Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Childhood obesity... perhaps McD's is not to blame

WARNING -- You're not going to like this post. Especially if you are pregnant or are planning to be pregnant sometime in the future.

Photo by Petr Kratochvil
Exposure to magnetic fields (i.e. microwaves, hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, fluorescent lights/CFLs, cell phones and other wireless devices) is a risky business during pregnancy. While you wouldn't even consider lighting up a cigarette or downing a bloody Mary, you wouldn't think twice about propping your laptop across your lap and playing Words with Friends or uploading your vacation pictures to Facebook. Right?

Well, an increased risk for miscarriage is just one of the reasons why you just might want to change your routine. For the safety of your little one, consider cooking your food the conventional way, and, gasp, ditch your cellphone for 9 months or so and pick up an old-fashioned wired phone. I warned you you wouldn't like this post.

In addition to the miscarriage risk, according to a study by Kaiser Permanente reported in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, children exposed to magnetic fields while in the womb have an increased risk of developing asthma.

The above studies may be a bit of old news, but new research by De-Kun Li, a perinatal epidemiologist with the Kaiser Permanente reveals another risk to infants in the womb -- childhood obesity! It appears as though a high EMF exposure can increase your child's chance of obesity by up to 84 percent!! Low to medium exposure results in a 50 percent higher probability. This is not good news for the current crop of youngsters growing up in today's electronic society. 

"EMF exposure during pregnancy could impact the fetal development, including endocrine and metabolic systems, predisposing offspring to higher risk of obesity," Dr. Li said.

So, all this time we've been blaming McDonald's and sugary drinks... perhaps there's more to it than that. For the health of your future little ones, consider the research and choose wisely.

For more information, check out Scientific Reports, where the study is published. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

A landslide, a fallen oak and some much needed time alone

I took a Sabbath rest from people yesterday. That meant skipping church and missing out on one of the highlights of each week -- worshiping with my church family. But after a tumultuous and busy week, I really needed time alone to regroup. And quite honestly, I didn't have it in me to deal with anyone else's problems. I knew that if I went to church, inevitably someone would've needed something from me, and I just couldn't meet anyone else's needs... there was nothing left for me to give. Do you ever feel that way?

While my husband has been visiting friends in Virginia, I've been here trying to navigate through storms... physical and emotional. The physical storms started off by taking down branches and stealing away my electricity for an evening. That was minor, and only the beginning. On Thursday night, the rain also took out half of the street a couple doors down from me. It's not only gone, but so is the hillside it was resting on. Mud, trees, rocks and even a telephone pole couldn't withstand the mini-river of water rushing down my road. Unfortunately, there at the bottom of the hill was a home... a home now filled with 4' of mud and debris. A home so severely damaged by the landslide, that it is uninhabitable. So sad. Subsequent storms continued their assault on the home. And on Saturday morning, I woke up to discover one of our oak trees down in our yard. 

At first, this just seemed to be one more problem to deal with without my husband. But on further examination, I realized this is not so bad. First of all, the top of the tree was taken out by another storm several years ago, which killed the tree. So, we had the issue of a dead oak in our yard that would be costly to remove. Recently, we were actually talking about the need to have someone come take it down. Problem solved. It's down. Secondly, and amazingly (thank you, God), the tree didn't hit anything other than some bushes and a small pine tree. It stopped 3' to 4' away from a neighbor's wall. The only one affected by all of this, really, is the poor displaced raccoon that lived in the tree and wandered around the yard on Saturday morning with a stunned, and sad, look on its face. I watched it make a slow climb high into the branches of another oak. I'm guessing it will be fine.

Now, we just have to get rid of the dead tree that is sprawled across the lawn, and I'm leaving that for my retired husband to deal with when he returns. After all, he has lots of time on his hands.

Being alone... something I craved, I needed, and I was looking forward to. I didn't count on these, and other, problems to dominate my time and emotional energy. By Saturday night, I was starting to enjoy the quiet and time to myself. That's when I decided I needed Sunday as a day of recharging. I made coffee and turned on praise music in the morning. It was a good start to a good day. Then I tackled the mess in a spare bedroom that has become a dumping ground. Surely some of you can identify. Hours and hours later, I have more of a mess than I bargained for. Piles of stuff sorted according to consignment, Goodwill, garage sale and basement. Today, in between trying to get actual work done, I'll be neatening up things and preparing for my husband's return home tomorrow. I could use a few more days, but am making the best of the time I have. 

