Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Year of Better Update - Beauty and the Beets

It was my intention to post an update at the beginning of each month, but if my goal is to write coherent sentences with proper punctuation, I have to wait until after Blue goes to bed. And by that point, I prefer to burrow on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate and watch Victoria (which I love, now that I realize it's more like Downton Abbey and less like The Queen). But I've been getting questions from my Facebook friends about recipes and how the more natural approaches to skin care, health and home-making have been working out.

In short, it's freaking awesome and I can't believe I waited so long to switch over.

So, I'm going to share what I've done so far, breaking it down to health and beauty in this post and cleaning/cooking in the next one.

If you are truly interested in reducing the amount of chemicals in your home, I suggest you download the Think Dirty app and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) app. Think Dirty evaluates health and beauty products (it has a scan's tempting to scan everything in your bathroom...don't do it - especially if your husband just bought you a year-long subscription to Birch Box. Just pick a few things to start with because you are going to want to throw it all in the trash.) while EWG focuses on cosmetics, sunscreen and food. They also list some cleaning products, which is how I discovered that I can keep my Seventh Generation dish soap, but I need to ditch the Aveeno baby soap and anything from Mrs. Meyers (I know...sad trombones on that one). So, armed with these 2 apps, I started with the basics: deodorant and hair care.

1. I switched to "Sensitive" Dove deodorant when I kept breaking out in my arm pits (yeah, it's just as unsightly as it sounds). But even after I switched, I kept breaking out. I decided it was the fate of my skin and resigned myself to sleeves. But my deodorant scored a NINE on the Think Dirty app (mostly for fragrance - which is counter-intuitive to sensitive skin but whatever...). I then got on the EWG app and browsed their list of "approved" deodorants. Kiss My Face scored well for most of their products and when I happened to find it at Wegman's, it felt like stars aligning. Surprise, surprise...after a month of using Kiss My Face, my underarms are almost completely blemish-free! (Fair warning, though: if it wears off overnight and then you sweat through a Muscle Pump class the next morning, you will stink. I moved away from the fans to keep from spreading the stench, but I'm not sure it helped.)

2. Again, when I scanned my shampoo and conditioner in the Think Dirty app, they scored 9's and 10's for perfumes and formaldehyde. I hate it when my beauty products contain formaldehyde. I would prefer not to be embalmed on a daily basis. After washing my hair with Dr. Bronner's soap for about a week (and contending with increasingly crispy hair), I decided I needed to find another option. I found the Acure line at Target (yay!) and it is highly rated on both apps (double yay!). It contains a lot of food-type ingredients, like pomegranate juice and something derived from sugar beets. They also have a seaweed exfoliating scrub that I use about 3 times a week. Yes, it's green, but it makes my face feel so not like it's almost 40.

3. I know. Sorry. If you're a guy or no longer have to face this battle every month, just skip to #4. But, it is what it is. So, I've been using Tampax almost since day one, when I was super confused about the applicator needing to come back out. And they've been fine. They did the job and I never thought much about it. Although every now and then I would convince myself that I had contracted Toxic Shock Syndrome until I realized it was a head cold or the flu. But a few months ago I started noticing more of my "level-headed and reasonable" crunchy granola Facebook friends "liking" the Lola brand of tampons and pads. And since you get a great deal as a first-time customer, I ordered 2 boxes to give them a try. I will say, they do the job and I don't think much about it. However, I feel much more comfortable knowing it's 100% cotton going up there instead of propylene glycol, adhesives, artificial fragrances and polyester. I've already ordered the matching pads for this month.

4. remover. It's a necessary evil and I pretty much do as little as I can get away with and still have clear skin. The Neutrogena wipes have been my go-to for so long that I just started buying them at Costco. However, they scored a...wait for it...NINE in the Think Dirty app (this is why you don't scan your entire bathroom at once, friends. You've been warned.) and while some things I waited until I ran out of to replace, this was not one of them. I know this is shocking but it scored the highest for "fragrance". There are almost 3000 fragrance ingredients added to personal care products, usually to mask an odor (eww...nothing says "fresh" like the smell of chemicals in the morning) or to add a pleasant scent, but they can also disrupt hormones. I like my hormones to be regulated and, well, not disrupted. So, the makeup remover is a little trickier because it's a concoction using ingredients around the house and a few essential oils from Young Living. (This is where I do a quick plug for Young Living and say that if you are interested in using essential oils for more than just making things smell nice, YL should be your only source. I will explain in a later post, but trust the Virgo who researched it for weeks before ever putting a drop on my skin - and continues to research it still.)

