Clean, Green and Lean (5 DIY Cleaners That Are Budget Friendly)

Going green has been a hot topic for many years now. And for good reason. Our grocery store aisles are loaded with thousands of products containing ingredients such as methylisothiazolinone (MIT), polydimethylsiloxane, sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), 1,4-dioxane and Triclosan, just to name a few. The problems with these and other unnatural ingredients include:

  • Toxicity
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Groundwater contamination
  • Pollution
  • Energy and resource demands

While some companies are beginning to use more environmentally-friendly ingredients, finding a truly natural product at the store can be tough. And confusing. “Green” has become a marketing tool which means the front of a bottle may say things like “cruelty-free” or “no phosphates” to earn your trust but flip the bottle over and you will likely find a different story. For example, the ingredients list on the back of an all-purpose cleaner made by a popular company claiming its ingredients are 98% naturally derived includes methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and benzisothiazolinone (BIT). These are not natural. Or safe.

In some studies, MIT has shown to be allergenic, cytotoxic and possibly even neurotoxic. BIT is an immune system toxicant and is also classified as an irritant for skin, eyes, and lungs. Chemical companies will argue that these ingredients, in small amounts, are safe. Whether you have personally experienced a problem with either of these ingredients, though, is only half of the point. Why use a toxic ingredient when plants and minerals will do the job just as well, if not better?

Okay, so how can you clean your house safely? Make your own cleaners! With a few basic ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, lemons, essential oils and Castile soap, you can clean pretty much anything. (Bonus: you’ll save money, too! Yes, the essential oils are $5-$7 a bottle but you only use a few drops at a time so they last a very long time. I bought mine a year ago and still have more than half of every single bottle.)

I’ve spent the last several months researching websites, reading books and trying out different recipes. Here are a handful of my favorites.

Laundry Powder

1 bar grated castile soap IMG_20131004_085415(approximately 2 cups) – any scent

1 cup baking soda

1 cup washing soda

Pour all ingredients into a container (I store mine in a recycled apple sauce jar) and shake well. I use one or two teaspoons of powder per load of laundry. Also, I’ve found that it helps to let the mixture begin to dissolve in the water for a minute before adding laundry.

Just for fun, I did a cost comparison between this formula and my old store bought brand. A jar of homemade laundry powder costs approximately $4.29 and lasts me 6-8 weeks. A bottle of store-bought costs $6.99 and lasts about 4 weeks.

Tooth Powder

2 tsp baking soda20140409_223226

2 capsules calcium/magnesium powder

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp bentonite clay

Pour ingredients into a small container and shake well.

Note: This is a powder formulation. There are other recipes on the internet which use essential oils and coconut oil (check out more recipes here at WellnessMama). I’ve tried those and I liked them but I feel that the powder is easier to manage. I dip a dry toothbrush into the powder and begin brushing. No need to add water. The baking soda will cause you to salivate. Also, due to the cinnamon and clay, your mouth will look brown while brushing (and your sink when you rinse). Don’t be afraid! It won’t stain your teeth. In fact, my teeth have become whiter from using this powder. One last thing…the bentonite clay and calcium/magnesium powder will help remineralize your teeth. There are many testimonials on natural blogs that these ingredients can even reverse cavities.

I did a cost analysis on this one, too. The tooth powder comes to $1.66 for the above recipe and lasts about 6 weeks. The last tube of toothpaste I purchased was $3.50.

Wood Polish20140407_231954

1 lemon

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp water

I found this recipe courtesy of Apartment Therapy. Juice the lemon and strain the seeds. Pour the lemon juice, olive oil and water into an old glass spice jar and shake until emulsified. Use a small amount on a soft cloth and wipe down wood surfaces.

Note: This recipe is perishable so you’ll need to make a fresh batch each time.

