Friday, July 25, 2014

Kefir 101


 It's no secret I love kefir. I mention it often, and I feel like I am constantly giving away grains. Every time I try to give them away, though, I get at least two or three questions about exactly what kefir grains are. So here it is, the break-down on kefir and how to make it.
   But first, we discuss how to say the very word, Kefir. If you want controversy, here it is, topped only by how to pronounce Fage, which by the way is Fah-zsee(think of the 'Zs' sound as the sound in Zsa Zsa Gabor). Yes, of course I'm right. An Israeli family I used to work for taught me how to say it so there's no way I'm wrong. ;-) Kefir in our home is pronounced Kef-ear. Again, I must be right because a Russian told me so, and besides- when am I ever wrong?! Other, more inferior pronunciations include Key-fear and Key-fur. Obviously, both are wrong, but you may hear them said that way. I kid, I kid. If you know me, you know this passage is entirely in jest. Say them both as you please. You're always going to be 'wrong' to some one and what does it REALLY matter?
   Kefir is a dairy-based cultured beverage Russian in origin. Kefir is cultured by grains, which are cauliflower-looking symbiotic yeast and bacteria cultures. They feed on the lactose(milk sugars) in the milk, creating healthy prebiotic bacteria and yeast cultures that are great for gut health, immune system health, and digestive healing that are not found anywhere else, including the cultures in cultured yogurts and the like. It also makes the dairy beverage high in protein and lactose-free, so most people with a sensitivity can consume it without problem. I say most because there's no guarantee that every single batch of kefir eats up every single cell of lactose every single time, so those with more severe intolerances should be cautious. The beverage itself looks and tastes like a watery yogurt with a hint of a fresh yeast(think warm, rising bread dough) smell and flavor.
   So how do you MAKE kefir? You will need two ingredients: organic whole or 2% milk and dairy kefir grains. You will want to keep your milk-to-grains ratio at 8-10:1. Meaning, 8-10 tablespoons of milk can be cultured with 1 tablespoon of grains.

Step 1: Put the grains and appropriate amount of milk in a glass jar. Cover with a loose top, cheese cloth, or a paper towel. The kefir needs to breath, gasses need to escape, but you want to keep any foreign matter from falling in, and place the jar somewhere out of direct sunlight, where it won't get too warm or jostled around much. I use a half-gallon jar with a plastic lid that once held raw honey from our local wholesome foods market. I tighten the lid just barely- enough that it's not completely loose and won't be knocked off, and I put the jar against the wall in the elbow of my L-shaped counter top. It's on the windowsill here for the natural lighting. Also- you do not need to scrub the jar in between cultures. The grains keep any bad bacteria from growing so there's never any bad bacteria or mold growth. I do clean my jar once a week just because, but it's not necessary. After I put the fresh milk in each batch I give the jar a quick shake to clean the little yogurt-like flecks off the sides, and that's it. Never had an issue. 
Adequately cultured batch of kefir
Step 2: Let it sit. In warmer weather it will take 8-12 hours for a batch to culture. In cooler weather it will take 12-24 hours. Right now in the peak of hot-hot summer(temps regularly 90-105 degrees, 85-95% humidity) I'm getting two batches a day. When your kefir is done you'll know, because the grains rise to the top, and you'll see pockets of clear liquid throughout the jar. When you smell it, it will smell a lot like natural, plain yogurt, with a tangy, yeasty kick. It tastes lighter than it smells(the grains add the the smell of the finished batch).  If you culture for too long you will see complete separation with an entire layer of clear liquid running through the batch. DON'T PANIC! THIS DOES NOT MAKE IT UNDRINKABLE! It just means the resulting kefir will have a tendency to remain a little separated, and you'll have clear liquid and fine white flecks if you inspect it closely, and if you let it sit for long you'll have to shake/stir it up before using it because it will separate itself again. 
Kefir grains risen to the top of the finished batch
Step 3: Strain the kefir. Using a plastic or nylon mesh strainer or cheese cloth, strain the kefir to separate out the grains. It's important to use plastic or glass and NEVER use metal in any part of the process. Metal will kill the kefir grains. I found a great, inexpensive little nylon mesh strainer HERE on Amazon.

When the kefir is all strained away, you'll be left with a strainer/cheesecloth full of grains. You might need to do a little gentle tapping to get all the kefir out of the strainer. Your grains may appear a little slimy or milky. Both of these are GOOD! The slime, as weird as it sounds, is a part of the culturing process. No need to rinse it off or anything. 

