How to Live a Healthy Life (Book Review: National Geographic’s Green Guide Families)

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Did you know that if you are good to our earth that you will also be good to yourself?  I don’t mean in an indirect way, that we’ll all have have a better place to live, etc.  I mean, if you, for example, use cleaning products that don’t pollute the earth’s water, then it just so happens that you won’t be polluting the air you breathe in your own home and the table you are eating your food off of will be safer too.  I’ve been “going green” ever since we adopted a dog in 1999 with severe respiratory problems.  I had to discontinue using those popular brand cleaning products which contained  bleach or ammonia in exchange for non-toxic, non-polluting cleaning products like vinegar and baking soda.   Because I am sensitive to chemicals and would suffer a sore throat whenever I cleaned with those toxic products, I was thrilled with the change!   When we moved into our suburban home a year later, we continued to protect our dog from harmful toxins by refusing to use artificial fertilizers and weed killers on our lawn.  Ten years later, our lawn may have  few more dandelions than the lawn next door, but it is still beautiful, and it doesn’t poison me, my dog, or my children.

Thanks to Chicago Moms Blog, I was given a copy of National Geographic’s Green Guide Families by Science Editor Catherine Zandonella.  This book’s secondary title, “The Complete Reference for Eco-friendly Parents” is, in my opinion, a misnomer.  It should be, “The Complete Reference for Healthy Families and a Healthy Planet,” because the information in this book should be of interest to all parents, not just the “eco-friendly” ones. This book makes it easy to protect your family and the earth from toxic pollutants because all the research and data is consolidated into this one easy guide.  Oh, how I wish I had this ten years ago.  Oh, how I wish I had this book when I was pregnant.  It would have saved me the countless hours I spent pouring over medical journals, magazine articles and books trying to make sure everything in our home, from the clothes we wear, to the paint we put on our walls, to the food we put in our mouths was as healthy as possible.  There is an amazing amount of information packed into this 400 page book and every parent should know what is in here, from  the hormone-disrupting toxins found in popular sunscreens( p.212) and endocrine disruptors in many baby care products (p. 208) to weighing the health risks and environmental impact of reusing carseats (p. 214).

I love that this book suggests that parents go to my favorite site for ratings on the health risks for make-up, cosmetics and sunscreen:   The guide explains ingredients such as sweeteners and preservatives in a way that is easy to reference and easy to understand.  It has ideas and guidance for healthy birthday parties, Easter, Passover, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  The book even explains how to pick a healthier toy and a healthier chocolate treat (for you and the planet).  I’m so excited about this guide that I’m going to buy one for my brother who is expecting his first child.


Book Reviews: Annabel Karmel’s Top 100 Baby Purees and Top 100 Finger Foods

Participants at Chicago Moms Blog and our sister sites were fortunate to receive free copies of two of  Annabel Karmel’s books, Top 100 Baby Purees and Top 100 Finger Foods which, I believe, were originally published several years ago in the U.K..  These books contain beautiful photographs and the recipes are user-friendly because they clearly set out the ingredients and the time it will take to make the recipe.   The baby puree book, in particular, describes appropriate ages for particular foods, but I would suggest consulting your pediatrician on these matters.

In regard to the baby puree book, unfortunately. and maybe this is my own “thing,” but I simply can’t endorse any baby puree book that doesn’t stress the importance of using organic ingredients.  I scoured the book and could not find any mention of “organic” in any of the recipes.  Her “quick and easy meals for a healthy and happy baby,” will not, in my opinion, result in a healthy baby without explaining to mothers why using organic ingredients is so important.  Karmel discusses “nutritional needs,” allergies, and lactose intolerance in children quite a bit, why not discuss organic ingredients as well?  Furthermore, her recipes incorporate many purees with beef and chicken [we don’t eat this at all in our family], with no mention of the dangers of bovine growth hormone or the unhealthy amount of antibiotics found in non-organic beef and chicken.  I don’t think this is a problem in the U.K. as they don’t use bovine growth hormones there but since she has decided to bring her book here to the U.S. this issue, in my opinion, must be addressed  for new mothers.

I was ready for some new ideas for my children, so I was excited to receive the Top 100 Finger Foods book. There is not a lot in there for vegetarians like our family.  I did make one recipe that was almost a success.  I tried the Baked Parsnip and Sweet Potato Chips recipe.  Baking took a long time and although the edges got brown, those were the only crunchy parts.  This was the first time my husband ate parsnips so I will be making it again.  My children preferred the baked sweet potato I prepared in case it was a flop.

