Sunday, August 21, 2016

Healthy School Lunches: Part Two: Nutrition Matters

Today I want to share a couple of great videos on nutrition and helping our children make good decisions regarding what they eat. Watch them with your children. My son was especially interested in the first video describing in kid terms the amount of sugar contained in sugary drinks like soda and sports drinks. He was also shocked to learn that his daily cup of apple juice should be cut in half. 

Come back for Part Three of this series, where I will share my sources for healthy school lunch inspiration. Click Here to read Part One.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Healthy School Lunches : Part One: A Good Start

Where did summer go? I mean, seriously! Last I checked we still had a couple weeks left. But, here we are, at the start of a new school year. With so many things to think about and prepare for that big first day, planning school lunches can seem a bit overwhelming. If you decide to buy lunch for your child, you might enjoy the convenience, but what about the quality? With a little planning, you can pack your child a healthy lunch and have some control over the quality of the food your child eats. I say some because, let's get real, some days your child is going to come home with only a half eaten lunch and complain he/she didn't like something you packed them even though it's something that he/she has eaten before. Unless you won the jackpot and have a kid who always eats what is in front of him/her.

In this three part series, I want to open up a discussion on making sure our kids are eating healthy lunches at school, what that means for them, and point you towards resources like recipes and nutrition blogs to help you plan lunches your child will enjoy.

The following photo has been going around social media. This mom put a lot of time and effort into starting the school year out on a great note. She's organized and ready to go. Her intentions are good. She is happy because she has a month's worth of lunches, minus the sandwich, organized and ready to go for about $30. I think it's awesome. I would like to tell her that.

However, it upsets me that the corporations managing our food system think it's ok to convince mom's that chips and soda are fine to feed our children, let alone the adults. You may say that moms have a choice, and they do, but until we know better, how are we as a society supposed to do better?  For many Americans, health education is a chapter in a textbook in high school health class. As adults we have to educate ourselves in order to sort out the half truths on television commercials.

I don't know this mom's current financial situation, but it's obvious she thinks about keeping her grocery budget to a minimum as well. For many Americans, the bottom line isn't nutritional value, but simply trying to spend as little as possible on food in order to get by. When you are time strapped and struggling to get by, off brand soda and chips seem like an easy answer.

But we need to do better for our children. How are we to expect them to do their best when they are not fueled on highly nutritious food? They need to start their day with a nutritionally balanced breakfast, refuel with a healthy lunch, and end the day with a good dinner. A soda for lunch is going to create a sugar crash in the afternoon, and the child is going to be tired and unable to focus. The long term effects of eating like this regularly can include diabetes and obesity.

I'm by no means a food Nazi. I recognize that I can't always control what my son eats, especially when he is at a friend's house or spending the day with his dad. An occasional treat is ok. But the majority of the food I feed him I purchase based on nutritional value, not cost. I want my bang for the buck to be not how many ounces I can get for a dollar, but that I am spending my money on something of high nutritional value. When you are struggling to cut corners financially it can be tempting to load your cart up with cheap, low nutrient food. But, I promise you that when you change your focus to how much nutritional value you are getting for your dollar you are going to find it is possible to eat healthy without spending lots.

We all want to give our children the best we can, and the truth is we need to do better as a nation with the quality of food we provide them on a daily basis. It starts with educating ourselves first. Then we need to serve as good role models and educate our children so that they are able to make better choices.

Next: What Happens To You (and your child) When You Drink Soda

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Blog Round Up: Spreading the Love

This past week I have had the honor of participating in a blogging challenge hosted by Darren Rowse of Pro Blogger. The challenge not only has helped me with becoming a better blogger, but also introduced me to some fantastic people in the blogging community.

Below, find links to some of my favorite blogs that took part in the challenge. I will be adding on to the list, so be sure to come back in a couple days. Make sure you take the time to go check out these fabulous blogs and leave comments, too, even if it's a quick "I found you through The Hippy Home." We bloggers like that kind of stuff.

I really like the layout of Swiss blogger, Mikula Almann' running blog. I have never considered myself a runner, but I am learning to like it. The Running Mate appeals to long time runners and "newbies" like me.

Darren is an Australian coach and personal trainer. Check out his visuals on how to create the perfect meal.

Hope and Cents

Alayna is a personal finance coach who writes about minimalism and managing your money.

Transitions From War

Mike is a true inspiration for everyone. He writes about overcoming PTSD through competing in triathlons, trail running, and endurance challenges.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Conversation on Living Simply

Today's post is going to be short because I want you to do most of the talking. I would love to hear your thoughts on simple living/ minimalism. So, grab a cup of coffee, or tea if you prefer, and pull up a chair, just two old friends chatting on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Minimalism and living a simplified life look like different things to each of us. It can depend on where you live, what stage of life you are in, and your expectations. Do you embrace, or are you working towards, living a simple life? What does that look like to you? Urban homesteader, isolated cabin in the woods, mobile tiny house living?

