Friday, December 31, 2010

Green Isn't Always Healthy...Did You Know?

Did you know that "green" and "eco-friendly" aren't always the same as "healthy?" We're in a time now when everybody's rushing to buy products that are sustainable and green, with the idea that surely what they're buying is better for the environment, and the assumption that these products are also healthier, too. But the truth is, green isn't always healthy.

Almost seven years ago, my mom succumbed to breast cancer. It was a recurrence of the cancer that she'd battled and defeated (we thought) almost five years before, and on March 5, 2004, we lost her. It was my mom's battle with cancer that made me wonder...what exactly was the cause? I've realized over time that it probably wasn't just one thing. I've done a fair bit of reading on potential carcinogens and causes of cancer, and as a result, I've taken action in my life to reduce my own exposure as much as possible without going overboard (I could go on and on about what "overboard" means, but suffice to say, I believe that enjoying life is just as important as taking care with your body and your environment).

Back to green and healthy...I learned a long time ago that sometimes green and sustainable products aren't the same as healthy products. For example, I could buy a nightstand for my bedroom that's made with reclaimed wood- this makes it a "green" product. But most of these tables are covered in polyurethane varnish, which typically offgasses toxic and carcinogenic particles for up to seven years. 

And since my bedroom has been on my mind lately, let's look more closely at that room in particular. You spend 7-8 hours a night sleeping in your bedroom. That's a lot of time, especially if you've painted the walls with regular paint, used an average carpet on the floor, have bedding you picked up at Bed, Bath & Beyond, bought regular furniture and a regular mattress, plus standard IKEA're in an offgassing nightmare with literally hundreds of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).  And on average, you're breathing on those toxins 2,758 hours per year that you're spending sleeping in that room.

But what if you went green? So you bought low-VOC paint. You bought bamboo flooring. You bought a natural latex mattress and organic cotton sheets. You bought reclaimed furniture for the bedroom and darn it, you're green.

Believe it or not, though, there are still hazards for you in that room. Your low-VOC paint is still offgassing VOCs, your bamboo flooring and reclaimed furniture are covered in polyurethane, your latex mattress just might be held together with glue and stabilizers, and your sheets are probably smooth because of chemical agents used in the processing. So you're still breathing in that stuff. Sure, you've reduced your carbon footprint and you can feel good about that. But you didn't really do much for yourself or for your health.

It's only in the last few months that I've seen green, sustainable, and eco-friendly manufacturers using words like "indoor air quality" and "non-toxic," words I used six years ago when I remodeled my house and befuddled my contractors by ordering my own materials, hardwood floor stain, and zero-VOC floor varnish and wall paint.So it certainly is easier to find both green and non-toxic products and materials now, but it's still a challenge...less so, if you've educated yourself.

As we move forward with a market of more and more green and sustainable products, keep your eyes open and pay attention to what you're investing in for your home. If your health is at all important to you, ask yourself if your cleaning products, your furniture, your clothes, your bedding, everything around you is both green and non-toxic. While you don't need to go overboard, it would serve most people well to at least question what's in the immediate household environment and ask, "Is this good for me?"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, Leo!

On this day, my hubster turns 52! Now, I've planned a special day for him today, finished by a romantic dinner out, but in honor of his birthday, I wanted to share some photos of a recent trip we took to Target, where Leo was inspired by some of the home decor items (forgive the substandard camera work from my Sidekick, which is soon to be replaced). Enjoy!






A to Z...which confounded Leo
a bit, I think, with regard to expression.

Happy birthday to the best man I know!
I love you, Sweet Pea!

Monday, December 27, 2010

We Shaved Our Cat!

As some of you know, one of our cats, Kate, is twenty years old. Kate has lived a long and happy life, and is one of the most beautiful, friendly cats I've ever encountered. Well, sadly, we found out last month that Kate has a tumor in her jaw and probably won't be with us much longer. Currently she's not in pain and seems to be doing just fine, but we're keeping a close eye on her to see if there are any changes.

It's amazing what cats do when it comes to their own care, and Leo and I have discovered just how much they actually do, since Kate recently stopped being able to clean herself, and despite all attempts on our part, we can't do nearly as well as she did on her own. As a result, some of her hair on her back became matted and there was no real way to brush it out, so our vet suggested we shave the mats. 

This being winter, we thought she'd be too cold, but Leo said, "Why don't we get her a sweater?" I said, "There's no possible universe where Kate will wear a sweater. She'll wiggle out of it. No way." But Leo insisted she'd love it and we bought it.

