Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Get Your (Last-minute) Spook On! October 31, 2008

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Ready for a little ghost story dating back to the 1850s? Michael Imlay—LA writer, historian and Reigning King of Spooky just posted this podcast about Old Savannah Cemetery, one of our nation’s most historic pioneer graveyards! 

“I interview pioneer descendant and Savannah Board President Randy Wiggins about the graveyard’s past, present and future,” says Imlay. “Plus, there’s an added Halloween treat in the form of the ghostlore surrounding the Snoddy family plot.”

Click here to get spooked out!

Now, I’ve got one more pumpkin to carve before the goblins and ghouls descend upon my door…


Taking the Harm out of “Harmless” Beauty Products October 29, 2008

Whenever possible, we choose organic products for our family—especially soaps and body-washes. Like all babies and kids, our children have delicate skin, but more than that, we recognize that our skin is our largest organ. More importantly, the landscape of that organ is covered in pores. Why slather on chemicals, artificial fragrances, stabilizers and fake colorings? The problem we’ve found is that buying “organic” isn’t as easy as it ought to be. Products with often very little organic ingredients masquerade themselves as all-organic with misleading packaging and mysterious chemical ingredients.

So how do I know what to buy? I had the good fortune of learning from Scott Shoemate of Ilumina Organics, a passionate advocate for consumers seeking the highest quality organic products for body and hair. His company is his answer to this problem. The father of a 3-year-old boy and an 11-month-old girl, Shoemate works from home with business partner Kathy, an organic salon owner operating in Mt. Shasta, Calif. Eight years ago, when Kathy suffered from several chronic upper respiratory illnesses, her doctor advised her to leave the salon where she worked at the time, or make a career change. “I had been breathing in aerosol hairsprays, fragrance and fumes of the chemicals I worked with daily.” Obviously perms and colors are chemicals, but hidden dangers lie within supposedly “safe” and “harmless” shampoos, conditioners, styling and skincare products.

The partners developed Ilumina Organics, and Kathy’s respiratory problems became a thing of the past. As Shoemate explains, “The federal government has defined the USDA Organic Certification as being products that have content that are 95% organic.  What consumers don’t realize is that in many products, the active ingredients that do most of the work and pose the greatest danger, make up 5% or less of the product. An unethical manufacturer can fill their product up with huge amounts of say, organic aloe juice (water with a little aloe), then dump in a dangerous chemical and still make an organic claim. ” 

To make your next shopping trip easier, Shoemate identified a dozen chemicals that must be avoided due to evidence that they may cause harm. Check the labels of your favorite products for these 12 SYNTHETIC COSMETIC INGREDIENTS TO AVOID:

  1. Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea
    A primary cause of contact dermatitis (American Academy of Dermatology).
  2. Methyl and Propyl and Butyl and Ethyl Paraben
    Widely used and highly toxic, these cause allergic reactions and skin rashes.
  3. Petrolatum
    This is mineral oil jelly which promotes sun damage and can interfere with the body’s own natural moisturizing mechanism, leading to dry skin and chapping.
  4. Propylene Glycol
    A synthetic petrochemical mix used as a humectant causing allergic and toxic reactions.
  5. PVP/VA Copolymer
    A petroleum-derived chemical which may contribute to foreign bodies in the lungs of sensitive persons.
  6. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
    This chemical causes eye irritations, skin rashes, hair loss, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, and allergic reactions. It is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the parenthetic explanation “comes from coconut.”
  7. Stearalkonium Chloride
    This toxic additive causes allergic reactions. Originally developed as a fabric softener.
  8. Synthetic Colors
    Labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number. (e.g.: FD&C Red No. 6), synthetic colors are believed to be cancer-causing agents.
  9. Synthetic Fragrances
    The synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can have as many as 200 ingredients. “There is no way to know what the chemicals are,” says Shoemate “since on the label it will simply say, ‘Fragrance’.” Problems may include headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation.
  10. Triethanolamine
    TEA causes allergic reactions including eye problems, dryness of hair and skin, and could be toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time.
  11. BPA – Bisphenol A
    Endocrine disruptor linked to catastrophic health problems in animal studies and now in human research.
  12. Phthalates (same as #11 above.)

The last two items are usually found in the plastic bottle holding the product. “We work with a small plastics company in Texasthat has taken all the estrogenics or endocrine disruptors (Bisphenol A (BPA), Phthalates, Alkyl-phenols) out of their plastic bottles,” says Shoemate. “Our bottles cost three times what a standard bottle costs but for us they’re worth every penny.”

