Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Breastfeeding Benefits for Mom

If you're looking for more information on breastfeeding (particularly breastfeeding beyond the first months or year of your child's life), I highly recommend checking out my friend Erin's contribution to the BABS Blog today.

And if you're looking for some varied takes on pregnancy, birth, and parenthood, poke around on the blog in general.  Contributors to the BABS Blog are parents, personal organizers, chiropractors, child development researchers, and more!

If you're a parent-to-be or parent anywhere near Bloomington, Indiana, take advantage of the many wonderful class offerings and resources that BABS has to offer.  Or just stop by and ask what they have for you and your family!  You have to go there and meet the staff and anyone who happens to have dropped by or be there for a playgroup to really begin to understand all they have to offer.

My family has been so lucky to have this organization and its people (the staff, as well as other families connected to it) in our lives.  We would never have considered a second pregnancy without BABS and the community we have become a part of through them.

Consider this a shameless plug for an organization that will forever be dear to my heart!

Please Don't Pass the Salt: My family's diet

 Typical snack fare in our home (this is actually my almost-stocked snack box for my nursing station - all things I can eat with one hand):  dried cranberries and raw almonds; unsweetened dried mango; mixed nuts


Given the number of (usually unnecessarily guilty) comments I get from other parents about what my child is snacking on, I guess it's really apparent that our diet is slightly out of the American ordinary.

I also think that the way we eat has been a bit of the impetus - or at least inspiration - for many of our other crunchy endeavors.

So, what's our story?  We eat low sodium.  It translates almost to "eating clean," which is a term I have only recently become familiar with.  Low sodium is a very healthy way to eat, and it's incredibly overwhelming to start with.  I have been learning to eat this way for almost 13 years.

We've done it for specific medical reasons (I have chronic kidney disease, if you're curious), but I've also become fairly passionate about it because sodium consumption is a contributing factor to hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease, which my mother died of at the very young age of 45.

Allow me to put this in perspective, as my mother is not the rarity you might initially think.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26% of U.S. deaths in 2006 were from heart disease.  It is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

At first, you might think "but I don't salt my food, so I'm sure I'm not eating too much sodium."  Go look at a few labels in your pantry and consider that the 2005 USDA recommendation is less than 2300mg of sodium per day, though less than 1500mg per day is actually the recommendation for the majority of the American population.  The recommendation in Canada is less than 1500mg of sodium per day for most adults (the recommendation decreases with age).

And sodium has recently been in the news as the Institute of Medicine, when asked by Congress to evaluate ways to reduce Americans' sodium intake, recommended that the FDA regulate the food industry!

In any case, dividing the larger USDA recommendation across three meals, that's less than 800mg of sodium per meal.  That's not including snacks - which are often a HUGE source of sodium.

And sweets aren't even always safe.  Sweets containing nuts/peanut butter and baked goods are more likely than others to contain an appreciable amount of sodium.  For example, I was recently shocked to find out how much sodium is in a Starbucks muffin.  500mg?!?!?!  (That would be half my daily allowance while pregnant...).

And bread is another surprising source of sodium!

So, if everything in your pantry seems to doom you to all that salt... where in the world do you start???


My own first baby steps

For the first several years I ate low sodium, I was eating in a dining hall.  All I could do was cut out the obvious stuff - I minimized cheese (using only grated so it was a bit more spread out), switched from salad dressing to oil and vinegar, and stopped eating cold cuts.  I only drank water, milk, or juice - no soda.  One of my aunts (my mother had already passed away) stocked me with low-sodium chili and gave me low-sodium bouillon cubes to replace the seasoning packet in Ramen noodles for a late-night snack (I can't recommend this.  It was, frankly, completely disgusting.).  She also gave me a popcorn popper and a jug of popcorn kernels (plain popcorn.  Yum?  No.).

My diet was boring, and I often gave in and just ate whatever I could get my hands on - especially because I usually didn't have access to a proper kitchen, or have the time to go do grocery shopping or find recipes.

I was supposed to stay under a gram a day at that point.  I'm sure I didn't.  But at least I was eating much lower sodium, and my awareness was on the rise.

Our current diet really began to take shape when I was pregnant with Bean.  It's amazing what parents will do for the health and safety of their babies.  When I'm pregnant, we stay under a gram a day - that is VERY low.  We hardly eat out, and usually we eat at our co-op where I can get a huge salad and control my sodium intake pretty well as long as I am careful about the dressing.  I think I have a high-sodium meal about once a month.

Eating low sodium translates to cooking almost entirely from scratch.  You name it, we've at least contemplated making it ourselves!  We've had a few failed experiments and we have several works in progress.

We also simply don't keep things around that I'm not allowed to eat - I have pretty poor self-control!  And when we're out at playgroups with shared snacks, I don't limit Bean.  He eats endless numbers of Goldfish and pretzels and crackers.  I just have to limit myself, which I do with silly rules like only eating the broken pretzels from Bean's plate (if he'll let me...).

So, I'm not obsessive about eating healthy, and I don't stress with a day here and there where we eat crap.  Heck, we had Cold Stone Creamery for dinner one night not too long ago (I blame The Thing).  And The Thing ate an entire bag of gummy bears today.  Sneaky Thing...

But my dietary restrictions have translated into us really knowing what we're eating, and into lots of creative and delicious dishes.  The Beast discovered cooking as a creative outlet while I was on strict bedrest for 2 months while pregnant with Bean, and he now has a great sense of things that go together, and how to prepare them.

