Sunday, July 30, 2006

Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World

I just finished reading Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World: 101 Smart Solutions for Every Family by Philip Landrigan, M.D., Herbert L. Needleman, M.d., and Mary Landrigan, M.P.A. The book was published in 2001 by Rodale, but is out of print. I got my hands on a copy through an inter-library loan. It presents much of the same information as Raising Children Toxic Free, the older more widely available book that I already reviewed, along with some very important new information.

Both books are excellent. What I like most about them is that the authors are public health veterans and they keep in focus the biggest, baddest toxins – lead, radon, and aesbestos. If you learn about toxins through newspapers, magazines, and chat groups, it is easy to get caught up with the very latest studies. According to Landrigan, Needleman, and Landrigan, good old lead remains the most dangerous threat. Odds are that there's lead paint on the walls of the very house MaGreen, BabyG, and I live in. It was built in the 1950s well before lead paint was banned. As readers of this blog know, we have obsessed over cleaning products and plastic bottles, but we never thought to have our walls tested. Fortunately, none of the paint is peeling, but we were about to have our kitchen cabinets sanded down. They are goopy with old paint. Sanding them could cover everything – the floor, toys, bedding – with lead-laden dust and really mess BabyG up. Lead causes loss of IQ, behavioral problems, and other very scary problems. After reading Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World, I convinced MaGreen to put off the kitchen cabinets project until we have the paint tested.

Landrigan, Needleman, and Landrigan's favorite new term is "prudent avoidance." In the section on food additives, they write:
So which food additives should you avoid? Using the theory of prudent avoidance, we suggest that you eliminate as many as possible. This means minimizing exposure to those things that are thought to be linked to health threats, even though the research that can prove or disprove the link may be incomplete or years away. Use your common sense to determine just how much risk you're willing to accept and what level of effort you're willing to commit to avoid items and lifestyles that may prove hazardous to your health and or the health of your children.
Prudent avoidance is their advice not only for food additives, but also for insecticides, herbicides, electromagnetic fields, toxic art supplies, and toxic cleaning supplies. I think it is their way of saying, Just get this crap out of your lives entirely but if you can't, only use it occasionally. They do recommend silicone nipples over plastic nipples for baby bottles, but otherwise they take no positions on plastics. MaGreen and I are trying to do prudent avoidance for all plastic that BabyG might eat from or stick in her mouth because of the new research on pthalate exposure.

Here are three new sources of toxins I learned about from the book:
1) Dirty curtains, especially heavy ones, hold lots of dust that can cause allergies and asthma
2) Home-made or natural peanut butter from health food stores may have a naturally occurring toxin called aflatoxin, which is produced by the mold Apergillus flavus. So even though they recommend buying locally grown organic food, for peanut butter they advise buying commercially prepared brands.
3) Elephant's ears, aloe, amaryllis, angel wings, chrysanthemums, cyclamens, dumb cane, golden pothos, poinsettias, and philodendrons are all toxic houseplants.
The new book is written as a series of tips. So it is easy to pick up for a minute or two and freshly freak yourself out. In that sense, the book deserves an official Green Parenting FREAK OUT award. But I think it is good to keep the freak out juices flowing because otherwise you start to convince yourself that there probably isn't lead in the paint and the toilet bowl cleaner probably won't hurt your baby if she drinks it. I started to worry, though, about the whole prudent avoidance thing, because prudent and prudish come from the same root. As I got to the last third of the book, my anti-purity hackles were aroused. Part of me wants to sneak into the Landrigan's house and look under their sink. I bet there's a secret stash of Draino, Windex, and Snickers bars in there.

Friday, July 28, 2006


I am here to report on the woman who told you to wipe the Windex from your lives, to kick the Comet, to breathe freer with out the Frebreeze, to cleanse your lives of chemical cleaners of all sorts…the green guru who researched natural cleaning alternatives until the pads of her fingers burned and then announced that the smell of vinegar is cleaner than the smell of the “clean” most of us grew up appreciating…who is forcing her cat to forego the Frontline in favor of brewer’s yeast and lemon rinses.  That woman.  The Earthy Avenger.  The Chemical Crusher. Her.  I am here to report she entered willingly into a scuffle with a Rustoleum Tub and Tile refinishing kit and lost.  

She was looking for a new drain plug in a hardware store when the Rustoleum Kit blindsided her with it’s promise of a porcelain sheen.  She imagined herself chopping vegetables in the kitchen, laughing next to a sink glowing with clean.  Her dirty, bluish, stain-magnet of a dull sink would be a distant memory.  Nobody could be depressed in a kitchen with a sink like sunshine.  Her baby would bring baby friends over and say, “Look at that fabulous sink my mommy made.”  That’s the future she deserved, she felt it deep in her bones, as she plopped the Rustoleum Kit into her bag without even checking the long list of toxic hazards it contained.  

Fast forward a few days.  The plummer has already removed her water spouts and the drains.  Baby and Daddy have been sent off to watch a movie at Heather Auntie’s.  The Guru of Green has already scoured her sink, as per directions, with Barkeeper’s Friend and Barkeeper’s Lime Remover.  Her husband calls and tells her to open the kitchen window.  She does.  Then she sands the sink’s surface, and wipes it.  Finally, she is ready for the fun to begin.

Miss No-Toxicity-In-My-House-Pants stands at her trusty kitchen counter with can A, which is a clear liquid that smells like it could contaminate one of the smaller Great Lakes.  She pours can A into can B, which looks like paint.  Together they are thinnish paint with fumes so potent she doesn’t even notice how high she immediately becomes.  She is so high she forgets how she has turned a leaf against hanging out in noxious fumes, and she paints her sink with a baby paint roller.

