Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Travel by Train

We recently took a very long train trip from Washington DC to Kansas City (through Chicago). We chose to ride the train for a number of reasons, but did you know that traveling by rail generates a lesser amount of carbon dioxide than by car or plane? Anyway, we had lots of fun, and here are some of our pictures! We had a roomette which had two beds, and a private door that closed. It also included meals in the dining car, and believe it or not, they had a vegan option! (You need to call ahead 72 hours prior to your travel to let them know.)

For more information about traveling green with Amtrak 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Easy DIY Organic Curtains

I can't sew very well. Seriously. So, if I can make these, you can too. First you need to gather your materials. I ordered my organic fabric online, because I have yet to find a brick and mortar store that sells it. I made four window panels, and assumed the standard 84" length. Therefore, I ordered enough to have 90" for each panel which would allow plenty of room for hems. Fabric that is 54" wide would be ideal, but 44" wide will work. My retailer shorted me about 6", sent me a new piece of fabric, and shorted me 6" again, so I just said whatever, and made one panel shorter than the rest. For four panels, you will need 10 yards of fabric. This leaves 2.5 yards (or 90") for each panel. I lined my curtains, because I wanted to help block the light so my munchkin could sleep better. Therefore, I ordered 20 yards total.I think one fabric was $7.98 a yard, and the other was on sale for $5.98 a yard, so $140 total. It might seem like a lot, but my other option was silk panels, and they were about $80 a panel.

You should probably wash your fabric first to prevent shrinkage when you need to wash your curtains later. After washing, and drying, promptly remove your fabric from the dryer to reduce the likelihood of wrinkles. I went ahead and ironed all of panels, as well. Now you want to lay the fabrics face to face like the picture above (with my white fabric, it didn't matter). Please note, that both of these panels were advertised to be 44" wide, but you can see the white panel is a bit wider.  With the panels right side together, you can sewone short side and one long side.

This part is important. Lay your pieces out on the floor and smooth out any wrinkles. Pin the other long side together with plenty of pins. Now sew this side as well. You should have three sides sewn together now.

Hang your curtain, and measure where to put your hem. Take your panel back to the ironing board, and iron up the two pieces of fabric as shown above. Turn your panel right side out, and pin your hem as shown below. 
 Your bottom hem should look like the picture below.

I also made a topstitch on the top of my curtain so that my clips would look better. My mom would tell me to press out all my seams at this point, but they don't bother me un-pressed.

I bought these curtain rings with clips at Ikea for $4 or something. They were ridiculously cheap. I just pinched the fabric together slightly, and clipped!
 The finished product! Now I have one less source of VOCs to worry about :)

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Endocrine Disruptors in Wall Decals

I still often find myself saying I had no idea. Then sometimes I find myself saying, I wish I had no idea. But, once you know, it is hard to go back.

I know you have seen some of the ridiculously cute wall decals out there for a child's room. They are all over Etsy and the options for customization are limitless. They seem like an easy and temporary decorating solution, but think again. Did you know most wall decals have polyvinyl chloride PVC in them?

Are you saying “so what?” to yourself?

I did too, until I knew about the effects that PVC can have on the body. There are several issues with PVC. For one thing, PVC contains phthalates, which are classified as endocrine disruptors. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), increased incidence of developmental abnormalities such as cleft palate, skeletal malformations, and increased fetal death has been reported with exposure to phthalates. Additionally, delayed puberty in both sexes, undescended testes, decreased testes weight and decreased anogential distance were observed in one study. In adult female rats, one type of phthalate exposure resulted in increased incidence of mononuclear cell leukemia and increased liver size.

On February 13, 2012, the EPA released a final rule on emissions for plants that produce PVC stating that, "Exposure to toxic air pollutants can cause respiratory problems and other serious health issues, and can increase the risk of developing cancer. In particular, children are known to be more sensitive to the cancer risks posed by inhaling vinyl chloride, one of the known carcinogens emitted by this source category.”

Unfortunately, phthalates are released from the PVC through the life of a product.

Ready for the good news?
There are some ridiculously cute fabric alternatives that are PVC-free!
Love Mae, an Australian company, has some great decals for your room or your child’s room.

Pop and Lolli, a US company, has some really whimisical designs that will keep your child’s imagination turning.

Chocovenyl, a UK company, has an array of fun designs sure to brighten up your child's room.