Once you have all the liquid strained away, just start over from step one! Kefir can be used for many different things, like blended with fruit and chia seeds for smoothies(our go-to breakfast 3-4 days a week), added to cooking in place of sour cream and buttermilk, or strained through cheese cloth in the refrigerator overnight to make kefir cheese, and great healthful substitute for cream cheese! 
Feel like you just can't keep up with your batches of kefir? Set up a batch for culturing and put the jar in your refrigerator for a few days while you get caught up. This will drastically slow down the culturing process. When you're ready, pull your jar out and put it on the counter. Within a couple of hours it will warm to room temperature and separate to finish culturing. 
Once a week(on jar-washing days) I measure how many grains I have(THEY GROW!) to see how I should adjust the amount of milk per batch. Feel like you're getting overrun with grains? They're completely edible! They taste a little bit stronger than the kefir itself, so we like to toss them in our smoothies for a probiotic boost. 
Now go forth a culture! 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

100% Whole Wheat Cinnamon Swirl Bread

   I like bread. A lot. I know, I know! Gluten is the devil. But the devil has me on this one. I do try to go for more nutritive options. I also had to learn how to cook it all from scratch when my first daughter was born in 2006 and we found out quickly that she was allergic to soy and nuts. That's when I really started reading the ingredient lists and realized there is soy in everything! Maddening, but it helped me hone my cooking skills, because everything from tomato sauces to non-stick cooking spray had to be made from scratch or cut out entirely.
    One of our favorite breads for years has been my homemade cinnamon raisin bread- that is until my second son started eating solids this past spring and we realized quickly that he had many food allergies, including raisins. Not grapes, just raisins. Crazy! So I started looking for options for the whole family to enjoy. Which led me to creating my Cinnamon Swirl Bread. I make it with flour ground from organic, whole wheat berries so all the nutrients in the grains are still intact, and it has the extra proteins bread flour has that makes it more suitable for bread-making than all-purpose flour. I tell myself it also makes this a more healthy recipe, despite the sugar and butter. Buying wheat berries by the 25-pound bag also makes organic flour much less expensive. Anyway, onward with the recipe.

Ingredients:


  • 1-1/4 cups warm water(approx. 100F)
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 2 Tablespoons Turbinado or brown sugar
  • 3 cups fresh ground whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon cold-pressed coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine ground sea salt
Filling:
  • 4 Tablespoons softened butter
  • 3 Tablespoons Turbinado or brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon

   Pour the water and yeast into a mixing bowl. Stir and give the yeast a minute to wake up. Add the sugar to feed the yeast, give it a gentle stir, then let it rest for a few minutes until the yeast starts burping and blooms(i.e. starts foaming). Yep, around here we wake up and feed our yeast, and wait for it to burp. Can you tell I cook with kids more often than not? 

Burping yeast
   Add the remaining bread ingredients and knead, either by dough hook or by hand, for 7-10 minutes until you have a smooth, stretchy dough.

Cover with a towel or loosely-wrapped plastic wrap, and place it in a warm place to rise for 45-60 minutes, until it has at least doubled in size. 


Punch the dough down, then gently spread it out into an even rectangle on a clean, dry surface(I used a cookie sheet for ease of shaping. the width is the same as my go-to bread pan). Mix all three ingredients for the filling to a neat paste, then use a spatula and spread it on the dough, leaving at least an inch of space along the two long edges and one short edge. This is so you can seal the edges and don't have a gooey, burned sugar mess all over your oven. 


Starting at the edge spread with the filling, roll neatly and evenly, pinching the edges together to seal the dough together once you've finished. 



Place the rolled-up dough in a greased(I use EVOO or refined coconut oil and a silicone brush) standard full-size bread pan, seams down. Set the oven to 375 degrees, and cover the dough in the pain loosely with the towel or plastic wrap, allowing it to proof while the oven preheats. 


When the oven is preheated, remove the plastic wrap or towel, and bake for 25 minutes. When it's finished baking, cover with a light towel and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before removing the pan. This traps a little bit of steam inside the pan and helps the bread crust soften up and pull away from the sides of the pan much more easily. 