All-Purpose Cleaner

Baking soda20140513_091830

½ cup vinegar

Castile liquid soap

Essential oils of your choice

Okay, I don’t have a specific recipe for this one. I usually just put a stopper in my kitchen sink, fill it with warm water, pour in some vinegar, a dash of baking soda, a small squeeze of Castile soap and a few drops of eucalyptus and tea tree oils.

First I’ll dip a sponge in the solution and clean my counter tops and table and then I’ll mop the floors. The only word of caution I have is that baking soda and vinegar can have a reaction so go slowly. That’s also why I start out with a sink full of water.

Yoga Mat Cleaner/ All-Purpose Disinfectant/ Room Freshener

5 drops lavender oil20140513_092238

5 drops eucalyptus oil

5 drops tea tree oil

5 drops grapefruit seed extract (GSE)

8 oz water

Pour all ingredients into a spray bottle. Shake well before each use. I originally found a few ideas on Pinterest via Yogava.com for yoga mat cleaners and combined a few oils I like best for my own recipe. If you’ve ever tried hot yoga, you know how sweaty your mat gets. This solution disinfects and keeps my mat clean. Simply hang your mat over a towel bar and spray generously. Wipe down and let the mat dry completely before rolling up to store.

This spray works really well as a room freshener as well. In fact, my husband likes it so much he now requests I make an entire bottle just for him to use on sweaty helmets and knee pads.

Do you have a favorite homemade, natural recipe? Share it in the comments!

What If There Were No Mirrors?

I’m curious…what if we had no mirrors? How would our lives be different? How much money would we save on cosmetics, clothing, teeth whitening strips, and dermatology visits? How many minutes would we shave off in the morning while getting ready for work? And where would our attention be directed instead?

2014-05-06 08.41.09Would we feel better about ourselves? Or worse? Would we rely on others to form opinions about our bodies? Or would we stop caring about appearance altogether?

How many times do we look at ourselves in the mirror each day? Ten? Eleven? And for how long? Half an hour the morning to brush our teeth and style our hair? Five minutes in the bathroom at work to escape the monotony of our computers? Forty-five minutes at the gym? A minute here or there in the rearview mirror of our cars as we wait in traffic? Ten minutes at night to wash our faces before bed?

What does it do to our psychology to frequently check in with our physical reflections? Does it create a habit of thinking of ourselves over others? Or does it help us take an honest look at who we are?

I’m curious…what would we do with our lives if our focus was placed on our experiences instead of our appearances?

Reality May Be Tough But Illusions Destroy Us

ConfessI have a confession to make. I don’t tell my daughter that every picture she draws is a “framer.” If she asks my opinion, I give it honestly.  “I liked the other one better,” I might say.

I don’t always take her side in misunderstandings between friends or with teachers at school. I call her out when she’s wrong. I push her to see the other person’s side of the argument.

Now, before you gasp in disbelief that I don’t  glorify my child, let me say this: I love her unconditionally and she knows she can trust me. Without a doubt. Believe it or not, kids can tell when you are feeding them an insincere compliment. They aren’t necessarily looking for easy answers, either.

When our family pet became ill, I didn’t hide it or say he would be okay. I told my daughter he was dying. We held hands and cried and comforted him right up until his last breath.

When my daughter asks if a tornado could destroy our house, I never lie. I say, “Yes, it could. But I will do everything I can to keep you safe.”

I tell her these things because I believe it is a great disservice 20140311_164748to pretend reality is better or worse than it actually is. If we don’t learn how to deal with reality, we will end up unsatisfied with life, frustrated, or depressed. I tell her these things because they are true.

I tell her these things because as tough as reality may sometimes be, it is the illusions that will destroy us.

Simple DIY Soil Test Experiment

My daughter stayed home sick from school yesterday but we didn’t let that stop us from learning a thing or two about our own backyard. Once she was fever-free for a few hours, we both became restless. I’d been thinking of testing our soil’s pH. She was itching to go outside. So together we watched a couple of DIY videos on YouTube (here and here) and then we gathered our supplies for a science experiment!

