Unholy Guacamole

While I was stewing unhappily over the massive fail by the Food and Drug Administration to ban the dangerous toxin, Bisphenol-A, from our food supply, Maya and I made up some super simple (and healthy) guacamole.

Unlike some of my attempts, this one was actually tasty. So I wrote it up:

3 (organic) ripe avocados

8 or so small (organic) cherry tomatoes, chopped into 1/8s

2 (organic) limes (we had one dry and one juicy lime, which was perfect, but be sure to taste)

Generous pinch sea salt

Fresh ground pepper

¼ green chili, sliced into strips and diced

¼ (organic) red onion, diced small

Couple good shakes of cumin powder

Only directions: Pretend it’s the FDA. Smash into a watery pulp using a large, BPA-free spoon.

***

Very easy, and the right balance of flavors. Maya liked it too.

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Marking time: A love letter to our girl at 18 months

Maya wakes up in the morning, puts her face far, far too close to mine, and says, with breathless optimism, “Hi.” Now 18 months, she focuses with such intensity on the task at hand — whisking vegetables around a small pot in her kitchen, mumbly “reading” to herself, or sorting finger puppets one-by-one.

She knows “animal,” “turtle,” and, oddly, “newt.” “Wha-what?” she asks, all day long, pointing at everything.

Naturally good-natured (unilke both her parents!), cloudy weather in the form of sudden squalls sometimes appears, but usually dissipates. She has never met a stranger and welcomes surprised people to “her” street or store like a small, impertinent ambassador, waving at them with the enviable certainty they are there to visit her. She can walk, and, lately, almost run, and pull her small legs through the space between her arms to make it down the slide alone.

On the average day, she is mostly willing to follow basic instructions: putting items in her room, tracking down her shoes from the heap, and valiantly attempting to feed herself soup with a “shpoon.”

She has a stubborn streak as wide as the one in her father mother maternal grandmother, to match the intensity of her intentions, which are sometimes nothing short of mastery. At 13 months, we watched her cross a doorway with a small step in it some 30 times, until she could do it without a look of concentration. She consumes her favorite books (last week, the tongue-punishing “Fox in Socks;” this week, the predictably comforting “Everywhere Babies”) a dozen times a day, until they are worn out and have revealed all their merry singsong secrets. She loves music and stomps her feet and twirls with pleasure, plundering her basket of instruments and banging the claves on every nearby surface to hear the differences in sound.

The sounds she makes are changing all too fast, so swiftly it takes my breath away. New words come daily, and a loud insistence on doing things herself, without even my protective arm. Her only phrase? “No way.”

Blink! The baby is gone, long gone, and we stand here, just watching her, and waiting for the little girl.

10 free (or nearly free) ways to reduce your family’s exposure to toxic chemicals

Credit: Darren Higgins

Some simple principles can help you take action to reduce toxic chemicals in your home:

1)   Use less stuff.  Do you really need those dryer sheets? Or the umpteenth “miracle” cream just taking up space in the medicine cabinet? Go back to basics by figuring out what you use need on a daily basis, and chuck the rest. Save your fancy makeup for the evening out. And whenever you can, pick fragrance free or go without the smelly stuff. (Most fragrances are loaded with pthalates. Mmmm.) Also, treat the plastic you own more carefully — never heat plastic in the dishwasher or microwave (pop food out of the container and handwash the sippy cups). I find that having to hand-wash stuff becomes its own reason not to buy more plastic!

2)   Repurpose items.  Rather than buying new furniture for the nursery. convert that dingy old dresser into a changing table. (Ask relatives what’s in their attic or look on Craigslist or at yard sales for what you need.) The off-gassing from materials, if any, will long be over, and you can often even find deals on solid wood. Spend your dollars on what will really matter, like wooden teethers and a decent and safe new crib. And some of the cutest baby clothes, once out-grown, can be packed away to be used as doll clothes one day.

3)   Replace as you go. Instead of tossing everything out at once, replace items as they run out or wear out with safer ones. When that non-stick pan begins to show wear, replace it with an enameled or a cast-iron pan instead.  When the coffee maker starts to sputter, think about replacing it with a French press to avoid heating plastics every time you brew a cup. And when all those plastic food containers show stains, substitute glass containers with BPA-free lids. Lastly, when you need a new vacuum, buy one with a HEPA filter to reduce both allergens and toxins in the dust.

4)   Enlist help. Tell friends and family that for the baby shower, holidays and birthdays you would like “green” gifts that help your family to detox your home. Help them pick suitable toys through a registry or just a note with a list of things you’d prefer they get for your child or home. They may even want your research so they can make their own positive changes! (Or they may grumble and say you’re nuts, but really, do you want all those loud, annoying plastic gizmos?) And make your friends and family leave their shoes near the door (or better yet, the garage), which really reduces tracked-in toxins and pesticides.

5)   Scrounge a bit. Keep tabs on your local parents’ list serv or check out yard sales, book sales, and thrift stores for nicer items and used books. A little quick action in response to a post from a parent selling a premium toy can save a lot of money! (Our oh-so-fancy wooden Svan highchair came used off our neighborhood listserv for less than half the price of a new one.) Check ebay and craigslist as well for deals on a particular item you covet.