Makeup Remover Recipe:
1. 2 Tb jojoba oil or grapeseed oil (these are my 2 "face oils" because they don't clog the pores like coconut oil can)
2. 1 Tb of alcohol-free witch hazel (I also get this at Target. It will say "alcohol-free" on the bottle.)
3. 4 drops of lavender
4. 4 drops of frankincense (yes, like the Three Wise Men)
5. Optional: 4 drops of lemon or tea tree or myrrh (again, Wise Men). I've seen it with a combination of any of these. I didn't have any tea tree or myrrh when I made this batch and lemon keeps me awake at night so I just used #3 and #4. You can also add Vitamin E but, again, I didn't have any on hand when I made this.
*Add to a glass spray bottle. Yes, if the essential oils are in there it has to be glass.
*Give a little swirl before using each time and spray one cotton round generously. Apply to face. Hear the angels sing.

I seriously love this recipe and I can't wait to play with the ingredients as I build my collection of oils. Also, my age spots are beginning to fade and the worry wrinkle between my eyebrows is less pronounced. And my face feels re-hydrated without leaving an oil slick on the pillow.

5. "Stretch Mark Cream"...aka Why Didn't I Discover This Stuff About 4 Years Ago cream. OK I vaguely remember some people telling me that coconut oil was nectar from the gods and that if I cared about my epidermis at all, I would slather it everywhere every day. Well, coconut oil is nectar from the gods, y'all. And while I still keep a jar of Cetaphil in my car for dry, lizard hands (the Cetaphil products scored a 5 on Think Dirty, except for Baby Cetaphil which scored a 9...what is wrong with THAT picture?), I whipped up this batch for daily slathering.

Stretch Mark Cream Recipe:
1. Jar of unrefined, organic (or virgin, cold-pressed or raw) coconut oil
2. 12-15 drops of Gentle Baby Young Living oil
Fun fact: If you dump a jar of coconut oil in a bowl and whip it with an electric beater, it will stay, more or less, whipped in the jar. Add some Gentle Baby oil and voila. I've also known people who add Vitamin E oil and/or Frankincense and Myrrh to this, as well. (I have some bars of local beeswax that I'm going to melt but I think I'm going to put that in my first batch of lip balm.)

6. Soap. We started using the Dove Shea Butter soap when I was trying to address the armpit acne issue and we've just stuck with it. Most of the Dove soaps score a 9 on Think Dirty but the sensitive skin version scored a 3, so if making your own body soap is too tree huggy for you, there are other options. But this couldn't possibly be easier.

Body Soap Recipe
 1. Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid soap (I started with Peppermint first. It was awesome until I washed the lady parts. And I was tingly for at least 5 minutes, regardless of how well I rinsed. That is not really for me but if you like a little sensation in the shower, may I suggest Dr. Bronner's Peppermint) + water in a foaming soap dispenser.

That's it. Dr. Bronner's is an awesome company that I should have been buying all along. It only has 8 ingredients and 4 of them are water and oils.

7. Ah, shaving cream. There's no before product because honestly I just used whatever was laying around...shampoo...soap...water. But this recipe from Modern Hippy Housewife (I love that she's modern and hippy) is probably the best I've found so far. A lot of recipes call for coconut oil but as great as it is for stretchmarks, it will clog a razor just as fast as it will clog a pore. This uses grapeseed or olive oil instead. I also added this to a foaming soap dispenser because...well...why not? I use this recipe in the guest bathrooms as hand soap as well because the honey and the oil leave the hands feeling so soft and nourished. Please don't judge my razor. That's next month's project.

8. Lastly, my new face regiment. There are a lot of people who use their essential oils for cleaning or body wash, but personally, I feel that's kind of a waste of expensive oil. If it's only on my skin for 15 seconds or it's being applied to my kitchen floor, that's not as good as it going directly on my skin or in my diffuser or in my mouth (more on that next month) so I reserve most of my oils for application or inhalation or ingestion. Right now, since it's winter in Pennsylvania and the sun comes out between the hours of 8 AM and 9 AM, I use 1-2 drops of lemon oil with a little jojoba oil on my face in the morning. But the citrus oils are tricky. It's like Retin-A. Hey high school friends, remember that time I put Retin-A all over my face and then went out and played a softball game? It's like that. Lemon can increase photosensitivity so I use it on rainy, cloudy days, which are in great abundance at the moment. It's great for clarifying and brightening. And then a little "Frank" in the evening for generally healing and skin health.

