Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Going "green" with laundry detergent - why you should consider the switch

Before becoming pregnant, I never really gave laundry detergent too much thought besides "does it smell good?"  I figured that detergent is detergent. I would also load up on the fabric softener sheets to a totally ridiculous level. When I became interested in cloth diapering and living more naturally, and I learned that what is in most mainstream detergents and softeners is not something I want close to my baby's (or my family's) skin at all!

When you cloth diaper, using more natural detergents helps prolong the life of your diapers, keeps them from "repelling" (which means they are no longer absorbent and you have a leaky stinky mess everywhere) and of course keeps only safest ingredients closest to your baby's butt. Some cloth diaper manufacturers list certain mainstream detergents as being ok for their cloth diapers, but for the most part they typically recommend more natural or "green" detergents. I did a little bit of research and found that there are a ton of natural detergents out there- and many are just as reliable as the brands we're all accustomed to finding at the grocery store. I mean, come on, their main job is to clean baby poop. So I experimented with Rockin Green and Country Save (a locally based company for me!). Both are family owned, dye/optical brightener/enzyme/phosphate free. I'll explain below why this is important.

I knew I was hooked when after washing my first load of cloth diapers, I completely smothered my face into a few freshly washed (but not yet dried) prefolds - and hesitantly expected to smell poop (oh, the glamorous parts of motherhood).  And...nothing. All I smelled was the freshest and cleanest cloth I have ever smelled in my entire life. It was like breathing in a field of grass after a rain. So weird to describe, but I was totally sold after that. 
Prepping our cloth diapers for the first time
After using this detergent solely on our cloth diapers for a few weeks, I decided to try it out on some towels that were just... stinky. They were clean, but after towelling off they'd leave a bad smell on our skin. I tried our "special" cloth diaper detergent and with one wash they also had that fresh after the rain smell.. Even after a couple uses later.

That led to the transition in my laundry regime that my "special" detergent was for cloth diapers, baby clothes and towel use only. Admittedly, we still use "regular" detergent for the grown up clothes. The main reason for that is because we still have a lot of it left. However, the plan is to switch completely over very soon.

So what about Dreft, the "baby detergent"? I'll admit that we used it on Penny's clothes before we started washing our own cloth diapers at home because it seemed like the "normal" or "right" way to do it. Dreft claims to use "milder" ingredients to be safer for a baby's sensitive skin. But, like many other baby related products, marketing pushes you towards using a specific baby formula because they know people want what's best for their baby, but many simply don't do their research on why they should use one product over the other. This allows companies to use a higher price tag, and even then people will believe that it's a better product because it costs more!  Some suggest that All Free and Clear is similar enough to Dreft and is much less expensive. However, these detergents still contain harsh chemicals, fragrances, enzymes, brighteners, often times bleach, and are not good for the environment. None of these things I really want in contact with my baby's skin.

But besides your laundry smelling super clean and not like fake mountain meadows, why would you want to use a more natural detergent? Like I mentioned above, enzymes, brighteners, fragrances and bleach are ingredients that cause build up in cloth diapers and clothes (source 1), lead to diaper rash and ultimately you don't want coming in contact with your family's skin.
  • Enzymes in your detergent aren't necessarily a bad thing (source 2), because they help break down stains. Even though they don't always fully wash out of clothing, most people don't have a problem with them coming into contact with their skin. But, babies and people with sensitive skin do.
  • Brighteners are literally chemicals that trick the eye into making colors appear brighter (source 3) - they have nothing to do with how clean your laundry gets.
  • Fragrances are another additive to laundry that aren't essential. Sure, we all love our laundry to smell good, but when you consider that this is another chemical being added to your clothes that you wear all day every day, I don't need that extra exposure thankyouverymuch. If my clothes smell real clean, I'm happy! Have you noticed that there are detergents which actually feature the "fresh linen" smell? How ridiculous!  
  • Environmentally speaking, you want to consider how the manufacturing process leaves a carbon footprint as well as what happens to all those chemicals that you use to wash your clothes (source 4).  Biodegradable, phosphate and fragrance free is the way to be.
If you're curious how your detergent stacks up, Diaper Jungle has a chart that compares most detergents for their use with cloth diapers. Both Rockin Green and Country Save rank highly on that chart - whereas Dreft is at the very bottom. 

