rid of bugs, can it really be this easy? The hubby insists that the weather has gotten colder & this is the reason the bugs are gone, but really there have only been a few random cold days so far this fall. I think he's just a skeptic. Time will tell! I'm just wondering when the hedge-apple anti-bug super-power will wear off or when they will start to rot. I wonder if you can freeze them & get a new one out when you need it? If anyone from Oklahoma is reading this, please share the secret & shame on you for not telling the rest of us about this sooner!!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Witches Hats: a costume or a snack?

Today was the kindergarten Halloween party! I signed up for snacks thinking I could provide some cheese or pretzels or something (read: I am short on time & I want something easy). The party coordinator mom had a different idea. Suddenly the snack turned into: "come up with one snack they assemble and eat and one they assemble & take home." Really? So much for easy! 
For the snack the kids assemble & eat I made witches hats that the kids could decorate. I briefly saw a picture of this in a magazine at someone else's house & thought it looked really cute. Unfortunately I couldn't find it online (or instructions on how to do it) so I was on my own. I was looking for chocolate covered graham crackers to work as the base, or bottom of the hat and chocolate covered sugar cones that I could turn upside-down as the top part of the hat. A little frosting to make them connect & there you have it!
I finally found chocolate covered graham crackers that were large enough. I really shouldn't read the list of ingredients for stuff like this, but I did. TBHQ (a relative of the harmful preservative BHT), yellow dye #bad & red dye #bad. Ugh! I just couldn't bring myself to buy it. And why would there be dye in this stuff anyway? Weird. Plus, I couldn't find chocolate covered sugar cones. Then it hits me: I can buy regular graham crackers & cones & coat them in chocolate myself! 
I did it & it turned out fairly cute & it ended up being SO easy! Here's what I did: I bought milk chocolate chocolate chips & melted them. You have to make a double-boiler so you don't burn the chocolate. Do this by boiling a little water in a larger pan & putting a smaller pan in that water with the chocolate chips in it. After it was melted, I removed the top pan & carefully dipped the graham crackers in the chocolate (be careful not to burn your fingers). Then I rolled the cones in it & stuck them on the graham crackers. To decorate: I did break down & buy frosting. I would totally prefer to make my own, but the consistency of the store-bought is perfect for kids spreading on things like this & I just haven't managed to figure out the trick of getting it just right at home. I bought white & I colored one can purple using the juice from blueberries. It's the first time I've tried dying without actual food coloring & though it was really more violet than purple, I was proud! 

A couple notes: I wouldn't make them more than a day ahead, but they do need a number of hours to harden & dry so you also can't wait until the last minute. The chocolate in my finished picture looks a little 'off' because I put that hat in the fridge after assembling.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Greater Good...coming to a city near you

The other day I took my "big" guy (he's starting to get sensitive about being called 'little') to the doctor for a cold. I was being anal in taking him. I felt like a first-time mom, but it was Friday & his cough was starting to sound like croup. I didn't want to be at urgent care over the weekend. And, there's nothing wrong with being a first-time mom anyway! Always better to be cautious. Turns out it was just a cold, nothing to do but wait & crank on the humidifier. Just so happens: I am obsessed with humidifiers. I own at least 4: 2 warm-air & 2 cold-air. I am convinced they shorten the length of colds when you do get them & reduce the number of colds. I keep them going all winter!

In the waiting room a super-cute little guy came out with crocodile tears. He had the face of a boy trying to be very brave. It hit me that he must have just gotten a shot. Then I thought, "what if we're wrong about shots? Nothing more, just 'what if'?" Can you imagine? It's absolutely torment as a parent to hold your child down so the nurse can give him a shot in the arm or leg. You do whatever you can to make it better (Tylenol before, cuddling & rewards after). We think we're doing what's in the best interest of our kid, but what if we aren't?

I just learned about a new documentary on vaccines. It's called "The Greater Good". It hasn't been fully released yet, but they have had screenings in various cities. This Friday & Sunday it will be shown in Wichita. In November it will be in NY & Dallas. I am anxious to see it. Here's the link to the homepage and the trailer: I would love to hear reviews from anyone who has the chance to see it!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pumpkins...if you can't carve 'em, eat 'em

This year, for the first time, we are actually going to try carving a couple pumpkins. I recall how hard this seemed for my mom when I was growing up & I've therefore never attempted it. I am (perhaps wrongly?) thinking that sharp knives might be the trick.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE going to the pumpkin patch. So cute & fun to let the little guys pick out a perfect pumpkin & they get a little farm experience. So, what have we done with pumpkins you might ask? We eat them! They are so easy to roast. Just cut the top off (like you would to make a jack-o-latern), scoop out the "junk", put the top back on, put on a pan & put in the oven at 350 for about an hour. You know its done when it is soft-like squash. When it is cool enough, the "pumpkin" will very easily scoop right out of the skin. You can stick it in the food processor to puree (just to make it all smooth) and use it or freeze it. If it seems a bit watery (compare to canned pumpkin), you can put it in a sauce pan & cook it down a bit, but I rarely need to do this.

Cooking ideas: pumpkin pie, pumpkin dip (below) and sometimes, I just "hide" a 1/4 cup or so in something I know my family won't notice (chili, spaghetti sauce, etc.) in order to get a few extra vitamins in them. Note that it doesn't hide well in dishes that don't have a decently strong flavor of their own.

Also, the pumpkin seeds are supposed to be very nutritious! After you scoop them out of the pumpkin, get off as much of the "junk" as you can, put them on an ungreased pan in a single layer, salt with kosher salt & place in the oven on 325 for 20 minutes. Stir halfway through. Let them roast a few more minutes if you like them crispy. Add more salt at the end. These things need salt to be tasty!

Pumpkin Dip 
(This makes a lot! Unless you are serving a huge group, I recommend cutting in half.)
8 oz. softened cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar
15 oz pumpkin
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger

In a medium bowl, blend cream cheese & sugar until smooth. Mix in the pumpkin. Stir in the spices. Chill until ready to serve.

I've served this with pretzels for dipping & graham cracker sticks. Yum!

Friday, October 7, 2011

It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men

Last night I started reading my latest magazine from Compassion International & there were some statistics that really stood out--and then some profound (or so I think) thoughts occurred to me. Here it is: 1 in every 3 girls and 1 in every 6 boys is sexually abused before their 18th birthday*. Get this: IN THE UNITED STATES! My first thought was thank goodness my kids stand a slightly better chance since they are boys. My second thought was that my kids are practically going to grow up in a prison because I don't want them to ever have to deal with something of this nature. But of course, will that really work since most of the perpetrators are known & trusted by the family? I'm sure everyone reading this has had these thoughts.

Then I recall my husband once had a client who was sexually abused at the age of 14. Also when she was a preschooler someone walked into their apartment at night & she woke up to someone fondling her. He ran out when she screamed & they never figured out who it was. Using this as an example, I'd say (and I think its been proven) that some people are more vulnerable than others. Of course that's not the case with all victims. But, if you could pick apart the statistics, what would the difference be between the "haves" and "have-nots"? I don't think money buys you safety. I do think that people without money have to rely more on others to help take care of their kids and they have less time and resources to help their kids build confidence and other characteristics that help keep them out of more vulnerable situations. My gut tells me that the stats in my school district are significantly better than the stats in a more urban school district.

The magazine then goes into articles on the sex trade and there are more staggering numbers. It's overwhelming. How do you fix it? Where do you start? Here's a quote: "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." -Frederick Douglass

So my thoughts resonate with the idea that we have to build up our kids and do things to support them & their families. Another excerpt from the article:
"But for a girl to be enslaved in a Bangkok brothel, an awful lot of things had to have been wrong upstream in her young life, and we at Compassion believe there is an equally compelling, powerfully strategic approach called prevention."
Sponsoring a kid through Compassion or supporting one of their other programs certainly helps build hope for their futures and helps them with necessities today. But, there are also obviously kids in the U.S. who need help too. I have a good friend who started a charity called Baby Grace that provides free baby & kid items to teenage moms. They also have Bible studies and other activities designed to show them the love of Christ. I donate all our old things to them, even if its something I could make a decent buck selling. Why? Because they are still in the category of children we can build. They haven't entered broken yet. Maybe I should be asking why I'm not doing more? There are lots of other great programs out there, to include mentoring programs. Please feel free to comment on this post & provide other ideas of ways one person can make a difference, no matter how small. It all matters! If we all work together we can build strong kids and put a stop to predators.

