Tuesday, September 16, 2014

It's Back To Germ Time...I mean "School"

Well, it was bound to happen.  We made it to day 14 of school before the first illness hit!  My son slowly scuffed into my bedroom this morning to declare, "Mommy, my node is tuffed-up."  Change of plans...appointments cancelled, school called, chest rub on, heat pack warmed, couch fluffed, blanket on.  Since picture day is tomorrow "Operation Kill Cold" is in full effect!  First line of defense = no clogging, mucous producing dairy (thankfully gluten and refined sugars have already been ditched from his diet)!  A little bit of fruit for Vitamin C & antioxidants (mostly berries), and a cup of Mountain Rose Herbs "5th Chakra Tea," were first in his system.  Though this tea is targeted toward sore throats (which thankfully my little one doesn't seem to have), it is full of immune-boosting, soothing, hard-hitters: organic Licorice root, organic Marshmallow root, organic Echinacea purpurea root, organic Orange peel, organic Cinnamon bark, organic Ginger root, organic Fennel seed, and organic Cloves.

Next I threw together an immune-boosting smoothie: banana, almond milk, sunflower seed butter, coconut oil, chia seeds, a tiny bit of cocoa powder and honey, and a whole lot of food-based Vitamin C powder - Nature's Way Alive Vitamin C Powder is a must-have.  It is made from organic acerola fruit, organic goji fruit, organic kiwi fruit, organic alma fruit, and organic manioc root...and you can use just as much as you need.  He loved the smoothie, and I felt good about filling him with easily digestible nutrients.  Just what he needs!  Keeping foods light and blended (broken-down) leave the energy that would be used for digestion for germ-fighting instead.  Also, remember to make each thing you can get into ailing kids' mouths count by keeping it nutrient dense.

LtoR: "5th Chakra Tea" by Mountain Rose Herbs, Immune-Boosting Smoothie, Nature's Way Alive! Vitamin C Powder, Eucalyptus Essential Oil, Nourish Organics Chest Rub (Heat Pack in Front)
Essential oils are also part of our line-up, with Eucalyptus taking center stage to clear airways and fight germs.  Put a few drops in a carrier oil (like coconut, olive, jojoba), and rub it on chests and bottoms of feet.  Then I like to heat up a hot-pack (not too hot) and lay it across my son's chest, spine, or feet.  Staying warm is key!  Additional oils you can incorporate are: Frankincense, Lavender, and Oregano...the list is endless, but always check that they are safe for use on children (and test on your skin first to see if they irritate you).  You can also diffuse or steam the oils for inhalation.

For more helpful hints on how to both prevent and speed-up the "yuckies," check out my previous posts:
Eschew The Flu (Shot or Not)
Home Remedies (Call Me Crazy)

For those wondering what's on the menu for lunch...gluten-free toast topped with coconut oil, chicken broth with added garlic, scallions, and seaweed (minced or strained out before eating), and mashed winter squash.  All with more tea, of course!

I hope these tips have helped.  May the force be with you this school season!

Monday, September 1, 2014

HEARTy Snack Attack

Hi, Friends!  It's been a while.  I hope Spring and Summer have been warm and kind to you!  I have filed away so many blog topics over the last few months, but I only took the time to sit down and write out complete posts for a few.  Then in my chronic indecisiveness about what my "comeback post" should be I never got around to posting anything!  Ever since the end of August hit I am having nightly dreams about being in college again (I wish!), and I find myself motivated to get back to writing.

Soooooo...in honor of Labor Day I am here to share a company's (and family's) labor of love!

As I was still busy hemming and hawing about what to share with you next, it was decided for me.  I was blissfuly perusing one of my favorite local health stores for new goodies when I hit the jackpot!  As many of you know I have been on an extremely strict diet to manage my health condition...and the hardest need for me to fill is for SNACKS!  It is challenging to live freely when you are constantly worried about being stuck somewhere with nothing you can (safely) eat.  There have been many times I have been out having fun with my son, not paying attention to time, when I start to crash (hypoglycemia kicks in)...and I am stuck.

Back to my happy discovery...I turned a corner in the store and spotted a logo I had never seen before.  My senses perked up at the possibility that it might be something I could eat!  I picked-up the welcoming, beautifully designed bag of "Jackson's Honest Potato Chips" and quickly turned it over.  Three ingredients...YES, 3 ingredients...sweet potatoes, coconut oil, sea salt!  I almost did a backflip!  I got them home and ripped them open...DELICIOUS!!!  It made me teary!  They were rich, buttery, light, indulgent, and satisfying...exactly what is missing in my days!  Since I don't eat white potatoes I had to wait for my husband and son to try the regular "Sea Salt" chips and give me their critique.  "Yummy and great...and healthy!" my son exclaimed with excitement!  My husband takes these things very seriously, and after slowly savoring a few he agreed with our son and added that the salt on the chips is "subtle, but not too subtle...perfect!"

An Awesome Snack Anytime! - L to R Sea Salt Potato Chips & Sea Salt Sweet Potato Chips
"Jackson's Honest" also makes "Salt + Vinegar" and "Mango Chili Lime" flavors with their white organic potatoes, but we have not found those varieties locally yet.  I am most excited about the sweet potato chips, because this is the first time I have been able to find ORGANIC sweet potato chips!  Another unique aspect of these chips is that they are cooked in one of the best oils out there...COCONUT.  Sweet potatoes are excellent sources of nutrition for many reasons, but in particular for their levels of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.  They also help us "eat the rainbow" each day.  Bright colors from whole foods should be an important part of our plan for boosting our health!    Coconut oil has more health benefits that I can even list.  If you are interested in learning more check out an old post from my previous blog here: "The Incredible, Edible...COCONUT!"  Sea salt also helps balance electrolytes and adrenals, among many other things.

Once I fall in love with a product my next step is to head to the company's website to learn more and send them some gratitude!  I have read some pretty amazing "About Us" stories, but this time I was truly blown away.  My heart was so moved by the "Jackson's Honest Potato Chips" story that again the tears were flowing.  I am beyond inspired by this family, their journey, and their mission.  They truly are a gift to the world, and I have so much love for them.  Don't take my word for it, WATCH THEIR STORY for yourself (you will be so glad you did):

Ok, dry your eyes and listen to me...BUY THESE CHIPS!!!  Click here to go to the "Jackson's Honest Chips" website and search under "Store Locations" to find a retailer near you.  If there isn't one, go to your favorite local stores and ask them to carry these products.  I have learned a lot about "ask and you shall receive!"  Or you can just order them online.  At our house we love to make our own chips - sweet potato, beet, rutabaga, etc...but sometimes you just want something you can grab, something that makes life easier!  Also, since we bake our chips (being around hot oils freaks me out a little, and I don't want to clean up after it either!), these chips satisfy my cravings for serious crunch (which you just can't get from baking).  As a health-conscious parent I have such a hard time finding "honestly" healthy snack and lunch items to pack for my precious child.  "Jackson's Honest Potato Chips" are something you can feel GREAT about eating and sharing with loved ones...all while supporting a very special company.  Therefore it does your heart doubly good, and what's better than that?!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Vitamins Galore or Less Is More?

Once again there has been a bit of dead air on here…sorry!  At least the reasons for my "blog breaks" usually end up making good topics for my comeback blog posts!  For quite a while my doctor has been urging me to start chelating (drawing out) the heavy metals from my body.  To give you a little background info…for people with chronic illnesses it is important to look at many factors to see just what is keeping them sick.  One of the possibilities is chronic (not to be confused with acute) heavy metal toxicity.  For me we performed a hair test.  It showed that I have heavy metals in my body, but not in my hair, which suggests that I do not excrete (or detox/get rid of) the metals on my own.  My bod needs some assistance.  You may be thinking…heavy metal toxicity?  How does that even happen?  Most of us are exposed to heavy metals every day.  It all comes down to the amount of exposure and how well our bodies get rid of them.  For systems that are already overburdened with chronic illness it is even more challenging.  For example, one of my highest levels of metal was Barium, and in my lifetime I have done 2-3 (that I can remember) contrast x-ray tests (hence guzzling the chalky white stuff).  The most recent being about 7 years ago, but it's still hanging out in there.  Guess what else has Barium?  Chapstick!  Back in the day I applied that gunk like every 5 minutes!  I can't even think about the pounds of petroleum, dyes, Barium, etc. I ate while doing so!  YUCK!  To learn more about other sources of heavy metals, check out these articles:  "32 Surprising Sources of Toxic Heavy Metals" & "Heavy Metal Toxicity Depression & Anxiety."

