This year’s summer eco-audit was exposure. For the audit I’ve focussed on personal care products, and this year also looked at cleaning products. Previously it has been a bit of a challenge to do this audit as it was hard to find information about safety of the various ingredients in the products I was using. And what resources I did find didn’t really help with the questions “how much should I be concerned about this?”, or “what’s in this product that doesn’t list ingredients?”. But thanks to Environmental Working Group, I was actually able to do a comprehensive audit of every personal care product that Conan and I use this year because if the product itself isn’t in their Skin Deep database, I could search by ingredients. (I only had one bottle from a gift set that didn’t have ingredients listed, and I ended up tossing it anyway because the rest of the set turned out to be unacceptable.) Since Skin Deep includes a 0 to 10 ranking for each product and ingredient, as well as an indication of how much data there was on which to base the ranking, it is a great tool for getting a sense of where to focus my concerns. The Guide to Healthy Cleaning isn’t as comprehensive, but I still found the rankings to be really helpful since I otherwise have no idea if some complicated chemical name is something inert or harmful.
Overall I found that my products are generally pretty well ranked (it helped that I just tossed all my conventional makeup when Conan became tall enough to reach into that drawer, and tossed a couple other things that I had laying around when I found out the ingredients). That made me realize that my “stepwise” approach to reducing exposure to potentially harmful compounds in personal care products works better than I had expected. When I first did this I was completely overwhelmed by the list of compounds that “they” say are “bad” and not to use. Most of those compounds are also things that I would never be able to keep in my mind between shopping trips and I’m not willing to keep a bunch of wallet cards. So I focussed on a couple things at a time. Turns out you reach a point where the products that don’t contain the easy-to-remember chemicals-to-avoid, also don’t contain many of the hard-to-remember chemicals! (It might also help that I’ve all but stopped shopping for personal care products at conventional grocery stores and drug stores.)
My personal path started back in college when I decided that I wanted to avoid mineral oil and petrolatum (aka petroleum jelly) as they are petroleum products not plant products. As time went on I started to avoid D&C and FD&C colors (not necessarily an exposure thing but based on the desire to avoid compounds derived from coal tar), BHT, parabens, and “fragrance” (which is an issue because it can include anything and often includes some very toxic compounds). Lots of “natural” brands do still use the term “fragrance” on their ingredient lists, but for some of those brands I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since they do explicitly say that they don’t use any toxic compounds (like Aveda, Dr. Bronner’s, and Toms of Maine).
My next step? Aside from “fragrance” in a handful of my products, most of which are companies that I’ll take the gamble with, the only red-flag compound in my list was retinol (vitamin A). Since I need to go to the dermatologist soon anyway, I’ll talk with her about Vitamin A. Apparently, it’s a cancer hazard when exposed to sunlight, and can bioaccumulate to the point of being a developmental toxin. I sort of knew this already from a dietary standpoint: too much vitamin A is bad since it can build up in the body, but eat all the beta carotene that you want (it won’t build up but is easily converted into vitamin A). I’m guessing that the little amount in my lipstick and under-eye concealer isn’t really a concern but I’ll follow up anyway.
I will also add that this is why we need a Safe Chemicals Act! No one should have to worry about whether the personal care products they are using contain carcinogenic or toxic compounds, and we shouldn’t be the guinea pigs used to find out.
It’s been a hot summer here in Sacramento this year. I don’t know if it has actually been hotter than normal, but it seems like there have been more no-Delta-breeze nights with subsequent day temps near or above 100 degrees. Keeping cool has been a priority.
A few years ago I posted about some of my strategies of keeping a house cool (here and here). The first strategy is to block the sun from shining in/on the windows and exterior walls. Curtains will block sun from coming in the house but the windows and walls still heat up. Shade trees, awnings, or extended eaves keep the sun off the windows/wall so that they don’t heat up. We’ve got awnings over all of our east and west facing windows, and tall rosebushes in front of the south facing windows. The shade trees on the south side of the house aren’t yet big enough to offer shade.
