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Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Art of Giving


It may be the season of gifts, but have we lost the art of giving? Even during the holiday season, we swap gift cards and sweaters, stress over sizes and colors, and toss inappropriate presents aside, all with a sense of boredom and routine. We are too busy and fatigued. We are short on time. We give physically but our hearts and minds are not present. We give to satisfy our egos, to reflect our own personal wishes and desires and not entirely for the sake of the recipient.

What is true giving? True giving creates a state of peace and joy. Real gifts come from the self, not the store. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said "Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only true gift is a portion of thyself." Every person has gifts to offer whether kind words, a helping hand, or an expression of affection. And the truest gifts bring the greatest return, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Giving without the expectation of return brings a sense of happiness and gratitude. The more we give, the more flows back to us.

But can we learn giving or teach it to our children? According to neuroscience professor Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, who conducted a number of studies with Buddhist monks, meditating on unconditional loving-kindness and compassion actually alters our brain waves. The more we focus on generosity and compassion, the more able we are to create change. He suggests that compassion and empathy may be teachable and that we hold great potential for altering brain function by focusing on positive thought.

Teaching our children to be generous and charitable is most successful when we model giving. Let your children see the joy in selecting a special gift or donation for another, bring them with you when you volunteer your time, and show them the personal rewards of joy and happiness from the act of giving. Encourage them when they want to help or give - even if they want to give away a special toy or treat. Let them reach for their own generosity. Forced sharing or charity will foster resentment. Charles A. Smith, PhD, of the Kansas City University Cooperative Extension suggests that we honor the different ways that children express their generosity - through sharing, giving, or taking turns. Planning activities that children can do collectively can help them experience sharing on a basic level and to learn cooperative skills.

We can also work on teaching our children generosity on a daily basis and not simply during holidays or special occasions. Giving random gifts or creating special crafts or surprises out of love that is not tied to the calendar will build a strong sense of the true art of giving.

As we head into the holidays, help your children embrace the joy of the season and the experience of generosity and gratitude. They will not soon forget it! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Every Mom (Dad, Kid, and Baby) Counts!


At the Holistic Moms Network we are passionate about building community, connecting parents, and supporting each other on our holistic journeys. We also believe that each and every parent makes a difference. Whether you are taking baby steps on your holistic living journey or giant leaps, the choices you make add up to a difference for you, your families, and for the planet.

That is why we are so excited to partner with We Add Up, a global campaign using organic cotton t-shirts that literally "count you in" to help solve the climate crisis. E very shirt is printed by hand with a unique number. YOUR number is your position in our sequential global count of people who are taking steps to do their part. On the back of each shirt is a word or phrase that describes an action almost anyone can take to reduce their carbon footprint - the contribution their lifestyle makes to greenhouse gases - such as, Holistic Mom, Unplug, Lights Off, Carpool, Hybrid, Bike, Buy Local, and 27 others. You choose which action you are committed to doing and get counted in. No one can do everything. Everyone can do something. As the count grows, we demonstrate to the world that "WE ADD UP," making a global impact.

The goal at We Add Up is to get millions of people around the world starting conversations on the streets. When you wear a We Add Up tee, you will notice complete strangers asking, "What does that number mean?" True change happens through education and it is their goal to give each of you a tool to be that educator and ambassador of change.

Together we have created a set of Champion T-Shirts to show how we add up as Holistic Moms, Dads, Kids and Babies! These fabulous organic t-shirts show how we unite to make a difference through holistic choices for our families, by helping to raise awareness, and by supporting our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization!

Be counted! Help stop global warming as a holistic parent, child, or through one of many green, healthy actions!

Friday, December 10, 2010

'Tis the Season

The holiday season is in full swing and it is a time when we reflect on what has made a difference in our lives and express our gratitude.

For many of us, being connected through HMN and our community has given us the courage to move forward and to make positive changes in our lives. Whether we made a small change or a big one, met a friend, learned of a new therapy or attended an interesting meeting, the Holistic Moms Network is honored to be a part of making a difference in your life.

As the year closes, we also reflect on what more we would like to do and how we can continue to bring even bigger and better benefits to all of our members, without having to raise membership fees. As a mostly volunteer, 501(c)(3) non-profit community run by moms, just like you, we do the best we can with very limited resources. But if HMN is important to you, you can also make a change for us!

Help support HMN this year in a big way or a small way. Doing year-end giving? Consider donating to our organization! You can donate easily online and help support us into the new year! As a 501(c)(3) non-profit, your donation is a tax deductible contribution to our organization! You can purchase HMN merchandise: cookbooks, t-shirts, Nursing Our Future DVDs, reusable bags and more. Get a nice gift for someone on your list or for yourself and a small percentage will help our community. You can give a new (or not so new) mom a gift membership and help her find the support and resources she needs or give to our Helping Moms in Need Program, providing memberships for moms who face financial challenges. Or you can simply join Holistic Moms, renew your membership, join a second Chapter or add a small donation to your current membership renewal.

We know there are many great causes out there and we are one of many. We are proud to have made a difference in the lives of thousands of families and know that we can continue to create a greener, healthier future for everyone with the support of our members. We hope you do, too!

Happy Holidays!

Nancy Massotto
Executive Director

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Going Greener, Practically


“It isn’t easy being green.” – Kermit the Frog

The path to living greener and healthier can be confusing, to say the least. BPA, pesticides, GMOs, food miles, parabens, and VOCs can make your head spin. But does living green have to be hard? Maybe not, if you have simple, practical steps that you can take to make small changes, one at a time.

Or at least that’s how Practically Green Founder and mom, Susan Hunt Stevens, sees it. Four years ago, her toddler son “had just been diagnosed with a whole range of food and environmental allergies. This got us reading labels — and we quickly learned a lot about the impact that chemicals, hormones, antibiotics in foods, and other nasty stuff have on us and our kids.” Becoming educated about the dangers in our homes and food supply turned out to be the easier part. Implementing these changes is another story.

What Susan was looking for was an easy system “for moms like me, my neighbors and friends” that would help them take small steps that added up. So she created Practically Green, a new online service that figures out where you are today on the green spectrum and provides you with a personalized list of changes that you can make to live even more sustainably. From switching to all-natural soap to reducing your air travel, you can take actions that will earn you points and badges for your green efforts! And you can make it social by linking your actions with your Facebook or Twitter account and encouraging your friends to join along! Practically Green is not only fun, but it helps you to figure out how green you are, decide your next green step, helps you to find products/services, experts, and friends, and helps you to stay motivated and inspired in your journey. It’s a great way to connect online and get some suggestions for how to green your life.

Little steps lead to big, green changes. “We have significantly reduced our toxin exposure from food and products,” says Susan Hunt Stevens. “We truly live more consciously and I do feel like I’m contributing to a healthier life for my kids and perhaps doing my part for the greater good.” And you can, too! Take the quiz, find out how green you are and get started! Then check in for simple suggestions to keep you on your personal green journey!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

We're Not Perfect


Guest Post by Mayim Bialik, Ph.D., CHEC, Actress, Celebrity Spokesmama and Member of Holistic Moms

I don't think I have ever been more flattered to be grouped with another celebrity as in your blog; Mayim Bialik and Gisele in the same sentence!? Wow.

I respect Gisele tremendously for her courageous statements about global health and breastfeeding (the evolutionary and natural way to feed and nourish human babies). However, I don't think I should be grouped with her. First of all, she is much wealthier than I am, I promise, so she may get help with her "perfect" parenting that I do not have the luxury of: nannies, babysitters, housekeepers: you get my point. Second, she is much more famous than I am, but I think my publicist will dig us being associated thus. And third, I am certain she never has days where she looks as crappy as I do, she's just too darn pretty!

