Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Going Vegan?

So why did I quit writing on this blog? It's a valid question. I could say it was for lack of time or energy, and that has something to do with it, but in truth, I just didn't see the point. There are so many blogs out there, right now, doing what I was doing, and doing it better, that I simply didn't see the point. I felt like I was more regurgitaing the same crap instead of contributing to the discussion.

So why am I back?
Because I had something to talk about, and I thought maybe this would be a good forum for me.

So here goes...

As some of you who have read my blog may know, my father has been struggling with cancer for the past two years. He's had three surgeries, the last one resulting in the loss of a third of his lung and two ribs. It's been awful. Watching my father suffer like that has had a huge impact on me, but there is more to the story. You see, he's not the only one. I have a friend in my writing group with the same cancer as my dad - or I should say, had, I haven't seen him in six months. The parents of two of my childhood friends are struggling with cancer - one kidney, one breast, another family friend with throat cancer, and yet another friend who lost his mother to cancer.  My step mother-in-law was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and is waiting to have the tumor removed. My brother's father-in-law died from melanoma and my neighbor's husband just died a few weeks ago from thyroid cancer.

But wait, there's more...
Between my family and friends I know countless people with diabetes, and asthma and my mother-in-law, who has never smoked a day in her life, even has COPD. I feel like half the kids I know have allergies (many of them severe): milk, pork, sesame, peanut, tree nuts, eggs, chocolate (poor things) and wheat. And that's just what I could come up with off the top of my head.

And what about me? I'm ten pounds overweight, get daily headaches, have back problems and generally feel like garbage all the time!

I've felt the weight of all of this pressing down on me for months and I'm done. It's time to make a drastic change. Cue in Eat To Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.

Perhaps this just came at the perfect time, or maybe it was because I was searching for answers, but this book really spoke to me. The basic idea is to cut out all of the processed crap, as well as meat, eggs and dairy. Basically, go vegan. Of course, being vegan doesn't make you healthy - vegans can eat crap too - you have to eat a nutrient rich diet of fruits and vegetables.

I've honestly always had misgivings about eating animals,  so giving up meat was kind of liberating for me. It's giving up everything else that's so hard.

I admit, I feel a little crazy. Like everyone's going to think I'm some wac-a-do. I told my mom about it and she asked me if I was going to be one of those "vaguns" now.  I said, "No." But I'm not sure if that's true or not. I'm still working it all out in my head.

I just know I need to do something.

So what about you? Anyone else going to extremes to get healthy? Does anyone have any feedback for me? Am I just nuts? :)

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Power of Their Ideas

When I was growing up, if you wanted to make some money you were pretty-much limited to a fast food chain or lemonade stand, but that was before the internet when we were all still living in caves and using pay phones. But with the advent of the internet, a whole world of opportunities has opened up to our children. From Blogger, to Ebay, to Etsy, our kids have so many opportunities to showcase their creativity and even make a little money.

Earlier this year, my 7-year-old wanted to create his own blog (I wonder where he got that idea from?) and Sebastian's Game Blog was born. He hasn't done a ton with it, but the fact that he can is so incredibly cool to me.

Recently, I discovered that my niece, Sarah, was starting her own online business This isn't just a little fun blog or kiddy art site - oh, no - this is an Etsy store, Sunshine Vinyl, where you can purchase personalized monogram stickers for cars, laptops and pretty-much anything else you could possibly think of. She came up with the idea, bought the machinery, opened the store site, made examples, took pictures, wrote descriptions and priced the items herself.

Oh... did I mention that she's seventeen.

When I was seventeen, I worked at Taco Bell.

Over my many, many years, I've spent considerable time worrying about what I could do to bring in money for my family, and have felt, like so many of you, like an incompetent moron as I watch these young whipper-snappers dance figurative rings around me.