The second strategy is to take advantage of breezes. At night, the breeze coming in through open windows may be able to cool the house down sufficiently to delay or prevent turning on the A/C the next day. (This strategy works great in Sacramento…when there’s a Delta breeze.) When there’s no breeze or it’s hot as blazes outside, though, fans can serve in some situations to help you cool off.
There’s a third strategy that I use but haven’t written about before and that’s to not heat the house. Sounds obvious, right? But as my husband has pointed out, most people don’t really think about it. Is it summer and the forecast says it’ll be around 100 degrees? Then don’t run the dishwasher, stove, oven, or vacuum during the day. It’ll just heat up the house and make the A/C turn on earlier. Even TVs, computers, and any other electronic appliance will generate heat. The TV on in our house for long enough for my husband to get in a game of Battlefront can raise the temperature by a couple degrees. A computer? I’ve worked from home and watched the temperature tick up as I sat in front of the thermostat (in the office) working on my laptop. Even when the A/C turns on, unless the room with the heated appliance is next to the thermostat and therefore controls the thermostat, it will still be warmer and less comfortable than the rest of the house.
We’ve managed to have a couple days early this summer when it reached 100 degrees outside and our A/C didn’t turn on because we were out of the house part of the day, didn’t turn on the TV or computers until later in the day, and moved the toaster outside for breakfast. (There are many more days when we’ve added plenty of heat load to the house, but small victories, right?) I should also mention that in summer our thermostat is programmed to 83 during the day, and my husband usually turns the cooler on manually at around 79 or 80 degrees.
One great thing about the strategy of reducing heat load is that it’s double $ savings. You’re saving money by not using electricity to power the heat-generating device(s) and saving money by reducing energy spent cooling the house. However, as we learned this year, casual applications of these strategies aren’t enough to “tunnel through the cost barrier” to borrow a phrase from Amory Lovins. I was sorely disappointed early this summer when our A/C died and had to be replaced. For a while I forgot about all the monthly savings these strategies have netted us as I stewed about having to spring for an expensive new A/C. As much as I would have loved to be able to live without heating and cooling, we’re not there yet and the new system has won me over with its super-efficiency and quiet operation.
Since becoming a mother 18 months ago, I’ve been through two Mother’s Days, and the experience has really made me think about what Mother’s and Father’s Days really mean to me. I am surrounded by people who consider them to be fake “Hallmark” holidays not worth celebrating, and who emphasize that you should love your mother/father all the time and not just one day a year (a sentiment which which I certainly do not disagree). Being told to my face this year that Mother’s Day is a fake holiday got me really defensive but I didn’t have the right the words to defend it. For my entire life until now what other people think about Mother’s/Father’s Day never mattered one bit, probably because the day wasn’t about me; but now everything has changed. It can’t be just about my mom any more, and it’s certainly not just about me. This year I realized that it’s also about celebrating the role of mothers and fathers in society and their importance to the human race.
It has always been very important to me to honor my parents on Mother’s/Father’s Day, most especially my mom (yup, I was one of those kids who responded “my mom” when asked who my hero was). I have to confess that it was an obligatory celebration on at least one year for my dad as I was emotionally struggling with that relationship, but I still felt the need to do something. Growing up this was the day to make sure my parents knew how grateful I was for everything they had done for my brother and I, and how much I valued them. I’m sure I could have said “thanks” and “I love you” much more often throughout the year. Mother’s/Father’s Day was an opportunity to try to express my love and thanks and that I always felt it even if I didn’t express it every day.