To these business partners, Ilumina means “to shed light upon.” You can learn more about their product line at, or call 1-888-784-0797.


Baby and Preschooler Decor – A Safe and Organized Playroom

When a baby joins the family, it often feels like every room in your home transforms into a playroom. Add a second or third child, and the critical mass of underfoot toys multiplies. Reclaim your house by making one room or small area into the playroom or play area. Even more important than helping you stay organized, you’ll be creating a special environment that’s safe and kid-friendly. Try these tips from

Organize the room. When you’re having a tough day, just getting the toys put away seems like a major accomplishment. Organization is the key to making it easier. As a first step in organizing the playroom, get on your hands and knees and try to see the room from your child’s perspective. This will help you determine how best to store his toys as well as identify the potential dangers in the playroom. Organize the room so your child can easily reach his toys, eliminating the temptation to climb to get something he wants and allowing him to safely explore his space. Lots of handy storage makes it easy to put toys away where no one can trip over them.

Make toys accessible. When storing toys, use baskets, buckets, or other containers that allow your child to easily reach inside to pull out what she needs. Be sure the toys in these containers are age-appropriate for all of your children. A 6-month-old should not share toys that are for a 2-year-old because of the danger to the younger child from small toy parts that could pose a choking hazard.

Make organizing fun. You can turn the job of organizing a playroom into a fun project for you and your child. It’s simple: Buy some sturdy plastic containers with lids that snap closed. Working together, fill the containers with different items, such as books in one, toy cars in another, and toy animals in another. Next, look in magazines for photos of the items in your containers and cut them out. Using glue labeled “nontoxic,” “washable,” or “for school use,” attach the photos onto the corresponding containers. Glue is recommended only for kids over 5, so make sure you’re supervising younger children. For other easy storage alternatives, use baskets or open bins.

Don’t tempt fate by placing your young child’s toys and games on high shelves or ledges in the playroom. It’s more than likely that he will figure out how to climb up to get them, with potentially deadly results. If he is allowed to have the toys, store them within his reach. If he shouldn’t have them, keep them out of sight.

Beware of hinged lids. Toy chests or storage bins with hinged lids can fall on your child’s head or neck, trapping her or causing serious injury. And children have been known to crawl into these chests and suffocate while trapped inside. If you have a toy chest, or any chest, with a freely falling hinged lid, the safest thing you can do is remove the lid entirely. Or, you can add a lid support; heavy lids may require two. A lid support will keep the lid of the toy chest open in any position you choose. You can purchase a chest with a lid support or one that has hinges that support the lid, or you can install a lid support or two yourself. Check them frequently to ensure they are still in good working order and that they do indeed work in any position. Remember to check, tighten, and adjust as necessary.

Don’t use these recalled chests. In 1996, 12 million cedar chests made by Lane and Virginia Maid were recalled after six children became trapped inside and suffocated because the lids automatically latched when closed. The chests were made between 1912 and 1987, and many have been handed down as heirlooms, and they can still be found at yard sales or in secondhand stores. Even since this recall there have been two near fatalities and one fatal accident. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Lane are still working to recall these chests. As a remedy, Lane is providing new locks for the old chests that will prevent entrapment, and the company will provide assistance to anyone who needs help installing the new lock. To find out if you have a Lane chest that has been recalled and to request a lock replacement, check the Lane Web site at and click on “customer care.”

Don’t forget to install carbon monoxide alarms in your child’s bedroom! Learn why here.
Want more fabulous ideas? Check out Cool Decor Ideas For Kids Rooms


5 Family-Friendly Halloween Haunts! October 24, 2008

Live in the Los Angeles area? Michael Imlay—LA writer, historian and Reigning King of Spooky—very kindly posted this hauntingly good list of bone-chilling places to take your kids aged 9-14. Tweens love this stuff and, like a phantom, a little local history lesson will creep up on them without warning. Here is what he wrote:

My fascination with Angeleno ghostlore is no secret. For the past several years, I’ve spent every spare moment I can “collecting” spooky legends, researching their roots, interviewing witnesses, and joining professional ghost hunters in their explorations of our region’s most historic haunts.

Recently, fellow blogger Rebecca Lacko asked me to recommend some “family friendly” locales with a reputation for ghosts.

The following are five popular sites I’ve personally checked out where kids and parents alike can relive history while watching for the supernatural. (Click on the headers for official info…)

1. OLVERA STREET, Los Angeles: The spirits of early L.A. live on, thanks to nightly Day of the Dead processions, Oct. 25 – Nov. 2, in which kids and adults don death faces to honor their ancestors (inset). Ask the right insiders, though, and you’ll learn that the really gruesome wraiths take in the sights after the tourists go home. Alleged hotspots include the Plaza Fire Station, Avila Adobe and Pelanconi House, now La Golondrina Restaurant, where prankish ghosts have irritated staff and repair crews. (Of course, during business hours, La Golondrina’s most popular spirits are its frothy Margaritas.)

