Monday, December 30, 2013

Tired of Feeling Exhausted

Why am I always tired?

How can I sleep all night, and wake up feeling even more sleepy than when I went to bed?

I feel like I could fall asleep standing up, and I’m short tempered – I never used to be this way. What happened?

Man tired at his desk


If you’ve asked yourself these questions, you don’t need a diagram for the symptoms of exhaustion – you are living it. Heck, as a society, we’re so fatigued, there is even an art display dedicated to it. That sluggish feeling first thing in the morning that never quite fades away by midday. That mid-afternoon slump that keeps you chained to your office chair until the last few minutes of the workday. Then you trudge home, between fighting rush hour traffic, running to the gym, ferrying kids to after-school activities, and fitting dinner somewhere in the mix. Finally, finally, you squeeze in a few minutes sitting down, maybe to watch television, read a book, help someone with his or her homework. You feel like you’ve been permanently attached to the chair, and even the effort of falling into bed seems a bit too much to ask.

If you’ve felt/feel that way, you can probably remember back to a time when you weren’t always this tired. When the time you went to bed and the time you got up were mutually exclusive, and they never affected how much you got done in a day. When having an activity-packed weekend meant only more fun, less stress, and plenty of energy.

What the heck happened? How did you get to this place of chronic exhaustion? And how do you get out of it?

The first place to start is to examine your sleep patterns and how many hours of actual sleep you are getting each night. Mind you, this doesn’t include the minutes (or hours, in my case) you spend in bed reading, watching television, or otherwise occupied doing things other than sleep.  Sleep hours should be measured by when you actually fall asleep to when you wake up to face your day.

How much sleep is critical for you? The average adult needs 7-9 hours, but since we are all a little bit different, you should find your own sleep requirements. How? This can best be determined over a time period when you can go to sleep when you want to, and get up in the morning without the worry of an alarm. Often, it is easiest to do this over a vacation. Allow yourself the first three to four days to regulate, then look at days five through seven to see how long you slept. You want to evaluate this without the overconsumption of alcohol, and during a time when you can stay in bed until you are ready to get up for the day.  Your sleeping average over those last three days should give you a ballpark for how much sleep you typically need. (If you prefer a bit more precise monitor for your sleep, check out an app like MotionX or the relatively inexpensive tool Fitbit, which monitors your sleep.)

Woman sleeping

Keep in mind, your need for sleep can alter based on your health (do you feel a cold coming on? Are your allergies at an all-time high? Are you pregnant or healing from an injury?), your stress levels (divorce, new job, intense course load at school), and your overall well-being. Depression can lend itself to causing people to sleep more, but so can family distress, financial irritations, and even good things like unexpected surprises. They use additional energy, which means the body needs to recuperate a bit more when you sleep.

If you are finding it hard to get more sleep given an already hectic schedule, here’s some tips to help:
  • Go to bed at the same time every night, if at all possible. The human body craves patterns, and a consistent sleep schedule helps.
  • If you have small children, go to bed around the same time that they do, so you are ready to arise around the same time.
  • If you are a shift-worker, keep your sleep schedule as consistent as possible; if necessary, add in naps, but again, keep it regular and around the same time.
  • Remove distractions before bed: turn off the television, stick with soft, yellow light, avoid in-depth reading and conversation. This helps the mind wind down, along with the body.
  • Create a dark room for sleeping. Remove or completely cover electronic devices that emit light, cover your windows with light-blocking curtains, and apply a removable strip around the door if light seeps through. The blacker the room, the deeper and more rejuvenating the sleep. 

Lastly, but perhaps most important: sleep is primary to self-care. It ranks higher than even healthy eating (though that matters, too!) So make it a priority in your life, and you’ll see results within a few weeks that will amaze you.  You’ll feel more energized, your outlook on life will be more positive, and your temperament will improve. It won’t happen in one night, but with several focused weeks on obtaining the proper amount of sleep, you’ll feel like a new person, and ready to face whatever challenges you are faced with.

In my next post, we’ll talk about ways to alleviate exhaustion by de-stressing and creating peace, even in a hectic life.

What sleep challenges are you dealing with? What difficulties have you overcome? What has been your best tool for getting more sleep?

