Archive for March, 2012

March 15, 2012

Would You Put That Toothpaste On Your Lungs?

Do you know what the largest organ of the human body is?  The heart?  The lungs?  Let me give you a hint, if you’re thinking internal, you’re way off base.  The largest organ happens to be the skin.

So let me ask you another question.  If you had your lungs or your heart or any other internal organ hanging on the outside of your body, exposed to everything in our world, would you continue to use all the same products you use today?  If you answered, “no” or even had a slightest twinge in your stomach and the thought, “I don’t know”, then I would ask, “Why you are using those products on your skin?”

If you don’t know the answer, or never thought of it that way, don’t feel bad, I didn’t know what to say when someone asked me either, but it certainly got my attention.  So how do you know whether what you are using is good or bad?  Well, the Environmental Working Group has an excellent product database, called the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.  The database has over 69,000 products, in it.  Each product is given a score based on  the ingredients in the product and any health concerns such as cancer, developmental & reproductive toxicity, allergies and immunotoxicity and use restrictions related to those ingredients.  You will know, at a glance whether you should be concerned about products you’re using or considering purchasing, because they use a stoplight color coding along with the score.  Green (0-2) for low hazard, yellow (3-6) for moderate hazard and red (7-10) for high hazard.  Unfortunately the majority (not all) of the products offered through mass merchandisers are not in the green category.

So if you haven’t checked out your sunscreen, make-up, shampoo and conditioner, tooth paste, etc. on the site yet, I highly recommend that you do.  It can be kind of eye-opening and even somewhat alarming, but don’t sweat it and don’t stress if your products come up in the yellow or red, use the database as a tool to seek out something better for your health.

And you think it doesn’t really matter that much, don’t forget that if you wouldn’t put that toothpaste on your lungs, or that lotion on your heart then you might want to reconsider using it in your mouth or on your skin.


March 13, 2012

Midnight in Minneapolis… Am I dreaming?

Last night I watched Midnight in Paris.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s kind of like a grown-ups equivalent to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  It doesn’t have anything to do with candy or chocolate, but it has a lot to do with fantasy and imagination.  I had the same experience watching this now, as an adult, as I did the first time I saw Willy Wonka.  It got my imagination running, and got me thinking, “Wow!  How cool would that be!?!”  What if you got in a car or walked through a door and it took you to another time or place, just like that?  I love movies  like that!  I love it when I feel like a kid again, letting my imagination run wild and not letting reality bring it to a halt.  Movies like that tend to make me have crazy dreams too.  It’s like unlocking the dam to the creatives juices and just letting it all go rushing forward, untamed.

This morning, like every other morning, I meandered my way into the kitchen, took a mug from the cupboard and poured myself a cup of coffee.  As I hugged the mug I checked the calendar: March 13th, 2012,  Tuesday.  I checked the thermometer: 39 degrees.  I checked the clock: 6:28 a.m.  I checked the forecast: 66 degrees and mostly sunny.  As the fog began to lift from my head, I started putting it all together.  Was I still dreaming?  Am I really awake or am I just dreaming that I’m awake? Laughing to myself I thought, “Man, that movie sure did a number on me!”.  I picked up my phone, flipped to the weather forecast again and slowly set my phone down on the counter.   I checked the thermometer again.  Yep, 39 degrees.  I checked the calendar again…  Still March.  This is weird.  Now, I know I’m not going crazy, or at least I don’t think so, but I haven’t even started my seeds yet and we’re having May or June-like temps.  And by that I don’t just mean daytime temps.  It’s not even sinking near freezing at night.  You know when you dream and some things are the way they are in “real life” and some things come out of nowhere but seem to make perfect sense in the dream?  It’s like that.  I’m still in my same house, when I look out the window the neighborhood looks the same, but when I step outside it’s like Minnefornia.  You know, looks like Minnesota, feels like California.  (Yes, I made that up.)

You see, it’s like this.  Late last fall I pulled my large pots of herbs and strawberries into the garage to overwinter them.  The garage isn’t insulated, or at least not to today’s standards, so I knew I was taking a risk if we got a really cold winter, but the thought of grabbing fresh herbs in January was just too tempting, so there they sat, hogging up most of the garage all winter. When it rained the other day I pulled my pots out of the garage so they could get water.  Because it the rain was coming down pretty hard, I didn’t stop to look at the plants for more than a second or two.  This afternoon, as the temps rose to a remarkable 67 degrees, I thought I would check them out.  Much to my surprise, I have healthy sage, thyme and rosemary, there are tons of new shoots on the oregano, new leaves on the strawberry plants and even a small bunch of parsley! I know I shouldn’t be all that surprised given the mild winter we’ve had, but it had been a while since I’d popped into the garage to check on them so I had no idea the outcome would be that good.

