Monday, May 30, 2011

The Greatest Motivator

I am finally back from Autism One and beginning to put up posts from many of the speakers I attended while there. Not all the speakers and presentations I attended were focused on autism, however. In fact, many were definitely applicable to kids anywhere, and some sessions were just flat out applicable to life.

Sophie Uliano is a perfect example of this, as she spent her time talking about ways to go green. I have very few friends at this point who aren't interested in doing something greener than what they are today, and Sophie's presentation was a great example of how you can do it easily. She started off joking that she isn't one who lives in a yurt eating fermented foods all the time. She's a "real" woman and mom who doesn't have a ton of time - or money - and needs finds ways to do things differently.

She talked about how it's the little choices you make every day that add up over time. No one (ok, very few people) can do everything "perfectly" green, but you find what you're passionate about, and you move to make better decisions in that arena. Rather than focusing on global warming, climate change, and greenhouse gases - which seem so far away - find your own motivator. She doesn’t get up in the morning and think about polar bears drowning. She gets up and thinks about how she's going to pay her bills, how she's going to get my kids off to school, etc. That’s what she's connected t and what motivates her. The big picture polar bears is not necessarily a good gateway or motivator for a lot of people.

In her experience, most people are motivated to go green by one of four things: health, children, food, or beauty. Health comes up they were diagnosed with cancer, their child has huge allergies, etc. Children are a factor. Think about all the people who got pregnant and went wow! That's what changed things for them. Food is another big motivator. We all have to eat, and a lot of people begin caring because of this as they realize all the toxins and other issues with our food supply. When all else fails, some people start caring because they want to buy a lipstick and they realize all the toxins that are out there and want to be careful of what they put on their face.

When Sophie grew up, she was raised in an era of great frugality. Things were reused and recycled, they ate what was in the garden, etc. It was just common sense, not “going green” as a thing. Back then getting a new pair of shoes was a big deal. Today things are a whole lot more different, but yet it can still be that simple.

Sophie's take is that we need to wake up before it’s too late – not because there’s going to be a cataclysm and Manhattan is going to be under water – but before it’s going to be too late for you and your community and your family, before you have a health crisis. So many people then say “I wish I’d known five or ten years ago” Once we wake up, we need to wake up our friends and family. It’s not a “you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to do that and doom and gloom” but instead coming from a place of joy and love.

In her view, green living is a preventative healthcare. Every aspect of green living is related to health. Every day there are about 50 better decisions you can make. Women tend to be the decision-makers and are powerful. We can make a difference, and through social networking, we can become agents of change. If you become more aware of things like parabens and phthalates and BpA and the like, it’s a slow awakening, but we’re getting there.

One of the most important things we can do is to vote with our wallets. Every time we purchase something, we cast a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. It’s more than just wanting to recycle; we need to create the market for recycled goods, as well, so that more things are recycled.

Again, the focus is that small things add up. A lot of people think I’ve got to green my entire life, and it’s so overwhelming. I need solar panels and green all my food and it gets to be too much. It can be as simple as going to the store and saying that from now on I’m going to only buy organic milk. The cumulative effect of what we do is what makes the difference.

Every day we are exposed to a cocktail of toxins. Tryglyzan is a really bad toxin – really want to avoid it, and it’s in the antibacterial soaps. When it’s added to other chemicals and hot water is added, that’s when it becomes a hot carcinogen. When you think about it, our skin absorbs over 60% of what we put on it. Think of the nicotine patches or contraceptive patches - those medications are absorbed. So is everything else. Instead, you can use castile soaps with a few essential oils for shampoos and soaps and the like. It’s far easier than you think.

Phthalates are in hair spray, lotion, soap, shampoo, nail polish, fragrances (perfumes and the plug in air freshener stuff, etc), vinyl (shower curtains or toys), food packaging and plastic wrap, wood finishes, adhesives, detergents, and even medical devices. It’s a neurotoxin and an obesogen, interestingly. It’s what makes plastics soft.

