Archive for August, 2011

Babies and Sunscreen

The summer is winding down, but if you are a parent like me, you have spent the last couple of months slathering sunscreen on your kids regularly. Being fair-skinned, I have had my share of sunburns. Research has shown that 1 blistering sunburn during childhood more than doubles your risk for skin cancer. This fact is another example of the weight of responsibility we have as parents. Skin cancer may not present itself until well into adulthood, but that skin cancer may not happen if we are conscientious to our kid’s sun exposure. Besides – sunburns hurt and who really wants to see their child in pain because you were negligent in protecting their skin.

Another argument for sunscreen is that it isn’t just sunburns that put us at risk for skin cancer. It is also continuous sun exposure over many years. Sunburns put you at greater risk for melanoma, but continuous sun exposure puts you at risk for basil cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Don’t think you’re safe or your kids are safe because you never burn and always tan. You still need sunscreen.

I have now made the case for how important sunscreen is, but we have to remember that sunscreen is made up of chemicals that get absorbed into the skin. I have tried to reduce the amount of sunscreen used by letting my kids play outside in the mornings and late in the day when the risk of sunburn is low. They frequently wear hats to avoid sunscreen on their face, and on those bright sunny days, I encourage them to play in the shade. So far so good. Neither one even has a tan line and we have had our share of outdoor play this year.

A misconception about sunscreen and children is that you need to be using sunscreen specifically created for babies. I have news for you – it’s a marketing scam. Most sunscreens made for kids are the same as the adult formula. It may be created for more sensitive skin, but the fact is there are no restrictions on what sunscreen you can use on your kids. I am guilty of buying Aveeno for babies and Coppertone Water Babies thinking that it was something special.

Knowing how important an effective sunscreen is and that it is full of chemicals, the question is are some less bad for you than others? The answer is yes, and I have found a great resource for finding out which ones you should use. This section on EWG’s website ranks popular sunscreens on their effectiveness, stability, and health concerns. Check it out and find the best sunscreen for you and your kids.

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It’s Still Zucchini Season!

Living by the rule that you should always buy what is in season and local, I bought even more zucchini and yellow squash last week.  Many people think that zucchini is only good for one thing – zucchini bread.  This notion always makes me laugh because it is probably one of the most popular garden vegetables in my region, and people struggle with what to do with it. It is easy to grow and the yield is huge.  Plus, the deer don’t seem to like it.  Zucchini is very versatile.  It doesn’t have an overpowering flavor so it can be used in a multitude of dishes.  I prefer zucchini shredded or thinly sliced.  It has a lot of water in it, and that water leaks out during cooking and continues even after you’re finished.  The smaller the pieces the more water that you can eliminate during the cooking process.

 One nice thing about being stuck in the house during a hurricane is there is lots of time to cook.  On Saturday night, I whipped up a squash casserole and cooked salmon fillets for a delicious meal.  I actually bought this enormous fresh salmon fillet at Costco for a dinner with friends Saturday night.  We had to cancel that dinner because of the hurricane and every time I opened the fridge, that huge piece of fish was staring at me wondering what I was going to do with it.  We rarely freeze meat or fish in my house.  We prefer to eat it fresh, but I had no choice.  This fillet was probalby 2 feet long.  I have a good appetite but not that good. In the freezer it went.

Before I even started cooking, I whipped up my favorite cocktail – a mojito.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have all the ingredients so I fudged a little.  My typical mojito includes light rum, tonic water, simple syrup, mint, and fresh lime juice.  I had everything but the tonic water and fresh limes, so I substituted with ginger ale and lime juice in a bottle.  It hit the spot.  Just a side note, if you ever want to grow mint in your garden – DON”T.  Grow it in a pot or else in a couple of years you will have a garden of mint despite best efforts of removing it.

Next I started on the Squash Casserole.  You will need the following:

2 cups cornbread stuffing
2 small zucchinis, shredded
2 small yellow squashes, shredded
1 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup (I think cream of celery might add a nice flavor too)
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

This recipe calls for 2 cups of cornbread stuffing.  You can easily find this in the grocery store with the bread; however, if you are a vegetarian beware.  It is always made with chicken stock and a bunch of other ingredients that you won’t be able to pronounce.  My solution is to make some cornbread in an 8×8 square pan – either from scratch or from a mix.   When it cools, crumble it up, add a little bit of olive oil and seasonings (I used salt, pepper, garlic powder and thyme leaves) and presto – you have cornbread stuffing.

Put half of the stuffing in the bottom of a 9×9 square pan.