I also switched Blue's Aveeno Baby Wash (Neal texted me the Think Dirty score one night during bathtime and I demanded he throw out that Baby Cancer Wash immediately) to Weleda Calendula Baby Shampoo (from Amazon). It gets the highest score of "O" on Think Dirty and its most suspicious ingredient is probably Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate, which is similar in structure to MSG but without any of the toxic effects. The rest is water, oils, flower extracts and naturally occurring essential oils.

And that's where we are so far. As I mentioned, Neal gave me a Birch Box subscription for Christmas so, while the Mighty Nest subscription would probably have been better for The Year of Better, I asked for it back in November. And I will keep using the samples they send. At the end of this year I will probably start looking to replace my makeup with cleaner, less chemical-laden options (and that's no easy or cheap feat either).

I love sharing recipes so if you have a body wash or shaving cream or deodorant roll-on, etc. that you love, please post it in the comments! And if you try one of these, let me know how it goes! Next up will be my new arsenal of cleaning sprays, scrubs, tabs and, of course, the wool dryer balls I finished last Sunday.

Monday, January 30, 2017

No Matter Where You Are From

I posted on Facebook yesterday that I have started noticing these signs around central Pennsylvania. It started with Hershey but I've since seen them in Lebanon, Harrisburg, Lititz and Lancaster. As it turns out, it all began with Lancaster (which I still pronounce as LAN-caster instead of Len-cas-TER. My cover is blown about 30 seconds after the locals meet me but they keep inviting me to stuff anyway). Lancaster has been dubbed "America's Refugee Capital" for its role in accepting and assisting more refugees per capita than any other city in the US. To date, citizens of Lancaster have welcomed over 1300 refugees into their city and their homes.

In 2012, they created the Lancaster County Refugee Coalition, whose motto is Thriving in Lancaster, Enriching Us All. This association of over 40 community organizations support and optimize refugee resettlement in Lancaster County by "empowering the community to incorporate refugees into social services and community systems." They do this by enlisting the help of organizations like the Lancaster/Lebanon Literacy Council (and their ESL services), Franklin & Marshall College, the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement and Church World Service of Lancaster. In fact, Church World Service and Lutheran Refugee Services are the 2 agencies that resettle refugees in Lancaster County. They have 90 days, per an agreement with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, to get refugees resettled with the basic necessities (i.e. housing) but Lancaster County wanted to do more than simply get a roof over their heads and some food in their mouths. They wanted to make the resettlement process as seamless and painless as possible. During a conference of the coalition, the members realized that communication between the agencies was breaking down and there was no coordinated or streamlined process for resettlement. The coalition received two grants totaling $35,000, which funded a refugee focus group and a coalition coordinator, who works to bring new agencies on board who can contribute to one of the 4 areas of need identified (English as a second language - especially for adults in the workplace, refugee adjustment assistance, refugee youth and the community/cultural center-which is actually a Rotary Club project). The ultimate goal is to help these refugees become productive members of the community, not just dependents on the system. And they have been doing just that. In 2014, Lancaster welcomed 90 Somalis; 67 Burmese; 36 Iraqis; 32 Bhutanese; 31 Cubans; 25 Democratic Republic Congolese; 11 Ethiopians; 8 Sudanese; 2 Nepalis; 2 South Sudanese, and 1 Kenyan. 

But why is any of this surprising? Lancaster became home to the Amish and the Mennonites who were fleeing persecution long before the Iraqis arrived. And unlike many Americans, who often forget their European ancestry, these 2 religious groups remember what it was like to find a land of freedom. So, of course they would welcome them and try to ease their transition. Lancaster County is truly a melting pot of diversity. 

