Tuesday, 30 October 2012

What's in a costume?

Like many families, we start talking about and planning our next Hallowe'en costume shortly after Hallowe'en ends. Of course my daughters change their minds many times throughout the year, and part of the fun is dreaming about all the cool costume ideas we can create. Some of the most used tubs in our playroom are the dress-up tubs. We have accessories for any type of princess you can imagine, pirates, cowhands, gypsies, Indian saris, wedding and bride's maid dresses, carpenters, doctors, wizards, witches, unicorns and on and on. Often my daughters' dress-up games are the beginning of some grand adventure or quest and they can play for hours. That's one of the things that I like about Hallowe'en - the role playing, becoming someone or something else. We can step outside our life and become more dramatic.
My sweet little zombie bride

I have noticed the past couple of Hallowe'ens the "We're a culture, not a costume" campaign, designed to raise awareness about cultural stereotypes. Much has been said about the offensiveness of appropriating First Nations culture by dressing in a feather headdress, and most people I know would not dream of dressing in a traditional Chinese clothing and conical farmer's hat. We can agree that these are racist because they put forth a stereotype of a culture. But what of wearing African tribal clothing? Or wearing fake glasses with "Asian eyes" on them while carrying calculus books? Do people consider it acceptable to wear a turban and say they are a terrorist? Perhaps not in "polite company", school or work, but these types of costumes persist.

This issue came up when I was chatting with my oldest daughter about her costume for this year. She finally settled on being a witch and when I came home with a second hand costume from the local thrift store she was thrilled with the black and green sparkly dress and pointy hat. In trying to decide how to accessorize, she settled upon being a "good" witch rather than an "evil" witch. We began chatting about what made a witch good versus evil. 

Now, before people accuse me of needing to loosen up and grab a sense of humour, I would like to state that I love witch costumes and I love playing up the mythology of a wart covered witch brewing a spell in her cauldron. It is my safety costume and I enjoy putting on the cackling voice and laughter.
Me and my husband

I began telling my daughter about where the myth of the evil witch living alone in the woods came from; persecution of women who revered nature and used knowledge of nature to live. The brewing of spells in a cauldron? Probably came from making herbal tinctures to cure ailments. The Salem witch hunts are well known. Covetous neighbours may have made accusations because they were jealous of their property or something in their life. But largely people were scared of anyone who lived life differently or followed a different belief system so they were labeled evil. If someone was an independent woman who chose not to follow the same path as others she was accused of being a witch and could be burned at the stake or drowned. If she lived the accusations were true. If she died she was cleared of all charges. 
Our speaking witch's head in a crystal ball decoration

This was quite shocking to her. The world to her is still a good place where the worst thing that can happen is someone can get sick and die. She had the same reaction when we read Little House on the Prairie and one of the characters said, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." Racism (and the word Indian rather than First Nations) was a new concept to her and she had a hard time understanding why someone could be judged, hurt or killed for who they are. 

She asked more questions about witches, and then said, "Maybe we are witches then. We love nature." At first I liked this idea and chuckled. I love that my daughter sees the beauty in nature and is learning to value and protect nature. And I love that she was able to see that witches of yore may have held similar beliefs. But as I thought more about it I became concerned. People do not understand nature based spirituality; too often images of satanists swirl in their heads with the Hollywood version of wiccans. I have heard derogatory comments about people who follow wiccan beliefs. They are seen as weird, and anything odd about them is chalked up to their unconventional beliefs.  

I understand where this comes from. Some people feel that a Muslim woman wearing a traditional hajib is a potential terrorist. We fear what we don't know and we seek to make sense of it. The easiest way is to categorize and stereotype, which brings us back to Hallowe'en costumes. I understand that sometimes the fun of Hallowe'en, for adults, is to shock and push boundaries, and there is a time and a place for that in life. I'm not a killjoy and I love Hallowe'en. I may have worn costumes that offend someone (in fact I'm sure I have) and I will continue to wear witch costumes at Hallowe'en. I will, however, remember that the mythology of evil witches is based upon persecution. 

Happy Hallowe'en everyone!

Friday, 26 October 2012

{this moment} 25-10-12

{this moment} - Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule, one of my favourite authors who blogs at http://www.soulemama.typepad.com/  

"A Friday ritual. A single photo... capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

Thursday, 25 October 2012

An Ethical Hallowe'en

We are Hallowe'en crazy in our family and come October we proudly raise our Hallowe'en freak flag. As fantasy and science fiction fans, my husband and I love to decorate our home in the more macabre aspects of life. At the moment we have light-hearted decorations for our three small daughters. Don't forget the creativity of dressing up in a costume and taking on a role for the day!

There is one aspect of Hallowe'en that has become a concern for me, which ironically is the part that children look forward to the most.