 Pizza margherita made by The Beast.  Super yum!

The Replacements
 
So, with this background on our food priorities, I will start sharing some recipes and tips.  I'm not even sure where to start (perhaps how some folks are feeling as they start to cook from scratch, eh?).   I find it helpful to think of things as replacements.

I am constantly asking myself "how do I replace food/cleaner/habit/disposable item x with something healthier/easier/less expensive/that I don't have to remember to buy?"

Perhaps you will accept the opening picture and its caption as my first replacement suggestion?  Dried fruit and nuts are largely our replacement for packaged snacks - both sweet and savory.  We obviously eat unsalted nuts, and I don't find myself wanting them salted.  In fact, salted nuts are often just too much - all I can taste is the salt!  And my mouth ends up so cottony.  I don't enjoy the taste or the mouth feel except in very small quantities.  By the way, we do eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables (with homemade dips/dressings), but they don't always travel well to playgroups and are pretty nasty when I inevitably forget them in my purse or the diaper bag...

Since I can't eat saltines, I kept a bag of raw almonds in the car and one in my purse through my first trimester.  I'm one whose morning sickness is more like I-haven't-eaten-in-the-last-hour sickness, so having a satisfying snack available that I could just shove in my mouth without any preparation was a necessity!  I ate apples and yogurt through my morning sickness with Bean, but those don't keep so well in the car and Bean and I are always on the go (when I'm not on bedrest.  *sigh*).

All of the above, except the almonds, came out of bulk bins at our co-op.  The almonds are cheaper by the pound in a bag, so we buy them that way.  Cheaper than packaged snack foods?  Not exactly.  But it is all actually more filling than candy bars or potato chips, and the health pay-off is pretty huge.  I've found the key to be having something I can reach my hand into and shove in my mouth - just like potato chips.  Having to prepare something makes it a lot less appealing when I've wandered into the kitchen hungry.

And Bean eats all of this, too.  He will eat peanuts and cranberries by huge handfuls and loves almonds.  And dried mango?  He's thrown tantrums for more dried mango...

Anyhow, it may be awhile before I can regularly post recipes - sorry!  This baby will debut annnnny day now, and I will hopefully be back to cooking somewhat regularly by Thanksgiving (I've been on restricted activity/bedrest since the beginning of August).  I'm at least hoping to get back to making yogurt and yogurt cheese, and do some dehydrating within the next month...and I'd really like to take another stab at ketchup!

So, as I'm getting back on my feet I will have more food prep and cooking posts.  For now, you'll have to settle for the stuff I basically shovel out of bulk bins!  At least I'm starting out with the stuff that is less time-intensive and therefore a bit easier to make a change to, right?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I Love Vinegar


Over the last two-and-a-half years - since the birth of my son - I have been "greening" our household cleaning products.

I had all of those very specific cleaners - the toilet bowl cleaner, the all-purpose spray, the scrub for pots and pans, the scrub for the bathtub and sink, a dusting spray, an antibacterial spray...

And after using any of them, my hands smelled of bleach and chemicals for hours (even if I wore rubber gloves while cleaning) and I was nervous to hold my infant son - and especially in the days when he wanted to suck or nibble my fingers!

My initial plan was to gradually replace all of these cleaners one-by-one as I ran out of each.  I ran out of multi-purpose spray first and, after some research, replaced it with a spray bottle of this:
  • equal parts white vinegar and water
  • a squirt of liquid castille soap (Dr. Bronner's is the easiest to come by)
  • a few drops of tea tree oil
  • a few drops of grapefruit essential oil (mainly because I love the smell of grapefruit - it makes me happy!)
It worked really well.  And the spray bottle collapsed within a week.  What the heck?!?

A little more research, and I discovered that essential oils can damage plastics, and that I needed to make sure I was using a PET plastic bottle.  Problem solved - I haven't had an issue since!

As I started replacing more of my cleaners, I noticed something - every homemade cleaner shared the same base:  diluted vinegar.

In fact, the only areas where my initial all-purpose cleaner didn't work were cleaning glass (the essential oil and soap leave streaks), and scrubbing the toilet and bathtub.

I am all about doing things the simplest way - I desire the fewest bottles of cleaner and the smallest amount of thought when making them.  Also, I'm not necessarily set on things smelling wonderful every time I clean them - I think I get conditioned to not even notice the lovely scents after awhile anyway.

So I looked into what all those ingredients do, in the context of cleaning.
  • vinegar: "effective for killing most mold, bacteria, and germs, due to its level of acidity. Cleaning with white distilled vinegar is a smart way to avoid using harsh chemicals. You’ll also be glad to know that it is environmentally friendly and very economical."  (follow that link to more uses for vinegar, too!)  Vinegar is also a solvent, meaning it will help dissolve dirt, minerals, and muck!  Not to mention...it's completely edible.
  • soap:  If I understand and phrase this all correctly (I am not, by any means, a chemist!)...soap is an emulsifier, meaning it makes things mix that don't normally mix - like oil and water.  I think a lot of us have ended up eating soap after having our mouths washed with it...so we know it won't kill you...but it's not food.
  • tea tree oil:  this stuff is pretty powerful.  It has antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral actions.  It has been shown to kill staphylococcus aureus, including MRSA (although there is evidence that it acts like any other antibacterial agent and causes antibiotic resistance).  Tea tree oil should not be ingested, though it can be applied topically (it should be diluted, and can still cause irritation when diluted).
  • grapefruit essential oil: I used grapefruit mainly because I love the smell, but it is also antiseptic and disinfectant (as are all citrus oils and juices, by my understanding).  I'm not sure if grapefruit essential oil is edible, though it is described as "non-toxic."  Also, it listed as non-phototoxic, but it can irritate the skin if exposed to strong sunlight after treatment.