For more information on phthalates:
Research article from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences on prenatal exposure to phthalates as it relates to childhood behavior.

Research article linking childhood obesity with increased phthalate exposure.

Easy-to-read handout on phthalates and exposure.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Risks and Benefits- Autism and Ultrasounds?

There are moments in life when risks and benefits are clearly mapped out for most situations. There are also many moments when they are not. Having an ultrasound done is one of those moments. It isn’t like when you go to the grocery store and they have a small section labeled “natural” in every aisle. Have you noticed this? The rest of the aisle isn’t labeled. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to to realize that the rest of the food is in fact "not natural." You do however need to be a sleuth to realize the hidden dangers of ultrasounds to your fetus.

If you have a child, you probably have a keepsake image much like the one above of Terra. We had the standard ultrasound done at 20 weeks, and one more at 36 weeks to confirm she was not breech. We also had a "keepsake video" ultrasound done, though. I didn't know that there was any risk to having one done, and the tech (that had no ultrasound training and simply rented an OB office in the evening) certainly didn't tell us. For future reference, you can find an FDA bulletin on the matter, here.

I am going to make a jump here and point out that several scientists are now trying to understand if there is a link between autism -a wide spectrum of disorders- and ultrasounds. If you type "ultrasounds" into a search engine, "and autism" comes up as a query.

Since the CDC released it's report stating that 1 in 88 children are now diagnosed with autism, a multitude of studies have been published pointing out that environmental and genetic factors alike contribute to the likeliness that a child will be diagnosed with autism. It is clear that there is not one aspect that the disorder can be blamed on, but instead a multitude of factors that work together.

That being said, is it possible that ultrasound is one of those factors? How does ultrasound affect the cells in the growing fetus and embryo? It does two things. It heats the highlighted area and creates cavitation (the forming and collapsing of gaseous bubbles). The effect this has on normal cell growth is under question. It has been shown that it can damage the myelin that covers the nerves. In mice, it has been shown to cause less cell division and more cell death. Effects on humans include pre-term labor or miscarriage, low birth-weight, poorer condition at birth, dyslexia, delayed speech development, and less right-handedness. Furthermore, the cell abnormalities caused by exposure to ultrasound can persist for several generations.

A 2006 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) showed that mice exposed to ultrasound for 30 minutes or longer had "a small but statistically significant number of neurons fail to acquire their proper position and remain scattered within inappropriate cortical layers and/or in the subjacent white matter." Neurons develop in one part of the brain and move to the cerebral cortex after development, so if that movement is impacted, the development of the fetus could be compromised. The next year an editorial published in Obstetrics and Gynecology refuted the 2006 PNAS  study stating that is unlikely for pregnant women to be exposed to ultrasound for seven hours. It is unlikely to have a seven hour ultrasound scan, but it is not at all unlikely to have continuous electronic fetal monitoring at the hospital once you are in labor. And labor can last a very long time-mine was 39 hours! Electronic fetal monitoring uses the same technology as ultrasound. There is one difference. An ultrasound scans intermittently while an electronic fetal monitor scans continuously. Therefore, an ultrasound wand is only on for 1/1000 of a second and an electronic fetal monitor is on continuously.

In a proposed rule from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1979, it was stated that “the possible risks associated with diagnostic ultrasound are not fully understood.”  Furthermore, some of the “reported effects” of laboratory animals exposed to ultrasound in utero include “delayed neuromotor reflex development, altered emotional behavior, and fetal anomalies.” The proposed rule stated that the Commissioner believes “manufacturers should not state in advertising or promotional literature that diagnostic ultrasound is unequivocally safe.”

It is important to realize that correlation does not always equal causation, and just because someone has an ultrasound or two doesn't mean they will have a child with autism, but it is something to be aware of.  Ultrasound machines today are eight times more powerful than those tested when first approved. More studies need to be done on the long-term risks of ultrasounds. In the meantime, if we have a second child, we will definitely be foregoing all ultrasounds unless demanded by the midwife for medical reasons (and believe me, it will drive me a little crazy not knowing the sex of the baby), but I am not trying to add an environmental risk factor into the mix just to satisfy my impatient nature. I will trust my body and my baby. Remember that you have the right to know all the risks of any medical procedure being done, and you have the responsibility to be an informed consumer. You should speak with your health-care provider about the risks and benefits of any procedure bring done.

