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Written by Mama Monday

Blog posts written by mamas on cloth diapering, green living, natural parenting.

I am feeling particularly grateful this holiday season. My children are healthy, they’re happy and well-adjusted (most of the time) and we’ve made some huge progress figuring out how Kate’s diet affects, not only her moods and her behavior, but also her ability to learn. Life is good. But the thing that has me most excited right now is my new nonprofit, called Big Hearts Big Soles Inc.

Let me tell you the little story that got the whole thing started. I was dropping off some items I was donating at the Salvation Army—did I mention I’m a Thrift Store regular? They are my favorite place to buy clothes for myself and the kids, books and furniture. I love a project, like an old shelf, to repaint and fuss with until it looks like new again. Or if not new, funky will work. Anyway, I digress. I happened to overhear an employee of the Salvation Army, half talking to himself, half to me, mention he was looking for some size 17 shoes. “Who needs size 17 shoes?” I immediately asked, knowing both shoes and feet that big are rare. He told me a local homeless man needed them…and it was at that point that it occurred to me, how hard it would be for low-income or homeless men, to find shoes that size. Most people who need larger than a men’s 13 have to custom order their shoes…and they aren’t cheap either. What were the chances the right size would end up at the right place for someone with little to no resources? Slim to none, apparently.

I ended up telling the man that I might be able to help. Crocs is based in Boulder and I know someone who knows someone there. I also have some connections with the Detroit Pistons. I said, “I can’t promise, but let me see what I can do.” This encounter changed my life. Crocs immediately sent two pairs of size 17s to me (and they had to be sent to Colorado from out of state, the home-base of Crocs, which shows how hard it is to track down shoes this big) and pretty soon, three pairs of brand new athletic shoes, all size 17, that had been sitting in the Pistons’ equipment room were headed to Boulder. Being able to give this man the first new shoes he had in over three years was amazing. I realized that I don’t have to be independently wealthy or even anyone special to jump in, get involved and make a difference.

To make a long story short, the woman who works at the shelter, who had initially put out the word out that this man needed shoes, became my co-founder and since October, we’ve been able to provide 19 pairs of shoes to people in our area, including three size 17s, three size 15s and 10 pairs to a high school students in Denver who play basketball but can’t afford decent athletic shoes to play in.

Me Serviving Soup to the Homeless

Me Serving Soup to the Homeless

Since starting Big Hearts Big Soles Inc., (and yes we are now an official 501C3) I’ve made an extra effort to get involved with the homeless population in Boulder. Just because you don’t need big shoes, doesn’t mean Big Hearts Big Soles won’t try to help. In fact, I’ve realized I might be a horrible business woman because I can’t say no to anyone. If someone approaches me, I will try, no matter what, to get them what they need. The homeless folks I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting, are the farthest thing from “lazy moochers who are looking for handouts.”  Many of them are among the least selfish I’ve met. A visibly shivering man kept refusing my offer of warmer clothes when the temps hovered around 5 degrees last week saying “I’m sure there’s someone here colder than I am.” But there didn’t seem to be so I put on my Bossy Hat (which I am quite comfortable with as a mother of three) and told him he had to go put on those extra layers. I was laughing…but I meant it. And he did. I also took a homeless man and woman I met out to coffee one morning as I had been trying to find boots for Donna Jean. She had been wearing sneakers with soles that flapped open like an old puppet when she walked. I encouraged her and her friend Bear to order whatever they wanted but even though they hadn’t eaten breakfast, they would only let me buy them coffee and a muffin.

Other than the immediate benefit of knowing that I am helping others, starting Big Hearts Big Soles Inc. has also helped my children to understand that sometimes we “need” things and sometimes we “want” things. It’s helped them put their own lives in perspective (a little) to know that even though some of their friends have bigger houses or more toys or go on tropical vacations while we stay home, we’re still pretty darn lucky. So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for all of the things that are easy to take for granted: health, employment, shelter, warm food and clean sheets.

What are you thankful for this year?

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My husband’s company encourages it’s employees to take care of themselves. Our health savings account is credited when we get annual physicals, take online health assessments and even exercise. To motivate us to exercise and remain active, they’ve given us Fitbits which we wear on our wrists. The Fitbit sends information to an app that we installed on our smartphones so we can see how many steps we’ve taken, how many calories we’ve burned etc. I like to call mine my microchip because it seems to know exactly what I am doing at all times. It counts each step I take, it senses and counts “active minutes” which I assume means when I am doing something other than walking—like jogging. I’ve logged plenty of active minutes when I wouldn’t consider myself being active but maybe it’s counting running up and down the stairs to help Cooper on the potty and then running back down to make sure dinner isn’t burning.