Sure, I am concerned about the harmful effects of sugar and how it has been linked to numerous heath problems. Ideally I want to eliminate it from our diet, and for a number of years I did when I followed a candida diet because of food sensitivities (sugar, caffeine, chocolate, corn). I felt great. However, I am now a mother of three young children living in the suburbs and I don't have time to spend my whole day prepping and cooking meals as I once did, and I am a teacher at an elementary school, so I have become more pragmatic over the years about limiting sugar for kids.

What concerns me right now, however,  is chocolate and how it is grown and harvested. More specifically, I am concerned that children (and I) love eating chocolate in an industry utilizing child slave labour.

Most major candy makers use chocolate farmed using child labour (Nestle, Hershey, Mars). However, these companies in the past have said that they do not support child slave labour and they cannot change this because they do not control the chocolate farmers; they are merely the purchasers of chocolate. This seems like a hollow excuse because smaller chocolate companies can sell chocolate farmed without child slave labour, and as the largest chocolate companies they have the most power to change the supply chain and support ethical chocolate farms. This is also a political problem as often the farming practices are ignored or supported by corrupt regimes. Non-governmental organizations are attempting to make industry-wide changes, but it takes political will and corporate ethics to comply (link).

I love chocolate and when I learned of this I tried to ignore it. I tried to justify buying chocolate, saying that there was no alternative for me. How could I stop eating my beloved chocolate? Rage Against the Minivan puts it well:

People continue to buy chocolate even after learning about these human rights abuses.  I’ve heard excuses from people in my own life that sound pretty similar to the ones I made in the coffee post.  We rationalize that we can’t afford fair-trade.  We joke about how addicted we are.  We justify that we can’t change everything.  And I think secretly, we don’t relate because these are kids in a far-off country, and not our own.  It’s okay as long as we don’t have to see it happening right in front of us.  link

I recently bought a large box of mini chocolate treats for Hallowe'en. Did I feel guilty? You betcha. I should be savouring and truly enjoying my chocolate, rather than unconsciously shovelling poor quality chocolate into my mouth. Thinking this way it is easy to justify spending more on good quality, ethical chocolate. I try to buy ethical, fair trade chocolate for myself (as does my husband, to ensure peace in our home when I've had a difficult day), but for trick-or-treaters? I have yet to contact natural and health conscious stores in Vancouver (Choices, Whole Foods, Capers) to see if they have mini chocolate treats packaged for little Trick-or-Treaters, but the stores in my suburban area do not. The natural food stores do carry ethical chocolate Easter eggs, so must remember that, but I'm not buying Easter eggs for the neighbourhood like I am at Hallowe'en. Perhaps we need to switch to a non-chocolate treat for the little ones. 

If we cut down our consumption of chocolate and treated it as something special then it would not hold the same power over corporations, regimes and corrupt producers. Perhaps we should be consuming it the same way as the ancient Aztecs did, as a sacred ritual, a sacrament.  Honestly, this is wishful thinking because the western world is just as addicted to chocolate as it is to coffee, another industry rife with problems of ethical treatment of farmers and farm workers.

I don't pretend to know what the answer is to this problem but I do know how to vote with my dollar. I must make a stronger commitment to purchasing ethical, fair trade chocolate and stop making excuses for myself. I must also make a commitment to educating people about the use of child slave labour in the chocolate industry, as I am attempting to do here in this post. I must be willing to take the pressure from my children when they ask for unethical chocolate and other treats and explain why I am doing that. 

This leaves me wondering how many other things we consume are produced using unethical practices, be it treatment of workers, farming practices, etc.  Diamonds, coffee, sugar, chocolate - what will it be next? Learning about what we consume is important, but it can make me feel downright depressed and think I should shuck it all and live in a cave.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Getting Off the Consumer Merry-Go-Round

A large part of living a more ecologically conscious life day-to-day is about reducing the amount that one consumes. There is a reason why "reduce" is the first R of the environmental 3 Rs: reduce, reuse recycle. It is time to slow down the consumerist  steamroller and purchase less, use less, make do with less.

I would be a hypocrite saying that I lead by example with this. By living in a suburban community of a developed nation I am a consumer whether I like it or not. This is multiplied by having children. They are always begging for the latest toy, the newest widget, another pair of shoes (Shoes? What? Don't look in my closet, ok?). We too frequently confuse a want with a need as a society.

When I was very young my parents did not have a lot of money and often struggled. One winter they they burned older furniture in the fireplace until they could afford a new furnace. Often my mother sewed my clothes to keep within a budget. Homemade presents were a regular occurrence at birthdays and Christmas; she also enjoyed crafting so it wasn't just to save money. Now, as I reflect upon my childhood, I wish I had appreciated my mother's homespun efforts more. While she had to do it out of necessity, I want to emulate it for more of the simple life she created.