So what can we do? Use glass storage containers for our food. Never buy meats, fish or veggies that have been wrapped in plastic – which is admittedly very hard to do. Instead, try to buy in paper or waxed paper. Avoid all skin care products with “fragrance” or “parfum” in the ingredient line (I found a really great line of cosmetics that I love that isn't expensive while at the conference by the way that fits this!). Avoid as much plastic in your home as possible – plastic toys, storage containers. Avoid using insecticides and pesticides in and around your home (again, great vendor that had all natural bug sprays that I am happy to recommend once we test it out in the next few weeks).

Parabens are another nasty chemical that is in so many things. They are the preservatives found in skin care products that have been found to disrupt our endocrine system. Look at the ingredient list of items you purchase for: methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl-, paraben. Our hormones govern all the biological processes in our body, so this is especially important for young girls and children. There has also been a lot of controversy recently around breast cancers finding parabens in the tissue.

Here, we can buy skin care and more that is stated “paraben-free” on the label or website. Sophie also suggests that we make our own skin care products – which also allows us to save money, too. That's one of my goals, personally, though I've yet to find the time or energy to do so. Sophie has several books, and one of them has many recipes for very easy and natural - and cheap (not just put mayonnaise in your hair!) recipes for this. Sophie's orange alert list for skincare includes: Fragrance, anti-bacterial products (Triclosan), Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), Talc, MEA, DEA, TEA, Sulphates, FD&C and D&C (with a number). Those are the ones you want to avoid.

Chemical sunscreens are another big issue - and with summer just arriving (literally, today, in Chicago), this is the time to think about it. We need sunscreens for a lot of reasons, but the ones we typically buy have problems. Think about sunscreen in two ways. Sunscreens can have a physical barrier – think the lifeguard white of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – or a chemical barrier – PABA, oxybenzone. The chemical barriers are a huge problem for many reasons, but no one wants to walk around with the white nose look. Instead, there are new technologies out there that make the physical barrier possible without that look. You want to look for the micronization or the nano particles (the micronized particles are preferred) which give you that physical barrier without the white. Also, do not spray your children with the sunscreen! When you are buying sunscreen, there is very little difference between a 15 and a 30, and definitely anything beyond that is not worth it. Make sure you reapply every 2 hours with the 30 - and always reapply after you've been in the water.

Fire retardants (PBDs)are a big problem, and they're in sleepwear, bedding, mattresses, computers, electronics, and more. Breast milk was tested and it is showing PBDs. Even newborn babies are showing a body burden of fire retardants, etc. When you buy a new computer, etc. really be mindful of what the companies are doing to phase out the worst of the chemicals. When you purchase sleepwear, wash it in detergent like dishwashing soap. They say to be careful with washing it so you don’t wash out the fire retardant, but I'd much rather keep myself safe and watch myself around fire.

For your bedroom, the mattress and bedding are issues with the PBDs, especially after Congress passed the regulation that all bedding has to be flame retardant. Check out the specs: they cannot catch fire with a two foot wide flame thrower for 70 seconds. Seriously? That's the issue? Needless to say, you can imagine the chemicals required to make that happen. There are organic mattresses you can still buy, but they are super expensive. Sophie recommends the wool bed company that makes a mattress topper and then has something that encases your entire mattress so the chemicals stay away from you but you aren't spending $10,000 on a mattress. Considering how close I am to needing a new mattress (mine is from the mid-1990s - honestly), this is something I will be looking into shortly!

There are similar issues with the chemicals in all our carpets and rugs and furniture. Sophie mentioned that makes tiles for the floor that are wool and nontoxic and affordable. For furniture, you want to avoid particleboard or engineered wood. She brought up the example of cribs that are hardwood - oh, except for the slats. Search hard and ask a lot of questions. Paint is one that most people are familiar with, and it's becoming easier to find ones that have zero VOC, plus you always want to ensure there is adequate ventilation.

In the kitchen, we're familiar with many of the recommendations to avoid bPA - and now many of the replacements for bPA are shown to be not so safe. Use glass storage, which is becoming more and more readily available. You want to have a water filter (LifeSource is far better than reverse osmosis in Sophie's opinion) for both cooking and drinking. Buy and use non-toxic pans (360 Cookware and Chantal), and minimize microwave use. Try to get rid of as much plastic as possible.