The thing that I love most about my Fitbit is that it confirms what I already knew: I don’t stop moving. Being a full-time stay at home parent is a physical job. Yesterday, I walked 16, 643 steps (7.16 miles), I logged 15 active minutes and burned 2,499 calories. What did I do? I took the dog for a walk…less than a mile since it was freezing cold, I went to Costco and other than that, I did mom stuff around our 1,300 square foot house. I fixed breakfast while intermittently breaking up fights or helping someone trapped inside a turtleneck to become unstuck. Then I unloaded the dishwasher while helping someone get on their mittens and hat and coat, then ten minutes later, I helped someone take off their mittens and hat and coat. I vacuumed while yelling at someone to mop up the dirty snow someone had tracked in and then gave up and did it myself. And so on and so on. But the point is, I rarely sit down and if I do, it’s for minutes at a time or else I am in the car.

My husband, on the other hand, works in an office. He loves nothing more than to go on a five mile run in the mountains or go for a three hour bike ride. His Fitbit confirms that he needs to make time to do these things because he averages 7 thousand steps a day if he’s not able to exercise.  I average 14 thousand steps a day. If I am able to go for an actual run or get to the gym, I usually log over 20,000 steps that day. I jokingly told my husband that he can’t ask me what I’ve done all day if he comes home and the house is a mess because my Fitbit doesn’t lie—but the state of the house often does: I’ve been working my buns off and I still can’t keep up with housework, cooking, laundry, kids and pets. I mean, you don’t log over 14,000 steps watching the soaps and eating bon-bons, right?

Another cool thing about the Fitbit is that it also logs how well I sleep. When I turn off my light and lay down for the night, I click the button on the app that says “Begin sleep.” When I wake up the next morning, I click, “I’m awake.” Then I can see how many times I was restless or awake, in the form of a little graph. It’s very cool. I can look at the little red lines and remember “Oh, yes, there is Kate’s nightmare when I got up and checked on her,” or “This is when Cooper crawled into bed and started thrashing around next to me.” That’s usually when the most “green lines” show up…once a child comes into the bed. But no matter what the Fitbit says about the quality of my sleep, I still have to get out of bed and get ready to walk  6 or 7 miles in circles around my house picking up Monster Trucks and sweeping up crumbs!

Fitbit Sleep

Kate, age 6

 

In late August I blogged about my daughter’s extreme reactions to artificial food coloring and the post was shared more times than any of my other posts have been. I’m glad. This really is something every parent should know about before they feed their babies solid foods. If I had known what I know now, wouldn’t have eaten anything artificially colored when I was pregnant or breastfeeding.

A week after my blog was published, we started our family on the Feingold Diet for Kate’s behavioral and attention problems. We’re now eating almost completely organic (it’s not cheap, either), however the first stage of this elimination diet actually cuts out most of our favorite fruits and veggies. We’re left with pears, bananas, avocado and a few others, along with grains, meat and dairy. By day three, we had seen major improvement in Kate’s moods and behavior.  And after several months we can now see a direct correlation between certain foods and angry outbursts. Kate seems to react to fruits and veggies that are high in salicylates which is something that the Feingold diet suggests you eliminate/lessen in the first stage. Had we not eliminated food coloring, preservatives and high sal foods at the same time, we never would have figured out which foods affect Kate. When we first took out dyes, we no longer had epic tantrums that lasted for hours…but we still had plenty of irritability, angry outburts and hyperactivity. It wasn’t until we pulled everything from her diet for several days, except for the blandest, least allergenic, least processed foods that we could add back in one food at a time to see how she did.

Salicylates are natural preservatives found in foods and they are related to aspirin allergy. My father has an aspirin allergy and my sister figured out she was sensitive to salicylates about a year ago. She’s dealt with severe breakouts of hives for the past twenty years. I have to admit, she encouraged me again and again to try eliminating salicylates from Kate’s diet but I was hesitant because so many of the healthiest foods have the most salicylates. More organic ice cream with a side of potatoes au gratin and a slice of bread and butter? Sure! But hold the spinach, blueberries, raspberries and cucumbers, please. I had tried a few times to go “Low Sal”, but because I hadn’t eliminated artificial food coloring and preservatives at the same time, I didn’t see any real difference. Starting with a “clean slate” was imperative.

Now I am keeping what I am calling a Food Mood Log in which I keep track of everything Kate eats and her moods and behavior. (And to all you expectant mothers, if I could do it all over again, I’d start with a Food Mood Log from the first bite of solids my babies had—-and I’d be especially wary of giving them anything artificial. (In fact, is it me or is it a funny coincidence that the Terrible Twos often coincide with toddlers getting their first taste of sweet treats?)