Well, I'll be darned if Kate doesn't love her sweater. She absolutely adores it and so here I am, publicly announcing: I was wrong. You know...this time. LOL

The sweater fits her perfectly and she's just delighted with it, so now our poor little shaved cat is wandering around the house in a pink and white striped sweater. I never thought I'd see the day.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Latest Fave Avocado Treat

Lately, I've been working out first thing in the morning, and when I'm done, my body is hungry for something really healthy. I've always loved avocado, but never craved it in the morning until recently, when a vague memory of reading about spreading avocado on toast resurfaced. I happened to have a really nice whole wheat bread and an avocado and I thought, "Hm, that might be nice," and I tried it and it's unbelievable. It's delicious. Plus, it's better than butter because you're actually getting a health benefit from the fats you're consuming (avocado is a "good" fat) and it's better than dry toast because...well, unless you're hung over or sick, who really likes dry toast? ("Me," says my husband, Leo, who actually does eat dry toast occasionally, but frankly, he likes to dip dry toast into sunny-side-up eggs, so as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't count)

Now, I have a couple of tips for your avocado toast treat. First, use bread that's substantial. I'm currently in love with Nature's Pride Extra Fiber Whole Wheat bread because it doesn't have any of the weirdo partially-hydrogenated nonsense or creepy high-fructose corn syrup, and it has a nice flavor. 

Second, get an avocado that's ripe, but not too ripe. It should have a little give to it when you give it a gentle squeeze, but it shouldn't be mushy. If it's rock-solid when you squeeze it, you can put it next to some apples for a day or so to ripen it up. Apples give off a gas that makes other produce ripen faster. We have a three-tiered wire basket that hangs from our ceiling where we keep apples separate from other stuff, and it works great for ripening avocados, but you could also put an apple and an avocado in a paper bag overnight and it works even better.

Prepare your toast normally. While your bread is toasting, cut your avocado in half as in the photo. I use an avocado peeler (left) from Pampered Chef that I bought for $6.50 years ago. It's one of the best kitchen purchases I've made, because it's quite versatile. 

Once you've sliced your avocado, take the side that doesn't have the pit and use your avocado peeler (or a table knife or a butter knife) to sort of...scuff the top of the avocado. You're not slicing here- you're creating a spread. Then you just spread the avocado over your toast. I probably use 1/8 avocado for one piece of toast, if even that much. 

I save my avocado and use it daily until it's gone. If you're easily icked out, know that avocado changes color rapidly and will go from green to brown as it oxidizes. This doesn't mean anything about the quality of the avocado, but if it bothers you, squeeze a little lemon over the exposed part of the avocado. Alternatively, the next day you can just scuff off the icky brown part and underneath it'll be perfectly bright green. Enjoy!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Rocks!

I love Christmas. Love, love, love it. Aside from the spiritual implications of the holiday, I love nothing more than a warm, cozy Yuletide with family, so the second Thanksgiving is over, I'm ready to decorate the tree. 
Leo and I spend an evening with a roaring fire, eggnog (the real stuff!), and we decorate our tree together. I have stories about pretty much every ornament on our tree. There are some ornaments that are special because I've had them since I was a little girl, like the "Shrinky Dink" ones we made together. Others are important because they hung on my grandmother's tree. I have ornaments that were gifts- my stepmom used to give me an ornament every year, and each one was something totally different from anything I'd seen before- and ornaments that I made myself, like the satin ball I covered with beads from my great-grandmother's necklace. Then there are the "travel ornaments." Whenever Leo and I go on a trip together, we buy an ornament for our tree. And as we decorate, each ornament brings back memories and moments, creating one of the most pleasant nights of the year.

But it's not just the decorating that I love. It's the gifts. No, not receiving them (though I'm not going to lie...I do like receiving). It's the giving that I love. All year long, I'm like a spy, keeping my eyes and ears open and listening to my friends and family, trying to get some hints about what they want, thinking of what gifts might bring a smile to their faces. Sometimes I make gifts, sometimes I buy them online, but Leo and I always spend at least one afternoon out at the mall amongst the masses, enjoying the hustle and bustle.