For all that it was always important for me to honor my parents (and to a degree, my grandparents), it may be interesting that I didn’t look forward to my first Mother’s Day. How much that was my own neurosis vs. influence of the attitudes around me, I’m still not sure. But the fact remains that when I was pregnant I was inordinately glad that we hadn’t told anyone (except our mothers, of course) that we were pregnant yet so that I didn’t have to endure people wishing me a happy Mother’s Day when I didn’t consider myself a mother yet. Then the following year, with a 5-month old baby at home, I was dreading church that Sunday and the fact that I would have to stand up for the blessing of the mothers and have people with me a happy Mother’s Day. And yet the Mother’s Day card that my mom sent me brought me to tears and is tucked away for me to save forever. Some introspection lead to me realize that I didn’t feel like I’d yet “earned” the honor of Mother’s Day, as my accomplishments at that point included “birthing him” and “keeping him alive for 5 months” (as significant as those might be) but no teaching, modeling, or guiding, and he’s not yet old enough to be consciously grateful for comfort, security, and love. Basically, my attitude up to that point required Conan to be old enough to tell me “Happy Mother’s Day” before it would feel right to me. And that is just not right.
This year the universe helped me out with more stories about men who won’t wish a happy Mother’s Day on their wives because “you’re not my mother”, which also just feels not right to me. But that made me realize that Mother’s Day can’t be just about honoring your own mother, as important as that may be. Following that train of thought led me to the importance of honoring the institution of motherhood. Everyone has a mother and a father, and in an ideal world everyone would grow up with a mother figure and a father figure. They are crucial to our development. It is important to recognize how important both mothers and fathers are on both an individual and societal basis. Yes, it’d be great to walk the walk as well (plenty of issues to cover from maternity/paternity leave to respect/support for both stay-at-home mothers and fathers and working parents), but you’ve got to start by talking the talk. We have special days set aside to honor vets, workers, and distinguished/accomplished individuals, so isn’t it appropriate to honor all mothers and fathers as well? I’m just sad that it took me becoming a mother to consciously realize this.
Although I still think my personal relationship with Mother’s Day will be tenuous until Conan is old enough to tell me “Happy Mother’s Day”, but that’s just my personality. And I really hope that he actually wants to celebrate both Mother’s and Father’s Day the way I did/do.
A couple weeks ago I finally finished the tallying of my summer 2013 water audit. Unlike my trash and energy audits where I have a good baseline from doing these audits since 2001, I have no baseline and no good methodology for a water audit. Until we moved into this house in 2010 I had never lived (as an adult) in a place where I got a water bill, and from 2010 through late 2012 those bills were bimonthly. It’s nearly impossible to use a bimonthly bill to get any sense of your water usage since you end up with summer watering mixed in with cooler months. In the past for my water audits I’ve timed how long showers last, how long it takes to wash my hands, etc. in an attempt to measure my water use. This time I decided to measure my outdoor water use since it’s all through hoses, and then just do the math for indoor use based on my bill. So I got little flow meters for both hoses, and started recording. Unfortunately I did not do a calibration check on either meter and one of them conked out before the end of the month. When I tallied up the amount I had supposedly used in my outdoor watering during the month, it was more than the total water usage in my bill.
Without having a way to calculate indoor vs. outdoor water usage, I’m still having to do this audit based on a lot of estimated numbers and various assumptions. The final tally gave my top 5 water uses as 1-watering trees, 2-showers, 3-toilets, 4-watering lawn, 5-watering potted plants. Assuming that I can use proportioning between the two water meters that were on the hoses, I was using SEVEN times more water on the trees than the lawn.
Now, I’m stingy when it comes to lawns. I don’t water during the winter (rainy season here in Sacramento), and I only water once per week in the summer. Plus we have a small front lawn and don’t water the little backyard patch-o-grass at all. But we have a couple trees in the front yard that are still young and getting established, and a quasi-orchard in the backyard (established nectarine, new apple, new pomegranate, established persimmon, established pear, established orange, established pumelo). But I was “deep watering” the trees by watering monthly and letting the hose water run slowly at the base of each tree for a while. And sometimes would forget to move the hose in a timely manner. They all started producing fruit only after I started watering them, so it is important to me to water them well, but since trees are on an annual cycle there’s no easy way to be sure that if I reduce water by x amount they will still fruit nicely.
I tried looking for suggestions of how much water to apply to fruit trees online, and didn’t get much help. Most of what I found I’m assuming is for commercial growers since it was talking about daily watering. When I did the math those suggestions weren’t far off from what I was applying monthly. I take that to mean I’m overwatering since you have to account for how much the soil can store so I may be applying as much water as the tree needs in a month but since I was doing it all at once much of that water would have been lost as excess.
