Archive for May, 2012

Do You Know Which Cow Your Milk Came From?

Unless you’re a dairy farmer, you probably don’t know. I don’t know either, but I do feel lucky that I can at least check out the cows that provide my milk.  I buy my milk from Merrymead Farm. It’s an adventure when I take the kids with me to buy milk.  You can walk around and check out a giant hog, some rabbits, donkeys, goats, peacocks, chickens and all the cows.  Sometimes the cows are out grazing in the field.  Sometimes they’re in the barn eating.  You can watch them line up to be milked.  You can even watch them during the milking process.   5 feet stands between you and your potential milk source.  If you’re lucky, they might even amble up to the window and moo at you. This scenario is more than enough for me to feel comfortable with how the cows are treated that produce my milk. 

All that aside, the real goal of any dairy farmer is to get his cows to produce as much milk as possible.  That can be accomplished with rBST injections, with painkillers do dull any discomfort, and unnatural diets that increase the amount of physiological issues requiring medication.  All bad methods, and yet common practices in the commercial production of milk.  Remember – rBST, painkillers, antibiotics all end up in your milk.  Research shows that cows will naturally produce more milk when they are happy and content.  I can’t even cite one source because there are so many out there.  I dare you to google it.  Any woman who has ever breastfed probably understands this fact.

Yesterday, I read an interesting and somewhat entertaining article about alternative approaches that some dairy farmers are taking to keep their cows happy, and they are seeing positive results.  Chiropractic sessions to avoid painkillers.  Water beds to take some of the pressure off their joints.  Misting in the barns to cool down the animals.  Even naming the cows can help them produce more milk. 

Cows may not be the smartest animal on the planet, but they too feel pain and discomfort.  They respond positively to human interaction and good treatment.  While I’m not suggesting that we all run out and find a dairy farm that gives its cows daily massages, but it can’t hurt to know what kind dairy farm is producing your milk.  A little education might change your mind about where to invest your milk money.

Do You Feel Appreciated at Work Today?

My company is not known for coddling its employees with comfort.  We don’t get free coffee or free spring water.  There are no free snacks sitting in the kitchen for an afternoon pick-me-up.   The majority of the employees do not work in attractive work spaces.  We don’t have nice views.  In fact, many of us don’t have a view at all or even a window.  We do have decent cubicles, a nice chair, and our own phones, which is enough to get you through the day as long as you don’t stuck staring at the gray walls for too long (why would anybody choose gray paint!).

I have accepted these conditions without complaint for 12 years, but I draw the line at a lack of air conditioning.  I got to work at 8am.  The humidity was already enough to start a little hair frizz and with a high temp expected at around 90 degrees, it was already in the 80’s at that time.  I walked in from my car, dodging goose poop the whole way (despite nary a goose in sight), climbed the stairs to the second floor, walked a short hallway and entered my office area to be hit by a wall of stuffy heat.  It was literally 10 degrees warmer at my desk than it was the hallway, and the temperature kept climbing as more people showed up and powered up computers. A work order was submitted and 3 hours later, I heard the hum of the a/c and the office cooled down. 

During this time, we are expected to continue working at normal productivity levels.  Seriously.  Now, it could have been worse, but when you are hot and uncomfortable and everyone else around you is talking about the heat, it’s difficult to do any critical thinking.

This experience was certainly not my first at this company where the temperature was not quite right.  I’ve experienced many hot rooms.  I’ve seen the use of portable a/c  units.  I’ve endured humidity that made you feel like you’re in the rain forest.  I even moved to a new building in the winter where it took them 2 weeks to figure out that the heat didn’t kick back on until 10am, consequently, leaving us all freezing for several hours every morning.  All that combined with leaky roofs, power outages and the occasional mouse problem makes me wonder how much my employer really values my comfort.

Right now, I’m eating my lunch in a nice cool office space getting ready to forget about all this negativity until the next a/c problem.  Now if only the guy hammering in the room below me would stop and take his lunch break… I could get some work done.

The Importance of Sleep

We all know that sleep is important. A restful night’s sleep enables us to perform our best cognitively and physically. It also helps us to maintain a healthier body weight. As every parent knows, sleep is sometimes elusive. We’ve all been there. Those first 3 months of a newborn’s life can make you feel like you’re going to die from lack of sleep. Then teething starts. Your kid gets sick. He has a bad dream. All sorts of scenarios crop up that interrupt your night of sleep, but these scenarios also interrupt your kid’s good night of sleep as well. For babies, that’s ok. They’ll make up for it during the day. For older children, the repercussions are more challenging.