I admit that as an adult some of my spending habits are directly related to feeling like I didn't have enough or I wasn't keeping up with my peers. Financially my parents were stronger by the time my brother was born, but odd snippets and images stick with me from my youth. I didn't get my first real pair of jeans until I was twelve years old and my mother frequently took us to a clothing factory in Chinatown where we bought knock-off styles straight from the manufacturer (which truly mortified me and yes, I was teased for it). I loved Playmobile toys but I only every had some from McDonalds happy meals or sets I saved up for myself. I remember being told that I couldn't have something because they didn't have the money at the time. Of course I remember having lots of other material things, and I was well taken care of and much loved, never truly needing anything.

When my husband finished school and we were both finally working full time we started on the consumerist merry-go-round. We bought a townhouse, we slowly started buying new furniture instead of student hand-me-downs, we bought a second car, I was able to buy the latest styles when they were still in style. When we started a family, though, the merry-go-round went into high gear. Christmas, which we had previously been quite jaded about, suddenly became magical again, not to mention birthdays. We bought all the toys we had wanted as children, including tonnes of Little People and Playmobile. In some ways we were reliving our childhood and buying ourselves these things.

It is almost as if I live a double life. I try to live by natural parenting ideals; cloth diapering when all three children were infants, breast feeding, reusable feminine products, hybrid car, walking and biking as much as is convenient, growing veggies in a backyard garden, recycling and composting. We are asking family to cut down on the amount of gifts we exchange at holidays, we try to make gifts or give experiential gifts as much as possible. We are slowly replacing items around our home with more ecologically friendly ones (for example, push mower when rechargeable mower broke down). We eat local, organic and in season as much as possible. We don't buy commercial cleaners and instead use vinegar for most of our cleaning needs.

But I also drive a mini-van, I love shopping for shoes, I like to buy new clothing items each season to update my wardrobe and we buy our daughters plastic toys. For Mother's Day a year and a half ago I desperately wanted and got an iPhone4, and for my last birthday similarly I got an iPad3. We have pizza delivered for dinner when we are busy, we occasionally like to eat out and we enjoy hosting big parties. We have been to Disneyland once and are hopefully planning a big Hawaii vacation with my parents. As a family we generally do not go without something we really want.

I am trying to really examine what we need, and more and more I am reflecting on our wants versus needs when I feel the impulse to buy. Has it stopped me from buying? Not all the time. Has it slowed me down? I hope so. My priorities in life are different than someone else so I don't expect someone to make the same decisions as me. Case in point - my husband thinks I spend too much on clothes and I do not prioritize buying DVDs and music as he does. But we are beginning the conversation with our daughters about needs and wants, talking about what we are grateful for and how fortunate our lives are. I want them to be happy and content in life regardless what they have materially, and I want them to be conscious about where their material goods come from and how they were produced.

There are definitely areas where I need to re-examine my life, my wants and spending patterns. I can do better. I need to take more risks with living by what I believe. Some might call me a hypocrite and I'm sure that when someone like me starts a blog dedicated to thinking about ways to be more ecological it opens me up to finger pointing and criticism.

I think I am a work in progress and I am trying to do better, step-by-step each day. Slowly but surely I am changing my thinking and changing my behaviour.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Insta Nature Love

I have always felt soothed by a walk in a natural setting, be it by water or through a thicket of trees. I love being outside year-round; in fact I love being outside in the cooler, wetter months almost more because there are fewer people around. With my young daughters I find we cannot spend a whole day inside during inclement weather without someone (or all) going a little batty.

Along the south arm of the Fraser River

When we lived in a small townhouse we had to get out for our walk and play at the neighbourhood playground everyday. On wet days we called it a "rainy day walk", on stormy days it was called a "windy day walk", and on. We love adding to our nature collection and I am constantly finding special rocks, acorns, unusual leaves, etc hoarded in bags, under pillows and in drawers.

Walking up to the west dyke of the Fraser River

My girls love noticing special things, or simple, beautiful things when being out in nature. This summer we spent time at the Terra Nova Sharing Farm, walking around and noticing the different crops in the community gardens, the fascinating insects on plants, and the variety of wildlife and farm animals we encountered.

Exploring around the Terra Nova Rural Area

Like many parents I have found that having children makes me stop and notice things from a different perspective, both literally and figuratively. I have to get down lower than I am used to being and I see things that I do not normally see at my eye level, and the phrase "stop and smell the roses" has even more meaning to me when I have to walk at a much slower pace than usual.

Watching bees pollinate flowers while we sit 
in a garden and talk about what we see: Victoria, B.C.

Unfortunately, as my family has grown and added more personalities and moods, it has become more difficult to get out on a daily nature walk. With two children I could always throw one into a stroller or back carrier to encourage a nap and head out with snacks.