I have to admit though, as much as I am enjoying the warm weather and excited about getting an early start on the garden (which would make up for last spring), I still feel like it’s all a dream.  I feel like we’re living in a movie right now and someone forgot to tell the director that we’re on location in Minnesota, not a set in California.  I’m fearing the day she realizes and calls in the Snow Miser to bring everything back to normal.  The other thing I worry about is drought.  Since we didn’t get much snow this year (and another reason why I fear winter isn’t over yet) we’re really short on water and that’s usually not a good way to start the season .

Given all of my concerns about the weather, as crazy as it sounds, I’m actually thinking about throwing a few cool season crop seeds into the ground just to see what happens.  I realize if I do this I’m taking a pretty big risk, but what if it works?!?  I’d be gaining nearly 8 weeks of growing time.  That’s unheard of!  Or is it Midnight in Minneapolis and I just stepped through the backdoor in my dreams to a world where we have a much longer growing season?  One where we have spring in March…


March 11, 2012

My 4 Week Challenge Results & Favorite Clean-Eating Blogs

It’s hard to believe that the 8 Weeks To A Better You!  mini-challenge (4 Weeks To A Better You!) is over.  Yesterday marked Day 28, the last day of the challenge.

So, how did it go?  I’ll get to that, but before I do, let’s do a little refresher on what the challenge entailed.  If you recall, the challenge consisted of seven physical challenges and three emotional/spiritual challenges.

The physical challenges were:

1. Exercise at least 45 minutes a day

2. Get at least 7 hours of sleep a night (if you are short a little just squeeze a nap in to make up for it)

3. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day

4. No Sugar – eliminating sugars and white flours (which turn into sugars)

5. No soda, fast food or junk food

6. Eat at least 2 servings of fruit and 2 servings of vegetables

7. No eating after 8 p.m. (unless it’s your dinner – but try really hard to get dinner in earlier)

The emotional/spiritual challenges were:

8. Write in your journal EVERY DAY.

9. Complete at least 15 minutes of uplifting reading or scripture study
10. Complete an act of service or random act of kindness.  Whether it be a small one or a big one, do something kind for someone else that is out of your normal routine.

The challenge included one FREE DAY each week where we got the full 10 points whether or not we completed all the requirements.

Possible points earned – 10 per day, 70 per week.
And my results…
Week 1 – 69 points
I went out strong, gave it my all and got really tired.  It was a lot to think about at first – changing my diet, figuring out ways to work in exercise every day instead of just occasionally, taking time out to read and write daily.  All of it was a challenge, but the adrenalin rush kept me going.  Exercise the first week consisted of my treadmill (and a hotel treadmill).  I started out just walking at 2.5 mph and working up to 3 mph.  Doesn’t sound like a lot, but it was enough of a challenge at the beginning.  Food – I quickly realized that I didn’t have to give up everything I love, I just needed to find substitutes and get the other stuff out of the house.  To eliminate the temptation, I gave away the white flour foods in my house (mostly pasta) and replaced them with whole wheat and whole grain.  Sugar was  my nemesis.  I love sugar.  The first 3 – 4 days were rough.  The cravings were horrible, but I didn’t give in.  After about Day 4 they were gone.  In fact the only time I ate sugar during the challenge was the first free day, after that I didn’t really have the urge.  The first week also included 2 road trips, one on the front weekend, one on the back weekend.  I don’t typically drink soda or eat fast food, but road trips are typically the exception.  Although I don’t love fast food (and it doesn’t love me) I do love a Coke and fries on the road.  To get around my traditional fast food stops it took a little planning ahead. I made wraps, brought along lots of fruit, nuts, cheese sticks, whole wheat crackers with natural peanut butter,  trail mix and water.  It ended up keeping me satisfied and not really missing the Coke and fries.
Week 2 – 61 points
Week 2 was my best week and definitely my toughest week.  The initial adrenalin rush was gone and reality had set in and I was tired.  This was the week that I thought about throwing in the towel, but believe it or not, I had already started to notice results, so that was enough motivation to keep me going.  About the middle of the week I had to change-up my exercise routine as well.  I could feel that the 3 mph on the treadmill was no longer a challenge for my body.  I knew that if I wanted to continue to feel the results I needed to kick things up a notch.  My treadmill has pre-programmed workouts so I switched to Power Walk, which is basically interval training.  After a couple of minute warm-up it gradually speeds you up for a minute or so at a time, backs you down and back up and so on until the cool-down.  The max. speed on Power Walk (P4) is 4 mph.  I also worked in a little yoga this week.
Week 3 – 63 points
I started to find a groove.  Eating the right foods became less “difficult”, I didn’t have to think about it as much and working in the exercise, journaling and reading as well as the random acts of kindness became easier each day.  Sugar, white flour, soda, fast food and junk food were not an issue.  The Power Walk P4 continued to be my buddy.  I continued to feel better, have more energy and see changes in my body.  Kiss that hail damage goodbye!
Week 4 – 63 points
The home stretch.  This week sealed the deal for me.  Groove found.  Exercise is missed if I don’t do it.  Eating healthy no longer feels “hard” and making conscious healthy choices are becoming a part of my norm, even finding good stuff on menus at restaurants is less overwhelming.  Water is almost craved.  I use mineral water with fresh lime as my treat with dinner instead of the occasional glass of wine. This week kicked up my treadmill routine to Power Walk P5.  The intervals take me from 2.5 mph, up to 5 mph and back down.  I’m not sure who can walk at 4.5 mph or 5 mph, for me it kicks into a jog, but again it’s another triumph to get this far.  At week 4 I look forward to reading, journaling and looking for ways to make someone else’s day a little brighter.  I feel good both physically and emotionally.  I continue to have more energy and feel more grounded than I used to.  An added bonus is that I continue to see progress (changes) in my body.