In the hour before she applies coat two, she feels faint.  Just as she begins dipping the roller into the paint, her neighbors pop over and notice her eyes are glazed.  They prop up a fan in her window, which they open entirely; they make her keep her door open, even though it let in the mosquitoes; they tsk-tsk before leaving her alone to finish the work, which she does.

Afterwards, she escapes the fumes by hiding in her bedroom.  But she doesn’t really escape them.  She thinks of two separate emails she has received from her husband earlier that day, with the subject lines:  WE SHOULD WASH THE CURTAINS (they contain allergens, the body explains) and NO SANDING (of the cabinets, until they are checked for lead).   Her husband is in the middle of a book called, How To Raise Your Children Toxic Free.  He will be arriving any minute, with baby BabyG, who Miss Greeny-Two-Shoes and her husband have long ago agreed not to poison.  

There is too much storage under the bed to be able to hide there, plus, she is finally old enough to realize hiding doesn’t solve anything (especially bad smells).

So calls hubby and asks him to stay away, but now how bad the fumes are.  None of her friends are home, when she tries them, in her hopes hubby will be less angry if she finds a place to sleep for the night ahead of time.  Because the fumes are that bad.  She writes a vague message on her blog until she hear’s hubby calling her from outside the front window.  The baby is crying.  He says the whole backyard is full of fumes.  He knows the names of the fumes, and calls them by name, but he tries very hard not to be very angry, which makes her feel worse.  They end up sleeping on an air mattress in the empty garage apartment behind their home.

But the sink looks really good.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I Am Queen Moron


I'm not hyperbolizing.

Anybody who has been reading this site would justly be terrified by my activites.

But I'm not going to tell you why yet. Gotta wait till tomorrow night, so the extent of my moronicness is fully accomplished.

The person who is closest to guessing what I have done to earn this title wins the first ever Green Parenting contest, and a prize will be forthcoming.

Heather and GreenDaddy are not allowed to guess. Because they know. I am right now cringing because GreenDaddy and BabyG are about to come home and GreenDaddy is going to be freaked.



Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Recent Interview with My Six-Month-Old Daughter

Me: I'm glad we could sit down to talk again.

My Baby: I'm not going to talk unless you hold me…eeeeee…eeeeee…

Me: Upsy-daisy!

My Baby: OK, that's better. In our last interview, you said that you read depressing books about how childcare isn't valued so that you can work for change.

Me: That's right. It's important to be informed without becoming paralyzed by anger.

My Baby: Well, I know now how society could change so that it would be easier for us to be a happy family.

Me: Really how?

My Baby: First I have to tell a story. See, all the goddesses up above decided to have a contest among all the nations, a race. The nation that could get the farthest – not just a few individuals but all the people – would win. When the race started, one nation jumped to an early lead. All their people ran as fast as they could. Their fastest runners were way ahead. The children and old people tried to keep up. After a bit, though, the children and old people couldn't run at all. The fastest runners eventually got exhausted too and the nation as a whole clearly wouldn't win.

Another nation took the lead. They had set up a division of labor ahead of time. The men would do the hardest running and in return they were in charge. The women were expected to take care of the men, children, and elderly. Even though they were not ahead at first, they were able to move forward as a nation at a relatively fast pace. But the men did not put enough resources into supporting the women's caring labor. The women became exhausted and stifled by the work. If a woman wanted to become a full-time racer, she had to do the same amount of caring as always. As more women became dissatisfied, more energy went into crushing their voices and keeping men in charge. The second generation of men didn't want to be like their fathers always racing without spending time with family. The second generation of women refused to participate entirely.

Eventually, the goddesses noticed a third nation that had kept a steady pace and even gained momentum as the other nations slowed down. These people talked openly about taking care of each other ahead of time. Everybody's voices were given consideration including the elderly, women, and advocates for children. Men and women ended up sharing caring labor. Some women didn't do any caring labor. Some men did caring labor full-time. After several generations, this nation ended up winning the race, like the turtle that beat the hare.

Me: I like that story.

My Baby: The moral is that our society should be like the turtle nation.

Me: You should mention that you didn't make up that story. I think I must have been holding you in my lap when I was reading Nancy Folbre's book, The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values. You have to credit her with coming up with that story.

My Baby: I didn't think stories and ideas belonged to anybody. I thought they belong to the world. Just because someone gets a story published first, does that mean they own it? I don't think that's how the turtle nation did things.

Me: Nancy Folbre would probably encourage you to think critically about intellectual property rights, but it doesn't hurt to give people credit.

My Baby: Anyhow, I'd like you to put me down on my play mat so I can critically engage with those wooden toys over there.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Green Cat, Flee Fleas: Integrated Pest Management

Getting rid of fleas naturally involves a number of steps. You must treat the animal, it’s environment, and you must attack fleas in all their stages. One note: just as your feline friends have been telling you for years, they are extraordinarily sensitive creatures. You can make more repellents for dogs than for cats. As I will say throughout this article sort of obsessively (I like cats): don't put essential oils on them.

KEY: EO equal Essential Oil. ACV: apple cider vinegar. DE: Diatomaceous Earth.


1) DOGS ONLY: Boil 2 cups of Rosemary Leaves in a quart of water for half an hour. Strain, reserving liquid. Add three more quarts of cool water, to make a gallon. Saturate the dog with this. Let the dog dry naturally.
2) DOGS ONLY: Wash dog with watered down dish detergent. In the final rinse, add a few drops of Tea Trea or Lavender EO.
3)DOGS AND CATS: Wash in mild detergent, not in flea shampoo, to kill fleas.

