10 practical ways to stay healthy this winter

Last year was the first in many years that we stayed healthy all winter (I know, knock on wood). It was also the first winter I had to take a medication that lowered my immune system so I was determined to do everything I could to keep us from getting the common cold or flu, or worse.

I don’t think there’s a silver bullet on this list, I’m convinced it was a combination of practical and healthy choices that helped pave the way for a well winter. Here’s hoping for another one.


We live in a dry climate so I keep several humidifiers on hand to use in the bedrooms every night. It keeps nasal passages moist and healthy (and prevents my kiddos from stuffing their fingers in their nose!) I like this cool mist humidifier so I don’t have to worry about anyone burning their hands on it and it’s inexpensive.

Essential Oils

I had only used essential oils for cleaning until last year when I was introduced to OnGuard, an essential oil blend.  I started putting it (diluted with coconut oil) on our kids and myself every time we started feeling ill and it absolutely worked. I’m an essential oil convert (I use this kit regularly). This winter, we bought a diffuser and are using it regularly to purify our air and boost our immune system.

Drink Tea

I’ve always liked tea but this year I’m trying to drink more black or green tea. Studies at Harvard University found that “people who drank five cups of black tea a day for 2 weeks transformed their immune system T cells into “Hulk cells” that pumped out 10 times more cold and flu virus-fighting interferon — proteins that defend against infection — than did the immune systems of those who didn’t drink black tea. Green tea should work just as well.”

Sugar Consumption

It’s well known that sugar suppresses the immune system which is cruel since we’re devouring sweets from Halloween to Christmas.  I’m no pro at this but I did recently quit drinking soda (it was just one a day but still) and my kids donated all their Halloween candy. I’ve found that the less we have in the house, the less I’m tempted to indulge.

10 Practical Ways to Stay Healthy this Winter


Everyone is loaded up on vitamins around here. I’ve got Vitamin A, C, D and probiotics and the kids have a similar regimen of Vitamin D and these probiotics.

Manage Stress

When Carnegie Mellon University infected participants in a research study with a common cold virus, those who reported being under stress were twice as likely to get sick.

Stress is unavoidable so I think we all need to find a few ways to help manage it. For me, one of these tend to work: exercise, getting outside in nature, and alone time.  Find what works for you, I like these ideas.


Depriving ourselves (and our kids) of necessary sleep lowers our body’s ability to respond to infections.  Everyone knows mom doesn’t get a sick day so go with the melatonin that kicks in when it gets dark outside.


Speaking of fingers + noses, I am extra picky about keeping our hands out of our noses and mouths.  I’m not typically crazy about keeping germs out of our bodies but I am more cautious during the winter. It also helps to keep a box of tissues in each bedroom and bathroom, along with one in the kitchen.


Beyond the obvious practice of washing hands often, I started using sanitizer whenever I get back in the car from places such as the kid’s school or activities or the grocery store, for example.  I use this natural hand sanitizer or I like this DIY version, as well.

Eat to be Well

Several foods are known to boost immunity such as yogurt, oats and garlic. Adding a few of these 10 power foods may be the help we need to stay healthy this winter.

British researchers gave 146 people either a placebo or a garlic extract for 12 weeks; the garlic takers were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold.


Share your own tips for staying healthy this winter. We can use all the help we can get, right?

2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides on Produce

2014 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides on Produce

Last month, the EWG released their updated shopper’s guide to pesticides in conventional (not organic) produce. The Clean 15 are the top 15 fruits and vegetables the EWG states are the least likely to test positive for pesticide residues.  The Dirty Dozen Plus are the most contaminated conventional fruits and vegetables – those to be avoided.

What to know

  • The majority of pesticide exposure comes from the food you eat. At least 65% of the conventional produce samples tested had at least one pesticide.
  • In 2014, the USDA detected 10 different pesticides on at least 5 percent of 777 samples of peach baby food sold in the U.S. The USDA found six pesticides in apple juice, a staple of many children’s diets.
  • The US has thus far not followed Europe’s lead in banning toxic pesticide chemicals. The European Commission has banned diphenylamine, DPA for short, on fruit raised in the 28 European Union member states and has imposed tight restrictions on imported fruit. DPA, a growth regulator and antioxidant, is applied after harvest to most apples conventionally grown in the U.S. and to some U.S.-grown pears, to prevent the fruit skin from discoloring during months of cold storage.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics issued an important report in 2012 stating that children have:

 “unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues’] potential toxicity.” The pediatricians’ organization cited research that linked pesticide exposures in early life and “pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.” It advised its members to urge parents to consult “reliable resources that provide information on the relative pesticide content of various fruits and vegetables.”