*Statistics: Free the Slaves & Survivors Healing Center

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Influencers

My uncle passed away recently & the funeral was this weekend. I feel compelled to tell everyone what a great influence he & my aunt were in my life. The fact is: I wouldn't be who I am without them. A few years ago I had an "ah-ha" moment during a lunch discussion with some other women at a conference, where I came to realize that my aunt & uncle were the people I was striving to be. During my younger days that gave me hope & something to work towards. Now it provides an example of the type of person I hope I can someday be for someone else--and how important it is to take time to mentor others. You never know how the little things you do are making an impact on someone else.

I grew up with a single mom. My aunt & uncle went above the call of duty to do what they could for me & be an example of Christ in my life. At 15 I had a job about a mile from my house. My uncle owned his own business on the other side of town, but if it was raining, he would drive across town & take me to work. I'm sure he was busy, but he never complained & he was happy to do it. It was one way he could be there for me. They took me shopping for school clothes every year. They took me to the lake on weekends and taught me how to ski. Also, they tried to get me involved in the "right" crowd by bringing me to their church groups every week. I never felt like I fit in & I definitely had a bit of a rebellious streak. Often when I did do things I shouldn't, I would think, "what would Phyllis & Don think if they knew". It mattered to me that I not disappoint them. They knew some of what I did, but they never gave up on me. My whole life they were planting little seeds along the way. I grew up knowing Christ & wrong from right. I haven't experienced that single moment like some where I suddenly gave my life to the Lord. He was there all the time & gradually I let Him in a little more & more. If you fully immerse yourself in it, the love of God will change you. There's nothing like it. It's awesome! I'm so thankful I've had people like Don & Phyllis in my life to plant the little seeds along the way & I hope He uses me to do for others what they did for me.

Also: Phyllis was an awesome cook! She made EVERYTHING from scratch & she was not satisfied until you stuffed your face at her house. If I wasn't striving to be more like her I may have never tried to do more than boil pasta. But here I am, cooking from scratch & blogging about it!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hearty Nut Bread

When my oldest was 5 months, we finally figured out he had food hyper-sensitivities. He was "allergic" to milk (aka all dairy including butter & whey), soy (this includes soybean oil which is in everything!) and wheat. Fortunately he outgrew the wheat fairly quickly. He eventually outgrew it all, but we obviously had to make some modifications in the meantime.

My mother-in-law makes this bread & was able to alter it so that we could eat it. You have no idea how something like bread can mean so much given the right circumstances. So, if there's anyone reading this who has to avoid milk, I've included the alternative options as well. Also, I use a breadmaker so I just dump all the ingredients in & away it goes. So easy! My kids still eat this bread. I have to make it 1-2 times a week as they love it so much. I'd eat it too, but then I'd have to make it even more often. I normally make it after I put the boys to bed & set it so it will be ready to eat in the morning. Making it more often would seriously cut into "my" time.

Hearty Nut Bread (2 lbs)

1 Tbsp canola oil
1 1/3 C warm water (when I don't heat it, the bread doesn't rise like it should even though it sits for
            hours. I normally warm in the microwave for 1-1.5 minutes)
1/3 C molasses (since I don't like molasses, I do a combo of half molasses & half honey)
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp dry milk (if you have a milk allergy, replace with 3/4 tsp. baking powder after you add flour)
1 7/8 C whole wheat flour (there is no 7/8, so just eye it)
1/2 C oats
1 7/8 C white flour
2/3 C walnuts (optional)
2 tsp. or 1 package active dry yeast

I set the breadmaker to the whole wheat setting, on light.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Have Pears? Make Tart.

Last week we obtained a number of pears from the CSA. This means:
1. They are in season.
2. I need to figure out something to do with them since my family isn't big on pears.

I decided to make a pear tart. Further, I decided to overcome a big fear of mine: making crust from scratch. Let me tell you: the crust part was a bit of a debate. My hubby's mom makes most things from scratch (always has as its in her generation to do so) & she has deemed Pillsbury's refrigerated crust just as tasty as the real stuff so she doesn't even bother making her own anymore. My theory is: if it's good enough for her, it's good enough for me.

I find a what looks like a good recipe with great reviews. It includes making the crust from scratch. Hmmm. I look to see if I have a refrigerated dough on hand. I do, however it expired in January (oops!). Then I check out the ingredients: bleached flour, lard with BHT & BHA (the same stuff in cereal I just threw out), Yellow 5 & Red 40. Perfect! Everything you don't want to eat!
I've vowed to do a better job with pictures so here it is, but I'm no food stylist!

I bite the bullet & make the tart, crust & all. Here it is though: it was easy!!! I followed the recipe, which you can find here, but I did the crust in the food processor. I did cut the butter into little cubes before I added it. The processor even rolled it into the little ball for me! Oh & the crust is half whole wheat! I did use whole wheat flour made from "white wheat" (lighter & just as healthy).

If you find yourself stocking up on pears since they are in season, it's a very tasty way to make them.  Did I mention it was delish? My 5 year old who doesn't eat fruit or veggies gobbled it up! Turns out, crust is nothing to be afraid of. Watch out for my new & improved Thanksgiving & Christmas pies!!!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fire-Retardant Free PJs (and a fun craft to boot!)

I had a little sabbatical from my blog. Truth is, it was summer, my kids were out of school & I found my time slipped away. Also, a few things I planned to try & write about didn't turn out quite the way I anticipated. Such is life, but I am back. Along those lines, after take-2 we finally successfully made our new PJs!

You may recall, we were going to make PJs because I discovered the chemical used in the fire-retardant that they put on kids pajamas, infant mattress pads, the foam in car seats, etc. is on the EPA's list of ingredients most harmful for kids. I also recently learned that the state legislature in NY passed a bill preventing manufacturers from including this chemical (TCEP) in products sold in their state. I am hopeful there will be a top-down effect from this for those of us not in NY.

I also discovered this website which provides general education on the subject. It's great for general information, but I was disappointed that it does not include a list of alternative products if you are trying to avoid some of these chemicals.

But, back to the PJs. If I can't buy PJs without fire retardant*, by golly, we'll make them! I bought plain t-shirts at Michaels (on sale for $2.50 ea!) and some boxers. First, I tried buying an iron-on. This was the failed plan. Then using these iron-on things, the kids colored pictures, I scanned them & then printed to the iron-ons. First I printed the design backward. Once I finally did get it right, I realized there were a few tiny bubbles in it. The washing machine does quite a number on it from there. And, you must use the "dark" option to print on a darker shirt, "light" for a white shirt. However, using light on a dark shirt helps the failed plan show up in a picture on a blog so you can easily see how it failed.

Now: the successful plan. I finally decided to just buy fabric paint & fabric markers. They have had a blast making these shirts! Much more fun than just coloring pictures. It has even sparked imagination. My 3-yr-old made an orange dot & declared it a peacock! These were so fun to make & we now have little keepsakes that make me smile every time they wear them. I will always remember that cars & raccoons were a big part of our lives at this age!

*I did find fire retardant-free  PJs at Old Navy. I'm not sure if it was a fluke or if their PJs don't normally contain the chemical. But, I'll likely be back to buy more.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hormone-free Vs Organic Milk

When I started this blog a friend mentioned hormone-free vs. organic milk. Suddenly I was nervous that we were not drinking the best of the best. When my oldest finally outgrew his milk allergy we started drinking organic milk. Somewhere in my sub-conscience milk=milk and if there was an allergy to it, maybe the root of it lays somewhere within milk. I know that's too simple to be the case, but regardless we drink organic milk.

I am happy to report that organic milk also equals hormone-free milk. Organic milk is produced without chemicals, hormones or antibiotics.  For the purposes of milk "hormones" equal drugs given to cows to make them produce more milk and grow. Obviously we all have hormones (and there are times when mine get the best of me). rBST is the hormone often discussed. It increases milk production 11-25%, but also often leads to undesirable side effects for the cow. 17% of dairy cows in the U.S. are given rBST and the FDA states it is not harmful for people. It has been banned in Canada, parts of Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

That brings me to antibiotics. (Skip this part if you get queasy.) Cows were traditionally weaned on milk, but that's expensive so they started weaning them on blood. Then they mix their grains with things to make them grow faster. Reportedly, cows are often fed animal waste. To keep these cows from becoming sick they are constantly fed antibiotics. Cows obviously produce what they are fed so "regular" milk is laced with hormones & antibiotics.

Organic cows are fed an organic diet and given room to roam, including access to grass which improves their diet (and the nutrients in their milk).

Bottom line: hormone-free milk is better than regular. Organic is the best option if you can afford it. I've found the organic milk at Costco to be the best buy. Another option: when my little guy had the allergy to milk, I drank almond milk. It was delicious on cereal, but it was outrageous at the time. I've noticed now they sell it in larger containers & I think it's more affordable. I've never tried soy milk (said child had a milk & soy allergy), but that is supposed to be another great alternative.