I will admit, when we first moved here, I made some Breaking Amish jokes. I tried to Instagram every horse and buggy we passed. I mocked the Mennonites for flocking to Hobby Lobby (What? Don't you make your own twine from horse hair or something?). But living among them (and joining the Moravian Church, whose motto is "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love"), I began to appreciate their unconditional love for their fellow humans. Not just other Mennonites. Not just other Amish. Not just other Moravians. All humans. Equally. In all things, love. They are doing God's work. They are living like Jesus. Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me

Refugees are, by their very definition, fleeing some unspeakable horror. They never wanted to leave their homeland. They never wanted to uproot their lives and move thousands of miles away, to a country that would tolerate them, at best, or falsely accuse and execute them at worst. I have a friend who lives in Pakistan. One day, on messenger, I asked her why she didn't just leave? Why not move to the U.K., where she had studied? And she simply said, "Because Pakistan is my home. I cannot leave." And, knowing about the political climate of Pakistan, I believe that says a lot. She posts pictures of her friends at the beach on holiday and at family celebrations and you would never know that her country is falling apart. But it is her home and it would take something unspeakable to make her leave. The only thing we should do is welcome them, hug them and help them find a home here, however temporary or permanent it may be.

I have, as I am wont to do, thrown myself into the activities of our new church. I spent last Saturday morning with other Moravians, hand-dipping pretzels that were sold to benefit the church's mission work in Jamaica. And I am on the nature garden committee. And we will be participating in the Little Lambs ministry, a program created to give children an opportunity to serve their community. This month, we will be collecting and delivering donations of breakfast food items to the Water Street Mission, which provides assistance for the homeless, as well as health screens and immunizations to refugees. 

But first...a sign. For our yard. For our neighbors. For anyone who happens to wander by. No matter where you are from, we are glad you're our neighbor. These signs are being sold by, wonder of all wonders, the Community Mennonite Church in Lancaster. But if you would like your own and you live far, the Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia created a PDF that can be sent to your local sign maker (or shirt maker, or billboard maker). You can find that free PDF file here. While the signs springing up in this area are predominantly Arabic/English/Spanish, the link above will also give you language options for French, Somali, Armenian, Hindi, German, Japanese and Chinese. 

In all

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017: The Year of Better

As I write this, all three of us are sick. It started with a stomach virus before the winter break that began and ended with Blue and then a vicious head cold, bordering on sinus infection, that started with Neal around Thanksgiving. He finally went to the doctor and came home with a nasal saline spray, ear drops and orders to consume a teaspoon of honey three times per day. So, although I know that if I went to my own civilian doctor, she would probably drop an antibiotic on me faster than I can say Z-Pack, I also now know that there are doctors in this world who believe we can kick this with some saline and a spoonful of bee juice. And so that is what we are doing. Or trying to do. And every day is just a little bit better.

This renewed determination to fight illness with something other than a prescription is partially due to an NPR story we heard coming back from Kentucky after Christmas. There is some concern that because we are in such a hurry to get better when we are sick, we are taking antibiotics at an alarming rate and, someday, that is going to create a whole new problem: superbugs that are impervious to anything we have on the shelves right now. I would prefer not to be a Superbug statistic. It has taken a week + to kick this and that seems like a lifetime to be sick, especially when the little person in the house is sick, too. And if we (especially Blue) weren't improving each day, I would have gone to the doctor a long time ago. So, please don't send me hate mail addressed to Dear Crunchy Mama Who Is Killing Her Child With Snot and Honey...

But as we dragged ourselves to bed at 12:01 last night (and, admittedly, I had to beg Neal to not go to bed at 11:53), I vowed to make 2017 the Year of Better...better health, better living, better eating, better sleeping, better choices. I would be a liar, liar, pants on fire if I said none of these changes stemmed from the election. They do. In hindsight, I feel like I could have done a lot of things differently between June and November. And what's the point of retrospection if you aren't going to apply it to the future? This will require me to read more, research more, listen to opinions that I will certainly find disagreeable. I will have to be more open-minded, consider others' experiences and perspectives in a more engaging way and just try to be a better person.

However, as we have been sick for almost a month, trying to be a better person can't be my only improvement in 2017. Starting today, the focus of this blog for the coming year will be learning to live a healthier, less chemical-laden, more holistic life. Aside from my 400 Wakeups blog I wrote while Neal was deployed, I've never had a defined purpose for my blog. It has kind of just been the thoughts and ramblings of my daily (or, ahem, monthly, every 6 months...whatever) life. And while that worked for awhile, there are some things I can't write about (our Commander-in-Chief, AKA Neal's boss, for example), things I won't write about (Blue's bathroom-related escapades and Mommy judging/shaming) and things that are just not that interesting (now my hair is long enough to highlight). The result has been the noticeable lack of posts, followed by the sound of crickets. And, really, in this age that's OK because what is the world with one less blogger? But I don't write for you, I write for my head doesn't explode, so I don't start imagining parallel universes where Neal has a complete family in Baghdad that he gets to see during deployments (I probably should have gone on Paxil a long time ago). I need to write and it's just a sunshine-and-rainbows bonus that y'all read and comment and follow along. So, this is where we're going...

