10 Holiday Traditions to Share with Children

The gingerbread house my daughter and I made together this year.

The gingerbread house my daughter and I made together this year.

I’m always looking for ways to make the holidays special and memorable for my daughter.  When she is older, I want her to have great memories of her childhood and the fun things we did together.  These are some of the holiday activities we have done together that have been a lot of fun.

Build A Gingerbread House – When I saw an ad that our local culinary school was holding a class to build your own gingerbread house, I signed up.  I’ve always wanted to make one, and I thought my daughter would have a blast – and she did!  Sure, our creation isn’t worthy of a magazine cover, but the joy we had making the house totally makes up for it.  All you really need is royal icing, gingerbread sheets or graham crackers, and lots of candy decorations. The tree uses a sugar cone as its base.

Elf on a Shelf – It really feels like everyone has an Elf on a Shelf – but we didn’t until this year.  My daughter was so excited to get one, and picked out a girl elf.  While I do think the elf doll and book are a bit overpriced, they are more keepsakes than toys, so I plan on keeping them stored away in their box each year to preserve them.  My little girl has had a lot of fun searching for her elf every morning.

Baking Homemade Cookies on Christmas Eve – Every year since she was old enough to help, my daughter and I have made homemade cookies for Santa.  Usually, we make thumbprint cookies filled with jam, but this year she requested to make chocolate chip cookies.

Advent Calendar – My mom always made an Advent Calendar for me when I was young.  Each morning during December, there would be a small gift helping count down the days until Christmas.  There might be a piece of chocolate candy, or a Christmas pencil, or other small items.  I did this for my daughter last year and she really enjoyed it.  This year, I completely forgot, but I may bring this back again next year.

New Pajamas on Christmas Eve – We did this in the past and she really enjoyed special new pajamas for Christmas Eve.  It’s not something we do every year, but it could be a fun tradition as she gets older.

Watching Holiday Films Together  – We have a nice little collection of holiday movies that we love to watch every year – “Home Alone”, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, “The Muppet Christmas Carol”, “Christmas Vacation”, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, and more.  This is one of our favorite things to do as a family.

Visiting a Manger Scene – When we see a manger display, I like to take the opportunity to discuss its significance with my daughter.  We all know how easy it is to get wrapped up in the decorations, travel, parties, and gifts this time of year, so it is important to me to point out that the real meaning of Christmas is celebrating the birth of Jesus, not presents.

Visiting a Christmas Light Display – Some cities have a Christmas light display every year, and there is an excellent one close to us that, sadly, I haven’t been to in a few years.  However, this activity can be as simple as riding through your own hometown neighborhoods to look at lights and listen to Christmas music.

Shopping Together for Family – My daughter is starting to learn about giving to others.  I think a good way to start is to select a small gift together for a friend or family member.  It gives my little girl pride to know she helped pick something out for someone that they will enjoy.

Donating to Charity – There are so many charities that collect money during Christmas.  Every year, I make a point to give my daughter money to put in a collection bucket.  This helps build understanding of giving to others in need.

What holiday traditions to you have with your family?

 

I’m Spoiled…And You Probably Are, Too

giftbagSometimes I feel so sensitive to the world and all its harshness, I feel raw – exposed with nothing to protect me.  So many things can easily upset me.  One feeling that frequently comes up is, “I’m spoiled.”  And I am.  And you probably are, too.

Maybe you want to protest that you work two jobs and are usually broke and so how could you possibly be spoiled? Or maybe you would say you worked hard and earned everything you have.  But this isn’t about blame and defensiveness.  And when I say we are spoiled, I don’t mean we are spoiled in comparison to other people in this country – I mean we are spoiled relative to the rest of the world.  No, we aren’t the only privileged country, but if you look at the advantages we have compared to world statistics, we are incredibly lucky and have so much to be thankful for.

I wanted to know the actual statistics, so I hunted around and found a few examples of how fortunate we really are.