Sources: (if you read this one, be sure to read the next source)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Simple Sunscreen is best...if you know what you're doing!

We were going to the zoo a couple years ago so I slathered my child up in the sunscreen. He was 2 at the time & I was still using the paba-free Baby Blanket sunscreen for super-sensitive little people skin. A few hours after we got home he started running a fever & was red all over. Wait...he was just red in areas that were exposed to the sun. Did I not re-apply when I should have? My child was sun burned & I was responsible. I felt horrible. The next day the burn was gone (so was the fever) & he was no longer burned (not tan either). Weird. That night I took him to an outdoor soccer game. You can bet I slathered the lotion on this time! Fever back, red skin back. Now I'm starting to get a clue: he's having a reaction to the sunscreen! The baby sunscreen at that! What am I going to do? I consulted the doctor & he recommended Neutrogena sensitive skin sunscreen (for adults). We tried it & we haven't had any additional problems. This year I even tried the spray with helioplex & he's been fine with it, though I have been wondering what we are sucking in our lungs each time we spray. I have a sunblock stick to use on the face.

Enter new FDA standards & information around sunscreens. What is in this stuff, is it tested & how does it all really work? Here's my summary:

  • We need protection from the UVB & UVA rays. UVB are what give you sunburns. UVA penetrate deeper & give you premature aging, sunspots & skin cancers.
  • SPF numbers apply to UVB protection only.
  • There is a difference between sunscreen & sunblock. See next 2 bullets.
  • Sunscreens soak into your skin & absorb the rays. These contain more chemicals, but are generally lighter. There seems to be some question about the safety of these chemicals & not a lot of testing. Some say they remain on the surface & don't penetrate the bloodstream. Others aren't so sure.
  • Sunblocks contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They sit on the skin's surface instead of being absorbed so they are considered a more natural option.
  • You can find lists of recommended sunscreens & those to avoid. It seems to me the environmental groups recommend ones that avoid chemicals harmful to the environment regardless of how well they actually protect & dermatologist groups recommend ones that protect your skin, regardless of what else they are doing. There's not a lot of research and it seems everyone has an agenda.
I did my research & then went to the store with my new-found information. Overwhelming sums it up! I finally settled on Neutrogena pure & free baby because its only active ingredients are titanium dioxide & zinc oxide. I figure simple is better. 

To learn how to use sunscreen to get the ultimate tan without burning, read my earlier blog on that one. 

Also, if you have an infant under 6-months, sunscreen is not safe for him/her. When we lived in Florida I felt like this was talked about a lot. Then we moved to the Midwest & I've never heard it uttered (except by myself). I'm not sure if it's not talked about or if everyone just assumed I was not a 2-time mom from Florida & I knew.

If you want to read up on some of these things on your own, I found these websites thorough yet comprehensive:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wally Chicken & Asian Slaw

I have 4 incredible nieces! It's hard to believe, but 3 of them will be in college as of this Fall. It's amazing how fast the time goes. They each have very special qualities and talents and I hope they always walk proud & know just how remarkable they are. Today is Cary's birthday & I am dedicating this post to her (not just because she said how beautiful I was when I first married her uncle).

Truth is, this is one of her favorite recipes & it is delish! I think she's been waiting to request it until I listed it on the menu, but I have yet to do that :)  It is especially great if you are feeding a lot of people.

Wally's Chicken (credit goes to none other than my hubby's friend Wally)
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup Sprite or 7Up
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 head crushed garlic
juice of 2 lemons
black pepper to taste
package of chicken thighs (thighs are key)

Mix everything together & marinade the chicken for 24-72 hours. When ready to cook, grill on low heat.

It goes great with rice pilaf & Asian Slaw.

Asian Slaw (a food processor comes in handy if you buy the actual heads of cabbage)
1 head green cabbage, shredded
1/2 head red cabbage, shredded
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp chili garlic sauce
3 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
2 carrots, shredded
juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro

Just mix it all together. :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Potty Training Take 2

This is out of the normal realm for my blog, but I'm doing it anyway. Neither of my kids have ever shown any interest in potty training. "They" say to wait for the signs & then it will go oh, so smoothly. My first was almost 3.5 & we were a month out from preschool so it had to be done (or he'd continue to stay home without any breaks for me-not happenin!). My method was just to put him in underwear & see how it went. He did great! He got it almost immediately. We had very few accidents that first week or two. Also, he has never had an accident at school. However, at some point he turned it into a control issue. He would potty in his pants every time he got in trouble. He would hold it most of the day until I put the pull-up on & then he would go. He's 5 now & we still have the occasional accident (not often & mostly when he's exhausted) and he still wears a pull-up at night. (Approximately 3 months ago he went 2 weeks in a row without peeing in bed at night, but then decided he was done with that so the pull-ups came back.)

I decided whatever I did with him was wrong. Short-term he did great, but long-term it's not been good. Someone recommended "Toilet Training in Less Than a Day" & I decided to give it a shot.

It requires pre-planning. I had to buy a doll that pees and snacks & drinks (yes, it's one of those). The book is written for kids a little younger and my 3 year old has actually peed in the toilet a couple times. I thought my "day" was really going to be a few hours. Not so much! After they pee in their pants you have to practice 10 times. It took him a couple hours before he had to go & then he had to go again (and again) before we were done practicing. He finally got it, but had multiple accidents over the next few days. Mentally I wasn't prepared (read the line about it taking a couple hours). I am convinced that pull-up equals permission to pee so I didn't put them on him at night. Some nights he held it all night, others he didn't and I did a lot of sheet washing. Day 10 arrives & the accidents all but disappear. We started Vacation Bible Camp on day 16 of starting the training & he did awesome! I was so nervous since I wouldn't be there, but he only had one accident all week. We've also had almost one full week of not wetting the bed! I am so proud of the little guy and am thinking that short-term he was harder, but long-term he's going to be a champ!

So, if potty training is in your future, I recommend the book. It also fosters independence as he does it all himself.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Menu: the next few weeks

We have Vacation Bible Camp this week & I feel like I'm getting a small dose of what many of my "working" mom friends go through on a regular basis. Camp landed on a week when I didn't have a menu planned out (I was through the old & hadn't created a new yet). Every morning we've had plans or I've tried to get a little work done. We've been leaving for VBC around 11:30. I hang out with 1st graders from 12:30-3:30. By the time we get home (if we don't run an errand) it's almost 4:30. It might all be fine except when I get my kids from their VBC rooms at 3:30 they are generally in melt-down. It's like they see me & decide to let out this huge release. I'm generally tired, but have the potential to rally...until the melt-down occurs & throws me into complete & utter mental exhaustion. Needless to say, it has been a week of left-overs. I was fortunate to find a few things I had previously frozen.

This has me back on track with my next menu & here it is. Also, the CSA I joined has started producing the more "fun" produce--strawberries, broccoli (best I've had), beets (weird, but I LOVE them), tomatoes. I'll be incorporating these things in side dishes to go along with the menu. So excited!

tonight: going out (Checking out a new restaurant owned by a friend-fast food using fresh, local & non-processed as much as possible. I'll let you know if we like it.)
Sat: pork roast
Sun: ribs
Mon: chicken supreme
Tue: left overs for the boys, date night for us
Wed: pork burgers
Thurs: left overs (book club for me, boys can fend for themselves)
Fri: yogurt chicken
Sat: steak
Sun: a birthday party-eating there & can't wait!
Mon: chicken salad
Tue: stir fry
Wed: pot roast
Thr: left overs
Fri: hamburgers
Sat: BBQ chicken
Sun: chicken fried rice
Mon: pulled pork
Tue: chicken enchiladas
Wed: left overs

There it is. Like last time, I'll post some of the recipes. If there's anything in particular you want please let me know!

Friday, June 10, 2011

If you like fried chicken...

Summer brings images of being outdoors, picnics, parks, BBQs and yes, fried chicken. Yum! Below is how I make "fried chicken". I may have to look for alternatives to the crackers at some point, but even so it's healthier than the original.

Crunchy Baked Chicken
1.5 cups crushed buttery crackers (Club, Town House, etc.)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup chopped parsley (or about half of this if you use dried parsley)
1 clove of garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of pepper
chicken on the bone (sometimes I buy a 1/2 chicken "cut up" and sometimes I buy a package of chicken legs depending on my mood)

The night before, put the chicken in a bowl & pour the buttermilk over it. Cover & let sit in the fridge until you're ready to bake. When you're ready to make it: grease* a 9X13 pan & preheat the oven to 350. Mix the first 6 ingredients (all except the buttermilk & chicken) in a big bowl. Pull each piece of chicken (coated in the buttermilk to help the mixture stick) out of the buttermilk & roll in the cracker mix. Use a spoon to cover it with the mix. Place in a single layer on the pan. Bake 1 hour, 15 min or until fork-tender.