Combing: Check for fleas on a regular basis. They are black. Their eggs are white.

Diet: Just like a wolf picks off the sickly sheep in a herd, fleas pick on the sickly cats. Commercial cat foods don’t contain a strong balance of nutrients, and this weakens the animals’ immune systems. Feed your animal the best food you can afford to, to avoid fleas. Human grade food brands, like Old Mother Hubbard or Wellness are examples of these kinds of food. Some people even serve the animals food they cook themselves.


Garlic (FOR NO DOGS AND NO CATS): Some people suggest giving a clove of garlic to dogs daily will make fleas avoid them, which might be true, but many sites warn garlic can be toxic to dogs and cats: here, here, and here, for example.

Brewer's Yeast (DOGS AND CATS): Add a teaspoon a day to the animal’s food. If the animal develops a skin irritation, as some do, stop giving it the yeast.

Vitamin BI (DOGS AND CATS): Ask your vet how much.

Apple Cider Vinegar (DOGS AND CATS): Add a teaspoon to the animal’s water dish. The acidic smell grosses out fleas.

TOPICAL REPELLENTS: When making a topical repellents, remember to get behind the dog’s ears, around its head, at its rump, and in its armpits. Be careful of any sore spots, the dogs’ very sensitive nose and its eyes. Most of these can be used by humans, as well. BUT NOT CATS UNLESS IT SAYS SO. Also, products may also repel mosquitoes.

Citrus Repellent (DOGS and CATS):
Slice a lemon, pour three cups of boiling water over it, and let it sit overnight. Put the resulting mixture into a spray bottle, and spray it all over your DOG. Cover the lemon with boiling water and let it steep overnight. Next day you have a flea repellent that you can use in a spray bottle. Don’t saturate pet, just gently rub mixture into its fur.

Apple Cider Vinegar Repellent (DOGS and CATS): Spray a fifty-fifty water-vinegar solution on the dog or cat.

Lavender Repellent(DOGS ONLY): Add 10 dr Lavender EO and 5 dr. Cedarwood EO into one Tablespoon of Sweet Almond Oil. Twice a week, smear into the animal’s skin.

Flea Collar (DOGS ONLY): 1) Apply a few drops of Eucalyptus, Citronella, Geranium, Lavender, or Tea Tree EO to a bandana, rope, or collar on a weekly basis.

Another Herbal Repellent(DOGS ONLY):
2 drops of cedarwood, lemongrass, rose geranium EO, 1 teaspoon ACV, 1 teaspoon vodka, 1 cup of dried peppermint, eucalyptus, and/or bay leaf herbs, and 1 - 2 cups of water

Last Herbal Repellents (DOGS ONLY):
1) 2 and a half teaspoons of basil, bay leave, cedarwood, citronella, eucalyptus, juniper, lemon, lemongrass, myrrh, palmarosa, peppermint, pine, rose geranium, sage, sweet orange, tangerine, tea tree, EO – in any combination; 1 cup 190-proof grain alcohol (from the liquor store). Mix together in a jar, shake well. Test your skin to insure you aren’t allergic. Fine tune by adding any other scents, so you like the smell. Put it in a fine misting spray bottle, apply to clothes and skin.
2) Same as first recipe, but use distilled water instead of alcohol.
3) Same as first recipe, use 2 oz base oil (sweet almond, ie) instead of alcohol. Rub into dog’s fur.

Flea Powdered for the very Motivated (DOGS and CATS):
1 part food grade diatomaceous earth, 2 parts feverfew flowers, 2 parts mullein flowers, 2 parts yarrow flowers, leaves, and stems and 1 part sage or thyme. For the greatest potency, make only when needed. Grind the fresh ingredients in an electric coffee grinder or use a mortar and pestle. Sprinkle and brush into your pet's coat.

1) Vacuum all the cracks in your home, especially around the animals’ beds.
2) Vacuum with a bunch of food grade (not swimming pool grade) Diatomaceous Earth in the vacuum bag…it spreads around nicely.
3) Sprinke salt, borax (NOT CATS), or Diatomaceous Earth on carpets; leave over night; vacuum. Remember to empty the vacuum bag!
4) Mop frequently in flea season.
5) Get rid of area rugs during season;
6) Steam clean carpets/furniture as steam kills the fleas.

1) (DOGS AND CATS) Wash pet bedding regularly. Sprinkle rosemary or eucalyptus leaves in the bedding. No rosemary if the animal is pregnant.
2) (DOGS ONY) Add Eucalyptus EO to the final rinse.

Light Trick: (DOGS AND CATS)
1) Pour a small amount of Dawn dishwashing liquid or dog flea shampoo in a pie tin, add water to just below the rim and set it on the floor, near the pet’s bed, on a white (important that its white) towel or folded sheet. Use a desk lamp with a flexible neck and set it next to the tin and aim the light into the pan. Turn off the other lights in the room. For some reason this attracts fleas (and flies) and they jump into the liquid and drown. This is great when you can't spray or use chemicals in the house.
2) Buy a plug in light, with a sticky pad, that will also attract fleas.

Diatomaceous Earth: (DOGS AND CATS) Dry out the fleas larvae.
1) Sprinkle under furniture and into other nooks and crannies around your house will kill fleas and flea eggs by cutting into their waxy skin and dehydrating them. If you have carpet, rub it into the carpet with a broom, wait a couple days, then vacuum;
2) Put them in the vacuum cleaner’s bag and vacuum, spreading it around.
3) Powder the pet with it, but stop if your pet seems to react badly.