It's a whole other subject (worth its own post), but I cannot write about heavy metals without at least mentioning vaccines.  I am not trying to stir-up a highly controversial topic here, but they are part of the heavy metal toxicity puzzle.  Have you ever looked at the ingredient list for any given vaccine?  It's not pretty (straight from the CDC - Vaccine Ingredients - keep in mind that where you see "thimerosal" = mercury, and I think you probably have an idea of what formaldehyde is).  It makes me so sick to think about injecting my son with those toxins, but I did it.  I agonized over my decision, but I also didn't want my son to get some horrendous disease, because I would never forgive myself.  Also, unless things change, if he ever wants to go to college he will be forced to get them at that time (and all at once no less).  However, if I was going to do vaccines (against my better judgement) I was going to do them my way.  I had them administered on a delayed schedule, and only 1 shot at a time (with many weeks in-between).  Thank God, because my son had scary reactions to 2 of the vaccines, and if he had 4-5 in one visit (as suggested) we never would have known to which ones.  Do I think vaccines cause Autism?  Not entirely, but I do believe they are part of the toxic-overload for a child that contributes to things like ADD/ADHD and Autism.  Our children are born with a disgusting amount of toxins already in their bodies from maternal exposure alone (environment, personal care products, pesticides, etc.), but then add to that what they are exposed to after birth - what they put in their mouths, what they crawl around in on the floor, what they play with (yes, toys and art supplies - see "Heavy Metals"), what they eat, and what we inject them with!   A child's reaction depends on the strength of their immune system and what they have already been exposed to (as well as genetics).  We all have a toxic "limit," but it is different for every body, and children are way more susceptible.  That is why I think many parents blame a vaccine for their child's Autism, ADD/ADHD, hyperactivity, allergies, etc., because they see the change in their child occur following the shot(s).  I see it as a child reaching their "toxic limit," and it presents differently for each one…for some it's Autism.  So sad!  There HAS to be a better way to make vaccines (and all the other junk in our environment)!

In my current situation I could think, "Why me?!"…but I know why.  Contact lens solution from the tender age of twelve (mercury), antiperspirant as my bosom buddy (aluminum and other nasties - see "It's The Pits!"), pesticides in my food and environment, and of course the bazillions of toxins I never was (and never will be) aware of.  (I am SO thankful I never had a cavity and needed a filling!)  I can't go back, but now I am armed with awareness to protect myself and my family...which is why I am sharing all of this with you.  It is not for us to go completely nuts and be afraid of every little thing, but instead to use our knowledge to reduce our inevitable exposures.

Well, apparently "less is more" does not apply to my writing style, because I am JUST getting back to the original subject!  Whoops!  :-)  Sooooo…it has been a good, long while of me staring at the bottle of Zeolite (mineral that binds to metals and toxins), waiting for the perfect time to "try"it.  With my track record of sensitivity I am always a little reluctant to start something new.  I also know that it is important to have your digestion in an optimal state before starting something like this (which I have still not reached).  This week I just got to a point of feeling like I have to "dive-in" if I really want to get completely better.  My doctor feels that some of my lingering symptoms (hypersensitivity/allergies, digestion not healing, etc.) could be from the heavy metals.  So earlier this week I popped my first Zeolite pill around mid-day.  That night, two hours after going to bed, I was wide awake like I had never fallen asleep.  Then the rest of the night consisted of 15-30 minute way-weird-very-vivid dreams that made me jump awake and toss and turn…over and over and over…then I couldn't go back to sleep past 5:00AM…one reason being that I was starving beyond belief.  Ugh!  I took the pill again the next day, and that night the same thing.  Then again one more time before calling my doctor to explain the whole thing.  There was a lot of "Hmmm, that's strange…that shouldn't happen," which I am used to at this point.  The final verdict was to stop taking the Zeolite, but that wasn't enough for me.  In my true fashion I had to find out "why."  Based on my symptoms the first things that popped into my head were "serotonin" and "neurotransmitters."  I went into full-on research mode, and I learned a lot, but I didn't make what I found to be the perfect connection I was looking for…the one that would make me say "that's it!"  I had noticed that my bottle of pills listed "Calcium" and "Vitamin B-12" (to the tune of 1000% daily value) in addition to the Zeolite.  I started to wonder if one of those was the real problem.  Back when I first got really sick my blood work showed a crazy-high level of B-12, but I was told that was no big deal.  Ok, but it still stood out to me.  Maybe I have some sort of issue with B-12?!

This morning after giving up on sleep I pulled out my computer and got back to my research.  Then I hit the "jackpot."  The e-mail I sent to my husband and mother was actually titled, "Bingo!"  Though extremely sleep-deprived (and feeling psychotic) you couldn't wipe the smile off my face!  There is nothing like an ANSWER!  It usually doesn't bring back what you have lost or damaged (in this case sleep and my body/mind), but it sure makes you feel less crazy when no one else can figure out what is going on…or worse yet tells you nothing is "wrong!"  The golden nugget I found and MUST share: "Are Vitamins Triggering Your Anxiety?" by Dr. Timothy Marshall.  READ IT!  Just as I suspected it connects B-12 to neurotransmitter issues!  Dr. Marshall states, "Like B6, high doses of B12 (>1000 mcg) increase neurotransmitter levels, and as a result, has stimulating properties."  Yup!  And this isn't the first time a vitamin and/or supplement has made my body go haywire and my mind feel crazy, and now I know WHY!  I also love these genius points from the article, "The thing you want to keep in mind is that ALL vitamins are metabolic activators...As you increase the dose, vitamins begin acting more like a drug. Since everyone is a little different in this respect, it's always best to start out at a low dose to see how your body responds, and how you feel. Only makes sense, right?"  It is a very important reminder that the exact things we are doing/taking FOR our health can be part of why we can't get better.  Every BODY is different, and we need to keep the whole picture in mind.  Trust me…as I sit here as the poster child of "tired but wired" (more like utterly exhausted).  Who needs "Speed" when you can just OD on Vitamin B-12?!

With each trial-and-error step on this long healing journey I am convinced more and more that our bodies hold the greatest wisdom.  They know what they need, and we need to listen and be very selective with what we put in them and on them…even if it claims to improve our health!  With a healthy diet, exercise, good sleep, and stress management, we should have most of what we need to be healthy.  And don't forget...YOU know YOUR body and mind BEST!  Keep your navigation of them simple…less is more!

(Disclaimer: This post was written at a time of extreme exhaustion and restlessness, please excuse typos and things that don't make sense!  :-)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Home Remedies (Call Me Crazy)

Sorry it's been a little while, but in a minute you will understand why...

I might call this "Part 2" of my post about how to avoid getting sick (Eschew The Flu).  This one's about what to do if you do end up getting some sort of nasty-yuckiness (or if you are just not feeling your best).  I will share some of the home remedies I have been using lately, but this is only the tip of the do-it-yourself-wellness iceberg!