A lovely early spring afternoon walk

With three children, for some reason it is that much more difficult to convince everyone to get out. I am back at work part time now and my oldest two, with additional extracurricular interests, are in school all day so our time is more limited. Also, we moved from our townhouse on the dyke which was a two minute walk to ducks, eagles, herons, cows, garter snakes and an endless river walk, so our easy access to nature is somewhat more limited.

The west dyke near Garry Point

We are now only a five minute bike ride or ten minute walk from the beautiful and historic scenery of Britannia Shipyards, and just a bit further afield is Steveston Village. So much to see and do; it just takes a little more effort.

A winter walk along the boardwalk into Steveston Village

It may seem counterintuitive, but technology has increased my awareness and desire to push everyone out the door and get outside. The media is always cautioning people about the dangers of technology in creating a sedentary lifestyle with the increase in screen time; however, because of online interests and apps, I have found a new way to connect with nature.

My garden

I am a straight up Instagram addict. I have always loved taking family photos and documenting our life with a camera (currently participating in Becky Higgins' Project Life by taking a Photo Of The Day) but Instagram has taken this to a whole new level for me. They say that the best camera is the one that you have with you, and for me this is my iPhone4. Of course I would love a fancy dancy DSLR camera  but I love being creative with photo editing apps on my phone and iPad.

St. Mary Lake, Salt Spring Island

The other thing I love so much about Instagram, which I did not realize when I first joined, is the social networking aspect. For me it isn't about numbers of followers, it is about making meaningful connections with other people who share my passion for photo taking and editing. I am fascinated by seeing the world through other people's eyes, and it is interesting to see different parts of the world (I follow people in South Africa, Australia, Dubai, Ecuador, England, Scotland, Indonesia, Russia, Croatia, and on). I have made Instagram friends in my local area and hope to have an InstaMeet sometime (I've met one Instagram friend in person, the talented and lovely Silly Guts (Instagram name).

We look for nature in urban environments too: 
the parking lot at Children's Hospital, Vancouver

Because of Instagram I have learned so much about photography, such as framing, perspective, texture, positive and negative space, and use of colour that has helped me grow (follower feedback has been very helpful as well).

Parksville, B.C.

But most of all Instagram has helped me develop a deeper appreciation and respect for nature. Where ever I go I am looking around me with the eyes of a photographer and looking for an interesting shot. I have been known to make my husband pull over or go around the block so I can go back and take a photo and I stop my bike ride or run to take a shot that catches my eye.

Garry Point Park, Steveston

But I also go outside now with the specific intent of hunting for interesting photos. Sometimes I go by myself (ok, usually with my two year old in tow), but often I take my older daughters with me. Modelling is very powerful, to the point that my oldest has an iPod and loves taking photos with it (I've even set her up with a private Instagram account so she can follow me), and my middle daughter has an old digital camera that she uses. I can imagine the funny sight we make, the three of us running around snapping pictures.

Manning Park, B.C.

Through photography, and Instagram, I am slowing down to notice things even more: the beauty of the sunlight through the leaves, the way light illuminates the petals of a flower, the insects at ground level, the patterns that pinecones make on the ground, the ripples from the wake of a boat or unique cloud formations.

My children's school playground

I have heard the criticism that I might not be enjoying life because I am too busy with my face staring at an iPhone screen. I am quite conscious of how much screen time I have when I am out and about with my children and I do honestly try to limit what I do so I can be present with them. Yes, I take a lot of photos, and sometimes it irritates my family, but I don't think that they feel I do nothing but take photos. I try to limit the time I spend reviewing, organizing and editing photos to the evening when the kids are in bed. However, now that my older daughters also enjoy taking photos, it has become a shared activity, and they will help me notice things and ask me to take photos of them.

Kite buggies at Garry Point Park

My love of nature and natural settings was not awakened by photography, but it has been nurtured in a new way because of this passion. It may even be because of social networking in general, and Instagram in particular, that the idea for this blog developed in my mind. I wanted to find a way to share my love of the visual and natural world, and when I thought about the efforts of my family to live a more ecologically conscious life the two came together into this blog where I want to document our journey. Of course I could have just kept a journal, much like my Project Life, but I have learned so much through social networking on line that I wanted to connect with people and seek out others who are following their own path.

Golden Island sunset, Parksville, B.C.

If you would like to connect with me on Instagram, I am crustyroll35.

I am looking forward to sharing what I have learned from taking macro photos in a later post!

Reflections on Bullying

I'm guest posting at my good friend's blog, Crunchy Carpets, about my thoughts as a parent and teacher on bullying in the wake of Amanda Todd's death.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Wordless Wednesday 17-10-12

Click on over to Natural Parents Network and see my Wordless Wednesday photo contribution.