But now I realize that my problem is not a lack inspiration, or drive, or even computer know-how, it's me. It's the mentality of a thirty-something year old that a business is made up of four walls and a cash register. It's the fear of investing in something only to have it fail. And it's the worry that my ideas aren't good enough. What these kids understand is that life about taking chances? If you don't take chances, you'll never achieve anything. You have to have faith in the power of your ideas and go for it!

This lesson I have learned from a seventeen-year-old entrepreneur who is not only bright and creative, but brave enough to take those chances. I applaud her and wish her the best.

And, in the future, when this old lady needs business advice, it's nice to know I have a teenager waiting in the wings to guide me.

Damn, I'm old! :)

Check out Sarah's Etsy store: Sunshine Vinyl

Sunday, December 16, 2012

LInk to: Thinking the Unthinkable

In light of the recent events at Sandy Ridge Elementary, I wanted to share with you an article that has touched me deeply. It is written by a mother who is struggling to raise a child with mental illness. It has opened my eyes to the limits of our mental heath system. I hope you will find it as touching and poignant as I have.

Thinking the Unthinkable
By The Anarchist Soccer Mom

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Moment of Change

In everyone’s life there are moments of change. Where, in a blink, your life takes a drastic turn. I’m not talking about your fist kiss or high school diploma. These are moments that resonate so deeply within your psyche that the entire trajectory of your life is forever altered. For many of us, having our first child is one such event - when the world suddenly doesn’t revolve around us anymore, and we understand what real love is.  Six years as a mother and wife, and my trajectory seemed locked firmly into place, until one moment forced it off its mark… the day my father told me he had cancer.
I knew he was going in to have a biopsy of a mass in his leg, but we all thought it was nothing – just a complication from a recent knee surgery. It wasn’t. My father had a massive Soft Tissue Sarcoma, or cancerous tumor, in his calf. I was terrified. The doctors checked his lungs, supposedly the next stop for this type of cancer, and they were clean.  He went through radiation therapy and they successfully removed the tumor. We thought we’d dodged a bullet. But six months later, on a routine scan, our carefully constructed fantasy fell apart. The cancer had metastasized to his lungs. 
The reality that my father might die hit me like a sledgehammer. The fear was suffocating.  What’s worse, I was completely helpless. All I could do was watch as this man who was, and always will be, my hero tremble in fear as he was taken away for surgery, then stand-by impotently when he woke up in so much pain he could barely speak, and have little beyond encouragement to offer as he suffered over weeks of recovery. Praying served no comfort. I’m agnostic so I wouldn’t know who to pray to anyway. So I just watched as my father slowly recovered and I continue to watch even now as they scan his lungs every three months for more tumors, and worry if this time will be the last.  Life goes on day by day, but this worry I carry with me, though at times it only exists as a kernel of doubt in the back of my mind, it is always there haunting me.
Recently, I discovered that an acquaintance of mine had lung surgery. My mind went immediately to my father. I knew with complete certainty what he was going through, and though I was concerned, it wasn’t until my friend was recovered and we were face to face, that I mustered the courage to ask how he was doing. I didn’t know he had cancer. I wondered, but I didn’t know, and wouldn’t have asked if he hadn’t told me. Here was a young man, about my age, who had the exact same metastasized sarcoma as my father, except for one difference… he was sicker. I could feel a slew of emotions all striking me at once, but all I could summon to say was, “I’m sorry.” Then he surprised me. Without a trace of sadness or fear he told me that he wouldn’t “give up the experience.” Of course, he wished he didn’t have to be sick, but he wouldn’t want to give up the experience because he’d learned so much. “You see things differently,” he said and I understood what he meant. You do see things differently. When something so significant touches your life, you cannot pass through it unchanged. For each of us the effect will be different: some look for answers in religion, others achieve a renewed focus on family, and still others become angry and bitter. I can’t say exactly what my friend or even my father took from this experience, but even so I understood, because fundamental to it is a re-evaluation of your life.
That is why, at 36, I threw away my career as a teacher to pursue writing. It’s why I’m pouring my heart out onto this paper with little regard for the risk involved in sharing something so personal with total strangers. My whole life has been an exercise in playing it safe - doing things the “right” way - but life’s to damn short to waste away on being safe. I refuse to continue focusing on a future that may never come. I don’t know about heaven or hell or the nothingness that may be waiting for me on the other side. All I truly know is the here and now: my home, my friends and my family.  And for all the pain and uncertainty that surrounds me, I refuse to wallow in the things I cannot change, but focus on the here and now.  I may not be able to live forever, but what I can do is live and live well. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Deceptive Marketing - No Sugar Added

