Apologies – and Big Big Changes!

Let me start by apologizing to you, dear blog, and to you, dear blog audience, for my neglect over the last couple of months.

I can only say that my brain has been fully occupied with a big life transition, and although my fingers were itching to get back on the keyboard, I couldn’t free space enough in my mind to allow my thoughts to flow unabated. Rather than post articles that didn’t have all of me behind them, I decided instead to do a little triage and focus my priorities on a. survival and b. large items I knew would be checked off my to-do list at a specific date in the future.

So what is this big life transition, you ask? See below for the letter I sent to my Diaper Stork clients this morning, and stay tuned for more frequent posts. I’m back, baby!


I am excited to announce that effective today, Diaper Stork is under the ownership of a new cloth-diapering mama: Carrie Pollak!

As I look toward the future, my focus is changing from growing a business to growing my family, and I sought out a buyer that would not only truly appreciate this business but also be passionate about its future opportunities. Carrie’s business background and commitment to cloth diapering her own little one made her the perfect candidate, and I can’t wait to watch Diaper Stork thrive under her care.

Like most big transitions in life, this does not come without a level of sadness. When I started Diaper Stork 4 years ago, I never could have anticipated the meaningful relationships I would build with you, my clients. I am inspired by and in awe of your commitment to doing your best by the environment and am humbled and honored that so many of you took a chance on us in our infancy.

You will hear more from Carrie in the coming week, but in the meantime, I leave you with my deepest thanks. I appreciate the trust you continue to place in all of us here at Diaper Stork, and I wish all of you the very best!

A Few of My Favorite Diaper Rash Creams

There are way too many options for each item you need (or arguably, don’t need) to care for your new baby. Perhaps you discovered this before you had children and were shopping for a friend’s new baby: are bamboo or cotton breast pads better? And then, inevitably… are breast pads a weird gift to give a coworker? Or perhaps it was when you first stepped into your chosen baby superstore to set up your own baby registry and dared to venture into the bottle aisle… and saw that wall with all the nipples.

Analysis paralysis continues in full swing when searching for a daily diaper rash ointment. Maybe you are someone who doesn’t put too much thought into something as basic and boring as a diaper cream – you’ll grab anything eye level at the baby store (or even grocery store) and move on to pondering whether you really need that baby food blender even though it looks an awful lot like – and costs twice as much as – the immersion blender you already have.

If you’ve chosen to use cloth diapers like my clients, the conversation around diaper rash cream becomes even more complicated. You might see certain ointments proclaim themselves “cloth diaper safe”, without really knowing what that even means.

Through trial and error, and a fairly agreeable hostage subject, I have found a few diaper creams that I love. Are there plenty of other options out there? Yes. Do you need to expend the time and energy necessary to find some that are better than the list I’m about to provide you with? No.

Especially when looking for cloth diaper-safe creams, the two primary ingredients to avoid are petrolatum, which clogs the fibers of the diaper and makes it less absorbent, and cod liver oil, which causes mad staining. Even our commercial laundering processes aren’t enough to completely remove these two ingredients once they get embedded, and we usually have to retire the affected diapers from our service. Specifically, you’ll want to avoid Bourdeaux’s Butt Paste, Desitin, A+D, and Aquaphor. Check the labels – I am sure there is at least one more than I’ve listed here!

Note: Petrolatum and cod liver oil are two ingredients to avoid if you’re using cloth diapers, but no matter what kind of diaper you’re using, who is dying to use cod liver oil on her baby?

Here are my favorite creams, all of which are baby-bum and cloth diaper-friendly:

1. Baby Moon Zinc Ointment

Full disclosure: I sell this stuff on Diaper Stork. Another disclosure: I sell it for a good reason. This zinc ointment is made by hand by Brooklyn Herborium – an actual apothecary that makes all sorts of all-natural skincare products, ranging from acne lotions and potions to chemical-free deodorant (stay with me). This ointment is super simple: zinc to act as a moisture barrier, beeswax for staying power, and baby-friendly essential oils to add a light scent of lavender to the only area of your baby that might not smell amazing.