20140320_160926

Supplies:

  • 2 clean Mason jars
  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Dirt

The Experiment:

Alkaline soil will react to vinegar. Acidic soil will react to baking soda. Neutral soil will have no reaction.

The Results:

Our first soil sample came from a bare patch of ground smack in the middle of the yard. We scooped a small amount of dirt and clay into each jar. We didn’t expect much to happen to our samples because in both of the videos we watched, the soil was neutral. Boy, were we surprised when we poured some vinegar into the first jar. It fizzed up quite a bit!

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As explained in the DIY videos, this means we have alkaline soil. (We also learned that most plants prefer neutral to slightly acidic soil. Darn.)

Next, we added a bit of water to the soil in the second jar and sprinkled in some baking soda. There was no reaction.

PhotoGrid_1395356074964

 

Our second soil sample came from our compost heap, which I was especially interested in testing since I’ve heard how beneficial compost is for the garden. As before, we added small soil samples to each clean jar. This time we added the baking soda first. There was no reaction.

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We poured some vinegar into the second jar and also got no reaction so we concluded our compost is neutral.

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Finally, we sampled a patch of dirt that had been covered by a stack of wood pallets for about a year. When we added the baking soda, we witnessed no reaction. When we added vinegar, the mixture fizzed up, though not as dramatically as we saw in our first sample.

PhotoGrid_1395356218550

 

So what does all of this mean? Why does any of this matter? Well, after some online research, 20140320_171822we found that it matters quite a bit, depending on what kind of plants we want to grow. Most plants grow well in neutral to slightly acidic soil. Some plants, such as blueberries and potatoes, prefer acidic soil and other plants, like asparagus and kale, prefer alkaline soil. But it’s a fine balancing act. If the soil is too acidic, nutrients like nitrogen and potassium are less available for uptake by the plants. On the other hand, if the soil is too alkaline, iron and manganese are less available.  (You can read more about nutrients and soil pH here.)

My daughter and I also concluded that we have alkaline soil naturally but we can improve our garden with composting. (Yay!) Not only does composting adjust the pH of gardens but it improves the structure of the dirt and reduces the amount of water needed to keep plants healthy. (You can read about the benefits of composting here and here and here.)IMG_20140320_220850

For our final experiment, my daughter mixed the two jars with vinegar and baking soda together and watched the whole thing overflow!

 “We depend on dirt to purify and heal the systems that sustain us.” ― from Dirt, The Movie

 

If any of you have tried this experiment, I’d love to hear from you! What were your results? What kind of soil do you have?

A Dozen Ways to Detox

The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore the physician must start from nature, with an open mind.  —Paracelsus

We live in a toxic world. From pesticides used to grow food, BPAs in plastic food containers and water bottles to chemicals in household cleaners and air pollution, we are bombarded daily with substances that can have a negative impact on our health. And yet nature holds the keys to health and healing.

This subject has been on my heart lately so I’ve put together a list of 12 easy ways (plus one bonus) to help you detoxify your body.

IMG_20140228_174747Cilantro

What it does: binds with heavy metals to help flush them from the body.

Other benefits: fights inflammation.

How to use: eat it raw (best) or cooked.

LemonsIMG_20140228_174433

What it does: stimulates the liver to flush toxins from the body.

Other benefits: high in vitamin C, calcium and potassium.

How to use: squeeze half of a lemon into hot water and drink first thing in the morning.

IMG_20140228_174523Apples

What it does: pectin pulls heavy metals and other toxins from the bloodstream

Other benefits: high in vitamins E, C and A

How to use: eat raw (best) or cooked.

IMG_20140228_174850Bentonite clay

What it does: alkaline pH and high negative ionic charge removes heavy metals and radiation from the body.

Other benefits: Balances the body’s pH. Can be used internally or externally.

How to use: mix one teaspoon with water and drink. Or add one cup to warm bath water.