Contributing Writer

Friday, December 27, 2013

Hop on Over to Healthy Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are considered a nutritionally dense food, surprisingly rich in macronutrients and micronutrients. It’s also highly digestible, which makes it a popular way to help those with malnourishment to recover quickly.  Its mineral content helps vegetarians get what they may not be getting from other sources. Even if you’re not malnourished or a vegetarian, hemp seeds are worth a second look, not only for their super-healthy benefits but also because it is a tasty addition to many recipes.


What hempseed’s not


Hempseed is not marijuana.  Yes, hemp seeds grow on the Cannabis sativa plant, and hemp plants to look similar to pot plants, but you can consume hemp seeds until the cows come home and you won’t get a buzz from the seeds no matter how hard you try, as the seeds contain very little of the psychoactive THC – the element in marijuana that makes you high.

Hemp seeds


What hempseed's got


Hemp’s nutrient-packed seeds contain no sodium, no cholesterol, and a scant 170 calories. But hemp seeds have plenty of good things. Three tablespoons of raw, shelled hemp seeds contain:
  • Ten grams of omega-3 and omega-6 fats – more essential fatty acids than even fish, flaxseed, or nut oils – and it’s in the ideal 3:1 ratio
  • More than 20 percent of the adult daily recommended allowance for iron, thiamin, and zinc
  • More than 40 percent of the daily requirement of phosphorus and magnesium
  • A whopping 110 percent of the daily requirements of manganese
  • Ten grams of complete protein – including all eight essential amino acids
If you are on a low-carb diet, no problem: hemp has only 3 grams of carbohydrates per serving (with net carbs being closer to zero, since you are also getting 3 grams of fiber).


Health benefits of hemp seeds


Because of hemp’s mega-dose of fatty acids, they are a value resource in preventing depression, reducing the risk of heart disease, and keeping osteoporosis at bay. Athletes appreciate hemp seeds for its ability to relax muscles and reduce joint pain and post-workout inflammation.  Others value hemp seeds for hormone balancing, for skin and hair health, and its potential to prevent memory loss.


How to buy hemp seeds


The three most common ways of adding hemp seeds to your diet is in the form of hempseed oil, hemp milk, or shelled hemp seeds. The latter is the least processed and will have the most vital nutrients intact. Things to look for when selecting hemp seeds:
  • Raw – Raw hempseeds contain more phytonutrients
  • Non-GMO – i.e. not genetically modified
  • Shelled – By shelling the hempseed, what you are left with is it center, which is where most of its nutrients are
You can find raw hempseed in your local health food store.  Even some of the big-box stores now sell hemp seeds. And if you have access to neither of those locally, no problem: many reliable web sites sell raw organic hemp seeds.


How to add hemp to your diet


You can find full recipes for hemp seeds below, but adding them to your diet is remarkably easy, thanks to their pleasant, mild flavor and texture:
  • Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of hemp seeds on your salad. You will find the texture and taste somewhat similar to pine nuts.
  • Add some to your morning granola. It blends in nicely, enhancing the texture.
  • Mix hemp seeds into your yogurt. Its mild flavor and slightly crunchy texture are a perfect addition.
  • Mix a tablespoon or two of hemp seeds into your fruit smoothie.  After blending, the seeds act as a thickener, while adding almost no discernible flavor difference.
  • Add a few tablespoons to any bowl of soup to make it slightly thicker and much more healthy.
After you have opened your package of hemp seeds, make sure to refrigerate the remainder to keep it fresh.


Hemp seed recipes


Food preparation with hemp seeds is fun and flexible, worthy of use in any meal:
If you’ve experimented with hemp seeds in your diet, tell us about it using the comment field below. 
 

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer



Thursday, December 26, 2013

Five Tips to Staying Fit Over the Holidays

The best gift you can give yourself during the holiday season is keeping on target with your health goals, such as weight management or physical fitness.  Temptations abound when friends, family, and co-workers gather for holiday feasts.  Fitting in a regular health routine, such as running, walking, gym time, or yoga sessions, gets hard when your life routines are put on a back burner in exchange for time off, vacations, and travel. These 5 holiday fitness tips can help you enjoy the celebrations with less post-holiday regret.