BONUS: If you want a tube, use the code MOMGENES on our website to get 30% off for the rest of the month!


2. Coconut oil (like this one)

As close to a miracle as you’re likely to find, plain coconut oil is a great option to use between daytime diaper changes for rash prevention (and removing makeup, and moisturizing hands, and a hundred other things). It very closely mimics our skin’s natural oils, which means it’s unlikely to cause allergic reactions, and it melts at body temperature which means it spreads easily without waste. And because there is a decent likelihood that anything you use on your baby’s body is likely to end up in his/her mouth at some point, you won’t sweat having a jar of this in your nursery. This is definitely the simplest, most economical diaper cream.

          Coconut oil

3. Burt’s Bee’s Baby Diaper Rash Ointment

I absolutely love the Burt’s Bee’s line of baby products, and their diaper rash ointment is no exception. It has 40% zinc oxide which makes it a powerful way to treat an existing case of diaper rash with a solid barrier against further irritation, and it’s completely safe for cloth diapers because it contains no petroleum jelly. It contains lavender and rosemary oils for a light and pleasant scent. What I particularly love about this stuff vs. a lot of the other creams out there is the staying power – it may be a teensy bit less spreadable, but this stuff will actually last through the night. Yay!

Burt's Bees Diaper Rash Cream Pic

4. The Honest Company Honest Diaper Rash Cream

I don’t necessarily love all of The Honest Company’s baby products, but their diaper rash cream is great. Because it’s made without petrolatum, it’s safe for cloth diapers, and it contains zinc oxide and tamanu oil, which is known for its healing properties – making it a great choice for use with an existing diaper rash. The shea butter and coconut oil make baby’s bum skin super soft (you know, for the basically-unheard-of baby out there who needs help in this arena).

Honest Diaper Rash Cream

While it’s great that we have so many all-natural options available to us now, the number of choices can be overwhelming. Whether you use cloth diapers or not, it’s worth checking the label of anything you’re slathering on your baby at this frequency to make sure it doesn’t have anything that makes you say – “uhhh what is that?!”

Try one of my favorites I’ve listed above, and happy diapering!


World War Free: Part One – The Mission

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve felt “off”. I have a constant sense of unease, like the other shoe is about to drop. Every morning, I wake up at 4:30 (or 2:30, or 12:30…) and immediately experience a racing heart and racing thoughts, and can’t go to sleep until an hour later, if at all. This is just not me! I usually sleep quickly and soundly, and although my bladder is a shell of its former self since having a baby, I can usually even get up to pee without really even waking up.

The weather has been gorgeous, business has been fine, and Serena has been the picture of good behavior and fun, so there is no one thing in my life I can point to that is leading me to feel this way. What’s that now? North Korea? Russia? Global warming? The term “World War III” being thrown around? Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh okay. Yeah. That might be it.

It’s not easy to admit, but I can tell that I’ve become an actual addict for the news. The news! Why can’t I have an addiction to something worthwhile, like exercise?! Or kale! Instead, I am wasting what probably adds up to hours every single day going down the rabbit hole of a 24-hour news cycle, taking glaringly obvious click-bait that serves purely to line the pockets of advertisers, and just generally absorbing way more negativity than I should.


I need the ability to summon a happy place like this on command!

So why is this affecting me so much? It’s strange, but I actually think it has to do with the fact that my brain isn’t as busy during the day as it used to be when I worked a full-time job. My corporate job was in finance, so in my former life I was constantly solving problems and thinking analytically. By the end of every day, I was so completely shot that my brain easily shut down at night, if for no other reason than pure survival. Nowadays, most of my time is spent on softer skills like customer service and toddler management, and while that is no less physically tiring, it doesn’t seem to exhaust my brain in the same way. So instead, I’m filling my brain with all the crap news available to me at any given moment and going to bed with a wide-awake brain filled with problems I can’t begin to solve. Suuuuper helpful.

