A little dust MAY just be hurting you and your health

A little dust MAY just be hurting you and your health

House cleaning has never been one of my favorite jobs. In fact, I used to avoid it at all costs. Way back in my single days, I’d keep things neat but I was never fastidious about vacuuming and dusting, to say the least. I always preferred things have their place, but a little clutter didn’t bug me too much.

Fast forward to life with a husband and kids, things have had to change a little. For a long time, my tried and true ways of tidying just wasn’t cutting it. The clutter would pile up, we moved house and were still figuring out where things went, and five people can make a big mess in very little time at all. Needless to say, we felt we were always playing catch-up. When we needed to organize for guests, it was a monumental effort. As a gift, my mom got us a few visits of a housekeeping service which we stretched out and continued for a while. But every two weeks we’d be in a panic to “clean” for the cleaning people! Help?!

Big Change #1:

We finally made the decision to remodel our kitchen. This was a loooong few months, but man what a difference. We had a LOT more storage and actually loved our kitchen (instead of hating it intensely). We cook almost every meal from scratch so needless to say we spend a lot of time here. We still have more work to do when budget allows, but this has been life changing.

Reality check, not everyone can remodel their kitchen (and this was a huge investment for us) but here are a few reasons this made a huge difference:

  1. Storage: Not only did many more things have a distinct place in the house, now we weren’t stashing them in corners or burying them behind piles of towels in our closets. Moving kitchen appropriate things into the kitchen freed up space elsewhere for items that truly belonged in those various spaces. Adding a hutch, shelves, or just re-organizing your current storage solutions can give you much of the same result! We have an old dresser stuck into our dining room closet which serves as a bar (the top) and storage for linens, candles and other items.
  2. Reorganize: Taking everything out, assessing what you have and then slowly finding places for things can be time-consuming but so worth it. When a certain area is frustrating me enough, I know it’s time to tackle it in this way. I try to think about where we use it the most, where it makes the most sense to remain, and what other items it should be near or paired with. When I get really annoyed by something (the jar of dishwasher powder taking up room on my counter, for example), I think about where it makes the most sense to house that item (the drawer under the sink, with the other cleaning supplies) and dive in. I removed a few things we don’t use, moved some other things to a more appropriate place (ie. a bathroom cabinet) and now the dishwasher powder is out of sight. Win!
  3. Purge: There’s nothing like a home disrupting project to make you think about what you have but don’t need anymore! There are always things we hold on to for various reasons but try to think about when you used it last. Is it just taking up space or do you really need it?

Big Change #2:

Knowledge is everything. I’ve long suffered from seasonal allergies and the fall is often the worst time of the year for me. Our kids have similar symptoms at times so creating the right environment at home is important to us. Since we reorganized our home to an extent, we’ve been better able to keep up with the clutter and the cleaning. The kids can even pitch in fairly often which is a huge bonus.

We’ve made big changes in our diets, eliminating almost all processed sugars, vastly reducing dairy and being very selective about the grains we eat. We also spend a lot of time outside when we can, don’t over-sanitize ourselves or our home (usually natural cleaners when possible), eliminating toxins when possible (aka. plastic, single-use items, etc.). This season, we’ve been the healthiest yet as far as colds, allergies, and other common ailments. All of these changes came about because we researched, tested, retested and kept trying until we figured out what works best for our family. Typically, each fall, my husband has a huge bout of bronchitis after a few weeks of being back at work (as a teacher). The change in routines, stress, and dealing with a school building that hasn’t been used for two months takes it’s toll.  Finally, after years of combating this pattern…we finally broke it. This is an intensive process and you have to be patient with yourself as you figure things out. We’re still learning, and likely still will be long into the future.

Recently, I was listening to some podcasts about home cleaning and WHY it’s important. We already use a lot of chemical free products, eliminated a lot of plastics, use water filters, we use an air purifier, and we are very careful about the food and items we bring into the house. So I was really curious about what else I was missing. The biggest “aha” moment was about dust. I’ve always hated dusting and figured a little dust doesn’t hurt anyone. However, it turns out that a lot of the big items in your house (mattresses, carpets, furniture and even construction items used to build your home) can off-gas for quite some time. You’ve heard of low VOC paints, right? Well, it turns out that tons of items in your home give off VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Ever bought a new shower curtain and can’t shake the “new” smell for quite some time? How about a room that always smells a certain way due to the carpet or mattress? And what do those chemicals stick to the most?! DUST!