6)   Prioritize. Can’t afford to go all-organic? Just pick the dirty dozen (a list of the most pesticide-heavy fruits and vegetables), plus milk and peanut butter, and buy those organically. (Dairy, berries, apples, peanuts and potatoes are the worst.) Or start with cleaning supplies, which can be made simply with baking soda and vinegar or other homespun recipes.  Skip convenience foods and more processed foods, which contain less nutrition, are far more likely to have harmful preservatives and additives, and are less likely to be organic. Buying food from the edges of the supermarket (vegetables, fruit, dairy, and breads) will save you money and keep you safer and healthier as well. Besides, cooking with children is great fun, and teaches measurements, flavors, and how to help mom.

7)   Air it out.  It’s free and easy to roll down the window in your car for a minute or two whenever you start driving, to air out the VOCs (or volatile organic compounds, as in paints) emitted by all the plastics in cars, as well as the flame retardants in your kiddo’s car seats. It’s also a good idea to open your windows at home when you can to let the house breathe a little, and to run cold water from your kitchen tap for 10 seconds before using it for cooking. (Don’t use hot tap water directly from the tap for cooking, as it can contain heavy metals from the pipes.) And skip the vinyl cover for strollers — it’s better to get a little wet than to have the baby breathing flame retardants, PVC and nasty pthalates.

8)   Think ahead. When you go bargain hunting, think about what your child will need over the next few years, not just today. In thrift stores, I look for clothes that are like-new and good labels that are two, or even three, sizes ahead of where Maya is today. She’ll get there all too soon! And for toys, I invest in really nice toys if they will facilitate open-ended play that will enable them to grow with her – wooden blocks, imagination starters like animals, and cardboarc puzzles that are images now and a puzzle later. Hand puppets and finger puppets are wonderful ways to learn about animals, and lead to fun. Dress-up clothes can come from thrift stores around Halloween, when the costumes are plentiful. And even baby rattles can be kept for the box of musical instruments, or you can buy shakers that double as gorgeous rattles for baby.

9)   Buy in bulk. Many areas now offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) opportunities to buy directly from a local farm, usually for a season and often pay-ahead. This is terrific way to know much more about where your food comes from (and some have visiting days for kids). The food can be certified organic, or can be from a farm that uses farming practices that are very close to organic (or better) without certification, but do ask. Although you pay ahead of time, over the season,  costs may be lower than paying at the supermarket for premium meat, fruits and vegetables. The offerings are always seasonally appropriate, and will be very fresh. (To find CSAs near you, look here.)

10) Let it go. Small changes really do go a long way in reducing chemicals. But stress and anxiety are also not good for parents or kids. So if your efforts to reduce toxins are causing you late nights rather than peace of mind, pick your battles, make your choices, and let the rest go by.(Fifteen minutes of exercise or meditation also helps the body cope with hazards to our health.)We all just do what we can do to protect our children. That has to be enough.

And number 11 is: Stand with groups like Healthy Child, Healthy World in telling your member of Congress and the Senate leadership that you, as a parent, voter and citizen, support more reasonable standards for chemical safety. The best way to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals for every family, and every child, is to enact stronger rules in Congress.

So, blogging…

Credit: Darren Higgins

When the New York Times ran a picture of my daughter Maya last week under a snarky headline, it changed something for me. I’ve been a public interest advocate for 12 years for a range of important causes, but this was about my family, and felt, well, personal.

Ok, so it took me a while to get the “personal is political” thing. The comments picked up on the river of condescension flowing through the article (which used words like “paranoid” and was led by a large image of a toddler smiling through a glass bubblehead in a “hazmat onesie,” whatever that is).

Some folks suggested I was mentally ill for trying to protect Maya from the sea of toxic chemicals now commonly found in all of our bodies. Many confused germs (not so bad, really) with toxics (bad, really). And others just wanted to sneer at the overprotective helicopter moms in the article, you know, the ones who stay up late making their own deodorant out of spit and eco-sealing wax.

I replied to some of their startling insights on Fark and other places where the piece was picked up, trying to take back some of my dignity. After all, I gave the reporter a lot of the references and other material for the story, but I was the one with the ridiculous (but gorgeous, btw) Amish bassinet and the only dad in the article had “done the research” and was skeptical about the risks. (Thanks, Mary Brune, for correcting his ignorance on the science, pointing out the other signs of sexism in the piece and being ticked off right along with me.)

Frankly, I’m used to being called far worse names. But this was different. It cut right to my sense of fairness.

Like all parents, I’m just trying to use what I know to protect my family from harm. Like some parents, I have time to do the research on what might be safe, and what is not. And like not too many parents, I’ve had a front row seat for the past 12 years on the spectacle of bought-and-paid-for federal agencies, and weak and backwards looking laws (most of which haven’t been updated since the 1970s). I’ve also had some run-ins with the phalanxes of corporate lobbyists that swarm Washington, always with your health and safety in mind. Sometimes we win, but mostly, they do.

Even with all that, I still make mistakes, and find out that something in my home is truly awful for us. Mostly after the fact.

In short, the system’s rigged. And parents who try to do something to change things are not neurotic: they are trying to make the world better. Safer. Healthier. For their children and all the ones who come after them.

I hope to take my sense of outrage, and instead of making deodorant, make this. Lists of items I found that I like. Little bits and bobs of decent ideas about how to make it work. Shout-outs to good companies and developments. A lifeline to the parents and other people who know I’m not crazy to dream about, and when I can to try to make, a better world.

Hope you’ll join me.

Laura