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How To Cure Cracked Heels From the Inside Out

5 Dec

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Awhile back I posted about my post-pregnancy struggle with cracked heels and how a weekly Apple Cider Vinegar & Eucalyptus Foot Soak has helped me. While my feet have drastically, and I mean DRASTICALLY changed – my cracks were so bad they were painful and bleeding at times – I’m still on the warpath to baby soft heels.

I’m at the point where my feet are soft, with the faintest traces of lines, but if I stop moisturizing my heels for a couple of days I’ll start to see the lines deepen and begin hardening again. So clearly, soaking my skin till its spongy, scrubbing my heels raw and then slathering on artificial moisture isn’t going to cut it for an actual long term “fix”. I realized I need to get my skin to a place where it can do its job without me feeding it a jar of lotion every month.

So, as always, I became the great Google detective and tried to unravel this mystery of the perpetually cracked heels. And here’s what I found:

Cracked Heels Need To Be Treated From the Inside

Cracked heels occur when unhealthy dry skin around the heel responds to pressure from the weight of walking, or even standing, and the skin simply splits. It could be due to sudden weight gain (like pregnancy), skin that has lost elasticity with age, or just a result of ongoing dehydration.

To understand the problem with dry skin that won’t dehydrate with lotions alone, you have to understand the basic nature of the skin on your feet.

The outer layers of the skin on your heels are designed to provide a natural barrier function, which consists of substances such as oils, cholesterol, fatty acids, ceramides and hyaluronic acid. The stratum corneum, the very top layer of the epidermis on your heels, is made up of cells that grab water using your body’s own natural moisturizing factors, amino acids and other molecules that are designed to absorb water and lock it inside the cell.

Without your body producing its own natural moisturizing factors, it simply CANNOT maintain or absorb the moisture you feed it through foot lotions and oils. At least not in the long term. It’s like trying to pour oil into a cracked cup. You may be able to fill it to the brim (look how oily and shiny my feet are!) but it will all eventually seep out (why are my feet so dry AGAIN?!).

Anyway, the health of the skins natural barrier function is crucial to provide lubrication and protection to your feet. If the barrier becomes damaged or impaired, like in the case of cracked heels, dehydration results. So the only way to get rid of cracked heels for good is to rehydrate the skin – from the inside out. Here’s how:

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Drink Lots Of Water

How It Helps – Sufficient water intake is critical in maintaining healthy cell metabolism. A dehydrated body can’t repair existing superficial epidermal dehydration. The fact is that skin is an organ, and just like any other part of the body, the skin on your heels is made up of cells. And skin cells, like any other cell in the body, are made up of water. Without water, the organs will certainly not function properly or at their best. If your skin is not getting the sufficient amount of water, the lack of hydration will present itself by turning your skin dry, tight and less resilient, which on your feet means lots of lovely cracks and fissures.

Other Health Bonuses – Drinking water helps maintain the balance of body fluids. Your body is composed of about 60% water and the functions of these bodily fluids include digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature. It’s pretty much vital to life.

How Much To Drink – The unfortunate truth about drinking water and your cracked heels is that water will reach all the other organs before it reaches the skin. So if you are chronically dehydrated (*cough*me*cough*) you’ll have to really up your water intake to help your body regulate itself and hydrate your poor heels.

While the “8 cups a day” adage is under some debate – some medical professionals say you need less, some say you need as much as 9 to 13 cups a day – it’s best to err on the side of drinking too much water, especially when it comes to seeking tangible results in your skin. Aim for as much water as you can stomach. (It’s extremely hard to overdose on water. Most cases of water intoxication include athletes guzzling after a strenuous workout in the heat.) A good rule of thumb is to drink so much water that your urine has little to no color.

I blogged about my recent water splurge and the importance of drinking filtered water here.

Take a Daily Multivitamin

Not only is this a good idea for your overall health, but multivitamins contain some heavy hitters in the healthy skin arena. Take a multivitamin that contains:

Zinc –

How It Helps – Zinc is a mineral that has been likened to a 24-hour, on-call skin mechanic. It helps repair damaged tissues and heal wounds. Without Zinc, your body’s (and your cracked heels) inside and outside repair time go up. Research suggests that Zinc is particularly effective in treating topical irritations such as cracked heels by helping the cells regenerate.

Other Health Bonuses-  Consuming Zinc ensures proper immune system function, and promotes the maintenance of vision, taste, and smell.

How Much To Take – A daily multivitamin should have 100% or more of your daily requirement of Zinc (ranging from 11-50mg daily depending on who you ask), although you can also boost your Zinc intake by consuming oysters, red meat, poultry, seafood and fortified breakfast cereals.

Vitamin C –

How It Helps – Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is key to the production of collagen, a protein that aids in the growth of cells and blood vessels and gives skin its firmness and strength. Vitamin C also helps your skin repair itself – as an antioxidant it slows the rate of free-radical damage. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage collagen and cause skin dryness and fine lines and cracks (like in your heels). New research shows that Vitamin C not only neutralizes free radicals, but also reverses DNA damage in some cases.

Other Health Bonuses – Vitamin C protects against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and even skin wrinkling.

How Much To Take – While a multivitamin usually contains 100% of your daily Vitamin C requirement (75mg to 120mg, depending on who you ask) Vitamin C is one of the safest supplements to boost up on – the safe upper limits being well over 2,000mg a day. Medical professionals recommend that when taking Vitamin C as a means to boost immunity or skin hydration, it’s best to aim for 500mg daily. I take an additional supplement of Vitamin C with Natural Rose Hips (extra antioxidant boost), in addition to my daily multivitamin.