The day before Christmas (or sometimes the morning of Christmas Day), I make my great-grandmother's persimmon pudding, a recipe that was passed down to my grandmother and my mother to me. As I read my Nana's handwriting, I think of her, and always laugh when I get to the part of the recipe that says, "Bake in a slow oven; 275 for an hour, then 300 for awhile, and 325 for a bit." It makes me giggle, wondering what "awhile" and "a bit" are supposed to mean, but Nana always made her pudding perfectly, and somehow, mine turns out just fine, too. Making the persimmon pudding is a special moment for me, as it really does connect me to the women in my family who I have loved and who are no longer with me. I feel like the keeper of a precious legacy that I will one day pass down to my children.

Christmas is a special day like no other. And though I don't get religious on that day and I haven't gone to church on Christmas Eve in years, there is a unique vibe in the air this time of year, something that's different from any other season.

Next year should be even bigger, warmer, and more exciting, as we'll have the whole family at our house for the big holiday dinner. Leo and I have already started planning. :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Raw Lemon Avocado Pudding And My Juice Fast

This week I'm doing a light, 3-day juice fast. I thought it would be good for me to detox a little. Leo and I have been working on getting our acts together where our health is concerned and this is a part of that effort. I researched juice fasts and found a fantastic web site called Cooler Cleanse. They offer a very schmancy service where they ship you three or five days worth of fresh juices for your fast. At $57/day, I thought it was a bit steep, so I printed out their 3-day plan and cobbled together my own home-based version at a third of the cost. 

They had a couple of "cheat" recipes on their web site that you can make just in case you get a little desperate. The first was a seriously yummy raw zucchini hummus, and the second was this raw lemon avocado pudding, which I'm posting because I think it's kind of an interesting flavor and worth trying, if you're adventurous and willing to enjoy a few bites before deciding if you like it or not.-it took me about three bites before I could figure out if I liked it, because the flavor combination was so unfamiliar to me. Final verdict: Yum. 

1/2 avocado
1 lemon
1/2 c pitted dates, chopped

Peel the lemon and cut it in half. Remove the seeds. Combine the avocado, lemon, and dates in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. If you need water to improve your blending process, add a little at a time, just to get the blender moving.

I used an immersion blender, but I think a food processor might've been a good first step before moving to the immersion blender. I'd post a photo, but honestly, it's not a pretty product. The dates take the bright avocado green to a muddy color. prepared for that.
Blend it long enough and the texture gets really creamy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Toxic Secrets About Your Bedroom, Part 1 (ooh la la!)

Did you know that your bedroom just might be one of the most toxic places in your entire home? We hear a lot about things like nonstick cookware, paint, and mold, but it's rare that we hear much about the bedroom. Yet you spend a third of your life (at least!) in that room. So does it make sense to fill it with toxins and poisons? No! Since Leo and I are currently revamping our own bedroom, I thought it fitting to discuss the potential toxins in the bedroom in a multi-part series. Today, the first toxin in your bedroom.

Think you know what's in your mattress?
Toxin #1: The Mattress
I was amazed when I recently flipped through Mother Earth News and saw a Tempur-Pedic mattress ad taking up an entire page. Why? Because Tempur-Pedic is an offgassing nightmare of toxins and poisons. Comfortable? Maybe. But is it worth it, when there are natural alternatives? Memory foam is bad news, and the worst part is that there are so many beds making use of it now that it's hard to avoid. Plus, most mattress salespeople are woefully undereducated about their product, so they'll tell you there's nothing toxic about the beds at all. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you think you're safe going with, say, an air mattress like the Sleep Number bed, think again, because they put memory foam in between the air channels, plus those air channels are made of plastic and rubber that offgas, too.

Okay, so why not just your standard Sealy or average mattress from your local mattress store? Well, first, there may be memory foam in those mattresses, too. Second, you may be dealing with other fillers from countries unknown- meaning you just don't know what's in them, which means you may be inhaling pesticides and other chemicals while you sleep.

Third, it's not just the filling of the mattress you have to worry about. It's the covering. If you have a cotton cover for your mattress, there may be chemicals in that- certainly most mattresses are built with a cover that's treated with flame retardants, as required by law. Of course, who wants to wake up in the burning bed? Still, there are natural alternatives to the chemical flame retardants, as you'll see in my solutions list. And, if you're still inclined to go with a regular mattress, you can have your doctor write a prescription so you aren't forced to have the chemical options.