Sophie is also bit on making your own cleaning supplies. You don’t need to buy the eco-friendly cleaners that are so expensive. Instead, you can do your own for $0.20/bottle plus smell great and non toxic. Use hydrogen peroxide – which is completely non toxic – in an opaque sprayer bottle and use that to kill the germs in your homes. Can also essential oils like lemon or rosemary. Almost every essential oil has antibacterial properties. Personally, I also adore my Ionator HOM and use that for just about everything. If you have lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide, you've just just about everything you need for cleaning - and so much cheaper, too!

In your living Room, you want to use an aromatherapy diffuser and not the plug-in air fresheners (remember the warning earlier about "fragrance"), try beeswax candles (which are great for asthma – and can make your own easily and cheaply with instructions in Sophie's book), use baking soda to deodorize your carpet when you vacuum and also upholstery when it stains. Make sure you're vacuuming around the entertainment console at least twice a week. The dust there picks up all sorts of nasties and then gets spread throughout your house. There are also specific houseplants that can really help your air quality, again with specific recommendations you can get through Sophie's website and books.

In the bathroom, you can clean just about everything with white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide with a little tea tree essential oil. It has huge antibacterial properties. You also want to look into a whole house filtration system – 50-70% of exposure to water pollutants for adults occurs through the skin. Use a a healthier shower curtain that isn't vinyl - or get the glass doors like I just did! You also want to be careful of the chemicals that are in your toothpase and mouthwash – watch for fluoride and dyes there ( for more information). There are tons of natural toothpastes out there now, and I really like some of them, personally. You also want to get chlorine and percholorate out of your water.

To improve the general air quality, you want to plant trees in your environment. Try to bike or walk in low-traffic hours when the pollution isn't so dense. Definitely purchase a top notch air purifier (Sun Pure), and clean your ducts.

Obviously when it comes to food, we want to cook from scratch as much as possible. There are tons of chemicals we can avoid during the processing of food that way. You also want to know what to buy organic and not to buy organic. Look for the dirty dozen and green fifteen that are released each year to help you decide. When eating, you want to get a lot of leafy greens (kale & spinach) with folate to protect against chemical exposure. Where possible, you want to grow your own food in a garden. If you can, minimize meat and dairy intake. Sophie suggests eating minimally cooked food to ensure you eat enzyme rich food. When asked what the easiest and best thing to start with – it’s food. We eat every day, and this is super easy.

There was also a lot of recommendations by Sophie to say no to GMOs. Currently, the US labeling doesn’t tell us about GMOs, and she believes the risks on human health are not yet adequately studied. If you buy USDA certified Organic, it cannot be GMOs. There are clues, however. Look at the digits on product stickers – if it begins with a 4, you don’t know what is. If it begins with an 8, it is GMO. If it begins with a 9, it’s fine. You can try to order a produce box from an organic farm or join a CSA – which is often better than farmer’s markets because those can include farmers from all types of farming methods. Be careful with soy and corn, Sophie suggests.

Just finding ways to eat healthier is huge with Sophie. She suggests we use coconut oil - which is something that I will be looking into now - for all our cooking. To help pass it to the next generation, always involve your kids in the preparation of food, except in those cases where you're sneaking greens into their foods! On that note, Sophie recommends soups as a great way to put all sorts of great stuff like veggies and such that they don’t realize. She also wants us to have a mini-salad with every meal, which is a great idea, I think.

When you're having a baby, there's another big priority list in Sophie's mind. You want to have BPA-free bottles – glass bottles are best, and there are lots of shatter-proof ones out there now. Look for organic food and mattress and bedding. You want to use non-toxic skin and bath products. Get a HEPA filter in the room. This is critical per Sophie because fire retardants build up in dust, and this will get them out and away from us.