Mix together remaining ingredients.

It may look like a goopy mess, but it will be delicious.  Pour this mixture on top of the cornbread stuffing and top with remaining stuffing.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through. 

Now on to the salmon.  Salmon is very easy to cook.  I mixed a little bit of butter, lemon juice and basil and brushed it on top of the fillets. 

See that little piece on the left…that’s for Gavin.  I was unsure if he would even try it, but I made him some just in case.

Next you toss it into a skillet.  I use a non-stick skillet and there is enough fat in the salmon that you don’t have to worry about it sticking to the pan.  You can see by looking at the bottom of the salmon that it is already starting to cook.

When it looks like it has cooked halfway through, flip it over and cook the other side.

Voila!  Oh and by the way, Gavin ate every bite of salmon.

Bye-Bye Irene

This weekend was about Irene.  I live in Southeastern PA, about 45 minutes from Center City, Philadelphia.  We had been hearing about Hurricane Irene for days.  She was predicted to hit our area Sunday night.  Friday was my normal day off, and I decided to head to the grocery store and do my weekly shopping before the craziness started.  I chuckled a little bit as every single shopping cart had a case or 2 of bottled water.  I didn’t buy any, not expecting to need it.  I assumed that people were getting caught up in the media hype of the impending hurricane and refused to cave to the insanity.

          (source)

As the day wore on and I started to watch the news, I began to wonder how bad things were going to be.  That night we headed to Costco after dinner to pick up a couple of items.  We usually go on the weekend but again were trying to beat major crowds anticipated on Saturday.  We usually buy our bread at Costco, and I was shocked at how little bread was left.  It was only Friday night!  Again, we saw people scrambling for bottled water.  We wavered on whether to buy some or not (you may know how I feel about bottled water) and ended up throwing a case on our shopping cart.  After that, the craziness of preparing for this hurricane grabbed us too.

(source)

We steadily watched the news on Saturday, canceled plans for Saturday night and spent the afternoon getting ready.  The reality was that we, like everybody else we knew, had no idea what was going to happen.  After the wettest month on record, we were forecasted to get 5-10 inches of rain and lots and lots of wind.  That much rain in an already saturated ground was not something that we had experienced, and we decided to prepare for the worst.  Steve spent the afternoon clearing our deck, redirecting our gutters away from our house, making our generator accessible and covering our window wells with plywood (Lowe’s was out of those plastic covers).  While the kids napped, we worked on the basement.  We moved things to higher ground just in case we flooded.  Steve even rigged up a little platform to elevate the treadmill.  I would have been very upset to lose the treadmill.  I filled our bathtub, bottles for Skylar for the next day and sippy cups for Gavin, and got out the flashlights.  Then we waited.

The rain started in the afternoon and as Irene got closer, the rain got harder and the wind got stronger.   We watched the news, and I got more nervous.  I had naively thought that we would secure our deck furniture and then go to bed and wake up in the morning and she would be gone.  She was forecasted to hit us between midnight and 6am, but the rain started falling a lot earlier than midnight.   Around 9pm, Steve showed me a leak around the seal where our sewer pipe exits our house in the basement.  It literally looked like a water fountain.  It spouted into our French drain, and we were worried what the additional rain would do to that leak.  We checked on it a couple of times before we went to bed where we watched more news and in time to get even more frightened with a tornado warning.  I finally fell asleep only to wake up later to a roaring sound in the distance.  My first thought was a tornado.  They always say that they sound like a freight train coming.  After a couple of minutes, I realized that it was just the fire house whistle.  Steve got up a couple of times to check on the basement.   It was a very restless night with the rain and the wind. 

By morning, the worst was done and the aftermath was minor in our area.  Our power was still on, and we had no flooding in our basement.  The leak slowed to a seep by late morning.   The window well under our deck did flood and we found some water on the floor but nothing serious.  Our sump pump has been running non-stop, but we are dry.  The wind held strong all day.  We watched the news some more and saw some awful pictures of flooding.  I saw even worse ones on Facebook.  We were lucky compared others, but I couldn’t help wonder if we got caught up in the news hype of the hurricane.  Did we over prepare?  Did I worry too much?  Maybe and probably.  That’s what the news will do to you, but I guess it is better to be safer than sorry.

By 8pm, the kids were in bed and we went outside to repopulate our deck and return the rest of our house to normal.  The wind was gone and the sky was clear.  It was hard to believe what the previous 36 hours had been looking up at that clear sky.  After an earthquake and a hurricane in one week, hopefully, we’ll have calmer weather in our future.