So what's the answer to the mattress dilemma? Well, there are a few potential solutions to the toxic mattress problem: 

Natural Latex. Natural latex comes from the rubber tree and can be a great solution that offers comfort as well as a toxin-free sleep. It's also an eco-friendly option. But beware: many natural latex suppliers use toxic glues to bind it together, as well as chemical stabilizers to maintain the shape needed for a mattress. You have to check with manufacturer to find out what you're getting. There are some expensive options in natural latex, but even IKEA has some fairly comfortable (albeit slightly on the firmer side) natural latex mattresses (note that IKEA has options that combine natural latex with memory foam and options that are solely natural latex with coil springs).

Organic Cotton. Okay, remember back when you were in college and slept on futons? Well, they're not so bad for you, actually, and they can be a great, non-toxic alternative. But that's not the only way to get organic cotton in your mattresses. You can also get the spring-style mattress that most of us are used to in an organic cotton version.

Wool. Wool is a great mattress filler, since it's both a natural flame retardant and also wicks away the heat in the summer and keeps you warm in the winter. Wool is also a great component in a mattress topper (I've had a wool mattress topper for years and absolutely love it), and good for people with allergies.

Organic Cotton and Wool. Since another concern is the flame retardant chemicals used on the outside casing of a mattress, many manufacturers use wool as a natural flame retardant. Wool is also used as a batting material and you can find some great spring-style mattresses in cotton and wool in a wide range of prices.

Organic Cotton, Wool, and Horsehair. One of the more interesting mattress fillers is horsehair, which is harvested in a cruelty-free fashion. Combined with cotton and wool in an innerspring mattress, this option can create an incredibly comfortable mattress. There are reasonably-priced models made here in the States and outrageously-priced models from Sweden, so you have a pretty wide range to choose from.

The range of non-toxic beds is wide enough these days that you have a lot to choose from. In Indiana, we had a difficult time finding any stores that carried non-toxic beds (worse, we couldn't find people who knew what we were talking about), but we did find some useful places to shop in Chicago (including IKEA, though I can't verify whether they use flame retardant chemicals on their bedding). If you're on the West Coast, you'll find a ridiculous number of options and suppliers. The web sites below should get you started.

Chicago Luxury Beds
Re-Nest Shopper's Guide
Pristine Planet Green Comparison (all may not be non-toxic)

In Part 2, I'll talk about the second toxin in your bedroom: Your bedding itself.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Love/Hate Relationship With Woot-Offs

I can't help it. I love They offer one deal every day. It's simple, it's easy, it's a great business concept and they often have cool stuff at great prices. Every single one of my Roombas (I have four) came from Woot (okay, I did get one from my dad, who got it from Woot). I haven't always had good luck with Woot. My dad and I both ordered a GPS from them and when they arrived, it turned out they only operated in Spanish (they accepted the return and English).

But the Woot-Off...oh, the Woot-Off. A Woot-Off, in case you don't know, is when Woot offers deal after deal throughout the day (or a series of days). There's no set time limit for how long any item may appear, no one knows what items will show up, and there's always a "Random Bag of Crap," which typically sells for $3.00 (+$5.00 shipping) and could be anything. I once ordered a RBOC and it had...ready? A Roomba. Yep, one of my Roombas cost me a whopping $8.00.

Now, I love the Woot-Off because it's exciting and you never know when something awesome's going to show up. But I hate the Woot-Off for the following reasons:
  1. It creates the worst of the worst in impulse buying. You don't know how in-demand something will be, so you only have a brief moment to decide, "Do I really need this?" I find it's best to start with the assumption that you don't need anything.
  2. It creates a compulsion to sit at your computer all day, waiting to see what deals they'll put up. This is much worse if you're looking for a specific item. For example, I have been waiting for two days for a Scooba to show up, since I missed it the first time it came around at 3:30 AM yesterday morning, when I happened to have insomnia. It came up and sold out faster than my sleep-deprived brain could process. So now I'm waiting for a second Scooba to come up.
  3. There's no automation like with eBay, so you can't walk away from it. Sure, there's Wootalyzer, so you don't have to keep refreshing your screen to keep track of the items, but you can't set anything to automatically make a buy for you.
So here's a business idea for a savvy programmer: If you can get Woot to give you access to their API, perhaps you could develop a program like the auction sniper software you can use with eBay. If I want a Scooba, I could choose "Scooba" from a menu of items that have been on Woot previously, set a price range I'm willing to pay, and select an option to just buy it when it shows up on Woot. And if you could automatically get me a RBOC, I'd be tickled pink. Let me know when you get it programmed and I'll happily beta-test it for you. Mama wants a Scooba.