Boric acid or 20 Mule Team Borax: (DOGS ONLY) Also dries out larvae. Toxic to cats. Use as you would DE, but don’t rub on the pet.

Salt: Use as you would DE, but don’t rub it on the pet.

DE & Borax, 50/50 Mix: Sprinkle into carpets, rub with broom, vacuum later. Don’t let kids or pets crawl there until vacuumed, as the abrasive products may irritate them.


Diatomaceous Earth (DOGS and CATS): Cheap, inexpensive, made of ground up one-celled ocean organisms. Spread it on your yard, walkways, and garden beds. If it rains a lot, repeat every month. Less often if it isn’t a rainy climate. This works by drying up the larvae and fleas. Fleas can’t develop immunity. I know several Houstonians who swear by it. As noted above, you can also dust a room with it to eliminate a flea problem there. ***NOTE*** Theresa just wrote and said this kills beneficial bugs, as well. So target use of this project.

Nematodes (DOGS and CATS): These are microscopic worms that munch on flea larvae, and thus, they naturally control the flea population. Get them at the garden store, put them in moist, shady spots near your home. Don’t put them in the sun, they’ll die. They breed quickly, so you don’t need tons.
Garden: Grow Marygold or Fennel. I can’t think of why growing Eucalyptis or other smelly plants wouldn’t also help?
1) Keep grass short and rake the leaves.
2) Grow Marygold or Fennel. (I can’t think of why you wouldn’t grow any of the plants with strong smells, that you’d put in the pesticides?) 3) Flood areas dogs or cats congregate. Fleas drown.

DISCLAIMER: I have researched all this on the internet and culled info from many sources. Before using any of these products – or any products labeled “natural” or otherwise – on your animal, you may want to do research on your own to ensure the product will be a good match for your animal. I am not a veterinarian or a pet expert. Just a nosy internet savvy, green mamma.

CAUTIONS FOR CATS: Most Essential Oils can kill cats. Do not put any on your cat, no matter how diluted…they build up over time in the cat’s system. AVOID THE FOLLOWING FOR CATS AND DOGS: Rosemary for pregnant cats or dogs. Garlic. Flea powders containing pyrethrins or other poisons. Pennyroyal, rue, wormwood. Tea tree has bad effects in some pets.

All Purpose Bug Spray for Plants
2 tablespoons vinegar, 2 tablespoons canola oil, 2 tablespoons Murphy's oils soap, 3 tablespoons baking soda Add all ingredients to 2 gallons of warm water; combine in a handheld sprayer and mist-spray your plants until they are dripping wet. Best done in the early evening to avoid burning leaves.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Dr. Spock – A Forgotten Guru of Green Parenting?

MaGreen's labor slowed down considerably just when we reached the nurse's station. We were embarrassed. I swear Mr. Mechanic, the engine was making a strange noise just a few minutes ago. So MaGreen and I started walking around the hospital floor hoping that the movement would get the labor going strong again. The strange thing was that most of the hospital floor was about to be demolished. Hallway after hallway of empty rooms lit by fluorescent lights. Wards that once bustled with doctors groping nurses in starched white uniforms. Empty. Supply closets, stairwells, bathrooms. All empty. There were a few boxes of latex gloves lying around. The corkboards were tacked with performance evaluations of disbanded teams.

We found a dark waiting room with some tattered couches. There was a shelf of books. Most of the titles were mystery novels. My eye settled on the one parenting book among them. It was a twenty-year-old paperback edition of Dr. Spock's famous childcare manual. I didn't know anything about Dr. Spock. The cover of the book was shorn off and the pages browned. I thought it might be entertaining to find all the sexisms and outmoded assumptions in it. I stuck the book in my pocket thinking (wrongly) that I might need something to read in the hospital. Twelve hours later BabyG was born. I forgot about the book and left it in the car trunk where it got even more tattered.

Six months later I went to the airport to pick MaGreen and BabyG up after their adventures in Utah. I had an hour to wait. There was Dr. Spock in the trunk. He became my companion in the crowded baggage claim area. To my great surprise, there was a chapter towards the end that offered tips to agnostic parents. How was it that such a mainstream parenting guide could even mention agnosticism? I read the first few pages of that chapter eagerly. It described very clearly the challenges and questions an agnostic parent, like myself, faces. The deep questions. How do you hold back from foisting your believes on your child? How do you teach skepticism without squashing belief in the possibility of mystery and unknowable forces?

Before I could get to the answers, I saw an acquaintance of ours who had her baby one month after MaGreen did and I hadn't seen her since then so I stopped reading and said hello. We first met this woman when she hosted Green Party meetings. That was back in 2000 when Ralph Nader was a candidate for US President and when Gore won but Bush occupied the White House. More recently, she ran a non-profit that trained Latina women as doulas. Her partner is a famous activist folk singer and was, at the time, on tour in Europe.

"What are you reading?" she asked.

"I'm reading Dr. Spock," I said.

"Is he the one who believes in harsh discipline and leaving children alone when they cry at night?" she asked.

"No, no," I said. "I think you're thinking of Ferber."

Later, when MaGreen was cleaning out her car, she threw away the Dr. Spock book thinking that nobody was reading the tattered, old copy. Between our activist friend confusing Spock for Ferber and MaGreen throwing away the book, I started to become defensive on Spock's behalf. How could he be so easily forgotten, his work buried in the rubble of demolished maternity wards?