Appreciating Life Before Kids

I had intentions of getting up to run this morning, but exactly 5 minutes before my alarm clock was to go off (at 5:35am!) something else woke me up. Gavin was banging on his door to get out. I rushed in there before he woke up his sister. He immediately laid down on the floor for a diaper change and then got up to head either downstairs or into bed with Steve and me. Only 1 time has he ever slept with us, but he does frequently hang out in our room on early mornings watching tv while we desperately try to fall back asleep. So at 5:37 am, he was asking to watch Toot-Toot (aka Thomas). I explained that it wasn’t time to get up and tried to get him to fall back asleep. After about 15 minutes of snuggling with him, which consisted of me teetering on the edge of the bed while he moved my arm into different positions and locations, I finally grabbed the remote and turned on the tv. Once he was settled with Toot-Toot, I gave up on sleep and started getting ready for work.

I’m sure many of you have experienced similar morning scenarios. It got me thinking about aspects of life Pre-K(ids) that I never really appreciated. Here are a few of them.

Sleep
Grant it, we do sleep well. Both kids go to bed around 8pm with no problems, and the baby sleeps all night. In fact, she sleeps better than Gavin, so most nights our sleep is uninterrupted. However, mornings for children are different than mornings for adults. Children wake up and are ready to go. They want to play. They want to interact. They want to eat. And they want to do this much earlier than I want to. As a parent, you have no choice but to get moving whether you’re awake or not. I didn’t appreciate the opportunities to sleep whenever and for how long I wanted Pre-K. I can’t just take a nap now if I’m tired. There isn’t any dozing on the couch in the middle of the day. You’re awake when they’re awake.

Free Time
I remember days where I would get home from work and be bored waiting for Steve to get home. What?!? I’m mortified that I was ever bored Pre-K. If I only knew how scarce and valuable time would be for me to do whatever I wanted once I had kids, I wouldn’t have dreamed of wasting any of it with boredom. Our free time is really when the kids are asleep. Currently, they don’t nap at the same time, so free time is limited to when they are asleep at night. And that free time isn’t always for you to do whatever you want. There are household chores that have to be done, bottles to be washed, sleep to be had, etc. This time is when you exercise, watch tv, read books, surf the internet and whatever hobby you enjoy. Trust me, there isn’t enough free time to include all of these items, so you need to pick and choose wisely.

TV
We are not couch potatoes, but we do watch television. We use TIVO, and really only ever watch recorded shows. Gone are lazy Saturday mornings, where we would lay on the couches with coffee catching up on our weekly tv shows. Even if everything we watched was appropriate for our kids to see, you can’t really watch it. You’re distracted with playing with toys, reading kids books, and crying babies. Tv becomes a free time activity. Steve asked me the other night (after I tried to do some weeding in the dark!) if I wanted to watch a show. When I said yes, his response was something like, “Good we can knock out 1 or 2 shows.” Watching tv that we enjoy is working its way to a chore rather than a relaxing and unwinding activity. As a parent, if you want to do more things than watch tv in your free time, you need to be selective about what you want to watch because you just don’t have the time.

There are so many more items to add to this list like wearing a pair of shorts twice before washing (everything I wear ends up with food or spitup on it), not taking 20 minutes to leave the house to run an errand (you need to pack a diaper bag, change diapers, pack snacks, fill sippy cups, etc), not having to clean poop out of the bathtub (if this has happened to you – you understand)…what have I missed?

Being a parent is far more rewarding then sleep, free time, and tv, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have appreciated those things so much more. *sigh*

Receipts Are Dangerous to Our Health

When I wrote about the dangers of BPA last week, I was negligent to talk about less obvious exposure to the chemical.  Everyone knows about water bottles and baby bottles, but even more dangerous exposure to BPA comes from receipts. 


Credit: Free images from acobox.com

The EWG did a study on receipts from various popular stores.  40% of them had BPA on them.  The BPA is coated on the receipt paper and reacts with dye to print the black text on your receipt.  What is really concerning is that when you handle the receipt paper, BPA is absorbed through your skin and if you touch your mouth without cleaning your hands the BPA becomes ingested.  To scare you further, the paper that tested positive for BPA had levels 250-1000 times greater than water bottles.  

Think about all the times that you’ve been out for a quick lunch or dinner, and you were handed your receipt before you got your food.  How many times did you wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you started eating?  Has you kid ever grabbed your receipt out of your hand while walking out of a store?  Do you work in retail or a grocery store and hand a receipt to a customer with every transaction?

