Archives for August 2013

Podcast: In Search of a Greener, Groovier Lunchbox with Lori Alper

Strocel.com Podcast Better Back to School Brigade Lori Alper Non-Toxic LunchboxesDid you know that toxins may be lurking in your child’s school lunch? It’s true. While a litterless lunch is a greener way to go, not every water bottle, food container and lunchbox you buy is perfectly safe. For instance, do you remember the controversy around Sigg water bottles a number of years ago? When everyone started to become concerned about BPA in plastic water bottles, Sigg benefited big time. When it came out some time later that their water bottle linings contained BPA, many people felt betrayed. I myself owned one of the BPA-containing bottles, and I was pretty cheesed about it.

My point here is that it’s not always easy to tell what’s green, and what’s greenwashing. That’s why I’m re-sharing my interview with the fabulous Lori Popkewitz Alper of Groovy Green Livin with you again. I first met Lori in person at BlogHer 2011 in San Diego. In this photo I’m standing on the far left, and Lori is standing on the far right:

Strocel.com Podcast Lori Alper

Lori is a fellow green mom, and I have admired her for a long time. I particularly admire the work she’s done to highlight our exposure to toxins, and advocate for change. She’s started two petitions that have garnered widespread attention. The first is aimed at Proctor & Gamble, and it’s called Tide: Get Cancer-Causing Chemicals Out of Laundry Detergent. The second is aimed at Disney, and it’s called Disney: Get toxic chemicals out of Princess and Spiderman lunch boxes.

Strocel.com Podcast Lori Popkewitz AlperDuring our podcast, Lori and I discussed her own journey to greener living, and what motivates her. We discussed the petitions and why she started them, as well as the awareness that she’s raising. By pointing out the toxins our kids may be exposed to in the products they use every day, Lori is helping to ensure that people can make better decisions. When you don’t know what the dangers are, you can’t avoid them. When you know, you’re empowered, which is why I admire Lori so much. If you’d like some tips for making better choices of your own, Lori shares some of those during the podcast, as well.

Whether you’re a fellow green mom, you want to learn a little bit about how you can reduce the toxins your kids are exposed to in their school lunches, or you’d like to be inspired by someone who’s working hard to create change, you’ll want to listen to the podcast:

I’m working on some new podcasts that I’ll be recording in September. I’m really excited about some of these! Subscribe to my podcast in iTunes and you won’t miss a minute.

Freaking Fruit Flies

I love fruit. I love summer. Unfortunately for me, however, combining these two things leads to something I really do not like: fruit flies. I freaking hate fruit flies. They multiply like, well, flies, until they’re everywhere, scattering and skeezing me out every time I dare to do something in my kitchen.

At this point, some of you may be thinking, “She really needs to make a fruit fly trap! I should tell her about fruit fly traps!” You would not be the first. Every time I complain about fruit flies on Twitter, I get at least four responses telling me how to make fruit fly traps. I appreciate the sentiment, but I already know about fruit fly traps. I’ve been using them for years. In fact, I’ve had one on my counter for weeks now (although not the same one – I do refresh it every few days). It works … sort of. But as soon as I get the fruit flies under control, more of them crop up.

(If you yourself are now asking, “What’s a fruit fly trap?” go here.)

fruit flies summer

The problem, of course, is that I still have fruit. More than that, I also have compost. If I completely remove both of those things I can get rid of the fruit flies, because they only live a few days. However, I don’t particularly want to live without fruit for months, and I can’t keep all my fruit in hermetically sealed containers, so the fruit flies return. They outnumber me 100 to 1, the numbers are in their favour. While my efforts can bring them to heel temporarily, they will always return. Because I will let down my guard and buy some bananas, and two days later my kitchen will be filled with them.

I remember the first time I did battle with fruit flies. The year was 1997, and my roommate and I found our little apartment kitchen overrun. Not knowing about fruit fly traps at the time, we resorted to other methods. My roommate would try to kill them by clapping them between her hands. I opted for hitting them with a rolled-up newspaper that I kept on top of the microwave. We got rid of our fruit. Eventually they went away. However, today I find it harder to bring them under control, thanks to two kids who also love fruit and who leave it lying around, slowly rotting and attracting flies.