Same goes for fabric softener - I haven't used fabric softener in a few years, simply because it is expensive, breaks down the material faster and it's another chemical (source 5). It also is the reason behind why my towels got stinky - they just started to repel and didn't get clean. Instead, I use wool dryer balls (that I made myself!). Here's a great tutorial.  Besides bouncing around in your dryer and beating up your clothes, wool dryer balls help dry your laundry faster and reduce static.

Ever since switching to natural detergent and wool dryer balls, I can definitely feel the difference between that and laundry done the mainstream way. When I do my laundry, I feel like I can feel the cloth as it was meant to feel.  Fabric softener just makes clothes feel oily to me, like I have to wash my hands after touching it. Weird, right? I also like my infant to smell like herself, not other fragrances. Have you ever noticed when you let someone else hold your baby, and you get her back that she smells like who ever was holding her? I feel the same way when I put her into clothes that were washed with other detergents or chemically softened.

As far as loyalty between Rockin Green and Country Save, I think both do a great job. I like that Rockin Green comes in a variety of scents (but once your clothes are washed, they are scent free) and they have different formulas based on if you have hard or soft water.  But I find that Country Save is  more affordable and my dollar goes further. I can also purchase Country Save locally whereas I have to order Rockin Green.

Bottom line for me is that I want to use products that leave minimal residuals on my family, whether it's the detergent we use or the food we eat. Limited exposure to certain chemicals may have been researched as ok/safe, but we're talking about things that we use on a daily basis for our entire lives, and we all react differently.  At the very least, I want to limit my kids' exposures to non-natural products for as long as I can.

1. http://clothdiapers.blogspot.com/2009/09/good-detergent-bad-detergent.html
2. http://www.northjersey.com/news/health/95240839_Are_you_wearing_your_detergent_.html
3. http://www.seventhgeneration.com/learn/video/no-glow
4. http://home.howstuffworks.com/laundry-detergent4.htm
5. http://wisdomofwool.com/?p=710

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yes - play with your food!

I suppose the idea of food is really foreign to babies. After all, they put many things into their mouth all day long and everything has its own flavor, but hopefully most don't break apart or are ok to swallow.

As I watch Penny experiment with new foods for the first time, namely a piece of home made pretzel, I wonder about what she might be thinking..

"Hmm this is so soft and squishy..and warm. It smells so good! Weird, it gets soggy after a while. What gives?"

The main concept of baby led weaning is "food is for fun before one." So each time I give Penny something new to try, I look at it from the perspective of giving her a new toy rather than having a goal in mind. She doesn't understand yet that a squeaky toy does not have any nutritional value, so on the same token, squishing a banana sounds like a ton of fun!

2012 Great Cloth Diaper Survey

Are you a current cloth diapering family? You should totally fill out the 2012 Great Cloth Diaper Survey, which is put on by the Real Diaper Association. It will only take about 15 minutes.Be sure to put me down as a referral! -thepierogiemama@gmail.com-

The RDA is also responsible for putting on the annual Great Cloth Diaper Change - which was started last year in 2011 and both years won a Guinness World Record (and guess what? Penny and I took part in that this year too!).

What do surveys like this accomplish? Well, for one - cloth diapering is making a comeback. It's cool to cloth diaper! Who can resist some of the super cute prints that you can find on a fluffy butt these days? And in the current economy, cloth diapers are a reliable, economical and environmental way to diaper your baby (and you never have to worry about running out of diapers!). So it is important to track how families use cloth diapers and what their habits are. Change 3 Things Challenge by Cotton Babies and events by the RDA are one of the few "legitimate" forms of tracking cloth diaper usage. There are tons of bloggers and retail stores that put on their own surveys, but to my knowledge none of those results are ever reported.