Thanks for bearing with me during my brief hiatus last week. Hoping to be back on track now with the blog and looking forward to spending next Sunday with both my church family, and my nuclear one.

Sharing my Sabbath experience,


Saturday, July 28, 2012

The value of a mom

I am very proud of my mom 
and consider her the most courageous woman I know. 
With perseverance, sacrifice and hard work, 
she raised a family of Olympic athletes 
and gave us the tools and the spirit to succeed. 
That is something that my brothers and I 
will always be thankful for.
-- Diana Lopez 
Tae Kwon Do 2008 Olympic Bronze Medallist 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Vinegar Friday -- The question of potatoes

Potatoes -- yes or no for diabetics?

Perhaps you've noticed I haven't posted anything since Monday. It was just one of those weeks, full of trials, tribulations and busyness. Have you ever reached the point where you thought, If anyone asks one more thing of me, I'm going to lose it? Well, that's how I've been feeling lately. Overwhelmed, mostly by other people's problems. Very serious problems, I might add.

I also started a new venture as a Norwex consultant. I love Norwex products and believe in the company, which is why I want to introduce them to lots of people (and make money while doing so). But, as with any new business, there is so much to learn. I'm heading to my second party tonight.

Anyway, I didn't want to let a Vinegar Friday pass by without at least a short post. So here it is. I hope it's helpful, and I hope to be back on track again next week. Thanks for sticking around as I sort through some stuff.

As a diabetic, I had to learn about food choices, etc. Rather than adopt the American Diabetes Association's guidelines, I've opted for a more common sense approach (imagine that!) and I've paid a bit more attention to the glycemic index. In the book, Outsmart Diabetes by Prevention, there is a little vinegar tidbit I appreciated:

Glycemic index experts say that the acid in vinegar or lemon juice can substantially blunt the effect of a food on your blood sugar. That means that adding vinegar to your french fries and making potato salad with vinaigrette dressing are two smart, tasty ways to lower the GI of potatoes. Red wine, white wine, balsamic, cider, malt, and white vinegar all do the trick -- add 1 tablespoon of your favorite kind, and munch away!

Hooray for vinegar, once again!
Keeping it healthy with vinegar, 


Check out some more tips on Tiny Tips Tuesdays!

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Sabbath Experience long overdue

 My husband and I have been going through a rough patch since his retirement 2 1/2 months ago. A rough patch that actually led to a discussion about splitting up. After a brutally nasty argument late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, we finally sat down to talk around 8:30 last night. Thinking that the only way for either of us to be happy would be for us to go our separate ways, we agreed that this might be a good option. 

Then, after having said it, we came to our senses. Isn't it amazing how stupid ideas can fester in our minds until they are finally exposed to the air and spoken? The idea was ludicrous. And yet both of us have been thinking about it. Somewhere along the line, we disconnected. 

Both of us are incredibly unhappy right now. I'm longing for my hours alone that I've had nearly every weekday for countless years. He's longing to feel welcomed in his own home where he feels like an intruder. Ouch. 

I'm not sure what the solution is to our dilemma. What I am certain of is how much we love each other. Because of that love, and our commitment to each other, we will  work this out. Today, we're both feeling better than we have in a long time. Our Sabbath experience yesterday led to some healing, although we have a lot of work ahead of us. At least we were able to clear the air, and our minds, of some nasty stuff that was poisoning our relationship.

This is not an easy post to share. But maybe it will help some of you who may be struggling in your own marriages right now. I encourage you to be transparent. Don't allow the toxins of unspoken thoughts spread cancer through your relationship. I made that mistake and am so glad to discover I wasn't too late in starting the treatment that will lead to a cure.

My marriage is too important to me, and to my family, to allow anything to destroy it. Isn't yours?

Sharing my Sabbath experience and more,


Friday, July 20, 2012

Each second I am given... a lesson from an Aurora shooting victim

I can't let today go by without addressing the horrific tragedy that happened in Aurora, Colorado in the early hours of this morning. My heart is sick with grief for the friends and families of the victims of this senseless crime. I can't pull myself away from the news coverage. I can't stop the wonderings and wanderings of my mind as I contemplate what would lead a young man, a medical student, to randomly take so many lives. What happened to him to go from a precious innocent baby to a heartless killer in just 24 short years? How does a mind get warped that way? How much guilt must his mother feel and is it just or unjust? Is she an innocent victim, too?