It really gets me upset the way corporations purposely mislead the public to sell their products.  I discussed one example a while back in my post about Disney Princesses and Marvel Superhero children's multivitamins. The was a specific example, but with this article I wanted to discuss a form of misleading marketing that is more wide-spread: The use of "No Sugar Added." or "Sugar Free" on product labels. With so much of the public trying to maintain healthy lifestyles, companies have tried to alter or re-market their products as healthy while giving people the flavor (i.e. sweetness) they secretly crave. It's all about sales, baby. And while supply meeting demand is a good thing in theory, when you add unscrupulousness corporations into the mix, you end up with deceptively marketed products. That is why so many products you find labeled as "no sugar added" contains one of the following sugar substitutes: 

  • Aspartame - Equal or NutraSweet
  • Acesulfame K, also known as acesulfame potassium - Sunett and Sweet One.
  • Sugar alcohols - sorbitol, xylitol or maltitol
  • Saccharin  - Sweet'N Low
  • Sucralose  - Splenda
  • Neotame
(You don't see Stevia in many products right now, but as it gains popularity I'm sure you will).

I am not about to start debating with you about whether these items are good, bad or the devil incarnate. Conspiracy theories abound, and no one really trusts what the FDA says so getting to the truth of the matter is nearly impossible. What I will say is that, as a parent, I try to avoid giving my children unnatural (i.e. chemically produced) products, and it irritates the hell out of me when companies deceptively market products such as these to kids. I cannot tell you how many people I know who have gotten fooled by this marketing, and even though so many of us do know what's happening, no one seems to want to call the corporations out for it. Why? Because of the ingredients list on the back of the package, but most of us don't have the time to check the packaging of everything we eat, and the corporations know it.  That's where I come in. :)

For the sake of journalism, I took a walk around my local grocery store and photographed some examples to illustrate my point. Yes, I looked like a fool and people stared. That's how committed I am, or should be committed... whatever.

So here goes...

Sugar Free Jello Pudding - Contains xylitol,  acesulfame potassium, and sucralose

Del Monte  - Mandarin Oranges (No sugar added) - Contains sorbitol,  acesulfame potassium, and sucralose

Del Monte - No Sugar Added Sliced Pears  - Contains acesulfame potassium, and sucralose

Nesquick -  Chocolate (No sugar added) - Contains acesulfame potassium, and sucralose

 Sugar Free Syrups - Mrs. Butterworths - Contains neotame,  acesulfame potassium, and aspartame


So kids, the moral of our story is... CHECK THE LABELS!

Always, always, always check the labels of the products you buy. It's a pain in the neck, but totally worth it in the long run. I hope some of you have found this helpful. If you know anyone who might benefit from this information, please pass it along.  Thanks!

Tell me what you think or add to the discussion in the comments section below.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Easy and Delicious - BBQ Ribs

Anyone who knows me, knows I love to cook. Back in my pre-children days, I would spend hours concocting wonderfully elaborate and delicious meals (and somehow stayed skinny, but that's another post).  As a mother, I have had to whittle my recipes down to their simplest forms so I could manage cooking and childcare at the same time. So I thought I would share a few of my favorites with other busy moms. This first recipe is for barbeque ribs. It is simple to make and delicious!

Just an fyi...
For me, simple doesn't mean fast (though I have a few of those), it means quick and easy preparation without five hundred, freshly purchased, chopped, diced, and petrified- blah, blah - ingredients. I also don't do much in the way of measuring since this is the real world, and in the real world we don't really measure crap. So I will give you a basic idea of how much seasoning to use, but if you want exact measurements, I'm not your girl.

