Category Archives: Health and Wellness

PB&J – peanut butter

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What is more American than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? What’s not to like about the complex carbs in peanuts and the fruit in that jelly?

Well…

Let’s break down this all-American, kid-friendly sandwich.

Peanut butter

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Ingredients:

  • Roasted peanuts
  • Sugar (sometimes listed as dextrose)
  • Molasses
  • Fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed, cottonseed and soybean)
  • Salt

Roasted peanuts are cooked using additional oil unless dry roasted. Boiling and dry roasting do not require the addition of extra oils.

Sugar on labels is code for (in nearly all cases) GMO sugar beet sugar. This is a crop that is engineered to tolerate spraying of glyphosate for weed control without damage to the sugar beet plant itself. Beets are a root crop. If the sugar had been derived from sugar cane, it would have been labeled “cane sugar.”

Molasses (less than 2% according to the label) in and of itself isn’t bad if it is made from cane sugar; however, non-organic processed food molasses may be made from GMO sugar beets and can contain additives such as sulfur dioxide (less common today than a few years ago). The source for the molasses in this peanut butter is not listed.

Rapeseed oil — they did not even use the less non-nutritious Canola oil term for this ingredient. Rapeseed is a brassica and is almost always GMO (again, lots of glyphosate). Canola is what is typically sold for human consumption and rapeseed (not using the Canola name) is more commonly used in animal feed.

Cottonseed oil is extracted from the seeds of the cotton plant which is not a food at all. We don’t eat cotton seeds in any recipes or foods. But oils extracted from cotton seeds seems to be okay according to the agricultural and food industry. Since the majority of cotton grown in the U.S. (and India) is GMO Bt Cotton, it contains a built-in pesticide. Cotton plants also require frequent spraying with a number of pesticides to fend off the many pests that attack crops. This may be the most toxic oil humans ingest.

Soybean oil is extracted from soybeans which is up to 96% GMO in the  United States and Canada. This crop is engineered to tolerate spraying glyphosate for weed control. I highly recommend researching soy to learn of its effects on the human body over time. I don’t recommend this oil.

Hydrogenated means the addition of hydrogen to the oil (a chemical process) until the oils become solid at room temperature. This creates trans-fats in partially-hydrogenated oils, the kind that increase bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lowers good (HDL) cholesterol levels in humans. This label says that they are “Fully hydrogenated” which means that they do not become trans-fats; however, Consumer Reports writes that these oils are not good for humans, either.

Here is a short article explaining which oils are healthy and which are not: Bon Appetit’s 3 Best and Worst Oils for Your Health.

Recommendations

Peanut butter is made by grinding peanuts until they become a paste of sorts. The oil separates from the solid if allowed to reach room temperature because peanut oil is not hydrogenated (it remains a liquid). This is as it should be. At this point, the addition of a little salt is all that is necessary to made a delicious and nutritious peanut butter.

Why all of the weird ingredients in cheap peanut butter?

Well, the peanut oil is removed from the peanut paste and sold for big $$$. This oil then must be replaced with something so that it can be spread on bread, hence the addition of the cheaper, and less nutritious, oils which are hydrogenated for shelf stability (the oil doesn’t separate from the peanuts at room temperature).

The addition of sugar is unnecessary but, I believe, creates a food that sugar-addicted consumers will crave more. And, of course, sugar added to nearly anything makes foods more palatable. Sugar is in everything.

There is nothing wrong with the salt. Salt is merely a flavor enhancer and is not inherently unhealthy. High sodium from other additives is unhealthy.

Healthy alternative

You have two choices: buy a natural peanut butter or buy organic; however, even many organic brands of peanut butter contain sugars and non-peanut oils — peanut oil is big $$$ product. This was a huge disappointment to me when I shopped for organic peanut butter.

You want to see this on the label:

  • Peanuts
  • Salt (optional)

That’s it. And, of course, you can always make your own (something I want to try) using a food processor. Some grocery stores will grind fresh peanut butter for you on site.

If you buy natural peanut butter, merely use a butter knife to stir the oil on top back into the peanut paste (yes, it is a little messy, but only takes a minute). I keep my jar in the fridge to keep the oils from separating again. Easy peasy.

I recommend avoiding cheap peanut butters. They are full of GMOs and unhealthy ingredients designed to allow the food to sit on the shelf for months and years. Peanut butter is a wonderful food which should contain only peanuts and salt (optional).

Next will be an evaluation of the jelly part of PB&J.

 

 

 

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Journey

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This is what I am moving toward: my family, grandchildren especially.

I looked at my list of posts over the past year and was tickled to see a post about Monarch butterflies followed by my getting-ready-to-move post. Disconnected? I think not.

Both posts are about migration and survival.

My last post I was packing in preparation for my move from Connecticut to Texas. That certainly qualifies as a migration, and not in preparation for winter, metaphorical or seasonal.

This post is about the move itself.

Day 1

I picked up the 16-foot Budget moving truck at 11 a.m. on Friday, July 14th. My plan was to load up the truck and leave the following morning.

Oh, the plans of mice and men–of mice and men.

I arrived home to find no one working, no one packing, no one accomplishing anything necessary to achieving my goal of leaving the next morning.

I took a few deep breaths and began to engage each son, explaining what I would like to see done and why. I always include the why when engaging my children, grown or not.

I realize now that I handled the move entirely wrong. Hindsight and all that.

Needless to say, we (yes, they finally kicked into gear) continued packing while my moving truck sat empty at the top of the driveway. It remained there overnight. I tried not to cry.

Day 2

Saturday morning dawned, filled with bird songs and cries, sunshine and fluffy clouds. It was a perfect day to begin our journey.

And then I looked around and realized there were only a handful of boxes completely packed, sealed and labeled. The kitchen was not packed.

I had tried to sell as much stuff as I could at a 3-day tag sale. Very little interest and less than $100 made, I now had all that stuff there that needed to be dealt with (dump and Goodwill).

I don’t remember what time the boys finally woke up and began to pack. It wasn’t early.

It was on this day that I got an answer to the question: “Are you going with us to Texas?”