More information on autism and ultrasounds:
From the FDA on ultrasounds
An ultrasound and autism website
Mothering.com article 
Huffington Post article
Midwifery Today article
Studies about ultrasounds and autism:
A large ongoing study about autism from the CDC

Sunday, April 22, 2012

it's all a matter of opinion

My wonderful daughter recently celebrated her first birthday, and we made her a vegan cake from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I personally love the cupcakes found in this cookbook, but as you will see in the last few pictures, she hated them! Next year I am going to put a candle in a bowl full of hummus. I think that it will turn out much better! We also celebrated with a Lorax party. (pictures to come!)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Eco-friendly Easter goodies!

An eco-friendly Easter basket!

This was Terra's second Easter, and as I found myself collecting goodies for her basket, I wondered what in the world the Easter bunny has to do with Easter. I was unaware that Easter was originally a pagan festival that celebrated the return of spring with the Goddess Eastre who's earthly symbol was a rabbit. The Resurrection of Christ coincided with the celebrations, and this is where modern day Easter comes from.  Whether you celebrate the return of spring or the Resurrection of Christ, it is incredibly easy to do so while respecting the Earth!

Here is what the eco-friendly Easter rabbit brought Terra this year:
An environmentally friendly Peter Rabbit book:

A wooden lamb  made in the USA from post-industrial recycled wood and sustainably managed wood:

I would love to hear what do you do to celebrate Easter in a way that respects the Earth!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Over the Top - Increased Chemical Exposure is Making Our Children Dumber

Over the top. That’s what most people think I am. Most of my family. ALL of my friends.

Yes. I am a little more than paranoid about chemical exposure when it comes to Terra. We buy furniture that doesn’t emit VOCs, we bought a car because the interior was low-VOC. I only buy organic clothes and organic cloth diapers for her. We almost exclusively buy wooden toys that really are painted with non-toxic paints. I stopped painting my nails and coloring my hair when I found out I was pregnant. I stopped wearing perfume and threw out all my candles. I threw away everything in my cleaning and medicine cabinets. I threw out all my non-stick cookware. I have a ton of house plants because they help clean the air. We chose a house that doesn’t have carpet because of the chemicals used in the glue. Hell, I became vegan because I knew that it would be better for my someday child. The list really goes on and on. And most of these things, I honestly never thought about until I got pregnant. Suddenly, I was responsible for protecting this little body that was growing inside of me, and I decided to take my job very seriously.

Then there are things that are a little harder to control. I have old mercury fillings. Seriously. Who decided that putting mercury in our mouth was a good idea? Sometimes I get close to having a panic attack when I think about how much mercury Terra has in her body because of the pregnancy and because of breast-feeding. Now, I assume that breastfeeding is still better than formula even with my mercury fillings, because the breast is the normal healthy thing to do, but I still have minor panic attacks when I think about it. And I probably should.

Most people should take notice of the chemical exposure for their little ones. Pregnant women and children are much more vulnerable to chemical exposure than healthy adults. Recently, an article was published on Environmental Health News that estimates that lead alone could be related to a 23 million point IQ loss in the U.S. population of children. Organophosphate pesticides could explain a 17 million IQ point loss, and methylmercury a 300,000 IQ point loss.

What does it mean, and what can you do?

You can reduce your child’s exposure to organophosphates by buying organic produce.

More information on organophosphates from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a study from the National Institute of Health about prenatal exposure of organophosphates and the cognitive ability of children.

Most lead exposure comes from paint, and if your house was built before 1978, it likely has lead paint. The risk of exposure is very minor, however if your paint is not chipping or flaking. Lead can also be found in the soil outside of your house, though. It is best to always wash hands and toys after playing in the dirt. 

Lead soldering for pipes was used until 1986, so while your exposure to lead from source water is actually very low, you can have quite a bit of exposure through your pipes if your house was built before 1986. You can reduce your exposure to lead from your drinking water by running your water until it is completely cold, especially if the faucet has not been used in six hours. You should also never drink or cook with hot water as the lead content will be higher.

More information about lead and lead in your drinking water from the EPA.

Methylmercury exposure primarily comes from eating fish. The chemical bioaccumulates in aquatic life, and therefore, fish that eat other fish will have higher levels of the chemical.
For more information on methylmercury from the U.S. Geological Survey and from the EPA.

The good news is that the human body is incredibly resilient, especially when we feed it right, so make sure your kiddos are getting their fruits and veggies!