Humor aside, the fact that I believe in every woman's right to an empowering natural birth, encourage and practice extended nursing on demand with no social life in sight for the next few years, choose to make baby shampoo and granola and live a holistic lifestyle, and serve as my children's primary caregiver does not make me an example of someone wanting to be "perfect." It just makes me me. Just ask the thousands and thousands of not famous parents who do these same things to save money, eliminate toxins from their children's bodies and environments, and most of all feel empowered that they know best what their children need; not doctors, books and magazines that sell trends, products, and the lifestyle of being a "cool" mom. (By the way, when did it stop being cool to just be a mom - and why do we need all these gadgets and name brands to make us cool? That's a whole other story, I suppose; I digress...).

I am the spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network, a brave and wonderful fellowship of parents who do not seek perfection, but rather do the best that we can do for our children based on our own personal standards, morals, intuition and scientifically-supported beliefs. After being told by conventional doctors, media, and well-meaning friends and family what was "right" for my baby, I was thrilled to find an organization that supports my needs and my lifestyle without the elitism that I often find in advertiser-driven "children's" magazines which try to sell us hundreds of products we are told we need to be "hip" and current. I don't have the kind of money to live the life I see in those magazines, and I choose a simple life not because it's perfect or makes me perfect, but because it works for me and my family. Period.

I am far from perfect and I am the first one to say it. I lose my temper sometimes, I am very hard on myself, I have unrealistic expectations of my kids and my husband and myself and my bathrooms are never as clean as they should be. Dishes are almost always in the sink, clothes are all over the floor, and I don't get close to enough "me" time to satisfy any therapist's designation of nurturing myself. I don't know anyone living a perfect life, but I know many people living honest and thoughtful lives. This is not the life of wealthy celebrities. I have many non-wealthy non-celebrity friends who, like me, make their own cleaning products, shun popular medical advice, and choose to go without a lot of things in the name of pursuing the life they desire. People make trade-offs every day: do I buy the fancy dress for myself or save the money for a few dinners out with the kids? Do I buy a car I love or a car that will serve my family's needs best? Do I save up money for vacation in the Bahamas or a camping trip in the mountains leaving money leftover for a few months of groceries?

I am not trying to be perfect. I am a skeptical mom on a budget whose life is not very busy with social appointments, free time, or the use of a nanny or babysitter by choice. I dislike prestige, name brands, and being overcharged for products that I can make myself in no time. Do I always buy organic? No. Am I trying to be a martyr by not sleeping for more than 3 hours for the past 5 years because I don't believe in night weaning my kids? No. Do I think I am better than you for my choices? No. Everyone does what works for them. But please do not confuse parents who shun popular culture, popular media, and popular trends with parents who want to show everyone up. In addition, it is kind of bad form to condemn "celebrities" for being honest and public about our choices simply because they are not what's considered culturally convenient or acceptable; I talk to women every day who say that they had never heard of a celebrity supporting homebirth, naturopathy, or nursing a 2 1/2 year old, and I am thrilled if I can represent the wonderful variety of parenting that our free country allows. You don't have to agree with me, but don't be snarky and accuse me of being self-righteous when I am really just trying to raise my kids to the best of my ability, cameras on me or not.

For point of reference, making your own shampoo costs about a third of what you buy in the store and it takes 3 minutes to mix. My granola is made from oats, nuts, vanilla, brown sugar and maple syrup. I am happy to share the recipes with anyone interested (see below).

The next time you see a picture of me or Gisele on the red carpet, picture me instead on my hands and knees scrubbing my crummy bathtub with only a cracked open box of generic brand baking soda as my cleaning product, clutching an old rag, shouting to my kids, "Be right there! Stop tormenting your brother, Miles! Fred, come to Mama but not too close, the bathroom stinks!" As for Gisele, you can picture her the same exact way if you want to, but picture her looking 1,000 times less "normal" than I do. And let's all try and be happy for her about that.


Recipes From Mayim (Thanks for Asking!):

Shampoo
Put 1 cup water in a spray bottle.
Add: 3/4 cup any liquid castile soap (like plain Dr. Bronner's castile soap)
Add: 2 tsp any carrier oil (almond, jojoba, olive)
Add: 10 drops of any essential oil you want: (I like lavender and tea tree oil, but try orange or whatever you want)

Mix and enjoy! This is CONCENTRATED so one or two sprays is plenty for short baby hair. For shoulder length, I use 4-5 sprays. This is NOT a "no-tears" recipe so watch little eyes.

Granola
Combine all of this is a bowl and mix it up:
3 cups uncooked oats
1 1/2 cups of any combination of chopped nuts (we like cashews, almonds, and walnuts)
1 tbsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or more or less to taste)
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup maple syrup (or agave if you prefer that)

I like to go crazy (!) and add 1/2 cup ground flax seeds and 1/2 cup wheat germ, but you can really improvise any way that works for you!)

Bake on a lightly oiled baking sheet at 325 for 35-45 min. stir halfway through to avoid burning the edges, like I tend to (that's maybe just because I have a crummy, old, terrible oven!).

Cool and put in a container mixed with raisins or dried fruit, or nothing. Enjoy!!!

Note: For more healthy recipes, including for personal care products, check out HMN's two cookbooks, Growing Healthy Families and Many Paths, One Journey to Health.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why Thanksgiving is My Favorite Holiday


This is my favorite time of year. The air is crisp and cool, the leaves are falling fast, and home is a warm, welcome retreat to the changing weather. Even better, it’s Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. As a self-confessed “foodie”, I look forward to the rich culinary history of Thanksgiving and the amazing flavors of the season. Thanksgiving is about real food. You can’t get by this holiday with Twinkies and frozen pizza. No, for Thanksgiving you need real, whole food: turkey, yams, potatoes, corn, pumpkin, and cranberries and all the fixings. Sure, we have to watch out for antibiotics in our turkeys, pesticides in our produce, and BPA in our cans, but unlike Halloween or Valentine’s Day this holiday is not ruled by Hershey’s or Hallmark, or obsessed with the consumerism that seems to plague the Christmas spirit. Instead we celebrate the bounty of the earth and the harvest of our labors or, likely, the labors of our fellow farmers. We gather together with friends and family to feast and to be grateful. We pause to express our gratitude for the gifts and blessings in our lives, no matter how big or how small.

Giving thanks during the holiday season is about the practice of gratitude. More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving offers us a brilliant opportunity to engage in some simple self-enrichment, and not just the fattening kind! Those who subscribe to the Law of Attraction recognize that that a state of sincere gratitude is one of harmony and peace. As you express gratitude for the circumstances of your life, you radiate energy that attracts more abundance. Understanding gratitude means taking stock in your life and sometimes looking at things with a different perspective. Even things that appear challenging or unwanted hold great blessings as they teach you, guide you, and further you along your personal path. (This also applies to people so before you head off to gather with extended family, welcome some gratitude practice into your life and see them in a different light!). Altering your viewpoint and welcoming gratitude seemingly transforms the very people and situations around you. In fact, as Wayne Dyer once said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Psychology research shows that practicing gratitude actually improves overall life happines and can help those with chronic disease to experience less pain. Taking time to appreciate the gifts of the day brings us to living in the moment, living with intention. There are simple ways you can bring a practice of gratitude into your life. Try taking time with your family to say “thank yous” around the dinner table and express what it is that you are thankful for that day. Make a mental list of the small (or not so small things) that you are grateful for – an easy commute to work, a healthy child, a great meal, or a quiet moment. Or keep a gratitude journal and record your thanksgivings. And, of course, take a few extra moments to smell, taste, and feel that delicious pumpkin pie and to appreciate the pleasure it brings you.