Overall, I was disappointed by the lack of creativity in some of the dishes.  I was hoping to add some new items to our tired repertoire.  However, some of the dishes featured were commonplace recipes for pancakes, french toast, pizza, and quiche.  I was surprised she included nachos as one of her “healthy” finger foods.  The recipe was not a revamped nutritious version.  Karmel uses real store-bought tortilla chips.  Indeed, the recipe is similar to the very same nachos we are desperately trying to get off the cafeteria menus of our public schools.   At one point, even she concedes that she can’t think of anything else to make the number of recipes add up to the 100 the title promises “for a healthy, happy child,” stating, “I have included recipes for brownies and mini jam tarts [not even whole wheat by the way!].  After all, you are only a child once.”   Her jam tart recipe has two “ingredients” which are jam and store-bought pie crust.

I’m sorry to say that I’ve been disappointed by these two books.  I expected something comparable to Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron.  No matter how many books Karmel has published and no matter how many beautiful photographs she includes, Yaron will, and still remains, my “go to girl” for all things food, babies and toddlers.

Me, Naked? (and a Book Review of Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky)

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky by Chris Greenhalgh is the latest book experience shared by those of us who blog at Chicago Moms Blog and its sister sites (disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy). In the novel, Chanel first seduces Stravinsky by appearing in his music studio completely naked. At this time in her life, she is in her thirties. This encounter made me stop and think, what would be the best way for me to seduce someone? Would I choose to stand before my potential lover naked in broad daylight like Chanel? No. I don’t even feel comfortable completely naked in the privacy of my own bathroom mirror! I’m actually kind of sad about that. I don’t expect my body to be perfect. I’ve had two children, I’m at least ten pounds overweight, and I’m now forty. Can’t I simply embrace my own nakedness as beautiful? Why can’t I imagine that someone else might think I’m beautiful too? I wish I could.

Now I’m curious whether many women would do what author Greenhalgh has Chanel do? The author is male, after all. I’m wondering whether a female author would have written about Coco and Igor’s first sexual encounter this way. Perhaps, but I think it is more realistic that a woman in her thirties in those days (’cause now 30 is the new 25 right?) would be wearing some of her best French lingerie. After all, isn’t that what sexy lingerie is for? I mean, don’t we need a bit of lifting in a couple of places and a bit of camouflage in others? For the women who can completely embrace their own nakedness, I applaud and envy you.

As for the rest of the novel, I truly enjoyed learning about Chanel’s business sense and biographical information. In fact, my favorite part was the chronology of events at the back of the book. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into the romance, which was 95% of the book. I believe that one of the problems is that Chanel is seducing another woman’s husband while his wife is convalescing in Chanel’s own home. This was so distasteful, that I had trouble getting past it. Furthermore, so much of the novel seemed to be straight out of a cheesy paperback romance, though I have never read one of those:

They undress rapidly and form a rocking knot that has them both grunting furiously with all the relief of a passion no longer strangled but given voice at last. The whole wood seems to catch the vibration. Birds answer from the topmost branches. A distant dog barks (p. 148).

Um . . . I just rolled my eyes at passages like this one. I’m not a prude, really. I just disliked these characters so much that I could not find myself taking any pleasure in theirs. My mom and dad have seen the movie and enjoyed it very much. As for me, I think I would have been better off with something non-fiction on Coco Channel.

Book Review: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Trooper

trooperI never would have guessed that a book about a family of three brothers and a sister mourning the loss of their father would be enjoyable and entertaining. Johnathan Trooper’s This Is Where I Leave You is the story of a Jewish family who gets together reluctantly to sit “Shiva” (“seven” in Hebrew for the traditional seven days of mourning in Judaism). The entire story takes place over those seven days.