*To grease a pan I rub a paper towel over a stick of butter & then rub the butter on the pan. There are so many additives in cooking spray, I try to avoid it. Plus, cooking spray ruins your non-stick pans.

For all you fried chicken lovers, I hope you find this is an enjoyable (and much easier) alternative!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Off to Kindergarten. What to do about shots?

My oldest will be in Kindergarten this fall. It's such an exciting time! To me, it's the beginning of growing up. Though he'll always be my baby, he's a full-fledged kid! And he's moving from us being the primary teachers in his life to learning lots from others: teachers, coaches & other kids. He's been in preschool, but this just seems so different. He's ready & I'm excited for him. A little more independence for him. A little letting go for me. Hopefully I'll be ready too!

Enter Kindergarten.  Enter a new round of shots. A number of my friends also have kids this age & a few have asked my thoughts. Here they are: you really have to research it yourself & determine what you are most comfortable with. It's an individual decision. Both sides have consequences & you have to live with them. It's no-win. If you don't vaccinate, your kid is at risk for some potentially horrible diseases or illnesses. If you do vaccinate, you're injecting known carcinogens and other harmful ingredients directly into their little systems, many of which we don't know the long-term consequences. This is why we need change. We shouldn't have to make these decisions. Why can't they produce vaccines using preservatives that are known to be safe? Do you realize that vaccine manufacturers can't be sued? If your child has a reaction, you file for compensation through the government. Manufacturers are making billions & paying lobbyists to help get laws passed so that kids have to have vaccines before they can enter school & they have no accountability.

I really didn't mean to get on a tangent here. I just feel so strongly about it. I don't get why something that was originally intended to protect us may actually be harming us. Believe me, I want nothing more than to inject my kids with something that would protect them from some awful diseases. And I regress again....

You really do have to research it & decide for yourself. The website I have come to trust the most is There are others, but this is the most balanced one I've found. If you click here you can scroll down to look up the individual vaccines and the associated diseases so you know some of the known risks. Click here to see a list of the ingredients included in vaccines by manufacturer.

I did read the book, "Saying No to Vaccines" by Dr. Sherry Tenpenny.  It was informative, scary and one-sided in my opinion, but she did make a number of very good points, including the amount of a vaccine absorbed in a system is different for different persons. You may not need a booster. It's also interesting to me that the amount of medicine you give to an infant is determined by weight, but vaccines are not. You can get a titer test to determine how much resistance you have to a particular disease & whether or not an additional vaccine or booster is needed.

Bottom line: research it. Talk to your pediatrician. Pray. And ultimately do what you are most comfortable with. If you want to give your child all the recommended vaccines-do it, but also understand that you don't have to do it per the recommended schedule. You can have them administered at different times. If you have a doctor that is bullying you into something you aren't comfortable with, get a new doctor. I have done everything mentioned in this paragraph. The most valuable was the prayer. God has been the one to guide us along the way & I'm convinced our first child (who was more susceptible to "issues") would be facing a different life outlook had we not done things the way we did.

Please understand that I am just a mom trying to do what's right for my children. If I can help others along the way, that's my hope. I am not a doctor or a scientist. My background is business & marketing. Anything on this site is purely an opinion on my part or something I deem true via other sources typically referenced.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Impossible to eliminate everything, but maybe I'll start with the most harmful....

Since first finding the list of chemicals most harmful to children as reported by the EPA, I can't get it out of my head. Some of the items on the list we are already trying to avoid (BPA, MSG, food dyes). I must admit even with those, if it's something that is terribly inconvenient, I haven't avoided it. Some of the items are going to be painful to get out of the house & I've been struggling with whether or not to do it. I sometimes have the age-old thought "I grew up with it and I turned out ok", but then I wonder, did I grow up with it? When was it introduced? I really have no idea.

Ultimately I'm coming down on the side of: IT MADE THE EPA's LIST OF MOST HARMFUL CHEMICALS TO KIDS. Hello!?! We should avoid it. My first step is the BHA. I've thrown out or given away all our cereals except Cheerios (I've read that label 80 times I'm sure & I'm now convinced it doesn't have it), replacing them with some cereals from the organic aisle. Gorilla Munch seems to be the new fav!

Next to go are the PJs. My kids love their PJs-both the animals that normally come on them & wearing them all day. I've been trying to figure out how I can get them out of them. Low & behold, on the last day of preschool my 5-yr-old came home with a new t-shirt featuring an art rendering he drew. He swears he drew it on paper & Mrs. G got it onto the t-shirt (I think ironing). He said it won't come off & thus far it has held up in the washer & dryer! This could be fun-we can make our own animals on big t-shirts & sleep in them for years!!! This weekend I'm going to plant myself at Michaels & figure out how Mrs. G did this. If anyone knows, please clue me in before I waste hours at the craft store.

Note: I tried searching the EPA's website to ensure this info is correct. While it's nearly impossible to find anything on the EPA site, I did find this, which appears to be essentially this list in more scientific terms. Also if you're a soon-to-be mom or the mom of an infant, it might be worth reading this: (as if you need one more thing to worry about).

Monday, May 16, 2011


On the BPA-free plastics: do you know that the new plastics touted as "safe" because they are BPA-free haven't been tested for toxicity? I am guessing that in a few years we will know if they are actually better, worse or the same as BPA.

I ran across the Safer Chemicals Healthier Families blog on how to reduce BPA by 60% in 3 days. I guess I'm behind. I thought BPA was only found in plastics. However, they list the top 10 canned foods to avoid to reduce the amount in your home (and your body). What? Indeed, it is used to line the cans. Uhhh! In the small amount of research I just did, it appears there  isn't a BPA-free can alternative (yet) so perhaps that's why it isn't talked about much. The alternative is to wean ourselves off canned food. There is a limit to how much you can eliminate (or worry about). Fortunately we don't eat a ton of canned food.

So weaning myself (and hopefully my family eventually) off plastics.... I just bought these super-cute glass bottles. Amazon currently has the 16 & 9 oz sizes in their latest 4 for 3 promotion. I got suckered-in & bought 4! Super-cute & glass so no risk of BPA (or other chemicals produced by plastics), no nasty metallic taste & they go in the dishwasher. So I'm feeling pretty proud of myself--since I grab a water almost every time I run out the door I'm certain I'm going to save myself from the bulk of chemicals I'm putting in my body on a daily basis. Also, I feel like I'm drinking out of a mason jar with them. I LOVE drinking out of a mason jar! My first experience brings me back to wonderful memories hanging out at great granny Duck's house in the hills of Tennessee (no, it wasn't moonshine). I also have a good friend who serves cocktails out of mason jars and it's always a good time. There's just something so fun about it. So, if you don't want to spend the money on these cute bottles, just get mason jars!!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Safe Chemicals Act of 2011

There's a new act being proposed to congress that will help us keep our kids and families safe from chemicals that we know are harmful and those that are suspect. You can read more about the act here. It will overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act that was established 35 years ago (it determined chemicals were innocent until proven guilty). Apparently the old bill has only been used to regulate only 5 chemicals or chemical classes. With as many chemicals that have been introduced into our environment in recent years, it's about time the regulations caught up with the technology! The bill will require the EPA to define the "worst of the worst" chemical substances and require basic health and safety information for all chemicals entering or remaining on the market. Sounds like its a win-win to me (unless you're a business producing these harmful substances).

To get this bill to the floor & voted on, it needs co-sponsors. Write to your senators and ask them to co-sponsor the bill. At the bottom of this page, you can enter your zip code and it will automatically generate an email you can send (or alter) to your respective senators. It just took me about 10 seconds. It's easy!

Monday, May 9, 2011


I mentioned in an earlier post that I can't live without my breadmaker. My kids have 2 choices for dinner: eat it or don't. But I try to have at least one item on their plates that they like, often that means rolls. Rolls are so easy if you have a breadmaker with a "dough" setting. I was fearful of this for years. I finally tried it & now I'm not sure what took me so long! I also make bread & pizza dough in the breadmaker (those recipes to come later). The trick is timing.

1. Throw all the ingredients in (in order)
2. Put the breadmaker on the "dough" setting.  My breadmaker takes 1.5 hours.
3. Then you kneed it (I sprinkle flour on a clean counter & roll the dough over a few times, mostly to get the air bubbles out
4. Make it into rolls & put in a greased pan, cover with a dish rag or plastic wrap
5. Let the rolls rise for an hour in a warm spot. For the "warm spot"- you can heat a mug of water in the microwave & let the rolls sit in the microwave with the warm water for an hour (just don't warm the water with the rolls already in there). Works like a charm.