Happy holiday!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mother Madness: Letter to the Editor, Wall Street Journal


The following was written in response to the Saturday Essay (November 6, 2010) by Erica Jong, published in the Wall Street Journal. Click here to read the essay:

I have to fundamentally disagree with Erica Jong’s recent essay “Mother Madness” in which she suggests that attachment parenting and “green-parenting propaganda” represent an “avoidance strategy” and perhaps the “ultimate bondage for women.” My experience through the Holistic Moms Network, a national organization representing thousands of American women who share a passion for holistic parenting, does not bear out these conclusions.

In my experience, the women choosing to follow an attachment parenting, green parenting path are indeed choosing this path of their own free will, often not in alignment with mainstream parenting ideals although, admittedly, it is becoming increasingly more popular. These women do not view their roles as “victimization” but are rather reclaiming motherhood as a source of empowerment, awareness raising, and, yes, political action.

The women I have seen embrace “mother madness” are taking on the patriarchal institutions and authorities who seek to dictate their motherhood experience, to subvert breastfeeding in the workplace and in public locations, to give their parental decision-making power to their pediatricians and parenting experts, and to look the other way when educational institutions suppress independent, creative thinkers who seek to “solve problems for themselves” in unique ways. These holistic mothers are distrustful of the powers-that-be and the power that corporations and government institutions try to wield to dictate their parenting systems. They are empowered by using their individual power of choice and purchasing power to induce change, personally and politically. Rather than being “an avoidance strategy” that squashes political protest, holistic parenting has empowered women to make the connection between personal choice and political action. We have seen our mothers protest pesticide spraying in local playgrounds, spearhead healthy, local school lunch programs, and run for political office because of passions they cultivated raising their children and their desire to change the world, beyond that which they and their children inhabit.

Far from giving “up on the ideals of community”, Holistic Moms Network members and leaders work to create local parenting communities, bringing together mothers and fathers who are passionate about connecting with their children, with each other, and with the planet. They do indeed realize that “the community and the child cannot be separated” and seek to cultivate an environment where children can develop independence as a result of healthy attachment, where play is more important than “every waking hour [being] tightly scheduled”, and where alternative learning environments are celebrated.

Parenting from a place of awareness, empowerment and support is not about creating mother guilt but about feeding our own desires to nurture and make informed choices in spite of institutions that would have it otherwise. And it’s not about being perfect. To the mothers out there, no matter what path they have chosen, we concur with Ms. Jong on her final statement: “Do the best you can. There are no rules.”

Nancy Massotto, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Holistic Moms Network

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tuning In


I have always considered myself to be an intuitive person, energetically getting and sensing things about people, places, and even pets on a deeper, gut level. But becoming a parent reinforced this in a powerful way and brought about a whole new sense of knowing and understanding that defies rational awareness. Being in tune with my kids has taken on a whole new meaning and value for me as a mother.

I recently picked up an intriguing book, Intuitive Parenting by Debra Snyder. As the parent of a disabled child, Snyder found that tuning into her intuitive self on a profound and spiritual level allowed her to communicate with and experience a connection with her child that may not have otherwise happened. As a parent of a child with special needs, I find intuitive parenting to be even more important as a tool for negotiating this journey. A recent NY Times Magazine article explored the journey of parental intuition with novelist Masha Hamilton. Hamilton writes "as a parent, I’ve experienced another level of perception that seems to kick in with no clear outside cues." As Hamilton describes, there are times we simply get a feeling of danger or warning that something is not right with one of our children. And this feeling of strong mother's intuition has been confirmed through the stories of many other parents.

The challenge for me is not so much tuning in as it is standing my ground on what I know. From the time I first became a parent, I have always felt what was "right" for my particular children. Choices I have made along the way about their healthcare, their need for closeness or their breastfeeding habits were all based upon what I intuited from them. Unfortunately, this always seemed to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. My children would be spoiled or too dependent, the world told me (as did some of our friends and family members). They needed to be more independent, calmer, less energetic. It didn't matter who they were as people, rather it mattered to the outside world whether or not they fit into a preconceived notion of child behavior and rearing. And trusting in your inner wisdom rather than the external consensus is not always the easiest row to hoe.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from parenting is to follow this intuitive, connected path with my children no matter what the world outside seems to say. Cultivating my own inner voice has guided me to choose specific remedies or treatments, to know when a child is not well or stressed, and even to make specific professional and personal choices. It may not fit into a clinical trial or be dictated by rational processes of logic and evaluation, but inner knowingness, if you will, can be powerful when heeded and not second-guessed. Opening up to this inner knowledge may be a journey but it brings with it great insight and confidence. As Albert Einstein once said, "The only really valuable thing is intuition."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Few of Our Favorite Things


This past weekend, HMN headed up to Boston for the Natural Products Expo East to check out what’s hot in all things natural and organic. It was a fabulous show packed with products from foodstuffs and supplements to personal care items and organic clothing. While some of the companies represented were not so healthy or sustainable on the green spectrum, we were delighted to find many companies operating with an authentic passion and purpose for creating better products for you, for your families, and for the planet. Here are a few of our favorites:

• We were already enamored with our HMN Sponsors Boiron, Motherlove, Organic Spa Magazine, and Organic Valley before ever stepping foot in ExpoEast, but now we love them even more! The integrity and commitment of each of these companies to making healthy products and their sincere passion for helping moms and families is remarkable. We loved meeting Organic Valley farmers from NY who were green and sustainable before it was hip; sharing tips for homeopathic remedies with Boiron; hearing about the exciting projects of Organic Spa Magazine, and embracing the vision and passion of Kathryn Higgins, Motherlove’s founder. We are honored and proud to work with these companies!

• We had fun chatting with Matt Seiler, the founder of Maine Root. Okay, we already love all things Maine but here’s a company that makes healthy, organically sweetened soda that not only tastes great but is fair trade certified. That’s pop you feel good about!

• What respect we have for Badger and their “working mom” program allowing their employees to bring their babes into the office! We loved hearing Bill Whyte’s story of how much fun it made the office to be surrounded by adorable babies while making safe, natural products like their Badger Natural Sunscreen and their Night Night Balm that we use ourselves!

• Looking for some healthy snacks? We were thrilled to discover Sun Cups and Yoga Vive at the Expo. Sun Cups makes a dark chocolate, allergen-free chocolate candy cup filled with organic sunflower butter. As a mom of children with food allergies, these were a huge find. And they taste great, too! Yoga Vive also gave us great samples of crispy, delicious USDA organic apple chips with handy snack packs perfect for lunches!

• Everyone wants to feed their babies healthy food and Yummy Spoonfuls and Happy Baby are two awesome baby food companies making this possible. Organic, whole baby foods that are neatly packaged and filled with nothing but real food. As the kiddos grow, we're sure they will be fans of Mom Made Foods – USDA organic packaged meals with wholesome ingredients. We loved the Cheesy Mac with organic butternut squash and sweet potato!

• We found a new tribe! We love Nubian Heritage products, especially their Mango Butter Lotion that smells divine and uses shea butter to soothe our dry winter skin!

• Do you know Bob? We do and he’s fabulous. That’s Bob Moore (in the picture here with HMN Founder Nancy Massotto) of Bob’s Red Mill – an employee owned company making grains, flours, mixes, and cereals for your family. Their gluten-free line is a regular staple in our pantry!

• Speaking of gluten-free all we can say is WOW! There are so many products out there now for all the parents struggling with food allergies. Who did we love? The delicious GF breads and products by Udi’s, the baking mixes by Purely Elizabeth, Pamela's Products' yummy cookies, and the snack bars by Larabar.

• Want to buy bulk from a company that walks the walk? Tierra Farms has certified organic dried fruit, nuts, and fair trade coffee, has solar panels on their facility and an organic garden and chickens – just for their employees.

