Posted in Health and Fitness

How I am Making a Greener Home, Little by Little

By now, most of us are at least minimally aware of the need to reduce chemicals and pollutants in our home and environment to keep us safe and healthy. Any easy Google search can provide a host of information about the dangers of constant interactions and exposure with pesticides, contaminants, even preservatives and artificial additives in our food. They do real harm to our bodies and to the environment. Thankfully, there are easy steps we can take to avoid keeping harmful products, both edibles and non-edibles, in our home, giving us a cleaner, greener place to live. Below are just a few of the relatively easy measures I have taken to work to get my home more environmentally friendly.

  1. Buy Local and Organic (when I can). One of the easiest first steps I took was to stay up-to-date on the “dirty dozen” list of the most contaminated produce, and to buy these foods organic as much as possible. Yes, they are a bit pricier, but any reduction in pesticide exposure goes a long way towards keeping your body healthier. I also try to buy most of my produce locally at the farmer’s market. Many of these vendors use organic methods anyway, because not only are they selling what they grow, they are eating what they grow. They know exactly what they are putting on their crops, and typically, they want it to be as clean as possible for their own families. You can always ask what they use on their crops before you buy, so that way you know exactly what has been used on your food. You can’t necessarily do that in a grocery store!
  2. Buy Plant-Based Cleaners or Use Natural Cleaners. Another painless step is to try some plant-based, perfume-free cleaners. These usually come with mixed results, to be sure, but there are natural ways you can boost their cleaning power. Personally, I like most Seventh Generation products. I boost the laundry detergent with Borax (natural based) and dish cleaner with lemon oil. Using white vinegar to clean my kitchen and bathrooms is by far the most inexpensive and natural way to kill germs that I’ve come across (I mix vinegar with a few drops of 7th Generation dish soap and put in a spray bottle). I’ve also recently purchased a steam mop to sanitize the floors using steam heat from distilled water. Again, you can Google search the best plant-based and natural cleaners and find what works best for your needs.
  3. Use Silicone Reusable Bags. I have finally purchased a decent-sized set of reusable Ziploc-style storage bags, and I am so excited about them! I was appalled when seeing news stories describing the billions of microplastic particles in our oceans. I was even more upset by studies indicating that we are consuming nearly the weight of a credit card worth of plastic every week! I absolutely wanted to stop contributing to this senseless waste, and I finally took the first step in doing just that.
  4. Recycle. I am really excited to be at a point where we recycle more than we throw away! We are lucky to have a system where our recycling gets picked up at the curb, but it didn’t always used to be this way. I completely understand the hassle it can be to have to drop it off. If you find yourself in a community that does not offer curbside pick-up, please do try to make the effort to collect it and take it to a facility. That extra effort saves so much waste! Also, please be aware that most grocery stores and Wal-Mart have bins to place your plastic bags in for recycling. Those plastic bags that wind up in our oceans look like jellyfish (read: food!) to most sea creatures.
  5. Educate your Children. We talk to our children about why we do the above for our home and the environment. By teaching our children the importance of protecting and preserving our planet, we instill a powerful value that will ensure they continue the effort. It’s the quality of their future that we are working so hard to protect, and education is key to achieving that end.

Are there more steps I can take to have a cleaner, greener home? Absolutely. I’m certainly not perfect at it. For example, I would like to have less paper towel waste and use less water and use it more efficiently, though we do have all energy-efficient appliances. We do own a great Prius, and we hope to trade in our other vehicle for an all-electric version in the next few years. So, eventually I will get to where I think we need to be. Every little reduction in waste, chemical exposure, and additive exposure goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy body and a healthier home. Why not just try one step at a time? Your future self will thank you!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting

How I Get My Kids Out of the Spiral of Negative Thinking

It happened again last night. My little guy had a few disappointing events happen to him in a row, and then it started: the downward spiral of negative thoughts. “This always happens to me.” “Nothing goes right.” “I hate today.” “Nothing’s fun.”

We’ve all been there. A bunch of things don’t go the way we’ve hoped or planned, and it seems to wreck an entire day or even week, it feels like. As adults, we’ve experienced a lot, and we mostly ride the ups and downs. We know that some good or some luck comes our way, and that there may be disappointments in our future, too. But, we need to keep in mind that our mature brains can process these waves in ways that a child’s brain cannot.