Can you read and write?  If so, you’re better off than the 15.7% of people in the world who are illiterate. Source:UNESCO

Do you enjoy bathing, showering, and brushing your teeth using clean water? If so, you’re better off than the 780,000,000 (that’s 780 million) people in the world that do not have access to clean water. Source:Water.org

Are you able to use a sanitary toilet that flushes (bonus if you have privacy)?  Count yourself lucky, because 15% of the world’s population still practices open defecation, which can spread disease. Source:UNICEF

If you got sick, would you be able to access healthcare?  High-income countries boast nearly 90 nurses/midwives per 10,000 people – while some low-income countries many only have 2 per 10,000 people. Source:WHO

These statistics just skim the surface and don’t come anywhere near other points, like our access to leisure time, or our rampant addiction to unnecessary shopping.  If people in privileged nations continue to focus on issues like buying the newest “it” item, “too much genius and focus will continue to go to solving problems like iPhone battery life while the problems that threaten human life [i.e. the world’s ecosystems] spin out of control.” Source:The Story of Solutions

This post isn’t me preaching.  It isn’t me saying donate your money to the best charities in the world.  It isn’t me shaming someone for buying a new pair of shoes.  It’s me merely asking you to join me in opening our eyes to the truth, recognizing what we have to be thankful for….and then going from there.  There is so much joy in the world, but to truly appreciate it, we first have to recognize it.

 

Favorite Products: W3LL People Expressionist Bio Extreme Mascara

w3llpeoplemascara

Of all the makeup products I use, the two that must work well, that have to be reliable, are my foundation and mascara.  I don’t like settling for a mediocre mascara.  I want a mascara that lengthens, adds volume, doesn’t flake, doesn’t clump, doesn’t make my lashes look spidery, and basically makes my lashes look amazing.  Oh, and it can’t contain any nasty chemicals either.  Sound like a tall order?  It is, and of the natural mascaras I’ve tried thus far, they’ve all pretty much been “eh” – they might meet some of the criteria, but not all of it.  Until W3LL People Expressionist Bio Extreme Mascara.

From the very first use, this mascara felt special.  Typically, a brand new tube of mascara isn’t that great for me – the formula will seem a bit thin and never seems to really do a good job until the tube is half gone.  Not so with W3LL People – the first use was great, coating my lashes really well and adding a ton of length and volume.

After using this every day for over a month, the only caveat I can say at all about this mascara is that it will occasionally smudge a bit under my eyes, but I think the culprit is the amount of moisture on my face (I use serum, moisturizer, eye balm, and hydrosol every morning….).  However, other than an occasional smudge, this stuff is spectacular.  I’ve even been able to find it on sale on various websites for fantastic prices that are well worth the cost.

There are still a couple of all-natural mascaras I’d like to try to compare to this one, but I do believe this one will hold up to any other clean mascara I try. Bravo, W3LL People!

What is your favorite all-natural mascara?

 

More, More, More: Consumerism & I

I think consumerism is an important yet touchy subject this time of year.  In this post, I’m referring to the definition of consumerism as the idea that buying more goods and products is a positive action.  I have a lot of issues with my personal role in consumerism, and for me it is a complex subject.

First, why are we drawn to consume items that are not necessities?  In a nutshell:

  • We are told over and over through the media that buying lots of things is good and patriotic and normal
  • We often get an emotional high from purchasing items
  • We often use products to fill a void in ourselves (boredom, loneliness, low self-esteem, etc.)

 

Why do I have a personal issue with consumerism? For a few reasons:

  • I realize I’ve been at least a little brainwashed by society into believing that I need to buy things
  • It’s not ecologically beneficial to the planet to constantly purchase raw goods that had to be harvested, produced in a factory, shipped overseas, and distributed
  • I enjoy trying new products but I am a frugal person at heart – these two things are in direct conflict with each other
  • The idea of “keeping up with the Joneses'” is alive and well, sadly.  When we see others enjoying their shiny new items, we often have an instinct to get something shiny as well.  We are only human.
  • I don’t want to raise my daughter to believe that buying things brings fulfillment or self-worth

How do I fight my urge to constantly buy new “things”?  I try to use moderation, or what I might refer to as a kind of conscious consumerism.

As a simple example, let’s say I really want a new face cream – but I still have half a jar of my current face cream.  I might try to justify a new purchase by telling myself that it is a better product, but if what I have works well, I use up what I already have first.

There are other times I have something already (a pair of jeans) but I rationalize that because I wear jeans year-round, new jeans are a worthy purchase if I am getting a good deal.  A cute dress that I will likely wear once a year?  Not a worthy purchase to me, even if it’s on sale at a fantastic price.