2. LEONIS ADOBE, Calabasas: While the current management prefers to downplay any talk of hauntings, this adobe’s ghostlore is well documented. In fact, a few years ago, I tagged along with a team led by ghost hunter Robert Wlodarsky that encountered some very odd phenomena in an upstairs bedroom. The place once belonged to Miguel Leonis, an ill-tempered ranchero killed in a suspicious 1889 wagon accident. The most active phantasm, however, is his long-suffering wife, Espiritu, whose sobs still occasionally unnerve visitors.

3. RMS QUEEN MARY, Long Beach: Personally, I’m somewhat dubious about most of the claims surrounding “America’s Most Haunted Ship.” After all, from a marketing perspective, what better way to keep a languishing attraction afloat than an ever-growing tally of ghostly manifestations? (More than 600 to date!) Still, the 1934 White Star Liner remains a favorite of paranormal experts, so who knows? You may see something. Of course, those willing to shell out big bucks are practically guaranteed chills and thrills with the ship’s Haunted Encounters Passport Tour.

4. DRUM BARRACKS, Wilmington: A Civil War fort right here in Southern California? Strange, but true. Originally established at the urging of Phineas Banning (left), the Union garrison once guarded L.A.’s fledgling harbor against would-be Confederate marauders. Apparently, however, some of the troops remain at their posts even today. Disembodied footsteps and voices, along with the odor of cigars and ladies’ perfume, supposedly permeate the old officers’ quarters. Meanwhile, outside, the sounds of phantom horses and military drills have been heard by neighbors. (Incidentally, the spirit of Banning himself is said to haunt his own former estate, which is also in the vicinity.)

5. STAGECOACH INN, Newbury Park: Built in 1876, the Grand Union Hotel was a stagecoach stop halfway along the route from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. In the 1970s, the structure burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. According to legend, during its reconstruction, lights inexplicably flickered from a corner room. Psychic investigation “revealed” that the spirit in question is Pierre, a Basque shepherd murdered in a card game. While no historical evidence has been found to confirm this, the hotel is worth visiting for its impressive collection of Victorian furnishings, as well as its peaceful grounds and nature trail.

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#13 Fun Things To Do With Your Family This Weekend October 22, 2008

Is it coincidence? This issue of Fun Things To Do With Your Family This Weekend is “lucky” number 13, and the theme is spooooky Halloween!

Host a Pumpkin Carving Party!

This weekend is the ideal time to host your very own Pumpkin Carving Party! Jack-o-lanterns can only survive 5-7 days once cut, so with only a week left until Halloween, let the festivities begin! Did you know that, botanically speaking, pumpkin is a fruit? Grown on every continent but Antarctica, the pumpkin was once thought to be a cure-all for freckles and snakebites. Here are some tips for hosting your pumpkin party!

  • Fill a wheelbarrow with pumpkins and place it by the door so guests can choose a pumpkin to carve as they come to the party. (Crunched for time? Have guests bring a hollowed pumpkin with them to the party!)
  • Choosing the perfect specimen: Examine the pumpkin’s rind; It should be firm, uniform in color, and free of cuts, bruises, and blemishes. Give the pumpkin a knock; A thumping sound means the pumpkin is solid, with no internal defects, rot, or soft spots.
  • Decorate Halloween themed brown paper bags–Make enough for each guest. Fill each bag with inexpensive pumpkin-carving tools, a tea light, and a permanent black marker. (Or substitute poster paints, if your party guests are very young.)
  • If using a candle to illuminate your pumpkin, you can create the smell of Halloween spice by sprinkling cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin spice on the underside of the jack-o’-lantern’s lid. Once lit, the pumpkin will create a wonderful scent.
  • Download free pumpkin carving patterns and have several copies on hand.
  • Create a centerpiece using a large pumpkin surrounded by colorful autumn leaves. Use a drill to make holes around the top and sides of the pumpkin, and fill the holes with caramel apples or lollipops for guests to enjoy!
  • Cover your work surface with newspapers or a vinyl tablecloth.

