Don’t do it ’til you’re done having kids.

Thanks Mom, for never having smoked in your lifetime. You may have saved your grandchildren from heart disease. Thanks Dad, for staying fit and not over-indulging during your lifetime. You may have saved your children a lifetime struggle with obesity.

An interesting new study indicates that by smoking, over-eating, drinking in excess or otherwise not taking proper care of your body, you can actually alter your DNA in such a way that your future children and grandchildren will suffer.

An article from timesonline says

According to this new science, known as epigenetics, your ancestors’ diet, smoking habits, exposure to pollutants and levels of obesity could be affecting you today. In turn, your lifestyle could affect your children and grandchildren. For Zwart and millions of others choosing to delay parenthood this raises new moral questions. What effect, for example, will nights spent in wine bars have on their descendants? Will cigarettes smoked today compromise the health of grandchildren? If they become obese is that their right, or does it impose a burden of ill-health on generations yet unborn?
Epigenetics also indicates that our health can be affected by our mother’s prenatal condition, as well as our mother’s lifestyle choices BEFORE she became pregnant. Most women do take good care of themselves during pregnancy. But what about the years prior to getting pregnant? Poor lifestyle choices may not just damage our own health. Those same choices could be damaging our future children’s health.
So, in effect, we are “not owners of our genes but their guardian“. This makes it all the more important to take care of our bodies so that the next few generations don’t suffer because of our poor lifestyle choices. And just as important, we need to teach our children how to take care of their bodies by not using drugs, smoking cigarettes, over-eating, or drinking in excess.

Hardcore partying, then, is not just damaging to our own bodies and our youth is no longer the time to party. Of course, once we have finished having our kids, we will no longer be jeopardizing the health of future generations. The partying, then, must be done after our childbearing years. Which gives us more to look forward to!

Food for thought. Just don’t eat too much of it.

Why are we poisoning our kids?

I was at a child’s birthday party the other day enjoying the excitement, food and company. Everyone had just finished singing “Happy Birthday” to the Birthday Girl and they were currently plowing into the birthday cake. My son had been given a piece and I was sharing a piece with my one year old daughter. I have always had a sweet tooth and enjoy birthday cake, but as I looked down at my piece of chocolate cake, I thought to myself “What am I doing?” I was eating cake with bright red and black icing. This was not the natural red that you might find from strawberries or raspberries. This red was almost glowing. What are we doing to our children? Why do I watch everything that my children eat and then decide that it is okay to feed them icing with copious amounts of bright synthetic dyes????

I was at another birthday a few weeks ago and it was such a refreshing scene. The birthday was a gift-free event and the cake was a simple white cake with icing. There was no food colouring, just cake and icing. The kids didn’t even know the difference.

When I was a little girl, my brother had a birthday party with a bright and colourful cake made by a local cake decorator. It was blue and red and black and yellow. While everyone else was partying, I had made my place beside the half-eaten cake and began to eat spoonfuls of dyed icing. I woke up in the middle of the night with stomach cramps and was taken to the hospital. The doctor did not have to do much because the tummy pains soon went away. However, it was not a pleasant experience.

We have noticed that my son reacts to food colouring. He was at a birthday party and like most kids licked off the icing, but didn’t eat much of the cake. In about half an hour the blue icing kicked in and my son had his very first major tantrum at the age of 3. It wasn’t a pretty sight and my husband and I were horrified to see our sweet child acting in this manner. We soon came to the conclusion that he was reacting to the colouring and noticed the behaviour 2 more times with blue colouring and fruit loops at preschool. (As I am writing this, I just made a request, by e-mail, to the school to eliminate or find an alternative to Fruit Loops.)

I came across an interesting article on colouring and the behaviour of our children after consuming it. In 2009, the European governnment ordered that products featuring the South Hampton Six colors should include warning labels noting that they “may have an effect on activity and attention in children.” Hopefully the Canadian and US government will join the band wagon and require similar labels on these brightly coloured products that are intended to entice our children.