This week's theme: Lactivism

I am proud that when my girls play with their dolls they practice breast feeding, nature's best, original, eco food-to-go for infants: no bottles, formula cans, heating of liquids!

Ready? Go!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Nurturing A Healthy Body Image

Welcome to the October 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Instilling a Healthy Self-Image
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared confessions, wisdom, and goals for helping children love who they are. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I believe that being kind and gentle on ourselves is part of being caring about the environment. We are intimately linked to our environment, and if we cannot ethically care for ourselves, we will not be good stewards of the animals and plants around us. Therefore my journey toward a healthy body image for myself and my daughters is part of this journey toward a healthy environment. 

A few nights ago my eight year old and five year old daughters were playing cootie catchers with me at bedtime. They are those fortune teller paper games that young kids play. These ones were commercially produced and had preprinted prompts on them. We were playing Truth or Dare and there were harmless dares like, "laugh like a hyena for 60 seconds" and questions like, "What was your most embarrassing moment?" On one of my turns I chose "If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?" I must have paused because my oldest daughter felt the need to explain it to me: "You know, Mom, like if you wish you had blue eyes or a different hair colour or something."

I really had to think hard about how I was going to respond to this question. Of course there are things about my body, my personality or my life choices that didn't go the way I would have originally wanted. My life as a teenager and young adult would have been a great deal easier if I had an easier time making friends, but for that I would have needed more confidence in myself. If only I had realized that confidence was what made someone truly attractive to others. I might have more confidence if I realized that I wasn't "ugly" and that no, I wasn't actually "fat" (whatever those terms mean). I developed a great deal earlier than my friends which created anxiety about how my body looked compared to my peers (and may have affected my views in later years), thereby challenging my confidence in life. It all becomes a vicious cycle.

Now that I have three young girls, I feel an immense responsibility to educate them about their bodies and help them develop a positive body image. My weight has fluctuated up and down more times than I  can count, and there is a history of weight problems in our families. While I have an ideal weight in my mind, I now realize that it doesn't matter what the scale says, or what I look like to the outside world. It only matters how I see myself and whether or not I am content. As a typical woman I have asked people how I look, seeking external reassurance about my appearance. I often perceive myself as larger than I am and I have yo-yo dieted throughout my youth. I do not want this for my daughters. While I want them to have a healthy body, I also want them to have a healthy mind, and I do not want to pass on my body image issues to them. I want to be a "Do as I do" person.

The first thing I need to do to instill a healthy body image in my daughters is develop a healthy body image in my own mind and make peace with myself. This journey began years before having children when I made an important decision to stop taking hormones for birth control because of the effects it was having on me. In my quest to find alternative birth control methods I found the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, which is pretty much the bible for women seeking natural birth control. I was surprised how little I knew about my body, despite considering myself an educated person. It was very healing to learn about my body's cycles, and I began to see it as a gift that I have been given rather than a "curse".  That shift in thinking has had the greatest impact upon my own body image because I don't see my body betraying me once a month and I have confidence (and comfort) in natural rhythms. This path also led me to discovering the Diva Cup and Luna Pads, which makes me feel better about limiting toxins in my body and the environment.

I am trying to model a healthy attitude toward menstruation and hope to share what I have learned with my daughters. I believe age-appropriate education begins early and all three of my daughters (ranging in age from two to eight years old) are aware of what happens to my body (and will happen to theirs) and why it happens. I have memories of feeling dirty and ashamed about my monthly periods and I definitely do not want my girls to feel that way. I want them to be proud of what their bodies can do. This is partly why I wanted a home birth with my third daughter; I wanted my daughters to see the power and magic of the female body during birth and have confidence in what their bodies can do. I also did not want them to be afraid of birth, as many women have become. I wanted them to witness first hand a positive birth story to counteract the lifetime of scary birth stories they will hear.

I have had to stop the dieting cycle that works for no one. I know what I need to do for a healthy lifestyle, and this includes making good food choices (local, fresh, whole foods) and living an active life. Generally I feel good about my body size and shape, and while I would be happy if I could lose ten pounds (what woman wouldn't?), I am also fine if this is my body for the rest of my life. I am not actively seeking to lose weight, which is another huge shift for me. Yes, I am seeking ways to be more fit because my mood and overall well-being is greatly improved when I have regular activity. My proudest moment after running my first 10km Sun Run a year and a half ago? When I overheard my girls playing "family" in the backyard - they were exercising with dolls in strollers saying they were mommies taking their babies out for a run. Modelling behaviour at its finest!