Another sick part of all this is, I spend all of this time reading about everything that I have zero control over, and yet most of the time I actually believe I am too busy to do all the things I want to do in a day. Sometimes I’d love to sit and read a book, take SJ to the zoo, cook more inventive recipes, etc. but I don’t feel like I have time. This cannot possibly be true! I don’t work a full-time job outside of the house, I only have one child, and most days I have two hours of uninterrupted time while Serena naps. By all accounts, plenty of people have way less time available to them than I do.

[Please note, what I am NOT addressing here is the guilt I feel about doing any leisurely activities while Kole is at work providing for our family financially. This is a big component for me, but not relevant to my sleep and anxiety struggles, so I’m leaving it out. At least for now.]


Ah. Calm and solitude. It feels like meditation might be easy if I had a place like this to do it.


I have to set a goal to quiet my brain. Life is too short to spend it laying awake at night, stressing over things you can’t control, and scurrying around during the day stressing over things you can control but that ultimately aren’t that important. Health, mental and physical, is wealth, amiright?

There’s plenty of scientific evidence out there saying that meditation is good for us – it is shown to improve concentration and focus, increase happiness, and generally up the level of peace you feel throughout the day. It’s a no-brainer that we all desire more of these things, and we even seem to accept that meditation can be a powerful way to lead to them, and yet very few of us dedicate any time to it. Comically, it sounds like the simplest thing we could do today – all you have to do is sit quietly with your eyes closed for 20 minutes a day!


Meditation Mission end goal: internal stillness that looks something like this

But, but, but… so many other tasks demanding our time, right? Gandhi is quoted as saying, “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.”

In the spirit of all of this, I’m embarking on a meditation mission. I’m setting a goal for myself to meditate every single day. I’ll start small, so I have a higher likelihood of success. 20 minutes of deep breathing, quietish mind, getting centered again.


I labeled this post Part One. I have no idea how many parts there will be, but I will log my progress, and over time I’ll try to explore some different meditation methodologies, guided meditation apps, etc. and report back on what worked best for me.

For now, I’m planning to use a method that’s worked well for me in the past and that I learned from a meditation class I once took at a Buddhist temple near my house. I’ll count to 10 with my breaths (1 on the inhale, 2 on the exhale, and so forth). Once I get to 10, I’ll start over again at 1. It is so insanely difficult, maybe even impossible, to tell the human brain not to think anything, so I’ll be forgiving of myself when thoughts come to my mind, but rather than chasing them to see where they lead (to more thoughts, duh), I’m going to let them pass on through.

Wish me luck. Namaste.


Photo credit: The photos I used in this post are by my friend Adam Sweeney. See more of his amazing photos on his Flickr page.


Happy Halloweeny, Little Chicken!

I’ve never been a huge fan of Halloween. It’s not that I am strongly against it; I like an excuse to stockpile candy bars as much as the next gal, and I even enjoy wearing a good costume now and then (the operative word being “good”). Probably not an insignificant factor in my apathy toward the holiday is too many years of a last-minute dash to put together a costume that was basically just me in bad clothing. If someone has to ask what you are, you’ve gone wrong somewhere.

Dwight and Angela

Aw, baby Kole and Jen as Dwight Schrute and Angela Martin from “The Office”

Kole and I committed to ourselves long ago that when we had kids, we would make every holiday as fun as possible for them. Let’s go ahead and ignore Serena’s first two Halloweens, neither of which we dressed her up for (6 weeks old, I was not in that head space – and 13 months old… uhhh… still not in that head space I guess). THIS YEAR WILL BE DIFFERENT!

It took only a few minutes of perusing “toddler Halloween costumes” online for us to figure out we wanted our girl to dress as a chicken. Because our own chickens endlessly fascinate her, we figured it was a safe bet that she’d be willing to put the thing on. Turns out I was mostly wrong about that, but I did my best.



This project was a little bit of work, but partly because I did a couple of things over again to give you a better way to do them if you wanted to take this on. I am far from a professional on the arts & crafts front, but that is the nice part about putting together a costume for a toddler. My best estimate is that it will only be peanut-butter free for about 26 minutes anyway.


Yep. Had to give her a box of bunny grahams to get the costume on. Sadly, the box of bunny grahams did not mean she kept the costume on long enough for me to get a good picture. Apologies.