There has been some weirdness going on at our house lately.  Stomach cramping/off digestion for me, and a little bit of a cold (also in one eye) for the little mister.  When things like this surface I am reminded of my transformation from helpless victim to a super problem solver.  I have gone from jumping on WebMD to find out the many things I could be dying from to searching for natural ways to aid the body in healing itself.  The fact of the matter is that we have become a society that heavily relies on doctors to diagnose and prescribe for every little symptom that pops-up.  I am here to tell you that you have the power to help yourself and your loved ones through many health-related situations.  **(Obviously I am not a doctor, and you should always use common sense, proceed with caution, and keep your child's age and condition in mind when assessing the use of home remedies!  Seek medical attention if needed!)**

When my son starts showing signs of coming down with something the first thing we do is start sipping herbal tea.  Sometimes I give him a blend specific for his symptoms, but generally he loves peppermint and licorice teas, and both are good for tummy and upper-respiratory issues.  I also immediately reduce (or cut out) dairy intake.  Sugar must go completely, except for maybe a little fruit.  Eating less meat also gives the digestive tract a break so all of the body's energy can go to healing.  Keeping all fluids and food WARM keeps the chill away and the body in fighting mode (unless there is a high fever that you are trying to relieve).  I also add some of my Vitamin C powder to his drinks.  I absolutely love "Nature's Way Alive! Vitamin C," because it is organic, 100% whole-food based, very gentle on the stomach, and it is a powder so you can adjust the dose very easily.  I also make extra sure that my son gets his usual daily probiotic dose, because I know it is even more important during illness.

Another favorite thing we do at our house is detox/essential oil baths.  For my son I keep it simple…about 4-5 drops each of Eucalyptus and Lavender oil in an ounce or so of almond milk…shake it up and throw it in a very warm bath.  Sometimes I use other oils, depending on symptoms, but be sure to always read to learn about safe oils for children and certain conditions (and only use 100% pure essential oils).  To read about the detox cocktail I whip-up for myself, check out this old post, "Soak It Up…Or Out!"  The bath routine is usually followed-up by some chest rub (I LOVE these 3 brands: House Blend OrganicsLuSa Organics, & Erbaviva) on the neck, chest, outside of ears, under nose, and bottoms of the feet (covered up by socks to keep the feet nice and warm).

The latest cold my son had went into one of his eyes, too.  Ever since he was a baby he has had one eye that is his "weak spot."  This same eye had a clogged tear duct off and on during infancy, and then later he ended up with Orbital Cellulitis as a toddler (not something to mess with).  It is the eye most irritated by allergies, too.  It seems like many times when he gets a cold that one eye gets yucky.  This time it was worse than usual, and I started to worry about conjunctivitis.  I did lots of reading, used my own noggin,' and busted out my best Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.  I read that tea bags are good for swelling/redness, so I thought I would give that a try.  Then I remembered using the gel from Vitamin E caps on my own eyes for dryness and irritation, and I had been told that castor oil is also healing for eyes, so I started thinking about what might be good (and safe) to try for my son.  I decided that coconut oil is very safe, and it has amazing antibacterial and antiviral properties.  Just what the "doctor" ordered!  Twice a day (morning and night) we did tea-bag-compress-sessions, followed by a little coconut oil all around the upper and lower lids and corner of the eye.  Within days it was healed!

As for my digestive flare-ups...when I need quick relief two things are my best friends - 1. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) and 2. Activated Charcoal.  You can learn more about DGL here, but basically it is good for indigestion/stomach upset and is like popping Tums (only better for you).  I use "Enzymatic Therapy DGL (Fructose Free)."  Activated Charcoal is good for gastroenteritis, stomach viruses & bacteria, poisoning (food poisoning…and some use it for hangovers, etc.), gas/bloating.  To read more about Activated Charcoal check out these sources: Wellness Mama & The Nourishing Gourmet.  I would most closely compare its uses to that of Pepto Bismol (only without the dyes and other additives).  The cool thing about Activated Charcoal (and Pepto Bismol, for that matter) is that it can also be used as a preventative (like for stomach viruses and "travelers issues").  Right after Christmas my son had the "throw-ups," so I started taking Activated Charcoal, and thankfully I didn't catch it.  If you do end up with a stomach virus, food poisoning, or stomach upset, Activated Charcoal speeds up recovery, which is always appreciated!  The brand I use is "Nature's Way Activated Charcoal."  It really grabs on to toxins/irritants and flushes them out of your system!

I know that these are a random array of home remedies, but they are very relevant in my life right now, so I thought I would share while they are top of mind.  I hope they will bring healing and relief to you and yours…and cut down on calls and visits to the doctor!  "You are capable of more than you know" (E. O. Wilson).  Please share your home remedy successes in the comments section!

Now sing it with me…(sung to the tune of "Call Me Maybe"):
I just read this,
From a home remedy lady.
Now I'm gonna try it,
So call me crazy!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Eschew The Flu (Shot or Not)

'Tis the season…everyone mashed into malls and movie theaters everywhere, sharing everything we've got!  Since the flu-shot is such a controversial topic I will not be delving into that one.  As is the case with all vaccines, both sides (for & against) have an equal number of arguments/evidence/opinions.  Much like your choice of political party the flu-shot decision is a very personal one.  As for my family...no flu-shots for us.  No matter what you decide(d), we can all use tips to avoid getting sick.  There are a lot more bacteria and viruses out there than just the flu!

My first bit of advice would be to participate in outdoor activities as much as possible…fresh (not recycled) air and more space between you and others is always healthier.  I know this is not always possible or realistic considering how nasty Winter weather can get.  Next, I will remind you of some of the germiest (I know, not a word) things we come in contact with…top of my list is CELL PHONES!  I wipe mine down every day using one of my favorite products, "Seventh Generation Disinfecting Wipes."  Though my son loves buttons and electronics we don't just hand our phones over to him, and this is one of the reasons why.  One time when he was around two-years-old I came around the corner to find a friend/family member showing him how to play on their phone.  Within two days he came down with some yucky illness that had him covered in a speckled rash and spiking a fever.  Who knows if there was a connection, but I thought so.  According to NBC News, cell phones have 500 times the bacteria of a toilet (not sure if that's true, but they are gross nonetheless)!  Other icky items to keep in mind (public bathrooms & transportation are obvious ones) include: purses (keep them off from your counters and tables), reusable grocery bags (be careful where you place these as well), shopping cart handles (wipe 'em down), gas pumps, and electronic devices.  For other things you might not think of, and ways to protect yourself, check out these articles: "Your Cell Phone and Other Things that May Be Dirtier Than Your Toilet," and "Soap up!  The 12 germiest places in your life."

By now we all know that one of the main ways to keep ourselves healthy is hand washing.  Here's the thing…if we aren't doing it "right" it isn't doing us much good.  Guess what?  Most of us are failing miserably with this one.  According to a Michigan State University study only 5% of people are washing their hands correctly…learn more here: http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2013/eww-only-5-percent-wash-hands-correctly/  My favorite hand soap is CleanWell's Foaming Hand Soap.  Remember, be sure to dry your hands thoroughly or germs stay on your hands!  I also used to be a hand sanitizer freak until I realized that it could be doing a lot of harm, too.  Not only do some reports claim that hand sanitizers don't work, some state that they are quite toxic.  During those times when I am out and about and can't wash my hands I prefer the EO (EWG rating = 0) or CleanWell (EWG rating = 1) hand sanitizer sprays (or wipes).  And whatever you do don't touch/rub your eyes…in a pinch at least use the back of your hand!  If you have to have vision correction, wearing glasses (instead of contacts) adds a little protection from those spit-talkers, coughs, and sneezes.  Speaking of which...

Hand hygiene gets you so far, but of course there is sneezing and coughing (and even talking and breathing) which send germs out into the air we breathe (check out "The Gross Science of a Cough and a Sneeze.")  Short of wearing a mask (which most of us don't do) it feels like there isn't much we can do to protect ourselves from airborne pathogens.  This is where self-care comes in.  Sleep and optimal nutrition  are obvious ones, but regularly blowing your nose and gargling help to clear out germs that can linger in your nasal passages for 24-48 hours.  Here are some more tips from one of my favorite places, Kripalu: "Five Tips for Revving Up Your Immune System."

As a side note…if you had a child in the Winter months, then that means annual "well-visits" at the doctor's office during the least ideal time of the year.  I suggest not letting your kids play with the toys in the waiting room!  I have had friends tell me that they have taken their kids to the doctor for one thing and come home with another (very frequently picking up pink eye).  I have been known to bribe my son with a new toy/treat/something else that is special (like watching TV, since he doesn't get to do that often) to keep away from the books and toys in the waiting area.  Whatever it takes!

