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Decluttering My Vanity…and My Life

Decluttering My Vanity…and My Life

So I thought I would kick off the new year by getting rid of things I have lying around that are seldom used and gathering dust. Makeup, clothes, home decor, and toys were making their way into the “donate” pile. This quickly became an exercise in self reflection.

At first I felt the urge to justify keeping things, thinking, “Oh I’m sure I’ll use this soon.”  But as my stack began to grow, the buzz of having more space and simplifying my home began to kick in.  Before I knew it, I was happily tossing things in. I began to feel more energized, and it occurred to me just how long it had been since I felt that way.

I realized that not only did I need to declutter my house, I needed to declutter my life.  It wasn’t just about “things” zapping my energy.  Unhealthy habits, relationships, and priorities can throw everything off kilter. They steal our time, energy, and quality of life. And just like justifying the keeping of unnecessary things, we legitimize those habits by saying, “It’s not that big of a deal.” We defend unhealthy relationships with family, friends, and partners, thinking, “It will get better.” We excuse skewed priorities with, “I’ll get to it later.” But later never comes.  Not that way.

Later is now. This moment is what we have to work with.  Maybe “it” is that big of a deal.  And how can things get better without correction?  Ask yourself honestly what (or who) needs to go, needs to change. Even if the one who needs to change is you. Change is scary, but what scares you more? Changing…or staying the same?

What will you “declutter?” Leave a comment below.  Thanks for reading.

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‘Good’ Looks?

English: Makeup before attendance. Српски / Sr...

English: Makeup before attendance. Српски / Srpski: Шминкање пред наступ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“That which is striking and beautiful is not always good, but that which is good is always beautiful.” -Ninon de L’enclos

Have you ever stopped to think about what is in your makeup?  Unfortunately we cannot assume that if a product is allowed on the shelves it must be okay.  In fact, it may even be toxic.  Thanks to being born the only girl in a house full of boys, makeup has never been that important to me.  Still, I like to get dolled up on occasion, and I want to feel good about what I am putting on my face.  This post is not an alarmist scare tactic.  Rather, my opinion is that people should be educated about their products so they can make an informed decision.  Below is a list of personal care ingredients that are suspected toxins known as the “dirty dozen,” a brief description of the serious health concerns to which they are linked, and resources for finding non-toxic products.

  • BHA & BHT
  • Parabens
  • DEA-Realated Ingredients
  • Dibutyl phthalate
  • Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives
  • PEG Compounds
  • Coal Tar Dyes
  • Petrolatum
  • Siloxanes
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate
  • Fragrance
  • Triclosan

While each ingredient affects us differently, some are known carcinogens, linked to organ toxicity, as well as birth defects, hormone disruption, cancer, skin rashes and irritations, allergens, asthma, and reproductive problems for both genders from either direct use or in utero exposure.  I enjoy makeup, but it is absolutely not worth those risks.  Some argue that many of these ingredients are considered low risk in small amounts.  However, people are not just exposed to them in a one-time use product.  Unfortunately, most personal care products contain one or several of these toxins, from lipstick to shampoo, lotion, soap, and more each and every day (not to mention toxins in other products such as food and cleaning products).  I would rather yield to the Precautionary Principle and limit them as much as possible.  It seems inconceivable that these ingredients would be allowed in so many of our products.

“Most consumer products are unregulated in the U.S., so manufacturers are allowed to use hazardous chemicals without demonstrating the safety of the products and without labeling them as toxic.” (Malkin, 2007).  Stronger regulation of cosmetic ingredients would help reduce or eliminate the risk posed by these components from the products that we put on our skin.  As the skin is our largest organ, the majority of what we put on it gets absorbed into our bodies.  Some of the ingredients above help products penetrate more deeply into our skin, causing us to absorb even more.  Many in-depth resources have been written about toxic ingredients and the lack of laws regulating their use, such as the references listed below.  If these ingredients are in so many products, how can they be avoided?

If you are like me, trying to decipher the ingredients list on a package can make your eyes cross.  What’s more, many of these products are listed under multiple names, such as the many types of siloxanes (generally they are listed as words ending in “–siloxane” and “–methicone”). Luckily there are search engines available that provide information on the safety of product ingredients.  I use Good Guide at www.goodguide.com and Skin Deep at www.ewg.org/skindeep. Each site pulls up a detailed rating regarding ingredient safety and toxicity.  Good Guide even has an app for smart phones.  Although I have found the regular search engine works a bit better, it is convenient to have it at my fingertips in the store.  It has enabled me to avoid purchasing a product with a low health rating numerous times.  Before you think this message is all gloom and doom, be encouraged that many products are available with safe ingredient alternatives (both affordable and high end).  And if you are motivated, you can take action.