• Did you know that xylitol is not only a natural sweetener that can help reduce cavities, but is also used by Xlear in sinus spray can help alleviate dryness and help with seasonal allergies? We learned a great deal from Dr. Alonzo H. Jones, D.O. and Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at Texas Tech University Medical School, about the many health benefits of xylitol.

• We may be healthy, but we still enjoy our treats. Two companies made us feel really good about our habits – Glee Gum and VerMints. Glee Gum makes their addictive products from sustainably harvested rainforest chicle while VerMints sweetens their mints with natural Vermont maple syrup instead of artificial ingredients or high fructose corn syrup.

We enjoyed meeting all of these fabulous companies (and more!) and hope you will too!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kids and Electronics


A new study, published online yesterday by the journal Pediatrics, found that kids who spend more than 2 hours per day in front of the television or computer "were at greater risk of having psychological problems." The study found that "the risk of psychological difficulties increased by about 60 percent" for kids between 10 and 11 who spent more than 2 hours plugged in. Among the psychological difficulties cited were "hyperactivity, difficulty with peers and friends, poor conduct and antisocial kinds of behaviors."

Newsworthy, certainly. Surprising? Not so much. What is surprising is the degree to which our kids are engaged in electronic media. A study out earlier this year found that "kids 8 to 18 years old devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes daily to media use, or about 53 hours a week, which is more than a full-time job." From television and computers to iPods and cell phones, our kids are walking, talking, playing, and connecting electronically all day long - at home and at school. And so are we. As adults, if we counted up the number of times we check email, tweet, or scan our Facebook pages, watch the news, or listen to music, we'd also be pretty amazed at the results. We have only one television in our home, shocking by today's standards, according to the cable service representative who was here just last week, but one PC, three laptops, an iPhone, cell phones, an iPod and who knows how many other gadgets - and that's just for the two adults in residence. It's hypocritical for us to ban and limit electronics in our children's world when we are always plugged in. Even when we do place limits, our kids have smart boards and computers in their school systems and engage in electronics throughout the day. We are teaching them to plug in and connect all the time. Stand in line anywhere - your grocery store, coffee shop, or at the bank and count the people waiting who are plugged in. They're checking their emails, listening to music, talking on their cell phones - and so are we. I picked up a stuffed animal at the toy store the other day and it came complete with a USB cable to download music, my son's name, and monitor his play experience. Seriously! And I thought it was just a toy dog.

So how is it surprising that our kids are surrounded by electronics? It's not. We're setting the examples for them and they are taking it all in. But should we? Are we putting their psychological and physical well-being at risk? Many experts think so. An article in The New Atlantis from 2007 cites the "limited and repetitive activity" of children engaging in electronic toys and notes the limited social interaction, shorter attention spans, and lack of dramatic and creative play among younger generations. High-tech toys are not going to disappear, nor is our fast-paced electronic world. So what's a parent to do? Focus on balance, the experts recommend. Limit your child's exposure and provide basic toys that empower them, feed their creativity and imagination, and allow them to manipulate and control their environment. When kids - and adults - expect everything to happen at the push of a button and to sit back and simply be entertained, we're all at risk. Be a model for your kids and engage in a creative hobby or pursuit. Remember that they mimic what they see. Unplugging, slowing down, and taking time to connect would do us all some good!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ethical Chocolate


I seriously love chocolate. Every Halloween, as a child, I was more than happy to trade away candy corns, licorice, or any sugary treat that was not chocolate. But chocolate I guarded like a hawk. I still love chocolate but as a holistic-minded parent, I have definitely changed my chocolate ways. Oh, I still consume copious amounts of the stuff, but now it's organic and fair trade. It's one of those simple changes we can all make that has an impact.

Why? First, because cocoa farmers are some of the poorest people on the planet. Small family cocoa farms have little access to safe and effective practices and, in many cases, are worked by children (both voluntarily and through slave trade). According to the Fair Trade Federation, an estimated 1.4 billion people survive on less than $1.25 per day. Organizations like the International Cocoa Initiative are working to end exploitative and forced child labor, but consumer support is also critical to success. The principles of fair trade are simple: create opportunities for disadvantaged producers, do not maximize profit at the expense of the producers, pay a fair price, abolish child and forced labor, and encourage sustainable technologies, among others.

How can you help? Start by looking for and buying fair trade chocolate. As you plan your Halloween treats, choose a fair trade alternative. Check out Global Exchange's Reverse Trick-or-Treating Program and consider sharing a flyer with your neighbors or friends about the importance of buying fair trade. Get involved in changing the coffee and chocolate industries through the Sweet Smarts curriculum and teach your children the power of their choices. Look for Fair Trade certification labels and request your local store carry products that are fair trade. Visit some of the Global Exchange stores in your area or online to see a variety of products that support fair trade.

Questions? Visit Global Exchange's questions page to learn more! And join us Tuesday, October 5th at 10 pm ET for a Twitter Party at #holisticmoms to chat with Global Exchange about reverse trick-or-treating, fair trade, and to share healthy Halloween tips!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lack of Integrity


Where have you gone, integrity?

Lack of integrity is enveloping our world. From individuals and groups, to communities and corporations, there is a glaring absence of commitment to integrity – to adhering to values, to living without discord and with wholeness and completeness. Integrity is to be trustworthy, to uphold responsibility and commitment, to be your word on actions you have agreed to and, in so doing, to build trusting relationships and honor.

It seems that “what’s in it for me” and “I watch out for myself” are the catch phrases of far too many people. The sense of responsibility and connectedness to others, to honor and service, is not just leaking out of our collective conscience, it’s a tidal wave.

What is it about integrity that makes it so elusive? Is it that it takes too much courage or too much time to do what is right? As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wisely said “It takes less time to do a thing right, than it does to explain why you did it wrong.” Is it too overwhelming to resist the swell, to stand your ground and to act on what’s right? Integrity is not simply refusing or walking away, it’s about standing up for what you believe in and taking action. You do not simply step around the litter that the person walking in front of you dropped, you pick it up. And you confront it. You do the right thing and you heal the wrong. There are plenty of ways to justify why we do not act on our integrity. We’re too busy. It’s not our responsibility. It’s easier to go with the flow. We can even complain about or find fault with the person, group, or company whose integrity we are violating. Justifications and blame are simple. But transgressing our personal integrity and the integrity of our community will gnaw at our core. It will stew and steep. We can set it aside, but it will come back. When we have crossed the lines of integrity, when we have chosen a path that not righteous, we know it in our hearts.

Is a lack of integrity what we want to teach our children? Kids will certainly learn peer pressure at school. But they learn integrity at home. Do you tell your children that it’s okay to look the other way when someone is being bullied? That they should stand with their group rather than stand up for what is right? Living with integrity may not be easy, but it’s what matters. Whistle blowers are few and far between. But they are the true heroes. Individual and corporate greed are hard to overcome. Finding businesses, organizations, and groups operating with integrity is not as easy as we’d like to believe, but they’re out there. We make them – we ARE them. When we let our integrity slip, we are not only hurting ourselves. Living with integrity builds bonds and trust. It enables clear and honest communication and opens up the possibility for excellence and success.

How do we live with integrity? By tuning into what feels good and right – for ourselves, for our families, for our communities. Listening to our inner guides, walking our talks, and living our word build the foundation for a life of integrity. We may not be able to stop others from acting without ethics and integrity, but we have a responsibility to ourselves and our children to be sure that we don’t follow their route. Integrity begins with us. As Ann Patterson wisely wrote “Only when there is personal integrity within many individuals in a society of any size can there be positive and helpful relationships among individuals and groups of people and government entities.” Following leaders without integrity is a surefire path away from wellness and happiness in the long term.

And, of course, there’s always karma!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Campaign is On!