Remove it from the pan. Cut it. Eat it. The whole thing. Well, maybe not the whole thing because even with whole grains a bread bolus in your gut doesn't feel so pretty. But it tastes pretty. :-P


An awesome breakfast treat, almost good enough to hit the spot for a cinnamon roll craving. Yes, I get those often. Yes, I realize I enjoy entirely too much sugar. Hence the attempts to healthy it up whenever possible. 



Sunday, July 20, 2014

30 Days Without Facebook: Day 10

   One-third of the way in, and, well, I kinda' cheated. Yesterday I logged on briefly to offer kefir grains to any takers because I'm over-run with them, and today I logged on to get information on a family reunion. Proof that Facebook is useful! I kid. I never doubted its usefulness, just its necessity in my life at this time. In the brief amount of time away I noticed a few things when I logged on today:

  1. I know a lot less about my older sister's garden. Gotta' love a feed filled with green, organic goodness!
  2. A close friend of six years has cut me out of her life because I said here that I felt disrespected when I was sworn at. I force no one to be friends with me. I have grieved and moved on, but I will miss that friendship.
  3. I have to really dig through the senseless shares, SPAMS, and game invites to get to anything of merit from my friends. I have nothing against games, contests, etc, it just takes A LOT of time to scroll through them to see how my friends are actually doing! 

   In the brief amount of time away I noticed a few things about my home:
My Tiny Girl  modeling the dress I knit her,
with her buddy, Baby Toothless

  1. My house is cleaner. Mostly this is my Type-A personality at work. I can't relax and just sit when I see mess around me. With Facebook I could distract myself. 
  2. My husband was states away on a work trip most of this past week and I was very, very lonely. We don't broadcast when my husband will not be coming home at night, so while I did get calls and texts daily from the people who DID know like my mom, sisters, and three close friends, the nights were much more quiet and lonely- I even shed quite a few tears- missing my husband and without the distraction of Facebook where I could connect with people without leaving my home at all hours.
  3. I knit more. Is it even possible?! Yes, it is. LOL Without the mindless scrolling through of Facebook in my downtime, my hands were free for more knitting so I was able to knit a size 4/5 long-sleeved dress for my youngest girl  and start a size 2T/3T winter romper for my youngest boy.
   There's a lot of good in Facebook. I can get love and support when I need it. I can give love and support when friends need it. I can stay in touch with friends and family. I can enjoy looking at the gardens and greenery our HOA rules forbids me to have outside my windows. I can give away my abundantly-growing kefir grains. :-P 
   There's also a lot of not-so-good in Facebook. It can distract us from the things and people needing attention in our lives. It can allow us to cyber-stalk friends to check on their well-being instead of reaching out with a personal connection like a text, a call, or a note. It can facilitate the destruction of relationships over simple misunderstandings because it's easier to run away and block people out rather than talk about and deal with an issue head-on in order to move past it, understand one another, and grow from the situation. 
   So I'm left wondering what to do. Is the answer to delete Facebook altogether and just do the old-fashioned phone calls, letters, and cards thing, and call the people who don't care to keep up that way a casualty of true connection? Is the answer to just weed out the people I want to stay personally connected with rather than keeping many(almost 500) people on my "friends" list out of courtesy so they don't think I'm somehow mad at them? Maybe the next 20 days will show me the answer. In the mean time I will be cleaning, knitting, reading to my children, snuggling with my husband, taking the kids to a professional soccer game together, teaching VBS, and getting ready for the new school year(starts August 4th! WOO!), hoping the direction comes to me. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