Party music to carve by…

  • “Beetlejuice: Main Titles,” composed by Danny Elfman
  • “Ghostbusters,” Ray Parker Jr.
  • “In the Midnight Hour,” Wilson Pickett
  • “I Put a Spell on You,” Nina Simone
  • “I Want Candy,” Bow Wow Wow
  • “Spooky,” the Classics IV
  • “That Old Black Magic,” Ella Fitzgerald
  • “Thriller,” Michael Jackson
  • “Werewolves of London,” Warren Zevon
  • “Witchcraft,” Frank Sinatra

Bone up on Halloween Safety Tips for Moms and Dads.
WIN up to $15,000 in prizes at Pumpkin Master’s Carving Contest! (Check out their Contest Winners page for ideas!)

Gourmet Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 

Once you’ve separated all the seeds from the ooey-gooey, stringy inside of your pumpkin, roast them seasoned with these fabulous spice combinations! Roasted pumpkin seeds are rich in fiber as well as vitamins B and E, and kids love them–but be sure to share them with Grandma and Grandpa, too!

  • Roasted pumpkin seeds promote prostate health, thanks to the carotenoids and the omega-3 fats which are currently being studied for their potential prostate benefits.
  • Zinc is one further nutrient found in pumpkin seeds that might positively impact prostate function.
  • Zinc found in pumpkin seeds also decreases the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Pumpkin seeds have been recently investigated for anti-inflammatory benefits in arthritis.
  • Pumpkin seed phytosterols dramatically reduce blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease risk of certain cancers. 

 Click here for the full recipe.
(Visit my other blog, for more great kid-friendly recipes!

Future Environmentalists Club

Recycle Your Halloween Pumpkin! When Halloween is over, don’t just throw away those jack-o-lanterns! Kimberly Danger has some great ideas to make use of every last bit of your pumpkin.

Make Baby Food. Halve and roast your pumpkin, then scoop out the flesh. Mash well with a fork. (Begin with an organic pumpkin, preferably.)
Use it as a Harvest Planter. For pumpkins that were painted inside of carved, scoop out the inside membrane and clean. Fill with a little water and use as a vase. Fill the vase with natural twigs, grasses, and harvest mums for a beautiful autumn centerpiece.
Make a Pumpkin Bowl. Scoop out the inside membrane and clean. A typical pumpkin holds up to a gallon of soup or an entire casserole and adds flavor, too. Smaller pumpkins can be used for individual-sized bowls.
Make Pumpkin Puree. Pumpkin puree is the basis for many great bakery goodies. It will stay fresh in your freezer for months. Cut pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds. Chop into big chunks and place in a baking pan peel side down. Cover with foil. Bake 2-3 hours at 350 degrees. Remove from oven, scoop the pulp out of the peel. Puree in a food processor to reduce stringiness. Freeze excess pumpkin puree for later use. (See Kimberly’s website for recipes for Pumpkin pudding and pumpkin bread, using your fresh puree!)

“By raising our children with a strong sense of respect and reverence for Earth, we help ensure that there will be adults to step into ecological leadership positions.”–Helen Coronato, author of  Eco-Friendly Families, 

*Submit your family’s fun weekend activities—The best ones will be featured here!
Looking for more weekend ideas? Click here for Fun Things To Do archived entries


My clip from The Doctors on CBS October 20, 2008

Click to See me on The Doctors! 

This is an abbreviated clip posted by the nice people at Baby Signs, makers of the potty-training kit I used with my infant Noah to teach him how to use the potty beginning at 13 months.

Ready to potty train your baby? I’ve carefully selected some lovely organic training pants, and eco-friendly wipes for my Amazon store—just like the ones Dr. Jim Sears recommends. You can also pick up a Baby Signs Potty Training Kit for only $26.37! (The retail price is $39.99.) Your little one and his or her future environment will thank you! And just think of the cost savings over the long term! It’s a wise financial investment with the added benefit of a more deeply loving relationship with your baby, and decreased impact on landfills. Goooo, mommy!


Television and Babies: What Do We Really Know? October 19, 2008

About a month ago, I wrote a post entitled “Is TV Harmful for Babies and Toddlers?”.  I’ve experienced, with my two children, how educational programming can accelerate the understanding of concepts such as the letters of the alphabet and their individual sounds, recognizing patterns and orders of operation, a greater appreciation for songs and music, and one particular DVD has even helped me teach my infant to use the potty


Over the last month, a couple of comments have nudged my guilt about allowing the kids to watch TV or DVDs while they eat breakfast, or as a distraction to keep them out from underfoot while I cook dinner. (Mind you, they are primarily watching shows I deem educational: Muzzy Spanish language training, Letter Factory, Math Circus, or the like.) The first was a combination of Joseph’s preschool teacher commenting about how he has difficulty following instructions (prefers to do his own thing) along with the results from his hearing/speech screening, when the screener mentioned that he did not follow instructions well. Could this be because of television?