Vitamin B6 –

How It Helps – Just like Vitamin C, B6 promotes healthy skin by counteracting damage caused by free radicals – molecules that break down healthy cells and contribute to aging and dehydration.

Other Health Bonuses – B6 stimulates co-enzymatic activities, protecting the immune system, and having positive effects on metabolism, premenstrual syndrome, hormone control and emotional disorders.

How Much To Take – A multivitamin should have 100% of your daily requirement of B6, ranging from 1.3 to 3mg, depending on who you ask. You can also boost your B6 intake by eating poultry, fish, and organ meats.

Increase Your Omega’s With a 3-6-9 Supplement

Omega 3, 6 and 9 contain essential fatty acids that are required for good health and hydrated skin, but cannot be synthesized by human body. They MUST be obtained from food or supplements. There are many over the counter supplements (often called 3-6-9 supplements) that cover all of your Omega needs in just one pill.

Omega-3 –

Among the must-have foods for healthy skin, Omega-3 fatty acids – the “good fats” – are well known for for promoting hydration and skin health. Omega-3 fats improve the moisture content of skin by improving cellular health and functioning, and help skin to maintain a smooth, elastic texture. Without essential fatty acids, too much moisture leaks out through the skin – for instance, the perpetually dry cracks in your heels. In short, taking Omega-3 internally as a supplement is as good as or better than applying cosmetic moisturizers.

Omega-6 –

Consuming oils rich in Omega-6 fatty acids can alter the fatty acid composition and eicosanoid content of the epidermis. Studies have shown that diets rich in the Omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid are associated with less skin dryness and thinning. Both Omega-6 and Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids play a critical role in normal skin function and appearance.

Omega-9 – 

Omega-9, sometimes called oleic acid, aids in the proper functioning of the other necessary fats. If there is a deficiency in Omega-9’s, the other Omega’s can’t do their job properly. A deficiency usually manifests in dry skin, hair loss, and decreased fertility. If you are boosting your Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s, boosting your Omega-9’s is a must!

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Where To Get Your Omega’s

Fish Oil – Fish Oil is a great source of Omega-3’s. In addition to promoting healthy skin, it also helps aid weight loss, promotes healthy pregnancy, fertility and boosts immunity. Regular consumption of Fish Oil capsules has been proven to help in reducing moisture loss from the skin.

Flaxseed Oil – Cultivated in Babylon as early as 3000 BC, Flaxseed Oil has been called one of the most powerful foods on the planet. In the 8th century, King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the health benefits of flaxseed that he passed laws requiring his subjects to consume it! A good source of both Omega-3 and Omega-6, preliminary studies show that Flaxseed Oil may help fight heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer in addition to boosting skin health!

Borage Oil – Borage Oil is derived from a wildflower commonly called the “starflower”. It is rich in Omega-6’s and is well known for its skin hydrating properties. A study by the Institute of Experimental Dermatology in Germany found that women who took Borage Oil supplements for 12 weeks experienced an overwhelming increase in skin moisture and hydration that exceeded that of drinking water alone. Borage Oil is also known to decrease PMS and menopause symptoms in women. Can we say win?

Evening Primrose Oil – A good source of Omega-3 and Omega-6, Evening Primrose Oil has been called the most sensational preventive discovery since Vitamin C. It’s most commonly known for it’s positive effects on women’s health, however the gamma-linoleic acid, linoleic acid and other nutrients in this oil are essential for cell structure and improve the elasticity of the skin.

Black Currant Oil – Black Currant Oil is an anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antioxidant. Rich in Omega-3 and Omega-9, this oil also aids immune systems, womens health and urinary tract health.

Be Consistent

These are the steps that I am personally taking to combat my dry, cracked heels from the inside out. I’m aggressively drinking as much water as I can stomach every day, I’m taking a daily multivitamin and I’m taking an Omega 3-6-9 supplement that contains every single one of the oils listed above. I’ve been at it for about three weeks now, and I’m seeing improvement every day, combining both internal and external approaches.

If there is an internal remedy or approach you take to cracked heels that I don’t have covered here (this is by no means an exhaustive list!) please let me know and share below!

Thanksgiving 2013 – Counting My Blessings

28 Nov

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I’m going to take an opposite approach to Thanksgiving this year. Instead of focusing on what I DO HAVE I’m going to focus on what I DON’T HAVE.

Calm down. I’m not talking about in a materialistic way.

To properly approach Thanksgiving Day, I think we need to always keep in mind what the actual living conditions of the Pilgrims were. They had landed in the middle of a New England winter in a strange new land, intent on serving the One True God. For their faith and their freedom they faced harsh circumstances in an epic way. We don’t need to describe in gory detail the privation they endured because the statistics tell it all:

By the time spring came, only 47 of the original 102 colonists were alive. And of those alive, only seven were strong enough to function and had to take care of the rest.

With these heartbreaking, intense hardships, they still chose to praise God for his provision and were truly thankful that they had harvested enough food so that they would not become extinct in their second winter in the New World. They were thankful simply to eat and be able to live in a world with nothing but cold, work, and nights without light. In the words of Edward Winslow, one of the survivors who wrote an account of their experience the first year,

“And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

In light of those circumstances, they still looked to their Creator and said, “Thank you, God. You are good.” Looking at the God-centered gratitude offered up by these brave souls, I feel humbled and blessed. Beyond blessed. Jeez, I don’t even know if there’s a word to describe blessed beyond blessed. Uber blessed?

So, that said, I am focusing on what I DON’T have this Thanksgiving.

I don’t have want in my life.

I don’t have hunger.

I don’t have sickness.

I don’t have death or loss.