Tears flow freely right now. Yet life on Twitter and Facebook seems to go on as usual. Jokes, giveaways, complaints, cute sayings... I don't get it. Remember Columbine? As a nation, we sat in front of our televisions, horrified and deeply, deeply saddened. We hugged our kids more. We worried as we sent them to school. Our hearts broke. 

Since then, school shootings have continued to shock us... although, with time and number of incidents, it seems as though they affect us less and less. Since Columbine, students have died in school shootings in Georgia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, California, Pennsylvania (remember those precious Amish children?), Virginia, Illinois, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alaska, Washington... the list goes on and on. Do you even remember hearing about these? And the school shootings are not just confined to the U.S. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Yemen, France, Germany, and even Finland have been affected by this evil. 

Do we care? Or have we been so inundated with tragedy, that it no longer weighs on our hearts? Are we immune to the pain of our fellow human beings as they bear the unbearable... the death of a child?

I'm not trying to drag you down. Honestly, I'm not. 

Actually, it was the inspiration of one of the victims that prompted this post. Jessica (Ghawi) Redfield was a beautiful young woman, full of life, who was super-excited to attend the movie last night. She enthusiastically tweeted as she waited for the movie to begin: MOVIE DOESN'T START FOR 20 MINUTES.

What makes Jessica (Ghawi) Redfield particularly noteworthy among the victims? Simply, it was her close brush with death just last month when she was at the Eaton Center in Toronto. Minutes after she left the food court, shots rung out. Had she stopped to look at a new shirt, had the cashier at the hamburger joint moved a bit slower, had she opted for sushi... any number of variables could have equaled her death at the time. The experience left her with a new appreciation for life. 

Jessica wrote about this in her last blog post. 

It's hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being n the middle of a deadly shooting. What started off as a trip to the mall to get sushi and shop, ended up as a day that has forever changed my life...

... I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw he terror on bystanders' faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don't know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.

I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given...

Her seconds ran out. Unexpectedly. Violently. Tragically. Jessica (Ghawi) Redfield's seconds ran out. 

She has lessons to teach us. Life-changing lessons we would be fools to ignore. I strongly recommend taking a few minutes to read Jessica's last blog post. Let her words, her experience, her wisdom seep into your soul, and take some time, right now, to thank God for the blessings of the people in your life. And for the blessing you are in theirs. ...each second I am given. 

Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your life lesson with each of us.

Vinegar Friday and a good view of my back

My office (with my chair turned away from my desk)
Another blogger was complaining last night about fighting with her 3 kids to get to bed ... and stay there. I don't know what the situation was for her, but it made me think about my own child-rearing tendencies. I was a stay-at-home mom back in the 80s and 90s and, let me tell you, I am so grateful the Internet, Facebook, blogging and texting were not part of my life then. 

When I had my children, my husband and I decided I would put my career on hold and stay home with them. That was a decision I will never regret. We sacrificed. We scrimped. We managed. After I was widowed and the kids started school, I did pick up a part time job in a flower shop. I only worked when they were in school, so I had my summers off. The job provided a social outlet and allowed me to exercise my creativity.

It wasn't until my youngest was in high school that I really started pursuing my career as a writer. I launched my writing and voice over business two years after she graduated. However, in her final years at home, I fell into a habit that I will regret forever. Even as I sit here writing this, my eyes are filling with tears. The pain of regret is that real.

After Jess moved out, I found a notebook of hers. Inside was a rant she wrote one night. 

Mom says I can talk to her about anything, but I'm sick of talking to her back.

Ahh, the computer chair. You know the one. It can swivel. It can face away from the computer. It can face a child. Or a teenager. A young adult. A spouse. But I didn't take advantage of that vital feature. My daughter would come in at night and I would be busy in my office. She would behind me and talk to me while I continued to tap away on my keyboard or, at the very least, scroll through whatever it was that held my interest on the Internet at the time.
I'm sick of talking to her back.

The words are like a knife in my back... or more accurately, in my heart. 
I know she's forgiven me. It's me that can't forgive myself.

Moms -- pay attention. Nothing is as important, other than your marriage, than your children. Your blog can wait. Missing an update or two on Facebook won't matter. The television is not invested in you. Your kids are. A strong, healthy relationship with them will pay dividends unlike anything else. Invest in them. Make them your priority. Let them see your face... looking at them, not down at your iPhone as you're texting yet another message. 