So what are our options? Do we make a cake and add the colour or do we fight consumerism and opt away from a Disney or Treehouse character embellished in every colour under the rainbow?

I am opting for a healthier cake that is free of chemicals. I have experimented with a few different fruits, such as wild blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries to add some colour to white icing. I have attempted to use chlorella, but the taste was too strong. India Tree claims to make a vegetable- derived colouring that uses no synthetic dyes. Chocolate is always a good option. All you need to do is add dye-free cocoa.

There are many items that can be used to decorate a dye-free cake. These include, but are not limited to, toys, fruit, sugar, coconut, chocolate chips, drizzled or shave chocolate, edible flowers, natural candies, grated veggies, food cut out with a cookie cutter, and any other edible or non-edible item that you can find around the home. I personally find it challenging and exciting to bake a great cake, ice and decorate it using my imagination and no dyes. For some neat, natural food coloring ideas check out Vegetarian Secrets. And have a healthy, happy birthday party for your child!

A Hungry Child Can’t Wait: 5 for 5

Guest Blogger: Sarah Lenssen from #Ask5for5

Family photos by Mike Fiechtner Photography

Thank you My Healthy Green Family and nearly 150 other bloggers from around the world for allowing me to share a story with you today, during Social Media Week.

A hungry child in East Africa can’t wait. Her hunger consumes her while we decide if we’ll respond and save her life. In Somalia, children are stumbling along for days, even weeks, on dangerous roads and with empty stomachs in search of food and water. Their crops failed for the third year in a row. All their animals died. They lost everything. Thousands are dying along the road before they find help in refugee camps.

At my house, when my three children are hungry, they wait minutes for food, maybe an hour if dinner is approaching. Children affected by the food crisis in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia aren’t so lucky. Did you know that the worst drought in 60 years is ravaging whole countries right now, as you read this? Famine, a term not used lightly, has been declared in Somalia. This is the world’s first famine in 20 years.12.4 million people are in need of emergency assistance and over 29,000 children have died in the last three months alone. A child is dying every 5 minutes. It it estimated that 750,000 people could die before this famine is over. Take a moment and let that settle in.

The media plays a major role in disasters. They have the power to draw the attention of society to respond–or not. Unfortunately, this horrific disaster has become merely a footnote in most national media outlets. News of the U.S. national debt squabble and the latest celebrity’s baby bump dominate headlines. That is why I am thrilled that nearly 150 bloggers from all over the world are joining together today to use the power of social media to make their own headlines; to share the urgent need of the almost forgotten with their blog readers. Humans have the capacity to care deeply for those who are suffering, but in a situation like this when the numbers are too huge to grasp and the people so far away, we often feel like the little we can do will be a drop in the ocean, and don’t do anything at all.

When news of the famine first hit the news in late July, I selfishly avoided it. I didn’t want to read about it or hear about it because I knew I would feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. I wanted to protect myself. I knew I would need to do something if I knew what was really happening. You see, this food crisis is personal. I have a 4-year-old son and a 1 yr-old daughter who were adopted from Ethiopia and born in regions now affected by the drought. If my children still lived in their home villages, they would be two of the 12.4 million. My children: extremely hungry and malnourished? Gulp. I think any one of us would do anything we could for our hungry child. But would you do something for another mother’s hungry child?

My friend and World Vision staffer, Jon Warren, was recently in Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya–the largest refugee camp in the world with over 400,000 people. He told me the story of Isnino Siyat, 22, a mother who walked for 10 days and nights with her husband, 1 yr-old-baby, Suleiman, and 4 yr.-old son Adan Hussein, fleeing the drought in Somalia. When she arrived at Dadaab, she built the family a shelter with borrowed materials while carrying her baby on her back. Even her dress is borrowed. As she sat in the shelter on her second night in camp she told Jon, “I left because of hunger. It is a very horrible drought which finished both our livestock and our farm.” The family lost their 5 cows and 10 goats one by one over 3 months, as grazing lands dried up. “We don’t have enough food now…our food is finished. I am really worried about the future of my children and myself if the situation continues.”