I don’t have fear.

But when I do, (not if, but when) the ultimate blessing comes in know that it won’t change a thing. GOD IS STILL SOVEREIGN. God is still good. Whatever my lot, it is well with my soul. And that’s where the true “thanks giving” comes in. It reminds me of the quote I posted above:

Some people are so poor, all they have is money.

I am rich and I am blessed and it has nothing to do with my car, or my home, or my cosplays, or my book collection, or the plants on my patio (though those ARE things to gives thanks for). When I think of my many blessings, I think of my handsome husband – my hearts brother, my best friend, my hunka hunka lovin’ man. I think of my precious baby girl – my baby world, my little koala cuddles, my pretty princess. MY FAMILY. Dear God, how did I ever get to be so blessed?! It boggles my brain. But with all these blessings, what is even more amazing?

The realization that the heart of my happiness is the intangible blessings that come from knowing and loving the Creator of every good thing.

I may have more next year. I may have less. But through it all, I know God is good. And that is more than enough for me. Happy Thanksgiving everyone,  and God Bless!

Why You Need a Water Filter (And What Kind I Think You Should Get)

26 Nov

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I don’t like water. Never have. It’s bland and it’s flavorless. Its biggest crime is that it doesn’t taste like coffee.

I have lived in a state of extreme dehydration for years now. But recently, I’ve been on a mission to remedy that. The ultimate reason I’ve been reforming my wicked waterless ways is because of my daughter. I want to be healthier for her, so as she grows up I can offer her the best in word, example and deed. I can’t exactly push her water intake as a child while never taking a sip myself, can I? (I mean, I guess I can, but I’d prefer to avoid the douche-bag do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do parenting style.)

The second reason I’m pushing my water intake is because of my struggle with extremely dry skin and cracked heels. That is such a huge topic all on its own that I plan to follow up this blog post with more info on that particular issue later.

So moving on to my quest for more water! In looking up how best to hydrate myself, I stumbled upon this lovely little tidbit of information:

Pensacola has the absolute worst drinking water in the entire United States of America.

In a nationwide study of the safety of tap water in major cities, the Pensacola water supply was found to have 21 chemicals that exceeded health guidelines, including radium, lead, bezene and carbon tetrachloride.

After learning this information, I spent the rest of the week researching water filtration options and ordering the best water filter method for my home. I was in such a hurry to get my water filters, I even signed up for Amazon Prime for the two day shipping. Think I’m overreacting? (Probably.) But check out the full list of contaminants found in Pensacola’s water supply:

Barium (total), Chromium (total), Cyanide, Mercury (total inorganic), Nitrate, Nitrite, Selenium (total), Trichlorofluoromethane, 1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene, cis-1,2-Dichloroethylene, 2,2-Dichloropropane, Monochloroacetic acid, Dibromoacetic acid, Chloroform, Xylenes (total), p-Dichlorobenzene, 1,1-Dichloroethylene, 1,1-Dichloroethane, 1,1,1,2-Tetrachloroethane, Monochlorobenzene (Chlorobenzene), Toluene, Ethylbenzene, Alpha particle activity (incl. radon & uranium), Combined Uranium (pCi/L), Cadmium (total), Lead (total), Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, Heptachlor epoxide, MTBE, Total haloacetic acids (HAAs), 1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP), Bromoform, Bromodichloromethane, Dibromochloromethane, Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs), 1,2-Dichloroethane, Carbon tetrachloride, 1,2-Dichloropropane, Trichloroethylene, 1,1,2-Trichloroethane, Tetrachloroethylene, Benzene, Alpha particle activity (excl radon and uranium), Radium-226, Radium-228.

OMGWTF?!?!??!?! I can’t even pronounce half the crap on that list, and I stopped Google searching what each one was and why drinking it is bad half way through the list because I was getting all twitchy. And this isn’t even the worst of it.

Most people don’t realize that federal law does not require tap water to be safe for long-term consumption. Only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet more than 60,000 harmful chemicals are found in drinking water in the United States.

Why is this allowed? Because the long-term risks of cancer and other health threats are balanced against the cost and feasibility of purification by each city. The current mindset is that the contaminants are fully disclosed to the public, therefore if you care about your long term health, you will take steps to filter your water to your liking. Your water does not have to be healthy. And in Pensacola’s case, it is decidedly not so. You can check out your local drinking water quality by visiting the EPA website here. 

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So! Are you convinced you need a water filter? Since I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit researching the different options when it comes to water filters, let me share my findings with you. Here’s a simple guide to the most popular methods of water filtration and why I think all but one method sucks:

Distilled Water

How It Works – This process passes water over a heated coil‚ causing the water to vaporize and become gaseous. The steam then rises and transfers to a cooling chamber‚ where it condenses back into a liquid. This process separates water from inorganic compounds like lead‚ calcium‚ magnesium‚ etc. and destroys bacteria.

Why I Think It Sucks – This process does not remove most organic chemicals, since they typically vaporize at a lower temperature than water and are transferred over with the steam. FAIL.

Reverse Osmosis

How It Works – This is a process that exposes water under pressure‚ to a semi-permeable membrane with a very fine pore structure. Because most inorganic contaminants are of a larger molecular size than water‚ the membrane rejects certain contaminants‚ minerals and a large part of the water.

Why I Think It Sucks – Because many synthetic chemicals like herbicides and pesticides are smaller molecularly than water, they slip through. FAIL.

Granular Carbon Filters

This is the most popular home filtration method. (It’s what is used in Brita filters.) Granular carbon filters remove contaminants by adsorption‚ which is the chemical or physical bond of a contaminant to the surface of the filter. Activated carbon bonds to thousands of chemicals, in fact it bonds to almost all known chemicals! Water runs around the carbon granules, and the bad joo joo in the water sticks to the surface of the granules.