I don’t think fruit flies are particularly dangerous. They don’t spread malaria or hanta virus or the bubonic plague. They don’t bite people. This doesn’t mean I have to like them. Because I don’t like them. So I will continue to do battle, and they will continue to return, year after year, with the fruit I bring into my home.

Freaking fruit flies.

Watch Your Words!

Earlier this week I talked about developing positive self-talk – and how it makes me think of Stuart Smalley. One of the big reasons that many parents, myself included, watch the language we use is because we don’t want our kids to pick up on our hang-ups. We want the little impressionable ears that are always listening to think good things about themselves, so we work hard to say good things about ourselves.

One of the other things I’m working on, as a parent, is changing the way that I talk to my kids. I’m doing this for a few reasons, but one of the big ones is that I’ve discovered there’s a difference between what I say, and what my kids hear.

For instance, if I say:

Don’t draw on the walls.

My kids hear:

… draw on the walls.

If I say:

No climbing on the countertop.

My kids hear:

… climbing on the countertop. Then they think to themselves, Climbing on the countertop is fun and cool.

There’s another component to this, and it’s that if I tell my kids not to draw on the walls, and then they draw on the table, they’re actually heeding my instructions. I could spend all day telling them what not to draw on. The couch. The fridge. The floor. Library books. The cat. It’s more explicit to say, We draw on paper. Only on paper.

negative talk positive talk parenting stopNegative language is less clear, especially to little kids who are just mastering language. I think this is why when I find myself telling them not to do something, they take that as a signal to go ahead and do it even more. Plus, it sets a less-than-upbeat tone to spend all your time telling kids what not to do. When I find myself saying No constantly, I start to feel like I’m constantly harping on my kids, and they’re not listening. Switching that to positive language isn’t a miracle cure that automatically results in happy, well-behaved children and a pleasant home life, but it does make things better. Better is something.

I absolutely believe that words like No and Stop have their place in parenting. We need to set boundaries with our kids – that’s what being a parent is about. The upside to using those words less, however, is that they carry more meaning when you do pull them out. When your four-year-old is running away in a crowded parking lot, you want them to stop when you tell them to stop. They’re more likely to do that if you’re not constantly telling them to stop all day, every day.

Switching the language I use with my kids is one more way I’m trying to create a more pleasant home life. I’m not always sure how much of a difference it makes to my children, but I feel better about my parenting when I’m using more positive language. That alone makes it worthwhile.

Where do you stand on using words like No, Stop and Don’t? Do you find that the way you word your requests makes a difference to how your kids respond, and how you feel about it? And do your kids display the same selective hearing that mine do? I’d love to hear all about it!

This post was inspired by the 10 Week Peaceful Parenting Challenge Blog Carnival hosted by Prenatal to Parenting. This week our participants have written about using positive language with others. We hope you enjoy this week’s posts and consider joining us next week when we share about a week of unplugging. Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Tips for making the Positive Comments outweigh the negative in your child’s day – Sarah from Prenatal to Parenting shares a startling stat and asks for your help in changing the numbers.

How to talk to your kids – Amy from The Connection We Share discovers the power of using positive language with your kids.

Watch Your Words – Amber from Strocel.com feels better about her parenting when she’s using more positive language.

The Power of Words – Peaceful Parenting Challenge Week 7 – Katrina from Kalem Photography is trying to figure out positive phrasing for some things she’d like her 2 year old to stop doing.

Week 7 – Watch Your Language!– Amanda from Sticky Hands suggests we start saying out loud things you love and things you want to happen.

Language and Distractions- Peaceful Parenting Challenge: Week 7 -Kathryn from Curiosity and the Kat is a bit distracted.

Watch Your Language! -Lolly from My Journey Home is attempting to communicate positively with her teen.

Positive Communication – Ricky from Daddy Blogger realized how often the words “Don’t” and “Can’t” and “No” tend to pop up in our conversations with our kids.

