Friday, May 29, 2009

How to "Clean" out your Cleaning Supplies

Sometimes navigating all of the products and ingredients in cleaning supplies can be daunting. I wanted to give a short little post today and give you some lists of things to avoid and some really great, inexpensive, safe alternatives.

  1. Chlorine: It's been linked to many respiratory ailments as it can form a toxic gas when mixed with other chemicals It also burns and destroys tissue with direct contact.

  2. Ammonia: This chemical has also been linked to a variety of respiratory problems.

  3. Phosphates: This chemical softens water but is currently being banned from many states due to it's damaging effect on fish and freshwater systems.

  4. Lye: This chemical is used in drain and oven cleaners, detergents, pool cleaners, metal polishers, and soap. It can irritate skin and eyes and has also been linked to many respiratory problems.

Great Alternatives

  1. Hydrogen Peroxide: a fantastic natural bleaching agent and antimicrobial. It's compatible with body tissues and doesn't give off caustic fumes.

  2. Vinegar: Dissolves soap scum and mineral buildup and kills mold and bacteria. Great for sinks, bathrooms, and makes a great glass cleaner.

  3. Castile or Glycerin soap: These are great natural soap choices that aren't toxic.

  4. Baking Soda: softens water and neutralizes minerals, helping soap clean better. It's also a great abrasive. When applied directly to a sponge it makes scrubbing stains easy.

  5. Essential oils: Adding a little lavender, tea tree oil, thyme, or even lemon juice to the above ingredients and water makes a nice scented cleaner. In addition, all of the oils I mentioned above have their own anti-microbial properties - more help with cleaning!

For a post on how to mix a few of these items into your own cleaners click here.

Seriously folks, I went to Costco recently and bought a huge container of vinegar and 2 large bottles of hydrogen peroxide that will last me for months and I think I spent a total of $5.00. Baking soda - I bought a large box for $2.00. My house seems a lot fresher and it is one of the things you can do for very little expense. I know I used to spend way more on cleaning supplies when I was purchasing them from the grocery store in individual bottles.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lemon Water

I have been thinking about internal cleansing a lot lately...not exactly sure why, but I think between everyday stresses and the busy social life I have had lately, I feel the need to clean out and revitalize. One of the simple ways to help your body feel clean and refreshed is to drink a lukewarm glass of lemon water right away each morning. I started doing this a while back and actually wake up some mornings craving it.

Apart from being an amazing body alkalizer, lemon water also gives the following health benefits:

  • Lemons are antiseptic
  • Lemon water has excellent digestive properties and can ease heartburn, bloating and other digestion problems
  • Lemon water cleanses and stimulates the liver and kidneys
  • Lemon juice contains calcium, magnesium and potassium
  • Lemon juice has been known to relieve asthma
  • Lemon water (hot) offers relief from cold and flu symptoms while providing some much needed Vitamin C
  • Lemon juice is a great skin cleanser

So if you do not do anything else - start every single day with a glass of lovely lemon water!

Note: Unless you are really scrubbing your lemons or using only organic, don't let your lemon float in the water. You risk drinking more chemicals and pesticides that way. Try to just squeeze it into your water.

- Shannan

Sources: Energise Alkaline Diet & Nutrition

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Almond Crunch Granola

Here is a great healthy recipe for making your own granola. Granola is a fantastic cereal, but it's also a great whole grain snack. Mix in some dried fruit or raw chocolate nibs and keep a bowl on the counter for when the kids get the munchies. Much better than the chips or pretzels!

3 cups rolled oats

1 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

1 cup pumpkin seeds

1 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/2 cup wheat germ, spelt germ or flax seed meal

1/2 cup honey or maple syrup

1/4 cup sunflower oil

1/2 cup water

1 cup sliced or slivered almonds

2 teaspoons vanilla or hazelnut extract

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Lightly oil a large baking dish or just line the dish with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl combine the first six ingredients (oats through wheat germ) and stir well until mixed. Add the sweetener, oil and water and mix until well blended and crumbly. Pour mixture into baking pan, spread evenly, and put in oven.

You have to stir the granola from time to time as it's baking. The granola is done when it is thoroughly dry and light brown in color.

Add the almonds on the top of the granola when it is almost done.

I make a double batch when I make this and freeze what I won't use in a freezer bag.

To make a great snack, mix this with your favorite dried fruit, some raw chocolate nibs or chocolate chips, or add another nut. You've got your own trail mix.



Monday, May 25, 2009

Healthy Eating Tips for Summer Cookouts

This glorious holiday weekend (and I do mean glorious - the weather has been awesome) is not even over yet and already I am feeling the need to get back into my own eating routine. It is funny how once you are used to eating fresh healthy whole foods, it takes fewer processed party foods to make you feel funky.

Here are a few tips that I picked up in my Self magazine that I think really make sense and can help keep us on track when making healthy food choices in our everyday lives or at the next summer cook-out. With summer only starting, there are bound to be many more...

1. If you can't grow it, don't eat it. (this is my personal favorite) A potato comes from the ground, an egg comes from a hen. But where did that Pop-tart come from? If your best guess is "aisle 7," pass it up. Processing takes out nutrients such as antioxidants and fiber, even when chemists add them back, nothing stacks up to Mother Nature.

2. A frozen berry beats a fresh doughnut. Purchasing organic local produce is better for both the environment and your health, but when the nearest farm is hours away, don't default to a package of Oreos. Whether you are purchasing frozen, fresh or even canned fruit, they all have comparable amounts of nutrients and are way better for you than a doughnut.

3. Judge your food by its cover. When you have to hack through layers of packaging and plastic to get to your dinner, it's likely to be unhealthy. Plus according to research, chemicals in plastic food containers may actually lower fertility.