So I went to the used bookstore, but all the copies of his book were recent. Dr. Spock's voice was lost, in my opinion, as he started revising with the help of younger doctors. The section on agnostic parenting was cut. Lost forever. I did find, however, a biography of Dr. Spock, which I bought and read. Here's what I learned:

1) He received a gold metal for rowing on a US Olympic crew team.
2) He studied Freud and psychoanalysis extensively. He was perhaps the first US doctor to get specialized training in both pediatrics and psychiatry.
3) His parenting advice in Baby and Childcare was infused with a psychoanalytic perspective without using Freudian jargon or ever referencing Freud.
4) The book ultimately sold over 50 million copies and was translated into 39 languages.
5) His approach was markedly less disciplinary and violent than those of previous experts.
6) He was the first person of celebrity status to oppose the Vietnam war and tirelessly worked to end the war. He helped persuade Martin Luther King to publicly oppose the war and in 1967 they marched together in Chicago.
7) He ran for President of the US as the official candidate of the People's Party on an antiwar platform.

MaGreen and I have tried to envision Green Parenting as bringing together the personal, home-based actions of raising a child with collective, political action. And we have struggled, especially with the second part. Perhaps we don't need to look any further than Dr. Spock as an example. He felt an obligation to act on behalf of young people at every level, from toilet training to marching in the streets. As the old hospitals tumble and new parents look for the latest advice, I think we should be mindful that every old-time parenting expert wasn't a reactionary-tie-your-kids-up-and-beat-them authoritarian. Green Parenting already has a history. We just need to find that history, name it, mimic its successes, and learn from its mistakes. Right?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Green Cat Flea Bait? (#2 of 3)

Bugs are wet and sweaty Texas’ state birds. By bugs I count butterflies and dragon flies in fairness, but what I really mean are cockroaches, venomous things, mosquitoes and the pissy little insect in question: fleas. When summer hit Houston sometime that February after I first found percy, and he started losing his hair, and I kept getting minuscule “mosquito” bites, I never imagined “fleas” were the culprits. As a native of alpine, cold, and dry Utah, I really thought fleas only existed in nineteenth century novels.

As I’ve noted, Percy suffered immensely from my ignorance.

Percy’s pomades of choice from that day forward have been Advantage and/or Frontline flea killers. Some vet, many years ago, promised me that the active ingredient in these killers is a salt, and that the salt isn’t bad for my cat or me or my baby, and I was content to believe it because it worked. But then GreenDaddy just read that book about raising your children toxic free, and made me look up the ingredients in both flea killers -- Imadacloprid in one, Aryleterocycles in the other -- and I found that they were, indeed bad toxins. I also realized that over 90% of most of the rest of the ingredents aren't listed, and I know because I am a smart cookie who has read up on this sort of thing, that the inactive, unlisted ingredients are often much more toxic than the active ones.

I want to be a green parent. Fleas make the cat very sick. The two things that work to kill the fleas in Texas are toxic. Sigh.

Everybody on the internet knows all this. I found two particularly thorough articles from the Animal Protection of New Mexico website, one on why spot-on flea killers are not safe, the other on how to get rid of fleas naturally. I’ve also read a number of articles citing very sick pets, and sometimes sick humans, resulting from the flea killers.

So I read lots of articles about natural remedies. When I read stories of people who tried them, I don’t get lots of assurance they’re going to work. And the problem I have with them is that some “natural” ingredients aren’t safe for dogs and cats.

Two important examples of natural ingredients you SHOULD NOT USE: GARLIC causes liver failure in cats and dogs if they eat it regularly; thus, they die by spitting up blood when overexposed. ESSENCIAL OIL EXTRACTS: have killed many cats.

Even my diehard “natural” friends, in Texas, laugh at me when I tell them I need to stop using Frontline and Advantage. Percy has never had monthly doses of either…he’s like Izzy Mom and deodorant: he uses it about a third as often as the box says he should, and that works fine.

I am going to try to use other methods. In my next post I'll offer a number of recipes, treatments, etc. Still, I can’t help feeling skeptical. I admit this ahead of time. Deep inside my imperfect green brain I suspect that the only really effective treatments for fleas, outside of Advantage and Frontline, is moving to a northern clime.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Black Cat Green Cat #1: Fatty

When I met him in the fall of the Y2K, Percy Arnold was a sleek, black, good-looking feline sick of subsisting on birds and rats; I was a single, 20-something, depressive, aspiring writer prone to recklessness.  As I am fond of saying, he wanted a human more than I didn’t want a cat.  Throughout that fall and into the early winter Percy courted me fearlessly: yeowling pathetically at my window and feigning starvation, especially when I had guests;  darting into the little blue house, between my legs, whenever I brought in groceries; and curling up on my lap like a strong, street-smart safety blanket on the many evenings I sat on my porch, steeping in the sort of sorrows a woman of my nature was prone to.  

By January of 2001 I was purchasing cat food.  A month later, the litter box arrived, we had weathered varied trips to the Spay and Neuter Clinic, and it was all enough for me to believe our long-term relationship had been formalized.  A couple months after that, handsome Percy had transformed into a swollen, fat glob of lusterlessness.  Worse, he had a reverse Mohawk: a hairless line ran down from the nape of his neck to his spine.  The shock of his bad fur-do was augmented by scabby, swollen ears.  None of this had ever happened to any of my cats in Utah.

Many trips to veterinarians and late-night Google searches later, I learned he was allergic to fleas, mosquitoes, and cheap cat food.  Percy’s regimen has developed over time, since then.