The upshot:  I now have two large (PET) spray bottles of just diluted vinegar that I use to clean almost everything.  I don't worry even a little if my "helpful" 2-year-old sprays himself in the face, or if, right after I've cleaned up, he starts licking or biting the tables and chairs (toddlers are bizarre).

If there is an oil spill in the kitchen, a squirt of Dr. Bronners (or dish soap) right on the spill (or on a wet rag) followed by my trusty spray works well.  And I save tea tree oil for things like the toilet (where I put in several drops directly).  I don't want my 2-year-old to end up lapping it up (that's really not too far off from the truth), and I don't want to create super-bacteria in my home a la antibiotic resistance.

My perspective is that I want my home clean, not sterile.  We've got some bacteria lying around, and I'm ok with that.

A quick list of the things I use vinegar for around the house:
  • all-purpose cleaner (counters, sinks, windows, tables, etc)
  • After-shower spray (helps keep mildew and soap scum to a minimum between cleanings of the tub and shower)
  • Cleaning the toilet - throw in a little baking soda and a few drops of tea tree oil, add a pour of vinegar,  then scrub.  I wipe the rest of the toilet with my vinegar spray, but add a few drops of tea tree oil on my wet rag.  If I think of it he next time I flush, I add a few drops of grapefruit essential oil for scent.
  • haircare (I started out using white vinegar, but now use apple cider vinegar)
  • Cooking - example:  I'm still working out a ketchup recipe...but the most basic ingredients of ketchup are tomato paste, vinegar, and spices.  I'm still working out which type of vinegar I like, and exactly which spices.
  • Laundry - I use white vinegar occasionally as a fabric softener (I've stopped using fabric softeners or dryer sheets), and I also use it to treat stains.  I've also used vinegar when washing our shower curtain in the washer.

This post brings up one of my many works in progress.  I'm a bit of a nerd, so I would like to learn more about essential oils.  More specifically, I'd like find out what information out there (and now in this post) is lore, and what is backed by reliable research and studies.  And, with that, I'd like to know more about the effective uses of essential oil.  So far, tea tree oil seems the most studied and "legitimate" of all the essential oils, but it's still in need of more controlled studies.  If anyone out there has any books or websites or journal articles they'd recommend, I'd love to hear 'em!

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    A Milestone at Naptime

    My sweet, snuggly, high-touch baby grew into (surprise!) a sweet, snuggly, high-touch two-year-old.  He is less than a week from officially being two-and-a-half and today, for the first time ever....

    HE FELL ASLEEP NOT TOUCHING ANYONE OR BEING MOTIONED TO SLEEP IN HIS CARSEAT.

    Yes, I'm one of those parents that has nursed or snuggled her baby to sleep for every stretch of sleep.  And today wasn't even intentional.  Yesterday and today I have given up on naptime and told him we were just having quiet time - he had to lay down and be quiet.  Those were the only rules.

    Yesterday I fell asleep in my bed and woke up to his noisiness in his bed a couple times.  Eventually he crawled up onto my bed and said, "can I snuggle you?"  And then he was out like a light for a couple hours. 

    Today I was sure there was not going to be a nap.  I lay on my bed reading, and he would climb up onto my bed, go back down to his bed, ask to get up and go get more Legos or put something away, kick, roll, etc etc.  Finally, with 20 minutes to go before I declared quiet time over (I was aiming for an hour), and with his energy level seeming to increase...I told him sternly that the next time he sat up or made a peep I'd be restraining him (my kid sometimes requires getting completely and totally pissed off - going over the edge - and then he sweetly and instantly relaxes into a snuggle and falls asleep - this has been a strategy for sleep since he was probably 6 or 7 months old).

    He said "ok," laid down, and was asleep.

    I still can't believe it!

    (And, of course, he woke up as soon as we went to get a picture.  So all I have is him passed out in the carseat after a hike!)

    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    "Still" Breastfeeding



    I thought I'd share the incredibly simple and non-political reason why I am, at 38+ weeks pregnant, nursing my almost 2.5-year-old son.

    We haven't had a reason to stop.

    I'm very tempted to end this post right there.  Because, truly, that's why we're "still" nursing.  It's no great ideology on my part.  I don't think it's for everyone or in any way a requirement to raise healthy, happy, fabulous kids.

    Of course I can go into detail and tell you all about the difficulties of nursing at this age (they're pretty much the same as parenting at this age), as well as the benefits (there are a lot of them for our family), but that would just be another demonstration of my not having a reason to wean him.

    I won't end there, at the request of a friend who wants to arm herself when other people tell her it's time to wean before she or her baby/toddler/child is ready.  I think she would also like to gently bring her support system around to not worrying about the duration, but focusing on establishing breastfeeding in the first place!