Will you help a child like Baby Suleiman? Ask5for5 is a dream built upon the belief that you will.

That something I knew I would need to do became a campaign called #Ask5for5 to raise awareness and funds for famine and drought victims. The concept is simple, give $5 and ask five of your friends to give $5, and then they each ask five of their friends to give $5 and so on–in nine generations of 5x5x5…we could raise $2.4 Million! In one month, over 750 people have donated over $25,000! I set up a fundraiser at See Your Impact and 100% of the funds will go to World Vision, an organization that has been fighting hunger in the Horn of Africa for decades and will continue long after this famine has ended. Donations can multiply up to 5 times in impact by government grants to
help provide emergency food, clean water, agricultural support,
healthcare, and other vital assistance to children and families suffering in the Horn.

I need you to help me save lives. It’s so so simple; here’s what you need to do:

  1. Donate $5 or more on this page (http://seeyourimpact.org/members/ask5for5)
  2. Send an email to your friends and ask them to join us.
  3. Share #Ask5for5 on Facebook and Twitter!

I’m looking for another 100 bloggers to share this post on their blogs throughout Social Media Week. Email me at ask5for5@gmail.com if you’re interested in participating this week.

A hungry child doesn’t wait. She doesn’t wait for us to finish the other things on our to-do list, or get to it next month when we might have a little more money to give. She doesn’t wait for us to decide if she’s important enough to deserve a response. She will only wait as long as her weakened little body will hold on…please respond now and help save her life. Ask 5 for 5.

Thank you on behalf of all of those who will be helped–you are saving lives and changing history.

p.s. Please don’t move on to the next website before you donate and email your friends right now. It only takes 5 minutes and just $5, and if you’re life is busy like mine, you probably won’t get back to it later. Let’s not be a generation that ignores hundreds of thousands of starving people, instead let’s leave a legacy of compassion. You have the opportunity to save a life today!

Elimination Communication: My Experience

For years, the joke of the family was my grandma who insisted that her son was potty trained at 3 months old. She sometimes comes up with astounding ideas and she regularly reads the Star or the National Inquirer so we didn’t take a whole lot of what she said very seriously. I should probably apologise to my grandma for laughing behind her back at her “ridiculous” statement but since she never knew I was laughing, I won’t bother. Besides, now all my family members are laughing at me instead. Because I discovered she was probably right. It IS possible to train your baby to use the toilet at a young age, far younger than today’s North American standard of 2-3 years. I did it with 2 of our three children. And I’d do it in a flash if we ever had another.

Most people roll their eyes at the thought of potty training before the child is 18 months or so. I used to think that it was the mother who was being trained, not the baby. Certainly, the mother is trained to know when her child needs to go poop, but the baby is also trained to know that when she is placed on the toilet it is time to go.

I was at a mother-baby nursing seminar when my second child was tiny. A young Iranian mother was there with her baby and was telling everyone how her mother was training her baby to eliminate when she sang a certain song. I was struck by the idea but never seriously thought about doing it myself. I have since learned that it is normal to practise Elimination Communication (EC) in countries other than North American countries, especially poorer countries who use cloth diapers exclusively, and who don’t have the quality of sanitation or water supply that we are blessed with. Washing diapers is no trouble for us today with fantastic washing machines and dryers, but in other countries, and through the ages, washing diapers is not a fun, simple experience.

The society we live in today pretty much says that babies should be in diapers until they are old enough to potty train. The norm for that age is probably 2 to 3.5. Then they have developed enough to control it, and to express their need. What I now believe is that common practise (probably mainly since the invention of disposable diapers) has actually taught babies to eliminate in their diaper, and that they are capable of controlling and expressing their need a lot sooner than we believe.

The following is a description of my own experience. I did not research this topic beforehand, and I haven’t researched it now. There are methods that may be more appropriate for your baby and techniques that I haven’t used but this is how I became a believer in EC.