Why I Think It Sucks – This type of filter does NOTHING for straining out bacteria. They are worthless in terms of virus and protozoa, which aren’t adsorbed by the granules and just continue on their merry way through the filter and straight into your mouth. Yum yum! Plus, many chemicals that WOULD be adsorbed by the granules can make their way through the filter without being adsopbed if not exposed long enough. DOUBLE FAIL.

Carbon Block Filters (What I Recommend You Use)

How It Works – A carbon block filter is made of the exact same stuff a granular carbon filter is made up of… only it’s in solid block form.

Why I Think It Rocks – It works with the same method of chemical bonding through adsorption, but it has the added element of mechanical straining.

When water is pushed through the solid carbon block, it is FORCED to slow down and increase the contact time with the carbon, allowing the carbon bonding to take place to remove the chemical pollutants like toxins, pesticides, trihalomethanes, chlorine, bad tastes, odors, etc.

And whatever is missed by adsorption – like bacteria and protozoa and heavy metals like lead – are then strained out by the pore size of the block. Basically, it’s like trying to put a basketball through a hole the size of a ping pong ball. The pores in the block of carbon can filter particles down to sub-micron size. That filters dirt, sediment, rust, algae, bacteria, microscopic worms, cryptosporidium and asbestos. And because of the density of the solid carbon block, there is no room for bacteria to grow so this type of filter does not become an incubator for them.

This type of filter is so hardcore, they’re known as survivalist filters. They are what wilderness backpackers use to purify bacteria infested waters on trails. For added safety, you can put a couple drops of chlorine or bleach in your water to kill off bacteria gathered in a stream, and then it run it through the filter. The filter then removes the chlorine and bleach and dead bacteria and your bacteria infested spring water is now safer and tastier than your Pensacola tap water. Uhhh, WIN.

Best part is? They are super affordable! Since Jonathan and I are going to be moving around quite a bit in the future, we can’t really invest in a whole home filtration system. So instead, we’ve purchased a pitcher style carbon block filter (made with BPA free plastic!) for less than $25 and a sports water bottle carbon block filter for less than $20. So far, we are extremely happy with our purchases and will be using our bottles on upcoming camping and hiking excursions!

Do you use a water filtration system? If so, what kind do you use and why? Talk me people, my blog is so much more fun when the empty void I send this drivel into talks back. 😉

Four Harmful Things to Avoid With Disposable Diapers

25 Nov

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So I’m planning on visiting my family in California next month, and my mom is busy making preparations for Tessa and I to visit (poor hubby has to work). I was giving her a list of things to buy so I don’t have to pack as much, and when telling her which diapers to get, I thought – hey! Blog post! Nothing like chattering into a void to help you formulate and better articulate your thoughts and research…

When it comes to diaper selection, I must first clarify that I consider myself to be only a semi-crunchy mom in that my concern is NOT primarily for the environment. (Sorry hippies.) I mean, I will, when given a feasible option, choose products that are nicer to the planet. I firmly believe that God has charged us to be good stewards of the Earth. But I also firmly believe that my little girl comes first. If “saving the planet” breaks the bank or strains my family financially, Earth can go whining to Michael Moore.

My one and only concern is my daughter and reducing her exposure to unnecessary chemicals and toxins.

Cloth diapers, which reign supreme in the crunchy mom circles, are not a realistic option for us. We don’t have a washer and dryer and only do laundry every other week when I have the car to run errands. Frequent trips to the Laundromat, with me dropping husband off at work to have the car (an hour drive there and back) would break our budget at this point. Additionally, our apartment complex has a strict “no hanging clothes out to dry on your balcony or patio” rule that they expect us to adhere to, or face a fine. (Really, it’s like Arcadia from X-Files around here.) And besides those facts, neither Jonathan nor I are overly interested in hand washing poo on our down time.

So with cloth diapers out, when approaching the world of disposable diapers, I’ve discovered that there are four major concerns about what will be placed on my baby’s skin every day for the next 3-5 years. And they are as follows:

Perfumes and “Mystery Ingredients”

Perfume fragrances are sometimes used in disposable diapers, under the assumption that parents would prefer a “spring rain” scented turd in lieu of simply changing a smelly diaper. The scents found in many diapers are strong and chemical-laden, harboring unnecessary irritants with potential to cause such health issues ranging from diaper rash to respiratory symptoms to allergies or worse.

As I talked about in a previous blog post, infants skin is unbelievably sensitive to product. Babies skin is ten times thinner than adult skin and doesn’t have a natural acid mantle yet, which in adults has a pH value of 5.5. The acid mantle protects the skin from irritants, allergens, pathogens, and from drying out. Babies do not have this protection. Additionally, their ratio of skin surface area to body volume is significantly larger than in adults, so their skin soaks up even minute amounts of chemicals, and it directly effects their fragile developing systems.

My biggest concern with perfumes in disposable diapers (and any product I put on my baby) is the “Mystery Ingredients” that get slipped in. As reported in the Huffington Post and elsewhere: “…due to the ‘trade secret’ status of fragrances, manufacturers are still not required by the FDA to disclose their ingredients on the label or in any other way.”

As a result, a manufacturer can legally bury dozens of potentially toxic chemicals under a “Fragrance” ingredient listing. (This is how Johnson & Johnson has gotten away throwing in downright toxic ingredients for so long.) Anything with “Fragrance” in it’s ingredient list will NOT be going on Tessa’s skin.

