Tag Archives: environment

Gardening…It’s Good for the Soul!


True confession:  We were out weeding in our jammies this morning.  Good thing we have a fence!  It’s been an average of 90-100 degrees out all week, and while it was cooler today…we were getting out before it got too hot.  My three year old loves to be out in the garden.  She pretends to hoe, and just plain likes to be where we are.

I love spring, but I really love summer.  It is a time of rapid growth…a time where you can run out your back door and pick your dinner from the dirt…a time where it’s good for your body to be out in the sun getting Vitamin D…and a time where it’s good for your soul to connect with nature.  And when I’m done working, I sit out back and look at my gardens and…relax.

This is the third year that we haven’t used any chemicals on our garden, which makes it pretty much organic.  I used to “dust” things with some bug killer or other at the first sign of holes, and once I even hosed down a couple of tomato plants with Home Defense trying to kill a particularly large spider.  Then I learned all kinds of things – that those chemicals could be affecting the asthma that my kids had at the time, could likely make their way into the water supply (and aren’t necessarily filtered out), and could otherwise affect our bodies in ways that we might see immediately…or maybe years down the road.  A couple of years back, my son (with a little help from dad) made a compost bin for a 4H fair project.  We have become fairly dedicated composters, and at the beginning of the season we coated our garden with our old decomposed kitchen scraps and some rabbit poop that we happened to have in abundance.  In 11 years of having a garden, this is by far the best garden we’ve ever had.  This is also the year that my wonderful husband built me four raised beds in addition to the main garden.  The fourth was supposed to be for our strawberries, but they were already “doing their thing” in the whiskey barrels that they are in, so I didn’t dare move them.  In the fall, they will have a new home and can spread all they want.

This year we planted: broccoli, six varieties of heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos (I make a “mean” salsa verde!), two varieties of cukes, kale, lettuce, dandelion greens (which oddly enough, didn’t do much although they were rampant everywhere else in my yard), arugula, shallots, leeks, pac choy, turnip greens, red and green cabbages, eggplants, green and purple beans, various peppers, beets, carrots, summer squash and zucchini, celery, artichokes, cauliflower, onions, cantaloupe, radishes, Daikon radishes, parsnips and about a dozen different herbs to make teas and for cooking.  Did I forget anything???


This year I have focused on getting organic, heirloom seeds from companies who have made an oath to not use genetically modified (GMO) seeds.  A few of my favorites are:  Seed Savers Exchange, Bountiful Gardens, John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, and The Cook’s Garden.  Some of those sites are also have some great recipes, so you know what the heck to do with all your beautiful produce once you’ve got it!!!

I plan to freeze, can, dehydrate and ferment (kimchi and kraut) everything…after we’re well fed of course!   We’ll be busy, but I have lots of good help this summer, and there is nothing like eating tomato soup in January that you froze in August!  The rewards will be great!

I encourage everyone to grow their own food!!!  It is comforting to know where your food comes from, and how it was grown.  It is good for kids to see where their food comes from, and to play a role in it’s production.  Did you know that most produce travels 1500 miles from farm to fork?  By the time you get it, many of the nutrients are already greatly diminished and it tastes nothing like it does fresh.  That, and in economically uncertain times…it just makes sense.

For people reading this who live in apartments or have homes with small yards…you can do incredible things with small spaces.  Check out the principles of square foot gardening and have a small plot in your back yard, or use raised beds, or even space in your front yard if your city allows it.  Even having a few pots on an apartment balcony or your back porch step is better than nothing!   See if your town has any type of community gardens that would allow you to use space elsewhere.  And if you just can’t make it fly…support your local farmers by purchasing through farmers’ markets or CSA farms (Community Supported Agriculture).  You can generally get great produce, etc., way cheaper than in the store, and especially if you’re living in a small town…you probably know who you’re buying from! Check out your state’s “Buy Fresh Buy Local” website for information about local farmers markets, farms and CSAs.  Even if you can’t grow it yourself, you can still get a bounty of healthy, fresh and clean food!




The Sweet Smell of…Cancer and Infertility???