I had been asking my 21-year-old son this for weeks with no answer. I mean not even his typical grunt was forthcoming. He didn’t know.

Suddenly, he was coming with us. He had not assisted us in any significant way prior to this point. I was nearly pulling my hair out.

Now I had one more person’s belongings to accommodate on the truck and my storage unit (which I already rented – my daughter picked up the keys for me that week).

If nothing else, I am a mom. I would never leave one of my children if I could help them be where they wanted to be. And I certainly knew that Texas, specifically Austin, was where this computer programmer, game developing musician needed to be. Of course, he could come with us.

And suddenly things were happening. It was like the trip itself had been holding its breath, waiting for my 21-year-old to commit to the move.

The floodgates opened and stuff flew into boxes, got loaded onto the truck, and progress was being made.

However, not enough got done to leave on Saturday. I announced that I had canceled our hotel reservations for the next two days and replanned our trip for a Sunday departure.

Everyone stopped working and called it a day; not what I wanted.

I was exhausted; I was beyond exhausted. I took two naproxen for pain and called it a night.

Day 3

I had been waking up around 4:30 a.m. the last three days, and this day was no exception. I can get a lot done in the early morning hours. So I did.

Packed boxes were everywhere. Many household items had made it out to the truck in the evening prior, much that had to be unloaded before we could begin seriously loading the truck properly. Yes, there is a right way to load a moving truck, and I had to supervise closely while still trying to pack and supervise the boys packing. I was exhausted by 10 a.m.

Around this time my 27-year-old son arrived to pick up the house and pickup truck keys and discuss caring for the house until his father decided to engage (my estranged husband was giving everyone the silent treatment, refusing to answer the phone or discuss me and our sons leaving for Texas). I had asked one of my son’s friends to help care for the house, to house sit even which he agreed to do.

The second set of floodgates opened and the move was happening.

I knew that the house would be cared for, cleaning would get done, and projects dealt with. I offered money and money talks (even though I don’t have money for such things – you do what you have to do).

Approaching noon, the truck was finally loaded. The cars were loaded with computers and other items that were deemed too delicate to go on the truck. When I drove the truck up the driveway to get it out of the way so the pickup could get back to work hauling stuff off (driven by friend), I realized that the tag sale stuff was still there. Sigh.

I told the boys that we weren’t leaving until everything we weren’t taking was either hauled to the dump or stowed in the workshop and/or garage. We were not leaving a mess (of course not).

An hour later, we were ready. Actually ready!!!

I nearly cried when we pulled out, our caravan of moving truck and two cars.

It took me years to get this move started. I had asked my estranged husband to help me move, to help me sell our house, to help me be near my elderly, very sick mother and he refused. Keeping me in Connecticut was his last bit of control over me. Cutting me off from our finances hadn’t brought me back to him. Forcing me to live in poverty hadn’t brought me back to him. Ignoring me hadn’t brought me back to him. Tough love just didn’t work, because I was not a drug-addicted, rebellious child. I was his equal partner in a marriage that had started out with great potential. Control and abuse destroyed it.

But this day, Sunday, July 15, 2017, I drove away from my prison, declaring that I was free.

We drove across Connecticut to New York and I celebrated.

We drove through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee that first day. We drove for 8 long hours, arriving at our first destination after 10 p.m.

We all crashed, exhausted, but not before a celebratory drink or two. We were far, far away from Connecticut and closer to our destination.

Days 4, 5 and 6

The following days we drove as long as I could handle driving. When I arrived at a hotel where I thought I had a reservation, the lovely clerk made sure we had a room. I found everyone I met along the way was helpful and kind.

Each day we would arrive at our hotel, my legs would be so swollen I could barely walk. I would spend the next few hours drinking Mullein leaf tea with my legs elevated so that my legs would not sustain permanent damage. This trip was not easy for me physically. But it was not going to kill me, so we drove and drove.

I drove the moving truck every single mile. My sons were reluctant to drive it, so I did. I actually enjoyed that truck a bit, being up high, being treated kindly by truckers hauling all the stuff that Americans need to live and enjoy life. The roads were crowded, but most drivers were courteous.

Day 7

Thursday, July 20, 2017, we lazily awakened in our Holiday Inn located in Livingston, Louisiana (very nice place). We were less than 5 hours from our final destination.

I had been trying to figure out how to time unloading the truck into the storage unit and where to park the moving truck overnight. My storage unit manager said I could not leave it there. I couldn’t reach the drop-off facility manager. It was stressful. My contract stated that I could not drop off the truck after hours (which turned out to be untrue).

I had this whole dilemma at the back of my mind as we drove the last miles to Houston. When we crossed over into Texas, I texted my daughter.

“Welcome home!” she texted back. I cried tears of joy.

And just typing those words makes me cry with joy, with relief.

We had picked up four two-way radios in northern Alabama (I think that’s where it was). So we chattered back and forth between cars. When we stopped for gas about an hour away, I told them that the sky looks different in Texas. They didn’t believe me, but I stand by that.

Politics aside (please ignore Texas politics—pols here have all gone insane), Texas is a beautiful, crazy, fun, full-of-life place to live. It is never boring. Never.

That big sky. Oh, that big sky.

We arrived in Houston and drove for about 30 minutes to my storage unit where my daughter and granddaughter were waiting for us. Lots of hugs. So many hugs. I exclaimed over and over how happy I was to finally be in Houston. My granddaughter was happy as always. She is always happy.

I admit the unloading was tortuous. I didn’t do much because I couldn’t. It was crazy hot and humid. My sons were melting. But they did it.

And then I got a brilliant idea. I would just park the moving truck in front of the drop-off location and leave a note that I would be there first thing in the morning to check it in. I left my lock on the back and took the keys with me. Haha! A whole ‘nother story, but it worked out fine. The grizzled, old facility manager and I bonded the next morning after he told me he thought I was just some stupid Yankee for leaving the truck without dropping the keys in the drop box (yeah, I could have dropped it off after hours). So funny!

I called my mom and let her know that we had arrived and that I planned to drive to Austin Saturday to spend the weekend with her and my stepdad.