New Yorker in the South

    In November my family and I moved to southern Virginia from north-central New York. In almost every aspect, we have LOVED living here. From the very start it really has felt like home. Occasionally, though, I come across things that are very different from what we're used to like I wrote about in Six Things I've Learned About the South. Some days I just shake my head and laugh. Today my New York was showing.
   One difference I love is that Gymboree is everywhere. Five in a 25-mile radius from my house! I was able
to get a good majority of the kids' summer clothes this year by shopping their sales, and got a good jump-start on their winter wardrobes by shopping their clearance racks for prices little over what a thrift store would have- long-sleeved shirts for $3-4, skirts and jackets for $5-6, and jeans and pants for for $8-9.
   They also have a program called "GymBucks," where for every $50 you spend you receive a voucher for $25 GymBucks. Then a few times a year they have a 10-day period where you can go in and spend your GymBucks, dollar for dollar on anything and everything, just like cash. I was excited that my thrifty shopping this spring had earned me $75 in GymBucks, especially because the last time I had been there the associate had told me that the next time to spend GymBucks was during the back-to-school sale when their new autumn line would be unveiled. I was looking forward to being able to shop like I did in previous years and get the rest of the clothes the kids needed for fall and winter, as well as get great clearance deals on the summer deals in the next size up for the next year and use my GymBucks to get $150 worth of clearance-deal clothes this way for $75.
September in NY: wet and chilly
   Until I walked into the store this morning, that is. I had gotten all four of my kids up, fed, cleaned, dressed, and out the door by 8:30 to drive the half hour to the biggest Gymboree in the area, assuming it'd have the best selection of sizes, clearance, etc. What can I say? I'm serious about my thriftiness. As I started making the rounds through the store, checking racks and garments I started getting frustrated that everything was short-sleeved, shorts, skorts, sandals and sundresses, and the only things on the clearance racks were bathing suits. Finally, after searching the entire store I ask an associate if they had received the fall line I thought would be in stores for the GymBucks event. She gave me a really confused look as she pointed out the racks at the front of the store, and showed that everything new had 25% off signs. It was my turn to be confused. Then I specifically asked where the long-sleeved shirts, heavier skirts and dresses, and long pants were. Both associates looked at me like I had three heads and replied that since we're in such a warm climate and those types of garments wouldn't be necessary until November or so, they wouldn't be in stores for 2-3 more months. Climate! Duh. We're not in New York anymore, Toto. I thanked the helpful girls and left the store almost empty-handed(my 5-year-old found a dinosaur hat he HAD to have).
    All the way home I laughed. Where I come from, we're closer to Canada than Manhattan. Where I come
from, snow is quite possible in September but a sure thing before Halloween. Where I come from, back-to-school sales are heavy-weight garments, thick tights, coats, warm boots, and sweaters, not new styles of tank tops, shorts, and sundresses. But I live in the south now, and realistically we may very well NOT be using long sleeves until November. I have no idea. This does, however, give me a reason to budget more money for yarn so I can knit cardigans for everyone. Just in case. So thank you for that, Virginia. ;-)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Essential Success: Know Your Stuff