I used to smell really good.  REALLY good.  I was a big fan of smelly soaps and lotions, and expensive perfume back in the day.  Miss Dior Cherie was my favorite.  Then…a couple of years ago I began to do some reading about personal care products and chemicals.  And I got upset.  REALLY upset.  And then I got so upset that I went into my closet and filled a garbage bag.  The expensive perfume still sits on the shelf, mostly because I feel too guilty about just HOW expensive it was to throw it out.  And once in a blue moon when my natural deodorant fails me at an inopportune time, I break down and use it.  And I always feel REALLY guilty.  And here’s why:

All those beautiful smelling soaps and shampoos contain chemicals known as “phthalates”.  Phthalates are “plasticizers” as well, which allow plastics to be soft.   They can be found in baby toys, shower curtains, fabric softener and laundry soap, bathroom spray, infant feeding utensils and sippy cups, hairspray, nail polish, makeup, and so on.  They leech into our food through packaging, and into the air we breathe.  And I’m not making this up – we all have some level of them in our bodies.  These chemicals are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and mimic estrogens in our bodies.  For a long time, the term “endocrine disruptor” made me nervous but I didn’t really get it.  Now I do.  If you Google “phthalates + baby boys” – the results are just downright scary.   Studies show that baby boys with higher phthalate exposure were more likely to have some form of genital abnormalities such as incomplete testicular descent and hypospadias (a urethral deformity).  These same studies are showing that the phthalates are contributing to lowering of sperm counts and testicular tumors later in life.  Whether you are male or female, this group of chemicals has the capacity to totally mess with your thyroid, adrenals and any other member of the endocrine system which is really a big, huge deal.  And it is of particular importance to be mindful of this if you are pregnant…

For a while I kind of freaked out.  I didn’t know what I’d do without all my pretty smells.  And frankly, I was overwhelmed.  Now, I have reached a place where I really don’t think we can avoid them totally because they are everywhere, and I do have to leave my house every day.  But I can at least lighten our overall toxic load by controlling what is in OUR house.

The best thing you can do is learn to read labels.  Visit the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” site – they have a handy little cut out that you can place in your wallet and take to the store with you.  Because if you’re anything like me, it will take awhile to remember it all.  You can also rate your personal care products on their website which can be…very enlightening to say the least.  If it says “Fragrance” – nix it.  And don’t fool yourself, whether it is a $10 perfume or a $100 perfume, it makes no difference at all.  For awhile I tried to tell myself that…but it really wasn’t the truth.

Another thing I did was to get rid of our stinky PVC shower curtain that was certainly offgassing phthalates at a horrific rate.  I looked around and decided that the $100 hemp shower curtains, as nice as they may be, did not meet my budgetary requirements.  So I opted for the PEVA liner at Walmart for $5 and am ok with it.

When you’re looking for baby items like pacifiers, sippy cups, spoons, etc., look for ones labeled “BPA and Phthalate Free”.  If you love pretty smells, use essential oils or find candles that advertise as “phthalate free” (I believe that the Seed brand soy candles are).  Aura Cacia also makes some really nice nontoxic sprays, diffusers, etc., with essential oils.  We actually quit using bathroom spray too…and believe it or not, no one has died.  I also no longer cook with plastic or heat food in plastic.

Learn to make your own green cleaners or buy ones like Biokleen, Seventh Generation or Ecover, opt for more natural options for soaps (Dr. Bronner’s brand is wonderful), and resign yourself to smelling like…yourself.  And I cannot emphasize this enough:  LEARN TO READ LABELS.  And don’t trust things that say “Unscented” because oddly enough, if you read the label, they usually say “Fragrance”.  “Fragrance” to cover up “fragrance”?  Go figure.

And don’t despair.  There are some really good options out there (Aubrey Organics, Beauty Without Cruelty, Burt’s Bees) so you really WILL be able to shower again and bathe your kids and not offend your friends and family with your smell.  I do find that I need to shop online more, and yes, some of it costs more.  This is why I’m in a mode of DIY right now, which is the likely subject of future blog posts.

The semi-positive news is that some of the worst phthalates have been banned for use in children’s products in the U.S.  I repeat:  SOME OF THE WORST.  That does not mean that the rest is ok.  It just means that no discerning eye has decided “nope, kids shouldn’t be exposed to this.”  And folks, sometimes the discerning eye never comes.  That continues to be a source of frustration to this mom.  Other countries tend to be…shall I say…a little stronger on these things than the U.S.  If it concerns you enough, you can always contact your legislators.  I have to admit I haven’t done that yet, but I do choose to vote with my dollar and not purchase those items.  The other positive news is that studies have shown that if people reduce their exposure, their blood levels do drop accordingly, so you truly do have the capacity to affect and protect your health and your children’s health.

A really good read on phthalates and other chemical concerns in your home is the book “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie.  I got it through our library but it can also be found on Amazon.com.  My only advice is to not read it before bedtime.  You won’t sleep well.

So…if you ever see me in the store quickly herding my kids through the uber-stinky laundry detergent aisle with our shirts over our noses…please don’t think we’re freaks…I just want to be a Grandma some day.