IMG_20140308_100933Activated charcoal

What it does: binds with chemicals to treat poisonings and remove heavy metals. (Caution: activated charcoal interferes with pharmaceuticals, making them less effective.)

Other benefits: reduces gas, whitens teeth.

How to use: charcoal comes in powder or capsule form.  Follow package directions for dosages.

IMG_20140226_133441Licorice tea

What it does: supports the respiratory system and heals the gut.

Other benefits:  anti-inflammatory, mood boosting, naturally sweet, anti-viral, anti-fungal properties.

How to use: boil water, add tea bag and enjoy! (My favorite brand is Yogi Tea. Each bag comes with a fortune. Today, mine was, “May your inner self be happy and secure.”)

IMG_20140228_174627Dandelion Tea

What it does: stimulates the liver and kidneys to flush toxins.

Other benefits: promotes digestion, eases bloating and relieves aching joints.

How to use: boil water, add tea bag and enjoy!

IMG_20140228_174709Seaweed

What it does: iodine aids in the production of thyroid hormones and flushes toxins from the body.

Other benefits: regulates metabolism

How to use: eat as a snack anytime.

IMG_20140226_133340Hemp seeds

What it does: amino acids help the liver and nervous system purge toxins.

Other benefits: perfect balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, rich in iron, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins.

How to use: sprinkle them on salads and side dishes. You can buy them toasted or raw. (I eat mine straight from the bag!)

IMG_20140228_175051Dry brushing

What it does: stimulates lymph drainage and promotes circulation.

Other benefits: sloughs away dry skin.

How to use: select a brush with soft, natural bristles and direct brush strokes toward the heart.

IMG_20140312_182828Baking soda/Epsom salt/lavender oil bath

What it does: magnesium and sulfur in the Epsom salt detoxifies the body while baking soda alkalizes the body.

Other benefits: lavender oil promotes relaxation.

How to use: add 1 cup of Epsom salts, 1 cup of baking soda, and 10 drops of lavender oil to hot bath water. (Read a book while soaking for 30 minutes.)

IMG_20140228_174925Charcoal soap

What it does:  absorbs impurities from the skin.

Other benefits: heals acne.

How to use: lather and rinse well. (Don’t be afraid of this soap’s hue. It rinses well and smells great!)

IMG_20140312_182306Bonus detox idea: I couldn’t resist including this one because summer is just around the corner. We’ve often heard that the sun causes cancer. It’s a claim that has never fully made sense to me. The sun helps our bodies produce vitamin D, which promotes feelings of well being, boosts our immune systems, strengthens our bones, fights inflammation and reduces fatigue, among many other benefits discussed in this video featuring Dr. Josh Axe. (Yep, that’s right! Sunshine is good for you! And it helps your body detox!)

For every drug that benefits a patient, there is a natural substance that can achieve the same effect.  Dr. Carl C. Pfeiffer

These are only a few of my favorite detox ideas. Do you have a detox method  you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments below.

Adjust Your Aim

20140210_085534To succeed at anything, adjust your aim.

If you want to lose weight, quit looking at the scale. Stop counting calories. Or carbs. Instead, adjust your aim. Raise it higher. Learn all you can about nutrition. Not from the FDA or a nutritionist or any other professional. Get to know it for yourself. Read everything you can get your hands on. Test out different theories. See firsthand what works. Change your relationship with food.

If you want to publish a fiction book, forget about the cover image. Or your name in print. Forget about dollar signs, contracts and best seller lists. Instead, focus on every character in the story, every motivation, every word. Concentrate on writing the best novel you possibly can.

If you want to live a good life, aim higher. Stop living vicariously through celebrities. In fact, turn off the TV. While you’re at it, turn off your cell phone and laptop, too. Get outside and live your own life. Quit relying on big industry to provide you with food and conveniences and entertainment. Learn how to use your own hands, your own mind. Live your own goals. Not someone else’s.