I emailed a couple of people that we reached our destination safely. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and fell asleep soundly on my inflatable mattress in my granddaughter’s room (she loves that I sleep in her room).

This part of my journey is over. I am without a place of my own right now, but I am welcome in my daughter’s home and my mom’s home. They love me and embrace me. That is what I have yearned for all those years I was being held prisoner in Connecticut (I held myself prisoner as well by trying to do what was right by the house, the property, be responsible and I did have a teenager in high school there).

Update: July 25, 2017

My mom found out yesterday afternoon that she has late-stage cancer. I am devastated. I will be here for her, though. We will walk this path together. And this is why I felt an urgency to get to Texas.

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Special thanks

I want to thank my friend, Charlotte Gelston. She has been my greatest inspiration and the one who told me to just pack up and go. Stop worrying about the house. Just go. So I did.

Charlotte is a woman of God who knows how to show the love of God. It isn’t religion to her; she believes her very life is meant to express God’s love toward others. And it does. I have never met someone who is a more genuine Christian.

I do believe in the power of prayer, and I know that she and the other member of our small knitting group, Ginny, prayed for me every minute and every mile of the move.

Thank you.

GMO-free Super Bowl 50: Dips and Spreads

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GMO-free Super Bowl 50: Dips and Spreads
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Homemade Salsa

Tortilla, potato and pita chips cannot show up on Super Bowl Sunday alone, can they? And if you want people to eat what’s on that veggie platter, you better have something good to dip those veggies in.

Here are some of my favorite dips.

Salsa

I usually spend a little extra and purchase organic salsa or make my own. Here is my recipe for a Fast and Easy Salsa.

What’s wrong with conventional salsas? There are usually one or two potential GMOs in salsas: corn and vinegar.

Southwestern style salsa contains corn kernels, and they might be the recently-approved GMO sweet corn.

Vinegar in an ingredient list means white vinegar made from GMO corn.

Guacamole

This is such an easy dip to make that buying it seems silly (I did not check ingredient lists on premade guacamole so I don’t know if it contains GMOs).

  • Cut two ripe avocados in half, remove pit. Scoop fruit into mixing bowl.
  • Mash well with a fork
  • Add
    • salt
    • pepper
    • garlic powder or fresh crushed garlic
    • lemon or lime juice (fresh, please)
    • cumin (sorry, I don’t measure)
  • Special ingredient: 1-2 tablespoons of hot salsa
  • Serve immediately

Other Dips

French Onion Dip with potato chips is a tradition in my house for Super Bowl Sunday.

Non-organic sour cream-based dips contain MSG, corn syrup, vinegar, and other GMO ingredients. Glutamate is the worst offender in these dips (I cannot eat glutamates). Buy organic or make your own.

Onion Dip Recipe

  • 1 16-ounce container organic sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder or finely minced fresh onions (yellow onions can be hot)
  • Dash of dried dill or parsley; rub between hands to release flavors
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. This really does taste better the next day. Adjust salt and onion powder to taste.

You can add roasted peppers, roasted garlic, red onions, or anything you like to make your own custom dip for chips or crudités.

Faux Goat Cheese Spread

I love goat cheese, but it is crazy expensive here in Connecticut. Hey, if you can afford it, buy it. It is delicious and healthy.

I discovered that if I drain organic yogurt (flour sack cloth overnight hanging over a bowl to catch whey), I end up with this delicious yogurt cream cheese that begs for the addition of dill, garlic, onion, or roasted red peppers.

Combine yogurt cheese and flavor addition, wrap in plastic wrap or place in a glass canning jar and refrigerate overnight.

This is delicious spread on Mary’s Gone Crackers gluten-free, GMO-free organic crackers, cucumber slices and crudités.

Did I mention that this spread contains beneficial bacteria (probiotics)? Bonus!

(Use the whey in smoothies, baking or fermenting.)

Hot Dips

screenshot paula deen dip recipeI love the Food Network spicy spinach and artichoke dip. I substitute ground red pepper and a teensy bit of apple cider vinegar or my homemade pear vinegar for the hot sauce in recipes. Other substitutions include caramelized onions for the artichoke hearts (which can be expensive) or roasted garlic. Be creative.

The main problem with this recipe is the mayonnaise. I buy non-GMO or organic mayonnaise. Target was the first store to carry my favorite mayo, but now my local grocery store carries it as well.

Just Mayo from Hampton Creek is Non-GMO Project Verified, egg-free and absolutely delicious.

Or make your own mayonnaise. I make one mayo from the egg yolks and then a white mayo from the egg whites. I use a hand blender with a whisk attachment and drizzle the oil in to create the emulsion. The key is to add mustard, vinegar, etc. to get the flavor YOU want.

Don’t fall for this Big Food deceiver which is not GMO-free:

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Smart Balance Mayo is NOT Non-GMO. The label is deceptive.

The label on Smart Balance mayo states that it contains “Non-GMO Oil.” Lovely. But what about the GMO sugar and GMO vinegar? Other concerning ingredients include modified food starch (could be made from GMO corn) and TBHQ (a questionable preservative).

Bean Dip

Combine:

  • 1 can of black refried beans
  • 1/4 cup hot salsa
  • 1/4-1/2 cup grated cheese of your choice
  • More grated cheese to sprinkle on top

Stir and either bake in oven for 20-30 minutes until hot or microwave for a few minutes.

Serve with organic tortilla chips.

And for those veggie platters, you need a tasty, non-GMO dip that doesn’t contain glutamates.

Veggie Dip

Simply add what you would like to organic or Non-GMO mayonnaise:

  • Onion powder gives it a ranch dressing kind of flavor
  • Garlic powder, fresh garlic, or roasted garlic
  • Dried  and fresh herbs such as dill, chives and parsley
  • Finely chopped red bell pepper
  • Ground red pepper for a spicy zing or a little hot sauce
  • 1/8 – 1/2 tsp of apple cider vinegar or other non-GMO vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp lemon or lime juice
  • Ground mustard powder or organic mustard (non-organic prepared mustard often contains GMO vinegar — read labels). I favor Dijon Mustard.
  • Salt and pepper (optional) to taste
  • Add milk and/or sour cream until it is the consistency you desire

Refrigerate for an hour or overnight to meld flavors. Taste before serving and add salt to taste.