In our fast paced, consumer driven culture minimalism can be very challenging. Especially when you have well meaning family and friends who do not embrace your lifestyle. Special occasions and holidays can be very tricky. How do you face those challenges? How do you avoid buying more stuff you don't need?

Leave your comments below, and I promise to respond to every one of you. If you have any questions regarding minimalism and simple living, I'd love to hear those as well.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

How To Make Homemade Natural Flea Powder

Our dog, Julius has had a horrible time with fleas this year. Evidently, most of the dogs in south Texas have been having the same issue. Our mild winter, combined with a moist spring was the perfect incubator for a flea infestation.

We have been through a lot with Julius. We got him as a little pup. My friend Erin rescued him from a man who was abandoning him outside a closed animal shelter. Yes, I know! As if a puppy was going to stay on the steps of the shelter alone all night until they opened in the morning. So she took him home and posted his little puppy self on Facebook. I had promised little man we'd get a dog, a full grown already trained dog, once school let out. But after meeting the pup and immediately declaring him as Julius, my son was smitten.

He's gone on several adventures with us, including a trip to the beach and camping earlier this summer. He's chewed his way through our house, leaving his mark on most of the furniture and chewing up toys, both his and the boy's. We almost lost him to Parvovirus only about three months after we got him. With the financial help of many friends, we were able to get him the care he needed to survive.

Now, this summer it's the fleas. I felt horrible seeing him scratch in misery. Bathing him helped, but only temporarily. I didn't want to expose him to toxic, cancer causing chemicals, but something had to be done. 

I had heard of using diatomaceous earth to get rid of fleas, but after doing some research, I discovered that adding neem and yarrow powders increased the effectiveness. Diamotaceious earth is ground up fossils of diatoms, or hard shell algae. It pierces the fleas and dries them out. Make sure you buy food grade, so it is safe to use. Neem powder comes from the leaf of the Neem Tree, which is native to India. It works as an insect repellent. Yarrow powder is known for being an anti inflammatory and helps heal the skin. I also add lavender oil, which also helps soothe the skin and has anti inflammatory properties. Apparently, fleas don't like lavender oil, too. 

Be careful when using the powder on your dog, avoiding the  eyes and nose. It can be an irritant if your pet breathes the dust. Also, make sure to treat your yard and anywhere in your home that may be infested. Diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled on carpets and floors. Fine salt also works well. 

You can also use the flea powder on cats, but don't add the lavender oil or any other essential oil. Cats are very sensitive to oils.

Homemade Nontoxic Flea Powder 

  • 1 cup food grade diamotaceious earth 
  • 1/2 cup neem powder 
  • 1/2 cup yarrow powder 
  • 20 drops lavender oil
Mix all the ingredients together in a glass jar with a lid. I use a Ball jar with a punctured lid that I can use to sprinkle the powder on generously. Use once a week as needed.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

GreenWorks 12 AMP 20 Inch 3 in 1 Electric Lawn Mower

Mowing the lawn is one of those chores I put off as long as possible, especially with hot south Texas summers. The ex left behind a stinky old gas mower that lasted for about a year. I'm not very mechanically inclined, so when I looked around for a replacement I wanted something easy to maintain. I also wanted something more environmentally friendly. With those two specifications in mind, and a set budget of less than $200, I began to scour the Internet for advice. I finally settled on the GeenWorks 12 AMP model, which I ordered off of Amazon.

It's always exciting when you receive a big box from Amazon, even if you already know it's contents. This was no exception. It was also the first time I picked out and purchased a lawnmower without a husband, so it also felt like an act of independence.  There was some assembly required, but it was fairly simple and mostly involved attaching the handle.

This particular GreenWorks model has several features that I like. It has large, 10 inch rear tires, which helps with maneuverability and prevents grass from clumping up at the rear. While I usually keep mine set at the same mowing height, it has 7 height adjustment positions. It comes with a rear bag and can be set to mulch, side discharge, or collected in the rear bag. The cutting deck is a sturdy 20 inches made of steel and the 12 AMP motor continues to be powerful enough to put up with my abuse, even after over two years of use. Did I mention that I often procrastinate on mowing the lawn? The back yard can quickly become an overgrown mess when I don't keep up with it. My GreenWorks electric mower has had no problems getting through the mess. The back yard is also full of rocks. I've hit a few and winced, but it hasn't bothered the cutting quality of the mower. 

The biggest hassle with a corded electric mower is, of course, dealing with the cord. If you work your way out from the outlet, you will find it easier to manage. My biggest issue is the side yard. It is a bit of a stretch from any of my outside outlets. I have to have a fairly long cord to reach everything, which really was only a big issue when my dog was going through his puppy chewing phase and chewed up my long extension cord, thankfully when it was unplugged. 

Overall, I am very happy with my GreenWorks lawn mower. I have since purchased a GreenWorks corded electric hedger, which I am also very happy with, and I am looking into purchasing a weed trimmer from them as well. Like I said, wrestling with the cord is the only down side, but it is such a minor issue I definitely recommend this mower for small to medium lawns. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What Are The Best Nontoxic Cleaning Products?