For the end of last summer I switched to weekly watering for around 5-15 minutes depending on the size of the tree instead of monthly for 1 hr each. But this year with the drought and push to conserve water I’m wondering how to proceed appropriately with these fruit trees, and don’t yet have a plan that I can really feel comfortable with.
For the last few months I’ve been trying to work out a “plan” for the second year of breastfeeding. It’s amazing how difficult it is to answer the question “What does it mean to breastfeed for the first two years?” Now, four months into that second year I’ve finally got something worked out.
From the get-go I fully intended to breastfeed for at least two years, and at the beginning it’s easy to understand how it works. Actually making it work, now that’s another story. While pregnant I read/heard the descriptions of how to nurse a baby, but it was completely over my head and I didn’t get it. Sitting on my bed with Conan shortly after he was born I was completely blank and thankful for the Rachels’ help latching Conan on the first time. And we had our struggles: Conan’s neck and back tension meant he couldn’t open enough for a good latch when he was born, I was so emotionally not yet ready for visitors and Christmas that I got blocked ducts and mastitis two weeks in, I got a yeast infection and had to resort to gentian violet (we have a picture of Conan’s mouth stained purple to prove it), I got blocked ducts 3 times in the first 3 months with a handful of close calls since then, and between pumping and sometimes Conan as either a hoover or lazy latch I’ve had several rounds of bruised areolas (that’s how it feels anyway) with the most recent just a couple months ago.
With a newborn I found it easy to get into the groove of the feeding schedule and evolve over time, especially with the addition of “solids” in the latter half of the first year. In our society, though, where the vast majority of babies are no longer breastfeeding after 12 months, understanding how that evolution continues after 12 months is more challenging. Plus, there’s so much variety in situations and desires that everyone has to answer this question for herself. Even the World Health Organization, which recommends breastfeeding for the first two years, doesn’t give an explanation of what that means.
Back before Conan’s first birthday I started trying to figure this out, starting with the question of how long I should continue to pump. That’s when I first started getting frustrated because I saw so many times the phrase “you don’t need to worry about frequency of feeding because toddlers will self-regulate”. Ok, that’s fine if you’re home with your toddler but that it completely not helpful when I am trying to figure out how long to continue pumping at work. It is also unhelpful when your toddler shows no desire to communicate and never asks for milk (but expects it at certain ritual times and gets very excited when it is offered). I found a few discussion boards where it seemed the longest that anyone continued to pump at work was to 18 months. So I’ve been just continuing the status quo with that 18 month target in mind.
But I wasn’t really happy with a random 18 month target. It was like dealing with sleep and things like “at 5 months babies can sleep through the night” and then getting to 5 months and feeling like I wasn’t going to suddenly stop going to him at night and not feeling like there was anything unnatural or wrong about his behavior. So we just ignored all of that kind of advice and let him evolve at his own pace. Realizing that made me wonder if it is possible to do the same with breast feeding even if he doesn’t get to regulate me 5 days a week.
So I decided that I’m going to continue pumping until he no longer wants a bottle at day care. If that means I’m pumping for around 2 years, I’m fine with that. Along with that I also decided that I think he should continue drinking his day care milk in a bottle. It makes sense to me that he get my milk through a nipple, be it mine or a silicone one. When he starts supplementing with cow’s milk it should be in a plain cup. The sippy bottle should only ever contain water, just like mommy and daddy’s water bottles. I have no idea which nursing will go first/next, but until it no longer seems right I’ll just continue with the status quo.
These decisions were timely as a week an a half ago I got mastitis again, and it took me four days to get the ducts unblocked. It is looking like that may have affected production and Conan may need to start supplementing with cow’s milk at day care. Having just worked out a blueprint for breastfeeding in the second year, though I’m at peace with whatever happens however it happens (I think).
In my first year+ as a parent I’ve found a few lessons to be particularly surprising and/or amusing. I’m listing a few of them here.