We need less chemicals, less processed food, more sleep and less sugar. Items of convenience are disrupting our sleep patterns and our hormones. Industrial strength cleaners are toxic to all of us, especially the smallest in our family. We need to throw it all out and start over. Over the next year, I'm making a commitment to dramatically reduce the amount of chemicals we clean with, put on our bodies and in our mouths and, in general, come into contact with daily. I am also implementing a Whole 30-ish weekly menu with limited eating out and no fast food. And we will be weening ourselves from the sugar (because I went cold turkey last spring and not only did I go back to eating sugar, but Blue watched an unprecedented amount of Netflix while I sprawled on the couch for 2 days, detoxing).

On the whole, we do better than a lot of families. I cook 5-6 times a week and we always have fruit and healthy snacks on hand, but sometimes my menu includes 3 meals of pasta, enough dairy to drown a cow and pre-packaged ingredients. I only drink 1-2 cups of coffee per day but my teaspoon of flavored creamer sometimes turns into a heaping tablespoon, which then becomes "would you like some coffee with your creamer?" (I'm looking at you, peppermint mocha.) I only eat dessert after meals, but I try to eat 5-6 meals a day. Yes, I've been known to eat dessert after breakfast. I get 7 hours of sleep per night, but really I function best at 8. And I could get 8 if I would just get the hell off Pinterest. I use white vinegar with orange peels for wiping counters and spot-cleaning, but reach for harsh, toxic cleaners to scrub toilets, floors and showers. I need to stop buying dryer sheets at Costco. I need to stop buying them at all. And I only take medicine when I need it but lately it's been a steady diet of Mucinex, Vicks, Aleve and my rescue inhaler.

So, this is my game plan for our family and our house for 2017: 
  • Write a Whole 30 menu for each week and limit processed foods to snacks, like pretzels, flavored Greek yogurt, string cheese and graham crackers. I resolve to make my own waffle/pancake mix, taco seasoning and salad dressings.
  • Buy organic as much as possible. (Yes, I completely buy into the health benefits of eating organic food and have since we used Door to Door Organics in Kansas.) 
  • Purchase meat from our local Mennonite meat market, which comes from local farms and is fresh everyday. 
  • Eliminate the toxic cleaners from the house. I love my Swiffer jet but for starters, I'm not entirely sure it's getting the floors clean. When I look at the bottom of the mop, it's alarming how much dirt and grime I'm redistributing all over the floor. Secondly, if I worry about the cat walking across a wet floor, it shouldn't be because of the cleanser she may lick off her paws later. I also read some horrifying statistics about dryer sheets over the weekend. My goal is to replace every cleaner I use with a safer, homemade version.
  • Blue and I are going to aim for 30 minutes of outside time everyday, even in the dead of Pennsylvania winter. Did you see that video about the Danish children who play in the water everyday, even in the winter? They splash in their bathing suits and then come in to warm up with some tea and a few minutes in the sauna, or something. That's never going to be us. But the fresh, cold air has to at least knock some of the indoor germs off for a little bit. And if we end up going to Alaska next, we'll be at least a tiny bit acclimated. 
  • Lastly, but certainly not least, we are becoming a Young Living essential oils household. My starter kit and diffuser will be here this week but I'm already familiar with tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus and lavender oils from when I was a massage therapist. And I always believed in their healing and cleansing properties but after Blue was born, additional research felt like a luxury and time was best spent on sleeping. Now, ignorance is keeping us in a toxic holding pattern and Blue is finally sleeping through the night (although I hear there's an oil for that). 
These seem like lofty goals, but in 2016, Neal graduated, we lived in our RV for the entire summer, visited 8 National Parks, Monuments and Battlefields, moved to the east and started a whole new life. Compared to that frenetic pace, spending the next year implementing a healthier lifestyle seems like a chemical-free cake walk. I hope you will join us!