There is also a huge checklist of things at our children's school, especially considering that they spend so much time there every day. What cleaning products do they use at school? Have they checked the paint for lead? Is the water filtered in fountains? Has any artificial grass passed tests? Are there hand sanitizers in class rooms? What do they do at parties? Typically, they are so wasteful with games and paper products and everything else, plus there are all the dyes etc with toxins that Sophie is concerned with. What is the policy on carrying cell phones? What is the ventilation like? Lighting: is it full-spectrum? See if they can replace the lights with full spectrum lights that we need to fully function biologically, Sophie explained.

This seems really overwhelming, especially to me. Rather than making it a one woman crusade, can you work with other parents to put together a green team to look into all this and work on it? Sophie asks if you can make your own non-toxic hand sanitizer and bring it into the classrooms and teach the kids and their parents to do the same - yes, she provides a recipe in her books.

It’s all about finding your sweet spot. Everybody has their sweet spot, something they’re passionate about that they can do. Maybe you love to cook. Maybe you love to galvanize people in your office. Maybe you’re super involved in your school. Pick one thing and green that. It’s too overwhelming if you try to do it all at once.

As Sophie explained it, when we’re communicating about green, come from a place of love not fear. It’s not something that should make people feel guilty. We should never do this. It’s just about caring and coming from a point of loving yourself, your life, your kids, and the planet. If you come from that point of view, you don’t do it because you have to or someone is telling you to, but because you want to.

And that whole post is overwhelming. Can I do all of it? Nope. Can I do half of it? Probably not. Can I make fifty better decisions here and there? Absolutely. And that's what I'm going to focus on. You can, too. In all, I found her talk incredibly informative and inspiring, although it really opens my eyes up to how much more work I need to do - like that vacuuming around my console to get rid of the radiation building up in the dust around it!

For more information, visit Sophie Uliano's website here.

More Autism One posts to come. I've got almost 15 lectures, I think, and I'll be putting them up as I have the time to sort through my notes. I hope they are interesting or helpful for you. Please let me know your feedback - and be aware that I am posting the information from the presentation, with my opinions noted in places, not presenting what is 100% my opinion.

Win a $100 gift card to Lands End here.


Mary Wirtz (Mom) May 30, 2011 at 4:00 PM  

I'm looking forward to all your other posts. I attended Autism One also and I'm hoping to get even more information from the seminars I wasn't able to attend. Thanks!

Laural Out Loud May 30, 2011 at 5:32 PM  

You listed so many great ways to make small, manageable changes! It's amazing how much you can do by taking one step at a time. It really adds up, and makes a difference.

Unknown Mami May 30, 2011 at 7:09 PM  

Van Jones gives a really great presentation on this subject as well.

Anne May 30, 2011 at 8:21 PM  

Thanks Michelle! I was unable to attend this seminar and you did a terrific job taking notes.

Heather E May 31, 2011 at 4:54 PM  

I am so glad that you are going to start posting all your notes and observations-- I will be passing them onto my SIL and my boss to help them out with their autistic children. You are awesome, Michelle!

Pat June 1, 2011 at 1:29 PM  

Wow, what an excellent and informative post, Michelle. I am definitely going to stop buying antibacterial soap for starters! Carcinogen--who knew?!

Michelle June 1, 2011 at 10:34 PM  

Mary - There were SO many seminars, and so many I wanted to attend but missed. I'm just grateful I took decent notes for most of the ones I did attend. As it was, I'd never have remembered anything otherwise. Most posting to come probably tomorrow :)

Laural - It really is amazing. And my big takeaway of things I absolutely wasn't doing at all? The sunscreen. I didn't like the traditional spray on kind but the white zinc stuff? Ick. That didn't work either.

Unknown Mami - I may have to look into that one, too. It's always interesting to see other new things we can do, isn't it?

Anne - Aww thanks! So glad it was helpful for you :)

Heather - I absolutely am. It'll just take me a few weeks. Cuz ya know I have other stuff to blog about, too, and WOW does it take a long time to consolidate my notes into a coherent post! I hope it helps your SIL and boos, regardless.

Pat - Glad you liked it, too. Yeah, no kidding. I don't like the antibacterial because a) I'm ok with some bacteria b) I don't like creating super bacteria and c) plain old soap and water works JUST fine when used in the right way. Fortunately, we already use castille soap a lot here. But oh the hand sanitizer in schools :(

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