Shopping for School Clothes

better back-to-school brigade david suzuki's queen of greenWe’re in the last few weeks of summer vacation right now at my house. While I know some kids are back at school already, mine don’t head to class until the day after Labour Day. At the moment, I’m simultaneously trying to make the most out of what’s left of summer, and preparing for the return to school. This means – at least in part – doing some back-to-school shopping.

I’m lucky because I don’t have to buy school supplies for my kids, at least not directly. I pay for a box of supplies for each child, delivered directly to the school. I like this solution because it’s easy, but also because I’m convinced that it’s probably greener. When my child’s teacher says she needs seven duo tangs, she gets seven, instead of the twelve I have to buy because they only come in packs of six. Ditto for notebooks and pencils and so on and so forth. Plus, I’m not driving from store to store trying to track it all down.

Most of my shopping right now is for clothes and shoes. There are three things I’m doing to outfit my kids for back-to-school without breaking the bank.

back to school
Heading off for the first day of school last September

Greener Back-to-School Clothes

  • Buy Less Stuff – This is the biggest thing that I do to reduce the impact of my back-to-school shopping. There are a few items my kids really do need for back-to-school, like indoor shoes that fit. The rest of the stuff doesn’t actually need to be purchased now. By waiting until my kids actually need something before I buy it, I’m reducing my consumption and spreading the expense around.
  • Shop Used – You can find great used kids’ clothes, at least some of the time. By heading to my local thrift store first, I can reduce the environmental impact of my shopping and save money. I have more success with some items, like pants, sweaters and dresses, and less success with shoes and shirts. Still, even one or two items bought second-hand makes for a greener back-to-school.
  • Choose Quality – For the things that need to be bought new, I try to choose quality over quantity. I would like to say that I only buy organic cotton, locally-made, sweatshop-free clothes for my kids. That wouldn’t be true. But by buying better-quality pants and shoes I can make them last longer, reducing my consumption and saving money in the long run. For example, the high-quality backpack I bought my daughter seven years ago is going strong, while the cheaper ones we’ve been gifted with have all long since died.

Buying less and shopping second-hand isn’t exactly the most sexy way to be green, but it’s certainly the cheapest.

Now that my daughter is eight years old, I involve her in the back-to-school shopping as well. She has strong opinions about what she likes and what she doesn’t like. I want her to use the stuff I’m buying, and I want her to feel good in her clothes. If I pay for a pair of shoes she never wears that ends up being a waste of energy and money, so I make sure to get her input. As she hurtles headlong into her tween years, I anticipate that she will only become more involved in every shopping decision I make for her.

How do you green your own back-to-school shopping? And do you bring your kids with your, or leave them at home? I’d love to hear! Plus, bonus points, by leaving a comment you can be entered in a fabulous giveaway for some seriously sustainable swag:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Creating Routines: Cutting Back on Sugar

Crafting my Life Creating RoutinesI am all about the monthly blog series, and one of my favourites is creating positive routines. Each month I set one goal with the aim creating a more purpose-filled life. If you’d like to join in and take some steps to create better rhythms and routines in your own life, I’d love to hear how you’re doing it.

Last Month’s Recap

In July, I committed to eating more veggies. I did it. It felt good. Improving my diet last month has inspired me to more positive change this month.

creating routines positive change sugar

Creating a Routine for August

I have a serious sweet tooth. Given the choice between the three pillars of junk food – sugar, fat and salt – I go for sugar every time. More and more, though, I’ve become concerned about that. There’s a lot of research showing that sugar just isn’t that good for you. I actually tried giving up sugar for two weeks a couple of years ago. It went okay, but in retrospect I’m not sure how well I actually did. I was still eating a lot of fruit and breakfast cereal and foods like that. After the experiment was over I jumped right back into eating sugar.