Complexity: Medium, but I am just a hack and I just work my way through things, so if I can do it anybody can!

Time required: 3-4 hours if you undo and redo your work less than I  had to.



  • White turtleneck onesie
  • Orange tights or leggings
  • Red felt for the comb
  • Orange felt for the feet
  • 2 white feather boas
  • 1 small craft boa for the headband – optional
  • Elastic
  • Stick-on velcro dots or squares (not pictured)


Remember how I mentioned I did some parts multiple times? Well, in the interest of full disclosure, this is one of those times. I spent more than two hours sewing (by hand, mind you!) the feather boas onto this turtleneck, only to discover that I had inadvertently made the turtleneck quite a bit smaller around and so rigid that Serena FLIPPED when I tried to put it on her.

I knew she was probably never going to let me try to pull the thing over her head again, so my second effort looked more like this:












I drew a pencil line straight up the back of the turtleneck and cut it in half. I neglected to take a picture of this part, but I attached little stick-on velcro dots every few inches along both sides of the new opening so that I could put the shirt on her like a hospital gown/straightjacket and then stick it together in the back. Next comes the hardest part of the entire project – sewing the feather boas onto the turtleneck. I’m not going to lie to you, this part was a bit tedious and took a couple of hours, but once you get in a rhythm (and with the help of whatever your chosen guilty TV pleasure), it’s not horrible. I did it twice, so how bad can it really be?

To help work around the arms and opening in the back, you’ll want to line the boa up vertically with the shirt, like so:


I probably put a stitch in every inch or two, and because it can be tough to push the needle through the boa string, you will absolutely want to use a thimble or your fingers will hurt for days. Yes, I speak from experience. For a size 2T turtleneck, it took exactly two 6-foot feather boas. When it’s done, it looks like this! Word of warning, these boas shed feathers like a mother – your living room will look like you slaughtered a turkey when you are done.


Now on to the feet. I found some slightly “ribbed” felt which looked a little like scaly chicken feet, but obviously any felt will do. I like felt because it is practically free, comes in little rectangular sheets (no intimidating fabric-store cutting required of the sometimes unfriendly fabric store employees, yay!) and has shape and body on its own, but you could obviously use any material you want and just stuff it with cotton balls or something to give it a bit more shape. During my internet perusal I also saw plenty of people use yellow or orange rubber dishwashing gloves for chicken costumes which is a pretty brilliant idea, and if I didn’t have a sewing machine that needs to be busted out occasionally for maintenance purposes, something I probably would have done.


I used one of Serena’s shoes to mark the size I needed on a piece of paper, and drew my best approximation of a chicken foot. I cut out my template, pinned it to the felt and cut around that, leaving 1/4″ for a seam allowance.


Next I broke out the heavy machinery. Turn your felt right-side in, sew around the outside except the bottom, and use a pokey device to turn it right-side out again. Yes, that is the technical term.





fullsizeoutput_1109.jpegTo finish the foot, all I needed to do was attach an elastic band that would go around Serena’s ankle so that the foot could rest on top of her shoe. I grabbed some simple elastic, measured the length that I needed, and pinned it in place, turning the seam allowance of the bottom of the foot inward.

A quick seam across the bottom and repeat of the above steps on the other foot and they are done! This part took me about 10 minutes in total – very quick.


Finally for the headband/chicken comb. This would have been simpler if I had done one layer of felt, bunched it up and attached it to the elastic for the headband. But I am not known for making things easier on myself, and wanted it to look a little extra special, so I cut out three semi-circles of red felt and sewed the bottoms together with a quick straight seam (left pic). Next, I folded the bottom a few times to get a bit of a “fanned out” effect so that there was lots of texture to the comb. This I tacked together at the bottom with a few stitches by hand (finished product in right pic).














I measured out the length of elastic I needed to go around the girl’s noggin, sewed the comb to the elastic, and then sewed the thin “craft boa” to the elastic, leaving an opening at the back to have adequate stretch in the elastic.