Clean Fifteen Highlights

  • Avocados were the cleanest: only 1 percent of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides.
  • Some 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mango and 61 percent of cantaloupe had no residues.
  • No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen™ tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides.
  • Detecting multiple pesticide residues is extremely rare on Clean Fifteen™ vegetables. Only 5.5 percent of Clean Fifteen samples had two or more pesticides.

2014 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides on Produce

Dirty Dozen Highlights

  • Every sample of imported nectarines and 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food.
  • A single grape sample contained 15 pesticides. Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.

How to use the Shopper’s Guide

Don’t stop eating fruits and vegetables, use the guide to reduce your exposure to pesticides:

  • Choose organic produce when you can afford it.

Studies led by Chensheng (Alex) Lu of Emory University found that elementary school-age children’s body burdens of organophosphate pesticides, including chlorpyrifos and malathion, peaked during the summer, when they ate the most fresh produce. But just five days after switching to an all-organic diet, their bodies were essentially pesticide-free.

  • If you can’t afford 100% organic produce, choose conventional for the Clean 15 and organic for the Dirty Dozen Plus. This is mostly what my family does.
  • Always wash your fruit before eating.  Note these tests were done after washing and peeling so if you don’t do that, you are potentially ingesting even more pesticide residue.

tip iconWant to have the list handy while shopping? Download the FREE Dirty Dozen app for iPhone.


15 Gift Ideas for a Green Mom

15 gift ideas for the green and natural mom

Mother’s Day is just a week away but I’m always in need of a few ideas for my birthday and holiday wish lists so I’m sharing them here.

Gifts Under $50

A gift card from Etsy :: I will always and forever be able to spend money on Etsy for lovely, handmade items. You can never go wrong with an Etsy gift card.  Plus it comes via email, no paper waste.

Jewelry that gives back :: I am smitten with the beautiful jewelry from the Noonday Collection. Each piece is carefully made by a woman in Ethiopia, Ecuador or Uganda and helps to restore their communities and provide business opportunities.

teapotJapanese teapot :: I recently enjoyed the best cup of tea made from loose leaf tea and realized what I’ve been missing out on by using teabags. I’d really like to have this glass Japanese teapot to start making my own at home.

Homemade and Natural Spa Kit :: How fun would it be to get all the ingredients to make this natural spa kit to treat myself at home? It also comes with beautiful printable labels.

Organic and fair trade chocolates :: Don’t gloss over this one because you can’t stand the thought of paying $2 for a candy bar. <Or is that only me?> My friend, Tsh, wrote a compelling argument for why we should be buying fair trade chocolate. I’m a chocaholic so I’m dying to try one of these yummy brands: AlterEco, Green & Black’s or Divine Chocolate.  (Tsh mentions many more brands in her post).

15 Gift Ideas for a Green Mom


Natural nail care :: I love to keep my toes painted year round and have my eye on these SCOTCH natural nail polishes. They aren’t inexpensive for nail polish but a bottle or two with non-toxic nail polish remover would be the perfect gift.


Books :: These are the books on my spring wish list. The Backyard Homestead: Product the Food You Need on a Quarter Acre gets fantastic reviews and seems doable on a smaller scale. Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches sounds perfect for my own small backyard garden.  I also wouldn’t mind having the bible of preserving books, Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  I’ve recently discovered this author’s blog and would like to read several of his books starting with Clutterfree with Kids.

Gifts Under $100

french market basketFrench market basket :: I have wanted one of these market baskets for ages. They seem so quintessential French and would be perfect for our trips to the farmer’s market.

A garden at home :: We’re moving into a new-to-us home soon and all I want for Christmas are big garden beds. DIY inspiration here or for the non-DIY type, Williams Sonoma has some beautiful raised beds for purchase.  Another idea in this category? A gift card to a local garden store, the perfect spring time gift.

Organic spa treatment :: A facial is my favorite way to spend an hour at the spa. Silky, smooth skin, luscious amounts of vitamin infused moisturizer and a head massage. I instantly feel 10 years younger.