It was ironic that Chicago Moms Blog and its sister sites decided to review this book at this time (disclaimer: I was given this book) because my husband, like the main character Judd Foxman, buried his father just recently. Without getting too much into Gadget Man’s family details, lets just say that it has been a very, very difficult time, mostly because his relationship with his father was strained, and his relationship with one of his brothers fell apart following their father’s death. In distinct contrast to the Foxman family, my husband’s family did not sit a traditional Shiva following their loss. Trooper’s book describes some of the Shiva rituals such as sitting on low chairs, covering mirrors, receiving guests, sharing cherished memories of the deceased, and reciting Kaddish, a reaffirmation in G-d. My husband’s brother, a non-practicing self-hating Jew and his Catholic wife announced that one evening of a “Shiva” would take place at their home and put out colorful cupcakes and pepperoni pizza (mixing milk and meat is forbidden in Judaism). There were crafts and a moonwalk set up for the children. No one was telling stories of my father-in-law. No one was sharing any sort of emotion whatsoever. Indeed, I believe that had my husband’s brothers sat Shiva, even for a day or two, they would not be estranged from one another as they are now.

Like my husband, Judd’s relationship with his older brother was strained. For years, Judd believed that his brother was unjustifiably holding a grudge. In a moment of clarity, when the brothers finally got together to discuss their feelings, Judd was able to see things from his brother’s point of view. This part of the book really spoke to me. I had been blinded by my husband’s point of view, and never really bothered to look at things from my brother-in-law’s perspective. I had believed that Gadget Man was unjustifiably vilified. I still don’t know why my brother-in-law is so angry with my husband, but I’m much more open to hearing things from another perspective. Thank you, Mr. Trooper, for opening my eyes.

Trooper is adept at pointing out little psychological truths. For example, when Judd’s wife asks him how he’s feeling, he remarks:

Our minds, unedited by guilt or shame, are selfish and unkind, and the majority of our thoughts, at any given time, are not for public consumption . . . We don’t share our thoughts, we share carefully sanitized, watered-down versions of them. Hollywood adaptations of those thoughts dumbed down for the PG-13 crowd (p. 137).

Trooper can be quite poetic at times. When Judd finds his father’s old watch, he remembers clicking the diving bezel around the face of the watch as a child. “The clicks feel different without his wrist anchoring the watch,” he notes. Lines like that brought me to tears.

For links to more thoughts on this book, visit Chicago Moms Blog.

My Vampire Obsession

twilightbook(MILD SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t read Twilight and New Moon and plan to, don’t read this post. However, I really don’t give anything truly important away)

At a recent girls’ night out, a friend could not stop gushing about “Edward.” Finally, I realized that “Edward” is a character in the teen literary sensation Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I enjoy Young Adult Literature and fantasy. Furthermore, just hearing someone my age so into a book intrigued me. I ran to the library to get myself a copy. Well, just a few pages into it and I was hooked. It is one of the most suspenseful books I’ve ever read. I can’t say it’s that well-written in other ways. Among other issues, I was getting quite bored of reading various forms of the word “stumble” (Bella, the main character is clumsy beyond believability, and this is coming from a fellow clumsy girl). Anyway, since the book is so suspenseful, and such an easy read, it was very hard to put it down. I took it with me in the car to read at traffic lights: I brought it to pick up Eva at the bus stop; I put the kids in front of the computer on just so I could read more of it. Laundry, dinner, and my sleep were sacrificed for a couple of days until it was finished. Apparently, I’m not the only one to get this way while reading Twilight. I found a whole blog dedicated to moms addicted to Twilight. I’m really concerned about what’s going to happen with my family life, because there are three more books to this story. I couldn’t wait to read book two, New Moon, which I have almost finished, but I’ll have to take a break after this because I have to get going on Three Cups of Tea for my book group. I bet I plow through that just to get to read about my favorite Vampire again! (Jacob is actually more my type. I once dated a Seneca Indian — yummy! Besides, Jacob loves Bella for who she is not what she smells like).

Addendum:  National Public Radio just aired a book review of the Twilight series.  The reviewer is a Georgetown University professor, so it makes me feel a bit vindicated about loving the series so much.

Bad News for Children: MMR Split No Longer an Option

Once again, the pharmaceutical companies are dictating how doctors care for us. According to one of my favorite doctors on vaccines, Dr. Bob Sears, author of The Vaccine Book, doctors can no longer get the MMR vaccine in individual doses for measles, mumps and rubella (note: if the link does not take you to the article, look for his January 22, 2009 article). He fears that Merek, the company that makes it, may NEVER make this available again. For more in dept coverage, and advice, go here to his article dated January 22, 2009. My review of his book is here. There are more reviews from the “Moms Blog” sites where I post (in this case, it is D.C. Metro Moms Blog).