 ADHD and other behavioral disorders have been on the rise over the past several decades and the quality of our foods has gotten significantly worse. I saw a meme on Facebook that said “Once upon a time, everything was organic.” And it’s true. Foods were eaten in the season in which they were grown, they were from local sources—if not right from the backyard— and natural preservatives like salts and vinegars and sugars were used when meats or fruits and veggies were dried or canned for future use. Now we can eat blueberries, strawberries and dark leafy greens year round (maybe we weren’t meant to) and thanks to GMOs, many fruits and veggies have higher than normal levels of salicylates to prolong their shelf life. The strawberries growing in my yard get crushed from being pulled off the plant they are so delicate. In the grocery store, strawberries are bright red but much “harder” than my own organic, non GMO berries. They can last for a week or more without rotting or bruising. Salicylates are a naturally occurring preservative in plants, remember? Genetically modify the level of sals and the fruits and veggies take longer to go bad–good for those selling the berries, very bad for those of us who eat them.

At the beginning of this school year, Kate’s reading was assessed. The results showed that she was not only below grade level, but possibly severely learning disabled. The teachers never mentioned this early assessment to me (and I’m thankful because I would have panicked) but six weeks later, they assessed her again. We had coincidentally started the Feingold diet approximately one week after her first reading assessment. Six weeks later, she was tested again and her reading had improved by 50%. Her teacher and the special ed teacher told me about the dramatic difference they had seen from the first evaluation and the second and they were obviously baffled. They couldn’t explain how Kate barely seemed to understand what they were asking of her during first test and then appeared to be a competent, intelligent, engaged child during the second–who was pretty good at reading! Another Feingold Mother told me she thinks our kids must feel the way we do when we have a pounding headache….foggy, unable to concentrate and irritable.

Thanks to figuring all of this out, we now have a six year old who displays a much more typical temperament. She doesn’t constantly “freak out” over trivial things, she can move past frustration and disappointment without being stuck in the emotion for too long. She wants to read to us, she can play games and play quietly with her siblings without picking fights constantly. We’re seeing so much more of the loving, creative, funny and empathetic child that we always knew Kate was only now we’re not seeing her alter ego who was an angry, out of control little girl with low self-esteem. There are no words to describe this change except amazing, remarkable and life-changing. Our family is calmer and happier and not constantly in crisis. It’s not easy to maintain this strict eating program. We make mistakes and the kids are not in our sight constantly so they occasionally eat things they shouldn’t, and let’s face it, kids with or without challenges like these are still kids who have good days and bad days. But life is a lot better. A lot better.

I want to keep spreading the word about what we’ve learned. My hope is that families who have infants and toddlers will be more aware of how food and behavior can be related so that they can avoid what we’ve been through. It’s much easier to never give your kids certain candies and processed foods to begin with than try to change their eating habits when they are older.

**And a big thank you to the reader who read my blog post “All Parents Should Read this One” and suggested that if Kate reacted so strongly to red dye she would be a good candidate to try the Feingold Diet. That was the comment that clicked for me and made me determined to try it.

While many of you cloth diapering parents are still dealing with dirty diapers and possibly potty-training, listen carefully–your relationship with your child’s bodily functions does not end with potty training. It changes, it becomes less “hands on,” so to speak, but it lingers on…and on. My girls are six and nine. They are fully self-sufficient going to the bathroom, including “dropping the kids off at the pool.” However, while the kids do make it to the pool, they usually don’t get flushed. Quite often another family member gets a bit of a foul surprise the next time they need to use the loo, so I wrote a little poem called “Please Flush, Frankie!” Unfortunately, it hasn’t helped them remember to flush, but it has brought a little humor to an otherwise stinky situation.

 

Please Flush, Frankie!

Little Frank was a handsome tot,
He ate and slept and pooped a lot.
He lived with his mom and dad and sister who
Was three years old, named Sally Sue.

Frank still wore diapers and needed help
But Sally Sue used the potty herself.
Soon after Frankie had turned one,
He sat on the toilet just for fun.

And on the day that he turned two,
He sat on the pot and made a poo.
His family cheered and clapped their hands.
They all said Frank was quite advanced.

By three years old he’d grown quite tall
And didn’t wear a dipe at all.
And Sally Sue at almost six,
Had mastered all the big kid tricks.