   I love that the holistic lifestyle is catching on. I love that people are realizing that the every-day garbage is what's making us sick and killing us. I love that people are realizing they CAN be healed naturally- that their bodies know how to heal and recover if we only just enable our bodies to do so. I love that as a society more and more are coming to realize that we have been equipped with things in nature to heal ourselves without the use of chemicals. I love having this venue for sharing what I have learned and what I am continuing to learn.
Morning study time
   I am also not the only one who loves to blog about holistic living. I follow at least 20 bloggers who write about all different aspects of natural living, gardening, essential oils, frugally natural eating, Paleo lifestyle, and more. There is a whole wealth of knowledge available, and so many writers who want to share how they use it. Unfortunately I have found that there's a lot of misinformation out there. Really well-meaning people are just repeating what they read somewhere that fits into their idea of 'that makes sense' without actually researching it, considering their sources, or fully testing it out for themselves. This past spring a friend who sells a line of "natural" food, health supplements, and skincare products wrote that the soy-based products she sold were hormone-free because they were non-GMO. It was wrong in so many ways, but suffice it to say that scientifically speaking, soy is phyto-estrogen, a botanical(plant-based) hormone that the body can recognize only as a hormone and responds to it identically to synthetic and natural forms of estrogen. This is a problem because of the wealth of information available that proves unnatural (i.e. more than what your body produces itself for its own internal cycles and purposes) estrogens(botanical or otherwise) cause a whole host of severe health issues like breast cancer in men and women, breast growth in men(MORE COMMON THAN YOU THINK!), pancreatic disorders, thyroid disorders, digestive disorders, auto-immune issues, and prevents the body from properly absorbing vital nutrients like proteins and minerals. When I had an email discussion with her about the statement, she said simply that her "upline" had told her that and she believed it was true. I asked if she had researched it. She said no.
   While many sources of bad information may be pure ignorance, others are not. Many purposefully exclude information to support the point they want to make. Some are doing it to sell a product. Some are doing it to promote an agenda. For example, on July 4th this year I was scrolling down Facebook and a VERY popular essential oils blogging group posted an informational graphic instructing readers to dose their pets up with a specific oil blend to help their pets not be afraid of fireworks near their homes, at events, etc. My alert immediately went up because I know the blend well and know that the first three ingredients are citrus, and citrus oils are toxic to many animals, especially cats and birds. I posted along with a link to a well-researched article on said toxin issues, pointing out that it might be a good strategy for some larger dogs, but could kill other animals and smaller or elderly dogs. Within minutes my post was deleted and I was banned from posting on the page. The post they made was never edited to include the safety information.
Thousands of pages of invaluable information 
   When you're looking at holistic and alternative-method information, first and foremost, RESEARCH! When you find a great tidbit of information, look for it in multiple sources. However, pay attention to the way it's written. Recently I was looking for natural flea treatment for a friend whose husband found a sickly, flea-infested, stray kitten alongside the road and was looking to nurse it back to health. I found six articles- SIX!- that were nothing more than an exact copy and paste of snippets of a WikiHow page on the topic, and there were no citations. I'm not going grammar-crazy, my point is that they're presenting identical info they clearly found only at one source and put it down as their own with no further research.
   But I can't hide my inner nerd. I do love grammar. But I also love truth. I am all about sharing facts. If I share something, you can know without a doubt I have both researched it and tested it extensively myself. If there's something some one asks me that I am unsure of I will never lie. I will happily admit I don't know but that I'm happy to find out. I'm a nerd. I love to KNOW. Information- facts- science- they all thrill me. So when I jumped into the full essential oil experience this past winter and started changing my and my family's lives over to more essential oil options, I started to research. I dedicated myself to it in every spare moment I had. I decided that every week I would choose one essential oil and just study it through and through so I could learn as much as possible about each oil and use it SAFELY to its fullest ability. I quickly realized there was a whole lot of that "Copy and Paste" garbage out there, masquerading as multiple information sources. That's when I decided to take the plunge. I talked to the mentors in my life who have been using EOs for decades, and asked what the best source for this information was. That's when I was led to The Essential Oils Desk Reference from Life Science Publishing. A literal text full of exactly the information I wanted: a break down of the chemistry of essential oils, how they are extracted and distilled, why the steps of these processes matter SO much, as well as the details of each oil, its uses, its possible medical interactions, its chemistry, its historical uses, and its cautions.  Everything. This is better than studying in college, because it means EVERYTHING for the health of my family. I know it means just as much for yours, too. So do your research, and don't be afraid to speak up and share facts.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Essential Success: DIY Effective and Natural Insect Repellent

   Two posts in one day? Really over-achieving today! I kid. Yesterday in my post about treating allergic reactions to bug bites I promised I'd write today about how I make my insect spray. 

   A sign of the beginning of every spring for us has always been the buying of a new bottle of OFF! and a tube of SPF 55 Banana Boat. I disliked putting those things on my children, and was always happy to bathe them at the end of the day to wash the chemicals of these protectorents off their skin, but the smells clung to their clothes even after many washings, which made me feel eerily like the chemicals were lingering, too. This year I decided to try something new. I received my awesome Young Living Premium Starter Kit  late in the winter so I started doing a lot of research on what oils were proven to repel which insects to decide what to use, and I perused other articles on other components and their ratios in the repellent for best results. In the end, I was incredibly pleased with the recipe I came up with, and we've found it to be very effective. 
Ingredients:
  • 1 ounce(2 Tbsp) witch hazel
  • 1 ounce(2 Tbsp) distilled water
  • 4 drops Purification EO blend
  • 4 drops Thieves EO blend
  • 2 drops Peppermint EO
  • One 2-3 ounce dark colored glass spray bottle
Directions: 
Put each ingredient in the bottle. Shake it. Yep. It's that easy. You can even get really  fancy and label it by writing something like "Bug Spray" on a slip of paper and taping it on. Or you can get really classy and type up something fancy including the ingredients. Just go with your creative gut here. I have faith in you. 