4. Make sure you can ID the animal. You don't have to hunt down your own supper, but if your chicken has been molded into a nugget, who knows what you're really chewing. Same goes for meat processed into sausage, strips or slices. In addition to some meat you are also consuming tons of sodium and preservatives.

For the full list of 20 Ways to Eat Healthier Right Now click here.

Now a couple of my own summer party survival tips...

1. Take something to the party that you want to eat. You may be thinking duh???, but instead of letting the host/hostess suggest that you bring a bag of chips, offer to bring a veggie tray, fresh fruit or a green salad. That way you know you can fill your plate with something good for you while you are there.

2. Make your own. If you are going to have a treat or you want to give your kids one, make it yourself. I don't care what anyone says a homemade chocolate chip cookie is better for you than the ones that have been on a grocery store shelf for a few months. At least I can clearly identify the ingredients in my own cookies, even if sugar is one of them.

3. Don't get taken down by your drink. On a hot day we all know that water is the only drink our bodies really want. So, try to avoid sugary, carbonated drinks. Nobody wants to feel sluggish and bloaty in their shorts, cute summer skirt, not to mention their bathing suit!

Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend!

- Shannan

Sources: Self Magazine

Friday, May 22, 2009

Making Your Own Kefir

One of my friends from my food coop recently gave me some kefir grains to start making my own kefir. I had tried commercially prepared kefir before and thought it would be fun to try to make my own. I love it and after reading up on kefir, I'm really excited about all the health benefits myself and my family are getting from drinking kefir.
Kefir is a cultured-milk beverage which originated in the northern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains and is believed to date back at least 1,000 years. It was developed to preserve milk over extensive periods before refrigeration. It's reported that the tribes-folk of this particular region were renowned for their longevity with little to no known disease. A life span of over one hundred years was common for folks living in the region where kefir was cultured.

Kefir is basically a fermented milk product with awesome health benefits.

  1. It's a natural probiotic that contains live active cultures of normal digestive flora and will repopulate your digestive tract and aid in digestion. It's thought that kefir is actually superior to yogurt because yogurt is made with transient, less potent bacteria. The organisms in kefir will repopulate the digestive tract with good organisms that can actually overtake pathogenic organisms in the gut.

  2. When kefir is consumed, digestive enzymes stores are added to the body. This reduces the digestive burden on the body. This also strengthens the immune system.
  3. Eating or drinking fermented foods of any kind adds predigested food full of vitamins and minerals to the body. The lactose in milk is completely digested in kefir which makes it easy for those who are lactose intolerant to consume.

  4. Kefir normalizes the intestinal tract and can reverse constipation and diarrhea

  5. Kefir lowers high blood pressure
How to culture your own kefir
  1. Find a friend who has some kefir grains they can share. These multiply quite fast and can and should be separated. I've already passed on some new grains. You can purchase the grains on the Internet, but they can be quite spendy and usually if you ask around someone has some to share.
  2. Place the kefir grains into a clean glass jar. Kefir "grains" are a bit of a misnomer as they are actually a soft gelatinous mass made up of friendly Lactic acid bacteria, vinegar-producing bacteria and yeast strains. They are slightly granular in structure which is how they obtained the name kefir grains.

  3. Add milk and gently stir or lightly shake to mix the grains in milk. I use raw cow's milk, but raw goat's milk can also be used or raw whole cream. I'm sure pasteurized milk could also be used, but I'm a big fan of the added health benefits of using raw milk.

  4. Lightly screw on a lid. Leave the lid loose enough so that carbon dioxide created in the fermentation process can escape.

  5. Store the culture out of direct sunlight on your counter or in a cupboard for about 24 hours. Give it a gentile stir or shake a few time during that period.

  6. When it's thickened to your liking - and time and experimentation will tell you when that is - strain the kefir through a sieve or slotted spoon. (Some experts say not to use metal spoons or metal of any kind with your kefir.) This will separate the grains from the kefir and you can put the kefir grains int a clean jar with fresh milk and repeat the process. If you don't wish to repeat the process right away, simply store the grains in a small jar, cover them with a little milk, and place them in the refrigerator. They will inactivate in the cold and wait until you are ready for another batch of kefir.

You will notice with each batch of kefir that your kefir grain will grow or smaller grains will separate. These are baby grains and can be shared with a friend or mixed in a smoothie and consumed.

How to enjoy kefir

  1. You can consume it fresh, refrigerate it for later use, or ripen at room temperature over a period of days. Ripening improves flavor and increase vitamins B1, B6, and B9 (folic acid). Kefir has a sour refreshing flavour with a slight subtle aroma of fresh yeast. It also has a natural effervescent sparkling tanginess. It is especially yummy if blended with some fresh fruit or fruit juice.

  2. Add some kefir to your favorite smoothie recipe - it's to die for. It's also the best way to get some probiotics to your kids as they will love the added tangy flavor kefir adds to a smoothie. I also blend up some kefir smoothies and freeze them for popsicles.

  3. Here's a great recipe I'm planning to try for Kefir Avocado soup. Blend one avocado, 1 tablespoon red onion, 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, 3/4 to 1 cup of kefir, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes in a food processor until smooth. Enjoy.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Benefits of Massage

As a busy mom I have a hard time slowing down and relaxing. It is rare that I sit for more than a quick salad all day long and constantly feel like there is more to be done than time in the day. Well today I took a little time for myself and finally got the massage my husband had purchased for me nearly a year and a half ago!

I have to say it was phenomenal and I have never felt so relaxed. My mind cleared and my body just melted. There was not an ounce of stress left in my body by the end of the massage. I highly recommend taking some time for yourself.