Santa doing yoga


Tip #1 – Make smart dietary choices


We’ve assembled a collection of tips on how to celebrate this season without adding a layer of lard to your midsection.  Navigate those “treacherous six weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year,” as the the National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCFS) describes it, with holiday dieting tips at Tis the Season to Eat Healthy.


Tip #2 – Take what you can get


You may not have that regular block of time that you normally reserve for your daily bike ride, walk, or other exercise.  But remember, any movement is better than none;
  • Even if you only have five minutes to get physical, you can make those five minutes count by using the Tabata technique for fast fat burning. 
  • Ate too much to do a hard, albeit short, workout?  Then at least take standup breaks every 20 to 30 minutes to protect your heart and reduce fat buildup.  Learn more in our articles Is Sitting Bad for Your Health? and Make a Motion–Daily!
  • At the mall for some Christmas shopping? Keep in mind that walking up the stairs takes about the same amount of time as standing on the escalator, and less time than a slow elevator, yet burns a whole lot more calories.


Tip #3 – Make new places an adventure


When away from home for a holiday visit, it’s easy to forego your regular exercise.  This is when your imagination can make all the difference.  Before you leave home, plan out new places to go for your workout:
  • If you enjoy trails, simply google “trails near Phoenix,” or whatever city you’ll be visiting, and you’ll find many sites to guide you into new territory.
  • Or do a bit of online research to find a gym in your destination town that can substitute for hometown fitness center. 
  • If you enjoy biking but came in on a plane without yours, ask to borrow one from a relative or your relatives’ friends or neighbors.
  • For a real adventure, check to see if there are any holiday season meetups related to your preferred form of exercise.  Many towns have running groups, bike clubs, or ultimate Frisbee gatherings where you can workout and make new friends. 
To make sure these away-workouts happen, make a written plan of where you are going during your trip and when.  Also, talk with your relatives about your plans so they have a chance to not double-book your workout with a family event. 

Family walking in the snow


Tip #4 – Make inclement weather an opportunity


If you know you’ll be traveling for the holidays to a place with lots of rain or snow, plan for it rather than shy away from it.  Little known fact: humans are mostly waterproof.  Just take the right kind of outerwear to manage your body temperature, and you can take a jog or walk in just about any weather.  Just remember to play it safe; if weather will limit visibility, wear safety reflective gear or a clip-on LED flasher to make yourself more visible to others.


Tip #5 – Invite relatives


If those whom you’re visiting might be offended if you’re going off and doing your own thing to stay fit during the holiday visit, then don’t do it alone; invite them to join you!
  • Going for a walk?  Invite everyone and make it a post-feast stroll to burn calories and encourage talk.
  • Start a family holiday tradition with an organized sport, such as touch football, disc golf, or even a rousing round of ultimate Frisbee.  Even if some of your relatives are not up to the challenge of participating, they can get in on the fun by refereeing or cheering on from the sidelines – both of which are much healthier for them than zoning out in front of the television.
The fact is that most adults gain an average of a pound a year – which can add up over a decade or two – and most of that weight gain occurs while you’re celebrating during the November/December holidays.  But heed these five holiday fitness tips and you can win the battle of the bulge this holiday.


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer


Monday, December 23, 2013

Making Healthy Changes for 2014

About this time of year, we’re faced with two seemingly opposing tasks: Making delicious feasts for our loved ones, and pondering New Year’s resolutions, in which we will improve our health and eat better. So while we’re elbow-deep in shortening-laden creations and butter-and-cream rich recipes, we shake our heads in defeat, convinced we can’t do anything about our health goals until the new year.

Tea with honey

It rarely occurs to us that we can start our efforts in the middle of these festive seasons – after all, isn’t this the time when endless cookies, pies, and cakes abound? How could you possibly attempt to improve your health as you race between holiday parties, school plays, and family obligations? In truth, because any lasting change to and for our health comes in small adjustments. If you are counting on the first of the year to be your catalyst for change, I encourage you to nix that thinking, and start now! Focus on the small changes and adapt your life gradually, and you’ll discover that permanent changes are possible and easy.