    There are lots of reasons people give for why a baby/toddler should be weaned by whatever age or developmental milestone.  Thankfully for me, in my real life these reasons always seem to be posed as questions, rather than authoritative bits of advice or harsh judgments.  So I thought I'd start with some of these.
    • What about when he has teeth?
      • You can still nurse a baby/toddler/child with teeth.  If they're truly nursing, they can't bite because their tongue covers their lower teeth.  It can require a little gentle discipline and a lot of vigilance to curb biting.  Bean bit me a handful of times.  He never drew blood (yes, I have friends whose babies drew blood, and some decided they were done nursing while others continued).  For some, teeth are a reason to wean.  For me, they were not.
      • If nursing a toothed baby/toddler/child is hurting, seek out some help and suggestions from other moms of toothed nurslings.  It can be really painful and frustrating, but there are lots of tactics to try depending on whether the issue is biting or it's actually the top teeth rubbing.
    • Once they can ask for it, they're too old.
      • What about "asking for it" makes them too old?  If a gesturing/signing/talking baby/toddler/child indicating that they want to nurse makes you uncomfortable, then you have the option of weaning your baby/toddler/child.  It didn't make me uncomfortable, so it wasn't a reason for me to wean.  Is there something besides discomfort that makes this a reason to wean?
      • I'm not even sure where on the continuum of communication between mother and baby this "asking for it" thing is happening.  Babies communicate their need to nurse from birth with feeding cues.  An older, more coordinated baby might reach for Mom's shirt or breast, sign for milk, make any number of other gestures, or even do some full-body flinging at Mom to indicate their need to nurse.  In my own experience, the actual verbal requests have been much more subtle than the flinging, bobbing, and shrieking that came before them.  I even chose the word that Bean uses to refer to nursing (luckily he adopted it!). 
    •  I don't think I could stand a toddler being all over me like that.
      • Nursing is currently one of the least "all over me" of Bean's activities I can think of.  Yes, there are some (in my opinion hilarious) acrobatics in nursing a toddler.  And I can see that driving some people nuts, but it generally didn't/doesn't bother me.
      • Since I've been pregnant, I've had to be a little bit more insistent with Bean about the positions he can nurse in and how active he can be while he nurses.  If he's too wiggly, we're done nursing for now.  I really can't take it.  And then, when I end the nursing session, we begin the negotiations about not climbing me, not kicking my belly, not messing with the tiny little mole he recently discovered on the inside of my elbow and wants to run his finger over repeatedly...  (OMG why did I end that nursing session?!?)  Sometimes I want to wean him from touching me altogether, but save the sweet and snuggly nursing.  Is that an option?
    •  Shouldn't he/doesn't he get all his nutrition from solids and cow's milk?
      • My own kid didn't really eat a lot of solids until after his first birthday, and knowing he was getting a nutrient-dense and well-balanced food every time he nursed gave me peace of mind.  And what's the problem with adding another nutritious food to his diet?
      • Now that my toddler is eating a well-balanced (ok, some days I think it's a little heavy on the dried fruit and peanuts) solid diet, and he's taking in plenty of cow's milk and water, the nutrition of nursing is not as big a selling point (especially since pregnancy has pretty well done away with actual milk for the time being).  But every time he nurses, he's also getting antibodies, stem cells, and lots of amazing stuff that's still being discovered (and the purpose of which is still being figured out!). 
      • There are non-nutritional benefits:  health benefits for me, plus the obvious comfort Bean finds in nursing.  When he's reached the edge of toddler sanity, and can't even hear me comfort him or tell him to take deep breaths, he'll still nurse.  Even if he was kicking and screaming and throwing things he'll calm down, he'll look me in the eye, and he'll hear me.  Of course we are working on things like taking deep breaths, or walking away to calm down, etc - but sometimes he is simply too far beyond to learn or try out a new method of calming himself down.  (And, no, it's not always roses and sweetness.  Of course not.  Especially in pregnancy, there have been plenty of times where I've said "You're just going to have to scream...")
    • But it makes me uncomfortable to see moms nurse in x situation or with a kid who is such-and-such age or can do y or z.
      • I'm uncomfortable with a whole lot of things I see people do, but I don't get to tell them to stop unless it's illegal (it's good to know where and how breastfeeding is legally protected).  If you tell me you're uncomfortable - or do things to indicate you are uncomfortable (like look away, leave the room, or cease to be able to carry on a conversation while I nurse Bean) - then I will do what I can to tactfully warn you I'm about to nurse, or I will try to minimize the nursing I do in your presence.  I am almost always what I consider discreet (for me, using a blanket or cover was never discreet - it was a spectacle.  And discreet with a toddler is....challenging).  I do not aim to make people uncomfortable (in public places I will move aside, or generally try to not be at the center of any action), but unfortunately (for you) someone else's discomfort is just not enough reason for me to turn my family's life upside-down by weaning my son.  Please know that I'm not at all happy that you're uncomfortable.  If you have other suggestions, let's discuss.  Sometimes just acknowledging the elephant in the room, or answering questions about it, can put people at ease.
      • If you never see moms nursing and would like to feel a little less like the only person in the world whose nursling is as old/big/capable as yours, I strongly suggest attending a La Leche League meeting, or seeking out some other sort of breastfeeding support group.  Seeing toddlers nursing at our weekly playgroup, in all their indiscreet glory (do they do anything discreetly?) allows me to see the range of normal.  Toddlers are weird.  They say funny things and they can't keep anything private.  Nursing toddlers are no different! :)
    • What about your doctors?  What do they have to say?
      • My son's pediatrician, my obstetrician, and the specialist I see for a chronic illness all know that we are currently nursing, and none of them has ever expressed even a little concern.  I've even practically invited the specialist to give me reason to wean because I wanted to be clear that I am more concerned with my health in the long-term than nursing my babies in the long-term; I am open to certain medications that are not entirely breastfeeding-friendly if he thinks they would keep me healthier longer.  He chuckled, told me why he doesn't think I need to be on those medications right now (they get name-dropped in discussion of my possible prognoses), and told me to keep nursing.
    This list is just a start, and I haven't even gotten into the concerns (and fascinating answering information) that have come along with nursing through pregnancy.  I hope readers will expand on these in the comments, and I may write a second post.