If you want to make any improvement in this world, start in your own city. Forget about feeding the world for a minute and feed your own community. Get to know your neighbors. Your own family! Shop at local, small businesses. Smile at the people you interact with everyday. Look them in the eye. It truly makes a difference.

If you want to succeed at anything, forget the end goal for a few moments. Adjust your aim. Nudge it higher. Choose to act because what you are doing is who you are, not what you’ll get in the end.

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A Plea for Parents

CameraZOOM-20120721151826738 (2)Please, please, please teach your kids how to think! (Notice I didn’t say what to think but how to think.) Don’t wait for schools to teach them how to use their minds. It’s our job. And it’s an important job, one that requires courage and patience and love.

Allow your children to make decisions. Allow them to make mistakes as well. Don’t swoop in to rescue them over little things. Or medium things. Instead, let them experience the natural consequences of their decisions. Hey, your child doesn’t want to wear a jacket to school? Fine. They’ll freeze their buns off for one day and then never again. Because this is how we learn. Yes, this method of teaching and learning takes a lot of practice. But it also builds trust and confidence.

Don’t give your kids everything. In fact, give them a little less. I know it’s tempting to spoil them. We all want our children to have good lives. But they’ll never have that opportunity if 2013-10-18 17.06.23they expect things to be handed to them like a gift. Instead of fostering a sense of entitlement, help them create a good life. Teach them to budget money by offering opportunities to earn cash. But don’t make these opportunities too easy. Taking out the trash shouldn’t earn a twenty dollar bill. (At least, not in my house.) It’s fine to have “rules of earning.” For example, my daughter loves to vacuum but hates to scoop the cat litter box. However, our “rules of earning” state that she can only vacuum for pay once per week. She can earn money daily for scooping the litter box. It’s her choice.

Make absolutely certain your children get plenty of time to use their imaginations. This means taking away their iPods, cell phones, video games, laptops and televisions. Do it often. Trust me on this one…it’s worth all the grumbling in the world. All great artwork, novels, music, inventions and even technology come from the imagination first.

And last but certainly not least, have fun with teaching your kids how to think! My own father is a practical jokester and when I was a young girl, he often played light-hearted tricks on me. While I wasn’t looking, he might hide a sandwich I’d just made in the microwave or in a cabinet and then pretend like he had no idea what I was looking for. Or he might put his hat or jacket on backwards and wait to see how long it took me or someone else to notice. While these jokes were all in good fun, they also taught me to think outside the box and to become aware of my surroundings. I’ve carried on his legacy of silliness with my own kids, hiding toys in unusual places or mismatching clothes on purpose for a laugh. On any given day, we make up alternate lyrics to songs or invent silly dance moves. We have a blast using our minds!

PhotoGrid_1342757815793What do you do at your house to keep everyone’s mental gears churning?

5 Ways to Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Heart

IMG_20140121_094136How do we move from our heads to our hearts? I had never given the idea much thought until I began practicing yoga and then suddenly I was inundated with talk of the heart. Follow your heart. Open the heart. Listen from the heart.

Sounds great. Very wise. Enlightened, even. Except for one thing…

What exactly does it mean?

To move from the head to the heart is to shift from linear thinking to relational understanding. From logic to intuition. From concrete to flexible. When we are primarily “in our heads,” the facts must add up. Everything needs to have a purpose and an explanation. In contrast, when we live “in our hearts,” feeling and experience are enough.

Many people have argued that logic is important, too. (And it is.) So let me clarify that when we shift into our hearts, we don’t stop thinking. We don’t become suckers or doormats or overly emotional. Not at all. When we move from the head to the heart, we develop strength of spirit. Balance. Compassion. We still use logic but we learn to trust ourselves at the most subtle level. We listen to that still, small voice deep within us. And we stress a whole lot less.