Why:
My goal in choosing which oils to use was to find out what functioned well as as repellents against the most common offenders in our area: mosquitoes, gnats, flies, and ticks. I did some studying in the Essential Oils Desk Reference, 6th Edition, and Citronella and Lemongrass are shown to be moderately effective against all of these so Purification was an obvious choice, but I wanted more. My research showed me that  peppermint is especially effective against mosquitoes. So much so, that it is shown to kill mosquito larvae on contact, and the adults hate the smell and taste of it. Lemon and clove(both of which are in Thieves) have both been shown to be very effective against mosquitoes as well. Eucalyptus and peppermint(both are in Thieves) have both been proven to be effective gnat repellent. Lavender, peppermint, and rosemary(in both Purification and Thieves) shown to be very effective against most varieties of flies, and studies have shown peppermint, cinnamon bark, clove, and lemon(all in Thieves) essential oils to be effective tick repellent. With all these over-laps in repellent between the two blends and the single peppermint, I knew Thieves and Purification would be the perfect fit. The distilled water helps to properly dilute and carry the oils without the possibility of adding chlorine, fluoride, or other common contaminants in tap water. The witch hazel is also dillutes and carries the oils appropriately while being soothing and cooling, but also has the added benefit of making the spray more of a quick-dry solution than plane water would be. 
   So far this summer this bug spray solution has been perfectly effective against all bugs. Before we head out, everyone gets a spritz for each arm and each leg, a little extra on the feet and ankles(I despise ticks and that's the most common contact point), the back of the neck, the head, and it's so gentle and quick-drying we can put a light spritz on the face(eyes closed!) without irritation. A single batch this size lasts us about two months when using it a couple times a week. I hope this little formula is helpful to protect you and yours this summer. 

*Want to try Young Living essential oils for yourself? Ask me how you can get 24% off every order every time with no commitment to reorder!*

*I am not a doctor. These are solely our personal experiences, or information from the stated sources. The statements made in this post have not been evaluated by the FDA. The products discussed are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.*

30 Days Without Facebook- Day 1

   Sounds crazy, right? If you love Facebook and love being in that social media scene, staying in-touch with friends and family, it'd be crazy to cut yourself off from that. And what if you're not a fan of Facebook? Still sounds crazy- like why wouldn't you go thirty days(OR MORE!) without Facebook? I'm both.
   Facebook was never huge for me until 2010. In April 2010 my husband got a job which took us 2 hours north of where we'd lived, loved, and grown as a family for four years. I quit my job quite happily to enjoy staying home with my children full time for the first time. I was thrilled, but that also meant leaving behind my co-workers who had become like family, a church community that I couldn't imagine living without, and my actual biological family who lived twenty minutes from us all those years. But I was happy to do it because it's what was best for my family and, after all, there was Facebook. 

Mommy needs some adult conversation
 In May 2010, less than a week after we moved, my midwife called and gave us some devastating news: the baby girl growing in my womb had numerous markers for Trisomy 18. One marker is usually nothing. Two markers is usually something. More than two is almost always a sure thing, and fatal. Our girl had three. My world went into a tailspin, and I spent as much time as possible with the support of the one friend I knew in our new location, but Facebook became my lifeline to support. I had a 3-year-old, a special needs 1.5-year-old, a husband working nights, sleeping days, and somehow doing college courses full time, and I was very, very alone with this heavy burden. So I had Facebook. 
   Over the years since then, after my daughter was born miraculously whole and healthy, my son began receiving services for his special needs, we moved to a better house in a better area, my home business became more popular, my children became school age so I was homeschooling, and we had an acre of land for me to garden and landscape, I was so busy that socialization was church on Sundays and Wegmans every other Friday. And Facebook. 
   But Facebook has its downfalls. There's the constant notion that we're typing at computer screens rather than people so the words that leave our mouths and the conversations we have are things we wouldn't dream of saying to some one's face. Cyber-bullying is rampant, especially among grown women who are otherwise fantastic people, adoring mothers, and loving wives. There's the emotionless tone of the screen where things can be so misunderstood to mean exactly the opposite of what one actually says. And there's the drama. Just the ridiculous drivel most of us would otherwise excuse ourselves from, but instead we sit and mindlessly scroll through as we look for an opportunity to make a human connection. In the end, it's almost always a deeply unsatisfying connection, if any. 
   And so this brings me to my point: I'm taking some time away from Facebook. Yes, this means time away from the convenience of cyber-stalking my friends with new babies and round bellies about to give birth so I don't have to be one of the maddening voices asking if the baby has arrived yet. Yes, this means giving up the convenience of my daily group chat with my two dearest and sweetest mama-friends, where we talk, vent, encourage, love, and hold each other accountable. Yes, this means that I and my family won't be on display for others to conveniently keep tabs on and most will not likely notice, and if they do they won't care enough to call or email. And I'm okay with it. Life has had me so overwhelmed with what I need to cram into this last month of "summer" before school starts that I've been incredibly stressed. When I have gotten on Facebook during my brief moments to take a deep breath and relax for a moment, I am almost always assaulted by a feed filled with pissing matches over who has it worse or who does it right, and when I've appreciated an article, vlog, or statement enough to share it I've been attacked- both publicly and by PM- with why I'm wrong and how that makes me a worse person with a lesser intelligence, and even sworn at(yes, swearing in acronym is still swearing) by people I consider dear friends. I get that people swear. That's fine. Their choice. No offense taken at all. I probably say a couple words that others more conservative than I consider to be swearing. But when people swear AT me? That's such utter disrespect. When I post in a jovial mommy conversation about whether or not people put rash guards on their children for swimming that we put them on both our boys and girls because our modesty standards are the same for both- no one goes topless and am told I am "slut-shaming"? I'm done. When I re-post a statement encouraging women to dress more modestly and show you're more than a sexualized piece of meat and am told I am "promoting a rape culture"? I'm done. And that's just a snippet of the last 48 hours.
   I could go on, but I will not. When my fleeting moments of rest get me more stressed than my non-stop life of mommy to 4, homeschooler, wife to a guy who works all night, sleeps all day, and is starting work on his Masters then it's time for a change. For thirty days, I am done with Facebook. If you're reading this from my Facebook, it's because my blog is linked to it and sends my posts there. :-) Maybe more than thirty days. I have searched my heart, my head, and my responses to things to see if I am the problem. So I'm cutting out Facebook. If in 30 days I am still overwhelmed, stressed out, and upset over the dramatics of things around me then I know it's me and I need to work on myself. In the mean time, I'm here doing life, doing what's right in front of me, and cherishing every minute. And I have a phone and an email address. And a blog. :-)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Naturally, I Like A Man That Smells Good