    Further information
    Benefits of extended nursing
    Mothering Your Nursing Toddler (book)
    Adventures in Tandem Nursing (book)

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Haircare From the Baking Aisle: Why and How

    Same products, different packaging (you could make them look nicer...I am just not that creative.)

    Awhile ago (I couldn't even tell you when), I saw a post in a parenting forum entitled "no-poo."  I figured it was another post about a constipated baby.  I then saw a post in another forum called "poo-free."  I thought, "geez.  Are full-grown women really having trouble using the word 'constipated?'  Why are they being so cutesy about it?"

    So I finally opened one of these threads and discovered they were talking about their hair.  "Poo" was referring to shampoo.  They don't use shampoo.  So....they're not washing their hair?  Ew!

    Trying to keep an open mind and discover why women wouldn't use shampoo, I finally read the threads.  The concept made a lot of sense!  (And I discovered they were washing their hair.)


    Why no-poo?
    I came to learn that there are a few basic problems with shampoos (and other haircare and beauty products):
    • Shampoos are awesome at removing oil from your hair and scalp.  The body being amazingly adaptive, when you keep removing oil with shampoo, your scalp will simply produce more and you get caught up in needing to wash your hair often.  Or perhaps you're someone whose scalp can never seem to catch up - you end up with dandruff and/or an itchy scalp, or frizzy and unmanageable hair.
    • Shampoos contain chemicals you can't even pronounce.  And these chemicals are being absorbed into your skin and bloodstream.  The idea that I should only put things on my body that I can put in my mouth makes sense to me; skin is the largest organ of my body and absorbs so much into my bloodstream.  It doesn't seem like such a good idea to daily slather on something I wouldn't eat.  Also, this is pretty convincing...(and the first product discussed is shampoo!)
    • Shampoos and other haircare products add up in your budget.  Especially if you're like me and always searching for the perfect combination for maximum hair management!  I've been using Aveda products for years even though they are admittedly out of my budget.  This was the biggest reason I decided to try natural haircare.

    How do I wash my hair if not with shampoo???
    There appear to be three basic schools of thought on haircare-sans-shampoo (I will try, henceforth, to call it 'poo-free, but I hate any of the names that include "poo!")
    1. Use baking soda and vinegar in place of shampoo and conditioner.
    2. Use shampoos without sulfates, and other specific products
    3. Don't use a darn thing.  
    #1 is what I do, so I'll elaborate on that momentarily.

    #2 seems like a load of crap to me...an expensive and potentially hard-to-find load of crap - the shampoo they recommend is $18 for a 12oz bottle, and still contains all sorts of chemicals that I cannot pronounce.  Now that I've insulted this choice, if cost isn't a concern, it might be a good transitional product and routine, as it cuts out sulfates, which are particularly drying and irritating.  Sulfates, by the way, do not cause cancer as far as I could determine.  Anyhow, if this seems like a good baby step for you, I'm all about baby steps!  My own really took over 2 years!

    #3...I haven't reached this point.  Maybe it has to do with my hair type, or maybe it's my lifestyle, or maybe I just haven't given it enough of a try.  But I cannot go completely without a hair product of some type or my hair is a mass of frizz.  And sometimes someone rubs jelly or yogurt or Unidentified Sticky Objects in my hair.  I have to be able to wash it...

    My current haircare regimen, step-by-step:
    1.  Wash with baking soda.  (My hair is wet at this point.)  I use my fingers to scoop some out of the tupperware I keep in the shower, close my hand around it, and quickly get the baking soda just wet enough to turn into a paste, which I work through my hair starting from the roots.  I comb it through with a wide-toothed comb, then let it sit while I floss my teeth (the only way I remember to floss is to do it in the shower!).
                                      Scoop o' clumped baking soda...                                                   turned into paste.    

    2.  Rinse with vinegar.   I rinse the baking soda from my hair with water, and then use a spray bottle of apple cider vinegar to do a conditioning rinse.  I work it through, again using my fingers and then a wide-toothed comb.  I let it sit in my hair while I soap up (soap, by the way, is on my research-and-experiment-with-alternatives short list).  Sometimes I do a second vinegar rinse if my hair doesn't feel "right."
    3.  Rinse with water.  I rinse thoroughly - again using a wide-toothed comb and/or my fingers.

    Now, meet my one and only styling product:


    That's a tupperware full of coconut oil...and evidence of my fingertips.  The stuff melts on my fingertips, but is solid at room temperature except in the hot summer.  I know, it looks a little weird.  I contemplated heating it up just a little and getting it to be all smooth and perfect on top, but then I thought readers might be freaking out that their own coconut oil was not behaving like mine!