I changed his cat food to Iams, which the dog groomers I used to work for had used. Percy, who had already gained a few pounds living with me, gained a few more. My fat glob of lusterlessness had turned into a veritable, furry pillow. His dull hair lost even more shine. I went to a vet just for cats.

The cat vet looked at me like I was a cat killer and told me I should be able to see Percy's ribs. I thought he might even call feline social services. But he gave me a chance, and switched Percy's food to something much more expensive. He lost a couple pounds on that food, but then I noticed it was made out of pork. By this time, GreenDaddy had come into the picture, and GreenDaddy has a real, almost obsessive fear of pork. Ask him about it sometime. I asked the vet for more help. What we decided has remained the cat's diet throughout the last few years.

Percy eats two small servings of human-grade, Wellness/Mother Hubbard brand cat food that has vegetables in it, as well as Salmon and Turkey (he is not a vegetarian, however he does not eat red meat or pork.)  The food is expensive, but in keeping with the vet’s orders, he eats a lot less of it than he did the other food.  The price about evens out.  More importantly, changing food dramatically reduced his sickliness within a couple of months.  

Now, Percy is as slender as kitten (still not the beanpole the vet would like, but seeing my cats ribs would freak me out). He is playful, again, and doesn't spend the days sleeping.  However, he now likes to sneak out of my house and scour the neighborhood for other cats’ food.  Last night, as I pulled into the driveway, I caught him meowing to be let into neighbor Zeke’s house, where I have been informed he has often finished off what the finicky kitten Lou Ann will not.  Still: that he’s spry enough to sneak around at all is a big improvement.

Next Installment: Fleas

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Flea Killing Pomade for Men: Green Parenting Survey #1

I am so nerdily excited! Green Parenting has received its first requests for advice. The (certainly delusional) bones in my body that have always known, deep inside, that I am wiser and full of better hints than Heloise, Ann Landers, Miss Manners, Dr. Ruth and Dan Savage are all heated up -- they're glowing, buzzing, mooing, I say, and quite tantalizingly so, of self-importance.

Quixotic Mama is asking about what we do to get rid of fleas; Lou wants to know about natural pommades. As it turns out, I had been working up a post about the cat (we don't have dogs) anyways, as Raj was just wondering abou fleas the other day. But the pommade thing will take even extra research.

Does anybody out there have any suggestions about natural, home-made pommades for men? Or for that matter, does anyone want to weigh in on the natural (no Advantage, FrontLine etc.) flea issue before I post something that sounds all knowing but isn't as smart as what you've always done? Please share!

It just now occurs to me that it would serve all sorts of important purposes if somebody could come up with a pommade for men that also repels fleas. Think greaser poodles.

Anyway. It has been my turn to post for the last few days, and this is my promise that I will post soon. It is true I had a momentary lapse of writer's oomph while trying to decide what to write about boundaries and plastics, but the more immediate prospect of answering actual questions has thawed me out.

So thanks Quixotic Mama and Lou for making my bones moo.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Bicycling Without Antiperspirant

This blog chronicles our family's attempt to live green. We have systematically tried to eliminate poisons from our home and our yard; reduce our negative impact on the environment; and contribute to movements for social justice. And we insist on enjoying ourselves. Most of the time, these goals complement each other. For example, locally grown, organic vegetables don't bring pesticides into the home, buying them improves conditions for farm workers, and they taste better than conventionally grown vegetables. In Houston, this most improbable of places for a green lifestyle – the most polluted major city in the US – our efforts have paid off already. As MaGreen put it in the fabulous new Green Parenting banner, we're living la vida verde in megalopoland.

However, sometimes green parenting goals aren't exactly complementary…

I bicycle to work for a number of reasons. If I bicycle, we can easily get by with one car. That saves us on car payments, taxes, inspections, insurance, repairs, maintenance, traffic tickets, parking fees, and gas. I've bicycled to work for over two years now and I think we've saved at least $10,000. In terms of parenting, those savings could be seed money for a college fund. I also stay much healthier. Despite sitting at a desk for forty to sixty hours per week, I have not gained weight or suffered higher cholesterol. I also meet other bicyclists and have made new friends because I'm not encased in steel. Finally, bicycles have a negligible impact on the environment while cars are destroying the planet. It's a no brainer for someone like me who is physically capable of riding a bike and who lives three miles from his workplace.

I don't wear antiperspirants because they are filled with possible toxins – petrochemicals, aluminum, and other stuff I don't know about. Petrochemicals like phthalates and parabens create the "scent." They can disrupt the endocrine system (as in hormones) because the body can confuse them with estrogen. The level of phthalate exposure from antiperspirants for an adult may not be high enough to be considered toxic, but because children's bodies are developing quickly the potential for harm is greater. I'd rather not have any aromatic phthalates floating in the air near my baby. The aluminum in antiperspirants is sucked up into the armpit and blocks the sweat glands, but it may increase chances of developing Alzheimer's and breast cancer. The scientific data for phthalate and aluminum exposure is not as conclusive as the data on tobacco or aesbestos, but I won't be convinced that they are safe to have around my child until they are definitively proven to be safe. And I won't accept standards set by the companies that sell those products. The standards should be set by independent scientists and advocates who have proven their commitment to children.