My friend Missie introduced me to Wheat Montana brand flour. Some of the HyVee grocery stores carry it in the health food section. It's unbleached & their "Prairie Gold" is a "white wheat". It's lighter than your normal wheat flour, but has all the same nutrients. This is what I use & I think it makes a difference. Each of my roll recipes makes roughly 19 rolls.

"Easy" Potato Rolls (these are my fav & are consistently eaten in record time)
1/3 C shortening (trans fat, I know. I'm going to try equal amounts of softened butter & I think it'll be        close to the same)
3/4 C warm water
1 1/4 t salt
1/3 C sugar
1/2 C cooked & mashed potatoes
3 1/4 C flour (I use 1/2 white & 1/2 wheat)
1 egg
2 full t dry yeast (or 1 package)

See the steps above. After it rises for an hour, bake 375 for 12 min or until tops are golden. I rub the tops with butter when they come out of the oven.

Betty Crocker's Homemade Pan Rolls
I also make these in the breadmaker. Just follow the steps above & make sure to put the "wet" ingredients in first. Note: I have substituted equal amounts of butter for shortening & it works just fine. I also do half white & half wheat flour. My oven may be hotter than most, but I bake these for 9 min vs. 12.

Sweet Potato or Pumpkin Rolls (my kids gobble these up too & I love the added vit A!)
1/2 C warm water
3 T softened butter
1 t salt
1/2 C mashed cooked sweet potato or pumpkin (pumpkin from a can is easy & good)
2 C whole wheat flour
1 1/3 heaping C all purpose flour
2 T sugar
2 eggs
1 pkg or 2 t active dry yeast

After the dough is made & the rolls rise for an hour, bake 375 for 12 min (or until tops are golden). I rub a little butter on the tops when they come out.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

First trip to the CSA

Last night I picked up our first return on our CSA investment. We invested in one that is made up of 6 farms, all organic & we pick up our share of produce each week at the local community college. When I arrived there were 4 sections with food, each section had a couple choices and you grab your pick. I ended up with a yummy mushroom pate, baggie of lettuces, purple lettuce, spinach, sweet potatoes and a cookbook with lots of ideas for what is surely coming down the road. We're paying $17 per week. Did I get $17 worth of food-absolutely! If I would've gone to the grocery store, would I have spent my $17 on these things-no (though yes to a couple items). However, we're eating things we normally wouldn't. And last night I made a salad with the lettuce blends & some left over steak & veggies & it was delish! Better than the stuff you buy in the store.

This does lead me to another food idea for kids.... Since we have so many salad-type fixin's, I decided to cook, puree the spinach & freeze it so it won't go to waste. I will use it for orzo with spinach down the road, but mostly I'll use it to make "green eggs & cheese". My younger child won't touch an egg unless it's hidden in bread or cake, but my older guy loves eggs. "Green eggs & cheese" are off-and-on his favorite meal!

I freeze the cooked & pureed spinach in an ice cube tray (each cup about 1/2 full). After it's frozen, I move the cubes to a baggie & store in the freezer that way. To make the green eggs & cheese, I pop a cube in the microwave, whisk it with 2-3 eggs & a little milk & then cook it like an omelet. He loves it & it's the only time he knowingly eats anything green.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Spicy Chicken "fried" Rice

Here's another recipe that has been a big hit in our house...and it's healthy! My hubby with the super-sonic taste buds typically doesn't go for things that are too healthy, but he actually likes (and often requests) this one.

The sauce:
2/3 C soy sauce
2 T brown sugar
2 t dark sesame oil
1 t crushed red pepper
1 t chili garlic sauce

The rest:
2 T canola oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 T peeled & grated fresh ginger
2 large garlic cloves
4 C cold cooked brown rice
2 C diced cooked chicken
1/3 C peanuts

Combine ingredients for the sauce, wisk well. Heat canola oil in wok over med-high. Add bell pepper & diced onion. Stir fry 3 min. or until tender. Add ginger & garlic & stir fry 1 min. Add rice & chicken (I have to do this in 2 batches). Stir fry 5 min stirring gently. Add sauce, cook 2 min, tossing to coat (again 2 batches). Mix it all together & sprinkle peanuts on top before serving. It says 5 servings, but only if you have 5 teenage boys in the house! Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Should adults get the Hep A vaccine...or not?

I was just thinking of the Hep A vaccine. Our pediatrician strongly encouraged us to get this one. Hep A mostly occurs in 3rd world countries with poor sanitation (and in instances of drugs & male-to-male sex). However, according to the info from the CDC, there can be an outbreak in any given location. Our doc recommended it more for my sake than my kids, indicating that it'll be similar to the stomach flu in the kids, but they will likely pass it to me & it'll cause liver problems, etc. for me. It sounds like it's terribly nasty in adults. I asked whether there had been an outbreak in our area and his response was that he wouldn't really know because he treats kids & he wouldn't know if it was Hep A or the stomach flu. After thinking this through I decided the better option was for me to get the vaccine. If I'm the one to worry about, why am I giving the vaccine to my kids? So I asked my doctor about it. He thought I was crazy. In all his years of practicing medicine, he'd never seen a case of Hep A. Unless I was traveling to a 3rd world country, there was no need.

Yet, the Hep A is required to get into preschool or daycare (at least around here). Logical? Or some drug manufacturer with deep pockets and political pull?

Friday, April 22, 2011

What's up with the allergies to antibiotics?

A couple weeks ago my neighbor's 5-year-old developed an allergy to amoxicillin. He was the 3rd kid on our street to have this allergy. It was the 2nd time he was on the antibiotic--apparently that is the norm when they develop this allergy.

Last week my 5-year-old had an ear infection and the doc put him on amoxicillin. It's the second time he's ever been on an antibiotic. (Do you see where this is going yet?) Indeed, late yesterday afternoon he comes out of the bathroom & says, "Mom, check out my tummy." (He thinks the red spots are cool.) Since I had the heads-up from my neighbor, I pretty much knew what it was. I called the nurse who told me to give him Benadryl (which I immediately forgot in all the chaos) and watch for mouth swelling & trouble breathing. Naturally I checked to ensure he was breathing during the night & the hubby thought I was being a worry freak.

This morning he looked even worse. The red spots are all over his body. My 23-year-old single cousin without kids says, "did you give him Benadryl?" Hello!?! I immediately ran to the store & I'm sure all will be well now. I will soon learn, but I think in 2011 it's not a big deal to have a penicillin allergy (so long as you don't give it to him). But, add this to the growing % of kids with allergies. Also add fuel to a mom who is convinced these things are a result of the junk in our food & our vaccines.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

We are part of a movement!

I am totally getting philosophical today....

I started this blog with the idea, "let's see where it takes me". I've been overwhelmed with the great response. People who I hadn't expected have even stopped me on the street (literally) to tell me how much they are enjoying it. I started it thinking I was going to bring some issues to the minds of others. Have I done that? Maybe. What I've really found are that people are bringing additional and new information to me. And doing the blog is keeping me accountable. It has forced me to try harder keeping up with things and to take action. In the few weeks since starting this, I have joined a CSA, planted seeds in a garden (I've started with plants in the past), planted a blueberry bush, researched how to organically treat my not-so-healthy peach tree, watched Food Inc., read "Food Rules" and done additional research on a few issues.

When I was watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on Tuesday it hit me that there is a movement going on and we're part of it. We have a crises on our hands with the ever-increasing rise in diabetes, allergies, asthma  and autism, and people are standing up. Celebrities have joined in (Jamie Oliver, Shaq, Jenny McCarthy, Trace Adkins to name a few). And it seems every time I've gone to the internet to look things up, I find more out there. I'm even stumbling across organizations I've never noticed before. is one. It was founded because they believe we're eventually going to find that autism is really a form of mercury poisoning (both environmental & what we're putting in our bodies). Some of their research definitely makes you wonder. The National Vaccine Information Center seems to be growing & doing an excellent job of getting info out. And people are getting involved, whether it's politically, using their $ or by cooking and buying local & organic when they can. It is amazing and I am feeling very blessed to be a small part of it. It involves change and people are doing it! We are demanding transparency & better food, even if its at the cost of change (which is never easy). Jamie Oliver went to L.A. to bring change to schools there. They have tried to shut him down, I'm sure thinking he'd just go somewhere else and now they are going to have to deal with the repercussions of a major TV show putting their lack of transparency and refusal to change out there. I love it--it's movement. It's change. And now it's entertainment.

Thank you all for all the support, ideas and thoughts. Keep them coming!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pork Burgers & Fish Tacos (note: they don't go together)

My 2 favorite recipes for this week are below. Also, if you haven't seen it yet, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution is on tonight. I missed last week's season opener, but watched last season. Very enlightening to learn what's in the school lunches. I'm so glad he's trying to make a difference!