    I use coconut oil just like any styling product - but less of it.  I get a bit on my fingertips, rub my hands together, then run my fingers through my hair.  I usually then get a little bit more on my fingertips and scrunch, smooth, and define a few curls around my face.  It depends on whether I just washed my hair, or I'm a day or two in and my hair is just needing a tiny dab.

    Then I take my oily hands and rub them on my face, lips, and elbows.  Coconut oil is an excellent moisturizer!  (And it is a great cooking oil, too...)

    I think I'm down to doing this whole routine about once a week.  In between, I wet my hair in the shower to various degrees to revive slept-upon curls.  I'll also use the vinegar if my hair is feeling dry or just sort of tangled (it is a great de-tangler, and I've heard of moms diluting it a whole lot and using it on their kids' tangled hair), and I'll add a little more coconut oil if it's looking frizzy.

    It's hard to take myself seriously sometimes....

    That's all there is to it!

    A few more details and some troubleshooting tips:
    •  My hair is too dry/frizzy or my scalp is itchy/flaky/dry!
      • Baking soda is a weak base, so it can dry out your skin and hair and cause irritation.  Try rinsing it out sooner, or not even letting it sit at all before you rinse it out (more like you'd use shampoo - rub it in, rinse it out).  You can also dilute it further (even going so far as to make it into a spray).
      • Skip the baking soda and only use the vinegar for a wash or two (or five) - vinegar cleans as well as conditions.  The baking soda should really be reserved for when you feel your hair is greasy or truly dirty (like someone rubbed jam in your hair...which happened to me just this week).
      • You can make a "shampoothie" - I haven't tried it, but apparently cucumber will help. 
      • You can add honey to your wash routine.  I haven't tried this...it sounds messy and not simple, and I'm all about simple.  How do I get the honey into my shower, and how do I get it into my hair without making a mess all over the tub (which I later will have to clean up...)?  Do I just drizzle it into my baking soda and scoop out the mixture?  I'll stick to the coconut oil until I'm feeling like I want to experiment again.
      • Add an oil as a styling product.  I've heard of using coconut oil or olive oil.
    • My hair is too oily!
      • Be patient.  You can wait it out after going cold turkey, or you can try to wean yourself from shampoo by washing every-other-day for a couple weeks, then every three days, etc.  If you're having an oil problem, I think I'd rather wean from shampoo and then go to the baking soda and vinegar, rather than wash with baking soda every day and then cutting that back.  I think the most frequently I'd use baking soda is every other day for maybe a week...but I think you'd start to notice irritation/dryness (in which case you can then use the tips above!).
      • Try lemon juice.  It's less drying and irritating than baking soda, and you can squeeze it right onto your roots from a lemon sliced in half.
      What kind of vinegar should you use?
      I started out using white vinegar, because I already had it in my shower (I use it as an after-shower spray to ward off mildew and soap scum).  It made me nauseous in the enclosed shower, and then I kept catching little whiffs of it for the hour or so after my shower.  (Note:  I was 30-some weeks pregnant at the time, and I have a really sensitive sense of smell that is in hyperdrive during pregnancy!)  So I switched to apple cider vinegar and haven't had a problem since.  And the smell does NOT stick around from either type of vinegar.

      If you're having a smell issue like I did isn't solved by changing the type of vinegar, you can dilute the vinegar and add an essential oil (but make sure it's something that is safe to be on your skin).  The essential oils can have other benefits as well, depending on which one(s) you choose.

      Also, the vinegar I use is maybe slightly-diluted, but I figure my hair is already wet...plus I'm really lazy and don't want to deal with measuring anything.  So I pour in some vinegar and sometimes will stop and add water.  I'm very inexact...

      How do you go 'poo-free with young kiddos?
      I haven't figured this one out yet...we still have a shampoo/body wash combination for Bean.  When we are about out, I'll see what I can figure out that a) won't end up in his eyes (vinegar doesn't exactly stay put like soap suds do, and he's not great about keeping his head leaned back) and b) he'll be amenable to - 2-year-olds are such creatures of habit that he may insist we return to the usual stuff.  I'll update when I am into the research phase of this, and keep you updated when I try it out!


      The Beast and The 'Poo
      A bottle of shampoo recently appeared in our shower.  As far as I can tell, The Beast brought it home from the gym where he had been using it after workouts.  He has expressed an interest in trying out the baking soda and vinegar idea, and I think he'll try it when he runs out of shampoo.  Given that his hair is straight, and gets a little oily after not washing it for more than a day, I expect he'll have a very different experience from mine.  We'll post about it if/when that happens!

      Further information:
      • a short list of scary shampoo ingredients, and several ideas for troubleshooting your own natural haircare routine
      • The Story of Cosmetics (from the folks - namely Annie Leonard - who brought you The Story of Stuff)  If this doesn't make you want to ditch the bath and beauty aisle altogether (or write your congressman), I'm not sure anything will!
      • A post (and video) that I found particularly helpful when making my decision to no-poo and formulating my plan of action.  Mainly because she has hair that is similar in texture to mine.
      • My friend B's posts about starting 'poo-free and how it's going a month later.  Her hair texture is quite different from mine, and thickness and texture (as well as sensitivity/dryness/oiliness of skin) seem to make the biggest difference in the 'poo-free process.  She also wanted something that smelled yummy, so she added a cinnamon stick and vanilla extract to her apple cider vinegar.