Most of us enjoy buying things – it’s part of who we are as a society and there are lots of fascinating articles and documentaries and books that go into detail about the rise of consumerism and how it plays in to the human ego.  There are even some good quality documentaries and videos on the internet about consumerism.

While consumerism is a part of the society we grew up in, that does not mean we are victims to it – we all play a part in making smarter decisions about what we buy, how often, and how much.  Reducing our consumption of goods and, specifically, raw goods, is crucially important for the welfare of our environment.  I suggest that if you are interested, do some unbiased research on the internet. This article looks like a great place to start to help us identify if something we are buying is a worthy purchase.

Do you practice conscious consumerism?

Embracing My Natural Hair

bamboobrush

 

From the time I was about 16 until about two years ago (over a decade!) I tortured my hair. I went several times a year to have it chemically highlighted, I shampooed almost daily, and put it through the abuse of a blow dryer and flat iron almost daily as well. The result? Hair that was dry, flat, and weak.  It may have looked aesthetically “pretty”, but the reality was that my hair was not truly healthy.

About two years ago, I started honestly asking myself why I had spent so much money and so many years habitually changing the color of my hair. I had to look inside myself and finally admitted that it was my vanity. I believed it made me “prettier” and when I admitted this to myself, something shifted in me. I was tired of letting my thoughts make me feel like I needed to change my hair color to be pretty. At that time, I stopped changing the color of my hair for the first time since I was a girl. That was my first step to getting the healthy, natural hair of my childhood back.

As my roots grew to a point where they were at an awkward stage halfway down my head, I sometimes felt self-conscious, but I let those feelings come and go and let my natural color take over, bit by bit.  Eventually, my hair was a delicate ombre, and now my hair is completely natural.  It has taken almost two years.

My natural hair is very different from the hair I used to have.  My natural color is a dark blonde with natural highlights and lowlights.  The biggest difference?  The luminescence and sheen my hair has is something I have never had as an adult, and I love it.  Also, my hair is soft, healthy, and strong.

Thinking about ditching the chemical color and going back to your roots?  Try it and see how you like it!  Nothing is permanent, least of all hair.

These are things I have done to help get my hair healthy:

  1. Stop chemical coloring and highlighting, cold turkey
  2. Shampoo approximately 3x a week, only using all-natural sulfate-free shampoo.
  3. Switch to a wide tooth comb for wet hair and a natural bamboo hairbrush for dry hair
  4. Less heat styling and when using a dryer, first letting it air-dry as much as possible to reduce heat damage.  Turn down the heat on the flat iron and use as minimally as possible.
  5. Leave-in conditioners.  I love Yarok Feed Your Ends.
  6. Deep conditioning treatments – there are masks/deep conditioners, but for now I saturate the bottom half of my hair with a combo of organic coconut and avocado oils about 1-2x a month
  7. A trim at the salon when my ends are getting dry and split

I may color my hair again in the future – never say never – but if I do, it will be more gently and because I want to do it, not because I feel I need to color my hair.

What do you love about natural hair versus color-treated?  What are your favorite products for healthy hair?

“Candy-Pushers” Aren’t So Sweet To Me

Constant candy access for kids?  Sickeningly sweet in more ways that one.

Constant candy access for kids? Sickeningly sweet in more ways than one.

If you have a child, you know what this is all about: candy, everywhere.  Candy is seemingly distributed among children for any reason, any reason at all: a birthday party, good behavior in class, every single holiday, snack-time, church functions, a bank visit, the pharmacy, even pediatrician and dentist offices, for crying out loud!

It makes me cringe when I sit and think about how often my daughter has candy offered to her.  What should be a very occasional treat is now so widespread in American culture, children are now addicted to sugar.  We all need to realize our contribution to the sugar-rush that is affecting children.

The psychology behind candy pushing might be more complex, but to me it seems fairly simple.  People like to make children happy – give a child a piece of candy, and hey! – you’re their new best friend.  At the very least, you probably will get a smile from the giddy 5 year-old now holding an artificially-flavored sucker in her hand.