Because, take it from me, the pain of knowing you let them down, does not go away. And no amount of vinegar can remedy that. Not even on a Vinegar Friday.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What is Freecycle and how do I use it?

I've been wanting to post something about Freecycle for quite awhile. That's why I was thrilled when guest blogger, Tina Razzell, sent me this post. She has far more experience with Freecycle than I do, and shares her insights with us today. Author of the book, Living Simply -- Improve Your Life with Less Clutter (available in paperback and for Kindle), Tina is a professional organizer in the San Francisco East Bay.

The initial idea of Freecycle was to keep things out of landfills. Many people throw things away that others can use, but if you don’t know who you can give something to, it’s easier just to give it to the garbage men and have it end up in a landfill. 

So with the birth of the Internet, also came Freecycle. It’s run through many local yahoogroups with small pockets of freecyclers willingly sharing things with each other.

How to Find a Group
Once you have a yahoogroups account, enter the word “Freecycle” with the name of your city in the search box and you should find one or more groups near you. My local group had 30 members when I joined 7 years ago, but now has over 3000. If the group nearest to you is small, you might also want to join a neighboring group.

 How to Post to Freecycle
If you have something you don’t want, then you can send an email to your local Freecyle group. You must write OFFER in capitals and what you are offering in the subject line. In the body of the email you can give more specific details, measurements and a rough location of where you live. Then people send you emails requesting what you are getting rid of and you decide who to give your unwanted goods to.

Don’t feel you have to give it to the first person who responds, otherwise the people who are in front of a computer all day will get the majority of the stuff. I like to wait about a day and then choose the person I give it to.

When you have chosen who will get your unwanted item, email them back and arrange pick up. I leave stuff on my porch marked with the person’s name, but if you don’t like people coming to your home, you can arrange to meet them somewhere to give it to them. I like to choose to give things to people who live near me, so there is little wasted gas when someone comes to pick it up.

Occasionally, people will say they will pick it up and either change their mind or forget, so be prepared to then offer it to someone else a day or two later. It is not advisable to include your address in the first email informing everyone that the first person to arrive at your house gets it, because then numerous people possibly waste their time and gas in vain.

As soon as someone has picked up what you had to offer, simply resend the email to your Freecycle group, replacing the word OFFER with the word TAKEN.

How to Get Stuff From Freecycle
If you offer stuff on Freecycle, you will soon learn that some people reply with a curt “I’ll take it” while others tell you they were just about to buy it and you are the answer to their prayers. If you want something from Freecycle, it is best to reply politely with a basic reason why having this would bless you. Like all things in life, it pays to be polite.

If there is something specific you want that hasn’t been offered, you can post a wanted ad. These should start with WANTED in capitals and then, in the same format as the offer ads, give a brief description in the subject line and more details in the body of the email.

When you have received what you wanted, send another email and replace the word WANTED with the word RECEIVED.

Rules and Ettiquette
The whole idea of Freecycle is to prevent things from going into landfills. It is not meant to be a place where people get stuff and resell it, although I’m sure that happens. It’s also not the place to barter; stuff can only be given away for free.

Some things are not allowed, such as animals, firearms, alcohol, and tobacco. Some local groups have their own rules, i.e. some do not permit food. And people tend to get upset if you ask for large or expensive things. You are allowed to offer large appliances, computers etc.; just don’t ask for them.

Then there is the basic rule of being nice to everyone and don’t get into any unnecessary discussions.

My experience
As a professional organizer, I use Freecycle a lot. I encourage my clients to freecycle and I freecycle often on behalf of my clients. I have freecycled furniture, a trampoline, a laptop, a TV and many boxes of toys, books, clothes, computer games and DVDs.

I’ve also received a lot of really great things from Freecycle, including a hot and cold water dispenser, toys for my children and furniture for my house.

My rule, however, is that everyone should give more than they receive. Otherwise our homes would be overflowing with stuff. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to get it.

Sometimes when people don’t show up, it can be discouraging and annoying going through the trouble of offering things on Freecycle. But generally, I have had really good experiences freecycling. I have made a number of friends through Freecycle and now have quite a few regulars who get stuff from me.