Naturally I had to investigate the health benefits of massage so I am passing along this article I found at

The Benefits Of Massage

What exactly are the benefits of receiving massage or bodywork treatments? Useful for all of the conditions listed below and more, massage can:

- Alleviate low-back pain and improve range of motion.
- Assist with shorter, easier labor for expectant mothers and shorten maternity hospital stays.
- Ease medication dependence.
- Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow—the body’s natural defense system.
- Exercise and stretch weak, tight, or atrophied muscles.
- Help athletes of any level prepare for, and recover from, strenuous workouts.
- Improve the condition of the body’s largest organ—the skin.
- Increase joint flexibility.
- Lessen depression and anxiety.
- Promote tissue regeneration, reducing scar tissue and stretch marks.
- Pump oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs, improving circulation.
- Reduce postsurgery adhesions and swelling.
- Reduce spasms and cramping.
- Relax and soften injured, tired, and overused muscles.
- Release endorphins—amino acids that work as the body’s natural painkiller.
- Relieve migraine pain.

A Powerful Ally
There’s no denying the power of bodywork. Regardless of the adjectives we assign to it (pampering, rejuvenating, therapeutic) or the reasons we seek it out (a luxurious treat, stress relief, pain management), massage therapy can be a powerful ally in your healthcare regimen.Experts estimate that upwards of ninety percent of disease is stress related. And perhaps nothing ages us faster, internally and externally, than high stress. While eliminating anxiety and pressure altogether in this fast-paced world may be idealistic, massage can, without a doubt, help manage stress. This translates into:

- Decreased anxiety.
- Enhanced sleep quality.
- Greater energy.
- Improved concentration.
- Increased circulation.
- Reduced fatigue.

Furthermore, clients often report a sense of perspective and clarity after receiving a massage. The emotional balance bodywork provides can often be just as vital and valuable as the more tangible physical benefits.

Profound Effects
In response to massage, specific physiological and chemical changes cascade throughout the body, with profound effects. Research shows that with massage:

- Arthritis sufferers note fewer aches and less stiffness and pain.
- Asthmatic children show better pulmonary function and increased peak air flow.
- Burn injury patients report reduced pain, itching, and anxiety.
- High blood pressure patients demonstrate lower diastolic blood pressure, anxiety, and stress hormones.
- Premenstrual syndrome sufferers have decreased water retention and cramping.
- Preterm infants have improved weight gain.

Research continues to show the enormous benefits of touch—which range from treating chronic diseases, neurological disorders, and injuries, to alleviating the tensions of modern lifestyles. Consequently, the medical community is actively embracing bodywork, and massage is becoming an integral part of hospice care and neonatal intensive care units. Many hospitals are also incorporating on-site massage practitioners and even spas to treat postsurgery or pain patients as part of the recovery process.

Increase the Benefits with Frequent Visits
Getting a massage can do you a world of good. And getting massage frequently can do even more. This is the beauty of bodywork. Taking part in this form of regularly scheduled self-care can play a huge part in how healthy you’ll be and how youthful you’ll remain with each passing year. Budgeting time and money for bodywork at consistent intervals is truly an investment in your health. And remember: just because massage feels like a pampering treat doesn’t mean it is any less therapeutic. Consider massage appointments a necessary piece of your health and wellness plan, and work with your practitioner to establish a treatment schedule that best meets your needs.

Review the clinical research studies examining the benefits of massage.

Review massage information from the
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

10 Tips for Shopping Your Local Farmer's Markets

One thing I look forward to every summer is shopping at local Farmer's Markets. I love knowing that my produce was just picked that day and packed with the maximum nutrients. I also love supporting my local economy. Did you know that when you shop at local farmer's markets as much as $.80 of every dollar goes back to the community where you live. Compare that to $.09 on the dollar that goes back to the community when produce is purchased from local grocery stores. It's just so refreshing to get outside and smell the fresh air and see all of the fresh produce and flowers.

For those who are new to shopping at Farmer's Markets your first few trips can be a bit daunting. It's definitely a different experience than shopping on aisle 9 at the grocery store. Here is a list of my favorite tips to help you navigate those first few trips.

  1. Keep a list of all the local farmer's markets and hours in a convenient place. I keep one on the refrigerator and in my work bag/purse. Look at Local Harvest or Eat Well Guide if you are unsure where your local markets are located.

  2. Take Your Kids! This is a great learning opportunity for them. Many times if they can pick their own veggies, they will be much more apt to eat them.

  3. Bring a re-usable shopping bag (or two) that can hang over your shoulder to help carry everything out comfortably.

  4. Go early to get the best pick of produce. If you go early, it's also a nice time to chat with farmer's about their growing practices.

  5. Get a cup of herbal tea or coffee and then take some time to scope out the whole market before starting to purchase. This way you can see whose produce looks the best and see the best prices.

  6. Bring cash and mostly small bills like $5 and $1 bills.

  7. As you buy, place heavier items in the bottom of the bag to preserve more tender vegetables.

  8. Buy in bulk. If the green beans look especially nice - buy alot. You may get a discount for buying more and if you lightly steam them when you get home you can eat some for dinner and freeze the rest for winter when fresh produce isn't as plentiful.

  9. Make sure you ask if the produce is grown locally. Some markets demand only locally grown produce, others don't.

  10. Asking a vendor about if he grows his crops using organic or sustainable practices is a better question than "is your product organic"? If you ask if produce is organic, a vendor will assume you mean certified organic and tell you no. Many farmers grow completely organic produce but have not been certified either due to cost or some technicality that would keep them from certification. There are many wonderful farms that you don't want to miss that sell organic produce but are not "certified organic."

Get out there and enjoy all that your local farms have to offer!


Monday, May 18, 2009

Simple Juice Detox

It has been a crazy weekend full of emotional ups and downs, parties, a few cocktails and lots of food. Frankly, I am exhausted and can't wait to crawl into bed with a good book and fall asleep. But first, I must wrap up my Sunday the way I normally do by writing our Monday morning post. So tonight after a fun yet tiring weekend, I just realized that I am actually craving juice, green juice. I think my body is trying to tell me something...