      How I Stopped 'Pooing Myself: A Haircare Story

      I suppose if I really try to find a starting point, my weaning from shampoo started when I was on bedrest for two months while pregnant with my son.  I was on strict, side-lying bedrest so there was really no point in doing anything to my hair besides putting it in a ponytail.  And I rarely saw anyone anyway, so I think I was showering and washing my hair maybe twice a week.  Sorry if that's gross, but it was a low point in my life (and simultaneously a high point, with the whole Miracle of Life thing!), and I wasn't exactly working up a sweat as I lay there being useful only in my capacity as an incubator...

      After my son was born, I figured out that I could shower (almost) every day if I didn't wash my hair.  I would let the ends get wet, maybe scrunch a little water into my curls, but showers were mainly to soap up, rinse off, and get out before the baby went ballistic (my son's high-needs, high-touch, mommy-and-booby-centered infant personality was quite a wake-up call for me!).  So, I showered more often, but I still only washed my hair twice a week.  My husband was amazed that, most days, I could get in and out of the shower in two minutes!

      Fast forward to after my son's first birthday when I decided to chop off all my long curly hair.  I went from this:
       (Notice his hand - told you his infancy was boob-centered!)

      Another view of my long hair, just after Bean shoved snow in my teeth...

      To this:
      (This actually has a nursing toddler Bean cropped out.  Sometime I'll have to post the whole picture, in which he's wearing sunglasses and holding a tiny red car.  HILARIOUS!)

      A lot of folks cutting out shampoo say that they have a greaseball phase - because their scalp is still over-producing oil after so many years of being conditioned to do so by oh-so-effective shampoo.  But when I finally decided to try not to 'poo myself (*giggle*), I was already in the midst of growing my hair back out - which translated to my often wearing a bandanna to cover my ridiculous-looking hair.  It was an optimal time to go through a potential greasy phase that any irregularity in the 'poo department might cause.  (That was my last poop joke, I promise.)

      When I ran out of shampoo, it happened to be right as I was about to get a haircut and have photos taken.  So, the morning after I got a haircut that actually promised not to look so ridiculous, I (bravely?  stupidly? necessarily, because I didn't even have a back-up shampoo in the house?) washed my hair with baking soda and rinsed with white vinegar (I'll tell you my exact method in my next post, but I no longer use white vinegar).  When I got out of the shower and prepared to style my hair I could not believe how soft my hair was.  Though, with curly hair like mine, soft can mean cotton-ball-caliber frizz...so I was a little nervous!  I styled with my remaining Aveda product, and here was the result for my pictures that evening:

      Not bad, eh?

      A week or so later I was out of my Aveda styling product, and I moved on to coconut oil instead.  Here's a photo of my hair a few weeks later -- ALL I'd been using was baking soda, vinegar, and coconut oil. 
      I'm still waiting for my hair to grow out, so I'm not necessarily 100% sold on the length/cut, but my edible hair products are certainly doing the trick - my hair isn't frizzy, my curls are well-defined, my hair is soft, and there's NO crunchiness/stiffness from gels or mousses.

      Plus, rather than washing the icky, sticky hair gels and curl enhancers off my hands I actually rub the coconut oil on my face, lips, and elbows (and, right now, sometimes my belly).  It makes an excellent moisturizer!

      If you were hoping for a more practical how-to guide, check out my next post!  It will be all about why I went 'poo-free and what exactly I'm doing in my haircare regimen.  I'll also include some trouble-shooting tips and some links to further information and ideas!

      Saturday, September 18, 2010

      The Easiest Thing I Make: Peanut Butter


      It's easy.  Really.  Ridiculously easy.  If you are someone who needs to know ratios or specific amounts of ingredients, let me know and I'll actually measure it out the next time I make peanut butter (which will probably be in just a couple of days - and I'll add some pictures then, too!).

      There is a little bit of trial and error on this no matter what, partly because it depends on your preference for the consistency of your peanut butter and also your getting used to what that translates to in the food processor versus chilled in the fridge.

      You need a food processor, some peanuts, and a bottle of peanut oil.



      1.  Pour the peanuts into the food processor.  It doesn't really matter how many as long as you don't fill the food processor too full.  I usually pour all the peanuts out of the jar I'm intending to put the peanut butter in and call it good.



      2.  Process the peanuts while you get the oil out of the cabinet (at least this is what I do...).  Then stand there and watch or do something else while the peanuts get processed to oblivion.  You won't process them too long unless you walk away and forget about the loud whizzing food processor in your kitchen...  I usually end up getting Bean something to drink, or wiping down the counter or something.

       You can see it's sort of powdery, but it also has enough oil that it's just slightly clumpy.  It's ready to add some oil.
       
      3.  When the peanuts are uniformly processed and the texture doesn't seem to be changing (it'll look fairly powdery, and maybe even slightly oily), add a bit of oil.  The peanut butter will immediately clump.  Let it process for 15 or so seconds, then add just a bit more oil.  Keep letting it process for 10-15 seconds and adding a smidge of oil until it smooths out.
      I tried to get a picture of the clumped peanut butter.  It'll become mostly one big mass.
       
      4.  Don't freak out at the consistency of the peanut butter in your food processor.  It's going to seem way too thin and liquidy.  That's just because it's warm from being spun around and cut by a whirring blade.  It will thicken up in the fridge!