One of the best and most effective ways to eliminate those chemicals from your home is to dust, simple as that. Sooo, now you’ll likely find me dusting much more frequently. Let the record show that this fall has been my bet yet. With a little elderberry syrup and Yogi Breathe Deep tea, I’ve managed to chase off all unwanted bugs before the escalate. Fingers crossed to a healthier cold and flu season this year!

DISCLAIMER: THIS WEBSITE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. If the reader or any other per­son has a med­ical con­cern, he or she should con­sult with an appropriately-licensed physi­cian or other health care worker.

Garden Goals: Multi-purpose, multi-functional or bust

Garden Goals: Multi-purpose, multi-functional or bust

We started the spring season out with our usual flurry of planning and making a few purchases to round out our once barren landscape. When we moved into our house, more than half the yard was overtaken with bamboo. For the survival of our house (and what was left of the native species) we had no choice but to remove it and very little other large vegetation survived.  After planting almost 40 (itty bitty) trees on less than an acre, we were left with very few shade trees and almost no soil to speak of. In the past four (almost five) years, we’ve planted and tilled, mulched and brought in topsoil to help alleviate the situation. However, with some big expenses this past year…we’ve decided to dig in our heels and repurpose, reuse and rethink our garden plans with an eye to spending as little as possible (hopefully nothing other than a few cans of paint, tools, or other necessities that will be multi-purpose) for the remainder of the year.

Fortunately, we managed to make a few tree purchases at the beginning of April which meant…DISCOUNTS!

Fun fact, most garden stores and nurseries will give some amazing discounts early (or late) in the season. They want to offload last year’s stock (or avoid wintering stock on their grounds) so they can make room for the incoming products.

We were looking for a few things in particular, partly for their aesthetic, partly for their appeal to bees and partly for the value to home remedies (multi-purpose was the key). Once we’d purchased our hawthorn, witch hazel, apple, cherry and a few birches to screen our front yard…we realized we have a tree addiction. Oi. So, 44 trees later…

April showers bring…floods…

This past weekend, we got to work. The temptation was big but we buckled down and evaluated what we had to start with. We’ve had a runoff problem since the bamboo removal, and since reading Mary Reynolds’ amazing book, we finally had a plan to help correct it. We plan to cut in some swales (shallow trenches with a slight berm to help collect water so it seeps into the soil). Before we can do that, we needed to establish a path from the main section of our garden to the “farm”, which is the area we keep our chickens and will be home to the bees when they arrive.

The area leading up to it is one of the worst areas for runoff and drainage. With some leftover flagstones, we managed to sketch out a curved path that will eventually delineate some edible garden beds (we have future plans to move most of our vegetable garden in there). The stones are quite thick so they will leave us room to build up the soil with mulch and woodchips over the next few years so we’re ready for the veggies when the time comes. The best part is, the curve of the path will also create the outline of one or more of our swales. Multi-purpose for the win!

Refusing to spend means tackling abandoned projects.

To round out the weekend, we also managed to (finally) clean up our driveway which was bogged down with the remains of last year’s fall projects and some inside renovations. We sold off a few things and moved the rest so we can use our driveway for its intended purpose once again. This is a big win and something that has been bugging us for a while now.

Our ancient but still upright garage is in need of some TLC now that we have a bit of space again, so we are hoping to get that organized. We are so done buying random materials only to find we had the needed implement stored in the back corner of the garage somewhere.

The greenhouse is chock full and we are so close to moving things outside! Our last frost should be within a week or so and then it’s game time. We are hoping to stagger our seeds a bit better this year (succession planting) to help us preserve and use more of what comes out of the garden.

The list doesn’t seem to end, but we’re having fun tackling each project as it comes. With the kids a bit older, they have more staying power when we enlist their help and they love to see the changes happening as the plants grow. They’ll be picking snap peas in no time!

Putting the Phone Down – Unintended Repercussions & Bittersweet Perks

Putting the Phone Down – Unintended Repercussions & Bittersweet Perks

I wasn’t able to focus on the things that mattered most.