I think I need a little detox. People do a juice fast/detox for a variety of reasons. Some want to lose weight, some want to cleanse their systems, some want to increase energy or gain an overall feeling of health and some just want to take in more fruits and veggies. You can find every sort of plan right here on the internet. Some last only a few days and some a few weeks.

For me, a simple juice detox lasts just one day and gives back some of what I feel I have lost over a busy weekend of appetizers and desserts. A short one-day fast is an excellent way to supply the live enzymes that speed up the body's cleansing process. It also helps to flush out the toxins in your body and reset your system. The juices contained in green drinks are assimilated directly into the body without stimulating or stressing the digestive system and are perfect for a short-term fast.

A few tips before getting started:
  • Have plenty of organic fruits and vegetables available
  • Peel any sprayed or waxed fruits or veggies you are using
  • Drink your juice immediately if at all possible to get the most vitamins, mineral, enzymes and micronutrients available
Detox day recipe:
  • Start your day with a glass of warm water with lemon (and maybe a bit of honey)
  • Prepare and drink your juice as needed throughout the day. (i.e. breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner) 
  • Drink water before each glass of green juice if you do not want to dilute it.
  • End your day with a nice warm cup of herbal tea.
I know this sounds strange, but a glass of fresh green juice almost instantly makes me feel more energized. Perhaps just knowing that I am feeding my body so well helps perk up the mind as well.
And most importantly, continue the next day with a healthy eating plan. Some holistic health professionals recommend a one day fast each week.

- Shannan


Friday, May 15, 2009

What's In Your Medicine Cabinet?? Arnica Montana

Summer is now officially on it's way here in Michigan. The days are getting longer, sunnier and much warmer. My kids already have a fresh batch of skinned knees. Ah yes...Summer. Something I think every household should stock up on for summer is a wonderful little homeopathic called Arnica. Summer is usually full of scrapes, bruises, sore muscles, overexertion and other various injuries. Arnica is a great natural remedy for all of the above.

Some might be unfamiliar with the use of homeopathics. The basic principles of homeopathy are that the natural state of the human body is one of health and that we possess the natural ability to heal ourselves. What we describe as symptoms are actually the body's efforts to protect itself against disease. Therefore, to effect a cure, we should not suppress the symptoms, but seek to stimulate the body's own natural healing processes.

Arnica is made from an herb called Leopard’s Bane that grows in the mountains. German peasants observed that if a sheep or goat fell down on a hillside and hurt itself, it would nibble the leaves of this plant. Arnica is priceless to keep around the house for the aftereffects of a fall, overexertion, injury from a blunt object, shock from an injury, soreness, healing of bruised tissue, and to control bleeding. To sum it up the person who needs Arnica is the one who feels bruised and sore.
One should take Arnica every three to four hours. Place the tablet or pellet (depending on the type you purchase) on or under the tongue and allow to dissolve in the mouth. Discontinue as soon as improvement is noted. If pain is especially intense take Arnica every fifteen minutes until pain subsides. Children can safely take half of the adult dose recommended on the packaging.
As an added aid, apply Arnica externally to the bruised area. A topical lotion or cream will help speed healing and relief. A word of caution, do not apply Arnica directly to broken skin as it will irritate open tissues.
Arnica also works great for those who are undergoing surgery. Take two tablets of Arnica before and afer surgery then repeat as often as needed. This will help reduce pain and minimize the need for narcotic medications.
Now off to enjoy the beautiful day!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

How to Maintain a Healthy Attitude

You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you. Brian Tracy

In today's tough economic times it is difficult to maintain a healthy attitude. I know that I am feeling some stress over the layoffs, bankruptcies, and forclosures reported in the news each day. Even if you are not directly affected, here in Michigan for sure, we all know someone who is and that makes it difficult to stay positive.

So why is it so important to try to maintain a positive attitude anyway? Optimism directly influences our health, quality of life as we age and may even improve our longevity. Being an optimist and having a positive attitude may also help reduce our risk of dying from heart disease and many other types of illnesses. Other benefits of a healthy attitude include:

  • Better ability to deal with work and other daily activities

  • Fewer limitations due to pain and emotional stress

  • Increased energy and exuberance

  • A more peaceful, calm and relaxed state of mind

  • Better and longer lasting social connections

  • An easier time dealing with life’s frustrations and challenges

On the other hand, negative thoughts may cause you to be more prone to illness due to a weakened immune system and can seriously impact your social interactions. Pessimists are those that see life in a negative light and always expect the worst. When the "worst" actually happens they either blame themselves or go on living thinking that things will always go bad. As you can imagine, this sort of negative attitude will weigh you down both mentally and physically.

So how do you create and maintain a healthy attitude?

  • Exercise. Fitness and exercise releases endorphins, which make you feel good and feel healthy.

  • Eat well. The body and mind connection is a powerful thing. How we eat directly influences our mental outlook.

  • Get Out. Being outside does wonders for almost everyone. In fact, the more contact with nature we have, the better we feel.

  • Laugh Often. They say that laughter is the best medicine, and that a life full of smiling and laughing, from whatever cause will uplift you, and make your more vibrant and healthy.

  • Get plenty of rest. Sleep refreshes you, gives you more energy, and relieves stress.

  • Elevate and defuse stressful situations. Weigh what's important and what's not. Take a few deep breaths. Instead of getting upset, seek out a simple distraction.

  • Try meditation. It may be difficult at first to sit still and do nothing, bu you'll be amazed at how relaxed you can feel. (Yoga can help focus your mind and body culminating in this stillness.)

  • Get in touch. Cultivate a network of friends and acquaintances. Make sure there's someone you feel close to, a confidant who can provide support.