A child’s brain develops incrementally. In fact, some evidence suggests that the brain doesn’t fully reach maturation until well into our 20’s! So, when something doesn’t go as planned for our little ones, they are typically 100% upset by it. Their whole being is upset by the event and their brain can flood with emotion. Enter the tantrum, or in my little guy’s case, the negative thought patterns.

Here is what I’ve done for my children to help break the cycle, once they have calmed down a bit and after I’ve acknowledged their feelings:

  1. List, verbally or in writing, their favorite things or activities. This switches their thinking immediately to what they love, which generally brings a smile to their face. It also helps them to realize that things do go “right” for them, as well. You can even have a conversation about this balance of ups and downs.
  2. List 3-5 things they are grateful for. Again, this works to switch their thinking, and it has the side benefit of realizing that there are things for which they are truly grateful.
  3. Share with them an experience. This can come in any form. You can share with them something that made you happy or sad or how you handled a similar situation.
  4. Brainstorm solutions. Once they have truly calmed down, you can brainstorm solutions together. This encourages them to think about solving problems and how to work around disappointments. The more you help them realize that their are solutions to most problems, in time this will help them manage problem-solving/troubleshooting on their own.
  5. Mindfulness. With my daughter who is oldest, I’ve let her participate in some of my meditations with me. It has allowed her to rest her mind and body, and she has come out of it reset and feeling relaxed.

I do work hard to not allow negativity to invade and take over my thoughts. Just as it’s important to ensure that I don’t “hardwire” my brain to go down that negative route, it is vital that I teach my children to break that cycle, as well. I want to acknowledge their disappointment, but I also want them to understand that that disappointment doesn’t have to rule their day or mindset. The ideas above have often helped me to break that cycle, once they’ve calmed down and their brains are receptive to it. These values will then go a long way towards teaching them how to handle frustrations in a healthy manner as they get older.

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

Spending Your Time at Home in the Right Way

I was reading through a story from a stay-at-home parent, which I really like. (Read it here). The premise is that you don’t have to have a perfectly clean house to prove that you are doing your job as a stay-at-home parent. I needed that reassurance today, but I wish I had read this years ago!

When I had my first baby, her needs absolutely came first, of course. I would strive to get a shower by 1pm, or not, and hope get at least one household item completed, and maybe 45 minutes practice on my flute. By the time baby number 2 arrived just 16 months later, I still got in a tiny bit of practice, but I gave up trying to get that one household job finished. Dishes piled up. The house smelled of the poopy diapers in the trash. The floors were a mess. Then the guilt started. Dinner was even difficult to get on the table. I felt like I was failing. Yes, I was teaching my daughter to love books, learn her letters, colors, numbers, and to count. Yes, I was breast-feeding my (then) baby and singing and reading to him. But my silly sense of accomplishment was instead wrapped up in keeping an orderly house. I felt like I wasn’t doing my “job.” I felt guilty and felt judged. How I was so wrong! I was absolutely doing my job. I was raising and teaching my kids well.

I have three children now and they are all in school. While that does give me a bit more time for my work — inside and outside the home — because of fear of judgement, I still struggle at times to keep my focus where it belongs: raising good children, not having a perfectly tidy house. My kids do well in school, they come to me with issues, they talk openly with me, they play well with others, they are happy. I would take those good qualities over having a perfectly clean home any day. It means I’m spending my time in the right way. I’m grateful to have been reminded of that!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Parenting

Hiding Vegetables!

When introducing vegetables to my tiny children, I had convinced myself that surely they would love veggies as much as I do, which admittedly, is a tall order! I was sure that if I introduced them about the same time as baby cereal and keep trying and trying, that they would learn to love and appreciate the subtle flavors each luscious legume had to offer. Well, it didn’t turn out quite that easy. Like with most babies and toddlers, it was a struggle, but I was determined not to give up. And I didn’t.

I can’t remember exactly when, but I remember seeing Jessica Seinfeld on Oprah talking about her new publication, Deceptively Delicious. It’s a brilliant book about adding vegetable purees into kid-friendly foods, along with continuing to serve veggies as a side, of course. I remember taking it to heart and keeping my freezer full of purees. Well, as my third baby arrived and I started getting work, I let the practice fall by the wayside. In fact, I hardly opened the book in the last several years, as I added more and more cookbooks to my collection.

A few days ago, as I was preparing to make my children’s favorite vegan, whole-grain chocolate muffins, it dawned on me to try to add some raw organic baby spinach into my food processor, along with the banana to puree for the batter. I had remembered that chocolate hides spinach incredibly well, as long as the end product cools completely. So, I tried it. Magic! The kids had no idea, and my middle guy even told me that they were the best muffins I’ve ever made! While my kids really do eat their veggies most of the time, it got me thinking about ways to make more of their favorite foods even healthier. After all, every little bit counts!