-Urge your country’s leaders to pass legislation for safer personal care products.  If you live in the U.S., contact your representative and encourage them to co-sponsor the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013 (H.R. 1385) here: http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5500/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=13369.

If you live in Canada, go here: http://action2.davidsuzuki.org/cosmetics.

-Support health-conscious businesses by purchasing their products that have safe ingredient ratings.  Do not assume that if a product is labeled “natural” or “organic” that they truly are.  Companies recognize that many consumers are interested in healthier product ingredients.  They are trying to capitalize on that, labeling products as natural and organic which are not.  This also happens due to the lack of regulation.  Also do not assume that just because a company makes certain products with low-risk ingredients that all of their products will have the same rating.

-Reduce the number of products you use each day.  And remember, you do not need makeup to be beautiful!  The times in my life I’ve worn the most makeup were when I was most insecure, which is no good reason to wear it.

-Contact cosmetic and personal care companies and retailers to let them know healthy product ingredients matter to you.  For a form letter to retailers, go here: http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5500/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=12309.

-Spread the word so others can make informed choices about their products.

-Stay informed through campaigns such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (http://safecosmetics.org/), Teens for Safe Cosmetics (www.teensturninggreen.org/ ), and the Breast Cancer Fund (www.breastcancerfund.org/), among numerous others (a list of more endorsing organizations can be found on the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website).

Don’t be discouraged.  Many companies are making the move toward safer products for their consumers; products that work just as well if not better than the toxic alternative.  It simply takes a little extra time on our part to find them.  Each time we purchase them, we send a message that toxic makeup should be a thing of the past.  Companies will make what people will buy.  Thanks for reading.  Please let me know your favorite low-toxin personal care products in the comments below.

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1Peter 3:3-4

References

Malkin, S. (2007). Not Just a Pretty Face: The ugly side of the beauty industry. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers.

Suzuki, D. (n.d.). “‘Dirty Dozen’ Cosmetic Chemicals to Avoid. In David Suzuki Foundation. Retrieved June 4, 2013, from http://www.davidsuzuki.org/issues/health/science/toxics/dirty-dozen-cosmetic-chemicals/

http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

http://www.goodguide.com/

http://safecosmetics.org/

Watch my YouTube video on this topic:

Water in the Basement

We’ve had some pretty nasty thunderstorms here lately, leaving many people with water in their basements.  Fortunately, our house had very, very little so it was more annoying than catastrophic.  Due to this water, we were going through boxes and things that have been stored down there and I came across a box I have not touched in years.  It contained memories from college.

Inside the box were many things I had both treasured and mindlessly thrown in to accelerate the moving process.  Class schedules, pictures, funny notes my roommate and I had taped to our door, flash cards, and e-mails I had printed.  Even notebooks I would doodle and journal in if I was bored at work at the mall (yes I was a total mall rat).  The nostalgia hit me so hard it was almost painful.  College was a very interesting time for me, simultaneously fun, challenging, chaotic, and amazing somehow.

Perhaps it was being an adult without 100% of the responsibility that would eventually come.  Maybe it was that my whole life was before me, full of promise and possibility.  I used to daydream about what the future would hold: what will my career be?  Who will I marry?  Where will I live?  How many children will I have?  What adventures will we create?  What will all of that look like put together?  My imagination would run wild with these things, picturing both the exciting and mundane.  I loved to dream.

Sitting there it occurred to me how, at this point, it seems so much of my life has been decided.  I know the answers to most of those questions now.   As a child in school I remember how much I looked forward to the weekend.  In time, I realized it was more the promise the weekend held than anything else.  But I miss dreaming a little, and I’m not entirely sure why.  Perhaps I feel a little trapped, like I can’t make any major change without disrupting the kids or job security.  Not in an immature, bored kind of way.  I have been very content with my life since undergrad, full of so many wonderful people and experiences I would never trade in.  And I certainly wouldn’t want to repeat college all over again.  Yet in the background there’s always that nostalgia that won’t be completely quiet.  And sometimes, times like now when I find an old photo or hear an old song, it becomes a guttural scream; a cry of restlessness.