Make small substitutions. Rather than attempt an all-out kitchen cupboard makeover while baking snickerdoodles, start with the little things: pick up some local honey at the farmer’s market, and use that for your tea. Substitute real butter for cheap shortening. Ever tried coconut sugar? It makes an excellent replacement for brown sugar.

One thing at a time. Often, when we want change, we want it all at once. Downside: we push things hard and fast, and then we burn out our focus and excitement. If your kids love to eat fast food, this isn’t the time to make radical rules. Instead, suggest grabbing a meal at a local burrito restaurant, where they make them by hand (like Chipotle or Moe’s) instead of Taco Bell. Do you have kids that love chips and dip? How about making some homemade salsa and picking up some organic corn chips? And if you love a good cookie, crowd around the kitchen and make them from scratch, rather than buying premade logs in the refrigerated section.

Don’t step too far off the beaten path. So you tried kohlrabi tarts, and no one liked them? You might want to stick to tried and true favorites, like whole-food based traditional recipes. If you aren’t sure where to start, review recipes online that are focused on whole sources, less-processed ingredients, and add one or two to the regular menu. If you typically make a pumpkin pie for Christmas, try making your dough from scratch rather than buying a pre-made crust. Love turkey for a holiday dish? Visit a local turkey farm and pick out a locally raised bird.

Buy local produce

Involve your family…as they are able. This is your journey, and sometimes your partner or children won’t see it the same way. Let them go. Focus on what you can do, make dishes for everyone to enjoy with little tweaks when possible, and allow others to adjust at their own pace.

Moving towards a healthier lifestyle and feeling better takes time. It won’t all be changed overnight. Set yourself a goal of improving your health in 2014, with a yearlong outlook. It takes at least that long to create a lasting lifestyle change free of stress and guilt.


What small changes have you made already? What changes are you most looking forward to?

Contributing Writer

Friday, December 20, 2013

Celebrate the Holidays on a Budget

It’s that time of year for gift giving and party throwing again. But, your generosity and thoughtfulness need not break the bank this year. With a little creativity and ingenuity, you can have a festive holiday season – on a budget.

Homemade holiday gifts

Why should you utilize money saving ideas at the holidays?


Aside from the fact that spending may create stress and buyers’ remorse in so many individuals by January 1, celebrating on a budget can be beneficial in a number of ways. For example:

  • Giving frugal Christmas gifts encourages creativity.
  • Utilizing money saving ideas demonstrate fiscal responsibility to children.
  • Homemade holiday gifts remind us of the real reason for the season – spending time with family and friends; enjoying good food, music and conversation; and creating wonderful memories for years to come.

How can you celebrate the holidays on a budget?


There are a number of ways you can utilize money saving ideas this holiday season.

1. Food:  The food you’ll serve guests at your holiday parties doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. In fact, most party guests claims they enjoy munching on finger foods throughout the evening over a formal sit-down dinner. A few things to keep in mind:
  • Keep your food choices simple, and be sure to include some healthy options, too.
  • Dress up the platters or trays with inexpensive decorative plates, trays and plastic wrap for a bit of festive fun.
  • Food items can serve a dual purpose at the holidays. In addition to serving food to your guests at parties, food items make great gifts, too. Check out this recipe for delicious chocolate bark: http://www.frugallivingnw.com/frugal-homemaking/homemade-chocolate-bark-great-gift-idea/
2. Decorations:  Items from nature, such as tree and evergreen branches, acorns and holly make great additions to your home decor during the holiday season. Create a classic, inexpensive statement for your front porch by adorning an old sled with ice skates, mittens and holly branches for an inexpensive festive look.

3. Gifts:  Handmade gifts make thoughtful presents from your heart. A framed photograph of a special pet, a childhood memory or a recent experience will remind the recipient of your thoughtfulness throughout the year. Other handmade gifts ideas include: art work, food gifts and services such as baby/pet sitting services, car detailing or another specialty of yours.