There are a couple of other tips and tricks we use at our house.  We have a big, old stainless steel pot (no longer in good enough shape for cooking), and I put boiling water in it with some essential oils known for killing germs and clearing airways - Eucalyptus, Frankincense, Lavender, Lemon, Thieves, etc.  Sometimes we set-up little "towel tents" and breathe over the steam, or we just leave it on the stove (or in a bedroom).  As I also talk about in my post about our fave humidifier units, we dispense essential oils through them as well when there is stuff going around.  (Note: If you are going to use essential oils they must be very high quality or they could be toxic, and some are harmful to children, etc…so learn before you use.)  We also increase our intake of garlic, ginger, coconut oil, and other culinary health warriors that are known to kill germs.  I suggest loading-up on other superfoods like goji berries, as well (learn more here: http://thewholepickture.blogspot.com/2014/01/a-berry-good-switch.html).  I prefer getting vitamins and nutrients from food, but supplementing with Vitamin D3, Vitamin C, and Fish Oil are other good ways to pump up your immune system.

Also, remember that it is very important to keep your body warm.  Once in the body, germs don't like heat which is why we get a temperature/fever to kill them.  Throwing an extra sweatshirt on, or tossing a hot water bottle into your bed, keeps your circulation pumping.  This keeps vital oxygen and nutrients moving to all of your systems and organs during this stagnant, freeze-up time of year.  Acupuncture is yet another way we keep our bodies functioning at their optimal levels.

Hopefully this information will help you and your family dodge the flu bullet (and other illnesses) this season and throughout the year!  Stay warm, well, and whole!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Looking For A Snuggle Buddy?

Just the other day, as we were crossing February 13th off the calendar, my son happily declared that it is only a month until Valentine's Day!  My mind started racing about what joyful (and healthy) little things I could surprise him with this year.  He absolutely LOVES his stuffed animals, and I allow him to sleep with them…basically ALL of them, because I remember what it was like to love my little buddies and want them to be comfortable, too.  What I don't love is what most stuffed animals are made from (I won't get into it in this post, but a simple "Google" search will fill you in).  It is a "health battle" I have decided not to fight, because I know that I simply can't cut every single toxic thing out of our lives.  Unfortunately there is a big-time lack of cute, cuddly, non-toxic animal friends out there.  That is why I was THRILLED to find Herbal Animals.  I am sharing an old post from my former blog to get you in the loop.  Pick some up for your loved ones this Valentine's Day!  (BONUS = Use the coupon code: "PANDAMONIUM" to get 20%-off your entire order!)

Two of our "Herbal Animals" buddies: Aristurtle & Mary Tiger Moore

May 21, 2012
Product Review - Herbal Animals

I thought I would lighten things up a bit with a little product review.  I know I have mentioned that all of my healthcare providers keep stressing that SLEEP is THE MOST IMPORTANT key to my healing process.  I know it is true, but it continues to be something I struggle with.  For one, the Lyme has really messed with my thyroid, hormones, adrenals, etc...hence causing crazy sleep habits.  Another issue is what my hypnotherapist calls "Mommy Syndrome."  It's when you finally reach the end of the day...everyone else is in bed (and staying put), everything is cleaned up and put away, and what's that sound?!  SILENCE!  It is that time that you want to relish...put your feet up, watch a show, open a book...but it is already 10PM!  It is hard to give up that little slice of beautiful "me time" to do whatever you want for yourself, but as I am reminded: SLEEP IS MORE IMPORTANT!

I have tried lots of different things in the last year, for many different issues.  As far as sleep goes I have tried melatonin...it gave me an upset stomach.  Docs wanted to put me on sleep pills...no thanks.  I tried sleep teas, but they seemed to hype me up more.  Then I came across Herbal Animals.  I was immediately impressed by the fact that they are made from 100% certified organically grown herbs, seeds, and cotton...and made in the USA.  When I first found them I thought, "how cute" for my 3-year-old son (who happens to have some sleep issues, too!)  I planned to get him a bunny for his Easter basket, and a dolphin to go with his ocean-themed room.  Then I thought...hey, why not get a few more?!  I got one for myself and one for each of my parents.

I purchased the eye pillows (they also make neck pillows), which when placed on your eyes put pressure on just the right points to bring relaxation.  We sleep with them in our beds, and my son knows that when he can't sleep he just needs to squeeze his little herbal buddy to activate the herbs.  They smell great, and I really do believe in the power of herbs.  My family and friends now call me a "hippie," which is fine with me.  I feel strongly that we all need to get back to a more natural way of living, healing, and managing whatever issues arise.

Herbal Animals make great gifts, or a fun treat for yourself...at any age!  They are adorable, and I assure you that you will get a kick out of their creative names.  For instance, mine is "Mary Tiger Moore."  I chose her specifically for her herbal combination, but she is also too cute!  If you don't know much about what each herb is most beneficial for, each critter has a description on the site to give you some guidance.  Check it out...it is something unique and beneficial, and it is a company I feel great about supporting.  They donate to Feed the Children, The Humane Society, and Save the Children - all wonderful causes!  They are also super sweet - they sent me a free t-shirt and a thank-you note for my order.  Herbal Animals have brought sweeter dreams to our house...and lots of smiles, too!

Herbal Animals website: www.herbal-animals.com

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Malignant Moisturizer?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: our skin is our biggest organ, and it drinks up everything we put on it.  I still feel that deodorant should be the #1 thing you "green" in your routine, but body lotion/moisturizer is a very close 2nd.  Just think of the area you cover with whatever you use to hydrate your skin…head to toe, or at least neck to ankle we'll say!  Skin is very thin, and whatever is in your lotion goes right into your bloodstream and throughout your body.  Think I am being over-dramatic?  Think about the patches used for medicinal purposes (pain, birth control, quitting smoking, etc.)…how do you think they work?  I know it is a bold statement, but I mean it, don't use products on your body that you aren't willing to eat!  Some argue that you would actually be better off eating toxic substances than putting them on your skin.  Dr. Joseph Mercola states, "When you eat something, the enzymes in your saliva and stomach help to break it down and flush it out of your body.  However, when you put these chemicals on your skin, they are absorbed straight into your bloodstream without filtering of any kind, going directly to your delicate organs."  Once again I want to stress that this is particularly important for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers…your baby absorbs and eats what you put in and on your body, and little ones are far more susceptible to toxins!

I will do my best not to bore you with too many descriptions and details of every toxic ingredient, but one that needs to be on your radar is: MINERAL OIL.  Mineral oil is petroleum-based (a byproduct of distilled crude oil).  The difference between the mineral oil in personal care products and what goes in your car is how refined it is.  (Just to jog your memory…remember the lesson on paraffins in my post about candles?)  There are varying reports and opinions on exactly how dangerous mineral oil is, but it doesn't sound so appealing to me.  I cringe to think about how much baby oil I slathered on my-teenage-self before passing out in the sun for hours (I am lucky I didn't overheat, because mineral/baby oil clogs your pores, too).  Thankfully I never used it on my baby!  Some popular mineral oil-based lotions (Dermabase, Dermovan, Eucerin, and Vanicream) have been found to significantly increase skin cancer development (at least in mice).  Please check it out for yourself to learn more: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/moisturizers-linked-to-skin-cancer/ AND http://www.nature.com/jid/journal/v129/n2/full/jid2008241a.html.  Look into it for yourself, and then you decide.

I can't stress enough the importance of reading labels!  I suggest printing out a handy list like this one (http://mylittleboobcancer.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/toxicshoppinglist.jpg) to take along with you when you go shopping.  Also, as I mentioned before, EWG's Skin Deep website is my #1 resource for checking the safety of personal care products.  There is also the Think Dirty App, which I am planning to download.  I have a perfect example of how lax I can be with all of this at times.  A year or two ago I was at Whole Foods doing my usual perusing when I spotted a new hand cream on-sale.  I smelled each scent and picked one or two I really liked.  I looked at the label, was pretty impressed with what I saw, and ignored the one or two ingredients I didn't recognize/couldn't pronounce.  The rest of it looked good, so I figured, "how bad could it be?"  We threw one in each of our cars and used them frequently on our dry hands.  One of them resurfaced the other day, so I started using it again on my Winter-hands.  Today I gathered it up with my other lotions for review and finally did the due diligence before I put it out there as a suggestion for you.  I was quite upset to find a pretty toxic ingredient (Ceteareth-20) in my wonderful "Nubian" hand cream after all of this time!  Ugh!  Had to say "good riddance" to that one!