“Heart intuition or intelligence brings the freedom and power to accomplish what the mind, even with all the disciplines or affirmations in the world, cannot do if it’s out of sync with the heart.” – The HeartMath Solution, 1999, Childre and Martin

Now, before I tell you how to make the switch, I’ll warn you that it takes a fair amount of awareness and plenty of practice. Confusion, uncertainty and doubt will clamour: Is this what I really want? Is it foolish to choose my heart’s desire over security and acceptance? What will other people think?

Rest assured, this is normal resistance to change.

Okay, ready? Here’s how to get out of your head and into your heart:

1) Go with the gut. Skip research once in a while when making decisions. (For example, drive to a new restaurant you’ve heard about but don’t rely on GPS to get you there.) The more you rely on your own inner wisdom, the easier and more reliable your intuitive decision-making will become.

2) Practice listening without judgment. (Note: I’m not referring to moral judgments here…although those count, too.) This one is tough because it requires paying attention. You have to become aware that you’ve made a judgment, which is no small feat. Most judgments happen in less than a second and once a judgement has happened, we tend to believe it’s the truth. (Hint: opinions and preferences are judgments, too.)

The most helpful advice I can share is to take your “self” out of the equation completely. Listen to understand, not to compare. Then, once you’ve mastered listening without judgment, you can step things up a notch. Try changing one of your beliefs! (Don’t worry, you can always change it back.) The point is to open up to possibility and as long as we hold thoughts and ideas as beliefs, we are closed to other ideas.

3) Tune into your body’s signals. This one should be simple but it’s not. Modern life requires us to override our natural tendencies all the time. Artificial light allows us to stay up all night and grow seasonal food year-round. In many ways, we’ve lost touch with our own cycles and biorhythms. It might take a little extra effort at first but if you’re tired, rest. Go to bed an hour earlier or take a nap. If you’re full, stop eating. Don’t finish off your plate just because there’s more food.

4) Feel your emotions. Don’t avoid them. Name them and notice what sensations go along with each emotion. Is anger sweaty? Do you shake when you’re mad? Or cry? Does sadness feel cold? Paralyzing? Does loneliness rev up your hunger? Experience your emotions fully, talk about them with a trusted friend or family member, and then choose an appropriate response. (Hint: sometimes observation is all the only response needed.)

5) Keep a journal. We have thousands of thoughts in a day—heck, in one hour—and until we talk about them or write them down, they tend to remain jumbled. As we sort through the tangle of our minds, we become clear about who we are and what we want out of life. Over time, a journal will reveal patterns in thoughts and intentions. These patterns are key not only to understanding ourselves but to successfully making changes.

“The only real valuable thing is intuition.” – Albert Einstein

Let me know what you think. Which one of these suggestions is most challenging for you? And by all means, if you have other ways of moving from the head to the heart, post them in the comments below!!

 

 

Get Real

20140107_001107The new year means new goals, clean slates, beginnings. It’s a time of excitement and renewal. Yet I’ll go ahead and admit it…I feel a bit frazzled.

There’s so much I need to do! Back to school. Plan a garage sale. Pay off purchases from the holidays. Research agents to send query letters. And then there are things I hope to do. Work on pull ups. Repaint my 9-year old’s room. Plan a bigger vegetable garden. And of course there are always world problems to tackle. Disappearing honey bees. School libraries being shut down. Fukushima…

IMG_20130401_172329There’s no way I can do it all! (Where the heck would I start?) So instead of hatching a plan to conquer the world, I’ve decided to conquer myself. I have one very big goal this year: get real.

By real, I mean relying less on artificial intelligence and more on actual intelligence, the kind found in nature and in our own intuition, our own awareness. I mean less texting and more face-to-face conversations, the kind of communication where our senses are fully engaged as we listen to tone of voice and read body language. I mean fewer connections via wi-fi and better connections emotionally and spiritually. By real, I mean hands on. Full participation in life.