So on to my recipe for Barbeque Ribs.

BBQ Ribs
  • One full rack St. Louis style pork ribs (you can use baby back, but St. Louis style are cheaper)
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Brown sugar
  • Oregano
  • Garlic salt (I use Lawry's coarse garlic sat)
  • Paprika
  • Black pepper
  • Cayenne Pepper (optional)
  • BBQ sauce (whatever you like)
  • Large, sturdy pan
  • Aluminum foil
1. So here's the trick to making really good - fall off the bone ribs - without smoking them for 2 days. Boil them. That's right! Take your (completely thawed) ribs, cut them in half if necessary, place them in a large pot and fill it with enough water to completely cover the ribs. Bring the water to a boil and lower temperature slightly to keep it at a rolling boil, for 30 minutes to 1 hour. 30 Minutes is the minimum, but the longer the better. You can add a little salt to the water if you like.

This is what it will look like:


Okay, so this looks gross, but it's normal. What you're seeing is all of the fat and icky stuff (yes- that is a professional term) coming out of the meat and floating to the top of the pot.

2. While you're waiting for the ribs to boil, line a large sturdy pan with aluminum foil. Trust me, you don't want to cook this in an unlined pan. Cleaning an unlined pan after the fact is a nightmare. I line it with several sheets because the ribs tend to tear through the foil.

3. Once the ribs are done boiling, remove them from the pot using tongs. Be careful because they have a tendency to fall apart. Position them on the pan however they fit with the underside facing up. Coat it with garlic salt, then flip the ribs over so the meaty side is facing up. 

4. Placing your thumb (or two fingers if you have small thumbs like me) over the lip of the bottle, lightly sprinkle apple cider vinegar all over the ribs - rub it in with a large spoon.

5. Next take a small handful of brown sugar (about a half cup), sprinkle it all over the ribs, and rub it in with your fingers.

6. Now the seasoning. Generously coat the ribs with the garlic salt and paprika. Lightly sprinkle it with a bit of oregano ( about a half tablespoon dried and crushed), and add just a pinch of black pepper and cayenne pepper. A a pinch will only add to the flavor. My kids don't like too much spice so that's all I use. If you want it spicier, add more pepper, but be careful, a little goes a long way.

This picture is kind of ugly, but it's the best I could do with the crappy lighting in my kitchen.

7. You will want to cover the entire pan with foil. Tent it slightly so the foil isn't rubbing against the ribs like so:

8. Cook ribs at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

9. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and spread barbeque sauce all over the ribs with a spoon. (I use a spoon because a brush tends to just pull up the seasoning and doesn't coat as thickly).

10. Place ribs back in the oven - uncovered- and let it cook another 5 to 10 minutes or until the sauce firms up into a glaze.

Remove from the oven, cut, serve and enjoy! :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Homemade Laundry Detergent - Is it worth it?

It seems lately that a lot of moms are switching to making their own homemade laundry soap. I've been getting tired of spending a ton of money on safe, ECO-friendly laundry detergents, so I thought I would give it a try. I started out using the basic recipe I found on most sites.
  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 bar Fels-Naptha laundry soap

So I began by grating the Fels-Naptha. About halfway through I started to wonder about the decision to use this product since the smell was so overpowering. It occurred to me that I hadn't checked the label on the back of the soap. Why? I don't know. I always check labels. I guess my initial feeling was that this was supposed to be natural and safer so I didn't need to worry about it. After checking the label, I realized how misguided this thought was.

This is how it reads: 
Ingredients: Cleaners, soil and stain removers, chelating agents, colorants, perfume

I hate it when companies do this. I think I have a right to know what is in a cleaning product. It doesn't help me feel better when I read the caution right below the ingredients which read:

Caution: Eye and Skin Irritant. Avoid contact with eyes and prolonged contact with skin.