  • Let go. Express your feelings. When you allow yourself room to feel and show emotions, you reduce stress and a tendency toward pessimism. But don't dwell on your emotions - move on.

Although you may feel that people/you have a predisposition toward optimism or pessimism, an optimistic attitude can be learned, practiced and adopted. When faced with a challenge, stressful situation or frustration, make the decision to address it with a positive attitude or at least not a completely pessimistic one. Over time, with practice, you will begin to see that each and every challenge you face is an opportunity to grow in some way, making you a stronger, more positive and ultimately healthier you.

- Shannan

Sources:, St. John Health System

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hearty Lentil Soup and Cornbread

I am a big fan of soup - I probably make a big pot of it at least once a week and then freeze pint jars full for lunch throughout the week. I've been focusing on eating more whole grain/bean meals and this is a very delicious and hearty soup. Paired with cornbread it makes a nice meal on a rainy spring day.

Hearty Lentil Sausage Soup

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped yellow onions
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
1/2 pound Italian sausage (sweet or hot), cut into small pieces (I'm not a big fan of pork, so I use a nice organic, beef sausage from a local farm here in Michigan).
1/2 pound mushrooms (such as white, cremini, shiitake, portobello and oyster), chopped
1 cup (about 7 ounces) dried French or brown lentils, picked through and rinsed
2 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth
2 1/2 cups low-sodium mushroom and chicken broth
1 cup chopped tomatoes, with their juice
1 cup dry red wine
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 pound baby spinach, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until onions are translucent. Add sausage, increase heat to medium high, and cook until it begins to brown. Add mushrooms and continue to cook until mushrooms have released most of their liquid. Add lentils, broths, tomatoes and their juice, wine, and pepper flakes, Cover pot and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until lentils are almost tender. (Add water if a thinner soup is desired.)

When lentils are almost tender, stir in the spinach, salt and pepper. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, then add thyme. Serve the soup piping hot, with a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top.

I sometimes will saute all the vegetables and sausage and then throw everything else (except spinach and cheese) in a crock pot for a few hours. Towards the end, right before serving, I add the spinach until wilted and then serve with some grated parm on top.

Real Cornbread
2 1/2 cups cornmeal
1teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-2 tablespoons honey
1 or 2 large eggs, beaten
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups buttermilk

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Grease an 8x8 pan. Mix all ingredients just until blended. pour into pan and bake 20-25 minutes. If cornmeal is coarse, you can soak it in the milk for an hour before mixing in the rest. You can mix in 1 1/2 cups of grated zucchini, or a cup of grated carrot. Use 2 eggs if adding veggies and only 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Health Benefits of Sleep

Happy belated Mother's Day! As I was laying in bed this afternoon taking the lovely afternoon nap that my family granted me on Mother's Day, I actually started thinking about how much I miss feeling relaxed and a good night's sleep. Ever since the birth of my twin girls a little over five years ago, sleep has taken a back seat in my life, as it does with most mothers. I am a night owl and an early riser which is definitely not a good combination.

We all know that sleep is important but why?

  • It helps to repair your body - Your body produces extra protein molecules while you're sleeping, and these help to mend your body at a cellular level. The damage from all kinds of things, such as stress, pollutants, infection, sun exposure and so on, is repaired while you're happily in the land of nod.

  • Helps maintain a healthy heart - Your heart and cardiovascular system is constantly under pressure, and one of the benefits of sleep is that it helps to reduce the levels of stress and inflammation in your body. High levels of 'inflammatory markers' are linked to heart attacks, heart disease and strokes. Sleep can also help keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels (which play a role in heart disease) lower.

  • Reduces stress - A good night's sleep can lower blood pressure and the elevated levels of stress hormones which are a natural result of today's fast paced lifestyle. Too much stress causes excess 'wear and tear' on your body, and increases the aging and degeneration of organs, cells and other body parts. By reducing high levels of stress, sleep helps to reverse these effects and encourages a state of relaxation.

  • Improves your memory - That 'foggy' feeling that you struggle with when deprived of sleep makes it difficult to concentrate. This often leads to not being able to 'commit to memory' facts, faces, lessons or even conversations! Sleeping well eliminates these difficulties because as you sleep, your brain is busy organizing and correlating memories. One of the great benefits of sleep is that it allows your brain to better process new experiences and knowledge, increasing your understanding and retention. So, next time you hear someone say "why don't you sleep on it", take their advice!

  • Can help control your body weight - Now, this one might surprise you! One of the lesser known benefits of sleep is that it helps regulate the hormones that affect and control your appetite. Studies have shown that when your body is deprived of sleep, the normal hormone balances are interrupted and your appetite increases. Unfortunately this increase in appetite doesn't lead to a craving for fruits and veggies, no, instead your body longs for food high in calories, fats and carbohydrates! So, if you're trying to lose those stubborn few pounds that just keep hanging around, make sure that getting enough sleep becomes a priority.

So the next time you consider staying up just one more hour when you know you should be hitting the sack. Do your body and your mind a favor and call it a night.

- Shannan

Sources: Better Sleep Better Life

Friday, May 8, 2009

Soil Composition and Choosing Fertilizers

Does anyone know what this picture is?? I know it doesn't look like much, but it's my freshly tilled garden waiting for wonderful vegetables to grow. My sweet husband (who is not a gardener), took the rototiller out Monday to work the soil and enlarge the garden a little for me. He also installed a sweet irrigation system that will make it much easier to keep everything watered. If you look carefully, you will see markers where the kids planted our first row of Swiss chard, kale, and beets. I love this time of year, getting everything ready and dreaming of what will grow and having fresh vegetables after a long winter.

