Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

U.S. students have been drinking tainted water for past decade September 29, 2009

An Associated Press investigation found that over the last decade, the drinking water at thousands of public and private schools in all 50 states contain unsafe levels of lead, pesticides and dozens of other toxins. As water safety violations have multipllied, the problem has gone largely unmonitored by the federal government.

“If a landlord doesn’t tell a tenant about lead paint in an apartment, he can go to jail,” remarked Marc Edwards, an engineer at Virginia Tech who has been honored for his work on water quality. “But we have no system to make people follow the rules to keep school children safe?”

Approximately one of every five schools with its own water supply violated the Safe Drinking Water Act in the past decade, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), analyzed by the AP.

The contaminants are especially dangerous to children, who drink more water per pound than adults and are more vulnerable to the effects of many hazardous substances. “There’s a different risk for kids,” said Cynthia Dougherty, head of the EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water.

When the Associated Press analyzed a database showing federal drinking water violations from 1998 to 2008 in schools with their own water supplies, the organization discovered:

  • Water in about 100 school districts and 2,250 schools breached federal safety standards.
  • Those schools and districts racked up more than 5,550 separate violations. In 2008, the EPA recorded 577 violations, up from 59 in 1998 – an increase that officials attribute mainly to tougher rules.
  • California, which has the most schools of any state, also recorded the most violations with 612, followed by Ohio (451), Maine (417), Connecticut (318) and Indiana (289).
  • Nearly half the violators in California were repeat offenders. One elementary school in Tulare County, in the farm country of the Central Valley, broke safe-water laws 20 times.
  • The most frequently cited contaminant was coliform bacteria, followed by lead and copper, arsenic and nitrates.

Unfortunately, the EPA does not have the authority to require testing for all schools and can only provide guidance on environmental practices. Schools with wells are required to test their water and report any problems to the state, which is supposed to send all violations to the federal government

For more info: Read the report in its entirety.
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Get spooky: Plan your Pumpkin Carving Party now!

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. (Psst! Consider planning your party after 2009 Pumpkinmania! at The Heritage Museum of Orange County.)

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

For more info: This is the ideal time to begin planning your very own Pumpkin Carving Party! Jack-o-lanterns can only survive 5-7 days once cut, so choose your date and send your invites soon! 

Find pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hayrides and more in the Los Angeles area.

The 2009 Pumpkinmania will be located at The Heritage Museum of Orange County on
Oct 25, 2009
8:30 am2:00 pm (Sunday). 3101 West Harvard Street, Santa Ana, CA 92704.

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Trust Birth Conference in March 2010 – Excellent line-up, plan now! September 28, 2009

Moms-to-be, natural birth practitioners, doulas, midwives, OB/GYNs, chiropractors and authors are joining together for the Trust Birth Conference, March 12-14, 2010, in Redondo Beach.

This is a special opportunity for pregnant women, mothers, and those interested in natural birth methods, as conferences of this nature are typically restricted only to industry health professionals.

Keynote speaker Dr. Sarah Buckley is a family physician with qualifications in GP-obstetrics and family planning; a writer and lecturer on pregnancy, birth and parenting; and currently full-time mother to her four children, all born at home. Sarah’s book, Gentle Birth Gentle Mothering: A Doctors Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices is published in the US and worldwide by Celestial Arts. Sarah brings a unique and powerful blend of solid scientific, anthropological and psychological perspectives, along with a deep trust in the natural processes.

Each day of the conference offers numerous seminars facilitated by some of the world’s leading natural birth advocates:

For more info: Check out the impressive list of conference faculty. See the listings for all sessions.
See detailed info on conference pricing. 


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WIN!! Insider’s Guide to Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles September 25, 2009

Many parents worry about how to pick the right private elementary school for their child. Selecting the right laschoolsbookschool can be challenging. We’ve agonized over these decisions ourselves. And, the competitive nature of private elementary schools in Los Angeles can limit a family’s choices because there’s no guarantee that your child will be accepted at your favorite schools.