So, before you throw something in the garbage bin to be put in a landfill, ask yourself if someone else could use it. If the answer is yes, pass it on to them via Freecycle.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review it Wednesday -- spoken into the blogisphere

Last week, I offered my take on a vegan shampoo and conditioner I wasn't overly fond of. I mentioned that I prefer shampoos with honey in them. Well, be careful what you speak into the blogisphere! Guess what I'm reviewing today? A sulfate free shampoo that contains honey! I'm so happy!

ecoSTORE USA sent me this wonderful Honey and Almond Shampoo to review (at no charge to me). So, while I was already off my no pooing routine, I readily embraced the opportunity. This time, when I hopped into the shower, I had a totally different experience than what I described last week, starting with the delightful fragrance of honey and almond (one of my favorites). I also liked the consistency of the shampoo and the ease with which I was able to work it into my hair. Let me tell you, I was a happy camper! The shampoo rinsed out easily, and I was able to comb through my wet hair without using a conditioner or creme rinse. The end result? Shiny hair with more volume than I've had in a long time. I've used the shampoo 5 times now, and the result is always the same. And there is no flaky residue left behind.

One of the things about this review is something you don't always see. Often, the products I review have a somewhat hefty price tag. They're organic, after all, and tend to be costlier than your run-of-the-mill products on the store shelves. However, the shampoos sold by ecoSTORE USA are reasonably priced! A 13.5 oz. bottle costs just $6.50 (Introductory price)! If that's not enough incentive to buy a bottle or two, consider this:
  • 3 in 1 -- the shampoos and conditioners are moisturizing, volumizing and color safe
  • they are plant and mineral-based with select natural oils
  • they are designed to gently cleanse, soften and replenish your hair without removing its natural protective oils
  • sulfate free
  • paraben free
  • 1,4 dioxane free
  • NO artificial dyes
  • NO artificial fragrances
  • Available in Cucumber, Pear, and (I'm ecstatic) Honey and Almond

Am I happy with the ecoSTORE USA Honey and Almond Shampoo? No. I'm thrilled  with it. If I'm going to use shampoo, this is the one I'd reach for. 

However, I am a pretty diehard no pooing fan. Where does that leave me? For now, I'm going to use this shampoo. Knowing it's safe for me and for the environment, I figure I have nothing to lose. Plus, since I didn't pay for it, for now it's even cheaper than no pooing. There are some things I miss about my no pooing experience, though. For one thing, my hair dries much quicker when I no poo. Secondly, I don't have to wash my hair as frequently when I'm using baking soda and vinegar. 

But, like I said, for now, I'll stick to this shampoo. My hair feels and looks healthy and I'm happy about that.

Visit the ecoSTORE USA website to check out their hair care products and more ... and keep watching for another review about one of their products, as they were generous enough to send me an additional product. I just need a little bit more time to evaluate that one.

Reviewing it for you,


Monday, July 16, 2012

Green Salad with Champagne Vinegar Dressing -- a recipe to start your week

Container tomatoes
It's been a hot, hot summer. Turning on the oven isn't an option, and on some days, it's been way too hot to cook on the grill. So salads have been more appealing than ever... especially when you can go out and pick fresh lettuce right from your own garden.

We were late in planting our garden this year, but we have still been able to harvest some goodies... like snow peas, lettuce and, just yesterday, our first bowl of green beans. Yum.

Our garden is a bit nontraditional in that it's on our second floor 16'x20' balcony. This is our 4th or 5th year cultivating a balcony garden (free from deer and bunnies), but this is the best year ever! Why? Because this is our first year using our own composting soil. What a difference!! I tried to grow zucchini every year, yet this is the first year I'm having any success. We don't have any actual zucchini yet, but we have lots of flowers and I can't wait to watch the transformation.

Green beans (the kids' playhouse in the background)

My first eggplant!

I think the eggplant plant is so pretty


Cucumbers in the making

Sally, the scaredoll, keeping birds away since 2009

On Thursday, my husband planted more beans. Look at them already! How does that happen?! Wonder soil!!
Our baby beans. Look how fast they're growing!

Anyway, as you can see, our container garden includes pallets filled with composting soil. This was an experiment and we made some mistakes. Next year, we'll plan better by giving the cucumber and zucchini enough room of their own. We're finding it amusing to see plants that we didn't put there, emerging from the soil in various places. Obviously tomato and zucchini seeds sprouted in the compost, as did a kernel of corn! It will be interesting to see what comes of these random plants!

Random plant (zucchini?) growing between 2 pallets
 Aside from our own garden, we've been enjoying local produce from farmers' markets, roadside stands and local farm shops, such as Shenot's in Wexford, PA. We stopped there yesterday afternoon and bought some grass fed beef to go along with the wonderful vegetables we picked up.

