Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Educate Yourself: a letter to my daughter

Dear Olive,

When I was a little girl, I was taught a simple truth. Everyone must look within themselves to find confidence and happiness. I was kind of goofy and awkward with big ears and a big cheesy grin on my face All. The. Time. So, my confidence was a bit shaky. Funny, because now I think those features are beautiful as I see them in you.
I'm sure I don't need to point myself out. 

I stayed awkward for a very long time. Sure, people would tell me I was "cute" but I always thought of that as an abbreviated way of saying "I find your looks agreeable, but not to my taste." It didn't help that my older sister (Aunt Sarah) has always been incredibly beautiful and smart to boot, who can compete with that? Of course, now I realize that okay, I wasn't a model, but I was unique. I was a total goofball straddling the line of social embarrassment and it made me different and interesting. I like to think that I have finally learned to appreciate my beauty. 

But this isn't about now. This is about the time before that. I'm talking about when I decided my lot in life would be centered around making myself as educated as possible. I would live my dream life even though I wasn't blessed with the Movie Star Looks. A lot of fairy tales start with a "beautiful princess" with some kind of flowing hair or sparkly frock or something. Why can't they start with a "wickedly smart princess" with a high-powered career?
 I made some goals for myself. Some not so realistic, mostly because I was under the age of 10. I'm sure you will come up with some crazy awesome goals, too, and will accomplish most if not all of them. You are my child, you know. It's important to have goals, they remind you what is important. 
You too can be this smart! 

One. I would go to a really good college. Two. I would become a doctor of some sort, perhaps a brain surgeon (not sure why I picked that one, maybe because it seemed to be the most difficult?) Three. I would adopt a child because the thought of childbirth totally grossed me out. I would teach her several languages. Four. I would marry an incredibly handsome and mysterious man who was some kind of wealthy artist (HA!). Five. I would use his wealth and my wealth to buy a stable and horses for my sister, in case she didn't already have it, being a world famous equestrian horseback rider. 

Accomplished Goal #1 with your Daddy and Aunt Sarah by my side.
So there you have it, the actual career was switched out periodically, but it was always something that would require a LOT of education. I enjoyed school. I was pretty good at it. It didn't matter what I looked like, it was a way for me to feel good about myself without the subjective eye of others. I felt incredibly confident in my "smarts" mostly because my parents did a good job of praising me when I had good grades. They didn't pressure me too much but knew when I needed a kick in the pants. This is what you can expect from your father and me. When you find something that makes you feel good about yourself, we will support you 100%, no matter what it is. The best way to find what you love, is to educate yourself. READ lots of books. At least once in your life, spend the whole day in the library just exploring all the different genres and build yourself a fortress of novels to read all summer. There are seriously entire universes to explore in those things! GO on adventures. Go to the zoo, to the museum, or a painter's studio. See what other's are doing with their lives and it might spark something in you, too. OPEN your mind. If you let anyone tell you that you can't do something because it's too hard or just plain weird, you might miss out on something good. Want to join the circus? That's pretty awesome. So awesome, someone might feel jealous and tell you to scale it down a bit. You know what you do? Go out and practice your cartwheels, you're gonna need them for your audition. 

Our Wall of Education (hard to see, but that's Sherlock)

So, essentially all this ranting is to reiterate the advice that I am giving you... educate yourself, my dear. I'm not going to tell you that you need to go to college to be happy, because that is a lie. There are a lot of really smart people doing really awesome things without a college degree. It is up to you. You may be just as goofy and awkward as your mom, but you will have the tools to live out your goals and find the confidence within yourself. Your goals will change a lot with time, and while mommy never did become a brain surgeon or buy horses for Aunt Sarah, she did have you which is SO much better than any goal she could have dreamed for herself.

To my greatest accomplishment, I love you
Tracey (Mama)  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

DIY: Easy Peasy Bath Products

DIY: Easy Peasy Bath Products 

I don't know about you guys, but I am sick of buying beauty and cleaning products with crazy ingredients I can't pronounce. Oh, and the super expensive "natural" alternatives? I'm no sucker. For just a little bit of work and a fraction of the cost, you can make your own products that are safe, effective, and very simple. Here are some tried-and-true recipes I've acquired and tweaked according to what works for me. Most of the recipes are based on a mix of Tsh Oxenreider's  Organized Simplicity, Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson, and plain old trial-and-error from my dear Crunchy friends. Feel free to pass it on to your friends and family and experiment with them. It's actually pretty fun and rather addicting...

For Your Hair & Body

Shopping List for your whole family: 
Baking Soda
Vinegar (Apple Cider or White)
Coconut Oil
Stevia powder
Peppermint Extract
Witch Hazel
Shea Butter
Almond Oil
Grapefruit Seed Extract
Dr. Bronner's Pure Castille Soap
Squirt Bottles
Ground Oats
Powdered Milk

Hair Cleanser:
1 tbsp Baking Soda to 1 cup of warm water.
Add Baking Soda to a squirt bottle and fill with warm water. You can keep the squirt bottle in your shower...shake it and squirt it into your roots! Scrub it in, rinse it off, and follow with the vinegar rinse (see below). 