I thought I would talk a little about fertilizing and soil composition. I know that many are gardening for the first time this year. There seems to be a lot of excitement around growing your own food which is wonderful. I find gardening very relaxing and enjoyable. Where it becomes difficult though is when one goes to the hardware store/nursery to decide which fertilizer/food to feed one's garden.

There is this underlying competition in gardening that makes us want to have the biggest/reddest tomatoes, the most beans on one bush, and the giant pumpkin of the patch. Before "going organic" I will admit that I chose fertilizers based on those criteria. Now I realize that even more than feeding the plants in my garden, how I build up the soil of my garden directly affects my own nutrition. For instance, if beans are rich in calcium - which my body needs, but my soil is deficient in calcium I won't get the benefit of eating the beans that I grow. I must supplement my soil with the things that my plants need and that I myself need.

Plants, unlike humans are able to use both organic and inorganic sources of minerals. They can draw inorganic/rock minerals into their structure and convert it into organic/living matter that we as humans can digest and use. Inorganic minerals (table salts) do us very little good and can actually build up in our bodies and cause harm. We were created to live in this beautiful symbiosis with plants. They give us organic minerals and oxygen to breathe and we give back carbon dioxide and fertilize them with what they need.

The best garden soil contains a mixture of organic (living) matter like compost or manure and inorganic matter like organic mineral fertilizers. You might ask why synthetic fertilizers are bad?? Don't they contain the same minerals that the plants need? Synthetic fertilizers are chemically derived instead of found in nature. Some of these chemicals have been linked to cancers and other health problems. In addition, organic produce is substantially higher in nutrients, which leads to the conclusion that plants don't absorb and assimilate these synthetic chemicals appropriately. Lastly, synthetic fertilizers usually give a plant a quick boost and then are washed from the soil. Organic fertilizers are basically rock which through the aid of microorganisms in the soil slowly release nutrients to plant throughout the growing season.

Below is a great chart of some of the most important minerals that our bodies and plants need, what they do, how to supplement your garden organically with them, and which veggies/fruits are especially high in them.

Happy Gardening! I would love to hear about and see pictures of your gardens!



  • Functions in the body: builds bones, heals tissues, fights germs, and soothes nerves

  • Fertilizer sources: lime, bonemeal, garden gypsum

  • Vegetables and Fruits: beets, beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, corn, greens, onions, and parsnips.

  • Functions in the body: removes impurities, enhances circulation, and fights germs and bacteria

  • Fertilizer Sources: muriate of potash, manure, and greensand

  • Vegetables and Fruits: asparagus, beans, beets, blackberries, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, onions, parsnips, peaches, peas, radishes, red raspberries, rutabaga, strawberries, spinach, tomatoes and watermelon.

  • Functions in the body: thyroid and metabolism stimulator, vital to brain function, aids body in absorbing calcium and chlorine

  • Fertilizer sources: abundant in sea water and sea vegetables like kelp, bladderwrack, or dulse. Also found in fish emulsion.

  • Vegetables and Fruits: artichokes, asparagus, beans, blueberries, brussel sprouts, carrots, chives, cucumber, garlic, kale, leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, rutabaga, squash, strawberries, Swiss card, tomato, turnips, and watermelon.

  • Functions in the body: Attracts oxygen in the blood; improves circulation, digestion, elimination, and respiration; and helps prevent colds.

  • Fertilizer sources: greensand, manure and cottonseed meal.

  • Vegetables and Fruits: apricots, beets, blackberries, black cherries, greens, kale, parsley, peaches, peas, pumpkin, radishes, red peppers, spinach, and Swiss chard.

  • Functions in the body: vital to solid teeth and bones; fosters cell growth; calms nerves; necessary for lungs and brain function; promotes sleep; and lowers fevers, cools, and soothes.

  • Fertilizer sources: lime and sulfate of potash magnesia

  • Vegetables and Fruits: apples, apricots, beans, beets, cabbage, corn, grapes, spinach, onion, parsley, peas, peaches, and pears.

  • Functions in the body: controls nerves, improves memory, increases germ resistance, increases coordination of thought and action.

  • Fertilizer sources: manures and greensand

  • Vegetables and Fruits: apples, apricots, beans, blackberries, blueberries, celery, leaf lettuce, marjoram, mint, parsley, watercress, and wintergreen.

  • Functions in the body: builds tissue, especially muscle tissue; essential for complete metabolism.
  • Fertilizer sources: blood meal, manure, cottonseed meal, ammonium sulfate, and urea

  • Vegetables and Fruits: beans, black-eyed peas, and peas

  • Functions in the body: stimulates intellect; acts on bone and brain; affects muscle tissue; improves nerve nutrition; necessary for reproduction; and feeds the bones and brain.

  • Fertilizer sources: rock phosphate, bone meal, single super phosphate, and triple super phosphate.

  • Vegetables and Fruits: beans, cabbage, carrots, corn, and pumpkin seeds.

  • Functions in the body: supports muscles; aids in waste reduction; reduces pain; increases blood and tissue alkalinity; supplies healthy hair and nerves; reduces acidity; and prevents ailments.

  • Fertilizer sources: sulfate of potash, sulfate of potash magnesia, muriate of potash, and greensand.

  • Vegetables and Fruits: apples, apricots, beans, beets, black cherries, blueberries, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, grapes, kale, leaf lettuce, lima beans, parsnips, peaches, pears, spinach, Swiss chard, and tomatoes.

  • Functions in the body: contributes to the alkalinity of blood and lymph; essential to the liver, pancreas, and spleen; helps prevent blood clotting; increases osmosis; and counteracts acidity.

  • Fertilizer sources: kelp, manure, bonemeal, and greensand.

  • Vegetables and Fruits: apples, apricots, asparagus, beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, kale, parsley, peas, peppers, spinach, strawberries, Swiss chard, and turnips.

  • Promotes the flow of bile; builds hair, nails and skin; warms skin; beautifies complexion; drives impurities to surface; and stimulates and regulates nerves.