- It is possible to be incompetent at snapping. I had previously classed snaps as being basically the same level of easiness as velcro. I mean it’s just position and push, and then presto you’re done. No finger twists, no real paying attention to what you’re doing needed, right? Then I had a baby, whose clothing and diapers have lots of snaps on them, and now I think I’d give myself a “D” on my snapping proficiency. Even while he was a newborn I was amazed at how often I failed at my first attempt to secure a snap! And once he started wiggling? Oh goodness, that was a struggle. The thing that really amazed me was not that I had trouble positioning the two halves of the snap together, but that after correct positioning I would be unable to get the snaps pressed together. My zipper and button proficiencies are at least a solid “B”, but I dread to find out what my “tying someone else’s shoe” proficiency is.
- Everybody’s wrong with the whole “eating for two while pregnant” thing. I already knew before getting pregnant that the old saw was not true for pregnancy. I wasn’t eating for two, just me and a parasite. Although dealing with hunger was certainly an important part of pregnancy. But then he was born and I started breastfeeding him. I thought I was hungry before?! Nobody ever talks about “eating for two while nursing a newborn” but that’s absolutely true. He needed to do all that initial growing fueled by me, which meant that I discovered new depths of hunger. And I am still eating what seems to me still to be crazy portion sizes. Mike and I joke around about it because there have been meals when we made what used to be enough for two dinner and two lunch portions, and then I went and ate three portions for dinner.
- For as long as I can remember I have not been able to get to bed before midnight. Whether I started getting ready for bed at 10pm or 11:30pm, I could not be in bed with the lights out before midnight. And then I got pregnant and my bedtime moved up a few hours. I don’t actually remember what time I was usually getting to bed, but I think 9pm was pretty normal while I was pregnant. And 16 months after giving birth I’m still able to get to bed earlier. For the first several months of Conan’s life I was in bed with the lights out by 9:30 (granted there were 2-4 arousals to nurse during the night). As his night sleep periods lengthened that gradually moved to 10 and then 10:30. I started napping with him for his morning nap every day and my bedtime moved to between 10:30 and 11. Now that he’s not napping in the morning anymore, 10:30 is much more attractive and it’s still doable. I hope this lasts, I like getting to bed earlier.
- Baby’s offer a great posture reminder when they start sitting. When we stand up straight in our society, we tend to lift our chins and tilt our heads back (so that our line of sight is straight forward?). But if you ever have read about posture, we’re supposed to be lifting the crown of our heads, not our chins. If you look at a sitting baby in profile they look like they’re looking down but it’s really just that they naturally hold their heads so that their crown is the highest point. Whenever I really looked at Conan sitting, it always made me adjust my posture. Of course now he’s standing and walking and looking up at us a lot, so I don’t get that reminder as much.
- Another great reminder I get from Conan while I’m nursing him sometimes is to unclench my jaw. I’m guessing I’m not the only person who has a bad habit of clenching my jaw when concentrating on something, either mental or physical. But I noticed that when Conan started wiggling while nursing, he’d be waving his butt in the air, kicking his legs, moving his arms all over, etc, but there was no change to his jaw pressure or suction. If it had been me there’s no way I could have wiggled my butt like that and not tightened my jaw a bit. I’m very thankful that he is able to keep the jaw relaxed, or as relaxed as it can be considered while nursing.
- Babies don’t just get garlic breath, they exude garlic from their entire being. I have to confess that I’ve rarely if ever noticed garlic breath or any whiff of garlic around adults who have just consumed it. (Maybe because I’ve usually also had garlic?) But when we started putting a clove of roasted garlic in Conan’s food I noticed that the garlic smell was on his breath, in his pee, and just coming from his skin, too. And it took at least a couple days to clear! It’s not just garlic, it’s roasted onion as well, so this must be all albums. I considered it to be an amusing smell of healthy eating.
I wrote a guided meditation back in February for a gathering at my church, and I thought I’d put it up to share with anyone who might be interested in guided meditations. I used to create these on the fly back in college, but this is the first one I’ve written in many years. I hope that it gives you what you need.