Knit scarf as holiday gift

Additional homemade holiday gift ideas:


  • Love to knit? Whip up an assortment of scarves throughout the year in a variety of styles and colors. Give a scarf to each person on your gift list, making that your signature gift of the year.
  • Have a great recipe for gourmet popcorn? Make a batch, divide it into decorative tins and you’ve got a treat anyone on your list will enjoy receiving.
  • Does hot chocolate signify the holidays for you? Buy an assortment of mugs, fill them with hot cocoa packets and marshmallows and you have a simple homemade Christmas gift for everyone on your list. They’ll remember you throughout the year as they continue to use the mug.

The holidays are meant to be a fun, festive time of the year to spend with family and friends. By incorporating some ideas for frugal living, you can accomplish celebrating on a budget this year. Enjoy!

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December is National Safe Toys and Gifts Month

The number of toy recalls in the U.S. continues to drop each year; stronger safety standards ensure hazardous toys never make it to store shelves. But, toy-related injuries are still an ongoing concern. National Safe Toys and Gifts Month is a project led by Prevent Blindness America. Its goal is to help educate toy and gift shoppers about safe options. With the gift-giving season quickly upon us, learn how you can keep your family safely enjoying those new toys and gifts.

Warning choking hazard toy

Toy Safety Facts:


  • Riding toys cause the majority of toy-related deaths each year, including tricycles and non-motorized scooters.
  • Choking is a concern in children younger than 3 years old.
  • Toys that shoot are primarily responsible for eye injuries, even blindness.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates toys in the U.S. Any toy made in or imported to the U.S. after 1995, must comply with the CPSC standards.

General Toy Safety:


  • Buy age appropriate toys and games for children.
  • Never leave children unattended with toys or games.
  • Repair or throw away broken toys.
  • Look for the “ASTM” stamp, which signifies the product meets the American Society For Testing and Materials safety standards.

What should you be cautious of with toys and games?


  • Lead-based paints.
  • Sharp edges that can cut children.
  • Small parts or small balls, which are especially concerning for children under 3 years old.
  • Balloons, which can cause choking or suffocation. Keep balloons away from children under 8 years of age.
  • Scooters and riding toys, including skateboards. Be sure children always wear helmets and safety gear when using riding toys.
  • Magnets, which may be toxic if ingested.
  • Wooden toys, which may cause splinters.

Basket of toys


What are toy and game safety rules?


According to www.kidshealth.org,

  • Fabric toys should be flame resistant or retardant.
  • Check to ensure that stuffed toys are washable.
  • If toys are painted, lead-free paint should be used. 
  • Art supplies and kits should be made with non-toxic materials.
  • Crayons and paints should be evaluated and approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials.

How can you help ensure eye safety?


  • Kids should wear eye protection when playing with toys that could cause eye injury.
  • Children should be taught that toy guns, darts and arrows should never be pointed at anyone.
  • BB guns or pellet rifles should not be given to children under 16 years of age.
  • Remember that chemical residue from toys and games can be dangerous to children’s eyes. Institute a strict hand washing routine in your home.

What else should you know about toy and game safety?


  • Hand-me-down toys and games might seem economical, even sentimental, but they may contain lead-based paint, small parts and other safety hazards. These items may be best if kept on a shelf.
  • Battery chargers and adapters may cause thermal burn hazards. Always have adult supervision when using these items.
  • Be aware of toys that make loud noises, which can contribute to hearing damage and loss.

Where can you find additional information?

Check out www.recalls.gov for a list of toys and gifts that have been recalled for safety reasons.

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holidays Home Alone

For many of us, the holidays represent a time of warmth, family closeness, and delicious foods. Whether it’s the cueing of Christmas music, the arrival of rarely-seen relatives, or the scent of homey favorites baking in the oven, it often engenders joy and excitement for those with healthy family relationships.

Others, though, face a different holiday experience. For those of us with dysfunctional families, close members who have passed on, or perhaps severed connections, the holidays bring reminders of our loss, pain, and scars, and often create havoc in our thoughts and emotions. As someone who has struggled with holidays home alone, I know it can seem overwhelming and frustrating, if not downright unfair.



But there is a way to have your holidays and enjoy them, despite the absence of family ties and holiday blues.