Full disclosure: I did not have adequate stretch in the elastic, and had to cut it in the back and sew on ribbons that I could tie instead. HA! Do as I say, not as I do!



Is this costume perfect? Definitely not! But I think it’s more fun to get creative and jazz up a simple idea than do a quick click order on Amazon. Little chicken turned out pretty freakin’ cute if you ask me. But then again, maybe I am (completely shamelessly) biased by the wearer. Happy Halloweeny!


Life… and Among the Pumpkins

I couldn’t write a post last week.

I woke up last Monday morning to see the devastating news that there had been a(nother) mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas. Just a few hours later, friends started texting to tell me that Tom Petty had died. It was a gigantic bummer of a week, to say the least, and I just couldn’t come up with anything to say that didn’t feel trite.

As far as Tom Petty goes, I know that there are larger things happening in the world; things that affect people’s mental and physical well-being, things that have a far-reaching ripple effect, things that seem impossible to overcome. As a huge Tom Petty fan, however, I was very sad about his death. I was fortunate enough to see him in concert again in August, and it’s something I’ll always be thankful for – but I’m sad that my kids won’t get to have the same experience.


Tom at Safeco Field in August

When it comes to the Vegas shooting, I remain short on words. It doesn’t feel like we are as shocked by these horrifying events as we used to be. I hate that they are as relatively commonplace as they are. I hate that I can no longer go to events like the music festival where it happened without the thought crossing my mind: what if. I hate, more than anything, the pointless loss of these lives, and that the families and friends of the victims have to find a way to go on without their loved ones.

I used to think tragedies like this brought our country together. Instead, it feels like they only serve to divide us further. Somehow, the conversations around them immediately devolve into political arguments.  I use the word “devolve” intentionally. When was the last time we had a meaningful and constructive discussion around how we all want to move forward as one body of people? When was the last time two people who differed in political viewpoints listened to each other with an open mind and heart? When was the last time people were able to persuade each other to think about things a little differently?

This goes without saying, I hope, but I don’t claim to know the right answers. I understand the level of complexity involved in these issues, and my network is made up of people who run the gamut in terms of political points of view. I just hope with all my heart we can find a way to unite our country again, and that it doesn’t take a tragedy even worse than this one to do it.

When things feel the most dire, kids really can be such a breath of fresh air. For better or worse, a 2-year-old’s patience level (or lack thereof) doesn’t allow for a lot of time spent dwelling on the bad news in the world.

September and October have thus far been gorgeous in Seattle, so we have been finding plenty of ways to get out and enjoy the perfect crisp and sunny weather. I know your Instagram and Facebook feeds are currently filled with pictures of people’s kids sitting in pumpkin patches, but you can do with a few more, right?

If you are in the Seattle area, you can find this year’s list of the best nearby pumpkin patches in Red Tricycle. It is a fairly long list with detailed descriptions of each patch, and is worth reading in its entirety. The farms vary widely in admission price per person, what activities are offered, and the age range they are most appropriate for. For example, some are decorated in a slightly scarier Halloween theme, whereas others are thematically more in line with a fall harvest. Corn mazes, farm animals for petting, even tractor and trolley rides – each one has a little something different to offer, and because most are a bit of a drive from Seattle, it’s worth figuring out the right one for your crew.


Since we just have a tiny tot at home, our criteria for the right pumpkin patch included two things: plenty of animals Serena could get up close to and space enough where she wouldn’t be trampled by rambunctious older kids. We were also highly cognizant of the need for a midday nap and her limited pee-holding ability, so we couldn’t venture too far from home.

For us, that meant the Fairbank Animal Farm in Edmonds (actually closer to Lynnwood), north of Seattle, which opens to the public on weekends in October. Their setup is great for toddlers and preschoolers and it was only about a 25-minute drive from Seattle.


At the door you are handed a small cup of food that can be given to “anything with feathers” – and there are plenty of eager takers! Walking paths take you to several mini-pastures with small flocks of ducks, chickens, pheasants, and peacocks.


A small barn lets the little ones get right up close to ducklings, litters of noisily nursing piglets, and hatching chicks.