Pork Burgers
(sounds odd, but we LOVE them & so has everyone who has had them at our house!)
BBQ Sauce (If you don't have time to make the sauce, Jack's Stack Original works well. If you do make the sauce, you'll have plenty left over for other uses or for the next time.):
2 T butter
1/2 chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
small can tomato sauce
1 T soy sauce
1/4 C coke
3 T Worcestershire
1/2 C cider vinegar
1/2 C brown sugar
1 T chili powder
1/2 t hot pepper sauce
Saute the onion in the butter, add garlic & cook another minute or so. Add everything else & simmer for a bit. (Detailed, I know.)

When the sauce cools:
The Burger:
1.5-2 pounds ground pork
1/4 C fresh breadcrumbs (I freeze the heels from homemade wheat bread & chop it in the food processor)
1/3 C of the BBQ sauce (as mentioned, use Jack's Stack if you don't have time for the sauce)
salt & pepper
Make the patties & grill approx. 6 minutes per side.

Coleslaw to top:
2 C cabbage
1/4 C carrot (optional)
2 t fresh lemon juice
3 T mayo or to taste
Kosher salt & pepper
(we have another recipe for slaw that I normally like better, but this one really goes best with the pork burgers)

I normally make roasted sweet potatoes to go with this. Chop them into cubes, coat with olive oil, salt, pepper & parmesan & bake 350 for 30 min or so, stirring once.

Fish Tacos
(Bare with me on this one--it's the hubby's recipe & he cooks out of his head. This is my attempt at getting it in ink. These are really good though!)
It's mainly about the sauces:
Mango Salsa:
1/4 C red onion
1 jalapeno
2 T cilantro
1 T lime juice

Chipotle Tartar Sauce:
2 T canned chipotle chiles
1 C mayo
1/4 C sweet pickle relish
1/4 C minced onion
Discard chile seeds. Blend in blender.

Marinade the fish filets 60-90 minutes & grill. We've used tilapia, mahi-mahi and orange ruffie (sp?).
lime juice (1/2 lime per filet or so)
1 jalapeno, seeded & chopped

Serve with corn tortillas (though since I don't like corn tortillas, I eat mine in flour tortillas) and chopped red cabbage. (tortilla, fish, cabbage, sauce)

Let me know how it goes if you try to make these. Enjoy!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mercury-Free, We're Worth It!!!

During our routine 18-month check-up with our little one, the doctor recommended we give him the flu shot. She indicated that since he had RSV when he was 6-months, he was at an increased risk for the flu. I actually had done a small amount of research before the doctor visit & read that some flu shots still contain mercury. Frankly, I thought my research must be wrong. But, I asked her about it anyway. Her reply was that the previous year their practice ordered some vaccines with mercury & some without. They gave the ones without mercury to infants & younger kids. They gave older kids the shots with mercury. But that year they ordered all mercury-free vaccines. It was 2007 and this was a pediatric practice connected to one of the best children's hospitals in the country! Needless to say, I was shocked.

I cringe when I see the "flu vaccine clinics" that are now being set up all over town. I wonder what's in them and does anyone ask? I'm really not here to debate whether or not you should get the flu vaccine. I am saying that if you want the flu vaccine, shouldn't it be safe? We know mercury is harmful to our bodies. We know we can manufacture the vaccine without it. Why aren't we all important enough to do that?

You may have seen this, but one of the principal researchers for the CDC on the ties to mercury-based vaccine preservative and autism was just indicted for fraud and money laundering.  It sounds like there are some big questions about his ethics and the research he pushed. You can read more by clicking here. Again, shocking!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Menu

I finally put together our menu for the next few weeks and I'm sharing it below. A couple things to note.... With most everything we also have a veggie & starch, but I don't put those on the menu as it depends on what produce looks good at the time. The two kitchen gadgets I can't live without are my breadmaker & food processor. My kids have 2 choices at each meal: eat it or don't. I try to have at least one thing they'll eat and those are homemade rolls for most meals. I sometimes hide veggies in food, but I also put them on their plates so they get used to the idea. My kids don't eat really eat them, but everyone says to keep doing it & eventually they will. I have noticed the 5-year-old has actually voluntarily tried a few lately. I'm hoping that's a sign of more to come. Also, we really end up with left overs more than what I have on the list. When I get to slide in an extra "left-over" night, it's a bonus!

Without further adieu, here's the menu:
Fri 4/15: thai peanut noodles
Sat 4/16: pizza (it's the 5 year old's birthday celebration)
Sun 4/17: fajitas
Mon 4/18: left overs
Tue 4/19: pot roast
Wed 4/20: pork burgers
Thr 4/21: tomato-basil soup & grilled cheese
Fri 4/22: whiskey steak
Sat 4/23: pecan chicken
Sun 4/24: fish tacos (is that traditional Easter fare?)
Mon 4/25: banana pepper steak sandwiches
Tue 4/26: chicken fried rice (it's a healthy version, not really fried)
Wed 4/27: left overs
Thr 4/28: beef macaroni stuff that the hubby loves
Fri 4/29: cajun fettucini
Sat 4/30: lamb stew
Sun 5/1: chicken wild rice casserole

I am anticipating the next question is "will you share your recipes?" I will share as I go, but some aren't that special & it'll be fairly time consuming so I don't plan to share them all. If there's a particular one you're interested in just let me know.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Food Inc.

I finally watched Food Inc. this weekend. Wow! Enlightening, disturbing and overwhelming. It has taken me this long to really absorb it. If you haven't seen it, it's well worth it. It really gets back to change. The overwhelming part for me is where do you start?

I've decided the first thing we're doing is signing up for a food co-op. I thought about this last year, but didn't do it for various reasons. This movie was just the thing to get me fired up again. If anyone else is interested, this is the best site I've found to identify the best co-op for your particular needs: It's really not that expensive, in fact I feel like we may save money and we'll end up with produce that I might not normally buy, which means ...wait. for. it... trying new things! The downside is that if the particular farm we buy into doesn't produce a crop this year (weather, etc.), we'll be out the money. After watching the movie, it's worth the risk. The farmer's market is another great option. Unfortunately the ones close to us are just far enough away that I can't seem to make it there on a regular basis. Life happens!

So, I am tackling the food co-op and I will keep you posted on how it goes. If anyone else is already doing it, I would love to hear your comments.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Out with the hot dogs

Some time ago my mother-in-law read some article and was concerned I was giving my toddler too many hot dogs. I considered hot dogs a staple. The little guy was still dealing with the milk allergy so it was one easy thing he liked & could eat. I had no interest in learning these were bad for him. Plus, I wasn't really feeding him hot dogs. They were turkey dogs, which are surely ok.

To appease her, I reluctantly googled it eyeing the positive articles. It seems they contain sodium nitrate which is the real concern. It's also in deli meat & I suspect, the reason they tell pregnant women not to eat deli meat. I wasn't convinced. After all, I'd been living on turkey sandwiches most of my life. Then I ran across a study that indicated children who ate 1 or more hot dogs a week were at a significantly increased risk of childhood leukemia. GASP! Out go the hot dogs!

I am very happy to report that a number of months after grilled cheese overtook our love of hot dogs, Oscar Meyer introduced nitrate-free hot dogs. The hubby won't eat the beef ones, but you really can't taste much difference with the turkey dogs.

I also just figured out you can cut the dogs about 3/4 of the length, twice to create an octopus. I add raisins for eyes. Now we eat "octopus" for lunch some days.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Chemicals Most Dangerous to Children

My friend Elizabeth clued me into this other blog post on a list of chemicals most dangerous to children based on data from the EPA. They describe each chemical & why it is used. And yes, they are still widely used in things we all use everyday.  Click here to see the info. As it relates to the food dyes, I've long wondered why products aren't offered here without those contaminants. They've been outlawed in many other countries so manufacturers are already producing dye-free versions (think Kraft Mac & Cheese that's not orange & color-free M&Ms). Why not put them on the shelves here & let us choose?

There are a couple additional things I've started trying to avoid that I'm surprised didn't make the list. Those are sodium nitrate (hot dogs & lunch meat) and paraben (cosmetics, lotion, hair care & I've now started finding it in medicine & toothpaste). Again, I'm no scientist, but more on those later.

Off the subject, this weekend I'll be putting together our menu for the next month. I'll be sure to share once it's complete.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Do Corn Flakes come from corn?

The theme at preschool this week is "the farm". Today my oldest came home with a book he made. It started with corn growing on the farm & ended with corn flakes. It even features the 'corn flakes plant' just before the corn flakes conversion. This is particularly profound because I just finished reading "Food Rules" by Michael Pollan. Rule 14: Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature. I'm not sure corn flakes qualifies, but according to this homemade book, they do. We're teaching them early!