Chlorine Bleach and Dioxins

The process of chlorine bleaching diapers leaves tons of chemicals in the fibers of disposable diapers.  These chemical toxins are called “dioxins.” Based on animal studies, dioxins are believed to have the ability to cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified dioxins as a “likely human carcinogen.” You can read all about dioxin from the World Health Organization here.

Dyes and Skin Irritants

Dyes are usually added to diapers to color them. (Duh.) This is really the lesser of all the disposable diaper evils, but still one that I choose to avoid.

The biggest downside to dyes is that they are known to cause skin and diaper rashes and have provoked allergic reactions in some babies. In a study published in Pediatrics in 2005, switching to dye-free diapers was shown to eliminate skin rashes which occurred in areas exposed to colored portions of diapers.

I’m not anti-dye (after all, the fabric on your babies onesie is likely dyed) but when it comes to prolonged exposure on my babies genitals, why not go with a dye-free version? I don’t care if a diaper is colorful and pretty, it’s just gonna get pooped on.

Phthalates and Harmful Chemicals

Phthalates are mainly plasticizers, added to products to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity. In some disposable diapers, phthalates may be used as part of the process to create a waterproof outer or inner liner. The problem with phthalates is that they are not tightly chemically-bonded to the plastic, and therefore they continuously release through leaching into liquids.

Phthalates have been a concern in the medical community for its use in bottled water for some time now due to potential toxic effects to endocrine and reproductive systems – to which infants are particularly vulnerable. (This is why phthalates are a main concern with baby bottles and why I will soon be switching to glass bottles for Tessa.)

Not all diapers use phthalates, but here’s the kicker: US law does not currently require disclosure of phthalates. The only way to know that diapers are phthalate-free is if the manufacturer declares that they are.

So the good news is, there ARE natural diapers out there that are free from these four poopy ingredients listed! (If there weren’t I’d be switching to cloth in a heartbeat.) There are a number of manufacturers who offer complete transparency in their diaper ingredients, though not many. You’d be surprised how many companies do NOT practice full disclosure with their ingredients – the biggest brands guilty of this are Huggies and Pampers.

I personally use Earth’s Best brand disposable diapers on Tessa, as it meets all my personal disposable diaper requirements and then some – it’s also environmentally friendly – and it does not break the bank. They are priced only slightly more than the toxic mystery ingredient leading brands. A really awesome source for side by side comparisons of natural disposable diaper brands is available over at Baby Lab in their Battle for the Best Disposable Diapers.

Do you use disposable diapers or cloth? And if so, which ones and why? ^_^

10 Things I Learned in 10 Weeks of Motherhood

22 Nov

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My beautiful baby Tessa turned 10 weeks old on Tuesday! I really, truly, have no idea how time has passed so quickly. How did time creep by so slowly when she was in my tummy and I was anxiously awaiting her… and now 10 weeks have passed in the blink of an eye? You need proof that time is relative? Get a baby in your arms and watch seconds melt into weeks.

Being a mommy is everything I’d dreamt it would be, and more. The only thing lacking from my visions of mommyhood?

I don’t feel like crap. I feel great.

Hearing the horror stories and warnings in pregnancy and mothering books had got me all prepped for sleepless nights and a dirty house and stress and loss of freedom and no more home cooked meals and no more showers and so on and so on.

Yes, I’ve been tired. Yes, I did get a few weeks of the baby blues (which I mostly took out on my husband… sorry honey!) And yes, I’ve gotten a little overwhelmed with mounting chores and housework, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t cave and order a pizza now and then and I do now shower like I’m in some kind of speed bathing competition in case the baby wakes. But it’s not “bad” or “hard”. At least not hard in the conventional sense.

As I reread the warnings and cautions found in basic “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” type books, I think I’m starting to see a couple of areas where some new mommies sometimes go “wrong”, in my opinion. As my husband likes to say, “Opinions are like a$$holes, everyone’s got one and they all stink.” So if you think I’m way off track, you might be right, who knows? I’m just speaking from my own experience. I know I’m a new mother, and I’m very new to all of this, but my 10 weeks with Tessa have made me realize what works best for me as a mom.

Maybe I have an amazing, easygoing, textbook perfect baby. Or maybe I’m on to something. Maybe it’s a little bit of both? (Probably.) But regardless, I’d like to share with any other mommies out there the ten things I’ve learned that has helped me in my first ten weeks as a mommy:

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This article needed an imagery break. So I present to you: The many faces of baby Tessa!

1. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers.

This is probably going to piss some people off when I say this, but I firmly believe that the widespread insistence that having children means you automatically inherit a messy house and a lack of home cooked meals is just an excuse for laziness. Now I understand that once a child (or two, or three, or four) are walking and getting into everything and being tiny little maniacs, order and cleanliness get hard. And I think “clean” clutter and mayhem in an environment can be HEALTHY and in some cases NECESSARY for a child. I plan on having my home being a delightful jumble of homeschool projects splattered all over the place.

But I think too many people propagate the myth that having children means there must therefore be a departure from domestic duties. In other words, too many women nowadays are using their children as an excuse for their slovenliness, in my opinion. And to excuse their messy house and chronic fast food meals, they ferociously stand by the ideal that children are to blame and “it will happen to you too”.

Maybe I’m just blessed to know a lot of awesome moms who can raise happy healthy kids AND cook and clean too (and teach their children to join in the housework!) or maybe I’m just stubborn, but I refused to believe this from the start. Entering motherhood with the attitude that I can be a mommy and maintain a house as part of my daily duties has helped enable me to do so. So when the going gets tough, I don’t just cop out. And I’ve spent every day since Tessa’s birth sticking by my duties as a stay at home housewife with an “I can do this” attitude.