Perhaps I need to remind myself that life is never fully decided.  That, in many ways, my proverbial “whole life” is always ahead of me; be it 80 years or mere moments.  Maybe the cure for the common life is to do something spontaneous.  To keep dreaming big.  To believe that God still has something special up His sleeve.  This can be a bit scary.  After all, not all change is pleasant.  And as I sit in the mildly musty basement lost in thought and memories, my little boy runs up to me and gives me a craft he made for me.  My heart warms, and I pack up the past and head back upstairs to my gifts of the present; reassured that I still have the right to dream.  For a romantic like me, I’m glad to have something to dream about.  And glad for a little water in the basement.

Preparing for Baby: What’s in My Hospital Bag?

As pregnancy winds closer to an end in expectation for birth, one of the to-do list items to check off my list is packing the hospital bag.  Whether you are packing your bag months in advance in anticipation, or if you are a procrastinator packing at the last minute, below is what I consider my hospital essentials when having a baby.

For Me

  • Slippers for doing laps around the birth center to get dilated
  • Warm, fuzzy socks to keep my feet warm
  • Reusable feminine pads to manage bleeding (for vaginal childbirth).  Reusable pads are better both for mom (no harmful chemicals like dioxin) and the environment.  I use Lunapads which you can find at http://www.lunapads.com
  • Reusable nursing pads.  These are important for both breastfeeding and bottle feeding moms as your milk will come in regardless.  I like the brand Skoon which can be found at http://www.sckoon.com/organiccottonbabyclothing-collections-breastfeeding-pads.html
  • Massage items so your spouse or coach can rub your back during labor (I prefer LUSH massage bars to lotions or creams-less messy).  You can find them at http://www.lushusa.com/Massage-Bars/massage-bars,en_US,sc.html
  • Nipple cream for breastfeeding mothers.  This is essential.  When nursing my daughter, I somehow missed the memo about nipple cream and they were so sore it made nursing almost unbearable.  A few days later my friend asked me if I had been using any cream and mercifully filled me in on it.  What a difference it made!  I may have given up on breastfeeding without it.  An alternative that I’ve heard works well is using breast milk.  After your child has finished nursing, rub a small amount of breast milk on the nipple and let it air dry.  The nipple cream I like is Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Butter, a 100% natural product.  This can be found at http://www.abesmarket.com/store/earthmama/products/?gclid=CMe-jcrN8LUCFetAMgodo1QADg
  • Headphones and MP3/iPod for music to help relax or distract you through contractions
  • Camera for taking pictures/video
  • Lip balm for hydrating lips that get dry from all of that deep breathing
  • Toiletries
  • Book or magazines

For Baby

  • Cloth diapers-I am packing some Bum Genius 4.0 one size diapers.  These may not work for babies that weigh less than 8 lbs, so just in case I am also packing some Kissa’s newborn prefolds and Thirsties extra-small diaper covers.  My favorite website for cloth diaper essentials is  http://www.kellyscloset.com/ or even craigslist/on-line yard sales for gently used ones for very cheap
  • Baby lotion-I use California Baby natural lotion which can be found online or at Target http://www.californiababy.com/super-sensitive-shampoo-bodywash-8-5-oz.html
  • Clothes-onesies, bodysuits or pajamas, and an outfit for newborn pictures
  • Small amount of olive oil (I use cold pressed extra virgin olive oil)-put this on baby when changing their diaper.  This will help the ever-so-sticky meconium clean off like a dream.
  • Receiving blankets or swaddlers

Some women like to bring pajamas or robes from home that are more comfortable than hospital gowns.  If you do this make sure you are okay with them getting stained by the plethora of fluid that accompanies childbirth.  My list may seem very modest.  I remember with my first child I completely over-packed as I was not sure what I would need.   You may have additional items that are essential for your comfort.  Pack whatever you feel you need.  I recommend keeping it simple so that packing to go home will be a simpler process.

Thanks for reading.  Please leave me your hospital bag essentials in the comments below.

My YouTube video on these items:

Pros and Cons to Making a Snowman with Your Kids

Snowman

Snowman (Photo credit: stevegarfield)

My husband and I love to engage in the winter tradition of building a snowman with our children.  The snowperson is carefully constructed and decorated with love.  Afterward we head inside for some hot cocoa by the fireplace.  Lots of laughter and love, right?  This year, however, has shown me that there actually can be unforeseen consequences to this family fun pastime.

Pro: Quality family time engaging in a fun-filled activity with your kids.

Con: Accidentally building the colossal snow person in front of your picture window.  At night it gives the illusion that a creepy weirdo is standing outside your window ever so still and watching you.  Causes mini-myocardial infarctions each time you pass the window at night.

Pro: The look of sheer joy on the children’s faces at the process and finished product of something they created with you.