Lawn signs seem to be cropping up everywhere I go. No, not for upcoming political elections but for flu shots. It's that time of year and, interestingly, how we approach our choices may have some parallels.

For some people, voting is easy. Stick with the party line and you'll be fine. Whoever the candidate is, if they are with your party of choice, you vote for them. But politics is never quite that simple. Political parties embody a wide range of viewpoints and perspectives, and the lines are often blurred. Busy as we may be, though, having two (or maybe three) choices makes it easy to pick a lever to pull. However, if we want to be aware and involved we need a new strategy. So, we start with the candidates. Who are they? What do they stand for? How will their perspectives impact me? What are the benefits and risks of voting for one candidate over another? We might ask some trusted friends, neighbors, or read our favorite columnist for more information. We might seek out experts in the field, tune into different viewpoints, or even attend a debate. We educate ourselves, inform ourselves, and then make a choice. We vote consciously and with intention. Perhaps we're satisfied some time down the road, perhaps not. But we do our homework and weigh in on the options.

And how do you choose when making a decision about the flu shot? We can go the "party" line - it's safe, effective, and our doctor said we should protect ourselves. Or we can go deeper. We can review studies of efficacy and safety, on both sides, consult the opinions of our trusted friends, family members, or healthcare advisors, and read reports, studies, and books to make an informed choice. Making an educated decision is certainly more time consuming. But whether we are concerned with the future of our town, our country, or our health and well-being, it is time well-invested. Blanket decision making based upon one source, or even from one viewpoint, is not well informed. Our circumstances are unique, as are our life views and body chemistries.

Just because someone put up a lawn sign, doesn't mean they are the right candidate for you. The campaign is on, but how you vote is up to you.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Humane Education


As parents, we all want to raise children who are respectful, responsible, and who demonstrate integrity and commitment to the issues of our time. Perhaps as holistic-minded parents, this is even more compelling as we strive to live a conscious lifestyle that respects life and sustainability through everyday choices. This past week we hosted Zoe Weil and the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) at our weekly Twitter party at #holisticmoms and the conversation got all of us thinking about what it means to raise kind kids.

Zoe Weil, president of IHE and author of Above All, Be Kind and Most Good, Least Harm recognized that young children can be empowered to create positive change with simple tools and guidance. Her MOGO Club model helps children to build communities emphasizing personal actions that youth can embrace to cope with the overwhelming challenges facing our society and planet. We can engage our children in the same kind of community that we build through Holistic Moms by connecting them around the issues that demand action and positive change. Kids can organize to create an organic, community garden; start a local recycling program; or fundraise to help those in need in their neighborhoods.

IHE offers educators (and parents) a wonderful list of activities that "explore and connect issues of compassion, justice, and sustainability for a variety of ages." Children can discover the beauty of nature, begin to understand their ecological footprint, analyze waste streams, or develop critical thinking skills to decipher marketing strategies using IHE's free online tools. Even busy parents can incorporate humane education tools into their daily life. A special section offering exercises for "Human Education in Minutes" will get both you and your kids thinking about their purpose and the world around them.

Holistic parenting, like humane education, raises awareness about connectedness and how our choices impact others and the planet. We applaud Ms. Weil and IHE for their forward-thinking and passionate commitment to positive, humane education. We hope you will take time out to explore IHE and their many resources and share them with your kids!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Talking to Young Kids


"Because I said so."

"Good job!"

"You'd better stop that by the time I count to three."

"I can't believe you did that!"

Do you have a young child? Do these phrases sound all-too-familiar? Have you ever sat back and considered the language you use with your children and its impact? HMN Member and author of "What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children" Sarah MacLaughlin has done just that - and has written a handy, thoughtful little book that every parent should read!

Some of the expressions we use with children are obviously counter-productive, as MacLaughlin points out. But others send subtle messages to our children about their behavior, self-worth, and how to operate in the world. Messages that are not serving them well. "Good job" is so easy to say but can lead to a dependence on adult praise and, as MacLaughlin explains, "robs him of the opportunity to truly please himself, which is the foundation for gaining self-esteem and self-motivation."

Other catch phrases, drawn from our own childhood experiences or simply out of a moment of frustration, do not serve parents well either. "Because I said so" breaks the parent-child connection because it "dismisses the child's feelings" and may well lead to defiance and questioning as your child grows. "You're driving me crazy", "you scared me to death" and "I'm going to leave without you" reflect the stress and frustration of parents but also create anxiety for our children. Fortunately, MacLaughlin is full of ideas and suggestions for alternatives. Instead of warning your kids that you're at your breaking point, how about presenting a new activity, refocusing attention or suggesting that he/she finds "something calmer to do"? Rather than threatening to leave, try giving an option such as "let's hold hands and walk out together, or I can carry you."

Change is not always easy. But it starts with awareness and attention. Realizing what we are saying and how it impacts our children is a great starting point. Putting focus on our kids, understanding their unique temperament and developmental stage, as well as their environment and world view are all critical to improving communication and the narratives that we use for our children. We need to be patient not only with our kids, but with ourselves in the process. Reminding ourselves that parenting is no easy task is vital to success. As MacLaughlin writes:

"Little kids are messy and silly, frustrating and wise. Raising a child, or just spending the day with one, can be a real adventure. Bring your flexibility and patience - and don't forget a sense of humor. These qualities, and using the right words along the way, will promote understanding and a peaceful atmosphere. And you will enjoy your time with children more."

Get a copy of "What Not to Say" and see for yourself.
Because I told you so ;-).

Friday, September 3, 2010

Eco-Lunches

Sometimes it's the simple everyday things that we do that have a big impact. Take, for example, brown bagging it. Many of us opt to bring our own lunches - to work, to school - to save money and to guarantee that we have fresh, healthy options. But school and workday lunches can be big contributors to local landfills, packed with disposable wrappings, paper napkins and polluting plastics. It is estimated that the average disposable school lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That adds up to about 18,000 pounds a year for the average elementary school child.

Not only can lunch be bad for the environment, but exposure to many types of plastics can be dangerous to your health. Bisphenol-A has been implicated in increasing aggression among girls, and contributing to rising rates of heart disease, obesity, and infertility. To make matters worse, recent findings by the Environmental Law Foundation indicate juice boxes may contain significant amounts of lead, leaving parents concerned.

But parents need not despair: greening your lunch (and making it healthier and safer) is not as difficult as you think! And now, thanks to The Soft Landing's Safe Munch Program, you can find great eco- and health-conscious products to pack a green lunch and 10% of sales will be donated to the Holistic Moms Network! Here are some simple changes you can make to make lunch more sustainable, safer, healthier and supportive of holistic parenting:

Ditch plastic sandwich bags. From lined fabric wraps that sponge-wash clean to BPA-free containers that won't squish your sandwich, it's easy to find a reusable container for whatever you like to pack! Full-sized sandwich wraps and little reusable snack containers are greener options for whatever you like to tote.

Drink safe. Skip the juice boxes and invest in safe, reusable bottles to pack your favorite beverages instead!

Try cloth. Switch from bleached, disposable paper napkins to easy to wash cloth in fun patterns and designs, for you and for your kids!

Use sustainable utensils. Plastic forks and spoons are winding up in our oceans, along with other plastics. Reusable BPA-free utensils will reduce your exposure and help protect wildlife.

Check out the great alternatives at The Soft Landing and use code HMN2010 in the Group Code section when setting up your account to find a better way to brown-bag it and to support HMN's mission!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mommy Guilt

What is it about motherhood that seemingly cultivates guilt? We feel guilty for not spending enough time with our kids, not enough quality time, too much attention to one child and not another, giving our kids unhealthy snacks, opting for a less nutritious meal for convenience, acting out our frustrations, taking some “me” time – oh, the list goes on and on. And it seems that list grows exponentially for holistic-minded moms who are passionate about making healthy and natural choices for themselves and their families. Suddenly, a trace artificial ingredient, a disposable plate or a plastic straw develops into a mountain of guilt for not being healthy enough, not green enough, not “good” enough.