When I was pregnant with the little man, I purged the house of toxic chemicals. No bug spray. Out went the bleach. I no longer purchased ready made, chemical laden household cleaners. This change did two things; it decreased our exposure to harmful chemicals and it lowered my grocery bill. I haven't looked back. While at times it can seem like a hassle to mix up a bottle of all purpose cleaner or homemade laundry detergent, it really doesn't take that long, especially when you factor in the health and sustainability benefits.

Ready to make the change, but unsure where to get started? Below, I have listed my favorite cleaning products and how to use them.

Dr. Bronners Castile Soap is an essential part of my cleaning arsenal. I mix a tablespoon of the stuff in a spray bottle with water and about 20 drops of essential oils for a basic all purpose spray. I use it in my Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent. It is great for cleaning toilets and mopping floors, too. I buy the unscented baby safe soap and then add my own fragrances to it, but you can purchase it already scented.

I use essential oils probably daily and it would take a whole separate blog post to write about them in any detail. I usually use oils known for their disinfectant abilities in my all purpose cleaner and my mop water. Some of my favorites are peppermint, tea tree, lavender, rosemary, cinnamon, clove, and orange. I mix a little rosemary in my shampoo when I am suffering from dry scalp. Eucalyptus oil is great in a diffuser during the winter months to aid with breathing when you are feeling congested. Clove oil also is the best thing when you have a tooth ache. 

Hydrogen peroxide is a great replacement for bleach, and works wonders on blood stains in the laundry. Use it with baking soda to clean and brighten your toilet bowl. I also swish a little in my mouth to kill bacteria and whiten my teeth. Some people swear by it for cleaning mildew, but I haven't seen success. My go to for mildew is Cream of Tartar

Another nontoxic product I use a lot is vinegar, both white cleaning vinegar and apple cider vinegar. I was having a problem with sugar ants in my kitchen, but since I have started using cleaning vinegar with a little orange oil they have totally disappeared. I also use vinegar to clean windows and mirrors. There are so many uses for apple cider vinegar that, just like essential oils, I need a whole separate post. One of the most common ways that I use it is as a hair rinse after I shampoo. I no longer buy hair conditioner. 

These are my favorite products to have on hand. Most of them can be purchased cheaply, except perhaps the Dr Bronners, but a little goes a long way. I have had my last bottle, the 32 fl oz size, for months now. The last time I did a price comparison, Whole Foods actually had the cheapest price. 

Oh, and when you go out to pick up your nontoxic cleaning supplies, don't forget a sturdy, well made spray bottle or two.

Why You Should Regularly Unplug from Technology


1. Recharge Your Soul, And Your Mental Health 

Our brains aren't wired to process the vast amount of information available to us over the Internet. It can be very overwhelming, especially when you add in the emotional impact of recent events; mass shootings, protests, the presidential election. We are inundated with stories of victims, rumors, and heated discussions that too often are turning ugly. We may start feeling anxious or depressed. 

We need to give ourselves space. While I don't advocate burying your head in the sand and avoiding the world around you, I do advocate disabling your social media apps and disconnecting from the Internet and television at least once a week. The hardest part is letting go of the feeling that you are missing out on something. But while you may be, you will be gaining something else, space for your own ideas, space to create and come alive away from the virtual world.

2. Focus On the Here and Now

We've all witnesses it, maybe even are guilty of it. The table of friends out at a restaurant for dinner, and all of them are checking their Facebook statuses or texting someone not present. Bluetooth and wifi have given us the ability to stay connected almost everywhere, but at what cost? Do you really want to be checking your email or reading your Facebook status everywhere? Turn your phone off and really take notice of who and what is around you. After all, the here and now is all we really have. 

3. Increase Your Productivity 

Pinterest is my time waster. I get a lot of great ideas for projects. As a teacher, it is a valuable resource. However, I often get swept down a rabbit hole of information, clicking from one link to another until I look up to find an hour or more has passed. I can tell myself that I was being productive, but really, it's the glorification of busy and an excuse to procrastinate. You have been there, too. Admit it. Maybe not on Pinterest. Maybe your vice is checking your email. You are looking for that one important email, but get lost reading all the unimportant stuff that can wait or should be deleted. Unplugging for a day, or even a few hours, opens up time to focus on hands on tasks. We have given ourselves one less distraction. I know I am far more productive at home when I unplug. 

4. Get Up and Get Moving 

Spending too much time behind our computers or looking down at our phones and tablets can have negative health effects on our body. Eye strain, neck and shoulder pain, and carpel tunnel syndrome can all take their toll when we spend too much time connected to technology. Our bodies need to move. We need to take time away from technology to get up and stretch, raise our heads up to gaze at the sky. My favorite thing to do when I unplug is hiking. Not only am I moving my body, but I am out in nature, which adds a whole other level of mental clarity.