When I downloaded a fitness app for my phone a while ago and started logging the food I ate, I found out that I was eating more than twice the daily recommended amount of sugar. A lot of that was consumed at breakfast – cereal plus milk plus banana equals my whole daily intake of sugar in one sitting. I went in search of a less sugary breakfast solution, finally settling on a bagel with peanut butter. When I have that for breakfast, limit myself to one serving of fruit per day, and eat only small amounts of dark chocolate, I can stay within my daily sugar limit. I feel good about that, especially when I read articles like this.

For August, that’s what I’ve been focusing on – keeping the sugar under control. It’s a different kind of change in routine than taking up meditating or sweeping my kitchen floor, but it still involves changing habits. I have to think about what I’m eating and not eating. At this point, it’s going well. I’ve stopped mindlessly eating sugar, and I think I actually feel a little less hungry, which would make sense because I’m not having massive blood sugar fluctuations. This time I’m not looking at cutting down on sugar as a two-week experiment. I’m looking at it as a life change, and I’m not eliminating it completely. I’m just making sweet treats a much more occasional thing for me, rather than an every day thing.

Start With Small Changes

One thing I’ve learned on my journey towards a more purpose-driven life is that change happens best in small, bite-sized pieces. That’s why I’m once again choosing something that isn’t going to take much time. I may be busy, but I can find a few minutes a day to build a better life. I invite you to take on some small changes as well. What could you do to improve your daily rhythm or overall mood? And, what’s holding you back from doing it? Create a new routine, and leave a comment so that we can cheer each other on!

Kids and Dogs and Frustration

My five-year-old Jacob is afraid of dogs. It doesn’t matter whether the dog is big or small, loud or quiet, sniffing him or ignoring him, on a leash or off, he’s scared. I don’t really know why. I don’t believe he’s ever had a particularly negative experience with a dog. However, I remember being afraid of dogs myself as a child, even though we had a big German Shepherd cross as a beloved family pet. I wasn’t afraid of my dog, but I was afraid of strange dogs, and so I suspect that maybe some kids are just nervous around dogs. It would make sense for children to be instinctively cautious around animals they don’t know.

The problem that I have is that I live across the street from a park that my kids love. The portion of the park closest to my house is a playground for young children. It’s actually called a ‘tot lot’, reflecting the fact that it caters to little kids. The tot lot is only part of a much larger park, which also features baseball and soccer fields. On summer evenings, lots of people bring their dogs out to play in the fields. Sometimes parents come with kids and dogs, and stand to the side of the playground throwing balls for their dogs while the kids play. There are signs posted around the whole park, including the fields, stating that dogs need to be on leashes, but many people ignore these signs.

Inevitably, off-leash dogs wind up on the playground. When this happens, I’m left in a tough position as my two kids react in diametrically opposed ways. My daughter Hannah loves dogs, and will ask the dog owner if she can say hello. My son Jacob, when he notices the dog, will run shrieking and crying towards me. On the one hand, I don’t want my daughter to also become afraid of dogs. On the other hand, I don’t want to be seen to tacitly approve of off-leash dogs on the playground by standing and smiling while my daughter makes friends with Fido.

kids and dogs

The fact is that 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the US. The highest rate of dog bites happens in kids ages five to nine – the same age as my son. The CDC has safety tips to prevent dog bites, and number two on the list is ‘Do not run from a dog or scream.’ Basically, they’re saying not to do what my son automatically does. I’m working hard to teach Jacob dog safety, but he’s a little kid. When he’s scared he’s going to act scared. That behaviour can trigger dogs. In the face of that, I’m frankly not willing to trust him around off-leash dogs that my family doesn’t know well.

When I explain my son’s fear to folks with off-leash dogs on the playground, most of them are very understanding and leash their dogs right away. However, I don’t feel it’s fair to put the onus on me to ask, because the truth is that not everyone is understanding. Some people ignore a request to put their dog on a leash. Some people discount my fears, and say that their dogs are very friendly. Some people just take their dogs and leave. A few people react with hostility. For instance, when my daughter recently pointed out to someone that dogs were supposed to be on leashes (because she didn’t want her brother to be scared), the guy told her, “Kids need to be on leashes.” Nice, right? When it’s up to me to ask, I’m forced to risk someone else’s negative reaction.