These statistics are important for a couple reasons:
-We can track changes over time.  Virtually every baby in the US was cloth diapered until Pampers was introduced in 1956 (although, Marion Donovan is credited for creating the first disposable diaper in 1947). By the 1990's, nearly every baby was in disposables. In less than 50 years, there was a complete and total flip in usage, where more kids were in 'sposies than cloth. A lot has changed culturally in that amount of time, and it's interesting to see families' reasons behind their choices.
-Information gained from surveys could lead to an increase in support for low income families as an inexpensive way to diaper their children. There have been recent articles depicting low income families who will reuse disposable diapers (sometimes by drying them out with a hair dryer) because they won't have the funds or the ability to get new ones. This is a huge health concern. It may not even occur to some of these families that cloth is an option. Even in a pinch, it's better to use an old tshirt as a diaper than reuse a disposable. Some areas provide assistance with offering free disposables for families in need, and there are very few cloth diaper banks throughout the country as well (Cotton Babies is responsible for the one that I know of, in St Louis).

Are you interested in cloth diapering, but don't know where to start? I'll admit, at first it was a little intimidating.  There are tons of resources out there, and I'd love to help you if you have any questions!

Interesting follow up reads:
Real Diaper Association: Cloth Diaper User Guide
Diaper Jungle's History of Diapering
Cotton Babies - Grants for cloth diapers to missions
Cotton Babies - Donate to Support for Needy families, outlet to send diapers to donate
Diapershops.com- 2011 Cloth Diapering Survey , 2012 Cloth Diapering Survey

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

One last jaunt down Highway 14

It was one of our last weekends at our house in the Portland area, and we decided to take advantage of the beautiful scenery of the Columbia River Gorge on last time. If you ever find yourself in the Gorge - always take Highway 14 on the Washington side. I-84 (on the Oregon side) runs parallel across the river, but it's just a boring straight interstate.

The first summer that Adam and I were together, he took an internship outside of Hood River, Oregon and I drove down a few times to visit him. We took tons of drives all up and down Highway 14 and just fell in love with the twists and turns of the road, cliffs that fall into the Columbia River (of course, so much geological history as well!), plethora of waterfalls, did several hikes and simply enjoyed being two college kids in love.

Now, 5 years later, we took our last drive out there as residents of the area and visited Maryhill Winery. It was a destination that we had been meaning to visit for the last few years, but the renovation always got in the way on the weekends. On a whim, we decided to visit and spent a good part of an afternoon and the start of sunset out there.

Wine tasting is one of our favorite things to do when we travel, but we haven't gotten to do it too much between my pregnancy and the early part of nursing.  Now six months in, I feel a lot more comfortable with how much I can drink and how to time it with nursing.

Penny was a little superstar in the tasting room - her boisterous squeals and now almost constant babble kept us, our server and neighbors entertained.  The website did say that the winery was dog and family friendly, but I wasn't sure how people would react to a happy (yet loud) baby.

We tasted some wine, were happy with the season's Riesling and bought a couple bottles. We had also packed a small lunch in our super cute picnic basket so we sat out and enjoyed the sunset on the lawn.

Afterwards, we pulled over for a short hike to a waterfall on our way home to cool off. It was my first time wearing Penny on my back in the Ergo - normally I wear her in front, but she wants so badly to see everything! Now I can usually get away with wearing her on my front when we're out and about and she could use a nap.

Oh, and we're totally a Keen (shoes) family. I've had my pair for 5 years- they go with me on all of my travels and have withstood everything I've put them through. They've gone hiking, to the beach, boating, river rafting, and my favorite - waterfall climbing in the Dominican Republic on our honeymoon. I've also been wearing them as an everyday shoe all summer when I get bored of flip flops. Zulily finally had them on sale so I picked up a set for Adam and Penny. I tried to practice some forethought and bought her a pair in a youth size, but I have no idea how big those shoes are. The day comes when they arrive.. and apparently youth size 7 is pretty equivalent to women's 8. So, mama got a new pairs of keens, in tangerine orange ;) Hey, I won't complain about new shoes!