My top lotion picks (L to R): 4 Desert Essence scents, Acure Unscented, Annmarie Gianni Body Oil, & Nourish Organics Lavender Mint
I think you get The WHOLE PICKture, so now for the part you have been waiting for…my suggestions!  My #1 choice for body lotion is…
*1.  Acure Body Lotion (7oz. for $9.99 [regular price]) - I have been using this one on my whole body, everyday, for quite a while now.  My favorite (especially when my skin is feeling sensitive) is the "cocoa butter + coq10 ultra-hydrating unscented body lotion."  One of the things I love about this lotion it how fast it sinks in, leaving not even a trace of greasiness.  That means you can rub it into your hands and instantly type on your computer, answer the phone, help your little one with their zipper, etc…  It is great for throughout-the-day use, and it doesn't stain clothing.  One drawback to this quality is that it doesn't seem to really heal the rougher skin patches, so I use something else for overnight repair.  The ingredient list is quite good, too (it gets a safer rating than Desert Essence from EWG).  I love the story behind Acure as well as their philosophy.  I find their products featured and on-sale at Whole Foods and other local health stores, and there are many websites you can purchase them from as well.  I use all of their shampoos & conditioners (review coming up), and as I mentioned in an earlier post I look forward to trying their facial care line in the future.

*2.  Desert Essence Hand & Body Lotion (8oz. for $9.99 [regular price]) - (Definitely NOT to be confused with "Herbal Essences!")  The closest thing I have had to a tie so far, it is hard to call this lotion my 2nd choice.  This lotion is very rich and creamy, which is not always the case with the more pure products out there.  It leaves my skin feeling very hydrated and happy…not greasy at all!  Most importantly it has an ingredient list you can feel pretty good about.  I have pretty much used every scent they make (including the "Pumpkin Spice Hand Repair Cream.")  When I am feeling particularly sensitive and irritated I go with the "Fragrance Free" variety, which is what I use the most.  I keep the "Bulgarian Lavender" next to my bed, because it is so soothing and relaxing, which is great right before hitting the hay.  My whole family loves the "Coconut Lime" scent, because it is so uplifting and fresh!  We keep it stashed in many easy-to-grab places around the house.  (Just remember, more fragrance usually means not as easy on your body.)  I find the price very reasonable compared to what I would consider their competitors.  I also discover it on-sale quite a bit at Whole Foods and the many online stores that carry these products.  RUN to the Desert Essence website now for 30%-off these lotions and their other gluten-free (another bonus) products (www.desertessence.com) - that makes the lotions $6.29 each, which is a steal, so stock-up!  (I also use their shampoos & conditioners, which I will be reviewing in an upcoming post.) 

*3. Annmarie Gianni Coconut Body Oil (100ml [roughly 3.4 oz.] for $29.95) - This is an absolutely amazing body oil.  It is very nourishing and healing for your skin and body.  I challenge you to find a more pure ingredient list.  It is the real deal!  The one drawback is the price.  When I was really sick I used it every day, but now it is more of a once-a-week (or a little more in the Winter) treat.  Use it right after your shower or bath (or even add some to your bath) to lock in moisture.  I like to use it after detoxing in the sauna, because I know my pores are even more open to drinking up whatever I put on my skin, so I want to make sure it is as pure as possible.  Sign-up on the Annmarie Gianni website (www.annmariegianni.com) for deals and other useful info!

4. Nourish Organic Body Lotion (8oz. for $11.99) - The verdict is still out on this one, because I am just getting to know the Nourish Organic brand.  Around the holidays Whole Foods had this lotion on-sale 2-for-$10!  I tried all of the "testers" and really liked most of the scents.  My favorite was the "Lavender Mint," so I bought three of them and one "Almond Vanilla" (which I gave away as a gift).  Knowing that I was about to write this post I opened one a few days ago to give it a try.  Unfortunately it smelled nothing like the tester did...to be honest it smelled pretty unpleasant.  Also, after investigating the ingredient list two red flags popped up for me.  One of them is SDA 38B (denatured alcohol) which probably has to do with the grain alcohol in the lavender essential oil, but it is the second ingredient, so I want to be sure.  The other is the fifth ingredient, "glycerin."  It does not say if this is chemically derived or natural, and that makes a big difference.  I would assume with the story behind their company (and all of the seals they have obtained) that these additives are in the purest form, but I will be contacting them for further information.  I really want to like this brand.  They have a lot of great offerings!  The consistency and texture of this lotion is wonderful, and the scents that I tested in the store were awesome!  I think I just need to work a few things out with the company and then we can all move forward with enjoying the fruits of their labor.  Stay tuned on this one...

Shifting gears a bit, for lotion bars or balms I really love LuSa Organics and also highly suggest Badger and Flourish brands.  LuSa is a great, small company with wonderful values and purpose.  Their products are of excellent purity and quality.  The "Tea Tree & Mint" scent smells like Andes Candies, the "Lavender" is rich, sweet, and relaxing, and the "Lemongrass" is clean and uplifting.  They really penetrate to sooth and repair dry and damaged skin.  If you have never used lotion bars/balms, give them a try!  They are especially great for damaged Winter hands!

Other skin healing products (L to R): Mountain Rose Herbs Shea Butter, 3 LuSa Lotion Bar scents, Keys Redicare, & Dr. Bronner's Coconut Oil 
As I have mentioned, I have sensitive skin.  When I was a kid I had reactions to harsh detergents, and every Summer I would get a poison ivy rash (I mean like blisters and having to go on steroids) from head to toe just from looking at the plant.  Oh, and I could never wear earrings or any cheap jewelry, because it was the same thing (rashes and blisters).  Then I kind of found my groove and things calmed down…UNTIL I got really sick with this Lyme-auto-immune-whatever-you-want-to-call-it thing.  Since then strange rashes have broken out off and on.  Last Fall I had a massive one on my upper chest.  One doctor said "That looks like a reaction to jewelry" (though I had stopped wearing necklaces way before that), another said it looked like "mast cell disease" (an allergy/histamine thing), while another said that it looked like eczema.  I still don't know what it was, but it was SO hot and itchy!  The only thing that made it go away was Keys RediCare Insect Repellant & Therapy Spray!  I don't remember how I found this stuff, but it was a Godsend!  Anytime I see the slightest skin irritation I put it on.  It was developed for the search and rescue dogs (and people) suffering from skin rashes (from exposure to who-knows-what) during Hurricane Katrina.  The story behind this product and the entire company is AMAZING!  It's a must read: www.keys-soap.com/ostore/product.php?productid=222&cat=&page=1.  Keys products are awesome, and I love supporting such a great company!

I also encourage you to try single-ingredient solutions for your trouble skin - Organic Coconut Oil (a little for your stir fry, a little on your leg), Argan Oil, or pure Shea Butter (I get mine from Mountain Rose Herbs).  Sometimes just the number of ingredients in a product make it challenging to figure out what is helping and what is hurting.  I really like straight coconut oil, but I have to be careful about what I am wearing, because it can linger on skin and stain clothes.  Even when something is "natural" remember that it might not be good for your body.  During my research for this post I learned that people who have latex and/or nut allergies can have an increased sensitivity to Shea Butter.  Just something to keep in mind.  I am always learning!  There once was a time when I was tricked into thinking things like buying "Jergens Naturals" was making the "healthy choice."  Now I recognize that the bottom third of their ingredient list is highly toxic, and maybe 1% is "natural."  I just want to raise your awareness and share the the products that I love, but you have to find what works best for you and your unique chemistry and lifestyle.

Next up for me (actually on its way in the mail as I type) is "Pai Comfrey & Calendula Calming Body Cream."  After that I am looking forward to trying some "Purple Prairie" and "Poofy Organics" lotions.  Keep an eye out for reviews in the future!  Wishing you healthy, hydrated skin all Winter…and beyond!