So It was at this point I decided to do some investigating. I found the actual list of ingredients on the Fels-Naptha web site. Here they are: 

Soap (sodium tallowate*, sodium cocoate* (or) sodium palmate kernelate*, and sodium palmate*), water, talc, cocnut acid*, palm acid*, tallow acid*, PEG-6 methyl ether, glycerin, sorbitol, sodium chloride, pentasodium pentetate and/or tetrasodium etidronate, titatium dioxide, fragrance, Acid Orange (CI 20170), Acid yellow 73 (ci43350) 

Since I can't tell you what any of those ingredients are, I had to do some more searching.  What I found was that a number of these ingredients are questionable, and they most definitely are not natural. (Although arsenic is natural so maybe that shouldn't be a litmus test for health) For example: Titatium dioxide is a known contaminate and is harmful to wildlife, Acid yellow 73 is banned for use in cosmetics and show to be potentially unsafe in a number of studies, and PEG-6 methyl ether is a skin irritant and there is a small amount of evidence that it may be linked to organ toxicity.

Overall, it's not so bad, but my feeling is if I'm going to go to all this trouble to make my own laundry soap, then I should feel like it's safe for my family. So I decided to toss the Fels-Naptha and purchased some castile bar soap. I got Dr. Bronner's All in One Hemp Rose Castile Soap. It smells so good! So I grated it up and combined it with the other two ingredients. I used it in my wash a few times but it only worked okay to be honest. A lot of my clothes were coming out stained and I didn't feel like they were getting as clean as I would like. One plus.. my clothes came out much softer.

Not to mention, I was a bit put off by using borax. I have avoided it for a long time because I am concerned about it being slightly toxic. It was one of the main reasons I took so long to make my own laundry soap. I use hydrogen peroxide in my all purpose cleaner instead of borax. I have tried many times over to research borax, but have found much of the information out there to be contradictory so to be on the safe side, I decided to look into ways of making laundry soap without it.

Most of what I found was simply the same recipe as above without the borax. So I thought I would give it a try, but as I was mixing my ingredients, on a whim, I decided to check the directions for using the washer soda. To my surprise, it said to add 1/2 a cup to loads to increase the effectiveness of your detergent. 1/2 a cup! I was using about a tablespoon a load. No wonder it didn't work well. So I adjusted my recipe as follows:
  • 1 bar Castile soap
  • 7 cups washing soda
At about a  half cup a load, that equaled 16 loads. It worked much better, except my clothes weren't as soft so I gave in and added a cup of borax to the mix to make it:
  • 1 bar Castile soap
  • 7 cups washing soda or a whole 55oz box
  • 1 cup borax
That helped, though my clothes still weren't as soft as before. They were definitely coming out much cleaner though. 

So here is my issue.... was it worth it? Did I save any money on this venture or am I better off going back to the ECO detergents?

So I did the math.

My laundry soap cost $3.59 for the soap, $3.29 for the box of washer soda and 4.79 for box of the borax which I used approximately $.50 worth.  If I use the full 1/2 cup per load this comes out to... (drum roll)

Grand total: $7.38 or $.41 a load 

Per load, this is how it compared to the Eco friendly detergents:
  • 7th Generation liquid  $16.00 for 66 loads or $.24 a load
  • 7th Generation powder $15.00 for 70 loads or $.21 a load
  • Method $15.50 for 50 loads or $.31 a load
  • and Meyers $16.00 for 64 loads or $.25 a load

Wow! That's a big difference! Of course, most of us realize the number of loads represented on a box is usually inflated, listing the amounts or a "regular" or medium size load when I'm referring to a large load, but even so it's a big difference. From what I can tell both financially and time-wise, it just doesn't make any sense to make your own soap. Now, if you are dealing with allergies or just want to be absolutely sure of what's in your soap, then this could be a good alternative.

But for me, it just makes better sense to buy.

Next investigation... which laundry detergent works best! :)

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