My 12 month old daughter was with me in the kitchen while I was baking. I noticed she was starting a bowel movement. Without really thinking (except that I would rather wipe a bum than wash a poopy diaper) I scooped her up and told her not to go poop yet and put her on the toilet. She finished going in the toilet. I praised her and called my friends and family and bragged about her. She had pooped in the toilet! I began to watch her carefully and realised that she pooped at fairly regular times: right after waking up, and while lying in bed waiting to go to sleep. So I started putting her on the toilet when I noticed her straining: right before bed, and right after she woke up. The key was to notice her pattern, and then give her an opportunity to go. It didn’t take long before my daughter was pooping regularly on the toilet, and by 18 months I never had to change another poopy diaper.

I wasn’t attempting to train her to pee in the toilet (wet cloth diapers are much easier to clean!) but that came as a natural progression. She often peed after she pooped, and so I gave her extra time to go pee when she was sitting on the toilet. I also put her on the toilet ever few hours. She was completely trained by the time she was 2. She trained through the night a month or so afterwards.

Now all this could just be luck of the draw. An easy trainer. And I knew this, but when my second daughter was a year old, I decided to give it a try. Like magic, I had the same results. Even better, actually. She quickly learned to go pee on the toilet as well. When she was 15 months old and in Emergency in the hospital for 8 days of diarrhoea, I had no trouble providing a urine sample. The nurses were shocked that I could put a 15 month old baby on the toilet and get a urine sample! (Try getting a clean urine sample from a baby who isn’t trained! Yikes!)

By 18 months of age my second daughter was completely dry during the day. When we went camping, since I am not hard core enough to camp in cloth, I brought disposables. The disposable diaper tabs and fabric were worn out from opening and closing to put her on the toilet. She held both pee and poop until she was on a toilet. She learned how to say pee and poop, and let me know when she had to go by the time she was 18 months old. I AM a believer! She was dry though the night regularly before she was 2.

There are several things that made this process successful in my opinion:

  1. Age. 2 year olds (and older) are old enough to have minds of their own which can include retention etc. 1 year olds do not. They still like to please. I think this, in a way, meant that my daughters were more ready to learn than most 2 year olds who have lost the need to please and are already into “I do it MY way”!
  2. Regularity. As with all things, it helps to have caregivers who are on the same page, or a caregiver who is almost exclusively taking care of the child. I think that it would be difficult for someone to do if their daycare provider didn’t accept it (and I don’t think many would!) Being at home with your child full time is probably the best situation. I was fortunate enough to be a SAHM. Also, it is important that you aren’t always on the run around town. A child needs to be comfortable with her surroundings for this to work, at least in the beginning.
  3. Schedule. Make sure you regularly put your baby on the toilet to give her the opportunity to go. If you know that your baby poops at a certain time make sure you give her the opportunity every time.
  4. Praise. Babies love praise! It doesn’t take long for her to figure out what makes you happy.
  5. Positioning. My babies were 12 months and well able to sit up by themselves. They could even get themselves to the toilet on their own. I had to hold them on though, since they weren’t old enough to get up themselves. A child toilet seat helps. If you are dealing with a small baby though, there are positions and techniques recommended while learning EC.
  6. Cloth Diapers. There may be something to the old wives’ tale that cloth diapered children potty train faster. Whether it is because they feel wet as soon as they pee, or because the mom hurries the process so she doesn’t have to do as much laundry, I don’t know. All I know is that my girls potty trained quickly from cloth.
  7. A cue. Some people run water, sing a song or tighten their stomach muscles while holding the baby against them etc. to use as reminder for the child that it is time to eliminate.
  8. No juice.  Juice is mainly sugar, even natural juice.  It is totally unnecessary and even detrimental to their health.  Kids drink it because they like the flavour (and sugar) not because they are thirsty.  If you give a child juice expect them to have to pee more.  And don’t bother trying EC. 

I learned from trial and error. If you are interested in trying EC techniques, consider googling it and learning more about it. It will save you a lot of time washing diapers, you will develop a new bond between you and baby, and it will potentially make complete potty training that much easier and quicker.