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Berry Good Switch

Happy Monday!  Here we are at the beginning of another week, and if you are like me you are thinking about FOOD planning and how to best nourish yourself and your family.  As with most things it's all about quality and not quantity.  When packing my son's lunch in the morning (he's 5, for those wondering) I usually ask him what he would like for a snack.  Thankfully he makes good choices, but if I think he can "do better" we have a quick chat about what will power him up the most.  He loves it and gets excited thinking about himself as a health superhero!  Here is a powerful switch we have made in his lunchbox...

Most kids (and adults) love raisins.  I am not going to say that they are as bad as popping Pez (candy), but they are sugary and don't have much nutritional value.  We still enjoy them once in a while, but my regular replacement for them has been GOJI BERRIES!  They are slightly "tougher" in texture, but they are very sweet and highly enjoyable.  The best news is that they are extremely nutrient rich and high in protein, amino acids, and minerals.  A few weeks ago while reading the newsletter from one of my favorite local health food stores I received even more confirmation.  In the article "Winter Wellness For Kids" they stated, "Goji berries are a rich source of immune-strengthening polysaccharides, basically, compounds that slowly and deeply build up the immune system."  They suggested that daily goji berry consumption (1 teaspoon or more) would help my child stay healthy this Winter!  That's all I needed to hear!

We like to eat goji berries as they are, but also enjoy them in our homemade "trail mix," in yogurt, cereal, baked goods, etc.  You can also purchase goji berry powder to add to smoothies and other creations.  I am not going to lie…goji berries can be expensive, but if you think of them as a vitamin or supplement during cold/flu season it definitely makes them worth it!  You can find lower prices using the tips I mentioned in my last post.  We love the Navitas Naturals, Sun-Dried, Organic Goji Berries.  Amazon.com has them (and other brands) for a pretty good price (better than local stores, unless they are on-sale), and if you have Amazon Prime "free shipping" makes it even better.

Our favorite brand of Goji Berries!
Especially with kids you have to find what will be enjoyable AND pack the most nutritional punch.  It is fun to look at what you are feeding your family and see where you can play the switcheroo game to maximize health and wellness!  Enjoy!

Check out those nutrition facts - 1oz. = 140% (DV) Vitamin A & 10% (DV) Iron!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Words Of Encouragement For Change

I have been so very happy with the response to my blog!  THANK YOU!  It brings me so much joy to know that I am helping people and that you like what you are seeing so far!  That is the whole reason I started this blog.  I also realize that all of this information can be overwhelming, and even worse it can make people feel bad.  I know that living a healthier life can be very expensive, and that is something I want to see change.  We should never be put in the position where the only affordable choice we can make for our family is a toxic one.  That is an absolute crime.

I am here to tell you that this change didn't happen overnight in our family.  This has been 5+ years in the making, and it has been gradual.  I am throwing it all at you at once, but this is information and experiences gathered over years and through much trial-and-error.  Yes, being "healthy" is pricey, but being sick is even more expensive.  Trust me, because I know.  I carry a lot of guilt for the family resources that have gone to me getting my health back, but you know what?  My family has also benefitted greatly from this knowledge and these transformations, so I wouldn't change it.  I am very blessed that my husband is 100% on-board with making healthy living a top priority, because that means we don't argue about where our money goes.  We have never been on a family vacation (other than visiting family), we don't go out to eat, we do fun things around our house most weekends, we keep clothes, shoes, accessories pretty basic…you get the PICKture.  That is our choice, and I don't judge anyone for making different decisions.  We all have to use our money and resources in a way that makes us happy and fulfilled.  I also know the reality for many people is that they are barely getting by and can't just reallocate where they place their funds.

I will still argue that most people can make small changes.  Some people just assume that healthier products and lifestyle changes are more expensive, but if you do your homework (or let me do it for you) you will find that is not always true.  We have to face the fact that change is work and humans like to resist and make excuses.  I want you to know that I almost never buy anything full-price.  I regularly utilize the following:
1. www.thefind.com (I search and filter by price, low-high)
2. Google Shopping (same directions as above)
3. Retail Me Not (and other coupon code websites)
4. I sign-up on all of my favorite companies' websites to receive news, deals, etc. & when they have deals (some even do 50% off or more, at least once a year), I stock-up (while also keeping in mind the expiration of natural products)!

I am here to tell you that YOU CAN DO THIS!  I am here to help.  Small changes make a BIG difference, and though you may not always see it right away I encourage you to keep going with it.  Just like the bad and toxic things in our lives add up over time (illness might not show-up for years), healing is also cumulative.  It is never too late!  The human mind-body-soul is miraculous, and you can actually reverse most damage (trust me on that one, too)!

So…start small.  Make it do-able, or you won't do anything at all.  If there are big-ticket items you would like (air filter, juicer/blender, mitigation system, etc).  I encourage you to start a fund.  Instead of your daily stop at the coffee shop, throw that money in a jar.  If you have any questions or concerns along the way, PLEASE reach out to me!  Change is ALWAYS possible!  Let me help you find your WHOLE PICKture!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Let's Face It

By now I hope you have ditched your doom deodorants and ailing antiperspirants and replaced them with healthier options.  If so, YAY!  You are on your way!  Next we will move on to another delicate and bombarded area of our bodies, our faces.  I would guess that most of us put at least 2-3 products on our faces, around 2-3 times a day.  That's a lot, and depending on the quality can be quite a toxic burden.  But…before we dive into facial care, there is a video that I almost consider a "prerequisite" before we move on.  I have shared it with family and friends multiple times over the last couple of years, because I think it is very important.  It will give you a good understanding of the very broken cosmetics/personal care industry and why we desperately need a change.  After some of my typical rants about the dire need to "green" our hygiene-routine I feel I am met with blank stares and a lot of "So what?" and "It can't really be THAT bad."  This video lays things out very simply and thoroughly, and it should get everyone up to speed and completely onboard.

Our dollars speak volumes, and if we stop spending them on toxic products those products go away (and hopefully the good stuff becomes the norm and more affordable).  Let's get started with the basics…facial care.

I decided to take a little trip down memory lane…when I first started making product choices for myself as a preteen I decided on Clearasil (reason probably being that my best friend used it, or something like that).  I decided to head over to the Clearasil website to see what's new with them.  First of all, they make it very difficult to find their ingredient lists.  They are not with the actual products, there is a teeny tiny link way down in the footer of the page.  (Does that tell you anything?)  Any company that is not upfront about its ingredients is very intentionally hiding something.  In their defense, it appears they are working on "new formulas," so maybe they have gotten the message and are making an effort to clean up their act a little (doubtful).  The "old formula" is cringe-worthy with Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate and Triclosan, just to name a few of the 21 nasty ingredients.  One of the most upsetting things to me is that the company that owns Clearasil (Reckitt Benckiser Group) uses the tagline "Health-Hygiene-Home."  They also produce the highly toxic "Lysol," "Airwick," "d-CON," and "Easy-Off" (again, to name a few).  Disgusting!

A little later on, in my late teens/early twenties, I decided I needed to take real action against my mild-to-moderately pimpled face, so a doctor prescribed me a Salicylic Acid (S.A.) face wash.  It actually bleached everything it touched, but I didn't get the picture, and I used it for many years.  I cared more about the bathrobes, pajamas, towels/washcloths it ruined…DUH!  It sort of worked, but it really dried my skin out, which can sometimes produce even more oil and pimples.  I have since learned that if you have an issue with NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen) you should not use S.A., and if a child/teenager is using it and gets a fever they are at risk for Reye's Syndrome.  People with diabetes, poor blood circulation/blood vessel issues, kidney, or liver disease should not use S.A. either, and that tells me that it burdens your organs and adds to overall toxicity.  I wish I had known that changing my diet would have made the biggest difference!  Most skin issues are directly tied to digestive problems such as food sensitivities. 