Total: 256 points out of a possible 280.  Perfect score?  Absolutely not, but I’m proud of my results.

In summary, I’m so grateful I decided to do this challenge.  It was the push I needed to take a good, hard look at what I’ve been doing to myself and my body over time.  It made me realize how often I veg out instead of work out.  Normally if it’s getting late, I feel a little tired, whatever the excuse may be, I get lazy and stop pushing myself, fearing it will be too hard.  This challenge helped me push on, push myself a little harder.  I made a point to do the best that I could each day and I feel that I really did.  Some days were tough, life happens. But the days that didn’t go so well I didn’t beat myself up.  Instead, I went to bed so I could get enough rest, got up the next morning and started fresh.

My plan at the beginning was to mix-up the exercise, I primarily used the treadmill, partly because we’ve had a lot of freeze-thaw here which translates to icy sidewalks and paths.  I’d also hoped to find some yoga or other classes to take part in, but didn’t find anything that seemed like a good fit.  The treadmill allowed me to work my exercise in whenever I had time, which in a lot of cases is at night after my son is in bed.

As part of replacing my traditional food loves, I have gone back to Clean Eating wholeheartedly.  I used to rely solely on Tosca Reno’s books and Clean Eating Magazine but found some great food blogs which added nice variety.  A couple of my favorites are The Gracious Pantry, which is a Clean Eating blog with daily recipes, and The Pursuit of Hippieness, which is an organic/vegan food and healthy living blog.  The recipes they offer are both clean and healthy and have yet to disappoint me.

I chose to read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho as my uplifting reading.  I know I mentioned this before so I won’t go into detail here, but this was a perfect fit for me both for the challenge as well as where I’m at in my life right now.  I highly recommend it!

What will I do now that the challenge is over?  Push on.  I’ve seen such amazing results thus far and worked so hard to get to where I am.  I don’t want to go back to where I was.  With that said  I started my day today with chocolate chip pancakes and bacon cooked my son.  Tonight, I had a steak and a glass of wine for dinner and a small bowl of ice cream because I could, but I still plan on shifting back to healthy eating and the full regiment tomorrow, not because “I’m doing a challenge” anymore, but because I want to.  I’ll continue to have one “free day” a week to indulge if I want and skip exercise if I need a break, but as for the rest of the week, I can do without.  I like feeling good!

Will I do another challenge?  Absolutely.  Am I a “better” person than I was 4 weeks ago?  I think so.  Could the next challenge make me even better?  I don’t see why not.  I think we always have room for improvement.  Besides that, I wouldn’t look at myself and say I’m “fit” yet, but I’m getting there.  And I’m nearly muffin-top-less!  It can only get better from here…


March 9, 2012

Gearing up for starting seeds

“It’s 17 and sunny.”  the morning show host said brightly.  Did I hear him right?  Yikes!  Wasn’t it 55 yesterday?  No, wait, that was Tuesday, or was it Monday?  Oh, well.  Tomorrow is supposed to be in the 50s and looks like 60 is coming a couple of days after that.  But, basketball tournaments haven’t started yet so there’s still time for one more blizzard.

To some this may sound insane, but to those of us who live here, it’s simply called Minnesota.

Bright, sunny mornings make me smile and honestly, I prefer the 10 – 20 range more than the 20s and 30s.  Why? Because when we get into the 30s and get snow-melt the air is damp and as we say in Minnesota “it’s not the cold so much, it’s the dampness, it cuts right through ya”.  Despite the chill in the air I’m so excited to get the garden going.  In March?  Sure!  Okay, technically not outside, although you can sow seeds in snow, I’ve yet to experiment with that and this year is not the year to try considering we’ve been looking at brown grass far more than a white blanket of snow.