*This blog post has been shared on I Thought I Knew Mama Link Up Thursdays

Homemade Blueberry Fruit Leather

Last week I acquired 140lb of blueberries. 140lb!!! Now what does a person do with 140lb of blueberries?!

After giving away 50 or so pounds to friends and family, I decided to make blueberry syrup for Christmas gifts.  (Watch out near and dear ones… better start making pancakes!).  My dear sister and wonderful husband stayed up late with me and we made syrup.  36-500ml jars of it, to be exact!  By 2 a.m. I was done.  I mean, I was done; there were still more blueberries.  I tossed the rest of the blueberries in the freezer and went to bed.  We have syrup for a lifetime, it seems.  Talk about amazing flavour, by the way.  You’ll never go back to Aunt Jemima and her high fructose corn syrup again!  But that’s another story…

After cooking and straining the berries to make syrup you are left with a thick pile of dark colored blueberry skins, seeds and mush.  What to do with this nice-smelling sludge?  My husband added some sugar and spread it out on the parchment-lined dehydrator shelves.  (I think it would still have been great with no sugar at all.  These were sweet blueberries!)   Several days later we had the most incredible tasting blueberry fruit leather I have ever eaten!  The kids can’t get enough of it.  It makes a fabulous snack for school, home, the office, hiking…
And best of all, we were able to use ALL of the blueberries that were left over from the syrup-making.  There was no waste.  The poor, unfortunate chickens didn’t get to eat that treat this time!  And no refrigeration or freezing is required to store these snacks. 

If you have a dehydrator, give it a try!  Additive-free, all natural, and from unsprayed blueberries, these fruit strips have Sun Rype Fruit-To-Go beat by a long shot.

Your vinegar may be made from petroleum products

The other day I was interested in finding out how vinegar is made.  Distilled white vinegar, to be precise.  I use it for cleaning, pickling, and cooking.  I usually buy a large, plastic container of it and since I am trying to avoid the use of plastic when food is involved, I wondered if I could make it myself.  I always, ALWAYS thought vinegar was made from food.  Potatoes, apples… I didn’t really know but I never guessed that vinegar can and may be made from petroleum products.  Wikipedia proves this:

Vinegar is made from the fermentation of a variety of sources mainly containing carbohydrates and sugars. Ethanol is first produced as a result of fermentation of sugars, ethanol is then oxidized to acetic acid by the acetic acid bacteria (AAB). The ethanol may be derived from many different sources, including wine, cider, beer, or fermented fruit juice, or it may be made synthetically from natural gas and petroleum derivatives.[6]
Blech!  I chose to use vinegar as a cleaning agent because it didn’t contain chemicals.  It was “all natural”.  I certainly wouldn’t choose to cook or pickle with products made from petroleum! 
Now to check our labels.  I just bought a large container of Allen’s Vinegar to use for pickling.  Nowhere on the container does it say what its origin was.  I looked up their website and found the same thing.  They advertise how vinegar enhances natural taste of vegetables and so on, but they do not say that they are made from beer, cider, wine, or fruit.  I have emailed them but have yet to receive a response.  *Updated: I did receive a response.  Allen’s Vinegar is “made from natural products, not petroleum products”.*

  Heinz Vinegar website states the following:

The All Natural National Brand Vinegar
Heinz® Distilled White and Apple Cider Vinegars are guaranteed to only be made from sun ripened corn or apples

Thumbs up for Heinz!

Researching this topic proved to be extremely difficult.  There is very little information about whether or not the vinegar you buy on the shelf is from a natural or synthetic source.  We have proof that it is legal to make and sell synthetic distilled white vinegar for consumption.  Grist quotes the following from the FDA:

Synthetic ethyl alcohol may be used as a food ingredient or in the manufacturing of vinegar or other chemicals for food use, within limitations … Any labeling reference to synthetic alcohol as “grain alcohol” or “neutral grain spirits” is considered false and misleading.
Buyer beware.  If the company doesn’t advertise what the origin is, it might not be from food.  Check your label and your website before you clean your bath tub, pickle your precious, organic vegetables, or use in your home cooking.  I am ditching this plastic jug of petroleum by-products.  Blech!  Who knew?! 