Signs lead you up a small hill to the pumpkin fields so you can scout out the perfect party favor.fullsizeoutput_1075-e1507667888902.jpeg

Right near the exit is a little yard where you can hang out with the farm’s ridiculously mellow pygmy goats.


For families with smaller kids, I highly recommend exploring Fairbank Animal Farm! There is plenty of space to spread out and ample opportunity for fall photo snapping.dsc_1847.jpg

And did I mention the super-mellow goats?




Organically Confusing: a Cheat Sheet for What to Eat

Ugh. Grocery shopping is hard. Not a minor factor, the fact that you probably have a squirming, possibly screaming (and if not currently screaming, then soon-to-be-screaming), baby or toddler.

Also, I don’t even know why they put child seats in shopping carts. Are people’s kids willing to sit in those things? If I ever try to put Serena in one, she wraps her legs around my waist, boa-constrictor-style, and won’t let go. Eventually I give up and carry her through the entire store – and that is the more pleasant scenario! The other option, where I allow her to walk (free range) with me, is one I just can’t bear. *shudder*

Luckily, we live a few blocks from the grocery store, so I’ve started employing a technique that I’m sure thrills my fellow patrons to no end: I push S in a stroller while pulling a shopping cart behind. I could kiss on the lips the person that implemented the handing out of free oranges and bananas at the front of the store to help ease the burden on parents shopping with young kids. Somehow, the fact that she knows she is strapped in from the get-go means the girl will happily munch on a banana in her stroller while her mama moves on to solving the next inevitable grocery store dilemma.

Note: I’m assuming if you have more than one young child, these scenarios may not apply to you because it’s possible you have given up on leaving your house to run errands altogether. Thank goodness for Amazon Fresh, amiright?


Organic, or “organic”?

Logistical nightmare aside, now you get to move on to deciding just how bad a mother you are if you buy the “natural” frozen pizza vs. the “organic” macaroni and cheese in a box. I feel relatively up to speed on the myriad definitions of growing quality out there, and yet not a single trip to the store goes by without that moment of hesitation. Especially since there can be a price difference involved that is significant enough to have me frequently questioning whether the benefits of buying organic outweigh the costs in the first place.

I’m assuming I can’t be alone in this, so in case you would find it helpful, below is the general methodology I use and some of the information that guides my decision-making.

First, let’s get a few definitions out of the way, as they currently stand according to the USDA and FDA:


  • For produce: the plants, and the soil they were grown in, did not have synthetic fertilizer or pesticides applied to them.
  • For meat: the animals were raised in conditions that allowed them to exhibit natural behaviors (like grazing), were fed 100% organic feed, and were not given antibiotics or hormones.
  • For processed/multi-ingredient foods: they cannot contain artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, and the ingredients they contain must also be organic.
  • All genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are prohibited.


  • There is not a true legal definition of the term “natural” when it comes to government regulation. In broad strokes, it means that a food has not had artificial or synthetic products added to it.
  • This doesn’t relate in any way to the food’s production like the “organic” label does, so there’s no ruling out that synthetic fertilizer or pesticides were used in growing it, or that it was crammed into a crate without the ability to move for its entire life.
  • It also does not rule out GMOs.

So, okay. Natural in general sounds like a pretty good thing – most of us probably aren’t going to say that we want to give our kids more artificial ingredients. But how about organic? If you have a relatively high food budget, it’s easy enough to buy all organic, all the time. It’s a quick and easy way to ensure that the animals you are eating were raised humanely and that the produce you are buying had a happy, albeit slightly more buggy, life. Note: this does not mean that you are necessarily eating healthfully, which is not really something I’m addressing in this post. If you are reading an article about organic food, you likely know already that the more processed a food is, the less likely it is to be good for you. I’m not a doctor, so please stop looking at me like that.

It’s in the cost comparisons that things get a bit trickier. There can be a huge difference between the cost of organic vs. conventionally grown food, and it’s unrealistic to assume that we all have the resources to buy only organic.