Let go of unrealistic hope. Dr. Martha Beck points out that often it comes down to letting go of our hopes for what our family experience could be, and accept what it is. This may be easier said than done, but there is something to slowing down and considering what your expectations are. Are you being unrealistic? Can you adjust them so you can enjoy what your family members have to offer? Sometimes we ask more of people than they are capable of giving, whether because of their own hurtful past or the limits of their personality. Being able to understand and accept them is the first step to receiving that for ourselves.

Have a conversation. There are times when we've wrapped ourselves up in our irritation, and we forget that we haven't actually talked to the person (or people) who have our ire up and our hearts torn. Filmmaker Betsy Chasse suggests using “I” statements over “you” statements, and keeping the conversation as gentle as possible. Be receptive to their viewpoints and concerns, and if possible, see if you can come to a compromise or understanding. If you are able to build a tenuous new bridge, that’s fantastic! If you do not make any progress, take heart: at least you made the effort. From this point on, you may have to make some tough decisions, but you'll be doing so with a fuller understanding of the situation, and the knowledge that you've done everything you could.

Embrace what can be. Create your own traditions. While there is something lovely about the Hallmark-channel holiday movies, they aren't reality. Many of us have difficult family situations that will never yield a pleasant meal. There’s no requirement to hang out with your relatives. So give up on the Hollywood ending, and create your own tradition. For me, this meant discovering my main love of the holidays (sparkling lights, classic holiday music, hustle and bustle) and using that to create my new focus around the holidays. My best friend and I do our “Christmas Light Car Hike,” I venture into Manhattan on Christmas Eve to revel in the celebration, and I spend the holiday with friends more often than family, and it’s wonderful.

As difficult as it may be, our joy during the holiday season is subject to our ability to embrace it. Whether you are newly struggling with family dysfunction, or an old hand at handling holidays on your own, know that you aren't alone. There are local groups where you might join and find support, as well as online assistance. You might volunteer or join in with another friend’s family. No matter what you choose to do, you have the power to make the holidays your own – sometimes it’s hard to make the first step. But once you do, you'll be amazed at the wonder and cheer available to you around this special time of year.

What alternate holiday traditions have you created in your own family? How have they changed or shifted as years have passed? I look forward to reading your responses!

Contributing Writer


Friday, December 13, 2013

Hidden Household Hazards Part 2

In my last post, I outlined some of the hazards lurking in your home, threatening the safety of you and your family. Read on for specific rooms and the potential toxins that may exist there.

Kitchen


It can be one of the most hazardous rooms in the house, with concerns ranging from faulty electrical wiring to cooking equipment, the leading cause of reported home fires and home fire injuries in the U.S., according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Yet, experts warn caution in the kitchen shouldn't stop with just cooking.

Burners on stove

Did you know that using a gas stove may cause the air quality in the kitchen to be three times worse than that of an outdoor urban environment? According to the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, gas stoves in general produce higher levels of gaseous emissions, such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. But, before you consider switching from gas to electric, take heed. There are some simple fixes for this hidden hazard:

  • Use the back burners of a gas stove
  • Turn the exhaust fan on to the highest setting possible when using a gas stove
  • Both of these steps will cut down on air pollution in your kitchen

For fire prevention and safety tips for the entire house, visit www.usfa.fema.gov.

Additional kitchen hazards:

  • Moldy food and bread dough: While you might assume Fido’s stomach is made of steel, exposure to moldy food can be toxic to your family’s four-legged friend, according to www.vspn.org. The same holds true for bread or cookie dough. In addition, experts suggest that you and your family should not consume uncooked dough of any type either. Dough can expand once ingested, which may result in respiratory and vascular complications.
  • Oven cleaner: Use of this cleaner may be irritating to skin and eyes, and it’s poisonous if swallowed.
  • The remedy: Always use in a well-ventilated room and wear gloves, protective clothing and goggles when using.

Bathrooms/Laundry


Both bleach and toilet bowl cleaner can burn skin and eyes and are extremely dangerous if inhaled. But, did you know to be wary of your shower curtain? Specifically, shower curtains made with PVC (vinyl) may contain as many as 108 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a large group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature. When released into the air, these compounds create poor air quality for up to a month after hanging a new curtain, according to a study by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice www.chej.org.