As we were checking out, I asked the cashier about their corn and other produce.

"Do you use any Monsanto products?"

She looked at me quizzically. My husband clarified it for her by adding, "GMOs."

"Oh, no," she responded without hesitation. "We don't use anything like that. Let me give you a paper that explains how we grow our food."

She put it in my bag and we left. I was thrilled to read their explanations under the subtitles: Conventional, Organic, Biotechnology, What We Do, Fertility, Pathology, and Entomology. Sweet. Here's what they have to say about biotechnology:

Genetically modified foods, commonly referred to as "GMOs" are growing in popularity and also raising some eyebrows with concerned consumers. Science now gives growers the ability to grow vegetables, grains and even livestock with built-in "pest guards" that make them immune to disease, can produce their own insecticides and be unaffected by synthetic herbicides. Rather than engage in a debate about whether or not this is a good idea, I will just say that the crops grown on Shenot's soil are in no way genetically modified.

Yes! Even though it is a bit costlier than other places we've shopped this summer, we will return to Shenot's often, secure in the knowledge that Monsanto has not yet invaded this territory. And... the corn was phenomenal!!

With all this fresh goodness, I thought it would be a good day to share a salad recipe with you. We had this the other night, and it was amazing!

Green Salad with Champagne Vinegar Dressing

Leaf lettuce (can be substituted)
1 large carrot
1 stalk of celery with leaves
1 kohlrabi
1/2 candy onion, sliced thin
Cherry tomatoes
Parmesan cheese, shredded
Homemade croutons**

Wash vegetables in a bowl or basin with 1:8 ratio of distilled white vinegar and water. Tear the lettuce into bite sized pieces. Using a food processor, chop the carrot, celery and kohlrabi in to fine pieces. Toss with lettuce and top with sliced onion, cherry tomatoes,parmesan cheese and croutons. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve dressing on the side.

Champagne Vinegar Dressing

This is a very “pure” dressing in that I don’t add any spices or herbs so the flavor of the vinegar can shine through.

¼ cup champagne vinegar (bought mine at Whole Foods)
3 TBSP water
½ cup oil (I used a light vegetable blend as I thought olive would be too overpowering)

Put ingredients in bottle and shake well before pouring.

**Homemade croutons

Cut bread (your choice) to one-inch cubes. Heat 1 TBSP coconut oil and 1 TBSP butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic to taste (I use 1 tsp of jarred garlic) and some fresh snipped herbs. I cut some marjoram out of my herb garden. Add bread cubes to heated pan and toss. Cook until crispy.

That's it. This is a crisp, light salad that is simply delicious.

What is your favorite type of summer produce?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The power to kill

Photo by Kim Newburg

"These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied 
almost universally 
to farms, gardens, forests, and homes - 
nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill 
every insect, the 'good' and the 'bad,' 
to still the song of birds
and the leaping of fish in the streams, 
to coat the leaves with a deadly film, 
and to linger on in soil - 
all this though the intended target may be only 
a few weeds or insects. 
Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down 
such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? 
They should not be called 'insecticides,' but 'biocides.'"

-- Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Friday, July 13, 2012

Vinegar Friday


When you think vinegar, what do you usually think of? French fries? Cleaning windows? Salad dressing?

In my book, Vinegar Fridays, I included lots of vinegar tips that surprised readers ... things they'd never thought of. Since many of you haven't read the book, I thought I'd share some of these. Of course, if you're intrigued by what you read, I hope you'll head over to Lulu.com and order a copy of the book. And today, since it's Vinegar Friday, I'm offering a 10% discount. PLUS, Lulu is sweetening the deal by offering an additional 18% off with the code CAUGHT. That's 28% off today only. Or you can order the book from Amazon.com for $12.50. Order 2 and get free shipping.

Okay, enough about that. Let's move on to the free stuff!

Chapter 3 Spic-and-Span without the Chemicals: Vinegar and Cleaning

Before dusting your wood furniture, dampen your dust cloth with a 50/50 blend of distilled white vinegar and olive oil -- hey, you can use what's left to dress your dinner salad... just add a couple of spices.

Chapter 4 Coffee, Tea or Vinegar? Vinegar in the Kitchen

Can opener. I hope none of you reading this actually still uses electricity to open a can, unless, of course, you have a condition, such as arthritis, which makes it difficult to open cans otherwise. I have a wall-mounted hand-operated can opener, just like my mom's, which works wonderfully. But it does get goopy, just like the handheld and electric ones do. All you need to do to clean the goop off the wheel of your can opener, is to wet an old toothbrush with vinegar and scrub away. That's it. You'll find your opener operating smoothly in no time.