Now, here's the dilemma. You can get away with driving an air-conditioned car without antiperspirant. Or you can ride a bicycle wearing antiperspirant. But is it possible to bicycle (in the sweltering heat of a semi-tropical city in the summer) without antiperspirant? In the US, people are expected to exude the petro-stink of spring fields – not the scent of actual spring fields but the hyper-real scent of imagined spring fields. We certainly are not to smell like a human body. Furthermore, I'm a brown-skinned man living in a deeply racist society. I cannot afford to carry any kind of body odor. The perception of foul odor is exactly the kind of stereotype people make about Indians. Stinky, oily Hindus. Perhaps my skin color and ethnicity make me hyper-aware, but can anybody get away with body odor at work besides record store clerks in the Haight Ashbury?

That stubborn crevice with its coarse tuft of hair. It undermines our highest ambitions!

I've tried the alternatives to antiperspirants available at the health food store. Salt crystals not only failed as a deodorant, but made me feel ridiculous. (I've heard others swear by them.) The Tom's of Maine deodorant, which doesn't use phthalates, alcohol, or aluminum, works OK for a few hours because it has its own strong scent. Lafe's Natural and Organic is OK as well, but neither work through my summer bicycle rides or even through a hectic day inside the office. So is there a solution? During the past few months, I've had to repeatedly wash my underarms with soap and water. I take a break, go to the bathroom, take off my shirt, and wash my underarms. It takes around two minutes. Then I don't smell. Not like a sweaty body or like Britney-Smears-fake-o-freshness-petrochemicals.

Constantly washing myself isn't great, though. It feels obsessive. I can't always escape to the bathroom. Sometimes I'm stuck in a room full of people desperately locking my arms down and my armpits shut. I'd like to know if anybody else has tried to deal with this problem and found better methods.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hating Green

Everybody else is doing this. Writing about 20 things they hate. So I will, too. I'll tag Robin at the Other Mother, and Fiddler. Who may respectfully decline if they're in too good of moods to think of what they hate. (You all, of course, don't need to write about hating "green." Just whatever comes to your mind. Izzy Mom's is pretty funny.)

Anyway, here's the list of things that particularly annoy me about being green, or because I'm being green.

1. The revolution is costing us whole paychecks, man. I mean anything organic/healthy/not-going-to-kill-me-with chemicals costs exactly the same as the normal product, Squared. And anybody offering "green" services -- like checking my house for mold, or helping me build a green porch, etc, costs the same price as other handy people, Cubed. l

2. Being called a hippie. I grew up in Utah and can't think of the term as anything but derogatory, and I don't have the chutzpah to decide to "reclaim" the word. I hate it, too, because I think of the hippie kids I knew grewing up, whose parents didn't really look after them in the name of "freedom". I was enough one of those kids that the idea of hippie momming just pisses me off. But, I've said this before.
3. That I am judgemental about hippies.

4. Saying, "We don't hava TV," because it embarasses me. It sounds too much like saying "I'm a vegetarian" sounded about ten years ago. People always wince and get ready for me to start pounding into them about the evils of their tv watching, beef eating lifestyles. For the record, I like TV so much I have to hide it from myself.

5. I hate apologising for not having a television.

6. The hellhoundish squeals of delight squirrels make for days after having destroyed our little garden makes me want to give up my vegetarian ways and make a batch of squirrel stew.

7. My sort of moldy, blackish green thumb that makes my garden in verdant Houston look like its growing in a barren patch of the Sahara.

8. The smell of vinegar which, alas, is my primary cleaning product these days.

9. Co-sleeping when my baby wakes up, slap-happy, at 2 am, in the mood to play with me.

10. When her decision to let me know she's woken up all giddy isn't by the sweet sound of her gurging voice, but by the agonizing digging of her fingernails that have grown three inches longer since she went to bed, into my unsuspecting cheeks, eyes, and/or nostrils.

11. Elimination Communication, when I drop the potty on the bed in the middle of the night, which, thank God, I haven't done in awhile. Knock on wood panelling. Or when I don't position the potty right and my young lady pees on my leg. GROSS.

12. When I think I know she has to poo or pee and I'm wrong, and she looks at me like I' absolutely, completely insane or screams at me like I'm the most insensitive creep she's run into in her six months of life.

13. I hate how things that aren't green are portrayed of as "fun" things, and how greens are portrayed as boring, and how greens fall into the trap by getting the "world-is-ending" tone in their voice that scares the shit out of people and makes them want to drink Margaritas and jump into their Hummers to go on spending sprees at Walmarts.

14. That I have to think of an alternate way to do about 800 normal things that should be done the alternate way in the first place. Like figuring out how to get rid of my cat's fleas without poisioning anybody with the Advantage that has been one of our most beloved friends for the last five years.

15. Water that comes in plastic bottles. I've posted about this fairly recently, already, and plan to write more about it soon, so I won't go into too much detail. THERE IS NO BENEFIT TO BUYING WATER IN A PLASTIC BOTTLE. Except to the Coca Cola company, maybe, and other corporations that have figured out how to sell us something that we KNOW is supposed to be free, it is one of the unmentioned, self-evident rights Tommy J. wrote about when they were planning the first revolution. Buy water filters for your tap. Eighty bucks for a fabulous one with a separate spout, so you don't have to wait for any filtering.

16. Bikram Yoga and Power Yogas. I have done both, will probably do both again because I like yog itself. But I hate how yoga is billed as something green and good when it can be as vapid as any aerobics class. Bikram classes destroy the planet by having their heaters on high all day long, Ashtanga classes are full of competitive yogi vibes that gross me out. Sigh. Probably I'll go to one of the two by the end of the week, though.

17. I hate how mosquitoes don't seem to be aware that my natural mosquito repellent is meant to repel them away from me and my succulent, tasty little baby girl. Yo Skeeters! If it smells like Eucalyptis, YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO LIKE IT. Can I make this any clearer?