   In my urgent quest for better health for my family over the past three years, it became quickly apparent that what we put ON our skin matters as much as what we put in our mouths. The skin is the largest organ the body has, and it absorbs everything that it comes into contact with, putting it into contact with countless tiny capillaries and fat cells that can carry both the good and bad throughout our entire bodies. I decided right then I needed to phase out the chemical junk in our hygiene routines, and switch to all natural options instead.
   The biggest problem I found was that even when a company labeled its goods as "natural," it often was not. All it meant was that a fraction of its ingredients had to be a chemically convoluted substance that in some way started at a botanical level. SERIOUSLY?! In my search for better options I began looking into some products by a company my sisters were involved in selling because I had easy access and the labels claimed the products to be, "Made with natural ingredients." Google told me a hugely different story. By looking up the scientific information on each individual ingredient I found that several ingredients found in these and many other mass-produced "natural" products were literally made of microscopic fiberglass shards, and that's how they had such "incredible absorption and smoothing, anti-aging effects"- because they were shredding the epidermal and dermal skin cells, forcing the body to replace the destroyed skin cells, thus creating the 'fresh, youthful, glowing skin' touted to be effected. Additionally, those dead cells had great potential to morph into cancerous skin cells because of the way they were killed and the chemicals present that influenced the mutation during the healing process. WHAT?! The commonly-used "natural" anti-aging components? They scientifically are simply mummifying the skin. Sure, your wrinkles will disappear, but at what cost? Daily exposure to trace amounts of known carcinogens while you think you're spending extra money and going the extra mile to do something better for your body. FRAUD! And yet the government allows it through some twisted, ridiculous standards.
  So I started looking super basic. The kind of hand-made products that have every single ingredient listed, where nothing needed to be Googled for clarification, and the ingredient list was a short sentence, not a lengthy paragraph. I found a few acceptable products, some more effective than others.
   Then in March my husband decided he'd had enough of his itchy beard, and he wanted some beard oil. Nobody likes beard-druff. Google led us to an Etsy shop- Luxe Pour Homme by G. His prices were good, his ingredient lists were excellent, and his feedback was limited but all fantastic. So we ordered. The package arrived quickly, in beautiful, all natural, completely recycled/recyclable, classy wrapping, and with a handful of samples. Firstly, the conditioning beard oil smelled incredible. The orange sandalwood scent my husband chose was 100% natural and pure, rich and yet soft. Not at all overwhelming. As for effectiveness? With just a couple drops after his shower the itchy skin beneath the beard was immediately soothed, and his beard was very soft and supple, which was a total win for both of us. Have you ever made out with a man with a rugged beard? It's rough! Get it? Haha.... No seriously. The after-burn can be painful.
   In addition to the beard oil, my husband had received a natural cologne sample. He gave it a try and was very pleased. After perusing Greg's shop and his available scents and ingredient lists, my husband asked me to email and ask about samples of a couple other intriguing options. Within days Greg had sent not only what we'd asked for, but a sample of every single natural cologne he made, as well as a full bar of one of his new soaps. Above and beyond, this artisan! My husband and I both fell in love with his scent, Deep Faith- a mix of Sicilian blood orange and black pepper. It worked amazingly with his body chemistry, and mixed nicely with the beard oil. The cologne was wonderfully effective- just a few drops or a light spritz was enough to be noticeable without being overpowering, and the sample size lasted more than a month!
   This last order my husband placed, he chose the roll-on cologne in Deep Faith. Super convenient in just a
quick swipe on the neck and wrists are plenty without wasting a spray that misses the target. He also ordered Luxe Pour Homme's powerful naturally deodorizing charcoal soap in the same scent. Again, customer service was superior, shipping was in less than 24 hours, and the items were tastefully wrapped in eco-friendly packaging to protect the glass containers inside.
   Neither I nor my husband can recommend this Etsy shop highly enough. Customer service has always been incredible, with near-instant communication responses by email, fast shipping, generous samples of other products, and responsible packaging, and the goods themselves have been superior to any others we've tried, handmade or mass-produced. Add in the simple, all-natural ingredient lists, and we could not be any more pleased. Give Greg a shot. There's no way you'll be disappointed.