Snow or no snow though, it’s almost time to get seeds started inside.  Do you have everything you need?  A sunny window?  Plant Lights?  Seeds?  Seed trays?  Growing medium (soil)? Early March is a good time to get all of these things ready to go: plant lights set up, seeds ordered and delivered, garden calendar and garden journal ready.

Most warm season plants need to be started inside about 6-8 weeks prior to the average last frost.  In our area, that’s anytime between March 20th and April 3rd.  So if you haven’t gotten your supplies together, now’s the time to do it!

Seed catalogs typically start coming in the mail in January.  When they start filling my mailbox, my heart picks up a little speed, a smile crosses my face.  I immediately transport myself from a cold winter day to a warm sunny day in the middle of August, out in the garden with everything at its peak…. picking sun-ripened tomatoes, smelling the scent of basil and thyme as I brush against them on my stroll through the back yard.   And the raspberries!  Hanging there, just waiting to be plucked from their canes and popped into my mouth where the sweet burst of flavor sends tingles of happiness down to my toes.  But alas… it’s not August, it’s March.  But I can dream and so can you.  After all, it’s these dreams, these visions of perfection that get us in the spirit of gardening even when Mother Nature isn’t ready for us to play the soil just yet.

Back to seed catalogs.  If you haven’t ordered seeds… Do. It. NOW!  When perusing catalogs though and making those final decisions, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  First, make sure the plants you select are suitable for your climate, and by climate, I mean cold hardiness zone.  Minnesota used to range from zone 4b in the south to 2b in the north, but in January 2012, they updated the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to reflect recent temperature changes and shifted Minnesota into a slightly warmer zone.  Our new zones range from 5a in the south to 3a in the north.  So what does this mean?  The plant hardiness zone map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature.  What does that mean for gardeners?  It’s a tool to help us determine which plants are most likely to thrive in our location.  When looking at seed catalogs, plant catalogs or plant tags in the nursery or garden center it should show the cold hardiness for each (perennial) plant.  For example, say I’m looking through the Seed Savers Exchange catalog (one of my favorites) and as I cruise through the description for “Oregano, Greek” – I see “Perennial in zones 4-9”.  If I live in northern Minnesota, in zone 3a, I think to myself, “nope, not a perennial here” but if I live in southern Minnesota, in zone 5a, I think, “hmm… maybe that’s why my oregano came through the winter last year”.

You typically won’t see a lot of cold hardiness information noted in fruit and vegetable seed catalogs.  Why?  Because the majority of these plants are annuals.  We plant them, grow them, harvest their fruit and they complete their life cycle all in one season.  However, perennial herbs, fruits and vegetables, perennial flowers, as well as trees and shrubs, will include cold hardiness information because they will continue living, growing and producing fruit year after year in the proper growing conditions.  What if you fall outside the perennial zones?  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a shot at growing the plant, it just means you’ll need to think of it as an annual whereas other areas will think of it as a perennial.

The other thing to note, is if you will be growing the plant for its fruit, you want to make sure your climate has enough warm days during the growing season to allow the fruit to mature.  This will also be noted in the catalogs or on seed packets.  They will state “65 days to maturity”  or “75 days from transplant” (“transplant” signals that these need to be started from seed indoors prior to planting outside).  They may state “50 days”, they may state (with peas, for example) “Shell, 50-55 days” or they may state “Edible podded, 60 days”.  Basically what all of this means is that they need to have the number of days (shown on the package or in the catalog) during the growing season (average last frost in the spring until average first frost in the fall) to be able to produce fruit.  Keep in mind if you only have 75 days in your growing season you would be cutting it pretty close to not getting any fruit if you choose something in the 65+ range.  It would be a huge bummer to nurture a plant all summer to run out of warmth before you get fruit.

On to plant light stands.  If you don’t already have one, you can buy them ready-to-assemble or build your own.  Some plant light stands can be pretty darned expensive, I’ve seen them for as high as $800 for the mac daddy down to around $250 for a pretty basic structure.  However, you can build your own for just a little over $100 with hardware store materials and a little handiness.  Mine is built from PVC, which unless you like the look of white plastic in your house it’s not all that pretty, but the plants have yet to complain.

If you’ve never started seeds inside, I’d encourage you to try it.  It’s pretty fun, truly amazing to watch, can be disappointing at times, but be very rewarding and well worth the money you save versus buying transplants later in the season.  At the very least you get to say, “I grew that, from seed!”

The added bonus about starting your own plants from seed, is that if you want to eat local, organic food, there’s really no better way to know exactly where your food came from than to start with an organic seed, grow it in organic soil, provide water, sunlight and feed it with healthy, chemical-free fertilizer (a.k.a compost) until the day you harvest. It doesn’t get any more local or organic than this!

If haven’t tried seed starting and you’re not sure where to start, or if you have and ran into problems please give me a holler, leave a comment or drop me a line and I’d be happy to offer what I can to help you get things growing.