If you haven't read the book, it's good and a very easy read. He boils the food rules down to three overall themes: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. I'll share my favs:

Rule 2: Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. (My great-granny Duck is my only living grandparent. She lives on a mountain in TN & I wouldn't be surprised if she still only eats the food she grows. She likely still mows her own lawn too, while chewing snuff. I love her!)

Rule 9: Avoid food products with the wordoid "lite" or the terms "low-fat" or "non-fat" in their names. (We've gotten fat on non-fat foods).

Rule 11: Avoid foods you see advertised on television.

Rule 37: The whiter the bread, the sooner you'll be dead.

Rule 39: Eat all the junk you want as long as you cook it yourself. (Ever made french fries?)

Rule 41: Eat like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.

Rule 46: Stop eating before you're full. (New way of thinking: stop when you have no more hunger vs. when you're full.)

Rule 57: Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.

It really is a good, simple read. A good reminder of some of the things we know, but forget or forget the importance of. I also learned a few new things, particularly related to how we eat. Maybe next I'll tackle one of his deeper books.

Along the theme of "mostly plants", I tried swiss chard for the first time last night and it was surprisingly good. My hubby (who is not a big veggie eater) even liked it. Here's the recipe I used. Enjoy!

Shots Do Not Come with a Side of Shrilling Screams

I've already told you how much screaming my child did the first few months of his life. On vaccination days, it was way worse! He would spend the rest of the day totally conked out or screaming like he was in terrible pain. I spent these days rocking him in the hammock next to the waterfall in our pool (I miss that back yard!) which was all I could do to sooth him. The second day after the shots wouldn't be a whole lot better, but he would be back to his normal screams by day 3. He was my first child & I assumed this was typical. If anyone is currently going through this: it's not normal!

I researched vaccines before I gave them to him. I skipped a few and I followed the manufacturer's schedule. I think it's interesting that vaccines are supposedly studied & determined safe at a certain age, but then it seems the CDC (or pediatricians) end up recommending them at an age earlier than what's been studied by the manufacturer. Last time I checked, MMR was approved at age 2. At 18 months it was on the list for us (though I waited). Later they started recommending it at 12 months and I'm not sure what the current recommendation is. I've also noticed this is done with medicine. Our pediatrician has recommended over-the-counter stuff for our little guy before the age it's approved on the box. Am I just anal (perhaps) or should we wait to give them stuff until it's tested to be safe in their little systems?

The latest book I read had me in tears. More & more they are linking long-term vaccine "issues" with under-developed immune systems. My little guy definitely had an immature immune system. I believe it was pure prayer & a little luck that he doesn't have an auto-immune disorder.

There is a new research study out indicating that there may be a link to vaccines and Autism. Not surprising, right? It does mention hypersensitivity and giving so many vaccines in such a short time as possible culprits. (I read somewhere else that what we give our babies is the equivalent to giving a grown man 70 vaccines at one time.) Here's an excerpt from the study:
Ratajczak also looks at a factor that hasn't been widely discussed: human DNA contained in vaccines. That's right, human DNA. Ratajczak reports that about the same time vaccine makers took most thimerosal out of most vaccines (with the exception of flu shots which still widely contain thimerosal), they began making some vaccines using human tissue. Ratajczak says human tissue is currently used in 23 vaccines. She discusses the increase in autism incidences corresponding with the introduction of human DNA to MMR vaccine, and suggests the two could be linked. Ratajczak also says an additional increased spike in autism occurred in 1995 when chicken pox vaccine was grown in human fetal tissue.

This gets me back to my original post: we want vaccines. Is it so impossible to make them safe?

I also wonder at what point this researcher will be determined to be a quack? That seems to be the growing trend for vaccine whistle-blowers.

Here's the link to the article:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Processed food: how much is too much?

I grew up on processed food. I can't tell you how many times a week I ate at McDonalds. Staples at my house were Kraft Mac & Cheese, Spaghetti-Os and Campbell's soup. I also grew up with a single mom. Looking back, I don't think it was that she didn't necessarily have time to cook (though it was limited), it was more that she had a very stubborn daughter who would rather eat the junk. I imagine she plain didn't have the energy to fight me on what we were having for dinner at the end of the day. So by the time I was living on my own, I didn't know how to cook. Every once in a while I tried, but I really didn't know where to start.

Fortunately I married a man who can cook. And he has supersonic taste buds. He can taste something at a restaurant & re-create it. This totally came in handy when we discovered our child had so many allergies. I couldn't have done it without him. He cooked everything from scratch, substituting things that I couldn't eat & it was all unbelievably good. He taught me to cook. Except, he tastes & tweaks, I read recipes & follow directions. Here's what I figured out in all this: it's not that hard. It's really more a matter of doing it. The more you do it, the more comfortable you become. Most things really don't take that long. And it's typically so good.  

Planning is key in cooking things from scratch. The thing that helps me most is that we sit down once a month & decide on the menu for the entire next month. Then we go to the store & buy everything (except some of the perishables). This saves money & it keeps me from having to think of what we're going to eat each night. If I had to decide what we were eating one day at a time, I wouldn't. Dinner would arrive & I'd be running to a fast food joint or grabbing a box of something pretending to be food. I love waking up & simply checking the list.

Back to the "how much is too much" processed what you can. I know some people who make a bunch of stuff on the weekends & eat it during the week. Also, don't be afraid to freeze things. I also previously had a fear of the freezer, but I've since learned that most things freeze fairly well. Make a bunch & freeze some of it for another time. A new trick I just figured out: freeze soups in single serving sizes. So easy to pull one out & stick it in the microwave! The point is, do what you can & make it work for you & your schedule. You won't be a good mom (or a fun person) if you make unreasonable demands on yourself & are stretched too thin.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Vitamin D or sun safety?

I was made more aware of the benefits & issues surrounding vitamin D when my child was an infant. Since I nursed, our initial pediatrician (yes, the one who asked if I had ever heard of colic) recommended I give him TriViSol supplements for vitamin D.

I researched it (that's what I do & I already was leery of this doc) and learned you mostly get vitamin D from sun exposure. Hello!?! I lived in Florida! And I took said child on a walk every morning so that he'd take a nap without the back breaking effort of rocking this 95%-for-his-weight infant. However, scientists hadn't figured out how much vit D a mother passes through breast milk so they were recommending it for every breast-fed child. I really don't care if "we've" figured it out or not. I can't imagine that God would somehow overlook this detail. I was still in awe of the details involved in the whole process of creating a child. I didn't give him the supplements.

Don't get me wrong--vitamin D is clearly very important. It naturally comes from the sun and your body builds up reserves. Get all you can in the summer I say. I used to have what I call my "March Mood" every year. It was the season when I would clear the bad out of my life (mostly bad boyfriends). Now I wonder if that was about the time I used up my vit D reserves & some sort of small depression would set in. It's noteworthy that my "March Mood" was virtually nonexistent when I lived in Florida.

This week I searched how to strike a balance between absorbing vit D and protecting yourself from harmful rays. The experts state that 5-30 minutes of prime sun twice a week should give you enough. First, so specific (not!). Second, it seems this is something they have totally pulled out of the air. And, if you get your vit D levels checked the results are skewed to the active levels at that moment. The test doesn't account for the reserves. Also it looks like they don't plan to conduct any studies on sun exposure for vit D because of the skin cancer risk. Humpf!

So, the result of my research is: we definitely need vit D. From there its ambiguous. I will likely still spend a few minutes in the sun most days during the summer without sunscreen and use SPF for longer exposure (as I've been doing for the past number of years). Perhaps I'll supplement in winter. If my March Mood returns, I will definitely supplement. (Did I mention that too much is toxic & you can't get vit D toxicity from the sun?)

As for the kids--they spend a lot of time outdoors & I don't slather them up really early morning or late afternoon or for really short periods. Peak times they definitely get slathered up! They also drink milk which is fortified with vit D so I think they are ok. They will absolutely not be laying out in their teens with the baby oil on. If I'm lucky they will also never choose to visit a tanning bed.

If you want to read more about vit D for yourself, I found this article a bit scientific, but thorough:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Newsflash: you get skin cancer from the sun

Well, the "spot" is gone. My hubby is now calling me a "cancer survivor". Hardly! He even tried to convince me to start wearing a pink ribbon. If I'm lucky he'll never learn what the pink ribbon is for. The surgery was easy & short. The result is going to be a much larger scar than I expected. It was a small "superficial" spot & is going to end up being a 1 1/4 inch scar. Scars = life experience, right?