*I am in no way affiliated with Luxe Pour Homme by G, and received no incentive or compensation for my review. I'm just a pleased repeat customer! :-) *

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hug Your Children

When my oldest was 4 months old, a dear friend lost her 7-week-old son to SIDS. It changed my life. My daily prayers for Hillary and her family also led me to do a lot of research on SIDS. There's a lot of misinformation out there about SIDS, and the "recommendations" to prevent it are always changing. My friend was doing everything right: back to sleep, breastfeeding, safely co-sleeping, no smokers around the baby, no blankets or pillows around the baby's face. And still Liam was taken by autopsy-confirmed SIDS. Many babies are every year.
   I became paranoid about SIDS, and to this day until each of my children reaches 6-7 months old, I silently obsess over them as they sleep, checking on them several times throughout the night to make sure they're warm and breathing no matter how often they wake to nurse. When my babies first start sleeping through the night, I go in at their regular wake-up times just to check, just to make sure.
   I've also learned there is a lot of false information floating around out there about SIDS. There is no prevention. Pillows, crib bumpers, and blankets in the crib don't cause SIDS, they cause suffocation. Smoking around the baby doesn't cause SIDS, it causes respiratory distress, asthma, allergies, and lowered immune system. Co-sleeping doesn't cause SIDS, it causes suffocation and injury when unsafely practiced. Vaccines don't cause SIDS, they cause illness and vaccine injuries that can kill babies and children. Formula doesn't cause SIDS, it causes a whole host of digestive issues including reflux that can lead to aspiration. A baby sleeping on his or her tummy or sides does not cause SIDS, it causes suffocation if a baby is not strong/developed enough to adequately turn or right itself in danger. Giving honey to an infant under 12 months doesn't cause SIDS, it
causes Botulism poisoning. Not using a pacifier while Baby sleeps does not cause SIDS, it just means they don't need the suck reflex to help them sleep.
   Clearly not every one of these things is necessarily a danger in and of itself, but they are ALL listed as things that "cause" SIDS.  SIDS is exactly as the name says: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It is the completely unexplainable death in a perfectly healthy infant. There is no cause or prevention. There are safe habits to practice around your family for their better health and safety, but they won't CAUSE SIDS. SIDS in its pathology has no cause or reason. It's gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, life-changing, and happens without cause. It also doesn't just happen to infants. Just this week a friend's perfectly healthy 13-month-old fell asleep for the night at his usual time and just never woke up.
   Don't get complacent with your children's safety. Always do the safest thing possible in every situation. And hug your children. Appreciate the hourly wake-ups while they're tiny, because it means they're breathing. Appreciate their whining, bickering, and hassling, because they're alive to do it. Take a moment to hold each of your children every day, studying their faces and drinking in their smell. Don't ever take that for granted. Because there are things that you have no control over that can snatch your children's lives away in an instant.