Con: As Mr. Frosty melts and refreezes, he starts to look like the person in the Edvard Munch painting The Scream.  The snowman stays in this state exponentially longer than he did Frosty.

Edvard Munch - Geschrei - The Scream - 1895 - ...

Edvard Munch – Geschrei – The Scream – 1895 – dithered color, close-up (Photo credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL))

Pro: The pictures and memories that will last long after your children have grown.

Con: You unintentionally build the snowman where the mail carrier likes to take a shortcut through your yard to get to the next house.  The mail carrier proceeds to kick or shoulder check Frosty each time he walks past.

Pro: The strengthening of the family bond by continuing the season’s tradition.

Con: The children’s stunned faces when they see the neighbor’s dog urinating on Mr. Frosty.

Pro: Allowing your children the creative space to decorate the snowman on their own.

Con: They decided to decorate it with his face parallel to the road.  What you have failed to consider is that from across the street/roadside view, the snowman’s arm looks like a penis.  Seriously, the neighbors have made comments…

The moral of the story?  Well of course we will continue to build snowmen with our children in the years to come-although the majority of these cons could have been prevented by building him in the back yard.  Totally worth it.  Happy building!  Please commiserate with us and share your snowman fails in the comments below.  Thanks for reading.

 

Am I Seriously Considering Cloth Diapering?

My Cloth and Biodegradable Diapering System

My Cloth and Biodegradable Diapering System (Photo credit: po1yester)

Amazingly I find myself sitting here, very pregnant and contemplating cloth diapers for my soon-to-be newborn.  This is something I have given only the briefest consideration in the past.  Sure I was aware of some pros to going cloth.  But there was one factor I just could not get over: dealing with the poop.  So here is my story of how I came to consider this seriously.

First of all I should let you know that my dad worked in environmental safety as his professional career.   Why is this important?  Let’s just say I was raised with a heavy awareness on how we as people affect the environment and the importance to taking care of the planet (to put it mildly).  My father is very passionate about this, and I was fortunate enough to have this passed on to me.  Obviously, using disposable diapers and wipes takes a nasty toll on the ecosystem.  It is estimated that a child will contribute 8,000-10,000 disposable diapers into the landfill before becoming potty trained.  This does not include the use of swim diapers or disposable potty training pants (which, let’s face it, are basically just diapers that go on like underwear).  And then it takes hundreds and hundreds of years for these diapers to decompose.  But this is something I have known for years, and while it gave me an occasional twinge of guilt, did not sway me to use cloth diapers.  Next is the issue of cost.

It costs roughly $2000 to diaper one child for 2 years with disposable diapers.  This is not including disposable wipes.  It costs approximately $300-400 to diaper a child for 2 years with cloth diapers (of course this number can be much higher or lower depending on the type and material of cloth diapers you wish to use).  Again, this is something I was aware of, no surprise there.  This still wasn’t enough to sway me.  But here are some things I did not know previously.

Have you ever read the directions on a package of disposable diapers?  If you are shaking your head thinking that is the dumbest question you have ever been asked, I understand completely.  I never had either until recently.  But if you check it out, the disposable diapers give the direction to dump fecal matter into the toilet before disposing of the diaper.  What?!  I thought I was using these to avoid dealing with the poop as much as possible?  It turns out I was supposed to be dealing with it all along.  There goes my main reason for avoiding cloth diapering.  But that is not the factor that tilted the scale for me.

Now maybe you are much smarter and up on things than I am and this will be no surprise to you.  I was completely shocked to learn what chemicals are in disposable diapers.  Some such chemicals are dioxin, sodium polyacrylate, Tributyl-tin or TBT, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and fragrance which contain phthalates.  While the threat of each chemical differs, some are carcinogenic known cancer causers, known to disturb hormones, known to disrupt the endocrine system, known respiratory irritants, and known for potentially causing skin irritation.  These are products that are sitting on our children’s most private body parts for hours at a time.  Once I learned this, it was a done deal.  My aversion to inconvenience could in no way trump the health of my child.  Then I began the long process of researching different kinds of cloth diapers and alternatives to disposable wipes.

While I was tempted to beat myself up for not going cloth sooner, at least I am doing it now.  And I am not alone.  More people seem to be considering cloth than have in decades.  I must admit, when the initial box of cloth diapers came and I actually took them out and looked them over, the reality of choosing cloth sank in deeper.  This is no longer a great idea on principle.  I am actually going to have to deal with the poop and the washing of the diapers.  But when it comes to my child’s best interest, it’s a no brainer.