It was a wonderful spur of the moment family trip that was exactly what we needed.. the last few months have been go-go-go with finishing the house, working with our agent and buyer on the sale, looking for a new home, all the while continuing to make an effort to be present in the rest of our family's lives. Sometimes, going off the grid and ignoring our phones for a few hours is just what the doctor ordered.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pinterest Summer Recipe Challenge: Tres Leches Cake

If you are a Pinterest addict like I am, you'll know that sometimes you pin ideas that you, for all intents and purposes, plan to try at some point. My recipe board, Nyam, is full of those. I decided that this summer, I'm actually going to make use of this board and try these recipes out. My goal is 1-2 recipes per week, and I'm calling it my Pinterest Summer Recipe Challenge. You can find more of my challengers here.

So here we go - my finale: Tres Leches Cake.

I've heard about this cake in the past, but for some reason assumed that it would be too difficult to make. On the contrary, it's really simple. This recipe is brought to you by the fabulous Pioneer Woman, whose blog has made her way into my daily blog digest. This is my first recipe that I'm trying out from her, but I've got my eye on a few more that I'll be checking out in the future.

I made this cake for my littlest brother's 21st birthday. I had been trying to find an excuse to make this cake (making it just for a family dinner didn't seem to be justifiable) and I don't even know if my brother knew what tres leches cake was, but too bad - I was commissioned to bake the cake and so I got to choose what kind. So there!

You will need:
1 cup of flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 eggs (don't crack em til I tell you to!)
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup of milk
1 can of evaporated milk
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream

1 pint of heavy whipping cream
3 Tbsp of sugar
optional: maraschino cherries

You will do:
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with non stick spray.
3. Crack those eggs, divide the yolks and whites into separate bowls.
4. In a small bowl, beat the yolks with 3/4c of the sugar until it's well mixed.
stiff peaks
5. Add vanilla and milk to the yolk mixture.
6. In a large bowl, combine your flour, baking powder and salt.
7. Slowly pour the yolk mixture into the flour mixture, mix well.
8. In a separate small bowl, beat the egg whites until peaks form. As you continue to blend, pour the remaining 1/4c of sugar into the whites. You'll want the peaks to stand stiffly, but don't over beat because the whites will "break."

9. Gently fold the whites mixture into the rest of the batter. Don't mix for too long, just long enough for it all to get combined well. You will want the batter to be fluffy and airy.
when done, the cake will smell a little "eggy"

10. Pour the batter into the baking dish, pop into the oven for 35-45 minutes (mine took exactly 35 minutes). Stick a toothpick into it to make sure it's done, if it comes out clean you're good to go.

11. While the cake bakes, combine your evaporated milk, condensed milk and 1/4c of heavy whipping cream. Mix well.  I also added a teensy tiny splash of Bailey's - after all, it was for a 21st birthday cake!
12. Turn the cake upside down into a rimmed platter. Let it cool (20-30 minutes).
13. While the cake is cooling, start the whipped cream topping - on high speed, mix the one pint of heavy whipping cream with 3 tablespoons of sugar, until it's gorgeously whipped. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve the cake.

14. Take a fork and begin to poke holes into the cake.

15. Ever so slowly begin to pour the milk mixture onto the cake. You don't want to dump it all out at once, the idea is to have the cake soak up the milk uniformally. So drizzle in a design, watch it get soaked up, be sure to get all parts of the cake. Don't worry if it seems like the milk is going straight through the cake and pooling around the edges. Pour the entire mixture and come back in 20 minutes, it'll have soaked up all that sweet goodness.
16. When you're ready to serve, spread the prepared whipped cream over the top of the cake. Cut it into squares, serve with a maraschino cherry on top if you like.