 

GMO-free Super Bowl 50: Beverages

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GMO-free Super Bowl 50: Beverages

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Ready to head to the grocery store to stock up on junk food and beer for Super Bowl 50? Here is a simple guide for ensuring that your food and drinks are GMO-free.

Anything labeled as Certified Organic is GMO-free. It’s supposed to be that simple. GMO-Awareness has an article that declares that this is not always the case. There are non-organic products that are GMO-free.

Non-GMO Project is a great resource for finding what you want. Visit this site before making  your shopping list.

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And just because your favorite product is not on this list doesn’t mean that it contains GMOs. Let’s be fair to the companies that produce naturally GMO-free products who have not gone through the time and expense of Non-GMO verification.

Beverages

Beer, ale, stout and lager

Beer producers are not required to label ingredients. How do we know what is in our favorite brews? Good question.

Buy organic.

I read that many of the local microbreweries source non-GMO ingredients. I would need confirmation. We need ingredients listed on alcoholic beverage labels.

Non-GMO brews

Peak Organic Brewing Company produces a variety of ales, stouts, IPAs, etc. that are GMO-free.

Reported by company:

Updated 2-1-2016: Guinness responded to my inquiry and stated that “Guinness does not contain High Fructose Corn Syrup. Guinness’ ingredient list is short: malts, barley/roasted barley, hops, and water. We do not use any GMOs in any of our products.”

I confess that I am a Guinness Extra Stout lover. I was thrilled to receive the information above. No, this is not legally binding, nor is it an affidavit or proof that Guinness products contain no GMOs, but until there is legislation requiring labeling of alcoholic beverages, this will have to do.

Liquor

Liquor is challenging. Apparently there is some governing body that declared that no alcoholic beverages can be labeled non-GMO.

I have started emailing individual companies asking them to verify whether their products contain GMOs. If enough of us did this, they would be forced to address the issue (and maybe source non-GMO ingredients).

Tequila: any of the 100% agave should be non-GMO. Mixto tequilas use a sugar syrup, but there is no ingredient labeling on tequila, so is the sugar from sugar cane or GMO sugar beets? It doesn’t say.

Best to avoid the mixto tequilas such as Jose Cuervo Especial and purchase organic varieties such as Republic Tequila. Reposado and Anejo tequilas are made with 100% blue agave even if they are not certified organic.

Gin & Tonic: It might not be the gin in this drink that is GMO, though we don’t know for sure.

Most tonic water contains corn syrup (over 80% of corn produced in the U.S. is GMO) or artificial sweeteners. Look for organic tonic water or one sweetened with agave syrup or real cane sugar. Remember, if a label says “sugar” that means GMO sugar beets; it must read “cane sugar” to be non-GMO for certain.

I just use sparkling water with nothing added myself.

Organic gin is the only way to know absolutely, positively that you are not getting any GMOs in your gin (though I have emailed Hendricks asking them to verify that they do or do not use GMOs in their gin).

Vodka can be made with grain or potatoes. I purchase organic or potato vodka (though GMO potatoes are grown in other countries, so might be best to avoid these).

Since I make a lot of my own extracts, I keep a bottle of vodka in my pantry at all times. I have emailed Luksusowa to ask whether their vodka is made with GMO potatoes. Poland banned GMOs, so probably not, but I want to confirm.

Non-alcoholic beverages

Soft drinks are mostly to be avoided except for organic or some small brewing companies such as Virgil’s Cream Soda. I personally buy Virgil’s for my kids. They are delicious.

Fruit juice, coffee and tea are fairly simple to divide into GMO and non-GMO by simply reading labels, right? I recommend referring to the Non-GMO Project list for these.

All commercially-grown, non-organic Hawaiian Papaya is GMO. That is the only GMO fruit so far (although GMO apples have been approved).

Since many juices have additives, it is safest to buy organic or buy 100% fruit juice juices.

Coffee: unflavored ground and bean coffees do NOT contain GMOs. Powdered instant coffees and teas, however, can by the inclusion of GMO sugar, dextrose, and corn syrup solids. Avoid instant coffees and teas especially those that contain artificial sweeteners.

Coffee flavorings and creamers contain GMOs unless organic. Avoid liquid and powdered creamers. I use Non-GMO almond or coconut milk and raw agave syrup in my coffee, though I often drink it black.

Store brand powdered coffee creamer ingredients:

  • Sugar (GMO)
  • Vegetable oil (GMO)
  • Contains one or more of the following: Palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, soybean oil (GMO)
  • Corn syrup solids (GMO)
  • Soy lecithin (GMO)
  • Natural and artificial flavors (may be GMO)

One exception to unhealthy coffee creamers is the one below which seems strange nestled between two creamers that are full of GMOs and other unhealthy ingredients. The “Natural Dairy Creamer” contains dried non-fat milk. That’s it.

Oh, in our house, we add heavy or light cream, half and half, or, in my case, unsweetened almond milk to coffee and sweeten with cane sugar or raw organic agave syrup.

Tea bags get a little complicated with all of the fancy flavors out there. I buy only organic teas or Non-GMO Verified teas. Loose leaf tea is available in health food stores.

Avoid powdered tea mixes due to GMO sugar and artificial flavors and colors. Same for drink mixes, sports drinks, etc.

Bottled iced tea? Sigh. Brew your own tea and add healthy sweeteners and even fruit or lemon if you like. The ingredients listed on bottles of iced tea drinks are concerning.

Bottled water: many of the flavored waters are sweetened with artificial sweeteners and/or corn syrup. And all that plastic. Try to avoid bottled water.

Make your own flavored waters with tap water and fresh fruit and vegetables. Cucumbers, berries, lemon, lime, and so on make great flavored waters. Just add the fruit or veggie and let it sit for a few minutes. If you want it sweetened, add a little organic sucanat, cane sugar, organic raw agave syrup or raw honey (no grocery store honey unless listed as raw).

