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 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 Health and Fitness

Why I Finally Got a Mammogram Today

I don’t usually open up like this. In fact, I am seriously considering backing out of writing about it right now. These things are usually quite private for me, but this is important. I’m talking about women’s health. I’m talking specifically about mammograms.

I am sure that a lot of women are scared to get a mammogram. I certainly was today, even though it was my second one! In my case, I knew about how horribly uncomfortable it is. What if something is indeed wrong? What if they find something? What if I have to go back and get more imaging? These are absolutely valid questions and fears among women, and for some, like me, it stopped me right there. I’m not getting another one until I’m much older, I decided. 50 at least. Maybe 55. (I’m not even near 50, by the way.)

11 years ago, I had to get a mammogram because of a painful lump near my armpit. I was nursing my first newborn at the time. I was told to get imaging done right away. “Great.” I thought. I didn’t want to do it, but there wasn’t much of a choice. My other concern: I’m nursing my daughter. How is that supposed to work?? I was so worried about lactating on their machine that I warned the assistant that I was nursing, and she seemed not too concerned about it. I was. I apologized ahead of time, even. I was sure I would make a mess all over their equipment and completely embarrass myself. I was right. Yep. Milk went everywhere. I was so embarrassed. But, you know what? They have seen everything. Was it super uncomfortable? Yes (for me). Did I regret doing it? No. It turned out that the lump was a milk duct that formed in an unusual place. Nothing to worry about.

Fast-forward 11 years to today, and I was faced with the prospect of another exam. I kind of knew it was coming. And, indeed, my doctor was gently but strongly encouraging me to get one. “They do walk-ins downstairs. Just go downstairs and get one.” Remembering what felt like a fiasco last time, I didn’t want to. In fact, I didn’t do it last year when he had asked me again. I just left. I couldn’t make myself do it. This year was the same. I wanted to just walk out after my appointment was over and not worry about it for another year, but I didn’t. I decided that maintaining my health and catching anything early was best for me and my family. What good does it do save 30 minutes of my Friday if there is something hiding? What good does it do to save myself from 5-10 minutes of discomfort? It’s never a bad decision to make sure everything is OK.

I was definitely nervous this time. I can’t even tell you why, because I had done it before. Yes, it was quite uncomfortable, but it wasn’t painful. I think that’s the key to remember. Honestly, what made it easier for me was putting aside my nerves and just getting it done. (Holding on to the machine helped, too, for whatever reason!) I will admit that there is a part of me that wants to wait and not do it again next year, but, for the reasons above, I will do it. Remember, it’s only temporary. 10 minutes or fewer on the machine. That’s it. 10 minutes for an “all clear” or 10 minutes for “we caught it early.” Ladies, take care of your health, so you can take care of your children. Go get your mammogram.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Parenting

No Soda Zone

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/09/04/it-doesnt-matter-if-its-sugary-or-diet-new-study-links-all-soda-an-early-death/

This can be controversial, but I’m going to take it straight on. We have always had a soda-free house since we were married. I kicked soda out of my life in 2001, and I have never, ever looked back. I’m in my best shape, I have a great amount of energy, I look younger, I drink a lot of water, and I feel terrific about my health and outlook! I knew early on that there was no way a drink loaded in corn syrup and trade secret mystery ingredients (?? hmmm….) could possibly do no harm, and I wanted it out of my life. More importantly, I didn’t want my children getting hooked either. So, the solution was simple: don’t ever buy it. Yes, my children drink only water, milk, and a small amount of juice, mornings only, while at home, and they are surviving just fine.

Of course, there are a few things that get in the way of our no soda policy: birthday parties outside the home, hanging out with friends, school functions. Yes, kids are surrounded by it. It’s everywhere. Do they partake when mom’s not around to say no? Of course they do! They’re children! Here’s the thing they are starting to understand: they don’t like how it makes them feel, and for good reason. So, when they invariably come home complaining of a stomach ache or slight nausea, and they’ve fessed up to drinking a bunch of soda, I don’t give them an “I told you so.” I tell them I’m sorry that they feel this way, and ask them to think if they feel like they had “too much” or if something they ate or drank could have caused them to feel this way. By asking them to think about what their actions were and how it is causing their bodies to react, they can make the connection themselves, which is far more effective than me telling them what NOT to do.

We are a soda-free house because I want my children to learn to drink healthier alternatives. This is made a lot easier by never purchasing it or bringing it into the house. I do the same thing with other “junk foods.” I don’t have them in the house, so my kids don’t learn to eat them. They grab fruit, natural popcorn, or whole-grain options after school or when they need a snack on the weekends. When they are thirsty, they go for water. I am so proud that they practice making these healthy choices now, so when they get older, it’s just natural for them.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

How I Have Beaten the Insomnia Demon

I have suffered from poor sleep for years. Long gone are the days of a blissful 8-9 hours of sleep. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Ever. Prolonged insomnia can lead to so many health issues down the road, and it absolutely wrecks you mentally in the short-term. If you’ve ever gone even a few days of not having good sleep, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s horrible.