I am also working on limiting my negative self-talk. It is such a cliche that we become what we think or say to ourselves, but it is true. I am not a bad person if I eat an extra piece of cake, or if I am the largest woman in the room, and I am not stupid or ugly. Most of this comes from comparing myself to others. My confidence is growing with the conscious internalizing of this. We don't use the words like "fat", "skinny" or "ugly" in our home when talking about people because of the connotations of the words. I have caught myself on more than one occasion with the words, "Do I look fat in this?" on the tip of my tongue.  If I am honest, I would admit to taking my husband aside quietly and asking him this. I am a work in progress, I suppose.

I try to tell my girls that they are smart, strong, kind or creative at least as many times as I say they are beautiful, or praising them for something about their appearance because they are of value for who they are, not how they look. We have conversations about what makes each of my daughters unique; one is empathic and caring, one is imaginative and dramatic, one is independent and strong.

But I worry about how much impact this will have on them. Recently my eight year old and I were talking about a ballet class she took a few years ago and she commented that she felt she had the biggest legs of all the girls in the class. Of course I had the talk about how bodies come in all different shapes and sizes, and that's ok, but it really hit home because I had very similar feelings in my ballet class as a child. I began to equate being big (or bigger than others around me) with clumsy and I never felt successful or happy in ballet, or any group physical activity.

Within the past year I told my five year old that she looked beautiful and she said, "I'm not the beautiful one, E (her older sister) is." People talk quite openly about children, around children as if they are not present and I know that she has heard what people say about her older sister (who people see as more conventionally attractive than her), and this breaks my heart. I worry that no matter what I do or say, they might have their own issues to work through. In the end, perhaps, it is the pain in life that makes us confront what we believe and causes us to grow as sentient beings. There is a happy ending to this one; recently, when her father told her she looked beautiful in a particular outfit she responded, "No Dad, I'm already beautiful."

So how do I instill a healthy body image in my girls? I'm doing the best I can with changing myself so that they can never say that I had a "do as I say not as I do" mentality. They will always have societal influences pressuring them as they go out into the world, but if I do the best I can to be positive and set a good example then perhaps my modelling will have even a small impact on developing healthy attitudes.

I finally answered my daughter's cootie catcher question by saying that I wouldn't change anything about myself. I like me now and if I were different I wouldn't have my life and I wouldn't have them as my children. I hope this was the right answer, and part of me thinks it was, because my daughter responded, "yeah, me too. I like me a lot and I wouldn't want to be anything but me." I know I may have some potentially tough years ahead of me with three girls going through puberty and figuring out who they are, but I hope I am providing them with a strong base at home, and I hope I am ready for the challenge.