Kombucha: one of my local markets now has a Kombucha bar. I can purchase a half-gallon of Kombucha using reusable glass bottles. This is a great option.

Conclusion

It takes a little work, but it is not difficult to serve and enjoy GMO-free beverages.

I will update this post if and when I hear back from brewers and distillers.

We all like good news

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fall hope

I know, I know. It is supposed to say, “Happy Thanksgiving!” or something fall-ish, but there is hope that my mom will recover from this last bad health scare (it was really, really bad). The hospital is responsible for a big part of what went wrong, and healthcare professionals are responsible for most of why she is recovering.

My mom is breathing without a ventilator, is responsive, talking, can accomplish small tasks, and is getting better every day.

It has been an emotional, traumatic experience for all of us. Being far away makes it so much worse because I can’t just go sit with her and hold her hand. I can’t be there to ensure that the hospital is taking good care of my mom. But they are.

So many people have been praying, and I thank everyone for taking a few minutes here and there to think about my family.

There is hope that my mom will be home in a month or so (after a time in a rehabilitation facility). Now to get back to packing up so I can move back to Texas. My heart is there (and most of my family).

There is hope. There is always hope.

Listening to spring, refreshing my soul

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Middletown, Connecticut. Spring dandelions.

Middletown, Connecticut. Spring dandelions.

I had just spent an hour scouring online news sites, scrolling through Twitter, clicking and feasting on bad news. I was discouraged. Even worse, darkness threatened to overshadow and overpower joy and light in my soul.

Suddenly, my focus shifted. It was instantaneous and, I dare say, miraculous.

Outside I could hear a bird’s beautiful, clear song to which several others replied. These birds had no idea that ISIS had just invaded another city in Iraq.

I closed my eyes for a moment, and dark reality transformed into something beautiful.

I got up from my desk, opened the nearest window so that I could hear more bird songs sung in celebration of spring, and I stopped to allow the fresh, cool air to touch my face and flood the house.

When I opened that window, I opened my soul to beams of sunlight, dandelions, wild violets and bumble bees, garlic growing in my garden, hummingbirds visiting my bleeding hearts, and the soft verdure of spring leaves that provides a cocoon of privacy not there in wintertime.

The world outside my small piece of property, my small town and my small state (and within) is in conflict, full of hatred, acting and reacting with violence.

The ability to disconnect from all the “stuff” that sucks the light from the world, and my soul, is a gift.

Today, I embraced that gift and my soul was refreshed.

Advertising drives culture (in the wrong direction)

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I know. My last post suggests that I must have mistaken the oh-so-subtle, deliciously clever ending of Mad Men, that Don goes on to be a part of one of the biggest advertising successes in the history of the world, the one that convinces billions of people that buying soft drinks will make them happy and bring harmony to the world.

I didn’t. I just don’t think it is clever.

Don is a con man. He found his angle. He always finds his angle. He has his brief brush with humanity (please!) and moves on to his next con.

Is Mad Men a satirical dramatization of the history of advertising or is it an attempt to fool Americans into thinking it is a satirical look at advertising while promoting modern products and the companies that sell them?

On the face of it, that show would seem to make all advertisers and the agencies that represent them look bad. Why would they do that, though, when the show is most certainly sponsored by big corporations?

Is that show a way to create positive emotional responses to modern advertising campaigns that are currently evoking negative responses because of opposition movements? In other words, is it designed to offset the bad image big corporations are struggling with today?

Pretty clever. Or am I giving them too much credit?

Advertising is emotional manipulation. We know that.

If we look back at when advertising became an integral part of American culture, we realize that advertising then began to drive American culture.

Advertising IS American culture, and that is what is wrong here. American culture is all about what we purchase and consume. It is about emotion and perception, not critical thinking and scientific evaluation (science must be critically evaluated as well).

What do you think when someone announces that they don’t let their kids watch television? Think about it and be honest. You think that those kids are being deprived, right?

A family member recently declared that she wouldn’t shop at Whole Foods because they don’t sell Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and their prices are really high (yep, food that isn’t subsidized by the government costs more). Really?

I am discouraged. Seemingly intelligent people have allowed themselves to be brainwashed into thinking that certain brands of foods are vital to their happiness. They simply cannot live without them.

That is the insidious nature of advertising.

L’Oreal says “…you’re worth it” (slogan convincing women that they should apply toxic chemicals to their hair and bodies).

Haagen-Daas tells us that “pleasure is the path to joy.”

McDonald’s convinced us that “I’m lovin’ it!”

Burger King told us that you should “Have it your way!”

What is reality? I’m OK, you’re OK. Just do it! You deserve a break today.

Today my 22-year-old son made me a green smoothie for breakfast. I choked it down. It was good for me, right? I mentioned that maybe he should invest in a juicer. He told me that the nondigestable cellulose in plant-based foods is good for the colon (humans are not able to digest cellulose — we are not herbivores).

I don’t think I will make green smoothies a daily thing. I am not sure we’re meant to drink our fruits and vegetables. And there was an awful lot of fruit juice in that thing. I don’t drink fruit juice often because of its high sugar content.

I have news for you: that green juice habit is the result of big business and lots of advertising dollars according to Barron’s article “Drink Up!”

You can’t escape it! The world is driven by advertising. Habits, beliefs, practices, and, most importantly, consumer behavior: all driven by advertising.

Even the organic movement that I believe in is driven, in large part, by the almighty dollar. That’s why Big Food is buying up small organic and natural food companies such as Annie’s Homegrown (which was recently purchased by General Mills). They see the writing on the wall, where the big money is to be made in the future.

Is it all an illusion? Are all of us being manipulated by advertisers? Are we just pawns, even those who believe a more natural food system is better for the world and the people that populate it?

Something to think about (and keep in mind when critically evaluating ideas).

We need to stay smart and be wise, remain skeptical and never forget to be critical (as in thinking).

Product placement ruined ending of Mad Men

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I am so angry! I feel cheated. I feel betrayed.