And that, my friends, is the end of my Pinterest Summer Recipe Challenge. Sound off - which recipes did you try?

The -would be-final Pinterest Summer Recipe Challenge: Gnocchi Mac n Cheese (a pictorial fail)

If you are a Pinterest addict like I am, you'll know that sometimes you pin ideas that you, for all intents and purposes, plan to try at some point. My recipe board, Nyam, is full of those. I decided that this summer, I'm actually going to make use of this board and try these recipes out. My goal is 1-2 recipes per week, and I'm calling it my Pinterest Summer Recipe Challenge. You can find more of my challengers here.

With much anticipation, summer is finally drawing to a close! Don't get me wrong, I love summer, but I love all more. And I think that overall I'm in love with the first half of every season. After that, it's just old.

So I had planned on my final Pinterest Summer Recipe Challenge to be somewhat fall inspired. It was actually my first pin EVER and I finally got the gumption to do it. And oh my gawsh, it met and exceeded everything I had hoped and dreamed it would be.

I'm speaking of this fabulous Gnocchi Mac n cheese.

If you're unfortunate enough to never have heard of (or tasted) gnocchi (pronounced "nyo-ki"), my deepest sympathies for you. Gnocchi consist of potato dough and are tiny little dumplings, usually the size and shape of the top digit of your thumb.  Being the Polish girl that I am, I have grown up with potatoes alongside almost every meal. We Poles even have a version of gnocchi, called 'kopytka', which translates to 'hooves' because I suppose they sort of look like a part of a cow's hoof. For the Germans, spatzle would be something like gnocci.

I can't remember when I discovered that gnocchi and kopytka are the same thing (just different shapes), but I pretty much insist on having gnocchi at least once a month. Usually just sauteed lightly with some traditional red pasta sauce thrown on top.  But this time, oh man.. this recipe called to me in ways that gnocchi has never called to me before.  Because this recipe features tasty, aromatic cheeses..which I'll admit I'm a total sucker for.

Now that I've gotten you drooling, I have a confession. I've let you down. I made these dish for dinner a couple weeks ago, took spectacular pictures, but somehow the little Canon elves/gnomes/trolls invaded my memory card and ate the images. I guess it was so delicious that mythical, completely made up by me creatures had to destroy the evidence so that perhaps I should make it again.

Alas, Canon creatures, I can't make it again so soon because we're still recovering.

Nonetheless I couldn't blog about this amazing recipe and not share. So here we go, just forgive me for the lack of pictures.

Edit: after posting this earlier today, I decided that it just wasn't right to post without a picture.. so .. I whipped it up for lunch.

You will need:
1 pound of premade or homemade gnocchi (I have my own gnocchi recipe, which I may blog about in the future.. for this time, I used prebought)
2 T butter
2 tsp minced garlic
1 T flour
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon of any fancy mustard - I used a spicey hot mustard that my mom found at a winery :)
1/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup shredded Fontina cheese
1/3 cup of shreddd parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

You will do:
1) Spray a medium sized casserole dish with nonstick spray. Prepare gnocchi by boiling in salted water until they all float. Drain and place into your casserole dish. Preheat oven to 375 deg F.
2) Slowly melt the butter on a skillet. Add the minced garlic, let it simmer for about a minute.
3) Whisk in the flour to thicken it up, break up any lumps. Add mustard and milk. Keep on low heat, continually stirring until the sauce thickens.
4) Slowly incorporate shredded cheeses, continue to stir as the cheese melts.
5) Taste test - then add salt and pepper if you wish. So good!
6) Pour the sauce over your gnocchi, top with the parmesan.
7) Bake until cheese is bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. Rest for a few minutes before serving.

We served this with some steamed broccoli and sourdough bread.. OMG! YUMMERS!!!

One more recipe to go.. I apologize for my absense these last couple weeks.. had some big stuff brewing - we sold our home! Post with details to come :)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Roughly 182 days...or, 6 months.