To help you choose the best possible school for your child, here are some excellent tips from Christina Simon, Anne Simon and Porcha Dodson, collaborative authors of a new book, Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles: (Read on to learn how you can WIN one of FIVE copies of this incomparable guide!)

  • Tour as many schools as possible. The authors recommend parents see between eight and ten schools to really learn how different each school is from another. This is easier if you start looking at schools two years before you apply (which is one year before your child will enroll in kindergarten). Los Angeles has excellent private elementary schools, but each one is unique and unless you visit the school, you won’t get a good feel for what it has to offer. 
  • Location, location, location. Geography matters in Los Angeles. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of finding an outstanding school that you know would be a great fit for your child. The only problem: it’s an hour drive each way to and from the school. Don’t ignore this geographic reality. A commute of this distance will be difficult on your child and the entire family. And, don’t forget about your child’s play dates and events that require you to be at the school during the day and on more than a few evenings.
  • Be aware of the popularity contest. It’s easy to choose a school because it’s “trendy” or “popular” or filled with celebrities. Don’t forget, these trends change from year to year and this isn’t a good reason to select a school. When parents at your child’s preschool are abuzz about a particular school, take a step back and ask yourself if you are being influenced away from your own values. Be confident in your choices even if they are not the most sought-after schools.
  • Plan ahead (but not too far ahead). K-6? K-8? K-12? Should you pick an elementary school that has a middle and/or high school? A number of the top private elementary schools in Los Angeles have middle and/or high schools. How important is this when you’re choosing an elementary school? THe authors think you should focus on the elementary school at this point. It’s impossible to know whether your child will remain at the same school until he or she goes to college. The lack of a middle or high school shouldn’t deter you from touring or selecting a great elementary school. Remember that a school that is devoted to elementary education will keep its primary focus on the programs your child will benefit from now.
  • Calculate the costs. Tuition at the top private elementary schools in Los Angeles can range from $17,000 to $24,000 per child, per year. Some schools are slightly more expensive and parochial schools cost less. You should know that schools increase tuition annually. And, you need to consider additional out-of-pocket expenses. Every private school asks families to contribute to their annual giving campaign. Your child may want to take enrichment classes or need after-school care. Summer camp, hot lunch and other expenses can add up quickly. If you don’t think you can afford the full tuition, inquire about financial aid, which, if awarded, could cover all or part of your child’s tuition and other expenses. Many private elementary schools place a very high priority on having an economically diverse student body. Money should not deter you from seeking the best education for your child.
  • Find the right fit for your child. Most importantly, don’t lose sight of your family’s core values during this process. Look around each school and observe the classrooms, teachers, administrators, students and other parents. Try to see the students in upper grades. Can you feel a connection with the culture of the school? Do you think your child would feel comfortable at the school? Would he or she be excited to arrive at school every day? If your child is artistic and the school lacks an arts program, is it really the right school? Your goal is to find a school where your child will be inspired, challenged and nurtured. Your family should feel comfortable with the other parents. Ideally, your parenting style and family values will be similar to other families at the school. This helps build a sense of community and belonging.

The right private elementary school for your child is there. You just need to find it!

For more info: Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles, available at Visit or see what’s new at the book’s blog.

Christina Simon is the parent of two children at the Willows Community School.

Anne Simon is the former head of Wildwood School and the former Dean of the Crossroads Middle School, where her daughter is a graduate of the high school. 

Porcha Dodson is a former teaching partner and director of diversity at the Curtis School.

WIN one of FIVE FREE copies of this amazing new book! Simply COMMENT below!

Tell us your number one concern when looking for the ideal school for your child: Is it an arts program? a style of teaching? the availability of enrichment classes? Tell us and win! Five random winners will be selected on October 16, 2005.


FDA says toxic lead makes lipstick dangerous, especially for pregnant women

Did you know that top selling lipstick brands contain more than 10 times higher than U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)s standard for lead in candy? Health experts say lead in lipstick is a health concern in any amount.

While the FDA noted that three manufacturers had the highest levels of lead, they did not reveal the names of  those brands. In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reported consistently higher lead levels in lipsticks manufactured by L’Oreal, Maybelline and Cover Girl.