I think I feel stupid more than anything. What did I expect?

A show that was filled with emotional, nostalgic product placements ends with a “Kumbaya” version of a soft drink commercial!

I am such a sucker.

Harmony?

Perfect harmony? With whom? With what? Certainly not humans. And certainly not the environment.

Um, let’s talk about high fructose corn syrup which is highly-processed from mostly GMO corn. This GMO corn is subsidized by the United States taxpayers who have no say in the matter (I have come to the conclusion that it is an illusion that we have any influence on our government).

See this article published on AmericanBar.org for definitions and descriptions of the controversy surrounding the biotech industry, GMOs, and the FDA’s role in regulating (or not regulating) genetically-engineered food crops.

While most people know on some level that corn syrup and HFCS are bad for them (because the starch in corn is a complex carbohydrate which is then highly processed to become monosaccharides or fructose), they continue to consume products that contain them. they are in so many processed foods. It is nearly impossible to NOT consume HFCS.

The FDA has a page explaining HFCS and corn syrup. They have found no safety issues with either product.

Is HFCS addictive? Canadian scientists believe it is, at least in rats.

Is HFCS responsible for the global obesity epidemic? This article suggests that it might be a component of obesity, at least in rats.

When talking about the effects of HFCS on humans, there are articles like this one:

The effects of high fructose syrup by Moeller et al.

and this one

Mineral balances in humans as affected by fructose, high fructose corn syrup and sucrose by Ivaturi and Kies.

Whether you love eating highly processed foods or not, I think we can all agree that putting that soft drink commercial from 1971 at the end of Mad Men was really tacky.

Oh, and the need to find Peggy a man? That’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

There’s an app for . . . almost everything

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I want to share some Android apps that I have discovered recently that help me organize my life and aid my studies. I am not affiliated with any of the programmers/developers of these apps. These are apps that I personally use.

Educational/Travel

English – Spanish Translator by Tick Talk Soft – Free

I am taking Spanish I with conversational lab this semester. This app helps me rehearse aloud what I am studying. I have only used the microphone part of the app so far. What this does is require that I pronounce words, phrases and sentences properly, with the accent on the correct syllable, or it will not translate it well.

Android Phone – voice recognition is so-so, but I attribute this to my phone’s age and not the app itself
Android Tablet – works well, voice recognition much better than phone

Translate Voice – Translator by Tick Talk Soft – Free

This app is probably redundant to the translator above, but I want both available. This one seems simpler. I downloaded this one to my Android Tablet first, and it works nicely. I can speak a phrase or sentence in English and it will translate it into Spanish. I can then reverse the order and practice the Spanish version.

Android Phone – good
Android Tablet – good

Voice Recorder by ??? – Free

This is a simple voice recorder that I use mostly for interviews (journalism). I also use it to record blog ideas if I am out. It is easier than trying to type something with my thumbs on my phone. Quality is is as good as the microphone on my phone. I wish my phone had a microphone input so I could use a lapel microphone for interviews, but this does the job as long as there isn’t background noise.

Health

White Noise Lite by TMSOFT – Free

I cannot sleep at night without some kind of white noise. This app is amazing! It has 40 sounds to choose from. I love the shower sound best for me. It is a very steady noise that doesn’t resemble anything I might hear in my house. I plug my phone in to the charger, turn on the app, and sleep like a baby. Any alarms override the app, pausing the noise.  Text message, email, and other notifications do not override the app, which is very important for me. I use my phone as my alarm clock (with my tablet as back-up).

Android Phone – Excellent
Android Tablet – n/a

Time Management

Alarm Clock Xtreme Free + Timer by AVG Labs – Free

I use this for all of my alarms on my Android phone. I have two alarms in the morning, one at 5 a.m. and another at 6:05 a.m., along with sets of alarms for different days of the week. The alerts begin softly and increase in volume, which I love. It isn’t painful. I use the Good Morning tone with my morning alarms, and other tones for other types of alarms.

Android Phone – excellent
Android Tablet – n/a

see Out of Milk Shopping List App for “To Do List” feature (below)

Weather and Emergency

WeatherBug by Earth Networks – Free

WeatherBug is far superior to the Weather Channel’s app (which just didn’t work a lot of the time). I use this app every day. It gives me current weather, maps, radar, hourly, 5-day, 10-day, and sends alerts to my phone and tablet’s notification system which has been important this year with winter storms 2-3 times a week since January. I have several other locations saved for quick access as well (family and friends).

Android Phone – excellent
Android Tablet – excellent

TeslaLED Flashlight  by TeslaCoil Software – Free

This app is easy to use. Open app, click on large light bulb to turn flashlight on and then click again to turn it off. The flashlight remains on when the screen is turned off (this is a setting). This has a morse code, strobe, police lights, and easy settings and notification to turn off the flashlight. I keep a small flashlight on my keychain, but this has been a help especially when I didn’t have quick access to my keys or needed a second flashlight.

Android Phone – excellent
Android Tablet – n/a

Organization and Shopping

Out of Milk Shopping List by Capigami, Inc. – Free

I confess to not accessing most of this app’s features. I also tend to not like using it in the store only because I need my hands to pick up items and will not put my phone on top of my purse or in the basket for security reasons. Now, if shopping carts had a mounting bracket for tablets and/or smart phones that held the technology secure until it was released by the shopper, that might be different. Hmmm, someone needs to invent such a tool. Wait, someone already did for the shopper to bring, but not for stores to provide.

I stopped using this app for awhile because it was just too much work. They have streamlined it with automatic categories and syncing capabilities. I have this app on my tablet and phone. I often turn sync off on my phone to extend battery life, but this app might change that behavior. I can use my tablet to make my lists. I can use the voice feature and I have a keyboard case that makes keying information easy. I will then have my updated lists with me at all times after syncing with my phone. Yes, this just might be what I need to organize shopping again.

If any manufacturers want me to review tablet mounts, I am game.

Has a pantry feature as well as To Do List with alarms and notifications for organization, though I have not used them.