A quick fix for this potential hazard?  Only purchase shower curtains made from cotton, nylon, polyester or even EVA or PEVA plastic.

Blinds

Bedrooms


Believe it or not, some of the worst toxins can lurk in your bedrooms, threatening your family’s health as they sleep.  Here are some of the culprits to beware of:

  • Dry-cleaning fumes on clothes: Reported side effects include dizziness, fatigue, headaches and vision problems. According to an Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry study, high levels of PERC (perchloroethylene, a potentially carcinogenic dry-cleaning agent), was found on some clothes even a week after being cleaned.
  • Solution: If dry-cleaning clothing, always remove the plastic immediately and hang items outside to air out. You may want to consider only purchasing clothing for you and your family that doesn’t require dry-cleaning.
  • Blinds and window coverings: The cords of blinds produced before 2001 can cause entanglement, even strangulation, of children or pets. Vinyl blinds may contain lead, and window coverings may contain dangerous VOCs. In addition, blinds and window offerings offer great hiding spots for allergens, dust mites and mold.
  • Solution: Make sure blinds in your home are produced after 2001 and are lead-free.  Like shower curtains, window coverings should be free of VOCs. Finally, clean those hidden areas often to remove any allergens, dust mites and mold.

Keeping your home and family safe and free of hazards doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  Staying informed and reading labels are the first steps to keeping your home free of hidden hazards.

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Are Your Kids Playing on a Toxic Playground?

Used rubber tires add an estimated 290 million scrap tires every year to a growing national stockpile, according to the EPA.  Where do we store them all?  Since scrap tire stockpiles can create horrible environment hazards (a scrap tire fire can take months to extinguish), many waste sites don’t want them.  We have to do something with all those tires; they are not considered biodegradable, so they won't go away by themselves, and attempting to dispose by burning creates toxic clouds.  So, naturally, who isn’t in favor of good solutions for recycling old tires?

Black and white playground

But is recycling them into “playground mulch” or landscaping mulch the right solution? In spite of bold reassurances from the makers of these popular materials, new data suggests a high likelihood that toxicity in these rubber-tire-based playground and garden products poses potentially serious risks to humans.

Why rubberized mulch is a booming business


There are many reasons why repurposing of old rubber tires – reusing them by processing into something else – is growing in popularity:
  • Their relative permanence as a crumb material means that they don't compact over time the way many natural materials do. In that aspect, they could be said to have an advantage over natural materials when used as a landscaping mulch, playground surface, asphalt additive, or when used in sports fields.
  • Through manufacturing, these rubber mulches can be made to be very attractive, for example constructed to look like real wood mulch or given bright playground colors. The manufacturers have even created ways of removing any unpleasant odors from the material.
  • The manufacturers and distributors of these crumb-sized pieces of rubber tires used in the surfacing products have successfully promoted them as safe for flowers and plants, safe for pets, environmentally friendly, and non-toxic.
With all this going for it, it's no wonder that rubberized mulches have grown in popularity.


Why rubber tire repurposing poses risks


According to the Puyallup Research and Extension Center of Washington State University (WSU), there are several problems with using rubber from repurposed tires, whether in horticultural/landscaping uses or in playground surfaces:
    Swings at a playground
  • Rubber-tire-based mulches have not proven out to be better at controlling weeds than ordinary wood chip mulches.
  • When used as a mulch to help establish turf grass, research shows that the more common straw mulch or fiber mulch works better than rubber mulches.
  • When the scientists compared rubber mulch to a dozen common mulch alternatives, the rubberized mulch introduced the greatest fire risk, and was deemed much more difficult to extinguish if it did catch on fire.
  • In spite of being marketed as a permanent mulch material, it turns out that many bacterial species are capable of degrading rubber.
  • Bucknell University research on car tire rubber* identified numerous risks from its reuse in natural settings, showing that it can create reproductive problems and precancerous lesions and can kill entire aquatic communities of algae, snakes, and fish, most likely because of the rubber tires' high levels of zinc.
  • The zinc in tire rubber can leach into and harm or kill plants when rubberized mulch is used in the surrounding soil, according to USDA research.
  • At least one of the common accelerants used in the tire vulcanization has a propensity to bioaccumulate rather than breakdown over time, presenting health risks to humans and aquatic life.
  • The potential leaching from rubber also includes chemicals used during vulcanizing of the tires that, in high enough concentrations, are known to be a risk to human health, leading to many problems, from eye or skin irritation to major organ damage.
The bottom line, according to the WSU researchers, is that “there is no question that toxic substances leach from rubber as it degrades," and that, because it contains many metal and organic contaminants that have long been confirmed to have negative human health and environmental impacts, rubber tire materials should not be used as a landscaping material, nor used anywhere near aquatic systems.
If you are still in doubt, here are resources to boost your knowledge on the risks of rubber tire reuse risks in playground surfaces or gardening:
While we can all agree that rubber waste from old tires presents significant environmental problems, think twice before attempting to support environmental efforts by using rubber mulch in your garden or on your children's playground area.