By the way, I am still looking for a good vinegar recipe…

This post has been linked up to Attainable Sustainable’s Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #5.

Note: We are talking about distilled white vinegar not apple cider vinegar, red or white wine vinegar etc. 

Wild salmon is green: Why you should NOT eat farmed salmon.

My husband is a 4th generation commercial fisherman.  My 8 year old son is half-way to being a 5th generation commercial fisherman.  They fish wild salmon off the coast of BC Canada.  We have been through the ups and downs of good and bad seasons.  We have been through the best ever Fraser River salmon run (2010) in recent history.  We are currently in the middle of an average fishing year, and my husband spends much of the summer on a boat catching this wild super-food. 

Did you know that when you buy or order wild salmon you are making an environmentally-wise choice?

According the National Audubon Society, 50% of the world’s salmon is farmed. 

Farmed salmon are predominantly kept in open ocean cages, where the number of fish per square inch is infinitely higher than the wild fish who share the same water.  Just as cattle that are contained in overcrowded facilities are at great risk of disease and infection, so too are the farmed fish.  The inhumane conditions that cattle suffer are, at least, contained to the cows in the pens.  Farm fish are essentially in nets sharing the same water as the wild salmon, which spreads disease and pests. This also allows for contaminates such as pesticides and antibiotics to spread along the ocean bottom.  Sea lice, a disease common in farmed salmon because of the close quarters, is killing countless wild salmon that pass through the same waters.  Escaped Atlantic salmon have actually been found to be spawning over top of wild salmon eggs, potentially causing a huge wild salmon decline.

Doug Mecum, the director of Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Commercial Fisheries Division, says the fact that some farmed salmon have been found breeding successfully in creeks in Washington and British Columbia is cause for concern. (from Escaped Farmed Salmon Find Home In Alaska)

Farmed salmon contain 16 times more PCBs and pesticides than wild salmon, making farmed salmon the highest food source of PCBs in the USA.  This is likely from the food they eat but just as eating anything that contains high levels of pesticides can cause cancer, so too can the PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and pesticides on farmed salmon.  Farmed fish are fed a diet of crushed up small fish and fish oil.  PCBs are stored in the fat of fish, and when farmed fish are fed fish oil, they are also being fed the stored contaminants. 
Farmed salmon have less Omega 3 fatty acids than wild salmon.  Omega 3 fatty acids are essential to human existence and help prevent heart disease and strokes.

Farmed Atlantic Salmon has color added to make it redder.

Salmon are red because the they eat small crustaceans and other fish that eat crustaceans.  Crustaceans produce an antioxidant called astaxanthin.  This is what causes shellfish to turn red when they are cooked.  Farmed salmon cannot get it by feeding naturally on crustaceans so astaxanthin is added to their diet in order to provide customers with the red color that is associated with wild salmon.  It is easier and cheaper to produce astaxantin synthetically so farmed fish are often fed a synthetic form rather than a natural form.  Wild salmon produce significantly more astaxanthin, and they do so naturally. 
Does wild salmon taste better?  In my opinion it does.  Wild salmon feed on a variety of flora and fauna compared to the packaged diet of farmed salmon.  They swim thousands of miles in their life time and are a much healthier fish.  I find them more flavorful.
How to tell the difference at the market place between farmed and wild salmon
  • If it isn’t labelled as wild, it probably isn’t.
  • Wild salmon has a redder color to the flesh than farmed salmon because it contains more astaxanthin.
  • Wild salmon is generally more expensive than farmed salmon.
  • Atlantic salmon is farmed salmon.
Always ask when you order salmon at a restaurant, if it is farmed or wild.  Chances are, if it isn’t called “wild” then it is farmed.  If it is farmed, don’t order it and tell the manager that you aren’t ordering it because it is farmed. 
Buy wild salmon, not farmed salmon!  For your health, for the environment, and for better flavor!

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This blog post has been shared on Whole New Mom: Traditional Tuesdays link up and Frugal Days Sustainable Ways #8