In my teens & early 20s, life was all about the first few good burns of the season. I'm fair skinned, but once I establish a bit of tan, I get some good color. Don't we all look better with color? And, slather me in the baby oil! Off season, bring on the tanning bed.

Enter my friend JoAnn. She is single-handedly responsible for the change in my ways. She taught me how to properly use SPF during a Florida vacation about 10 years ago. Here's how this stuff works: use it and use a lot of it. Reapply & reapply often. When summer begins (or you visit someplace where the sun is stronger), start with a high SPF (at least 15). You will tan. You will not burn. As your tan builds you can gradually reduce the SPF. During that vacation we started with 15, moved to 8 after a few days & switched to 4 a few days after that. Think brown, not red. This way you also get to enjoy your entire vacation without being forced indoors or suffering in burn pain and the smell of aloe. And who can make friends when you smell like aloe? Also & perhaps the most important benefit of proper use of SPF is that YOUR TAN WILL LAST LONGER!!! Don't believe me? Try it!

Here's where I'm confused though: vitamin D or SPF? Vitamin D is all the rage. The stats are in & we don't get enough of it. How do we properly balance enough sun without too much? I see research in my future....

Monday, March 28, 2011

I have skin cancer

Once again, I am lucky. It's the most common skin cancer--basal cell carcinoma & it's one where you simply remove the "spot" and it's gone. Each time it reappears, they remove it again. No big deal though it's a nuisance. The few people I've told so far have all either had it or someone very close to them has.

Through the experience with my oldest's allergies I learned to essentially tell doctors what I want in the way of other specialists, second opinions, etc. I know when I can't handle something on my own and they should too. If their egos get in the way, I move on.

In August I asked my nurse practitioner (note my official doctor works P-T & I've never even met her) to look at a couple spots I thought were cysts. She told me to let her know if they change color. I told her one does, but since it's in a spot where my sports bra rubs, she determined it was just irritated. Months later something came up & I became fearful that the spot on my leg was a  type of lymphoma. I called the nurse & said I wanted a referral to a dermatologist. She said I'd have to come back in. What? If it's concerning enough to me to call & insist on a referral, go with it. And it is something she has already seen. I don't have time to monkey around with extra appointments & potentially arguing with my PCM. I switched PCMs. When I went to the new doc, she looked at the spot on my chest & gave me an "um hum" (read: no big deal). Then she looked at the spot on my leg & said "ohhhh" (read: big deal). I'm now trying not to cry & fake like I didn't "hear" this reaction. I am of course internally convinced I have lymphoma and that had it been diagnosed 6 months earlier I would be in a better situation for treatment.

When I see the dermatologist, she looks at my leg & says, "that's no big deal". Whew! What relief! "But, I think this thing on your chest is skin cancer." It's all relative. Skin cancer--whatever. I don't have lymphoma (internal dance party!!!)! I was so happy I didn't ask any questions. Fortunately before I left she told me what she thought it was. Otherwise when it sunk in I'm sure I would've researched it and decided I had melanoma. (Ever notice how if you diagnose yourself online, it's dire?) A week later the biopsy confirmed her thoughts. Tomorrow this thing will be removed.

The moral: if you know something is wrong, trust your gut. Ask for what you want & if your doctors aren't giving you satisfactory answers, move on. Ultimately it's your health & there are a lot of really good doctors out there. Listen to your instincts!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stop the Screaming!

Picking up where I left off, we came home from the hospital and my child proceeded to mostly scream his head off. I read everything I could get my hands on. I learned all the soothing techniques & infant massage. It didn't stop. I literally spent all my time trying to sooth him & keep the crying at bay. I prayed for the 6 week mark (the experts all indicated that would be the 'peak'). Nothing changed so I focused on the 12 week mark. Still no change. The response from the doctor was "have you heard of colic?" I'm fairly certain I hit him. In addition to the screaming he was spitting up like crazy & we put him on acid reflux medicine which helped some, but it was still a lot. He also clearly turned to food for comfort. He was in the 95% for weight by 9 weeks & was gaining a 1/2 lb. a week.

After 5 months of screaming (I quit my job as I couldn't bare the thought of a sitter leaving my child to cry in the corner), I started talking to my friend Jen whose child had a milk allergy. He had all the same symptoms. So I went to a specialist. Since I was nursing, I had to cut foods that affected him out of my diet. It's all trial & error at that age and it takes 2 weeks to get things out of your system. First was milk (this includes butter & whey). The crying significantly improved, but he still wasn't the smiling angel I had pictured when I got pregnant. Next was soy. Just to clarify soy is in EVERYTHING! If it's fried, it's fried in soybean oil (aka vegetable oil). If it's in a box or bag it has soy or soybean oil in it. At this point I was keeping a journal. After week 1 of giving up soy I made a clear connection with wheat. So--no milk, soy or wheat. That leaves meat, veggies cooked in olive oil & rice. Let's just say I was the skinniest I've ever been in my life & I'm very thankful for my hubby who can cook anyone under the table.

We were lucky. It turns out the child was "hyper sensitive" vs. truly allergic. He outgrew wheat around 7 months. Soy around a year and milk at 16 months. What I found odd about the whole experience was the lack of knowledge. I worked in a department of 40 people. Eight of us had babies within a year. Three of those babies had food allergies. That's over 37%. Why wasn't it being talked about? I'm certain there were many other parents going through the same thing who didn't have a "Jen" to clue them in. That was almost 5 years ago & I know awareness of food allergies with babies has increased significantly.

So this is mostly how/why my journey begins.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Welcome to the world precious child!

Beginning from the beginning...

When I was pregnant, a girl who worked for me came into my office and essentially warned me to research vaccines before I gave them to my child. She had a 7-year-old child who was autistic and she was convinced MMR was the cause. Her "warning" was done in a passive, non-confrontational way. She mostly said, "just research them." I nodded and smiled, but didn't think much about it.

At some point (I must have been bored) I did research it. I discovered one vaccine with aluminum and another (Rotovirus which is really fun, but more about that later) had been introduced and then pulled due to bad reactions, but it was newly back & on the list to give.

Then I have my precious child. Cue the glorious music. Bring on the flowers. Check out my bundle of pure joy. Bring in the nurse who is ready to give my newborn a Hep B shot. Bring the music to a screeching halt. What? Don't you get Hep B from sex & drugs, as in needles? I'm fairly certain he's not at risk. Bring the music back on.

Ok, that's not exactly how it happened. My first night after having him, my precious newborn started screaming his head off. The nurses disappeared. After what felt like hours I finally got him to stop crying by putting him up on my shoulder, but I was so sleep deprived (I had him in the middle of the night, the night before) I was falling asleep & I was afraid of dropping him (being a first-time mom & all). So I called the hubby to come back so I could sleep. Once I did fall asleep the nurses reappeared to wake me up and take my blood pressure. Really? Then he wouldn't latch. I swear I tried to get anyone who walked in the room to help me get him to latch. The food delivery people were no exception. Then enter Hep B shot nurse. I wasn't prepared. As I recall I very politely told her that I needed to research that one before giving it to my newborn. In retrospect and based on all the stress alive & well in the room, I likely threw something at her & told her to get my baby to latch. Exit nurse. Enter forms & new nasty-nurse attitude. I was never so happy to leave anyplace in my life.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Changing the Conversation

I am starting this blog because of a few things I've discovered in my 5 short years of motherhood that I find downright scary. I have sometimes joked with friends about being a "crazy mom" because in some respects I go to great lengths to protect the health of my kids. The truth is, I'm not crazy. I'm educated and I've taken the time to research a few health-related issues. I want change. To achieve that change, I think the conversation needs to be altered.

There have been astronomical increases in autism, allergies, asthma, arthritis and diabetes in recent years. In my heart of hearts I believe these increases are due to vaccines and/or all the processing (and additives) in our food.

As it relates to vaccines, here's the deal: the conversation has been whether or not to vaccinate. If you vaccinate you are putting your child at risk of all the potential side effects (known & unknown) of the vaccine itself. If you don't vaccinate, you are putting your child at risk of contracting some nasty and sometimes life-threatening diseases. It's no-win and it's not a choice parents should have to make.

The conversation should be about the safety of vaccines. I'm no scientist, but surely toxin-free vaccines can be manufactured. Get rid of the carcinogens--the formaldehyde, mercury, aluminum, etc. Is that so impossible? Why have vaccine manufacturers even been allowed to put those ingredients in the vaccines to begin with? I don't get it. To achieve change I think we parents are going to have to stand up for the safety of our kids (and ourselves).

So that's where I start. Through this blog I plan to take readers (if I have any) through my journey and provide some of my learnings along the way. I'm not anti-vaccine or anti-food. I am about the safety of the things we are putting into our kids. And I want change.