She could read and write and tie her shoes
And she never forgot to flush the loo.
But when Frankie had to go
He’d call for Mom or Dad like so:

“Mommy, Daddy! I need help!
I can’t get on the pot myself!”
So Mom or Dad would run to see
If Little Frankie had to pee

(And if Frankie, dearest son,
had to do more than Number One,
They stayed to help him wipe his buns).

One year later at four years old
Frank was taller and quite bold.
He didn’t need to call for help
And did his business by himself.

Now Frankie always washed his hands,
But almost everyone understands
The second most important part
Is to flush before you depart.

But Frankie was a busy boy
And Sally Sue was most annoyed
When she went in to use the pot
And had Frank flushed? He had not.

She’d plug her nose, her eyes would water,
She’d wish she’d been an only daughter.
She’d spray perfume on a hankie
And then yell “PLEASE FLUSH FRANKIE!”

The next day, his Mom, named Rose,
Went to the john to powder her nose.
Once inside she began to wheeze—
Fumes had brought her to her knees.

She coughed and gagged and nearly choked.
Was Frankie playing a horrible joke?
Why most folks would surely blush
If they had forgotten to flush!

But then two days later Frankie’s pop,
Went to clean the bathroom floor with a mop.
But oh my goodness! How it stank!
And he bellowed “Please flush, Frank!”

Soon Frankie’s family hatched a plan
To help him remember to flush the can.
If Frankie wouldn’t flush, neither would they!
And they decided to start the very next day.

When Frankie wanted to float his boat
In the bathtub, just like a moat,
He banged on the door and disturbed his sister
Who smiled and said “It’s all yours, mister.”

(What Frankie saw he would not say.
But his boats did not sail that day).

That night, looking for his toothbrush,
Frank discovered his mom hadn’t flushed.
It must have been a terrible sight
‘Cause Frankie had nightmares all that night.

The next morning Frank felt ill.
The image was burned in his memory still.
He hoped the pot was sparkling clean
When out walked his Dad with a magazine.

Frankie had hardly made it in
When his head began to spin.
What he saw that day changed him forever.
Did he ever forget to flush again? Never!

Wipe your buns, pull up your pants and
Don’t forget to wash your hands.
But even if you’re in a rush,
Before you leave, PLEASE FLUSH.

Numbers One and Two are Fine,
But to Always Flush? Divine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate the Black Cat, Cooper the crabby Robin and Lauren a Monster High Doll

Kate the Black Cat, Cooper the crabby Robin and Lauren a Monster High Doll–Halloween 2013

Halloween is a fun time of year for most families with small children. It’s also a little stressful–finding the perfect costumes, the over-consumption of junk food, keeping track of your Trick or Treaters on dark streets. Thankfully Cooper wants to be a ghost this year…a pillow case with some eyes cut out. That’s his idea of a costume. Three cheers for low maintenance! My girls on the other hand, have always been more particular about their costumes. This year we will have a ghost, a black cat and a witch. Unfortunately, Kate the black cat, now wants to be Elsa because her best friend is being Elsa. Kate was also a black cat last year (see picture) but since the Elsa costumes are all sold out she’s decided she’ll just be a cat again (unless she changes her mind at the last minute and goes as something else entirely).

Until I had children of my own, I wasn’t a huge fan of Halloween as an adult. Once I outgrew my own childhood desire to dress up, I went through an Anti-Dressing Up for Halloween Stage that lasted until Lauren was a toddler. Suddenly Halloween was fun again because I had an appreciative audience–my child who got a kick out of seeing mommy and daddy look silly. This year I’ll don a hot pink wig and some funny glasses and call myself Crazy Mommy. My husband’s favorite go-to costume is an alarmingly realistic mullet wig that looks alarmingly natural on him and some fake teeth.

One thing that I love about living in the suburbs, that I didn’t have growing up in rural Vermont, is that we live in an actual neighborhood. It makes for good old-fashioned-family-friendly Trick or Treating. We know at least a dozen of the families around our block and it feels really safe  to trail behind our little creatures, princesses and ghouls, just enough to let them feel like they are on their own. It also means that we get lots of trick or treaters, another thing we never had growing up–both little kids with their parents and partially-costumed teenagers. We give out candy happily to anyone who knocks. Who are we to spoil the fun of someone who just wants to celebrate? Our kids will be that age before I know it. Even when they are gangly, braces-wearing zombies with a little acne on their chins, they’ll always be my little ghost, my black cat and my little witch which is why I really enjoyed this blog in the Huffington Post: What You Need To Know About Six Foot Trick or Treaters.

What are you kids dressing up as for Halloween? And if you have a diaper wearing infant or toddler, under what costume will you stuff their fluff?