Chapter 5 What is that Lurking Under all those Bubbles?

This chapter is all about hot tubs and the dangerous bacterias that grow in the jets. Of course, cleaning with vinegar is the answer. Instead of going into how (you can read it in the book), I wanted to simply share the last paragraph of the chapter:

If you are pregnant, especially in your first trimester, avoid hot tubs altogether! According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, exposure to the high temps in hot tubs can result in an increased risk of neural tube defects in the baby. Protect your little one -- he or she is counting on it.

Photo by Peter Griffin

Chapter 6 Vinegar -- The Original Odor Eater

To minimize a fishy odor, just apply some of the DWV [distilled white vinegar] to the fish and rub it in.

Chapter 7 It's in the Details: Vinegar and Cars

Is that political bumper sticker outdated? Maybe your support of the candidate has waned. Take the same cloth, drench it in the vinegar, and cover the sticker for a couple hours. It should peel right off.

Chapter 8 Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder... Or in that Bottle of Vinegar

In my 40s, I thought it to be quite an injustice that I had to battle acne as I was developing wrinkles. Wrinkles and acne do not belong on the same face. Period. At least that's my opinion. In actuality, over 17 million adult American women suffer from acne -- in their 20s, 30s and 40s. And, unfortunately, it is genetic (sorry, kids!). But if you mix 2 teaspoons of ACV [apple cider vinegar] in a cup of water and apply it to the breakouts after you wash your face morning and evening, you will watch them vanish... without spending a fortune on infomercial remedies!

Chapter 9 The F-word 
ACV* is effective in jump-starting your metabolism. It also helps to dissolve fats because of the acetic acid that slows the absorption of carbs as it affects carbohydrate metabolism. This prevents the carbs from being stored as fat. Research shows that ACV can also lower blood sugar by up to 30 percent! Again, that helps to inhibit fat metabolism because of lower insulin levels.

*When taken internally, it is essential to us only organic raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar. I buy the Bragg brand at my local grocery store.

Chapter 10 Vinegar -- for the Health of it

Constipation -- In order to 'get going' in the morning, so to speak, grab your bottle of ACV as soon as you get up and mix up your ACV cocktail. The energy boost you will experience from being 'regular' will be worth every last drop. Of course, as with most ailments, you want to drink plenty of water.

Chapter 11 No More Tangles ... and No More Toxins: Vinegar and Hair Care

Once a month, I mix 1/2 cup of ACV in 2 cups of water and pour it over my head without rinsing it out. I was actually doing this for quite awhile... long before I ever heard about no pooing. Even if you cannot quite grasp the idea of not shampooing, this ACV rinse is an excellent way to strip away all the gunk in your hair every once in awhile.

Chapter 12 Summertime Woes

Photo by Charles Rondeau
Bugs can be a big problem in the warmer months. If you have been bitten or stung by an insect, such as a bee, mosquito or ant, apply a paste made from equal parts of vinegar and cornstarch. This will ease the itch and dry up the bite.

Chapter 13 Kidstuff

Toys -- If you are anything like me, you love thrift shops, flea markets and garage sales. And it is hard to resist that adorable, like-new toy at that insanely low price, isn't it? But giving used toys to your kids just seems... icky. Don't you think? Especially if the toys have an unknown history. I mean, how do you know little Timmy didn't toss his sister's Barbie doll in the toilet? Hmmm. Like I said... icky.
So, what do you do? Bypass all those bargains? Not necessarily.

Non-stuffed toys (plastic and wood toys and teethers) can be cleaned economically and safely by simply spritzing them down with a solution of a cup each of water and DWV. Concerned about the strong odor of vinegar? Don't be... it dissipates quickly. And wouldn't you rather your child put something in his mouth that was cleaned with something edible instead of a cleaning product containing toxic chemicals? 

Chapter 14 -- Furry, Finned and Feathered Friends

There is one more reason for bathing your pets in vinegar, which I looked into after my neighbor's Jack Russell terrier, Jake, got into a scuffle with a skunk! Not a pretty sight... or smell! If one of your furry friends needs fumigated, you can skip the messy route of a tomato juice bath. Mix up a 50/50 solution of water and vinegar and sponge him down. You can use any kind of vinegar for this, but I recommend distilled white vinegar, simply because it is cheaper and you might need quite a bit of it. Make sure you rinse him completely with clear water once the smell is gone. 