Are you a terrible parent if you choose to use disposable diapers?  Of course not; it takes much more time and up-front cost to use cloth.  I hope you will at least consider it.  Do some research, using the references listed below and others (there are many) before you come to a conclusion.  Thanks for reading.  Please leave me a comment below with your thoughts on this topic.

References:

Lehrburger, C. (1988). Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The disposable diaper myth. In Library of Awareness. Retrieved February 8, 2013, from http://libaware.economads.com/ddiapermyth.php

Sharratt, A. (2010). Disposable Diapers: Are they dangerous?. In CBC News. Retrieved May 28, 2010, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2010/05/28/f-disposable-diapers.html

Why Choose Cloth Diapers?. (2012). In Real Diaper Association. Retrieved February 8, 2013, from http://www.realdiaperassociation.org/diaperfacts.php

Can Your Calling Change?

A year ago, I was content in my phase of life.  I spent most of my time raising our young children.  I worked part-time as a counselor in a very

Two Paths Diverged in a wood

Two Paths Diverged in a wood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

fulfilling job.  Life was good; I was living out my calling.  Little did I expect the rug was about to get pulled out from under me.

It began very subtly.  I had a small but nagging sense that it was time to leave my job.  Whenever this would occur to me, I quickly shrugged it off for many reasons.  The hours were flexible, I saw a diverse client base which kept work interesting, I was making decent money, I loved what I did, and it felt very meaningful.  Yet I still sensed that I needed to move on.  Shoving that notion to the back of my mind soon got costly.

The environment at work quickly and unexpectedly began to change.  My caseload was growing exponentially to nearly that of a full-time therapist.  Pressure was building to work more hours.  While my sessions with clients were still challenging and fulfilling, the office culture was rapidly becoming a toxic breeding ground for burnout.  I finally accepted that I needed to leave.  Then I had to figure out what I would do next.

This decision consumed me.  There were myriad options; however, none of them felt right.  I had offers to interview for other positions, but they were full-time.  I was committed to only working part-time while raising my kids so this was not a route I was willing to take.  Other part-time positions that were available were very limited, unchallenging, farther away, or worked with a population I was not as passionate about.  I considered going into private practice.  This seemed like the “right” answer.  I had plenty of referral sources and contact with other therapists in private practice who explained in depth the process of starting and maintaining a practice.  But all I could think about was the stress of owning my own business: getting paneled for insurances, finding an affordable place to practice, paying rent, buying accounting software to manage expenses and taxes, and so on ad infinitum.  Plus there was the guilt I felt over leaving my current clients.  At the end of every day, I felt fried with anxiety over making the right decision.  But none of the options before me brought me any sense of peace.  I started praying about the situation, hoping to gain some guidance.   God answered in a way I never expected.

I felt exceptionally impressed that I needed to stay home with my kids.  This possibility had not once occurred to me.  Never did I see myself as a fully stay at home mom.  I had felt called to become a counselor since I was a teenager; a calling that was undeniable for many years which God confirmed time and time again.  I had obtained three different licenses that needed to be maintained.  I loved counseling and had not entertained another future for myself in years.  I was (hopefully) helping people.  How could leaving this be the right answer?

I continued praying about this, convinced that I had misheard God.  I kept coming back to the notion that I needed to spend more time raising my children.  Plus my husband and I had begun the process of becoming foster parents, hoping it would result in adoption.  I struggled with and fought this choice for months.  Over time the path before me became clear: even though I did not want to hear it, this was the only option that gave me peace.

While I did not fully understand it, I decided to trust God in His leading.  I left my job and now hold a small pro bono caseload.  This transition was not easy, but over time I began to see God’s plan unfolding before me (including a surprise pregnancy, but that’s a story for another day).  Initially I was like Samuel mourning over Saul in 1 Samuel 16; God was calling me to something new, but first I had to let go of the old.  Letting go of a calling can be painful and difficult.  I did not realize how much of my identity had gotten wrapped up in my career.  And I was learning that just because something is “good” and right for one season does not mean it’s suited for me forever.  As I walked in obedience and adjusted my attitude, I was opening myself up to the blessings God had in store for me that I never could have conceived.  If we trust Him we can trust that He is leading us to something just as meaningful and fulfilling.  God is calling you.  He is a God of new things and wants you to join in the adventure.

Have you had a similar experience?  Leave a comment below!  Looking for resources on the subject of calling?  Below are a couple of books I highly recommend.  Thanks for reading.

The Call by Os Guiness

The Missional Mom by Helen Lee