Android Phone – good
Android Tablet – excellent (esp. voice recognition)

Entertainment

Moviefone by AOL, Inc. – Free

I have my favorite movie theaters saved so when I want to see what is playing, I just click and all information is available. This tool is excellent for the phone, especially. This app uses your phone’s location feature to find theaters in your area, or you can save your theaters under the “My Theaters” tab. I love that I can watch movie trailers from the app.

Android Phone – good
Android Tablet – n/a

Netflix – Subscription

This app is rarely used on my phone because the screen is just too small for my eyes, and movies tend to bog down quite a bit. I suspect that that is due to Verizon throttling my data since I have one of those older unlimited data plans. On the tablet, however, it is much better as long as I have a strong wireless connection (it is tenuous in my bedroom). Just plug in some ear buds or head phones and enjoy.

Android Phone – okay at best
Android Tablet – good

Xfinity TV Go – Subscription

I dislike this app for two reasons: there are lots and lots and lots of commercials and buffering time is very long. I often begin watching a show, must pause it for a minute or so to allow it to buffer, then have to sit through several minutes of commercials, and finally just turn the app off due to the frustration. I stream content on my PC a lot (usually few to no commercials), but they have messed up with their mobile app. I’m guessing they don’t really care much since they are a near monopoly cable provider for Connecticut (only competition is satellite dish providers). When I want to watch something on my tablet, I use Netflix. I keep this app in case something on live TV needs my attention (like special reports, etc.).

Android Phone – n/a
Android Tablet – poor

Additionally I have Skype, Pandora Radio, Adobe Reader, YouTube, eBay, Craigs List, Twitter, Barcode Scanner (Zxing Team), Dolphin Browser (tablet only), Knitting Counter (mkackl), Free Guitar Tuner, WordPress, two dictionary apps, Photo Editor by Aviary, Chrome, and apps that my adult son downloads each time he uses my phone. I have Craftsy on my tablet to access knitting patterns and video classes.

Rejected Apps

Spanish Talking Translator by GreenLife Apps – Free

The app itself worked just fine, but every 30 seconds or so an ad or some kind of notification popped up, interrupting my flow of thought and work. Unacceptable. I have attention and short-term memory issues. I cannot have something popping up all the time. I know it is free, but they should create a simpler free version and sell a more complex version.

Facebook – Free

I completely uninstalled this app from my smart phone and still get notifications that it cannot log in to Facebook on my phone’s notification area. This app is completely intrusive, so if I need to see something on Facebook (need???), I open a browser and log in that way. I only get on Facebook once a week or so as it is, and that is on my desktop PC. I don’t have the Facebook app on my tablet, either.

Here is an article from DailyMail.com entitled “Is Facebook reading your texts? Android update lets app access your written and picture messages.” This is totally unacceptable.

Google Plus – Free

Mostly the same issues I have with Facebook. Entirely too intrusive. It is bad enough that my Android Phone’s OS is a Google product and that they have built in many intrusive features (such as reading text messages and searches to generate advertisements).

The Weather Channel – Free

Hangs up or fails to load properly. Slow when it does load. A weather app needs to be fast and dependable when you live in a cold region with record cold temperatures and too many winter storms to count.

KBB.com Car Prices & Review from Kelley Blue Book – Free

App never loaded. Always required force close.

Warm and Cozy: Winterizing and Indoor Air Pollution

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Here in New England, cold weather has finally arrived, signaling to all of us that it is past time to put up those storm windows, check that weatherstripping, and lock those windows tight. But with the winterizing process, with shutting out the cold, comes a loss of fresh air in our homes.
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When we bought this house in 2000, my husband was thrilled (energy conservation engineer). This house had enough insulation for two houses, amazing windows that seal tightly, a design that was energy efficient by nature, and a decent furnace that my husband made more efficient by installing a hot water storage tank (so every demand for hot water didn’t trigger the furnace). All wonderful features that would thrill anyone concerned about conserving energy.

It also had wall-to-wall carpet except for the kitchen and bathrooms. That carpet was dated then. After a few years, I developed fairly serious allergy problems from mild asthma to cold urticaria. I had experienced two separate episodes of hives, the second being much worse than the first. And then my youngest son was diagnosed with asthma (he also attended a sick school, getting a double whammy).

After pulling up all of the carpeting, putting in hardwood floors and changing to leather furniture, we all began to do much better; however, I still struggle with strange allergic reactions to unknown irritants. With my chronic Lyme disease, this type of irrational immune response is not uncommon.

Finally, my husband identified that the house was entirely too “tight” for anyone with breathing problems and allergies. He talked about installing an air exchange system.

Winterizing means shutting out fresh air. This traps indoor air pollution inside the house, putting each member of the household (and your pets) at risk. Indoor air pollution is a huge problem here in the United States because of all of the new “stuff” we bring into our homes every week. We buy lots of plastics, new appliances, furniture, items in packaging that is made using a variety of toxic chemicals. Nonstick cookware, hair products, lotions, even those cute little air fresheners and candles that we use to make our homes smell good, all release polluting chemicals that our bodies must then deal with.

The following are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that you are breathing cleaner, healthier air over the winter.

Crack a Window

If your house is not naturally drafty (if it is drafty, ignore this section), if you do not feel a slight draft on occasion, good chances are that you do not have sufficient air exchange. Air exchange means changing out the stale air inside a home or building with fresh air from outside. Commercial buildings usually have an air exchange system built in to the heating and air conditioning systems, but single family homes typically do not, at least not up here in New England where most of us use either oil, propane or wood heat.

We have no vents in our house, just baseboard units for the oil heat system and the same connected to our wood boiler. If you have a wood stove, you typically just have heat radiating from a single source. Some people actually do use fans to circulate the heat better within the home, but rarely have I heard of a home having an air exchange system.

I keep two windows cracked just a teensy bit until I feel the slightest draft when the wind is blowing, and usually nothing when it isn’t. I know this sounds counter-intuitive to what we are being taught about making our homes energy efficient, but a completely sealed up house is not healthy for humans. There must be some way for indoor air pollution to be removed.