Ric Moxley 
Contributing Writer

*Bucknell University. "What Happens To Rubber That Wears Off Auto Tires?." ScienceDaily, 28 Nov. 2002. Web. 31 Oct. 2013.



Monday, December 9, 2013

Just Say No to Holiday Shopping Debt

The time of year has arrived. Where wishes turn into reality as we work to bring our loved ones their dearest hopes and desires. Often, it’s a joy to go holiday shopping, seeking out that one item for someone special or taking our children to shop for their favorite clothing. Sadly, come January, we often read the painful truth that we overspent in our rush to enjoy the season, and we are left with high interest rate credit card bills, lowered savings accounts, and at times, buyer’s remorse.

Holiday presents


Can you buy all the gifts you want to, without overspending? Yes, and no. It often depends on how well we’ve planned our year – and while that’s an easy statement to make, you are in good company if you are shaking your head right now. Try as I might to save money for holiday shopping, I often fall woefully short. So how can we afford holiday expenditures if we haven’t been the best saver all year long?

Sales, sales, sales. As it turns out, going out for Black Friday sales might not be as great a savings as we think. So how can we find that great deal? Check out the local newspaper or online ads for your favorite retailers. This time of year, everyone is running sales. And if you are a coupon-clipping maven, you might even be able to stack up your discounts. Retailers like Kohl’s, Old Navy, and Target run impressive, store-wide sales that can often be combined with coupons that you find on their websites or in the paper. Target also has an app which offers additional discounts to their weekly fliers and department sales. And just about any online retailer offers exceptional discounts and free shipping – so take a look around and see what’s out there.

Think outside the coupon. Remember sites like Groupon, Restaurant.com, and Living Social have cut-rate deals on excellent services and restaurants. And if you can’t afford to get someone special a restaurant gift card, spend less than half as much at Restaurant.com, and you’ll fund their night out with a sweetheart.

Shop local. Every year, I shop at my local farms and downtown art store. For neighbors who’ve been helpful throughout the year, I purchase reasonably priced steaks as a thank-you for the holidays, and the small art store offers locally crafted whimsies at low prices. You might also visit a flea market or farmer’s market, and discover artisanal jams and homemade fruitcake to thrill someone on your gift list.

Buy books. It sounds kind of odd to say, but often we overlook this wonderful source of joyous giving – and encouraging the imagination is of priceless value. Small bookstores offer deep discounts on their stock, and the big retailers do as well. If you are worried about getting someone a novel they might not like, ask for a gift receipt from the store, and tuck it in the dust jacket of the book.

Books in a bookstore

Make it yourself. If you find yourself out of funds, don’t hesitate to make gifts. Flavored crackers poured into a canning jar, a hot-glued gingham lid, and pretty ribbon make for lovely holiday cheer. If you are super-crafty, you could make candles or ornaments. For those with less time or creative-spirit, pop the dry ingredients for chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies into a glass container, wrap it with a big bow, and voil√†! You've got a gift to take to any holiday host.

Whatever the need, there are plenty of options to meet your gift-giving needs without going broke. And come January, you’ll be ready to celebrate the new year and live without the guilt of overspending.

Share with us your gifting ideas for the holidays. What is your favorite way to treat friends and family that isn't expensive?

Contributing Writer