Fast forward to my pregnancy, which was when my real awareness started to emerge.  After searching around I decided to try Juice Beauty products.  My daily routine consisted of using their: "Blemish Clearing Cleanser," "Hydrating Mist," "Blemish Clearing Serum," and "Oil-Free Moisturizer."  At night I used all of the above, but I replaced the cleanser with the gentler "Cleansing Milk."  I also started trying some of their make-up, such as "SPF 30 Tinted Mineral Moisturizer," "Perfecting Foundation," and "Refining Finishing Powder."  I thought the cleansers, serums, and moisturizers all worked very well and left my skin clean, clear, and hydrated.  They also made a good base for smooth make-up application.  I really loved the smell of them, too…very fresh and fruity.  The tinted moisturizer was ok, but left my skin looking and feeling oily.  I used the foundation quite a bit, but it provided light coverage at a time when I was used to full-coverage make-up.  The powder gave a nice, clean finish.  I very happily used these products for about 3-4 years, but then a blog I followed and respected reviewed these products and pointed out their use of Phenoxyethanol (a synthetic chemical that can depress the nervous system and cause digestive issues) as a preservative.  I have cruised around the Juice Beauty website recently, and I can't tell if they use it anymore.  It looks like they have changed and updated a lot of their product line.  If you are interested dig deeper.  I think it is a much healthier alternative than mainstream beauty products, and it works well, but I was looking for something more pure.  Therefore, I haven't reviewed the Juice Beauty products further or hyperlinked them, because I do not highly recommend them.

The next brand I found was Annmarie Gianni Skin Care.  Excellent products, extremely pure…but also very pricey.  I tried a few products, and I loved them!  I still buy them and keep them on hand for the once-a-month (or so) special treatments, but for the price I do not use them everyday.  Here is what I have used, and what I suggest:
1. Aloe-Herb Facial Cleanser (50ml [between 1.5 and 2oz] for $24.95) - It very gently cleans your face and leaves it soft and smooth at the same time.  You know how some face washes leave you feeling "crackly" tight after you pat your face dry?  This one doesn't…it's perfect.  It basically does what it says it will, and with it's purity you just can't beat it.

2. Ayurvedic Facial Scrub (50ml [between 1.5 and 2oz] for $24.95) - This is the best exfoliator I have found!  It is extremely gentle, and it is SO healing.  It is chock-full of herbs, and it leaves you feeling like you have literally fed your skin pure nourishment.  It is in a powder form, and then you add either water or a pump of your facial cleanser to it and mix it up into a paste in your hands (I use the Aloe-Herb Cleanser).  If you have one facial care product to splurge on, I would suggest this product, because it really works and you can make it last for a very long time.
*I also use Annmarie Gianni's body wash and body oil (again, not everyday), but I will review them in a later post about body care products.

My favorite facial products (L to R): Annmarie Gianni Ayurvedic Facial Scrub and Aloe-Herb Facial Cleanser & Brittanie's Thyme Facial Freedom Organic Citrus Facial Cleanser, Blemish Toner, Protective Moisturizer, Face Mask and Scrub
Now on to my current love and top suggestion, Brittanie's Thyme!  I can't even remember now how I discovered this company, but I haven't looked back!  I have been using these products for about two years, and I have been extremely happy with them.  These products are organic, gluten-free/vegan, pure, and they work!  Another added bonus is that they don't smell "girly," so men/teens can use and enjoy them, too!  Glass bottles mean you don't have to worry about BPA leaking into your products either!  They have two lines, "Mindful Beauty" and "Facial Freedom."  I use the latter, because it controls oil and combination skin, but they are very similar.  Here we go...
*1. Facial Freedom Organic Citrus Facial Cleanser (4oz for $14.00) - It cleans your skin without over-cleaning it, stripping it, and giving the above mentioned "crackly" feel.  It leaves your face fresh and soft.  The ingredients are pure and straight-forward.  It works well for my sensitive, combination, not-young-but-not-old skin.  ;-)

*2. Facial Freedom Organic Blemish Toner (2oz for $9.00) - Hello…it has 3 pure ingredients!  Just dab some on a cotton ball.  No redness, no irritation.  It leaves your skin clean and clear.  Enough said.

*3. Facial Freedom Organic Protective Moisturizer (2oz for $16.00) - This moisturizer is like nothing I had used before.  It is more like a thick oil.  You shake the bottle and then "sprinkle" a few drops on your hands, rub together, and smooth into skin.  It leaves your face feeling very hydrated and protected.  My skin drinks it up, but it doesn't clog my pores.  It also works well under make-up.  I love that it has very important omegas and botanicals to heal your skin!

4. French Green Clay Facial Mask with Organic Red Bush Tea ($8.00) - A great little mask with only the two ingredients!  It really pulls out all of the nasties and clears your pores with tons of antioxidants.  Just mix a little bit with some water, make a paste, apply, and relax.

5. Exfoliating Clay Scrub ($10.00) - This scrub has bentonite clay, which I use in my detox baths, and flax seeds, which are full of omegas and are very moisturizing.  The result is that it gets rid of the old and reveals bright, new skin!  Just put a little in your hand, add some of your facial cleanser and/or water, and gently rub around your face.  Good stuff!

Other facial care products I have queued up to try are Acure Organics (I love their other products and will be reviewing soon), Pangea Organics, and 100% Pure...I just haven't had to change things up yet!  Both the Annmarie Gianni and Brittanie's Thyme products are available online at all of the links I provided (each brand and the individual products are hyperlinked), but I have yet to see them in stores (at least near me).  I also frequently buy my Brittanie's Thyme from the awesome Abe's Market.  I just wait for deals, and then I stock-up!  Sign-up on all of the companies' websites to make sure you are in the loop!

I hope all of this information (and I know it's a lot, but I just want to assist you in making the BEST choices possible), helps you put your best face forward!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

With Hope, the Odds Don't Matter

With social media, forwarded e-mails, and blogs we are literally inundated on a daily basis with stories of tragedy, suffering, loss...and thankfully stories of triumph!  Since we see all of this stuff so much I worry about us becoming a little conditioned toward harder hearts, because it almost produces the "video game syndrome" where we become desensitized to what we are seeing.  WE MUST NOT LOSE OUR FEELINGS AND ABILITY TO BE IN AWE OF MIRACLES IN THIS WORLD!  That is why I TRY (working on it) not to share every story, no matter how amazing, but sometimes I am compelled and just can't help it!  This is one of those cases.

I had an epiphany the other day while (once again) pondering "why do so many people suffer?"  I don't really have an answer, but I do know that it makes us more compassionate.  It makes us able to connect with each other like no other experience can.  It is unfortunate that that's what it takes sometimes, but even struggle has its value.  Through my faith in my religion I have truly come to believe that we are put here on Earth to love and help each other.  That is the number one message.

It's not like it is a new concept for people to get sick and die, but I do believe there is a direct connection between the toxins in our environment and the widespread breakdown of the human body.  I have a handful of reasons for sharing this story on my blog, so I will sum them up like this:

1. What you expose yourself and your children to really DOES matter, though the impact might not show up until many years later.  In this case, there was no awareness of the dangers or they obviously would have done things differently.  This is the whole driving force behind my blog, to help people know better so they can do better!

2. Her "rose-colored glasses" are probably one of the biggest reasons she healed.  We should all be working on our positivity and overall outlook on life.  It makes more of a difference than we even know!  (Way more on this topic coming in future blog posts!)

3. The last line of the video, which is the title of this post - "With hope, the odds don't matter."  The "With hope" part goes along with #2 above, but the second part struck me even more.  For some reason doctors feel like they must (and probably have been trained to) give a prognosis, a timeline, when they really can't possibly know for sure.  Why is it so bad?  It sucks the hope right out of most patients.  It creates the "nocebo effect," meaning "I shall harm."  I will be writing about this a lot more, because it is the basis of one of the books that changed my life the most.

This story also makes you realize that you can do anything!  I thought it was bad when I became bed-ridden-ill with a two-year-old, but this woman had a newborn and still set out on making healing her mission!  Very inspiring!  These stories and connections with others in adverse situations are little messages from above saying to YOU, "You can do it!"  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Old Glow Has To Go

Just as I have always been a self-proclaimed-beauty-product-junkie, I have also always coveted candles.  Yankee Candle was one of my stops on my outlet shopping trips...or even just a quick pitstop in the mall to take a sniff and see what was new.  Candles were also a big part of my Christmas decor and part of the beautiful sights and smells of the holidays.  You can imagine my shock and severe disappointment when I discovered how unhealthy candles are!  This time it wasn't just mommy-research...when I first got really sick I could not stand any sort of artificial scents, so my nose was trying to tell me something - system overburdened!