So when you truly think about it, giving candy to children seems to actually be adult self-fulfillment.  It gives the adult a happy feeling because we made the child happy. “Hey,” we think to ourselves, “I’m the nice adult who lets little Sally have chocolate and she loves that about me.”  Or maybe we gave the child candy to get him or her to “be quiet”.  It seems to boil down to candy actually benefiting the adult, because we know it doesn’t benefit the child.  So why do we keep doing it?  I don’t have the answer for why our culture pushes candy.

My biggest issue is the onslaught of candy in schools.  Every holiday results in candy being brought home.  And one thing that really breaks my heart?  Candy as an afternoon snack.  I’ve seen it time and again.  Nearly all young children in elementary school have an afternoon snack, but many times what they are offered to eat is shameful.  Children are growing and hungry and therefore need to be satiated by wholesome food, but I can recall many occasions when my daughter was given sugar for her afternoon “snack” – marshmallows, sugar-loaded toaster pastries, gummy snacks, juice, cookies.  Why is this happening again and again?

When my daughter was in kindergarten, I actually spoke to her teacher about including healthier snack options to the rotation.  I offered to give her a list of affordable snacks – I even offered to help pay for healthy snacks.  Her response?  Defensiveness.  She told me, “there is nothing wrong with treats.  The kids like them.  They won’t eat healthier foods.”  I don’t even know where to start to pull that weak and ignorant defense apart, but I’ll just say that those statements are a perfect example of the lack of understanding about food psychology and childhood health.

The argument that children won’t eat healthier food options?  Bull.  Children only refuse to eat healthy food options when they know they will eventually be given something else. True, we all have foods we dislike (I’ve never enjoyed Brussels sprouts thus far in my life, and my daughter doesn’t like mushrooms) but there are lots of options for fruits and vegetables. If a child is truly hungry, he or she will eat.

I love the saying, “If you aren’t hungry enough to eat an apple, you aren’t really hungry” because it perfectly sums up the reality of childhood eating habits.

Now this is not to say that my daughter never has treats – quite the contrary.  She has sweet treats several times a week from me, but I like to monitor the form of sweet as best I can (e.g. an all-natural cookie with real sugar as opposed to a processed sugar candy bar).  Also, I know that if I constantly deny her sweets, she will only want them more.  That’s the nature of the beast.  So I offer her all-natural sweets and try to teach her that it’s not healthy to have too much sugar.  I’m trying to meet my child halfway.

I know I am David fighting a sugar-coated Goliath, but I am passionate about healthy food and limits on sugar intake.  I am passionate about educating myself about health and wellness.  I can’t make other people agree with me or “see the light” – but I can voice my opinions and tell my story.

What is your opinion about the widespread access to candy for children?

11 Ways To Make Cold Weather More Bearable

Vintage snow girl, when she was a wee one

Vintage snow girl, when she was a wee one

 

Do you have the Winter Blues already?  Cold toes, dry skin, or grumpy from less daylight?  These are some of the ways I try to make wintertime a little easier to handle.

1. Wool Socks – I love my wool socks so much this time of year.  They are the only things that actually and truly keep my toes warm.  I want to invest in a few more pairs for wearing with my boots as well.

2. Water & Tea for Hydration – When the cold air moves in, the moisture in my body moves out.  It’s a bummer, but I know that the more fluids I push, the less dry my skin and throat are.

3. Hydrating Body Butter/Oil – This is a must for me, or my skin will itch and crack.  Thin, water-based lotions don’t cut it.  I have to use a product with ingredients like all-natural oils, cocoa butter, and shea butter.  Straight oils like avocado oil and coconut oil work, too, although I’m partial to body butters and oil blends with essential oils that smell nice.  I’ve been loving this body butter lately in the Lemon Orchard scent.

4. Face Balm – Another absolute must-have for me in the winter.  Nothing else can control the dry skin when the cold hits.  If I don’t slather a heavy-duty balm on my face, I get dry patches.  I’m currently using both Stark Grapefruit Balm and One Love Organics Skin Savior Balm.

5. Hydrosols – I’ve just started using face mists and hydrosols this year and I’m already a huge fan.  They are perfect for a quick hit of moisture.  I have several brands of hydrosol with no clear-cut favorite, as they are all very nice.

6. Cold Remedy Cider – I talked about our homemade cold remedy here.  I take it straight, no chaser, when I feel a cold coming on.