I know that the local dog owners are aware of the rules, because from time to time a bylaw officer stops by. When they see the officer coming, people leash their dogs in a hurry. Then, about two minutes after the officer leaves, the leashes come off. When that happens, I’m once again put in the position of having to police strangers’ decisions to allow their off-leash dogs onto the playground.

I understand that dogs need to run. I understand that more and more people have dogs in smaller spaces, without adequate space to run and play at home. I wish that my community had more and better off-leash dog parks, to meet the obvious need. In the meantime, though, I’m frustrated that my son can’t play at our local playground much of the time because of off-leash dogs. I’m frustrated that I have to risk being the bad guy with dog owners. And I’m sort of looking forward to the end of summer, so that things get back to normal on the playground.

I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!

For the past few weeks, I’ve been participating in the 10 Week Peaceful Parenting Challenge. It seemed like a good exercise for the summer, both for my blog and for myself. With school out, I’m spending a lot of time with my kids, and like all parents I could always use a little more peace in my life. Unfortunately, last week I was out of town and didn’t manage to get a post in on time. When I saw that the topic was Developing Positive Self-Talk, though, I knew I wanted to write something about this anyway.

As someone who came of age during the 90’s, the first image that pops into my head when you say ‘positive self-talk’ is Stuart Smalley saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

In terms of SNL motivational speakers, Stuart had it all over Matt Foley if you’re looking for positivity.

The second thing I think of when I hear the phrase ‘positive self-talk’ is affirmations. As good hippies, my parents loved affirmations. I remember little notes taped up around the house, containing positive phrases to repeat over and over again. As an adolescent, this made me roll my eyes, like pretty much everything else my parents did.

Between the Stuart Smalley reference and my early experiences with affirmations, I can’t say that I really took the idea of positive self-talk all that seriously for the longest time. It seemed sort of like a joke – like something you did instead of actually going out and doing something. To be fair, maybe sometimes it is that. However, now that I’m a little older myself, I see more to it. The reason I see more to it basically boils down to one thing: I have children.

Now that I’m a parent, the things I say about myself are never really for my ears only. My kids hear what I say, and see what I do. When I’ve made jokes at my own expense in the past, they’ve reacted with indignation. My little ones don’t want anyone saying bad things about their mom – even when I’m doing it myself. I can actually understand that. When the tables are turned, and my kids say bad things about themselves, I feel pretty indignant, too. I don’t want anyone saying bad things about my kids.

I don’t want to share my hang-ups with my kids, and I’m fooling myself if I think I can walk around all day bathing in insecurity without my kids catching on. This means that I actually need to work to foster more positive self-talk, so that my kids overhear what I want them to overhear. Plus – bonus points – by cultivating a more positive mind-set I’m actually helping myself. When I start the day expecting it to be terrible, it pretty much always is. When I start the day looking forward to what’s ahead, things go better for everyone.

There are actually proven benefits to looking on the sunny side, as well. Optimists enjoy better health and longer life spans. They’re less likely to suffer from diabetes or high blood pressure, and they’re even less likely to smoke. Affirmations without action may not get you very far, but if you can cultivate a positive outlook it seems that you’re more likely to take action and take care of yourself. If you have children, you’re also setting an example for them.

Right now, as summer vacation drags on and I sometimes find myself counting the days until school starts again, I’m working hard to cultivate that positive self-talk. It means that when I start feeling annoyed, I take a couple of deep breaths and ask myself whether there’s actually a problem, or if I’m just tired or hungry or I’ve been ignoring my need to pee. It means that instead of approaching my day with the thought I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in, I start out by thinking I have a day to spend with my kids and I’m looking forward to it. It doesn’t always work, but it does improve things, most of the time.

I’ve come around on positive self-talk, slowly but surely. Maybe Stuart Smalley was on to something, after all.

As I said, I didn’t write this in time for this week’s carnival, but other people did. I encourage you to check out their posts for even more positivity:

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