Gavin is going through a transition. Some days, no nap is needed. Other days, it’s required. On the days, that he won’t nap, the result is a lot of crankiness at bed time and difficulty going to sleep and/or staying asleep. On the days that he does nap, the result is an extremely difficult time going to sleep and a very early wake up. On the days we get it wrong and he ends up overtired, he is whiny and has very low impulse control, which translates to lots of time-outs due to hitting, kicking and pushing his sister, throwing toys and talking back. Those nights might also yield a night terror and an eventual request to sleep in our bed. My mom-guilt gets me on these days because I get so frustrated with him, and yet, I know that it is the exhaustion manifesting itself.

I am trying to enforce at least a ½ hour of quiet time at nap time in hopes that maybe if he is tired enough, he’ll fall asleep or just get some rest. The last quiet time he had, after about 20 minutes he called for help. When I got into his room, all of his lights were on, the fan was on high, his books were strewn all over the floor, his closet doors were open, and he had his snow pants on. You can see that it is going well.

As we deal with this transition, I’m trying to find some patience despite my own over-tiredness. I know that these difficult moments will eventually pass. Until then, I’ll celebrate every night of uninterrupted sleep that lasts past 6am – for him and me.

Making Italian Bread

It’s been a while since I posted any cooking ventures, so I thought that I would share a recipe for homemade Italian bread.  Bread making is easy as long as you follow the directions.   In most of my bread-making, I use All-Purpose flour and/or wheat flour.  For this recipe, I use bread flour.  Bread flour has a higher protein content than other flours, which is useful in bread-making because it creates longer and strong chains of gluten.  High gluten content helps to make bread that is airy and light.  Bread flour is bad for baking because it can make baked goods that are chewy and dense.  

Italian Bread

1 cup of hot water (between 100-110 degrees)
1 tablespoon of yeast (or 1 package of yeast)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp butter, melted

Add the yeast to the hot water and let it sit for 5 minutes until foamy. Most hot water heaters are set to 120 degrees, so just letting your faucet heat up is sufficient for getting the correct temperature of water. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast. Too cool water will not trigger any yeast growth. Mix together remaining ingredients (except butter) and add yeast mixture when it is ready.

Once mixed turn on to a floured surface and begin kneading. Knead dough for about 10 minutes. The kneading process is what builds the gluten strands. If you cheat and knead for less time, your bread will be dense.

Once you’re finished kneading, you should have a ball of smooth dough. Put into an oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

After it has doubled, punch down the dough and turn it on to a floured surface. Cover the dough ball with the bowl and let it rest of 15 minutes. Then shape the dough ball into a 12″ baguette shape. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

After it has doubled in size again, melt 1 tbsp of butter and brush it on top of the loaf. Bake it for 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees until bread seems hollow when tapped.

My bread could have used a little more flour to hold its shape. When it rose the last time, it seemed to spread out rather than get higher.  Regardless, it was still light and flavorful and enjoyed by everyone in my family.  Bread making is interesting because the same recipe can turn out differently from one attempt to the next.  The most important thing to remember is to knead, knead, and knead your dough.  The first couple of times of kneading for 10 minutes can seem like forever, but it is crucial to make light and airy breads. Enjoy!

Dealing with Mold

We’re in the middle of a DIY kitchen renovation.  The renovation is going great and will be over shortly, but the story of how it all started is an interesting one.   Back in September 2011 as Hurricane Irene was dumping lots of rain on the East Coast, Steve and I did a walk-through of our basement to see if we had any leaks.  We have been in our house for almost 5 years and (knock on wood) have never dealt with flooding in our basement, but these were exceptional circumstances.  

Steve made a disturbing discovery when he found that the plywood subfloor from the 1st floor underneath our sink area was not only wet but had large moldy spots.  After more investigation, he determined that our dishwasher had been slowly leaking for years, probably since it was installed which was before we even moved there.  Since it was a slow leak, our floor never flooded and the water just kept soaking through to the subfloor unbeknownst to us.

We had a mold problem.  Any area that stays continually damp will grow mold.  Mold spores are in the air, just looking for a nice damp place to take up roots and grow.  The real question was how to get rid of the mold and was it dangerous.  Most mold is no the scary black mold kind, but you can still have severe allergic reactions to common molds in the air and in your house.  After a phone call to a mold remediation company, not only was I shocked at how much they wanted to charge ($650!) to test what type of mold it was, I was scared that we were going to make everyone in our house gravely ill.  Fortunately, Steve, as my the voice of reason, convinced me to relax and found a less expensive service company that came out to determine what type of mold we had.  It turned out to be nothing of concern, but we still needed to get rid of it.