Preserving kit or dehydrator :: It will soon be the perfect time for preserving the summer’s bounty. I generally can items for the freezer but would like to learn how to use a waterbath canner.  I would also like to get a simple dehydrator to make easy and healthy snacks.

Gifts Over $100

A CSA membership :: Community supported agriculture is such a great way to support our local farmers and get a box of ultra fresh produce each week. We have several local CSA’s and I would love to participate this year. Find your local CSA here.

le creusetAnything from Le Creuset :: I’ve been transitioning our cooking out of a myriad of non stick pans to just a few pieces of cookware from Le Creuset. Sure, it’s not inexpensive but Le Creuset is the brand you can pass on to your kids. I can put my money behind that type of quality.

A cruiser bike :: I just want to button on a cute bike basket and ride this bike to the farmer’s market, like tomorrow. You, too?

Compost bin :: This is what I’m getting for Mother’s Day this year. I came across it yesterday and it was love at first sight.  Compact, portable, dual bins and an oversize lid for removing compost easily. LOVE. (hint: it’s about $20 less at the store)


Quick (and Natural) Constipation Cure for Kids

natural constipation cure for kids

My sister recently shared with me that a simple vitamin had cured her son’s constipation, something he’s been plagued with for years. Despite several suggestions from doctors, she wasn’t able to find something that worked.

After starting her boys on this probiotic, she noticed her oldest became regular quickly. Simple and natural, my kind of cure.

If your child is experiencing the same thing, give them a try.  They are inexpensive (just $10 for 2 months worth) and my children like the taste so much, they ask for them each day. Let me know how they work for you!

What has worked to help your child’s constipation?

Guide to Safer Bath Toys – PVC Free, Phthalate Free, BPA Free

Safer Bath Toys : Your 2014 Guide to BPA free, PVC free and Phthalate free Bath Toys

While I’m no expert, I do avoid PVC, phthalate and BPA when I purchase bath toys for my own children or as gifts for others. Over four years ago, I had a hard time finding such products so I researched and published one of my most popular posts on safe bath toys.

I still get emails asking whether a specific bath toy is considered safe and sadly, I find a lot of bath toys still do not meet this criteria. I’ve finally updated our list of safer bath toys so we can all shop smarter, enjoy.

BOON – One of my favorite brands because all of their bath toys are PVC, phthalate and BPA free.  I particularly love the Boon Water BugsWater Pipes and Fishing Pole. (Update: the Boon Cogs, Jellies and Pipes are not PVC free)

B.Toys (Battat) – All of their toys are both BPA free and phthalate free. The squishy toys do have non-phthalate PVC in them, they are softened with a food-safe citroflex.

Green Sprouts – The Stacking Cups are PVC free, phthalate free and BPA free.

Green Toys – Another of my favorite brands because everything is created with recycled milk jugs. The submarine, tugboat, ferry boat and sea plane are PVC, phthalate and BPA free and also get great Amazon reviews.

Hevea – Their toys are made from natural rubber which is free of BPA, PVC and phthalates. Their toys are also biodegradable.

Milliwik – These clever bath-friendly playing cards are BPA, PVC and phthalate free. Super fun.

Moluk – Created by Swiss designers, the Plui is a rain cloud that fills with water, sprinkles over your child and then opens to be cleaned out (no mold!).  I also really like the Mini Bilibos because they are so versatile. Perfect for stacking, floating, scooping and digging.

Munchkin – The only product from Munchkin that meets the test is the Caterpillar Spiller.

2014 Favorite Safe Bath Toys

sources: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

Nuby – Customer relations told me that “all Nuby product including bath products are BPA Free and PVC/Phthalates Free.”

Rich Frogs – Their bath toys are BPA free, phthalates free and use phthalate-free PVC. I particularly like their terry towel mitts and tub puppets.

Sassy – All bath toys are BPA, PVC and phthalate free except the Snap & Squirt Sea Creatures and they are non-phthalate PVC.

Skip Hop – The only bath toy that meets all 3 conditions are the Stacking Toys. Their other bath toys are phthalate free and BPA free but not PVC free.

Sprig – All toys are made from recycled materials and do not contain BPA, PVC or phthalates.

Zoe b Organic – This biodegradable and made in the USA bath and beach toy set is one of my favorites. Also free of BPA, PVC and phthalates.

For more water toys and safer toys for sand play, check out our Guide to Safer Water and Sand Toys.