7. Quality Honey or Throat Coat – Sore throats are just a typical part of winter.  Even when you aren’t sick per se, a sore throat can happen from dry air.  A spoonful of good honey or a cup of Throat Coat tea are excellent to ease the tightness.

8. All-Natural Lip Balm – Everywhere.  I don’t know how people go without it.  I can’t stand to have dry lips.  Find a balm you love and stock up. I’m partial to Hurraw!  I leave a tube everywhere, so I never have to be without.  Chapped lips suck.

9. Nice Soothing Lamp for Cloudy Days – When it’s cloudy and dark out, I crave light.  Sunlamps are great options, but I recently ordered a Himalayan Salt Lamp that I’m excited to try.

10. Humidifier – This is a must-have for every home, in my opinion.  The air gets so dry in homes and offices when the heat is constantly on.  This can lead to dry sinuses and throats.  Dry air also aggravates a cold or cough.  Moist air from a humidifier is truly a savior in the winter. We have a couple of these as they are affordable, and I’ve had zero issues so far.

11. Good Movies/TV for Snuggling on Cold Nights – This definitely helps make cold nights more bearable, no explanation needed! I prefer comedies (we always watch “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” – love!).  I love to laugh and I know laughter helps improve my mood and well-being.

What are your favorite ways to make the winter more comfortable?

My Current All-Natural Deodorants

naturaldeodorantsMaking the switch from conventional antiperspirants to an all-natural chemical free deodorant is easily one of the hardest I’ve made. It all started many years ago after I had read enough to know that the chemicals (such as aluminum) in traditional antiperspirants were harmful to me and even linked to breast cancer. I tried several easy-to-find natural brands over the years, and each time, I would get so frustrated by their poor performance, I would guiltily buy an icky mainstream brand out of pure desperation.

Finally, literally after years of trying to find a natural deodorant that actually worked, I’ve found my favorite (at least for the time being). Schmidt’s Deodorant comes in a glass jar and needs to be scooped out with a Barbie-sized spatula, then rubbed into the skin under your arms using your fingers. I’ve faithfully been using the Bergamot + Lime scent because it smells incredible. I do find that this is only reliable for a roughly 24-hour period, at which point I need to reapply deodorant. But hey, that’s OK with me.

schmidts

I’m also currently using Blissoma’s Lavender Deodorant Spray on my non-shower days. It’s super quick and easy to just spray under each arm a couple of times and it does work pretty darn well. My only issue is the way it works with my personal body chemistry. I don’t really smell the lavender on myself, but keep getting whiffs of fennel throughout the day….which honestly, I’m not a fan of. I know I’m crazy, but it smells like Thanksgiving Dinner to me. Weird, I know. However, it works and it’s convenient, and those are major pluses.  I’d love to try the Citrus version next.

I’d also love to try Meow Meow Tweet Deodorant at some point in the future because I’ve heard great things about it.

What natural deodorants do you use and love? Let me know!

 

Schmidt’s Deodorant Ingredients: Butyrospermum parkii (shea butter), Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), Maranta arundinacea (arrowroot) powder, Theobroma cacao (cocoa) seed butter, Citrus bergamia (bergamot) essential oil, Citrus aurantifolia (lime) essential oil, Tocopherol (vitamin E), Humulus lupulus (hop) extract

Blissoma Lavender Deodorant Spray Ingredients: Ingredients: Infusion of Foeniculum vulgare* (fennel) and Camellia sinensis* (green tea), Hamamelis virginiana* (witch hazel), Ricinus communis (Castor) Oil*, Triethyl Citrate (Ecocert approved natural ester of citric acid), Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) Extract*, Populus Tremuloides (Aspen) Bark Extract, Grain Alcohol*+, Glyceryl Caprylate/Caprate, Simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) Oil*, Nigella sativa (black cumin seed) Oil*, Essential oils of Lavendula angustifolia, Citrus reticulata (mandarin), Pogostemon cablin (patchouli), Coriandrum sativum (coriander), Cedrus atlantica (cedarwood), Cetearyl Alcohol and Cetearyl Glucoside, Xanthan Gum, Gluconolactone essential oils in this product contain: linalool**, limonene**, citronellol**
*from Certified Organic Agriculture   **natural components of essential oils