House Plants

I grow a fairly substantial organic garden over the spring and summer, but had given up trying to grow houseplants because of the challenges of doing so over the winter. When I lived in the southern part of the country, I always had lots of houseplants — I love green, growing things.
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I recently read a chapter in my Environmental Science textbook on indoor air pollution and was reminded that I need to take as much care with the air in my house over the winter as I take with what I feed myself over the summer. It was time for houseplants.

NASA published an excellent article entitled, “Plants Clean Air and Water for Indoor Environments.” Scientists found that Volatile Organic compounds (VOC) and other pollutants that off-gassed from a completely-synthetic, sealed environment were almost completely removed when a substantial percentage of the interior was devoted to growing indoor plants.

I was in one of those large home improvement stores the other day to pick up a housewarming gift for a new friend, so I grabbed the only pothos plant they had. It was reasonably priced and in good health. I still need to give it a bath to wash off whatever toxic pesticides they sprayed on it before shipping, but it is here in my house removing pollutants and releasing fresh air. I plan to pick up at least one houseplant a week until I have a nice variety and enough to offset the mostly-closed environment we live in during the cold months in New England.

Shop Thoughtfully

Thanksgiving is next week and Christmas is right around the corner. This means lots of shopping, lots of packages, lots of new things entering your home. Consider the nature, chemical composition and packaging of any item you purchase this holiday season. This might mean NOT buying a bunch of cheap stuff, wrapping paper, shiny bows, stuff in plastic packaging, and lots of chemicals. Everything new you bring into your home off-gases. This means lots of toxic chemicals enter your home and its air which are then breathed in by family members (and your pets).

Consider packaging when choosing items. Consider buying in bulk, or buying items that don’t have extensive packaging. Think about the impact each purchase you make this year can have on your home’s air quality and that of the ones you are bestowing gifts.

If you have never visited your local health food store and checked out the bulk bins, this might be a good time to do so. You could buy a case of pint-sized canning jars, buy some organic tea, herbs, yummy treats, and more, put them in canning jars and wrap in a cloth napkin tied up with a cloth ribbon.

Try to avoid anything that is made from plastic, has strong dyes or a foil appearance. Think natural. Think organic (meaning from nature).

Gift your friends with air-purifying houseplants this winter. Give them a pound of organic coffee or chocolate or a unique extract.

Rosemary plant I grew outdoors over the summer. I just brought it indoors and placed it in my south-facing bay window where it will purify the air inside my home.

Rosemary plant I grew outdoors over the summer. I just brought it indoors and placed it in my south-facing bay window where it will purify the air inside my home.


Buy a package of brown paper bags (like lunch bags) to use as gift bags, tied up with a fabric ribbon.

Think outside the box, so to speak, while shopping this holiday season.

Oh, and as much as we love our Christmas trees, what are live cut trees sprayed with? What are artificial trees made from? I have an older artificial tree (actually 3 small ones) that I might use this year, or I might cut down a small bare sapling and decorate that instead.

But I need that new 60-inch flatscreen TV

I hate to tell you, but all of that amazing new technology that we buy, the latest television, that new computer, even that gaming console, are made using toxic chemicals, and they will off-gas after you take them out of their boxes.

You might consider unboxing and leaving that product in a basement — but who is going to do that?

Okay, buy a bunch of large houseplants and place them around that new technology. That should help.

Sigh.

Sustainably Produced, Non-Toxic Products

Again, my science textbook provided some interesting information on the availability of products manufactured with the goal of being environmentally safe. What a novel concept! Products that don’t contain carcinogens and benzenes and formaldehyde. Why didn’t anyone think of this before we were all exposed to hundreds of toxins by the time we were born.

Many furniture chains are selling low-toxicity furniture and products that were made with sustainability in mind. If you must buy new furniture before the holidays, please keep in mind that furniture, especially, will off-gas lots of dangerous chemicals.

One solutions is to buy vintage and antique furniture that has not been refinished recently. It is better to buy a piece of furniture and refinish it yourself using low-toxicity products than to buy a new piece of furniture unless it is certified low-toxicity.

Green Guard is a certification organization created to ensure the low-toxicity of products in particular.

Keeping in mind that new products are made using chemicals, most toxic to humans, and that those products will off-gas after they are brought into your home (even the packaging they come in), can direct each of us to thoughtfully choose what we purchase.

Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are made with chemicals that are toxic to humans. And, sadly, they have not been proven to actually accomplish anything worth the chemical exposure.

When my children were little, I bought all-cotton underwear for them that I then used as sleepwear. When I moved up here, I bought those really warm sleepers made from who knows what and treated with who knows what dangerous chemicals. If I had known what I know now about the chemicals that are used to make flame retardants, I would have sewn sleepers from organic fleece for them.

Since this blogger wrote such an amazing article on flame retardants in children’s sleepwear, I will just link to that article instead of regurgitating all of the carefully-compiled information.

Flame retardants are toxic to humans, period.

Consider buying all-cotton underwear such as Carters union suits (I loved these things) and layering them as a way to avoid using synthetic fabrics in children’s sleepwear, most of which are treated with flame retardants. It is the law that any loose sleepwear, such as little girls’ night gowns, be treated with a flame retardant. Simply avoid those kinds of sleepwear.

Read Labels

Although manufacturers are not required to label the chemicals used in the making of a product’s packaging, you can read labels on sleepwear, cookware, furniture, and so on. Ask salespeople where products are manufactured before purchasing, and then do a little internet research into products made in that region. Research companies, distributors, and then, as a first resort (not as a last resort by any means), use common sense. If a product is made from a synthetic of any kind, it will contain toxic chemicals. Most furniture is treated with something before it leaves the factory. Fabrics are treated with sizing, so wash linens, towels, and clothing immediately.

Here is a great article on fabric treatments that are toxic. Eye opening to say the least.

You know that new car smell Americans love to love? That is a myriad of materials off-gassing all at one time. This happens in your car and it happens in your home. It can even happen in your office space. Keep some indoor plants in your own workspace, too.

We can deal with indoor air pollution through some simple and inexpensive actions and choices. I will be working on my home’s air quality. I hope you think about doing the same in your home.