I found this in my Pinterest feed after writing this post and it was so timely! I may have to post this in a prominent location in my home as a daily reminder.
The link appears to be expired, but I would like to give credit to the author. 
If you know who created this, please let me know.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon October 9 with all the carnival links.)
  • Why I Walk Around Naked — Meegs at A New Day talks about how she embraces her own body so that her daughter might embrace hers.
  • What I Am Is Not Who I Am — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses her views on the importance of modeling WHO she is for her daughter and not WHAT she sees in the mirror.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting: Verbs vs. Adjectives — Alisha at Cinnamon & Sassafras tries hard to compliment what her son does, not who he is.
  • The Naked Family — Sam at Love Parenting talks about how nudity and bodily functions are approached in her home.
  • How She'll See Herself — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis discusses some of the challenges of raising a daughter in our culture and how she's hoping to overcome them.
  • Self Esteem and all it's pretty analogies — Musings from Laura at Pug in the Kitchen on what she learned about self-esteem in her own life and how it applies to her parenting.
  • Beautiful — Tree at Mom Grooves writes about giving her daughter the wisdom to appreciate her body and how trying to be a role model taught Tree how to appreciate her own.
  • Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Nurturing A Healthy Body Image — Christy at Eco Journey in the Burbs is changing perceptions about her body so that she may model living life with a positive, healthy body image for her three young daughters.
  • Some{BODY} to LoveKate Wicker has faced her own inner demons when it comes to a poor body image and even a clinical eating disorder, and now she wants to help her daughters to be strong in a world that constantly puts girls at risk for losing their true selves. This is Kate's love letter to her daughters reminding them to not only accept their bodies but to accept themselves as well in every changing season of life.
  • They Make Creams For That, You Know — Destany at They Are All of Me writes about celebrating her natural beauty traits, especially the ones she passed onto her children.
  • New Shoes for Mama — Kellie of Our Mindful Life, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, is getting some new shoes, even though she is all grown up…
  • Raising boys with bodily integrity — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants her boys to understand their own bodily autonomy — so they'll respect their own and others'.
  • Sowing seeds of self-love in our children — After struggling to love herself despite growing up in a loving family, Shonnie at Heart-Led Parenting has suggestions for parents who truly want to nurture their children's self-esteem.
  • Subtle Ways to Build a Healthy Self-Image — Emily at S.A.H.M i AM discusses the little things she and her husband do every day to help their daughter cultivate a healthy self-image.
  • On Barbie and Baby Bikinis: The Sexualization of Young Girls — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger finds it difficult to keep out the influx of messages aimed at her young daughters that being sexy is important.
  • Undistorted — Focusing on the beauty and goodness that her children hold, Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children watches them grow, loved and undistorted.
  • Off The Hook — Arpita at Up, Down and Natural sheds light on the journey of infertility, and how the inability to get pregnant and stay pregnant takes a toll on self image…only if you let it. And that sometimes, it feels fantastic to just let yourself off the hook.
  • Going Beyond Being An Example — Becky at Old New Legacy discusses three suggestions on instilling healthy body image: positivity, family dinners, and productivity.
  • Raising a Confident Kid — aNonymous at Radical Ramblings describes the ways she's trying to raise a confident daughter and to instil a healthy attitude to appearance and self-image.
  • Instilling a Healthy Self Image — Laura at This Mama's Madness hopes to promote a healthy self-image in her kids by treating herself and others with respect, honesty, and grace.
  • Stories of our Uniqueness — Casey at Sesame Seed Designs looks for a connection to the past and celebrates the stories our bodies can tell about the present.
  • Helping My Boy Build a Healthy Body Image — Lyndsay at ourfeminist{play}school offers readers a collection of tips and activities that she uses in her journey to helping her 3-year-old son shape a healthy body image.
  • Eat with Joy and Thankfulness: A Letter to my Daughters about Food — Megan at The Boho Mama writes a letter to her daughters about body image and healthy attitudes towards food.
  • Helping Our Children Have Healthy Body Images — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares information about body image, and her now-adult daughter tells how she kept a healthy body image through years of ballet and competitive figure skating.
  • Namaste — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment shares how at barely 6 years old, her daughter has begun to say, "I'm not beautiful." And while it's hard to listen to, she also sees it as a sign her daughter is building her self-image in a grassroots kind of way.
  • 3 Activities to Help Instill a Healthy Self-Image in Your Child — Explore the changing ideals of beauty, create positive affirmations, and design a self-image awareness collage. Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares these 3 ideas + a pretty affirmation graphic you can print and slip in your child's lunchbox.
  • Beautiful, Inside and Out — It took a case of adult-onset acne for Kat of MomeeeZen to find out her parenting efforts have resulted in a daughter that is truly beautiful, inside and out.
  • Mirroring Positive Self Image for Toddlers — Shannon at GrowingSlower reflects on encouraging positive self image in even the youngest members of the family.
  • How I hope to instill a healthy body image in my two girls — Raising daughters with healthy body image in today's society is no small task, but Xela at The Happy Hippie Homemaker shares how choosing our words carefully and being an example can help our children learn to love their bodies.
  • Self Image has to Come from WithinMomma Jorje shares all of the little things she does to encourage healthy attitudes in her children, but realizes she can't give them their self images.
  • Protecting the Gift — JW from True Confessions of a Real Mommy wants you to stop thinking you need to boost your child up: they think they are wonderful all on their own.
  • Learning to Love Myself, for my Daughter — Michelle at Ramblings of Mitzy addresses her own poor self-image.
  • Nurturing An Innate Sense of Self — Marisa at Deliberate Parenting shares her efforts to preserve the confidence and healthy sense of self they were born with.
  • Don't You Love Me, Mommy?: Instilling Self-Esteem in Young Children After New Siblings Arrive — Jade at Seeing Through Jade Glass But Dimly hopes that her daughter will learn to value herself as an individual rather than just Momma's baby
  • Exercising is FUN — Amy W. at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work talks about modeling for her children that exercising is FUN and good for body and soul.
  • Poor Little Chicken — Kenna at A Million Tiny Things gets her feathers ruffled over her daughter's clothing anxiety.
  • Loving the skin she's in — Mama Pie at Downside Up and Outside In struggles with her little berry's choice not to celebrate herself and her heritage.
  • Perfect the Way I Am — Erika at Cinco de Mommy struggles — along with her seven-year-old daughter — at telling herself she's perfect just the way she is.

Friday, 5 October 2012

{this moment} 12-10-5

{this moment} - Inspired by Amanda Blake Soule, one of my favourite authors who blogs at http://www.soulemama.typepad.com/  

"A Friday ritual. A single photo... capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."

Monday, 1 October 2012

Just Plain Old Vinegar

A few weeks ago, after accidentally smashing the glass on my cook top, we had a service agent install a new one in our kitchen. As he was cleaning up, he asked for a cleaner to wipe the marks off the surface. My husband gave him our squirt bottle with a mixture of vinegar and water, to which he responded that he wanted something that would clean properly.