So, I think I’m going to try to do more like this. I know that carrot hides well, too, and zucchini is great in baked goods, of course! I almost always have some chopped vegetables in my pasta sauce. It could be fun to explore what else I can do just to add a few more nutrients into their foods. We all want our kids to be healthy, with bright eyes, beautiful skin, and positive energy from wholesome foods, why not have fun experimenting with ways to include more vital nutrients into their diet? The key, though, is to keep having them try vegetables that aren’t hidden. 😉

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting

Calm: The Meditation App

I absolutely love the Calm app, and I am not getting paid to write about it — the makers have no idea that I’m writing this! I have recommended it to my students at Indiana Wesleyan University, and basically anyone who will listen to me. Haha! I love it.

As I have blogged before, I try to practice meditation / mindfulness several times per week. Not only do I find it relaxing, it gives me a chance to change my thought patterns, put some space between my mind and the outside world, and allows my body to reset. I find it easier to maintain some inner peace, to relax and soften my muscles at will, and to fall sleep. I can recharge and continue on with my busy day.

I love several things about the Calm app. The app uses meditation to help with several aspects of life that can cause anxiety and stress. There is really something for everyone. In each of the different sections within the app, the speaker helps to deconstruct what causes each specific source of anxiety, from performance anxiety, to reactivity and even flight anxiety. There is even an entire section devoted to kids! There are stress management tools and self care, all using meditation. The best part about this, for me, is that the speaker is in control of walking you through your 15 minutes of meditation. This relieves the burden of doing it yourself, freeing your mind to fully relax, thus deepening the meditation experience. As a result of working through this app over the course of the last several weeks, I have improved my meditation experience — I almost feel as if I am in a trance in most cases. It has really has improved most aspects of my life.

The only downside to the app is the cost. The Premium edition is $70 every year (I would consider a one-time fee, but $70/year feels like a lot for me right now). You can get a lot out of just using the free version, and I still absolutely recommend it. I have gotten so much out of it! I’m definitely going to keep using it. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Posted in Parenting

What I Tell My Kids About Bullying

Bullying. It happens far too often, and it hurts. All three of my children have been the recipient of bullying, and it’s tough, heart-breaking even, to watch as a parent. As difficult a conversation as it can be, we must address bullying with our children, because when prolonged, it can lead to an array of physical and mental health problems that can have lasting effects. Bullying can take many forms, such as name-calling and other verbal abuse to outright physical abuse. None of it is ever acceptable, and our children need to understand this. While I am not an expert on bullying, I do want to share with you what I tell my children. It is important that we, as parents, have talks like these ready to go in our minds for when these situations arise. After empathizing with them, here is what I say in steps:

1. Ignore it. If it is simple, verbal bullying, just walk away. Bullies usually want to assert some sort of power over those they perceive as weaker than they are. There could be a variety of reasons why this might be, from problems at home or at school, to a low self-esteem. If you don’t give their words power, oftentimes, they will get bored with you and stop.

2. Compliment the bully. This seems like a strange request, but it works to throw off the person hurling insults. It’s difficult to continue insulting you if you are complimenting his or her appearance or the way they answered a question in class or played a game. Plus, you’ve covered step 1: you aren’t giving their mean words any power. Quite the opposite, actually!

3. Tell an adult. If the bullying is becoming physical or it just simply won’t stop after several attempts of ignoring it or giving compliments, you must tell a teacher. You aren’t being a “snitch” here. You have tried to handle it calmly and in a good way several times, and it is time for an adult to intervene. It cannot continue.

Again, empathy goes a long way. Kids want to know that their parents are on their side and understand their struggles. Tell your children that you are sorry to hear about the bullying. This helps to validate their feelings and helps them to know that, of course, their feelings do matter to you. An especially effective “tool” is to share your own experiences with your children. Children love to hear stories from their parents’ past. You can talk about what you did to handle the situation and place yourself in your children’s shoes. Sharing stories really helps your children to understand that you “get it,” which is a big deal to them!

My goal with my children — and I tell them this — is that they become confident, independent thinkers who are strong enough to know who they are inside and out. I want them in control of their lives, not anyone else. By attempting to handle these really challenging situations on their own in a rational and calm manner, they develop the self-confidence they need to become the positive, independent, and loving adults we want them to become.