My sleep problems started just before I moved to the UK for grad school. Yep, stress. Stress of getting my visa approved, stress of moving internationally, stress of being surrounded by some of the best flute students anywhere. Then, of course, there was the pressure once school started. So. Much. Stress. I think I averaged 1-3 hours of sleep total each night my first term, and I was able to up it to about 5-6 hours by my third term. I was so grateful! By the time I graduated and moved back to the States, I was sleeping better until I started having children. The cycle began again. Now, with changing hormones, it’s only getting worse! Enter another bad cycle of poor sleep. Over time, and working with my doctor, I learned some tricks to help. It’s still not perfect every single night, but I am sleeping so much better than I have in years. I’ve even managed to sleep through storms. That’s new! Now, even when I go to bed with my mind racing, I can still get to sleep. I want to share these with you, because, like I said, I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through this, ever. (Sorry, fellow mommas, but these methods work best when you’ve not had that glass of wine.)

1. Melatonin. First of all, ask your doctor or health care provider before starting any supplements, but I use 5mg of melatonin to help me reset my circadian rhythm. We think between grad school and waking babies, it just got out of whack. I only used it once I was finished with my pregnancies and breastfeeding. Start small, like a 3mg dose if you’ve never used it before. Again, see your health care provider first!

2. Use a weighted blanket, a heavy, large DIY rice pack that you can heat up, or anything with weight. The extra weight that you put on your body helps you to feel more secure. I absolutely cannot sleep without something extra across my chest. When it is the summer, and it’s hot out, maybe I’ll just use a pillow to hug, but having the extra weight has worked very well for me. My sister-in-law let me borrow her heated rice pack when we were staying the night at her house, and it worked brilliantly!

3. Write down your worries. If you are laying down for the night and you find yourself starting to worry about anything and everything, get right back up and write them out immediately. Usually you’ll find that either the problems don’t seem so huge when you look at them on paper, or you’ll realize that you can’t actually deal with them that second, but you can easily get to them the next day. I have found that this helps me to relax because I know I have a list of tasks to tackle, and I won’t forget about them.

4. White noise. I know that they say to have a completely silent room, but that actually doesn’t work well for me. It unnerves me to have complete silence, allowing you to hear every creak and pop your house or apartment makes. Maybe I’m odd? I think what happened was learning to fall asleep with my baby’s sleep sheep over the years, and now I have to have some noise. In any case, we have a small fan that we turn on every evening. It helps to keep the air moving, which is so nice, and it gives me the white noise I feel like I need. The other advantage to white noise is that it can give you something else to focus on as you fall asleep, instead of your racing thoughts.

5. Mindfulness and imagery. I use a few techniques here. One is to breathe in slowly while thinking of the word “in” and breathe out slowly while thinking of the word “out”. This worked for me for a long time. When I begin meditating, I’ll often use this to help me get fully relaxed. Another technique that I learned from a friend is to start at your toes and imagine that you are slowly filling up your body with sand. This has been working extremely well lately. I don’t even get past my ankles before I’m out! I imagine that my feet are hollow, and the sparkling sand is very slowly falling from my toes to my heels, filling up my feet. Once your feet are full, move up your leg, allowing your leg to feel quite heavy. I love this trick!

If you are suffering from poor sleep or full-blown insomnia, please know that you are not alone. Not by a long shot! So many of us have been there, and we all wish you the best sleep. There are loads of ideas that might work for you. I also highly recommend seeing your health care provider, too. Sleep is crucial to a healthy life and for being at your best when you are caring for your children or at your job. Do try the above methods and see which work best for you. I use all of them every night, because I absolutely have to. Sweet dreams!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity

Making Me the Best Me

Why do I workout? Why do I excitedly or begrudgingly take off my comfy pajamas to squeeze into my tight workout clothes? (I do love my fabletics gear, but let’s be honest… ) Why do I turn on my HIIT workout and force my body into doing these crazy, super hard moves for nearly 30 minutes?! Well, I’ll tell you: I love it, and it improves me.

I love the feeling I get when I’m finally finished. That I’m-going-to-die, I-can’t-catch-my-breath, kinda-ouchy I’m-going-to-feel-this-in-the-morning feeling. I love it! If nothing else gets me through my workout, focusing on the positive feelings I’m going to get later, definitely gets me there. I love that it’s improving my phrasing and endurance with practicing and performing. I love that it takes me to my limit, so I know how hard I can push myself. Maybe I can push myself even harder the next day. I love that I have energy to play with my children at the end of the day. I love that little bit of time I can focus on ME and improving myself. (And let’s be honest here, I like to wear little sundresses, so I had better workout!)

Whatever pushes you or encourages you, find it! Use what you learn about your body and your endurance while you workout or run, for example, and apply it to other parts of your life. What I’ve learned from working out is to focus on the end and those endorphins you get when you’re finished, that “runner’s high,” right? It gets me through my 3-mile runs, and it gets me through my crazy-hard HIIT workouts, and I apply this to other tasks that have to be done but that I would rather not do. Focus on the end game and what you are trying to achieve, and allow it to push you to your goal. This is what makes me a better “me” and doing what I want to do. Try it.