18. Shampoos and toothpastes (like Tom's of Maine's, last time I checked) from the healthfood store that still have the icky petro byproducts, or the laurel sulfates.

19. I hate how much plastic comes with parenthood, no matter how much we try to avoid it. And that I'd rather give up chocolate than ZipLocs.

20. Will they ever make a healthy deoderant that works?

Wow. It's over so soon! I must be a real asshole because a few of the other people writing about 20 things they hate wrote about how coming up with 20 things to hate was hard and I feel like I could keep going into the next millenium. Which isn't to say they're bad bloggers, but that I must have a really darkened psyche.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Raising Children Toxic Free

I found a used book called Raising Children Toxic Free. It was published in 1994 by HarperCollins. The authors, Drs. Herbert L. Needleman and Philip J. Landrigan, are both pediatricians. Both of them devoted their careers to public health research and campaigns for the regulation of toxins, especially lead poisoning. Their work back in the 1970s helped to show that even low levels of exposure to lead could harm a child's mental development. As more and more research was done by non-industry scientists, the "acceptable" level of lead in the environment and in children's blood was revised downwards several times. In Raising Children Toxic Free, Needleman and Landrigan bring their expertise as pediatric public health scientists, and their experience fighting for policies to reduce lead poisoning, to helping parents keep a whole range of toxins out of our children. They are rational. Their claims are based on evidence. At the same time, they do not believe – as we are often encouraged to believe by advertisements and corporate propaganda – that we should assume a chemical is safe until giant studies prove otherwise.

Needleman and Landrigan give five reasons for children's greater vulnerability to toxins:

1) Children absorb more through their intestines and lungs than adults.
2) Children stick their hands in their mouths after playing on the floor and in the dirt.
3) Children breath, eat, and drink more as a percentage of their total weight.
4) Children's immune and detoxifying systems are, in many cases, less strong.
5) Children's bodies are developing very quickly, so anything that alters cellular growth can have far more dramatic effects than in adults. This is also especially true with fetuses.

Given that children are more vulnerable than adults to toxins, you would think that regulations of toxins would be based on child health. Needleman and Landrigan explain that, unfortunately, this is rarely true. The chemical levels that are defined as acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency are based on what adults can tolerate.

After their basic introduction to pediatric toxicology, they discuss several major groups of toxins chapter by chapter. These are lead, mercury, asbestos, pesticides, radiation, tobacco, solvents and PCBs, and air pollution. In the back of the books, there is a household inventory, which is basically a questionnaire you can go through to determine if your child is exposed to any of these toxins and what actions you can take to reduce their exposure.

The specific sources of toxins that they cover are leaded paint, lead pipes, asbestos-insulated pipes. basement living areas where radon can accumulate, inadequately ventilated fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, storm windows that seal pollutants indoors, termite treatments, gas stoves with pilot burners, kerosene space heaters, gas clothes dryers, electronic air precipitators, furnace humidifiers, lawn pesticides, flea repellant for pets, pesticides stored in the house, old prescription drugs, motor oil, alcohol, toluene, dry-cleaning, gasoline, home insulation, cigarette smoke, glues, toilet-bowl cleaners, room deodorizers, polishes, varnishes, and paint thinners.

I highly recommend the book to parents. For that matter, I think people without kids should be interested as well. The only problem with the book is that it hasn't been revised since its initial publication in 1994. It seems to be out of print, but used copies are widely available on the internet. Their more recent book, with its decidedly less optimistic title Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World, was published in 2002 but is very hard to find. I'll try to find a copy soon and write about it.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Green Inventions That Aren't

Since I just got back from Utah, where I could actually smell life in the air as opposed to Houston where I am oppressed by the flatulent odor of hundreds of factories that never stop oozing whatever into the air, I'm wondering just where in the hell is the Sky Vac.

We have rockets, we have airplanes, we have little cameras that can be cranked down into a person's veins, we have chemicals that if released into the air or water would poison a city the size of New York. So why do we sit around marvelling at the genius of our species in air contaminated by factory and motor vehicle feces? Why isn't there a vacuum to clean up all the toxins from the air?

I admit that it would be complicated to create. How to create a large enough machine that wouldn't create as many toxins while it worked as it ate up, for instance. Or, more prosaically, how not to suck up the birds and butterflies.

Still, if there's one thing I've become more certain of as I get older, the world is continents full of really smart people. It seems we not only should be able to suck up the toxins, but that we should be able to convert them to something we need more of. Ozone, chocolate, organic blueberries, something.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

More Organic Rice Cereal Please

My wife and baby came home after being away for over a month. I was afraid BabyG would treat me like a stranger. She didn’t. I could tell by how relaxed she felt in my arms that she knew me and remembered enough to think of me as part of herself, her little circle of projected me-ness. I still thought to myself, “We need to reconnect. I’ll put you in a sling. I’ll take a nap next to you at noon. I’ll sing you all the songs I’ve been singing to you since you were in the womb.” This evening after MaGreen went to pick up a rental movie BabyG started to cry. She seemed hungry so I mixed some expressed milk with organic rice cereal. We’ve tried to feed her rice cereal before, but she usually plays with it in her mouth for a few seconds before blowing the food out like she’s trying to make bubbles. This time she ate it. I had to mix an extra batch because she wanted more.

I feel like this could be the beginning in the shift from the strict, biologically-defined role of mother as the sole food giver to a more shared parenting, which I’ve been looking forward to for six months.