  • Fertilizer sources: garden sulphur, sulfate of potash, and gypsum.

  • Vegetables and Fruits: asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, cucumber, dill, kale, leeks, lettuce, lima beans, marjoram, onions, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, thyme, tomato, and turnips.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Summertime Snacks

Before we know it school will be out and the kids will be free to play all day. On my street that means approximately 15 kids under the age of 8 traveling from yard to yard playing on the swingsets, running through the sprinklers and riding bikes around the cul-de-sac. It also means a daily drive-by from the ice cream truck and the kids asking for drinks and snacks at every house.

A couple of my neighbors and I have already discussed the fact that we would prefer that our kids not drink juice boxes all day. We have decided to keep a pitcher of ice cold water in the garage refridgerator along with a supply of cups for when the thirsty bunch come asking for a drink. Now, how to battle the ice cream are some healthy summertime snacks that I am going to try and you may want to as well.

Frozen Grapes
Simply remove stems from grapes, wash thoroughly and seal in a freezer bag. Place bag in the freezer. Once frozen let the kids dig in to this refreshing naturally sweet snack.

Pineapple Pops (makes 6 pops)
2 c. plain yogurt
1/2 c. canned crushed pineapple (packed in its own juice not syrup)
1 can frozen pineapple or orange-pineapple juice concentrate, thawed

Drain the can of crushed pineapple so all the juice runs out.
Put all the ingredients in a medium-sized boal and mix them together.
Spoon the mixture into small paper cups. Fill them almost to the top.
Stretch a small piece of plastic wrap across the top of each cup.
Using a popsicle stick, poke a hole in the plastic wrap. Stand the stick straight up inthe center of the cup.
Put the cups in the freezer until the mixture is frozen solid.
Remove the plastic wrap and peel away the paper cup.

You will have pineapple pops to eat and share!

Frozen Yogurt Pops
32 oz. container flavored yogurt (any flavor you choose)
ice cube tray(s)
plastic wrap
popsicle sticks

Fill an ice cube tray with yogurt.
Cover with strong clear plastic wrap and freeze.
Place a popsicle stick in each section when it is almost frozen.
Allow to freeze completely.
Pop out of ice tray and serve.

Variation: toss some cut up strawberries or blueberries into the yogurt before freezing.

Fresh Veggies
red, yellow, orange and/or green peppers

Clean and cut veggies into sticks. Toss in a large bowl and let the kids munch!

Fruit Kabobs

First, soak the skewers for a couple of hours to keep them from splintering into the skin or food. Load the stick up with the tasty fruits of your choice.

Trail Mix
whole wheat cereal (like Puffins or Whole Grain Chex)
dried cranberries
dried apricots
sunflower seeds

Pick your favorites from the list above and mix them up for a tasty snack.
(Note: make sure you know of any peanut allergies before serving them to a group of kids.)

Water not going to cut it? Try...

Fruity Soda Drink
Combine equal amounts of carbonated water and 100% fruit juice. Sweeten with honey if you choose.


- Shannan

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tropical Traditions Coconut Oil

Recently a wonderful company called Tropical Traditions sent me a jar of coconut oil to try and post about. This was perfect timing as Shannan had just written her post about the health benefits of coconut oil and I really wanted to try it for myself.

I could begin and end this post with the simple statement that I absolutely loved the product, but I should tell you more about them.

Brian and Marianita Shilhavey started the company in 1998 when they moved back to Marianita's hometown in the Philippines. Marianita had grown up on a coconut plantation and used coconut oil her entire life growing up. She watched the tremendous health benefits it bestowed to her friends and family. She knew how to extract the oil the traditional way not using machines, heat, or refining. Tropical Traditions still extracts all of their coconut oil this way.

I loved the coconut oil. I put it in smoothies. I cooked with it. I used it for baking. Just ask my son, it made the best scones. I used it on my face and body for lotion with great results. My feet have never been so soft and smooth. I haven't used this coconut oil long enough to experience all of the great health benefits listed in Shannan's post, but I can tell you that Tropical Traditions has a great product and if you are interested in trying coconut oil, you should check them out.

Brian and Marianita also sell a wide variety of other high quality products. In addition to their coconut oil they have added many other healthy organic products to their website. These include things like teas, spices, pasta, household cleaners, and skin care products. Check out their website.

If you are interested in doing some deeper reading on the health benefits of coconut oil, let me recommend Brian and Marianita's book entitled Virgin Coconut Oil. The book begins by telling the story of how Tropical Traditions got started. It then goes into great detail describing all of the health benefits gained by consuming coconut oil and gives great testimonials from real people who have experienced changes in their health after consuming the oil There are chapters on improving your thyroid health, ridding yourself of Candida infections, and even using the oil to improve your pet's health. It contains over 85 recipes and ways to use coconut oil. It's a fantastic resource.


Health Benefits of Fruit

A friend of mine who has decided to go 'Raw' recently mentioned how she and her husband were only consuming fruit until noon as part of their new eating plan. This is a practice I have read about in a few different books.

The basic idea is that fruit should be eaten on an empty stomach. The reason behind the theory is that fruit digests very quickly as it is made up of large amounts of water, fiber and the most basic natural sugars. Unlike more complex carbohydrates and proteins that take time to break down in the body, fruit is considered sort of predigested and only sits in the stomach for a matter of minutes. So why would you want to eat your fruit first and alone? It is believed by some that fruit eaten with or after a meal will sit in the stomach too long and ferment or rot also causing the non-fruit food to do the same. The good news is that even if you don't choose to eat solely fruit until lunchtime or you want fruit at other times of the day, as long as you try to eat your fruit first, before other more difficult-to-digest items, you may only need to wait 5 - 10 minutes before digging into the rest of your meal.