My approach to grocery shopping generally breaks down this way:

  • Meat: Always organicAs an animal lover, I have great respect for the fact that an animal gave its life to feed my family. I view the higher cost as being worth the price of admission to ensure that the animal had a happy life foraging for bugs, grazing on green pasture, and eating only organic feed, which translates directly into what we eat. Meat is costly compared to fruits and veggies on a per-pound basis, so I mitigate some of this cost by prepping more vegetarian meals (and again, I’m not a doctor, but there is a wee bit of evidence out there that says a little less meat is good for you).

Cows should eat grass, duh.

  • Dairy products: Mostly organic. We don’t drink a ton of milk around here, so this one is not a huge budgetary concern for me personally. Similar to my reasons for buying organic meat, I like knowing that the milk my family does drink comes from happy cows that are eating grass and other 100% organic feed (always under a sunny sky, in my mind), and that they were not treated with antibiotics. If budget is a consideration, perhaps because your family does drink a lot of milk, it is worth noting that the concerns about growth hormones and antibiotics in conventional milk may not be worth sweating over anymore. Most milk sold in the store these days is free of hormones (check the label for “free of rBST” to be sure) and even conventional milk is tested to be sure it doesn’t contain antibiotics residues above a certain level before being bottled and shipped.

Ahh… fresh vegetables, without the pesticide on the side.

  • Produce, grains, other stuff that grows on plants: Mostly organic, but it depends. We eat a lot of fruits and veggies around here – as I mentioned before, partly to save money on more-costly meat, but also because we eat a largely Paleo-ish diet. Also, toddlers = fruit bats. If there is a large price differential, I look to the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen3 to guide my buying decision. These two lists, actually two parts of one big list of the 48 most commonly purchased fruits and veggies ranked in order of number and volume of pesticide residues found, is put together by the Environmental Working Group or EWG (you may have used their Sunscreen Guide to decide what was safe to slather on your kid this summer). In a nutshell:
    • Dirty Dozen (buy organic when you can): Strawberries, Spinach, Nectarines, Apples, Peaches, Pears, Cherries, Grapes, Celery, Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, and Potatoes
    • Clean Fifteen (buy conventional if you need to pinch pennies): Corn, Avocados, Pineapples, Cabbage, Onions, Peas, Papayas, Asparagus, Mangos, Eggplants, Honeydew (side note: does anyone actually buy honeydew?), Kiwi, Cantaloupe, Cauliflower, Grapefruit

Wondering about the other things you buy? Check where they fall on the list and decide what your tolerance level is for buying organic vs. keeping your grocery bill in check.

One other thing I think is really important to point out is that it’s expensive for farms to get organic certification. It can be a long, intensive process, and for some small farms, it’s just not worth paying to get and maintain the organic certification. This does not mean they don’t use organic growing methods for some or all of their meat and produce. If an item isn’t certified organic but it is labeled with the name of a local farm, don’t be afraid to contact the farm directly to find out if they use organic methods. Farmers are usually pretty excited to tell you about how they grow their stuff, and you’ll know that way whether you are getting a hell of a deal on organic produce just because it doesn’t happen to be labeled that way.

This goes to another important point. Whether or not you buy organic, do try to buy local. Organic might be preferable in terms of growing method, but it still has a massive environmental footprint if it is flown and/or trucked in from Mexico, or Argentina, or any other far-flung locale. If a conventional food is near the bottom of the list in terms of “dirtiness” and is grown much closer to where we live than its organic counterpart, I will opt for that one every time.

  1. Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means
  2. “Natural” on Food Labeling
  3. All 48 Fruits and Vegetables With Pesticide Residue Data

Learning Empathy through a Connection with Nature

I don’t know if our world has actually become more self-centered or if I am just increasingly aware of it as I’ve gotten older, but it seems like not a day goes by that I don’t encounter at least one example of someone acting selfishly. Sometimes these incidents are relatively innocuous, like not holding the door open for someone following close behind (okay sir, it looked like you were actually trying to pull the door closed behind you…), but I also see plenty of examples of someone’s self-centeredness negatively impacting their interactions with family members, friends, and strangers.