Hair Conditioning Rinse:
1 part Apple Cider Vinegar or White Vinegar to 4 parts warm water.
Combine the vinegar and water in a squirt bottle and keep in your shower along with the cleanser. Squirt it through your hair (avoid the roots) and comb it through. Rinse it off immediately or your hair might end up greasy pretty quick. 

2 tbsp. Coconut Oil
2 tbsp. Baking Soda
1/4 tsp. Stevia powder
2-3 drops peppermint extract
Mix it all together and store in a small jar with a lid or an empty squeeze tube. Just use it like any other toothpaste! 

Deodorant Mist: 
1/2 cup Witch Hazel
1 tbsp. Baking Soda
splash of Dr. Bronner's Pure Castille Soap--any scent (I prefer the Tea Tree Oil kind)
1/2 cup Distilled Water 
Combine ingredients into a spray bottle, then just shake and spray! I like to use a recycled body mist bottle, as the mist is much finer and dries quicker. This mist is so much more refreshing than any deodorant you have ever experienced and it is non-irritating! 

Oh, and...
Shaving Cream! 

For more info on "No-Poo" (going shampoo-free) check out my other post.  

For Your Baby

Like most moms, I obsess over what products to use on my child. Baby's skin is so new and sensitive, you really ought to research what every ingredient is and how it can affect them. You'd be amazed by how many "baby products" on the market right now are not good for babies. Steer clear of anything containing parabens, fragrance, Propylene Glycol, SLS, or Dioxane. Even "Unscented" or "Fragrance-Free" products can contain phthalates to mask odors. Use less products. It seems pretty obvious, but babies don't need to be slathered in creams and powders. The skin they are born with is *usually* perfect and won't need much more than a bit of warm water and a washcloth to clean. As they get older, though, they get messier. So then you need to use a little soap. Here is a cheat sheet for soaps that are currently on the market, by SafeMama: Cheat Sheet PDF.

If you'd like to make your own cleanser, so you know exactly what your putting on your baby, try a nice little Bath Milk Recipe. This one comes from a DIYer at Momfuse.com

Baby Bath Milk:
1 cup powdered milk
1/4 cornstarch
1/4 cup finely ground oats
2-3 drops lavender or chamomile essential oil
Mix them all together into a shaker style bottle. Sprinkle a little bit into warm bath water for  baby! 

Baby Bottom Cream for cloth diapering:
1 oz Coconut oil
1 oz Olive Oil
1 oz Shea Butter
1/2 oz beeswax
5 drops grapefruit seed extract
3 drops your choice of essential oil
Use a double boiler to melt down the coconut oil, shea butter, and beeswax followed by the olive oil. Mix it well, then transfer it to a mixing bowl to let it cool. Just before it reaches room temperature, add the grapefruit seed extract and essential oil and mix it with a hand mixer or a whisk until it is "whipped". If it is too runny, just add more beeswax. This is cloth diaper safe and antiviral, antifungal, anti-yeast, antibacterial, and highly moisturizing! 

For Your House

These recipes are very basic and have been around for as long as houses have been cleaned. Mix them up with care, as cleaning chemicals can have toxic reactions if mixed improperly (i.e. bleach and ammonia can create toxic fumes). 

Baking Soda 
White Vinegar
Powdered laundry detergent 
Washing Soda 
Squirt bottles

All-Purpose Disinfectant:
3/4 cup of bleach
1 gallon of warm water
1 tbsp powdered laundry detergent
Wash surface with solution and keep it wet for 5 minutes. Rinse and let dry. You can use this pretty much anywhere in your home, but avoid using it on metal fixtures). 

Mild All-Purpose Cleaner:
4 tbsp. Baking Soda
1 quart warm water 
(optional) A few drops of essential oil
Wipe surfaces with a sponge soaked in the solution. This is great for the fridge or trash cans as it cleans light soil and deodorizes. 

Mild, Gently Abrasive Cleanser:
Add enough drops of water to Baking Soda to form a paste. Can remove crayon from walls and shine your sink! 

Strong All-Purpose Cleaner:
Add 1 tbsp of ammonia and liquid laundry detergent to a pint of water. 
Add 1.2 cup Washing soda to 1 gallon warm water
Can be used in kitchens or bathrooms, but shouldn't be used on fiberglass or aluminum. 

Toilet Bowl Cleaner: 
1/4 cup Baking Soda 
1 cup White Vinegar

So, there you have it. All pretty simple recipes and all made with stuff you know is safe. Buy some ingredients and try a couple out. Come on...I've done most of the work for you! 