“Since recent science suggests that there is truly no safe lead exposure for children and pregnant women, it is disturbing that manufacturers are allowed to continue to sell lead-containing lipsticks,” said Sean Palfrey, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University and the medical director of Boston’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

According to Dr. Palfrey:

  • Lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language and behavioral problems such as lowered IQ, reduced school performance and increased aggression.
  • Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, because lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain where it can interfere with normal development.

Dr. Mark Mitchell, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, agrees; “Lead builds up in the body over time and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plainly advises avoiding all sources of lead exposure, stating, “No safe blood lead level has been identified.”

Yet FDA has no standard for lead in lipstick. Lisa Archer, national coordinator for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund reports, “Pregnant women using lipstick are unknowingly exposing their fetuses to unknown and unregulated levels of lead. FDA should immediately set standards to require manufacturers to make lipstick as safe as possible.”

For more info: Women should be encouraged to shop for natural, organic cosmetics. Visit the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database for a list of the world’s safest beauty products.
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My recipe published in star-studded Junior League of Orange County fund-raising cookbook! September 20, 2009

The Junior League of Orange County, California has published a gorgeous new cookbook, Orange County Fare . . . A Culinary Journey Through the California Riviera, filled with mouth-watering photos and delicious recipes from celebrities, top chefs–and yours truly.

 Jloc coverThis beautiful compilation includes the very best recipes tested by Junior League members, and includes a tour of Orange County through photographs and insightful information about the area.

With foodie delights from John Stamos, Vanna White, and the always fabulous Chef Jeff of Dinner Mojo, as the author of the blog Unassuming Foodie, I am both thrilled and honored to have my own recipe, Chicken Sausage Crostini, (on page 21) selected for publication.

Orange County Fare is the charitable organization’s first cookbook in 20 years, and is its very first “green” Junior League cookbook, made with 100% recycled paper. It can be pre-ordered for $29.99 on the Junior League of Orange County’s Website, and will officially launch at The Christmas Company Opening Night Gala on November 12th. 

For more info: Check out the Facebook fan page for Orange County Fare, or email

The Junior League of Orange County, California, Inc. is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable, and reaches out to women of all races, religions or national origins who demonstrate an interest in and commitment to voluntarism. The JLOCC has approximately 750 members composed of active members, provisional members in training, and sustaining members.

Visit my food blog, The Unassuming Foodie.

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Talk like a pirate! Free download of LucasArts + Telltale’s Monkey Island game September 19, 2009

Brigands and scallywags round the globe rule the day on International Talk Like a Pirate Day every year on September 19. Mark the occasion by jumping into the celebrated Monkey Island® swashbuckling pirate games offered by LucasArts and Telltale!

On September 19, Telltale is offering a free download of the premiere episode of Tales of Monkey Island all day. 

Taking place each year on September 19, Talk Like a Pirate Day was officially started in 1995 by two Oregon-based pirate lovers. The event has evolved beyond simple pirate speech with people inserting “piratey activities” into their everyday life by eating, drinking, dressing, blogging, laughing, Tweeting, and gaming like a pirate!

In addition, today through September 21, LucasArts is offering a virtual treasure trove of deals on several versions of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition titles, including:

    50% off the iPhone and iPod touch version of LucasArts new The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition via Apples App Store

    50% off The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition on Steam®, Valve Corporations delivery and management platform for the PC and Direct2Drive, IGN Entertainments digital download store

Best ye jump on these offers smartly before they expire!

LucasArts will also soon release a free lite version of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition on the Apple App Store for iPhone and iPod touch as well as a sound board application for iPhone and iPod touch that features 16 witty sound-bites from The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.

The Monkey Island pirate game phenomenon all started in 1990 with LucasArts The Secret of Monkey Island, a graphical adventure PC title featuring an aspiring pirate named Guybrush Threepwood. The game was an instant critical success and has since spawned three additional titles, making it one of the most enduring videogame franchises of all time.

For more info: 

Book your room at Anaheim’s Pirate Waterpark at Howard Johnson!

Sharpen ye pirate speech with a visit to ye olde Pirate Glossary.