I’ve been trying to stay off my phone lately, social media and the like. My reasoning is largely because I find myself unable to focus on certain tasks as long as I’d like. I also wasn’t making time for some of the more time-consuming interests I’ve collected (reading, gardening, herbalism, etc.) I don’t think I was overly consumed by social media or anything (I post only intermittently at best), but I did often find myself mindlessly scrolling when I had a few minutes of down-time. Down-time with three kids?! Ok so…it was likely due to escapism that any true “free time”. We all need a break at times, and it’s all too easy to just grab the nearest device and tune out.

We all need a break at times, and it’s all too easy to just grab the nearest device and tune out.

So, cut to the past week where I deleted all my social media apps and have occasionally caught myself scrolling through the app store in my “idle” time. Maybe I was slightly more addicted to the scrolling than I thought. One thing I’ve noticed so far (it’s only been a week, we’re not moving mountains yet) is that I have more time to think. More often than not, this amounts to thinking about all the things I want to do…but I’ve also found myself applying some of my newfound reading and learning to my daily life. This has been slightly more productive than my previous strategy of saying, “Hm, that sounds worth doing.” and then never getting to it.

I’ve also had more time to watch what’s going on around me. Whether it’s enjoying the gorgeous spring day we had yesterday or spending today indoors with our rambunctious kids and watching their various antics. Both days were fairly task-filled (some much needed pruning and planting yesterday, even more necessary meal-prep and cooking today), but the kids were sometimes helping or off doing their own thing (with various needs of refereeing).

Throughout the day there were moments where I wish I had my phone in hand to capture something, but I didn’t. It was completely bittersweet. The few seconds the 2-year-old’s eyes lit up when he remembered the punch line of a joke (and then recited it non-stop for the next 20 minutes), the 4-year-old when she grabbed my ear buds and tucked the end into her back pocket and danced around as if listening to music, the 6-year-old when she came in from outside flushed with the chill wind, what seemed like thousands of footwear changes the day before (girls man, was I seriously like that?!)…the moments just kept hitting me. In between cutting onions, making quiches and attempting not to skewer myself with thorns as we pulled snarls of overgrown shrubs into a pile, these snapshots just kept piling up.

Life is just busy.

I’ve been conscious (even before this recent bought of phone-free living) that we haven’t been capturing as many moments in photos and videos. Life is just busy. But we also weren’t enjoying those moments very thoroughly either. We often let these moments slip by without pausing to smile or just bask in the hilarity of it all. So many moments for connection and family building just fly by. Part of this is just the nature of raising kids, you can’t make time for it all. But it’s nice being a bit more conscious in enjoying these times while the kids are still small and still want to hang out with us (most of the time).

While I did yearn to memorialize these seconds, minutes, hours against the vague and hazy memories they will soon become…I also lived those moments more intensely. I gave myself space to just be.

So, it’s a bittersweet end to a productive and exhausting weekend. We don’t have much to show for it yet, but we firmly believe we’re playing the long game. These miniscule moments in life, the small steps we take at rewilding our garden…these are the things that will pay off big someday. That’s the intention, anyway. Check back in about 15 years…

Confused about Organic Food? Truth vs. Misconceptions

Confused about Organic Food? Truth vs. Misconceptions

In recent years there’s been a huge increase in the number of organic products available. I’m as guilty as the next person for grabbing organic over conventional products, but does the label actually mean it’s better for you? When I make my food choices, I like to be informed but also spend wisely.

Produce: Organic, Local, Big Agg…

Many of us believe that organic means fewer chemicals and pesticides. As we learn more about the giant cogs that make up the agricultural industry, it’s becoming clear that this isn’t always the case. There are many chemicals that are approved for use on organic produce and large-scale farms often use them liberally. Other farms that aren’t labeled organic might be pesticide-free, yet because they use a minimal amount of non-organic chemical in very small amounts, they don’t qualify for the organic label.

Farmer’s markets and local growers are other great sources for sustainable and ethically grown produce and sometimes they can be much cheaper than store bought. Better yet, you have access to the people who actually grow the food and they have a local interest in keeping their livelihood. Most likely, they’ll have a vested interest in using as few chemicals as possible with an eye to a sustainable and healthy outcome for their customers. Talk to your local farmers and even if they’re not labeled “organic” find out what chemicals they do use and why.