For me, this means concentrating on a few key areas. First, the garden…

We’ve grown vegetables and flowers in years past with mixed results (thanks to intermittent interest and busy schedules). We’ve programmed our automatic sprinkler system to water the plants. We fertilized with store bought mixtures. We occasionally pulled weeds. But the thing is, it wasn’t enough. We weren’t really engaged in the process, rotating crops to different beds every year, composting, growing cover crops, weeding and harvesting on a daily basis. Quite honestly, I didn’t know we should be doing these things until I began researching how to heal myself with food and realized there’s a growing movement—an awakening, if you will—toward holistic methods of gardening and farming.

IMG_20140106_234712The current issue of Psychology Today features an article—Rich Dirt, Poor Dirt—which explores the role of soil in human health. “The nutritional value of our produce is determined more by the abundance of minerals and microbes in the soil it’s grown in than by any other factor. An array of studies shows that not all soil is the same, and the widespread practice of fortifying low-grade soil with fertilizer doesn’t even begin to remedy the problem. To the degree that agriculture has reached for high yield and engages in farming practices that maximize harvests, soil quality has declined. And so has the nutritional value of many whole foods over the last 70 years.”

In other words, composting puts nutrients back into the soil. I do know this much. I witnessed firsthand how well composting works when my husband decided to give it a try over a year ago. We have four small crepe myrtles in our back yard. Two of them are planted in full sun. One is partially sheltered by a shed for half of the day. The fourth one—by far the luckiest one—is planted on the other side of the shed, right next to the compost pile. I took pictures of each of the trees because I couldn’t believe the difference. The tree in the third picture (next to the compost pile) convinced me of the importance of composting. PhotoGrid_1389072947262

 

I was also influenced by this excerpt from Fred Bahnson’s memoir, Soil and Sacrament:

The garden is our oldest metaphor. In Genesis God creates Adam from adamah, and tells him to “till and keep” it, the fertile soil on which all life depends. Human from humus. That’s our first etymological clue as to the inextricable bond we share with the soil. Our ecological problems are a result of having forgotten who we are—soil people, inspired by the breath of God. “Earth’s hallowed mould,” as Milton referred to Adam in Paradise Lost. Or in Saint Augustine’s phrase, terra animata—animated earth.

The command to care for soil is our first divinely appointed vocation, yet in our zeal to produce cheap, abundant food we have shunned it; we have tilled the adamah but we have not kept it.

Tilling is, in fact, often harmful to the soil structure and creates erosion. Since World War II, as a result of excessive tillage and use of petrochemicals, we’ve managed to squander a third of our country’s topsoil. With the combined challenges of climate change, peak oil, and the global food crisis, the balance of life on earth is rapidly approaching a tipping point. In the ways we grow our food and in the food we choose to eat, we have largely lost our connection with the adamah; we have failed to live in the garden.

Though gardening will be a big part of my life this year—maybe the biggest—it’s not the only way I plan to get IMG_20140107_002231real. I really want to get moving! Thomas Jefferson wrote in his journals that we should commit two hours each day to walking, whether rain or shine. I don’t know about two hours every single day but I certainly want to take more walks, not only for exercise but to tune into the seasons and unwind by connecting with my family. Some of the best conversations with my daughter have taken place on our walks to school. I’d certainly agree with Mr. Jefferson that walking is good for the mind, body and soul.

The final way I intend to get real is by practicing silence. No, I’m not just referring to meditation. (Although that would be a great start!) I’m talking about pausing to think before speaking so that my input can be meaningful. Spending time alone to read, write, and ponder life. Unplugging from technology more often. And yes, meditating to recharge those spiritual batteries so that when I’m with friends and family, I’m actually present.

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Do you have New Year’s resolutions? Insights from the past year? Share them in the comments below!

 

Excuses, Excuses

IMG_20131210_080653Trust me, I’ve heard them all. I’ve used plenty of excuses myself. That’s why I feel qualified to write today’s blog.

I’m on Day 10 of the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). After six days of dealing with caffeine withdrawals, I’m feeling pretty good. No more sciatic pain or headaches. No more indigestion or stomach aches. My energy is up (except for a short daily lag at sunset). And the scale is moving down. So why did it take me so long to give this program a whirl?