       Finished product

      I pretty much always am making the peanut butter at lunchtime when my 2.5-year-old is demanding his daily sandwich.  It's so quick, and I just make that first sandwich directly from the food processor.  After lunch, when I'm cleaning up the kitchen, I put it in a jar and we're set for meals and snacks.

      For those with peanut allergies, this could easily be modified to make any nut or seed butter you want.  Just substitute the whatever nut or seed you'd like for the peanuts, and a corresponding or complementary oil for the peanut oil.

      Some of the ways we very regularly eat peanut butter around here:
      • The fresh, warm peanut butter is actually pretty amazing on toast - or on a toasted peanut butter and honey sandwich.  Mmmmmm.  It's a little bit messy - that's part of the appeal for me! 
      • Snack:  Peanut butter and honey (we eat local wildflower honey) in a bowl.   Bean demands "meat worm"  (that would be wheat germ) in his.  He came up with the idea, so I take neither credit nor blame if it's tasty, gross, or simply weird.
      • Mostly-healthy indulgence: peanut butter, honey, a handful of chocolate chips, a sliced banana, and sometimes a dollop of plain yogurt on top sort of like whipped cream.  *drool*  Honestly, I feel like I'm eating a banana split or something.  Aside from the yogurt, I've taken these ingredients and blended it in the food processor and made a spread for toast (or just something to eat by the spoonful).  To make it really spreadable, you might want to add a little extra oil.  You could also add tons of honey, but I find that too rich.  I've wanted to try blending in some hazelnuts (or possible using hazelnuts instead of peanuts to make the nut butter), and seeing if I can make it taste like Nutella...
      • Lunch.  Every.single.day.:  Every day for lunch Bean has a peanut butter and honey sandwich.  Some days there's banana on it, in which case I require that it be a "regular" sandwich (that means cut in quarters).  Other days, he declares he wants a "star sandwich" or a "maple leaf sandwich."  I basically screwed myself over a couple months ago when I surprised him with a sandwich shaped by a cookie cutter.  I thought it was a cute one-time deal...

      Why make your own peanut butter?  Two reasons for us:  sugar and salt.  (Ok, a third reason that holds true for basically everything:  just knowing what the heck is in my food.)

      Our main reason, as always in this house (I'll talk about this in a later post), is the salt.  Hence, I start with unsalted peanuts.  This means we use organic peanuts, because they're the only ones I can find that are unsalted.  But, if you want to save money or you really prefer salted peanut butter, by all means start with the salted variety.

      In my opinion, the sugar in commercial peanut butters is even more unnecessary for the taste.  Since when is peanut butter a sweet?

      I've done a little cost-comparison and, in our area, buying a jar of un-salted peanut butter is at least $.10/lb more expensive.  Considering the amount of peanut butter we go through, that is a lot.  Plus I find the oil separation in pre-made natural nut butters to be kind of gross.  But that's my own thing, and I'd get over it if it saved us money. 

      If I were not concerned about sodium, I could buy fresh-ground peanut butter containing only peanuts, salt, and peanut oil for less than I pay for the peanuts.  So, health and, specifically, my dietary requirements win out over cost on this one and I continue to make my own peanut butter.  (I also happen to think it's really tasty.)

      Bonus:  We almost always have peanuts around for GORP, which is a favorite on-the-go snack of Bean's.

      Friday, September 17, 2010

      I think I might be a hippy...

       The 21st Century Hippy, a boy we'll call Bean, my husband "The Beast," and a baby-to-be currently only known as "The Thing."

      It has happened so slowly, and it didn't come out of any "Love Mother Earth" mentality.  But I think I'm officially "crunchy" now.

      Let me count the ways:
      • I cloth diaper
      • I make my own household cleaners
      • I use hardly any bath and beauty products, and even fewer that are actually from the bath and beauty aisle...(I promise I'm still quite clean!!!)
      • I breastfeed.  And long-term by most standards.
      • I venture down increasingly-few aisles at the supermarket
      • My family is eating less and less meat (I can't imagine we'll ever be completely vegetarian...but never say never?)
      • I make my own peanut butter, yogurt, and ketchup (the ketchup is a work in progress, I admit!)
      • I am currently making a shift from disposable to reusable feminine products (yeah, I know.  "Ick."  "WHAT?!?"  "Ew."  "Never.")
      • We have a garden that has led to delusions of grandeur in the form of my saying things like "wouldn't it be cool if we grew enough food to feed ourselves and trade for locally-raised meat?"  (For perspective, last year's goal was to eat one item out of our garden and we barely succeeded...)
      I'm sure there are others, but that's what comes to mind off the top of my head.

      For each of these, the choice to do things this way comes down to cost and/or  health.

      Oftentimes, we have to balance cost with health value.  For instance, we simply cannot afford to eat organic.  There are a few things we end up buying organic, but that's another post!

      In any case, I hope to make this blog about how and why we've done some of these things.  I say "we" because my husband is certainly an active participant in both decision-making and following through on just about all of these.  He even does most of the cooking!

      I'm sure I will also be writing about my current projects (like researching and, eventually, attempting to make deodorant, and the imminent growing of our family that will happen within about two weeks!).

      I hope you'll enjoy my little corner of the world.  We're not fancy here, but we sure are content!
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