The issue was that the mold was growing underneath the kitchen cabinets, and we didn’t know how extensive the problem was.  The only way to figure it out was to take out the cabinets to see the floor and the walls.  Removing the cabinets meant removing our Corian countertops.  You can see where this is going.  We were going to need new countertops.  Once we made the decision, Steve started sawing the countertops into sections for easy removal.   He ended up replacing a significant portion of the flooring, painting not-so-bad areas with mold paint, rebuilding the sink cabinet, and replacing some drywall.  We were smart enough to have him do all this work with windows open, fans open, plastic hanging in doorways and no kids in the house.  Once you start working, you disturb the mold and into the air it goes.

Now we were mold free and trying to decide how to fix up our kitchen without breaking the bank.  As the ideas grew, we ended up in the throes of a full-scale remodel.   It has taken us a while to figure out a plan on how to make our ideas a reality, but we wanted to be cost-effective and make decisions that work for our budget, tastes, and capabilities.  The result is beautiful new cabinets, a layout that meets our needs and lighting that is bright and more effective.  And while people may look at us and question why it has taken so long, we are “this close” to having a high-end kitchen on a low-end budget.  Stay tuned for how we did it.

* picture source

Cleaning Chemical Free

I have written in the past about my commitment to use non-toxic cleaners to clean my home.  I admit that I do have a few exceptions.  I still use bleach in my sinks and my toilets, diluted with water, to disinfect.  I also still use glass cleaner for windows and mirrors and dishwasher soap for my dishwasher.  Other than that, my cleaning supplies consist of water, vinegar, baking soda and elbow grease.  Now before you question the cleanliness of my house, I assure you that we live in a clean and sanitary environment.  We just don’t have to worry about inhaling dangerous fumes, absorbing nasty chemicals through our skin or our kids finding their way to toxic chemicals that could have fatal outcomes if ingested (don’t worry – I keep the bleach, etc locked up on a high shelf).

I was reassured with my decision when I read the Environmental Working Group’s list of worst household cleaners for your health.  They include the following – note that a Simple Green product is on the list:  

  • Mop & Glo Multi-Surface Floor Cleaner
  • Tarn-X Tarnish Remover
  • Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner
  • Target’s Up & Up and Walmart’s Great Value

Included in this list are cleaners to avoid.  That list is so long, you might be left wondering what you should be cleaning with.  Fortunately, they also have a list of the best green cleaners.  While these may still not be great for your health and aren’t as safe as water, vinegar and baking soda, they are good alternative for what you might be using now.

Johnson’s Baby Wash is Toxic for your Baby

The frugal consumer that I am attempts to buy non-perishable items in bulk as much as possible. We are Costco members, and until recently, I have bought my baby wash at Costco. Costco used to sell Aveeno Baby Wash and recently switched to Johnson’s Baby Wash. We decided to give it a try. What an awful mistake that has been!

We’ve been using the product for about a month, and it just clicked that recent skin issues with both of my kids can be linked to the product. Both Gavin and Skylar have keratosis pilaris, which is a very common, no-big-deal, skin condition. We moisturize their skin and ignore it. I’ve noticed that it has gotten really bad with Skylar in the last few weeks and have been a little surprised because it usually improves when the weather gets warmer. Then I noticed that Gavin developed a big patch of dry skin on his side. Next, Skylar has developed a rash on her chest and knees. At her well-check last week, I asked my dr about it. The first thing that he asked me is if I used Johnson’s Baby Wash.

When I said yes, he wasn’t surprised. He said that it is the worst product you can use on your little ones. He has seen more skin issues with that baby wash than anything else on the market over the years. The rash is the result of severe dry skin from the baby wash, same with Gavin. I immediately went out and bought our old trusted Aveeno Baby Wash and will not use any J&J product on them ever again.

Even more disturbing is that some of J&J’s baby products, including the Baby Wash “contains the formaldehyde-releasing preservative quaternium-15, as well as the chemical byproduct 1,4-dioxane. Formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane are known carcinogens.” Apparently, this information isn’t new, and J&J has gone as far as to phase it out of their products in some countries. Guess what. The US isn’t one of them. To get the non-toxic product, you need to but the J&J Natural Baby Wash. J&J’s response to this study’s results is a commitment to phase out these chemicals in the next 2 years. That’s a long time to wait for non-toxic soap.

Am I relieved that Gavin and Skylar’s sensitive skin have flared up in these rashes? Yes! If not, we would still be using carcinogenic soap on them. Stay away from J&J’s baby care products. Despite their fancy slogans and cute baby pictures, J&J is NOT committed to what is best for our children.