Yeah, it’s somewhat harder to accomplish housework and social obligations and recreational time with a baby, and I’m sure it’ll be much harder when she’s toddling around and eventually running all over the place. To get chores done or run errands or even meet with friends I have to plan my day now, and work around her naps or carry her in the ring sling while I work and play. But maintaining the house and living my life while still giving Tessa my all as a mother is do-able. And if it’s ever not, this brings me to the second thing I’ve learned…

2. Take all the help you can get.

When I came home from the hospital, my in-laws were visiting from Washington State. When the dog needed walking, or a prescription for that sweet, sweet miracle of Tylenol-3 needed picking up or if mommy needed a nap, the in-laws would walk the dog, pick up the prescription or watch Tessa. My husband made a point (and still does) of taking care of as many dirty diapers and bottle feedings as he can when he’s home, to give me a break.

After the in-laws left, my parents came to visit, and the baby watching and chore helping happened all over again. As a result, I was one of the most well-rested, bright-eyed new mommies you’ve probably ever seen. I’d have had a spring in my step right out of the hospital if it weren’t for that damn perineal tear. Whenever people were amazed I was “so awake” or “out and about so early”, I thought I was just one tough cookie. A champ if you will.

Then the in-laws and parents went home and Jonathan’s paternity leave went away and he went back to work, and I realized, HOLY CRAP caring for an infant solo is no walk in the park! While I CAN take care of Tessa alone, it is far better for myself and by extension far better for her if I take all the help I can get.

So I’ve made a point of swallowing my pride (like a little kid trying to assert her independence, I still have a tendency to shout, “I can do all by self!” and try to take the reins on… well… everything) and now I ask for help when I need it. While I am lucky to have family and a husband that can and want to be involved in carrying the blessed and beautiful burden of raising a baby girl, I am convinced that if ever I can’t turn to them for help, I will – for my sake and for my daughters – find a network of people who can.

Most churches have mommy’s night out daycare nights. There are tons of friendly mom groups out and about in the community – from Crunchy Moms to Military Moms to Christian Moms – that are an amazing resource for babysitting co-ops, housework swapping or simply available as a shoulder to cry on. Not to mention lots of babysitters aren’t opposed to an extra few bucks for doing housework.

Just don’t be afraid to ask for a hand. I would not think being a mommy was such a walk in the park if I’d had to go through the baby blues alone.

3. Know what kind of a mother you want to be.

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Any business, corporation, heck even student clubs in elementary school campuses have a mission statement. It you know what kind of a mother you want to be, and what you expect to accomplish by your children, it will steer you in the right direction when the waters get choppy. I am convinced that clarity of vision and focus will get you through the darkest of hours.

I wrote a Mission Statement on Motherhood last Mothers Day, when Tessa was still just a wiggle in my belly. Jonathan and I were in Washington State visiting his parents before he left for Navy Boot Camp, and we were staying at a cabin in the gorgeous Olympic Peninsula. Surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of God’s creation (and the location of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, haha) I spent a weekend just pondering what being a mother meant to me. And then I put it down in writing.

By charting out my course beforehand, I don’t feel so overwhelmed now. I don’t suffer the nagging doubt that I’ve heard so many fellow moms confess to: Doubt in their ability to be a good mom. Fears that their children won’t love them. Fears that they’ll “mess up” their upbringing or won’t be good enough.

When I look at my “Motherhood Mission Statement” I know that as long as I stay true to those principals, as long as I give my all in those areas and commit to staying true to my ideals, I will be the best mother that I can be. Even when I’ve fumbled in areas, I have no regrets over the past 10 weeks because I have kept my eye on my goals as a mother and have given Tessa my 110%.

I am convinced that more moms wouldn’t feel so lost or confused or doubtful if they simply determined beforehand what kind of mother they will daily strive to be.

4. Know that you are an imperfect person.

While we strive for perfection as mothers, the simple fact is, there are no perfect people on this planet. (Well, there was this one guy, once…)

Having a Motherhood Mission Statement is vital, but we must also realize that there is no such thing as a Supermom. We can’t do it all. And sometimes, even when we have the help of friends and family, it’s still not enough to feel “on top of it all”. And that’s okay. You are not perfect.

That doesn’t mean that you are valueless. You are loved by God. You are unique and you are indispensable to your child. But knowing that you aren’t perfect and that you can never be perfect gives you the freedom to try your best and accept grace when your best doesn’t seem to be enough.

The thing is, you WILL fall down as a parent. You WILL drop the ball and make some mistakes. But you just need to get back up and keep trying. Because your baby is worth it and your all is all that she needs.

Resting firmly in the knowledge of that fact makes my “failures” seem like learning curves and not an assault on my qualifications for motherhood. God gave me this child for a reason, and as long as I keep trying and keep moving forward (to quote that amazing Disney motto in Meet the Robinsons) I will do right by her when I give her back to God. So when I am too busy to water the plants or take the trash out, or so tired I change the litter box but put the lid on wrong so that the cats end up pooping all over the floor (sigh), it’s not a huge issue. I’ll plan better next time and I’ll do this next little thing I’ve learned…

5. Laugh at everything.

Laughter really is good medicine. When you’ve got a tiny little human on your hands, nothing is in your control anymore. Things are gonna get pooped on, peed on, spit up on.

So just laugh! Here are some benefits of laughter that I totally didn’t just steal from this website:

Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.

Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.

Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

So laugh! But even better than laughter…

6. Give everything to God.

Pray about every little thing. The good, the bad, the funky. I started praying for Tessa when she still in the womb (and before she was even conceived, truth be told) and I blogged earlier about Praying Through Your Pregnancy. While it’s important to cover your child in prayer, the benefits for you are impossible to exaggerate.

Can you think of any greater honor than to have an audience with the One who rules over ALL creation? We have been invited to talk with the one who put the stars in place. We are invited to seek counsel from the One who is truth and wisdom. We are invited to sit down with the One who knows all things.

And prayer makes a difference! Circumstances change when people pray. Diseases are sometimes healed, strength is imparted, guidance is given, hearts are softened, needs are met. I know that when I pray for others it helps them. But I also know that when I pray, I am changed. Into a better person, a better wife and a better mother to my little Tessa.

7. Don’t stop doing what makes you happy.

This was a BIG point that Jonathan and I heard a lot when we found out we were expecting. “You won’t be able to cosplay anymore once you have children.” “Eat up now while you can, you won’t be cooking anymore gourmet meals with a baby.” “Your poor cats, you won’t have time to play with them once Tessa is born.”

I will admit, I actually feared that these statements would be true. Like some inexplicable and irreversible virus in a zombie apocalypse flick, I feared that the infection of becoming a mother would render me hobby-less and passion-less for my personal pursuits, completely outside of my will. It was the thought of losing myself that scared me the most.

Because while my baby girl is my little baby world, I am not my child. If I find my identity in her and her alone, I am not living my life the way God intended. While my priorities have undoubtedly changed, I still think it is important – if not vital – to pursue you personal interests. From personal observation, the healthiest and most emotionally adjusted mothers I know take time to pursue interests, foster friendships, and make time for the things in their lives that bring them joy – both with and without their kids. So Jonathan and I are both making a point of taking time for the things we liked to do as a couple before we became three.

Again, it’s harder to, say, try out that new recipe in my New Orleans cookbook with a baby in tow, but it’s not impossible. It brings me joy, therefore I will make time for it and plan for it, even if it means hours of prep time between naps and feedings.

Just don’t lose yourself. Keep growing and cultivating who you are.

8. Don’t neglect your marriage.

Your baby needs two loving, devoted, madly and passionately in love parents. So flirt like a sexually frustrated pubescent teenager and indulge in some cheese-ball level romantics with your honey.

Find time for intimacy, in any and every way. After Tessa made her grand debut via vaginal birth, I couldn’t have The Sex for about 6 weeks post-partum, so Jonathan and I made a point of giving each other massages, making our own aromatherapy massage oil concoctions. (I don’t know what was sexier, playing mad scientist with tiny vials of smell pretties with my husband, or massages by the fireplace.)

While we aren’t alone anymore, we’re making a point of becoming closer than ever. We take our baby into the tub with us and have long talks about our hopes and dreams for her future. We watch Muppets Tonight reruns while hugging her between us. Just gazing down at a sleeping Tessa is one of the most romantic things we’ve ever done.

Keep the romance going. Your husband will be the one still by your side when your little baby is off making babies of her own someday.

9. Don’t neglect your friends.

In the same vein of people warning that we “won’t have time to pursue hobbies anymore”, we didn’t want to be the couple that neglected our friends once we had kids. We’re lucky because a combination of Jonathan working constantly and us being a country away from our friends and family has made it easy to neglect our friends out of necessity and not out of baby induced negligence. Haha!

But we have made a point to socialize with our little tot in tow. We attend community events from art walks, to book signings to anime conventions. We meet up with new friend at movie releases and church events.

No man is an island, and no family should be either. Get in the habit of fostering active friendships and maintaining relationships with loved ones. I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s good for you emotionally and what’s good for you, makes you a better mother. (Plus, you’ve got a really frikkin’ cute baby to show off!)

10. Take time for yourself.

Last but not least, take time for yourself. When the baby is sleeping, give yourself a foot soak. Read a book. Watch some anime. Write a blog post. Go on a hike. Take a nap. But don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Your baby needs a healthy mommy. So make sure you meet your own needs. When you are well-rested you can enjoy every minute with your baby that much more!

WELL! Those are the ten things I’ve learned these past ten weeks. I think these points really are the “secret formula” to healthy and happy parenting. I’m sure I’m overlooking some other vital points. So help me out. What have YOU learned as mother? Let me know, I’d love to share trade secrets! ^_^

DIY All-Natural Baby Body Wash

16 Nov

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This recipe is so easy I don’t even know if it warrants a blog post. But post I shall, because when I was a 15 weeks pregnant first time mommy browsing the aisles of my local Babies R Us to make a grand wish list of junk my baby may or may not need, I had no clue what to do come bath time.

I had bought into the illusion that to keep my child sparkly clean, I needed to buy the piles of baby bath products lining the shelf of the baby bathroom aisle. Since every single bath product (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, etc.) was on the new baby “essentials” checklist the store handed out, I assumed, naturally, that I would be using all of these products on my newborn the moment she popped out of me. If I didn’t, I’d be a bad mother with a dirty baby. Right???!

With the help of wonderful crunchy momma friends (thanks Bree!) and gleaning info from the interwebs on the science behind baby skin and the way it all works, I finally have this whole bath time thing (mostly) sorted out.

Using the giant pile of “recommended” products on your baby isn’t natural or healthy at all. Especially not the majority of products out there. I didn’t discover all of this until around the month Tessa was born. I didn’t even think to question the current status quo of baby bath routines till I discovered the Johnson and Johnson baby products scandal, which I wrote about earlier in my DIY Baby Wipes article.