I know these concepts have to be simple when teaching them to kids – spend any time around the parents of toddlers and you’ll hear a lot of “thank you for sharing!”. However, I do sometimes wonder if parents these days are doing enough to teach generosity and compassion to their kiddos. I have personally been around surprisingly young children who remember (at least most of the time!) to say “excuse me” when they interrupt a conversation and will order a meal at a restaurant complete with “please” and “thank you”. Sadly, it seems like such good manners are more the exception than the rule even among much older children (and #sorrynotsorry, some adults).

As my daughter gets older and it becomes increasingly difficult to use babyhood as an excuse for bad behavior, my husband and I talk a lot about how to teach her caring and kindness – to put it more bluntly, that she is not the center of the universe. Spending time as a family on the Oregon coast last weekend helped bring into focus for me the idea that time spent in nature can be a powerful tool for teaching these types of lessons. Also, for lessons like sand is for playing, not for eating. You know, important life skills.


Nature teaches children to be caretakers

If I spend enough time indoors with my kid, I can pretty easily convince myself that I actually gave birth to a wrecking ball. Take a look at my living room at the end of the day and you will be convinced of that, too. But get the girl outdoors and put a tiny insect or shell in her hands, and she is suddenly so gentle and caring that I fear not for the life of a creature she could easily crush with one movement.


Checking out a sand dollar with alllll the senses

I marvel at how closely and respectfully she will examine an insect, even laying down on her belly to observe an ant carrying on with its busy life, without even hinting at interfering. Woe that she had such a long attention span during our trips to the grocery store.

Even something as simple as feeding a fish every day can be a great way for kids to understand that they have a responsibility to care for the animals, people and world around them.

Nature creates common ground through shared experiences

People here talk a lot about the Seattle Freeze, and I have to say I get it! Kole and I both hail from Idaho and it may sound like a small-town cliché but people there still say hello to strangers on the street. My own sidewalk experiences in Seattle have been more of the “avoid-eye-contact-at-all-costs-or-risk-catching-the-plague” variety.

I have seen that one of the quickest ways to establish a connection with someone is through some shared experience. One I find especially powerful is witnessing a natural phenomenon together.


Easy companionship in the sand


Serena was still a bit too young to even see above wave-height at the coast last weekend, but I saw firsthand the heads of adult friends and strangers alike swivel immediately upon seeing several grey whales breach right off the beach, looking for someone to share the experience with. People that hadn’t even noticed each other were suddenly grinning and pointing, telling other strangers where to look.

Being a participant in an event like this, especially one not commonly seen, can be a great equalizer, as everything about a person is stripped away except the fact that they are as inspired by and appreciative of what you have both seen as you are.

Nature humbles through its incredible vistas

There is certainly an argument to be made that perspective is earned through life experience, age and maturity, but I am not too proud to admit that I need occasional reminders of how small some of my minor irritations are in the grand scheme of things.


I have never walked away from awe-inspiring scenery being irritated that someone cut me off on the road that morning, or any of the other trivial annoyances that happen to all of us on a routine basis. There is immense value in being able to see and understand how we fit into the fabric of the world around us – it serves as a quick reminder of what is important… and more importantly, what is not.

Nature reminds us that waves are just a part of the ocean

It can be a delicate balancing act for parents of young kids to teach their children that disappointments and hurts are inevitable – we want to stop the crying as quickly as possible (especially since it is most often happening loudly and in public) but also know that we won’t always be able to rush in with a distraction for every little thing that goes wrong.


Dads and their gals

Some people are more innately able to harness the idea that the bad times don’t last forever. For instance, after Serena had peed straight into my lap on a flight not long ago, Kole was quick to point out that I would eventually laugh about it. While I was equally quick to point out that he was not the one walking through an airport in peed-on shorts, I have to acknowledge his point – even circumstances that feel dire will often become a great story to tell.

Nature teaches this through the changing seasons – House Stark motto aside, spring and summer are always coming too. For children there is value too in teaching the understanding that while you may currently be riding a cresting wave, someone else may be in the depths – and need a hand up.