What can we, as parents do about this? I’m not sure. Do we lobby our doctors, Merek, the Surgeon General? Why not all three!

sTori Telling by Tori Spelling: A Book Review

I’ve never read a celebrity autobiography before, but I started watching Tori Spelling’s reality show Home Sweet Hollywood on Oxygen where she is constantly alluding to troubles with her mother. I got so curious that I had to buy the book and see what she was talking about. I don’t normally review a book if I’m going to bash it, but every other review I have read has been so positive, I just had to put my opinion out there for a little balance. Most of the book revolves around her feelings about her mother. The childhood gifts Tori got from her mother that she never wanted, her mother’s comments about Tori’s original nose, her mother’s unwanted interference in Tori’s first wedding reception, and her mother’s reactions to Tori’s divorce and father’s death. In the book, Tori repeats over and over again that she is not “complaining”. However, it is basically one complaint after another. She complains that she never gets privacy from paparazzi, yet she invites People Magazine to her “private” second wedding in Fiji (p. 238). She claims that she wants to keep her son, Liam, safe from the paparazzi, yet he was born and spent his entire first year on a reality show! She complains that she is bothered by the media as much as Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston, but, poor Tori, she doesn’t have the money they have for security guards and gates, nor does she have access to the free designer fashions (p. 231). She constantly complains that her career has been permanently damaged by her father’s nepotism and her ten years of portraying “Donna” on Beverly Hills 90210. She complains that she and her mother are not close, yet she seems to only contact her by email. Would you email your mother you were getting a divorce? According to Tori, her mother’s resentment of her all started when she overheard her husband and Tori’s father, the famous T.V. producer Aaron Spelling, tell Tori that he “loved her more than Mommy” (p. 264). Tori seems to be totally clueless about her part in conflicts. She misses her mother’s 60th birthday bash and wonders why her mother says things like, “Everyone who cares about me was there.” Hey Tori, that’s just good old-fashioned Jewish guilt talk for, “You weren’t there, you should have been, and my feelings are really hurt.” Yes, someone really needs to spell this out for her.

She claims to be “Daddy’s little girl,” but, toward the end of his life, she didn’t bother to see him for nine months (p. 258). She mentions that when she talked to him on Father’s Day, he “sounded like he’d had a stroke, but nobody told me anything” (p. 249). Um, suggestion for you Tori, if you think someone you love is very ill, ask someone about it. Your brother was there, your mom was there, pick up the phone (she was on set in Canada) and find out if your dad really had a stroke, or if he wants you to come home. She complains that she wasn’t with him when he died because no one told her about it.

Some of the book reveals a really creepy side of Tori. She brought the “biggest kitchen knife of of the knife block,” to a meeting with Dean’s first wife (p. 220). She wants food such as beans and potatoes to have a “friend” such as another bean or potato on the plate. She feels “sorry” for the food and doesn’t want it to be alone (p. 208).

Overall, the book is boring and repetitive. She alludes to so many great stories, but never gets to the meat of them. For example, she had her breasts done, but doesn’t explain why and whether she would do it again. Her feelings about this would have been helpful to other women and girls with poor body image. Similarly, she mentions that she lost a baby before Liam. Did she have a miscarriage? How did she deal with it? By the way, if you are looking for great gossip about Beverly Hills 90210, you won’t find it here. She says everyone “pretty much” slept with everyone else, and leaves it at that. The big insider gossip about Shannen Doherty: she was late a lot and tried to manipulate the staff to make herself look good. Come on! There had to be better stuff to tell than that!

Clearly, Tori has a lot to say to her mother, and, as Tori would probably admit, this book is her own passive-aggressive way of telling her mother all the things she should have told her years ago. Putting her homewrecker adultress status aside, Tori seems like a genuinely good person. The very fact that there is no juicy gossip about her friends and family is testament to that. Based on the book alone, it seems like most of her unhappiness is self-created and self-perpetuated (Just like in her show when she complains that the paparazzi ruined “private family time” registering for her baby shower. Tori, what kind of “private” time do you expect to have when you invite your own cameras from your own reality show along for these allegedly private moments?) Even though I’m annoyed with her for giving out ridiculously incorrect information about breastfeeding on The View (hey, she never went to college after all), I still find Tori’s show very entertaining, even if her book was not. If you have any curiosity about Tori’s talent, check out the music video she made with her current husband, Dean McDermott. It is super cute, and I can’t get the catchy tune out of my head. Sorry about the review Tori, I really hope you work things out with your mom. Clearly she loves you in her own way, and you love her in yours.