Chapter 15 Great Outdoors

Photo by Darren Lewis

Warmer weather signals grilling season. To get your grill ready, shine it up by spraying DWV on a ball of aluminum foil and scrub away all of last year's cooked on grime.

Chapter 16 Creepy Crawlers 

Just the thought of centipedes makes my skin crawl! To keep them out of your home, mix together 1 part vinegar with 1/4 part cumin in a spray bottle and spray the perimeter of your house. This should repel them.

Chapter 17 Snuggle-free and Loving It! Vinegar in the Laundry Room

Just can't resist buying new clothes? Wash them before wearing them and add 1/2 cup DWV to the water to get rid of the manufacturing chemicals you don't want up against your skin.

Chapter 18 A Little Taste of Vinegar

No buttermilk in the house for your favorite coffee cake recipe? Not a problem. Just add a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar to a cup of milk. That will sour it up nicely.
So, how's that for a Vinegar Friday? Lots of tips to glean from. Thanks for taking the time to read about the wonders of vinegar!
Keeping it green, clean and healthy with vinegar,
Always seek advise from a medical professional before following any of my health-related suggestions.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Native plants... their place and purpose in our gardens

I met today's guest blogger at the first Pennwriter's meeting I attended at the Eat 'n Park in Robinson Township, PA several months ago. In addition to being a writer, Doris Dumrauf is an award-winning nature photographer and speaker. She speaks to civic groups about backyard habitats for birds and insects. Her blog, Birds with Personality, covers birding and gardening topics. 

Cedar waxwing eating serviceberry

Gardens are works in progress. Years ago, we landscaped our front yard with the usual suspects: Bradford pears, spireas, privet hedges, burning bushes, and azaleas. In other words, our yard looked just like every other yard. 

Then, we became interested in native plants. We removed the ugly pear tree and planted an Eastern redbud instead. Its pink flowers not only brighten up our entire street, but they are also one of the earliest blooms in the spring and attract many insects. These insects, in turn, provide pollination. But insects serve another purpose: they feed birds when they need it most: during the time when they are nesting and feeding their young.

Spicebush swallowtail larva eating spicebush leaf
Insects are the little things that drive the world and are a very important part of the natural food chain. The lawns that Americans love so much do not support wildlife at all. In an effort to have a “perfect” lawn, homeowners use more pesticides per acre than agriculture. These pesticides are not only deadly to birds, other wildlife, and beneficial insects, they also pose health risks for humans and their pets. There is a better way to garden.

When we erected a storage shed in our backyard we had to find a purpose for an about 13x13 feet corner on which nothing grew, except rocks. We brought in topsoil and I planted a wildflower seed packet because I wanted a butterfly garden. A year later, I had the result I had envisioned. We were hooked. We made ourselves knowledgeable about native plants and started another native garden. Every year we add new plants to it and observe more and more insect varieties as time goes by. Two kinds of milkweed – common milkweed and butterfly weed – attract Monarch butterflies. Bumble bees and honey bees are drawn to the purple coneflower. Other butterflies prefer the blazing star. Tubular flowers attract hummingbirds. The spicebush swallowtail lays its eggs in the spicebush. Finches devour the seeds as the flowers mature. You get the picture.

Monarch butterfly on Joe-pye weed

A real eye opener for us was Professor Douglas W. Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home (Timberpress). He writes that planting alien plants has several consequences: 
  •  Native insects cannot digest alien plants. 
  •  Alien plants often beget alien insects or fungi, which in turn cause havoc in our environment. 
  •  Non-native plants become invasive and replace native plants in the wild.
Alien plants are any plants which were, accidentally or on purpose, introduced into the United States. Alien plants do not provide any host plants for native insects, and thus are not part of the natural food chain. 

Bringing Nature Home lists native plants by geographical area. It also highlights the plants that support the most Lepidopera species. Soil conditions and amount of sunlight available in your yard also play a role in the decision process. Once they’re established, native plants can also tolerate drought conditions better than alien plants.

No matter where you live, there is a native plant available for your yard. Give it a try!


For more information and for samples of her work and publication credits, visit Doris's website. Photographs on this post may not be reproduced without prior permission from Doris Dumrauf. She may be reached at ddumrauf@verizon.net.

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