The second nudge came when I joked about 18-month-old Noah’s responses to Dora the Explorer’s questions with a neighbor: “Where should we go next?” Dora asks. (“Backpack!” he replies). And, “Will maracas help us row across Turtle Lake?” (“noooo!” says Noah, imitating Dora’s notorious intonation.) My neighbor replied roughly like this: “I just attended a Waldorf education seminar, and they said that TV is the worst thing for babies and kids and that it steals their soul.” Those may not have been the exact words, but nearly so. If it wasn’t “steal”, it was “deadens”, or something equally reviling. I shuddered and came home feeling guilty. Like every mom, I want what’s best for my children.


Now I’m not saying I know people, but I know people. One of them is Dr. Linda Acredolo, Professor Emeritus at UC Davis and co-creator of the fabulous Baby Signs line of products. She and partner Dr. Susan Goodwyn have spent almost two decades researching and teaching infants and toddlers American Sign Language, and a significant component of their process includes educational DVDs. As a child development researcher familiar with the existing literature on the effects of television viewing on babies’ development, the remainder of this post is what Dr. Acredolo has to say about it:


Television viewing by babies is currently a controversial issue which is receiving a great deal of media coverage. Data from hundreds of studies support the conclusion that one-on-one interaction between parents and children is critically important to all aspects of early development. Of course, that should be high on every parent’s “to do” list.


However, one-on-one interaction with parents isn’t the only way children learn important lessons. In fact, a parent who constantly hovers over a child is denying that child the opportunity to discover new wonders and conquer new challenges on his own. Such challenges may come from exploring the world, reading books, playing with toys—or watching televised programming.    



The AAP has taken the strong position that children under the age of 2 shouldn’t be exposed to any televised material because “too much television can negatively affect early brain development.” Surely they’ve based this strong conclusion on a solid research foundation. 

The truth, however, is that no convincing data yet exist to support this conclusion. Sometimes a study from the University of Washington (D. Christakis et al.) is cited as evidence that TV viewing can negatively affect children’s language development. However, the details of this study, including its methodology, are flawed and warrant caution in drawing any conclusions. Even the recently reported research from the same laboratory of the effects of the Baby Einstein videos showed only a small, transitory effect on language that had disappeared by 17 months. Much more research and convincing evidence is needed before anyone can draw the conclusion that the amount of television viewing by young children influences early brain development.


What many other studies have shown, in contrast, is that it’s the content of what’s watched that matters. In fact, in a brand new study (November 2007), Christakis & Zimmerman, the researchers whose work ignited the controversy in the first place, now confirm what critics of their 2004 study have said all along: Content does matter! Specifically, they found that viewing of educational programs (e.g.,” Sesame Street” “Blues Clues,” “Barney”) before age 3 was totally unrelated to later attentional problems, while viewing of violent programs (e.g., “Power Rangers,” ” Scooby Doo”) and purely entertainment programs (e.g., “Rugrats,” “Aristocats”) was. The authors suggest the difference is due to the slower pacing and infant-appropriate language typical of educational programming—including all Baby Signs® DVDs.


On the positive side, data do show that watching television shows that elicit participation, like Dora the Explorer and Blue’s Clues, actually facilitates language development, as do shows that feature simple language in ways children can follow, like Clifford the Big Red Dog. Our Baby Signs® DVDs follow these same time-tested teaching strategies to promote infant learning. In fact, our own research shows that Baby Signs® DVDs actually teach babies signs—and we know that signs benefit babies in many ways, including social and emotional development as well as language and intelligence. 



I think I know why. My hunch comes from something I heard Dr. Benjamin Spock himself say once. He said that doctors often try to scare their patients in order to keep them from doing extreme things, like not taking their medications long enough. He gave the example of a doctor who says to a mother, “And if you don’t give your child these vitamins every single day, he’ll develop rickets!” He continued, “That’s how we make them pay attention!” 


I believe the AAP is really targeting parents who, routinely and for long periods of time, use TV as a babysitter, let their babies watch alone, and pay no attention to content. In other words, the AAP is trying to scare irresponsible parents into behaving responsibly. The problem is that parents who are by nature “responsible,” are now being made to feel like bad parents if they allow their babies any TV viewing at all. 



Remember the old adage, “Everything in moderation”? Well, that seems to be the safest position on this issue, too. Television, like any other tool or toy, can be a wonderful addition to a young child’s life—if the content is high in quality and it is used responsibly.