It’s time moms stop beating themselves up and take a kinder, gentler approach. No matter what our passions, no matter what our goals, this natural parenting lifestyle is a journey. We are approaching each day with unique circumstances, specific knowledge and awareness, and whatever tools we have available on that day. It’s not about perfection – it’s about doing the best we can in every moment. That much-needed cup of coffee after a long night with a teething infant who is attachment parented is not something to feel guilty about. Caving in to let your child watch one PBS show so you can get a 20 minute sanity break is not the end of the world. Guilt is a destructive emotion. Guilt can make you hyper-vigilant and hyper-critical. It can immobilize you and generate a negative script in your head that denies you happiness, creates blame, and always makes you wrong. Green guilt seems to be running rampant. So rampant that it’s got a name: eco-anxiety and it’s own form of therapy: eco-therapy. But awareness is not black and white. Yesterday you may not have heard of BPA. Today you understand its dangers. Move forward, empowered by your new awareness. Don’t dwell in guilt.

And we should no more be dousing ourselves with guilt than we should be criticizing others who are trying to live their best possible life. As a holistic parent, it’s easy to get on your soapbox about everything from your non-toxic nursery and natural childbirth to living TV-free and avoiding junk food. But every person has a unique set of circumstances to manage and their choices may be optimal for them – at that moment in time. That does not mean we should be quiet. Raising awareness is essential to producing healthful change but doing so with positive intention and kindness goes further than with criticism. Help someone make a change for the better - don’t shout them down for failing to do so. Empower people and they will flourish. Shower them with guilt and they will wither.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Greenwashing Moms

Apparently Chef Boyardee and its parent company, ConAgra, think I’m not too savvy. After, all I’m a mom. And I want my kids to eat healthy, meaning I prefer to feed them whole grains and vegetables. So, as a healthy-minded mom, I will easily be persuaded by Norman Rockwell-esque ads showing illustrated children hugging wheat or broccoli, revealing how much my children will love their whole grains, a la Chef Boyardee’s Whole Grain Beefaroni.

And because I’m a mom, I clearly do not understand the nutritional value of whole grains that have been stripped and processed into a food-like product, combined with numerous unidentifiable preservatives and flavorings, and packed into a BPA-lined can, which I can quickly irradiate in my microwave and serve to my hungry children. Then, I can feel proud that I am a good mom, feeding my kids real, wholesome food. Clearly, they don’t know me. Or thousands of other healthy, holistic-minded moms who actually know a thing or two about food. Real food. Whole grains that are not processed in a factory and rendered into unidentifiable food-like substances. Moms who know that real vegetables grow from the ground. And – gasp – moms who understand toxins like BPA and the pesticides used to produce the wheat and vegetables we are likely to find in something as endearing as a Rockwellian Beefaroni.

And to further endear me to their company and products, they’ll soon have an online “community” where I can chat and share advice with other “mums”. Certain to be ensconced in Chef Boyardee ads, no less. Sadly, they won’t be the first corporation to create or buy out a “green”, “eco” or “natural” moms club. That seems to be the trend right now – create a meeting place (online and/or in person) for moms who want to live green and build focus groups to test your products, hand out samples, and push your products. Forget support and building relationships. Forget about real, face-to-face community. Let’s get product out there and sell, using moms to test and sample under the guise of friendship and support. Push “natural” and “green” products or not so much.

Fortunately, I know a few thousand moms who are pretty darn smart. We’re not buying “wholesome” from Chef Boyardee. We’re not buying “eco” sales strategies targeting moms. We want to find credible, authentic people and companies who are passionate about truly natural products. Companies and people who understand sustainability and practice it. We want to gather with moms and learn about great products – not straight from people who are protecting their bottom line, but from people who have used them and adore them. We want to buy from people who “get it” and who share our passion for health and sustainability. We may not have degrees in nutrition (although some of us hold them), but we are resourceful and smart. We’re holistic moms. And we’re not buying any of it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dining with Kids

I was having dinner with a friend in an upscale cafe the other night and there was a large table together with a few kids of different ages. One of the moms had a screamer. Not a crying/upset screamer but a "I just found my voice" screamer who would pierce the restaurant din with a high-pitched yell every now and then. Startling, at times, but it made me smile because I remember those days. Not so for the patrons at the next table. "Should I give them a look?" I overheard from the man sitting there, as they discussed the situation. And he did, after a few more times. He was turned away from me, but I could sense the nasty, cold stare that he was directing toward the mom. And I cringed.

My kids are not good diners. My first was a crying/upset/miserable screamer. So much so that we didn't eat out at all until he was over three - after a few nerve-racking attempts. My second is much more mild-mannered but he's a swiper and a thrower. Anything within arms reach is promptly overturned, leaving me or my husband with a lap full of food or drinks if our reflexes are too slow. And he hurls toys and books unexpectedly. He's hit a few random diners with crayons and the like. So I know "the look" all too well. But I also know the forgiving smiles from others who say "Don't worry I have kids, too" or the kindness of the stranger who remarked "He's got a good arm - maybe he'll be a pitcher."

And what does "the look" help? Do we not understand that children are children? That very young children who have "found their voice" don't understand "shhh" or "inside voice" just yet? Are we so intolerant as a culture that we are unable to forgive the inconveniences of the next generation or so forgetful as to dismiss that we ourselves likely engaged in similar behaviors?

I felt for the mom, the recipient of "the look". She was dressed up and smiling, nervously. She was likely enjoying a rare night out - perhaps with out-of-town friends or family, or maybe even as a vacationer herself. Others had brought along children but she was singled out. I wanted to yell at "the look" giver, as a mom. The noise faded into the background for me. Funny how, as parents, you no longer notice the loudness of children in any environment. I likely gave "the look" to someone myself in my pre-motherhood days. I could never have imagined the volume of my household before it was populated by two rambunctious boys (and two dogs). Silence isn't something familiar to us and I can't say I mind all that much.

So, for the record, my sincerest apologies to anyone in my past to whom I ever gave "the look" to. I have only now begun to understand. And to the rest - seriously reconsider inflicting a scolding, "you are a bad mother" look the next time someone else's child breaks your "peace". Mothers have enough guilt, they don't need more. Perhaps some day you will understand - or remember - what it's like to be a child, or a loving parent, and discover a little tolerance for dining with kids.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Celebrating and Encouraging Breastfeeding

This week is World Breastfeeding Week, a celebration of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) that works to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding worldwide. WBW's 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding encourages all maternity service facilities to take specific actions to train staff, educate mothers, and eliminate barriers to achieving breastfeeding goals for all children.

Indeed, the barriers are widely present: BoobyTraps as Best for Babes calls them. They are "cultural and institutional barriers" that bombard moms and sabotage their efforts to nurse their children. Among these traps are institutional barriers such as hospitals offering inadequate support and expertise to new moms and cultural barriers including the discouragement nursing moms experience when attempting to feed their babies in public (or not so public) locations.

Nothing short of cultural, institutional, and political change is necessary to remedy the current climate around breastfeeding. Women not only need support and education about the benefits of breastfeeding their children, but also the awareness that it takes determination and commitment. Healthcare institutions need to preach true wellness and to actively discourage practices within their facilities that steer women away from what is truly best for their babes: breastmilk. That means moving formula out - out of gift bags for new moms, out of their usual protocol - no matter how unpopular. And women need aggressive laws in every state to protect their right to feed their children wherever they may be, at any time.