Dearest little Penelope,

Here we are - the six month mark. It never ceases to amaze me how much you've grown each month, and when I compare it to over the last half a year.. I'm just blown away at the amazing feat you've accomplished! Way to go, my precious one!

I try not to romanticize my life with you, but how can I not gush about how much fun you are? We're the best of buds, baby, and having you in my life is such a blessing!

We love you so much, keep learning and growing.. but you don't need me to tell you that! ;)
Mama and Daddy

Penny's accomplishments over the last month include..
The big one: Sitting up! She started sitting up around the begining of August, but only on soft surfaces (like the bed) and kinda did this hula-girl wobble. Now, she sits by herself for an indefinite period of time! Next step..using those abs to pull herself up into a sitting position, which is not too far away.

She has this little song she sings to herself, it goes "ahhh yah yah yah yah!" It started out when she was bored, but now it's sort of melted into "pay attention to me!"

I've mentioned this before, but she loves to (in fact, insists) touch whatever is in my hands, especially glasses. When she has the chance to pull the glass to her face, she tries to suck on it.

She's such a chatty little thing in the morning.

She now shakes rattles and pulls toys towards herself.

We discovered her first beauty mark! Until now she didn't have any birth marks (except for stork bites that still hang around on the back of her neck and head, which are fading) but now she sports a cute little dot on her side.

She "bops" things with her balled up fist - toys that twirl, rattles, her thighs, her eyes/ears when she's tired..mama's face in the morning..

She's excellent at putting her foot in her mouth, and will suck on her big toe when bored.

She has tasted a few fruits and veggies - peaches, pears, watermelon and a brocolli floret. As mentioned before, we are going the baby led weaning route so these were not purees, but chunks of food.

At her 6 month appointment, she weighs 15 lbs 10 oz and is 24 1/4 inches long.. She definitely lives up to her favorite song, a variation of the "I'm a little teapot," - she is short and stout! But I love her rolls so much!

She also says "ma" "mam" and "ba"!

And here is a little photo shoot.
This absolutely adorable ladybug beanie/cape combo was lovingly made by Kelly from The Blissful Baby Boutique. She has so many cute designs for both baby and mama. Seriously, check her out. The yarn is so soft and this beanie has grown with Penny since she was a wee newborn. I love that we've been able to use this outfit for her newborn and six month photo shoot...maybe her noggin will still fit in it by the time she is 1! Wishful thinking, I know.

A year ago (September 2011)

Isn't it fun to look back and see where you were a year ago? I'll admit, I actually had to use the stupid facebook timeline feature to get an idea of what was going on in my life at the time. Can't say it was a very busy month, but it was full of big changes!

A year ago, this month I...

Was 13 weeks pregnant with our Pierogie, and shared our big news with the facebook world.

Welcomed my 3rd nephew that was born in 2011 on Sept 1 - Little Zeke.

One year to the date of when we moved into our new home and literally tore it apart, my husband accepted an offer on a new job that would relocate us over 3 hours away from the home we had spent the last year renovating - which launched us into the last 11 months of our LAT relationship.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Guest Post at That Mama Gretchen: Zucchini Cakes

Today you'll find my guest post over at my good friend Gretchen's blog while she is on her maternity leave with her little man. Gretchen and I go waaaaaay back to our high school days working at a local coffee shop, dreaming about one day owning a coffee shop of our own that is space aged and provided lattes on conveyor belts. LOL! It's so funny to think about us as giggling high schoolers 10 years ago...and here we are fellow mamas in the blogging community. Back then if you had asked me about a "blog," you would have gotten a really blank stare in return. Ps, I feel old that now I can say things like "10 years ago" in reference to my life.

Anyways, like I was saying.. as summer draws to a close, check out my second to last Pinterest Summer Recipe Challenger on her blog today - Zucchini Cakes. These are like crab or salmon cakes, just with zucchini. YUM! We paired them with stuffed salmon, grilled shrimp and a strawberry salad. A perfect summer dinner.

To see my other posts on the recipes I've tried out this summer, check them out here.


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