Excuses. It all comes down to excuses.

In the past, I avoided AIP because I didn’t want to give up caffeine, sugar, tomatoes, peppers, eggs, nuts, seeds and chocolate for 6-8 weeks. I mean, really…is there life without caffeine and chocolate? I kept choosing to take charge of my health later, right after the next big event. Easter. Fourth of July. Birthdays. Whatever. Or I’d wait until Monday to start. Of course, once Monday arrived some stressful situation would arise—the alarm clock failed to go off, a change in plans at work, a silly disagreement with my 9-year old—and I’d ease my frustrations with a cup of caffeine and a scone. Possibly a cookie, too. Then I’d resolve to try again tomorrow…Or the next day…Or the next…

You get the idea.

If you’re looking for an excuse, there’s always one ready and waiting.

This time around was different, though. I chose to take charge of my health the day after Thanksgiving. Sure, I could’ve said I’ll begin AIP after Christmas. It’s only one more month. I could’ve said I’d wait until after my upcoming trip to NYC to start AIP. Who wants to be vigilant about food during vacation?

But I didn’t. Because all of the above are excuses to keep feeling bad. And I’m done feeling bad.

Yes, it’s hard to stop making excuses. Particularly when those excuses have become habit. Then again, anything worth having or doing comes with a price. It takes effort to change.

Take my case, for instance. There are hassles to following an AIP diet. Boy, oh boy, are there hassles. Like parties, which activate long-held habits of indulging in processed foods, treats doused in chocolate and sprinkled with sugar, fried foods coated with salt and spices, or just plain old chips and dips. It’s easy to say, Just one. Or, I’ll get back on the program tomorrow. Especially when the other party-goers don’t understand why the only thing you’re eating is broccoli salad.

Then there’s eating on the run. Hey, let’s face it, we know most grab-and-go selections aren’t really the best option. Even the so-called “healthy” choices are often laden with extras we don’t need. Now add in a few more restrictions: no eggs, no nuts, no dairy, no tomatoes. I’ve searched every store in the area for a premade meal without those four ingredients alone and trust me, it’s a hassle.

Oh, and let’s not forget grocery shopping, which isn’t so much an ordeal as it is a disappointment. I’d estimate that only 30% of my local grocery store is dedicated to unprocessed foods. Okay, in a way, it’s a blessing. I stick to the perimeter of the store and I’m done shopping in half an hour. But in another way, it’s disheartening. I can’t help wondering, What are Americans doing to themselves with all this junk?

Despite the hassles of giving up excuses and sticking 100% to AIP, there are benefits. As I mentioned before (and most importantly), my health is improving.  I sleep better. My elbows, wrists and hands no longer ache in the morning. I feel less stressed overall.

I’m becoming more in tune with my body. Since I can’t use the usual explanations (ahem, excuses) for aches and pains—things like, It’ll pass, It’s no big deal, I’ll feel better tomorrow—I’m paying attention to every signal my body produces. While going through caffeine withdrawals, I realized I was holding my body rigid at night. My head was literally hovering above my pillow. You’d think it would be easy to relax but I actually had to concentrate to allow my body to sink into the bed. What a difference that one observation made in the quality of my sleep!

My family is supportive. This is another big advantage because we’re all learning together. For the most part, my family eats what I eat for dinner. No complaints. They do have treats but they are mindful not to rub it in my face. And in my moments of weakness, when I am standing in the middle of the produce department, fuming that the grocery store doesn’t have the one thing I really want to eat, my family gently reminds me that this, too, is an excuse. I can do this. Even on a restricted diet, I do have options.

IMG_20131210_081132I think my favorite benefit, though, is that I’m retraining my brain. Building new habits. My eyes are now open to my old excuses.

I can’t fool me anymore!

 

Your turn. Is there an area of your life where you make excuses? Have you or someone you know been advised to try the Autoimmune Protocol diet?