Here are just a few reasons why fruit should be part of your healthy diet:
  • Fruit is the best source of the natural sugar needed for energy.
  • Fruit contains micronutrients.
  • Fruit is packed with antioxidants.
  • Fruit contains an abundance of pure water.
  • Fruit contains fiber, necessary for optimum digestion.

Some people may be concerned that fruit contains too much sugar. I found this to be an easy-to-understand explanation of how fruit sugars differ from refined sugar.

"The body needs natural sugar as a source of energy. When starchy foods such as potatoes and bread are eaten, the digestive enzymes break down complex sugar (starch) into simpler sugars. When fruit is eaten, the body uses the simple sugars (fructose or others) directly, without needing to break them down any further. However, this is not like eating refined sugar. In the case of refined sugar, the food is devoid of nutrients and fiber. Thus, the sugar enters the blood quickly and is not slowed down by the process of digesting fiber. Plus the calories found in sugar are "empty" because the do not provide any vitamins or minerals. Fruit on the other hand, is a nutrient-dense food. Which means that for every calorie it provides, it also gives many micro-nutrients-vitamins and minerals."

Find out how 7 specific fruits (apples, bananas, grapefruit, mangos, oranges, strawberries and tomatoes) can benefit your healthy lifestyle here.

Remember that fruit is natures 'fast food'. Keep clean, organic if possible, fruit on your counter or in your refridgerator for everyone in your family to grab and go. And don't forget your smoothies. Freeze some peeled bananas in an airtight container and pop one in the blender with some berries, mango, pineapple or orange slices and a little water to make a refreshing drink anytime.

- Shannan

Friday, May 1, 2009

Making Your Own Herbal Shampoo

If you've been a regular here at Living A Whole Life, you know that Shannan and I have been delving into the world of making our own natural beauty and cleaning products. We've had some really great successes and in many cases found that we like the simple homemade products better than their more expensive commercially made counterparts. So far we've tried making our own tooth whitener, facial cleanser, toothpaste, coconut oil body moisturizer, and household cleaners. I decided to branch out and see what would happen if I made my own shampoo. Here is a basic recipe that I found at Mountain Rose Herbs.

Herbal Shampoo

1/2 cup distilled water

2 tablespoons dried or 1/3 cup fresh chamomile (for light hair), lavender(for darker hair), or rosemary (for darker hair)

1/4 cup liquid natural soap, such as castile (I used Dr. Bronner's castile soap with lavender)

1/2 teaspoon light vegetable oil (omit if very oily hair)

2 tablespoons glycerin

Mix together the water and herbs and heat gently to make a strong tea. Let the mixture steep for at least 20 minutes. Add liquid soap, vegetable oil and glycerin to the herbal water mixture and stir well.

How did I like my homemade shampoo you might be asking?? I noticed three things...

  • The homemade shampoo's consistency was very watery. This kind of bothered me at first. I mean it was hard to get the shampoo from the container to my hair without losing it. I went on a search to find out what thickens shampoo and if there was anything natural I could add. What I realized though is that most thickeners are chemically based and added to shampoo for aesthetic reasons. They do nothing for our hair and can even cause build-up among other things. I did find a how to on adding egg to shampoo to thicken the shampoo and egg has great nutritive value for your hair.

  • The homemade shampoo didn't lather quite as well as commercial shampoo. This again is usually attained by smoke and mirrors in commercial shampoo. Chemicals such as sodium laureth sulfate are added to shampoo to create a rich lather that does nothing for the hair. It's funny how we have come to equate a thick luxurious foaming shampoo with ending up with beautiful hair and those things are often the worst thing about shampoo.

  • After using the simple homemade shampoo, my hair felt amazingly clean and very soft!! Will I do it again? Absolutely! I love the simplicity. The shampoo smelled amazing and felt so clean.

Here are a few other simple, natural things to try at home to clean and condition your hair.

Sesame Coconut Protein Conditioner

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons light sesame oil

2 whole eggs

2 tablespoons coconut milk

2 tablespoons honey

1 tsp coconut oil

Whisk together and apply to hair. Rinse.

Deep Conditioners

  • Dry Hair: Mix together coconut oil, banana, avocado, and mayonnaise.

  • Normal Hair: Mayonnaise, egg, olive oil, and unflavored yogurt.

  • Oily Hair: Add a little lemon juice (1 to 2 teaspoons) to the products for normal hair.

Make enough of the above to cover hair and apply to clean, damp hair. Wrap your hair with a towel, saran wrap, or shower cap to hold in heat and open up the hair follicles for deep conditioning. Wait 15 minutes and rinse thoroughly with cool water. Follow with a shampoo.

Hair Rinses

  • Lemon Juice: The juice of 1 lemon mixed with 1 cup of water brings back life and shine to dull hair.

  • Baking soda: 1 tablespoon baking soda mixed with 1 cup of water removes hair spray and gel residue.

  • Apple cider vinegar: 1/2 cup vinegar mixed with 2 cups of water gives your hair shine and bounce.

  • Rosemary: 4 tablespoons rosemary mixed with 2 cups of water. Boil the rosemary in water for 10 minutes then strain. Pour over shampooed hair to help dull hair.

  • Spearmint: 3 teaspoons of spearmint mixed with 1 quart of water. Boil the water with spearmint leaves. Cool and refrigerate. Pour over shampooed hair to create shine and control oiliness.

Rinse your hair with the coolest water you can stand after using these rinses. Each recipe makes enough for one application.

Have you tried to make your own shampoo? I would love to hear about your successes!!


This blog is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog is intended to replace the advice of a physician. We recommend consulting a physician before embarking on diet changes or a fitness routine. In addition, we recommend that you thoroughly research alternate points of view and make your own decisions as an informed consumer. You are ultimately responsible for your health.