Thank you, again, to all my friends that helped compile these awesome recipes! Crunchy mamas are so helpful!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Our adventures eating plants

On 2/20/2012 we watched a documentary called "Forks over Knives." It was your typical "Modern food is making you sick and fat" type documentary, but something about it clicked.  I don't know that I'm completely convinced by some of their suppositions and premises, but the overall theme of it was eat a whole foods, plant based diet to become healthier.  If you would like to watch it, it was an interesting watch and they state their reasons and conclusions.  To make a long story short, though, I told Tracey "If you want to try that I'm on board."   I'm one of, if not the pickiest eater that I know.  This was no small statement for me, but with Olive being born and me turning 30 soon I wanted to make a choice for a healthy lifestyle so I could be around for her as long as possible.  I don't smoke and don't drink that much.  In fact, we rarely keep beer in the house, I just don't drink it.  It isn't for any type of moral choice or reason, I just don't find the occasion to drink beer that often, it's not something i consume on a "just because" basis.

The next day Tracey went out and bought a bunch of stuff for vegetarian dinners and we established two ground rules. 1) If she makes it, I'll try it. 2) We're not gonna be "those people" who refuse to eat what someone else cooked for them because they're vegetarian.  I understand that some people have been vegetarian for so long that their bodies can't process meat anymore.  I'm not saying that if you refuse someone else's cooking your a bad person or anything like that.  For us, we just wanted to live our life our way and still be able to hang with other people and the foods they ate.  The way it's ended up working out is that 7-10 meals at the house every week are vegetarian guaranteed. That includes Dinner M-F and Lunch and Dinner on the weekends.  Sometimes we get some fast food or go out, sometimes we cook some chicken or fish.  The point is we have changed our diet and our lifestyle to have our meals based around the plants that are in them, not the meats.  When we do eat meat, it doesn't feel like "cheating" because we're not on a diet.  We've changed our lifestyle to be vegetarian with occasional meat.

It's been almost 4 months now since we switched.  I've been keeping all of this in for that 4 months because for one thing, if it didn't work, if we went back to our old ways I didn't want to be a public failure.  Being a private failure is good enough for me.  Also,  I wanted to have a long term perspective on it.  Now, I didn't do what documentaries do and get a checkup with a bunch of blood work before I started to give out comparative numbers.  I didn't do that because this is a lifestyle choice, not a let me show you how awesome it is choice.  The reason I'm speaking about it now, really is because people lately have been telling me how I look great and have lost a lot of weight.  They want to know what I do and how much I exercise, etc.

I really just want to tell everyone my story and what has worked for me, where I'm at and where I want to be.  I don't really have a master plan, I'm just seeing where this all takes me.  So here are the numbers I do have.  I started weighing myself daily (mostly) on 2/21.  I weighed 195 then,  I weigh 175 now.  In 16 weeks, I've lost 20 lbs or about 1.25 lbs a week on average.  I think the on average part of that statement is the important part. Some days are "better" than others and some weeks are "better" than others.  I've found the important part for me is don't stress about the numbers.  If you know you're eating right the numbers will follow.  If you have a few days where you don't eat all that well, then get back on track, the numbers will follow.  It's important to look at your personal goals, whether that be lbs or inches on a macro (long term) level.  My 35 jeans were starting to get tight on me, my 34's now fall off my ass.  My goal was never to lose weight or get slimmer, it has always been to get healthier. Losing weight has just been a happy byproduct of that because I was overweight and storing a lot of extra fat.

I had gone to the doctor at the end of march for some allergy and sinus issues and my BP at the time was 125/85.  Not terrible, not great either, but given this was 5 weeks after we started this plant based foods thing it made me wonder where i was at.  I went back 6 weeks later for a second sinus infection (my sinuses suck) and my BP was 121/81 and that was literally 15 minutes after drinking a giant soda from Wendy's (yah I know terrible if you're going to get measured).  Even so, that's real close to normal, so I'll take it as a win.  I'm going back for a full workup around my 30th birthday because, it's just time to get that sort of thing done and doing it around your birthday makes it easier to remember. I'm interested to see the results.

This lifestyle might be for you and it might not, but at least give it a look see if it interests you.  I see so many people trying to lose weight by cutting things out of their life completely and that seems to me to be an extremist view of the world.  It's almost a level of obsession and fanaticism.  I think anything in moderation is ok (edible food wise, i wouldn't recommend low levels of cyanide in moderation).  I've seen people starve themselves or deprive themselves of the things they love.  Look, if your solution to losing weight is "go hungry" 1) don't focus on "losing weight" focus on being healthier 2) "go hungry" doesn't sound healthy.  Tracey and I are full every day at dinner because plants are filling and yummy.  I still have Whataburger on occasion   Hell, today I had some Wendy's 'cause I just forgot to bring lunch to work.  I'm not stressed about it, because I know it's a blip on the radar.  I can moderately indulge in my guilty pleasure foods and it's no big deal because my lifestyle as a whole is healthy.  These aren't slip-ups or cheating or even scheduled "cheat days."  I just go about my life and eat what I want, but what i want to eat is usually vegetarian.

I'd like to take a moment  to thank my wife, Tracey.  She does most (99.99999%) of the cooking at the house.  She feeds our family and without here I wouldn't have the time or the energy to make this change.  It's been great so far and I hope she knows how much I appreciate her and her culinary efforts.