Basically, it was discovered not too long ago that Johnson & Johnson’s iconic baby shampoo contains the formaldehyde-releasing preservative quaternium-15, as well as the chemical byproduct 1,4-dioxane. Formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane are known carcinogens. They’re even freaking listed on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services list of known human carcinogens NOT to be used in cosmetic products. And here we are, slathering this toxic junk on our newborns skin. W.T.F?!

Baby skin is like a sponge. It soaks up EVERYTHING. That’s why you can’t even put sunscreen on an infant. The SAFE chemicals in sunscreen will get soaked up into a newborns skin and literally POISON the newborn with an overload of chemicals that would just safely sit on top of an adults skin.

So all of that said, the fact is, the best way to care for your baby’s skin is to keep it away from products – even “natural” ones, for the most part. A newborns system has to work extremely hard to remove toxins from the bloodstream, so the less you use on your baby’s skin, the better. God has designed our little munchkins so magnificently – they have naturally protective oils in their skin that are better not washed off.

BUT! Every once in awhile, if baby is getting really grimy, you CAN use extremely gentle natural cleansing solutions on your baby to help clean off and sanitize the gunk that can gather in those beautiful chunky baby skin folds.

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Here’s the utra-simple recipe I use for our DIY All-Natural Baby Body Wash:

1 cup of warm water

2 tablespoons Castile soap

1 vitamin e capsule

Castile soap is made by a process called saponification, a process in which an alkali is added to oil. This is how soap had been made for centuries until the recent proliferation of synthetic surfactants, which consist of potentially toxic chemicals. *cough*Johnson and Johnson*cough*

Castile soap made by saponification is safe because none of the unreacted alkali remains in the soap. And since the soap is made with gentle natural oils, like olive oil, it is one of the gentlest cleansing agents you can use on your baby. Used sparingly, the soap will cleanse without drying or irritating delicate baby skin, and what is absorbed into your little ones skin won’t pose a threat to her delicate little system. Just be careful with your baby’s eyes because saponified soap is not tear-free – only baby shampoo made synthetically can be tear-free.

Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant found in many plant and animal based foods. Vitamin E oil closely mimics the natural oils found in your babies skin, and is one of the few natural oils that are safe for direct use on newborns. The tiny amount added to the baby wash serves as a moisturizer and a preservative for your little squirt bottle of baby wash.

And there you have it! I use this stuff sparingly on Tessa, and only when she gets milk getting all grody in her neck folds. Or if she has a particularly explosive diaper. But we try not to use it all the time – and only sparingly when we do use it. For instance, the last two baths were just plain ol’ warm water baths with a wash cloth to gentle wipe away any sticky milk grime.

If your baby appears to be suffering from dry skin, cut back on the frequency of bath times and use a gentle, safe, natural moisturizer like a DIY All-Natural Diaper Rash Cream to spot treat dry patches.

And voila! Bath time with baby, made simple and fun! I am so lucky that my little Tessa loves bath time so much. She giggles, and splashes, and laughs, and watches the water droplets with such wonder in her eyes. It is such a fun bonding time for Jonathan and I as a new little family. I am going to forever treasure our bath times with baby!

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Lord of the Rings Artwork from Exile Into Imagination

14 Nov

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So the annoying skin tag on my finger from me stabbing myself with a screwdriver whilst hanging up some art FINALLY fell off. Then I thought – I didn’t tell my blogging friends all about our newest wall art! So… SHOW AND TELL TIME!!! Wheeeeee!!! *runs around in circles*

When we were at FANdom Con here in Pensacola, Florida a few weeks ago we gave in and bought a sketch of Gollum printed out over Lord of the Rings sheet music from Exile Into Imagination. No, it’s not original artwork. Yes, it’s just a copy. No, it’s not autographed. But we just couldn’t help ourselves. Lord of the Rings is just SO underrepresented in our home!

Jonathan and I have a huge autographed wall art collection. I mean HUGE. A combination of our mutual desire to collect rarities – and our love of conventions where autographs from nerdy idols abound – has resulted in our literally having too many framed art pieces to fit our walls. Most of our collection is sitting in storage back in California collecting dust till we can have a place with enough wall space to display them without it looking jumbled and tacky.

While I am an anime / sci-fi / fantasy / video game / pop culture nerd, I’m also a sucker for order and interior design. I try to walk that fine line between fine art display and nerdy man cave exploding on the walls.

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Just a sampling of some of our framed artwork:

Autographed Chris McGrath Dresden Files cover art, autographed Star Wars poster, autographed Hatsune Miku Vocaloid poster, autographed Captain EO poster, autographed Tron: Legacy limited edition art, autographed limited edition Brian Froud Labyrinth concept art, limited edition Blizzard World of Warcraft art, autographed MST3K poster, autographed original Mickey Mouse drawing from Disney animation, autographed Firefly artwork, autographed Rurouni Kenshin art from Nobuhiro Watsuki… so on and so on and so on…

Because of our growing pile of autographed swag, we’ve decided to limit our artwork purchases to only original and extremely rare pieces of art.

For instance, one of the last art purchases we made were some original hand drawn Fruits Basket artwork and painted backdrops from the original FUNimation anime. Whenever you see the Sohma kitchen scenes.. yeah, I OWN the kitchen. It’s hung up in my dining room. (This is seriously my most prized possession, wall-wise.)

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So while we’ve laid down the “no more prints, copies, or unoriginal art purchases” rule, we caved when it came to Gollum leering out at us from sheet music. How could we say no?! Now we just need to get it autographed by Andy Serkis (voice of Gollum) the next time he’s stateside for San Diego Comic Con.

Okay, that’s it for show and tell. Gonna go drown myself in some more coffee. Seriously guys, I have a problem. I need a coffee intervention or something….