In 2010 when this study’s results were released, BPA was found in samples from Chevron, McDonalds, CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, Safeway, the U.S. Postal Service, and Walmart.   That’s just from the businesses that were sampled. 

The takeaway:

1.  Don’t take a receipt when you don’t need one.
2.  Don’t let your child handle receipts.
3.  Wash or sanitize your hands before you eat (which you should do anyway) after handling a receipt.
4.  If you work in retail, look for a new job.

Mom, Employee, Exerciser and Blogger – Where are you?

This was the view that greeted me as I walked outside for my morning run. Yes, that is the moon. At a crisp 59 degrees, I had a glimpse of Fall. Personally, I love the Fall. I like sweaters and sweatshirts bundling up under the blankets, but I don’t want any Fall in August. I’m not ready to run in the dark. It is impossible to get out of bed for a run when it is freezing cold out and dark.

Since I enjoy blogging, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I also enjoy reading blogs. My interests are, of course, exercise, cooking, and any ideas to be more green. The green topics aren’t as plentiful as food and fitness. There are tons of blogs written by women about their daily fitness and cooking activities. Unfortunately, they all happen to be in their 20’s and aren’t juggling 2 kids, a job, and a blog. Since I just described my life, you can understand why my daily fitness activities are greeted with the moon smiling back at me.

I’m on the hunt for more blogging women like me. Maybe they’re just too busy to include blogging in their daily schedule. If you are one or know of any, please let me know where I can find their blogs.

Potato Casserole – He Had 2 Helpings!

I frequently try new recipes, and they are all geared towards my food interests.  That means they are all vegetarian.  Lately, I have concluded that Steve is either grateful that I am willing to cook or genuinely likes my new cooking adventures because he always tries everything.  Sometimes he isn’t too crazy about what is sitting on the plate before him, but he still tries it.  Everything is edible, and I don’t think that he has ever refused to eat anything.   Noticing this willingness to try new things,  I’ve been entering dangerous waters and throwing in some foods that I know that he isn’t crazy about.  Last night was a good example.

Steve doesn’t like potatoes.  Besides French fries, he’ll eat roasted potatoes but only if they are cut up really small and roasted so long that their insides taste like French fries.  I don’t like baked potatoes either, but I’m a little more flexible in my potato consumption.  I found a recipe on AllRecipes.com and decided to make a few modifications and give it a go.  I like making dinners that enable me to do early prep work (chopping when a kid doesn’t need to be held), have a short assembly time, and then it bakes in the oven while I go back to playing with the kids.  Casseroles work really well for me.

I call this Potato Casserole despite AllRecipes.com listing it as Potato Pizza because I cooked it in a 13×9 baking dish, and the end result was that it looked like a casserole.  This dish is fantastic because it has loads of veggies in it, protein from the tofu and eggs, complex carbs from the potatoes, and dairy from cheese.  I used CalorieKing to get an approximate calorie count and was happy to discover that the entire casserole has approximately 2308 calories, which means that 1/9th or 1 serving is only 256 calories!   For all you locals out there, now is the time to make it because it has zucchini, yellow squash, and tomatoes.  Tis the season for zucchini!

Potato Casserole adapted from Potato Pizza

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: Total 35 minutes

3 potatoes, shredded (used food processor)
1 onion, finely chopped (used food processor)
2 eggs
1/4 cup flour
2 small zucchinis, thinly sliced (used food processor)
2 small yellow squashes, thinly sliced ((used food processor)
1/2 med onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves (or ample dash of garlic powder if you don’t have fresh garlic)
7 oz extra firm tofu, crumbled (1/2 a block)
1 jar marinara sauce
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup mozzarella, optional (couldn’t really taste the cheese while eating)

1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 13×9 dish with cooking spray.


2. Mix the shredded potato, chopped onion, flour, and eggs together. Press into the bottom of the pan and Bake for 20 minutes. Spray top with olive oil (or cooking spray) and broil for 5 minutes.


3. Saute squash, zucchini, sliced onion, garlic, and tofu in 1 tbsp of olive oil until tender.
4. Pour mixture on to top of cooked potato, pour jar of sauce over top, sprinkle cheese over surface and then add the sliced tomatoes. Bake for 10 minutes. Enjoy!

Sorry for the lack of and not so great pictures.  Trying to feed myself, Steve, the baby, and trying to convince my son that yes, he really does like all the food on his plate makes taking pictures low priority!  BTW – he did end up eating everything on his plate.