Breastfeeding is not just for lactation militants. It's for every mom and babe who is willing and able. It is not radical nor "hippie". Thanks to Best for Babes, it is increasingly chic and stylish! And it is normal. Moms from all walks of life, of all ages, are nursing their babies in all sorts of places. Watch our own inspiring video, Nursing Our Future, to see for yourself!

Celebrate breastfeeding this week. Nurse your babes or encourage someone who is nursing. Smile and say "great job" to a nursing mom. Share Nursing Our Future with a friend or future mom. Get involved in helping to overcome Booby Traps and help women - and babies - get support for a healthy start!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Holistic Moms Applaud Open Conversation about Childbirth


The Holistic Moms Network (HMN), a national non-profit organization, applauds Self Magazine and writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner for asking the question “Who Controls Childbirth?” in the July 2010 issue. The personal, thoughtful piece explains one woman’s exploration into her traumatic first birth and her desire to reexamine her experience as she prepares for another child. Her personal journey highlights the growing holistic birth movement spearheaded by such advocates as midwife Ina May Gaskin and talk show host Ricki Lake.

It is the opinion of the Holistic Moms Network that the movement toward reclaiming birth is not about judging birthing women and evaluating their decisions but about exposing the culture of birth that has been created here in the United States – one that is based in fear and uncertainty and that does not afford women the basic right to choose when, where, and how to birth their children. The continuously rising C-section rates in the United States reveal an opportunity to question the institutions involved in the birthing process, not to question or criticize the mothers. Women are not provided with viable options for natural childbirth and choices that fall outside of the increasingly medical model of childbirth in this country are not supported by the existing healthcare system. Instead, women’s voices are disrespected and many women, such as Ms. Brodesser-Akner, experience traumatic birth at the hands of professionals who disregard their emotional and psychological desires about their birth experiences.

“At the Holistic Moms Network,” explains Nancy Massotto, Ph.D., “we encourage women to become informed about the risks and benefits of all healthcare procedures, including those prevalent in childbirth practices. But without a fundamental shift in how we think about birth and how the institutions designed to support women through this natural process practice, women will have a hard time reclaiming the birth experience.”

The World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agree that, for the safety of both mothers and babies, a country’s C-section rate should not exceed 10-15%. The American medical institutions are not heeding these recommendations, with recent rates rising to more than 31% in 2007. A 2002 study published in the British Medical Journal indicates that medical intervention has become commonplace in childbirth in developed countries “without evidence of effectiveness”, not as a result of medical necessity but rather due to the attitude, support, and practice of healthcare institutions.

Celebrity spokesperson for the organization, Mayim Bialik, who was interviewed for the article agrees: “I am honored to be a part of the ongoing discussion about natural and holistic options for childbirth, and I hope to see the day very soon when the U.S. achieves the low infant and maternal mortality rates recommended by the W.H.O. and UNICEF that many other Western countries have accomplished. I applaud communities that support a variety of opinions, especially when those opinions converge to promote healthy babies, healthy moms, and a healthy understanding of the value of natural childbirth.”

“We hope this article opens up the door for a wider conversation about respecting the desires of mothers while supporting them with the best care available,” says Dr. Massotto. “As an organization, we recognize that support is invaluable for parents at every stage, and birth is no exception.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Turn Your Vacation Green!


Vacation season is in full swing! People are loading up their cars, heading for the airport, and seeking out some down time, often at the beach, the lake, or in other natural environments to restore balance and our energy. But what impact does your travel have on the planet? Do you think green when you go on vacation? Maybe you should!

What exactly is green or sustainable travel? According to TravelGreen.org, sustainable travel "...focuses on reducing the environmental impact of travel and preserving cultural heritage. It generates income and employment for travel destinations while protecting local ecosystems and preserving local culture. Sustainable travel encompasses a holistic approach to the business of travel that creates value for the traveler, economic opportunity for local communities and business opportunities for the industry."

Travel leaves an undeniable impact on the environment. Carbon emissions from airplanes are released high in the atmosphere, creating an even greater effect on climate change than emissions from cars and buses. In addition, air travelers produce an estimated 7.5 million pounds of trash every day from improperly discarding paper, plastic and food waste both while waiting in the terminal and on board, according to the New York Times. You can help reduce impact by opting for a direct flight and choosing flights that carry more passengers. Check out other travel options - train and bus transport also reduces impact. You might also look into staying closer to home and discovering some of the great spots in your own neck of the woods! When flying is a must, you can help reduce your impact by purchasing carbon offsets from organizations such as TerraPass which then, in turn, invests in carbon reducing projects. And, you can be conscious of your waste and your personal impact along the way.

What else can you do when traveling? Consider renting a hybrid car, as they "produce up to 90% fewer pollutants than their gas-guzzling equivalents, which makes for a healthier ozone layer," according to Travelocity.com. Or book a reservation in a green hotel with a commitment to operating sustainably. Or stock up on eco-conscious travel gear in advance that will reduce your waste and your impact, such as reusable water bottles and food wraps. Once you've arrived, take advantage of the opportunity to hike, bike, or use public transportation to see the sites and to cut down on your impact. Seek out area restaurants serving fresh, local food, support local farmers and businesses along the way, and green up your vacation. Being conscious is the first step and making it green will make it more memorable for you and for your family!

Looking for more ideas? Join us for this week's Twitter Party at #holisticmoms at 10 pm on Tuesday the 20th with Travelocity's Travel for Good and share your ideas, ask questions, and live greener!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Karma


One of the simple surprises of everyday parenting is the opportunity to teach amazing lessons at the most unexpected moments. A seemingly random act or situation can prove to be great fodder to expressing important values about life, health, and kindness to your children. And kids take up these lessons quickly and earnestly - they seem to "get it" on an intuitive level and replicate them in short order.

The other evening provided just such a perfect opportunity. After a trip to the chiropractor, we stopped for a quick dinner out before heading home. Halfway through our meal, the waitress wandered over to inform us that someone had just paid our bill, anonymously. We were pleasantly surprised and delighted, of course (and thankful to whoever was responsible!). My 9 year old was enchanted by the kindness and the mystery. In turn, we promptly paid our young waitress a hefty tip and embarked on a long discussion of paying it forward and karma on the ride home.

Returning a kind favor made perfect sense to my son, without question. He recalled the time he gave up his ice cream money at school to another student who had forgotten hers and immediately linked the concepts. He smiled at the recollection. Children are empowered by giving and treating others with kindness, as Anna Unkovich, Education Director of the Pay It Forward Foundation notes. Giving can raise a child's self-esteem as well as her self-awareness. Volunteering, or giving of one's time, is beneficial for children and adults by enhancing self-identity and giving a sense of meaningful action, according to Cornell University researchers.

Teaching children kindness is an important aspect of parenting. Researchers at UC Davis have argued that altruistic behavior is more learned and culturally derived than genetically programmed. Humane educator and author Zoe Weil says:

"As parents, I believe we have a responsibility to raise conscious and conscientious children who have the knowledge, will and capacity to address grave problems such as climate change, escalating worldwide slavery, alarming rates of species extinction, terrorism, an energy crisis, and more. If we fail to embrace this responsibility, I believe we fail our children because they will inherit a world worse off than that of our own generation."

We can teach our children about kindness, about giving, and about good karma by modeling it - by being living examples of how to live gently, sustainably, and consciously in this world and by building a supportive community that exemplifies these values. Zoe Weil's MOGO Questionnaire (Most Good) is a great tool for identifying the values and perspectives you wish to model for your children and to teach. Passing on kindness is contagious and even young children can understand it. Grasp those everyday opportunities and know that you can help lay a very powerful foundation for your children.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

When Skepticism Pays Off

It's easy to get swept up in the tidal wave of "green" and "natural" products. It seems everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and claiming that they have developed an eco-conscience these days, but a healthy dash of skepticism is definitely in order.