The best option if you have the time and space is to grow your own food! Start small with a few pots and herbs on your windowsill, or make a little space for a raised garden bed. We’ve been amazed at how much we are able and willing to keep up with as we continually add to our garden. Our kids have taken a huge interest and as a result eat so many fruits and veggies right off the plant. It’s an amazing way to have onstructive and creative conversations about how to fuel our bodies with wholesome and nutritious food.

Keep in mind, most produce can be washed before eating which eliminates a large percentage of many pesticides before they’re consumed. However, there are a number of chemicals that are absorbed by the plants and can not be removed by washing and peeling. If you keep an eye on the Dirty Dozen list, you’ll get a sense of which items are best purchased organic when possible.

5 Ways to Choose the best Produce! 1. Visit your farmer’s markets & talk to the farmers. 2. Wash your produce. 3. Grow your own! 4. Keep an eye on the Dirty Dozen list. 5. Choose organic if it’s available and not too costly for you.

Processed Foods: Beyond the Health Claims

Organic does NOT mean healthy! Organic sugar is still added sugar and doesn’t necessarily mean a product is fair game for a healthy diet.

Let’s face it, we’re all trying to raise families and do our best to keep them happy and healthy. Many times that means choosing between a home cooked meal and pizza on the way to volleyball practice because you’ve got piles of laundry, homework to oversee and a work project that needs some finishing touches before tomorrow. We all need shortcuts, sometimes major game-changers and this is where processed and packaged foods save the day.

When deciding which options are best, take a look at the label and stick to things with legible ingredients (real food, imagine that!) and only 5-6 items. It’s also a good sign if sugar (or one of its many variants) are not listed or are near the end of the list. The first few items are the ones that appear in the highest quantity. Some day soon, added sugars will be more obvious on food lables which will make things a bit easier.

Every family has their tipping point, so find what works for you. With our tendencies for eczema, we’ve found that organic wheat products (or gluten free) have a major correlation with how our skin reacts.

The Bottom Line: Don’t be afraid to grab an apple over a stack of cookies…

If you can’t afford or can’t find organic options, don’t let that stop you!  Making an effort to eat whole foods is always a better option than grabbing something full of sugar or highly processed. Grab that apple from Starbucks or the non-organic asparagus (because it’s HALF the price) if it will ensure you get those much-needed nutrients into your family!

The food we eat can have far-reaching affects, so it’s important to take it day by day and try to listen to what our bodies are telling us. Feeling bloated after downing three slices of meat lover’s pizza? Maybe add a few greens to that plate. Still peckish after that monster salad that was mostly greens? Maybe some beans or healthy carbs or protein would help balance it out. Feeling sluggish and a bit achy? Make sure you’re drinking enough water!

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Elderberry Syrup and Boosting your Immunity

Elderberry Syrup and Boosting your Immunity

Germ season just doesn’t want to end this year. Just when I finally think we’re all healthy, bam…someone starts a fever or complains of a sore throat. Adding insult to injury, we’re expecting snow again this week. Isn’t today the first day of Spring?

Over February break, we took a trip to visit family in Ireland. As we were in the thick of germ season, we were dosing up on elderberry syrup for weeks before hand. Our goal was to rid ourselves of all the colds and various ailments before we jumped on an airplane, but also to fortify ourselves for exposure to many more germs we’d encounter along the way. Routine was key, we got into the habit of taking our dose every day and managed to get healthy and stay healthy for the trip. Woohoo!

Cut to a few weeks later and the home again blues, and we have fallen off the wagon. Two out of three kids have sniffles and we have also encountered a mild stomach bug. Queue the elderberry…I’ve been making our own because it’s not cheap, and it’s a fairly quick 45 minute project. You know, when you’re sitting around with nothing better to do. Honestly, I usually manage to create a batch when I’m in the midst of another cooking project. Just set the pot on the stove to simmer and remember to check back every so often. Here‘s the recipe I’ve been using.

It’s crazy how our brains so easily jump out of the good habits as soon as the “danger” has passed. Let’s be honest, if we kept up ALL THE THINGS, we’d never have to breathe so it’s perfectly normal to drop things as they no longer seem necessary. But man, I should have known we weren’t out of the woods yet with all this cold weather.

DISCLAIMER: THIS WEBSITE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. If the reader or any other per­son has a med­ical con­cern, he or she should con­sult with an appropriately-licensed physi­cian or other health care worker.

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