I understand why people do not think that vinegar cannot do the same job as more harsh commercial cleaners. Corporations spend millions and millions of dollars on advertising aimed at making us think we will be cleaner, healthier, and therefore happier if we use their products. They will kill 99% of germs and make our home smell wonderful in the process. And don't forget that we require special, specific products for each cleaning task; a toilet bowl cleaner, a tile cleaner, a window cleaner, a floor cleaner, a surface cleaner, and on. Buy this, buy that, spend the money and your life will be somehow perfect, or at least it's what the commercials would have us believe. The ads are very convincing.
Windex, for windows!

When my oldest daughter was an infant, I believed that I was a good mother because I routinely cleaned every surface she might touch. I didn't want her fragile immune system to be compromised by those evil everyday germs all around us. Television shows alert the public to the bacteria count on everyday surfaces like toilets and cell phones, or on the cleanliness of hotel rooms, which all increase the public's fear of dirt. Of course advertisements confirm this belief, touting products to clean a child's environment. I think my mother chuckles at some memories of being in restaurants with me with my first born, scrubbing the table with either baby wipes or hand sanitizer because I could imagine the germs that were inhabiting the cloth the server used to clean the table.

As we mature and learn we know better. And as we know better, we do better. Of course I now know the dangers of a sanitized environment scrubbed of any and all germs. Some are beneficial and we need them. Some help build up our immunity as protection from the nastier bugs. In fact, the hygiene hypothesis states that we are creating allergies and possibly asthma with hyper clean environments that limit our exposure to germs that may increase our immunity. As well, the cleaning products we have been using to scrub our homes and bodies may be irritants, allergens and carcinogenic. What a double whammy - expose ourselves to harmful chemicals in an effort to clean our homes of germs that we need to be build our immunity. Please go to this link to see the harmful chemicals in the products we buy. I am not a scientist so I will not attempt to synthesize information about the toxicity of cleaning products, but please read some of the links I have included throughout this post, do your own research and learn about what corporations are getting away with; it isn't just in developing countries that known harmful agents are sold to consumers. The products are not regulated by the government  and it is buyer beware.
What to do with all these toxic products that were left in our home when we moved in? 
Can't throw them out, so they sit high in a cupboard.

With the rise of awareness about harsh cleaners and the dangers they pose to us, we have seen the increase in availability of eco or green cleaners on our grocery store shelves. Some are good, but companies are not alway forthcoming about how green they actually are. It takes a great deal of effort for the average consumer to research the safety of ingredients in products, and we often mistakenly assume that if it is being sold in a store it must be safe. Fortunately there are individuals and organizations like the David Suzuki Foundation working to educate the public about safe, non-toxic household cleaners (this link is a good start). There are companies, like Norwex, who sell microfibre cloths and non-toxic products as well.
My microfibre cloth, similar to Norwex

My choice is to use vinegar because I do not need multiple products to clean my home. It is edible, biodegradable, non-toxic, safe on skin, inexpensive (especially when purchased in bulk) and easy to use. Just google "vinegar cleaning properties" and you will have link after link touting the wonders of vinegar. It can be used to clean all kitchen and bathroom surfaces, deodorize, remove stains, clean glass and mirrors, remove soap buildup in washing machines, showers, and bathtubs, and on and on.  The only caveat is that it cannot be used on marble due to its acidic content. Combined with baking soda and a clean cloth (and old fashioned soap), I clean any and every surface in my home. People like to have their home smell clean, and some may find the smell of vinegar overwhelming at first. However, now when my family comes in the home they know I have been cleaning because of the vinegar smell (a friend suggested putting cloves in the vacuum cleaner to freshen the air when cleaning). For tough jobs I add baking soda (don't get me started on this wonder product!), use a stronger solution and a little elbow grease. My only complaint is that it comes in a plastic container which must either be recycled or reused (note to self, create a Pinterest board of plastic vinegar bottle crafts and reusing ideas).
My giant bottle of vinegar. 
Any ideas for what to do with it when it is empty?

I keep several squirt bottles of a vinegar solution around my home for easy access and I use them on a daily basis. Yes, plastic does not last forever and the squirt bottles eventually wear out, but this is a much better solution to having to recycle multiple plastic bottles of cleaning products, or even worse, having to throw them away because that type of plastic is not recyclable.

Since sharing this, I have had some feedback about using vinegar as an effective disinfectant. Sometimes, isn't bleach just needed? I have been there, especially after a particularly bad bout of stomach flu that rolled through my entire family like a bulldozer. I felt the need to scrub every surface of my home. However, for most household disinfecting needs, vinegar really is enough (see link). As well, we do need to remember that we shouldn't be killing all germs in our environment. We are not a restaurant following strict health codes, and we need to make sure that we are exposing ourselves to good dirt.

Just plain old vinegar truly is enough.