As demand for more natural, earth-friendly products has increased, so has the number of companies claiming to fulfill this demand - and exponentially so. But consumers take heed - greenwashing is here! What is greenwashing? According to Greenpeace, greenwash is "used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service." In other words, companies are manufacturing products and labeling them as green or natural without any real basis to do so or claiming that they are taking steps to "green" their company or factories to gain credibility in the growing natural market. Why? In some cases, according to stopgreenwash.org, companies have been forced to clean up their industries by law or a court decision but spin their actions as a good deed on their part to be more environmentally conscious. Painting themselves "green" may also attract investors and staff to their industry or products, as well as consumers. But behind the smoke and mirrors, no real change is happening (except, perhaps, in the company's profits). BP, for example, now entangled in the worst oil spill in our history, launched a $200 million greenwashing campaign, complete with a earth-friendly sun logo and partnership with the National Wildlife Federation to portray themselves as supporters of the environment, despite their primary industry - oil drilling and refinery.

And these companies are succeeding. According to an article in the New Scientist earlier this year, consumer perception of how "green" a company is based upon their ads or media campaigns is very different from the reality. So how is a consumer to navigate through greenwashing? It's not always easy. Start with trying to uncover the truth behind the claims or ads. You might follow your gut instinct, as the Greenwashing Index recommends, or take a peek at some of their greenwashing ads, showcasing some dubious claims. You can also do some online research by visiting company websites to determine what organizations and associations they support or belong to, or what partnerships they may have to reveal their core intentions and mission. You might also look for authentic green certifications such as LEED for green building or read up on some blogs such as the Greenwash Brigade to determine the validity of corporate claims. Get to know your producers - whether local farmers, businesses, or manufacturers. Sometimes, a personal touch makes a huge difference in knowing the truth behind the marketing!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Parenting by Fear: Sun Safety


Too much of what we are told to do as parents is driven by fear - and by mass marketing campaigns. Advertisers pummel us with messages about the benefits of drinking milk and pediatricians advise us to "switch over" by age one. Scientists - and advertisers - invoke fear to encourage parents to follow the mandatory vaccination schedule and to put their children "safely" to bed in their cribs. And this time of year it's all about sunscreen. Not putting sunscreen on your child might elicit gasps of horror from the experts, not to mention other parents. But what we don't talk enough about is the actual safety of all the creams and sprays we chase our children around with to be sure they don't get burned.

Thanks to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), discovering the truth about sunscreen safety just got easier. EWG's 2010 Sunscreen Guide exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly about the industry and their products. Shockingly, 92 percent of the sunscreens reviewed by EWG's experts were found to either be lacking in their claims of protection against skin damage or contain potential "hormone-disrupting chemicals." So before you lather up at your next beach excursion, BBQ, or outdoor playdate, let's take a look at sun safety.

For starters, EWG points out that sunscreen alone does not protect you from sun damage. Hats, sunglasses, shirts and, of course, some shade, are all important ways to shield yourself from overexposure. And then comes the sunscreen. EWG's database helps guide you through 1,400 brands to help make a conscious choice. Many of these brands contain harmful ingredients, such as oxybenzone or Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate), the latter of which may actually hasten cancer cell growth on the skin. The jury is still out about whether or not sunscreen actually prevents skin cancer or sun damage at all, so how to proceed is a choice we all have to make individually. Growing research on the importance of Vitamin D also suggests that our excessive use of sunscreen may actually be detrimental to our health.

Yet overexposure to sun and subsequent sunburn are neither healthy nor fun. Finding a decent sunscreen can be done, once you understand the validity of SPF claims and the benefits and risks of ingredients. Start with reading EWG's 9 Surprising Truths and then head over to find your sunscreen in their database. Be sure to check out their Hall of Shame. Keep in mind that this is big business and the market is driven by demand. When parents work with advocacy groups such as EWG and vote with their dollars, companies will be forced to take notice. Shop responsibily and make informed choices.

Still have questions? Then join us for a Twitter Party on Tuesday, June 29th at 10 PM EST at #holisticmoms with EWG Senior Analyst Sonya Lunder to learn more! Haven't been to a Twitter Party yet? Visit our website here to get started. They are easy, fun, and packed with great information!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My New Superhero: Michael Pollan


Hero (-noun): a man of distinguished courage or ability.
Superhero (-noun): a hero possessing extraordinary, often magical powers.

Michael Pollan is my new superhero. Hero is all fine and good (with the exception of the incredible irony that a hero is also "the bread or roll used in making a hero sandwich" which might or might not qualify as food, according to Mr. Pollan - but more about that in moment). But superhero more accurately embraces the overwhelming brilliance and simplicity (with a nice dash of humor) found in Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food. Certainly both courage and ability were needed for such a great work, taking on nutritionism with clarity and depth. Michael Pollan is, however, more than able and courageous. In Defense of Food is an extraordinary, magical exploration of how we got ourselves into this nutritional mess and the practical, clever ways to get ourselves back to health.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. But of course, you might think. What else should we eat but food and not too much of it? So obvious and yet so blatantly disregarded by our culture and the powers that be in the food industry. As Pollan explains, the "food-like substances" that fill our supermarkets, pantries, and shelves are not food in any real sense, but laboratory-concocted products that fake nutritional status with their claims but confuse our bodies and create a lack of well-being. Real food grows in the ground and walks the earth (or flies or swims). It's simple and whole. Food. Something we seem to have forgotten.

Twenty years ago I took up the mantra that I would not buy any food product with more than five ingredients. How charming to find this among Pollan's recommendations, along with similar suggestions about not eating food with ingredients you cannot recognize or pronounce. But even more charming is his recognition of the powerful role of mothers in the nutrition and health of their families. Yes! We, the moms, need to realize that we are responsible for the quality of our children's diets as well as their awareness about food and nutrition. Our children "won't eat anything but junk" if we offer them junk. If "food-like substances" are what our children are being offered - products whose sweetness or saltiness excites the palate with their chemical reactions - then what else can we expect? Our children learn about food from us as well as from our culture. Changing our relationship with food and what we classify as food is integral to the survival of our planet and to our own health and vitality.

Just last week my son had to listen to me rant about how the "play sushi" his class made in school, consisting of rice cereal and Twizzlers candy, was indeed decidely not food and had nothing to do with "cooking" (which was the reason for the demonstration). It was no short rant. He rolled his nine-year old eyes with an "Oh, Mom. It was just for fun." As a mother, I could be worried. But he gets it. He can read a supermarket sticker and identify GMO, conventional and organic produce. He proudly tells me about store items that have only two ingredients and loves winding our way through the farmer's market to see what we can discover. He happily heads out to the garden to pull fresh herbs for dinner and delights in identifying them as he eats them with gusto. He is not your average American child. And I beam with pride about that. We are defenders of food. I think we should all have our own superhero costumes and march our way through convenience stores to raise awareness. C'mon Mr. Pollan - you'd make a great caped crusader!

Seriously, though, this is an important crusade. Children's obesity is on the rise in alarming rates. We are plagued by illnesses that have been cultivated in the food industry factories and on the shelves of our supermarkets. Our children do not understand where food comes from or why it matters, much less how to cook or grow food. We need to start at home and take up the challenge of becoming defenders of food - real food. Eat food - real food. And lots of it. Learn how to eat local and organic. Teach your children the difference between food and food-like products. They naturally embrace what they can feel, taste, smell, and touch. Guide them and they will follow.

And do check out the first issue of Holistic Mom's newly reformatted e-magazine, The Wise Mom. The Wise Mom is the digital voice of our members and this issue happens to highlight local, real food. Become a defender of food. The next generation could use a few more superheroes!