Here I go again, ruining all the fun!  You might be wondering, "What could be SO BAD about candles?"...sooooo, here is the quick and DIRTY rundown:
1. Paraffins = A waste product of petroleum and a known carcinogen (think diesel engine), with an impact as high as second-hand cig smoke.  Has been linked to asthma and cancer.

2. Benzene & Toluene = Found in candle soot.  Has been linked to cancer and nervous system issues.

3. Lead = According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission candles containing lead release five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children.  Thankfully lead wicks were banned in the U.S., but many candles still contain lead, especially those imported (China, etc.).  Lead is never something you want in your home!

There is an endless list of other toxic chemicals that sometimes end up in candles - some of the same ingredients that are found in paints!  Of course artificial fragrances alone can cause a bunch of issues for some people as well.  A "Time" article stated the following, "Burning everyday paraffin-wax candles can emit a storm of toxic chemicals, including toluene and benzene, according to a study presented today to the American Chemical Society. To be sure, it’s nowhere near as harmful to light an occasional candle as it would be, say, to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. But the researchers say that frequent candle burning in tight unventilated areas has been implicated in lung cancer, asthma and skin rash. So make sure there’s somewhere for the smoke to escape from your romantic candlelit dinner. Or, if you can afford to part with an extra buck or two, you may want to splurge on bee’s wax or soybean candles instead. They both burn a lot cleaner."  (http://healthland.time.com/2009/08/19/chemicals_in_candles/)

So what's a candle-lover to do?!  First of all, NEVER NEVER NEVER buy gel candles or the air-freshener-type (like Glade) candles.  If you have them, throw them out…NOW!  If you want to enjoy candles in your home be willing to spend a little more money to get higher quality.  As suggested above, bee's wax and soy candles are a healthier alternative.  Since soy is typically GMO-tainted, I make sure to research the purity of the ingredients used by companies before I make a purchase.  (Some feel that all soy has been affected in some way, so if you are very concerned stick with bee's wax.)

Some of my candle collection (from L to R): Eco Candle Company, Seracon Eco-Culture, Way Out Wax, & Big Dipper Wax Works (in front)
Here are some of my personal favorites and suggestions:
1. Eco Candle Company - Check out their "About Us" section to learn more about their awesome values and standards.  I absolutely adore their holiday candles!  They gave me back such an enjoyable part of the season, which I thought I had to give up forever!  If you like your house to smell like a REAL Christmas Tree I highly suggest the "Winter Wonderland" and "Joy" scents.  "Sleigh Ride" is similar, but with a hint of orange.  We have also enjoyed the warm and sweet "Eggnog," the wintery floral "Snowflake" (which can be enjoyed all winter), and the very comforting and spiritual "Noel" essence of frankincense and myrrh.  I burn the "Peace" candle year 'round, because I love mint and lavender together, and find it very relaxing.  These candles are soy-based and come in beautiful glass jars (some clear and some frosted).  RUN to their website NOW, because all of their holiday candles are around 50%-off!  Stock up!

2. Way Out Wax - An AMAZING Vermont company (which makes me proud and happy) that I first learned about during my good ol' UVM days!  I love their "Aromatherapy Blends," because they are very therapeutic.  I am really drawn to Eucalyptus (especially when I am tired or getting sick), so I really like the "Clear Head" candle.  Just like its name, "Cozy Home" is very warming and makes a house smell like a home, so I like it in the kitchen area.  "Sweet Dreams" is a unique, relaxing blend and is perfect for meditation and winding down at the end of the day.  Of course I adore "Northern Forest" at Christmastime, too!  It literally smells like walking through the woods.  (I have spotted these at Whole Foods and other health food stores.)

3. Big Dipper Wax Works - My Seattle-based-sis-in-law gifted me with these little gems, because they are something she enjoys (sharing is caring)!  I love that these are bee's wax (save the bees!), and I really appreciate the fact that they give so much information on their website.  They are another company I am happy to support!  They clearly state that even their wicks are primed with bee's wax and NOT paraffin, which you have to be aware of even when purchasing what you might think is a "pure" candle.  I also love all of the varieties…shapes, sizes, colors…number birthday candles!  The artistry is incredible - check out the ornament candles (by now you are picking up on a holiday-candle-obsession theme).  I don't think I could pick a favorite scent, because I have actually tried them all throughout the years.  "Rejuvenation" (Sweet Orange & Clove Bud) sits in my kitchen, "Clarity" (Lime & May Chang) is so fresh and universal that it moves around, but usually likes to hang out in the bathroom, and "Harmony" (Lavender & Geranium) keeps the bedroom more peaceful and restful.  Since Ylang Ylang is my all-time favorite essential oil, though, "Radiance" (Tangerine & Ylang Ylang) is the one I use the most, and "Enlightenmint" (Bergamot & Mint ) is great for yoga/meditation time.  They also have awesome Advent, Hanukkah, and Birthday candles, so you can be sure your family is breathing easily no matter what the occasion!  (In addition to shopping online you can find most varieties at Whole Foods and local health food stores).

4. Seracon Eco-Culture - This was an unexpected, joyful little treat I stumbled upon while doing my normal exploring around Whole Foods.  The rich maple scent transports me to happy childhood memories of hanging out in sugar houses and the multiple treats I indulged in - fresh syrup, maple creemees (probably "soft serve" to you), maple covered donuts, maple candy, maple cotton candy…  Mmmmm!  I could not resist this purchase, and I ended up going back to get more for myself and as gifts for others!  The company's website is a little challenging to navigate, so I can't get quite as much information as I would like, but they state that their candles are 100% vegetable wax, with 100% cotton wicks (they also have wooden wicks).  Some of their other yummy offerings include coffee and chocolate scents.

While the use of candles can lessen the air quality in your house, there is clearly a distinction between highly toxic versus safer options.  As I mentioned I am very sensitive to artificial fragrances, so I know these candles are high quality because I haven't had any issues with any of them.  I am very grateful for the companies above, because candles are something I really enjoy.  Who wants to give up ALL of the fun stuff?  Just make sure you burn candles in a wide, open space and/or with good ventilation like a cracked window.  Also, keep the wicks trimmed so they produce less soot.  Personally, I find the actual flame of the candle relaxing, but if the scent is all you are going for, diffusing essential oils is another good option that actually has health benefits, too (yup, another future blog topic!).

With most things a good rule of thumb is, if it is not naturally occurring in the world, you probably do not want it on your body, in your mouth, or in your house.  Just like with antiperspirant/deodorant (from my earlier post), our bodies were not made to smell like a (fake) bouquet of flowers...and our homes are not supposed to smell like (fake) cinnamon buns.  If you want your home to smell a certain way, put the REAL things around that you love - a bowl of lemons, some sprigs of dried lavender.  We go to all of this effort to make things more "appealing," but we are hurting ourselves and the ones we love in the process.  What we really need is to get back to a simpler way of life and keep things the way nature intended.  Fire is a means for life, and candles have been a source of light for centuries, we just need to keep the junk out of them and leave them as pure as possible.  Our sense of smell is a gift that can bring us great pleasure.  Enjoy!

***UPDATE: November 2016***
Always on the lookout for new products to enjoy and share I recently came across another cool candle company, and this brand has an interesting twist...their marketing is focused on men.  I recently stumbled upon "Manready Mercantile" products in a local store, and I immediately fell in love with their line of "The Noble Series Soy Candle."  I haven't stopped thinking about the "Frankincense + Orange" scent in particular.  Just trying to decide if I make my purchase online today (it is Cyber Monday, after all...with 25% off), or if I just wait and support our lovely local business.  Either way...I will let you know what I think!  PS- You shouldn't get a hard time from the "man" in your life for picking up one of these little treats, since the candle comes in a reusable whiskey glass!  That should mean you need to buy even more, right?!