Make sure you are seated comfortably, with your head supported.
Sit back, close your eyes, feel your body supported by the seat and cushions beneath you.
Take a deep breath and release; feel your breath filling your entire body.
Continue taking deep breaths;
With each exhalation let go of some tension, stress, or tightness held in your body.
Feel your body become more relaxed with each breath.
Let yourself sink into the cushions supporting you.
With no tension in your body, let your body go limp, melting into the seat.
Continue feeling each breath fill your body, and now let each breath make you lighter
You gradually become lighter and lighter, becoming light as a bubble
Eventually you start to float, carefree and relaxed.
A door opens and in the eddies of wind you float outside.
Like a bubble carried on the breeze you rise up above the day-to-day world
The moon beckons you and fills your bubble self with light.
The light of the moon fills your senses, fills your mind.
As your vision clears you find you are now resting on a low tree branch.
You are no longer a bubble, but your normal body.
Looking around, you see that the tree branch you are on is just a few feet above a stream.
Gently, you push off of the branch and step into the stream
Walking slowly downstream out from under the shade of the tree
You feel the the water flowing around your ankles offering a gentle caress,
You feel the sun warming your back,
And hear the birdsong providing a relaxing melody in the background.
“Love is patient”
As you walk down the stream, you encounter a spot with a still pool on the side of the stream.
There are leaves swirling on the surface of this pool.
If you have felt frustrated or impatient with yourself recently, pick up a leaf from the pool,
Put your frustration or impatience on the leaf, and put it down in the stream to be washed away.
Release as many leaves to float away in the stream as you have frustrations,
Let go of whatever makes you impatient with yourself, or those that you love.
When there are no more leaves to release, you continue walking down the stream.
“Love is kind”
Further down the stream you find a deep pool of spring water spilling into the stream.
The spring has a smooth surface and when you approach you can see your reflection in the water.
Your reflection smiles up at you, beckons you into the pool,
and offers an apology to you for any unkindnesses you have said or done to yourself recently.
You step into the warm pool and soak in that apology to yourself.
“Love is not jealous”
After you have been soaking for a while a bunch of butterflies flutters nearby
The butterflies land on the rim of the pool and on your head and arms.
You can look at the butterflies up close, marveling at their fragile beauty.
The butterflies absorb any jealousy that you have been harboring towards anyone else,
and any lack of contentedness with yourself.
One by one they lift off and all fly away, taking your jealousy and discontent away with them.
“Love is not pompous nor inflated”
Eventually you get out of the pool and continue walking down the stream.
A warm rain starts to fall, gentle at first and gaining in intensity.
Each droplet of rain massages your head and body.
Any facade that you wear to face the outside world is softened by the rain, and maybe even washed away.
After the refreshing rain shower passes on, the sun comes out.
You notice a large flat rock near the stream and you lie down on it to dry off in the sun.
As the steam rises off of your hair and clothes,
let any other stresses, grudges, or criticisms that you hold evaporate with the water.
Feel the sun warming you like an I-love-you from God.
When dry and warm, relaxed and contented you start to feel lighter and lighter.
You become a feather lying on the rock.
A gentle breeze comes by and picks you up,
Lifting you higher and higher.
As the breeze carries you through the sky the day turns to evening, and then night.
You realize that you are no longer a feather dancing in the sky but are flying like a bird.
Feel the glorious wind rustling your feathers as you fly above the earth, surrounded by star light.
Look down and you can see the lights of the city below you.
You fly lower, feeling drawn towards something.
You see a building with an open door with light spilling out of the door.
You fly towards the light and then into the building.
You alight on a seat and settle your body into the cushion.
As you do so you gradually become aware of your arms, legs, and body resting comfortably in the seat.
When you are ready you open your eyes, refreshed and renewed.
1 Corinthians 13: 4-7
4Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous,
Love is not pompous, it is not inflated.
5It is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered,
it does not brood over injury,
6it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
7It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.