Monday, December 31, 2012

New Beginnings in 2013

In most years past, I make a list of all the ways I want to improve for the upcoming year.  They usually land in my journal, so I can look back on at least a couple years prior and compare.  I'm always shocked to find how similar they are in nature and wonder whether I'll be better this year at keeping to my goals.

In 2012, I did an experiment where I tried to work on one thing I wanted to improve for 21 Days.  You can find it here.  I did find longer last results in attempting to change my unwanted behavior.  This year, however, I am looking at New Year's Resolutions in a new light.  Rather than change, I want to accept my limitations and instead work on being more "present".  Awareness in an active sense and acceptance in hope that I will not put myself in control of all situations.  I think this will bring about more optimism rather than criticism into my life.

When I was preparing for the birth of my son, Tyler, I went through hypno-birthing classes and training.  It was all about trusting in myself and letting go of the control (something that would have been very beneficial for my oldest child's birth!).  When things would get tough, I would work on relaxing my body and being aware that my body was doing what it needed to be doing at that exact moment.

After Tyler was born, that concept was tucked away with my childbirth books. My goal was to feel like I was "making it" rather than "surviving" having 2 kids.  I wanted to have it all together and enjoy this period in our lives.  As a result, I came down hard on myself and my family when we'd sit in the mornings and watch TV.  In the other rooms, piles of laundry and stacks of dishes were waiting to be attended to.  Ugh! I felt like saying that for the first 6 months, as I adjusted and kept telling myself to push through and work harder.

With our upcoming baby due late April, I am embracing the approach of my wise hypnobirthing classes.  I'm fooling myself when I really think I can control everything to make it work.  I have limitations and my high expectations set me up for disappointment.  Not to mention the added pressure it puts on my family!

So, I'm going to work on going with the flow, accepting (not settling or complaining about) what life brings my way, and am going to be fully present.  I guess it's a way of reprioritizing and becoming a bit more wise from past experiences.  The "have to's" will be put on the shelf this year.  I am hopeful that this will bring more joy into our home and definitely more silliness.  It's a new adventure carrying no expectations along with it.  :)

Peace and happy new year,


Jen Starks, Owner 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Simplicity & Brand Names

For the past 10 years, I have been attempting to learn more about companies and their ethical choices.  Prior to that, I simply went to any store and headed to the sale rack.  Some of my favorite brands were Gap, Banana Republic, and JCrew.  I didn't read labels on products either but that is another post.  I've evolved and am continuing to learn how to be a better, more informed consumer.

It all started during the Lent of 2004.  I was doing my year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a year that has tremendously shaped me into who I am today.  Living in community with 5 other people (including my husband whom I had just married 3 weeks before beginning the year commitment), we attended many local events together. During this Lenten season, we attended a weekly event called "Soup and Spirituality" and it was during our discussion on textiles and social justice that my world was rocked.  I had NO clue that corporations were making unethical choices in order to maximize their profits.  They were exploiting their workers and the land.  Discrimination, child labor, extreme pollution, and unsafe working conditions are just a few to name.  If you are ready to find out the truth out there and want to see what the brands you are supporting are doing behind the scenes, you can go to the source I use:

This organization investigates companies beyond the textile industy and includes major corporations all around the world.  It also gives you the opportunity to stand up against these organizations, if you want to do something about the information you learn.

As you might guess, I have switched which brands and stores I support.  In addition to that, I have come to recognize that there are many companies in which I have not learn about.  Because of that, I try to avoid wearing clothes or accessories that have their logo on the outside.  If I'm given some clothes with labels like "Nike" or "Old Navy" on them for the kids, I just pass them along to someone else. I even struggle with characters on it, like ones from Disney.  They are decent clothes but I don't want my kids (nor myself) to be a walking advertisement for them.

Plus, I don't want to get sucked into the social status affiliated with certain brands.  I'm not interested in carrying around a purse that is hundreds or thousands of dollars.  To me, it's a purse for a specific function.  And by promoting their brand, it might make someone else around me feel uncomfortable if they can't afford that purse.  It's just not who I am. My style is a purse from Ten Thousand Villages, a local sewer, or one someone made me as a gift.

All our individual purchases are a vote in support of a company and the choices they make. If we are more conscious of what our purchases are supporting, we can encourage positive change in companies.

If you followed the link above and looked up a particular company, which ones did you look up?  Were you surprised?


Jen Starks, Owner 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Healing From the Inside, Naturally-Part II

Health.  Could you imagine not remembering the last time you were sick or your kiddos were sick?  My chiropractor in Tallahassee told me that he hasn't needed to take a sick day in over 15 years.  He doesn't use antibacterial gel after each patient either (claims he keeps it in his office for his patients "peace of mind"), yet he sees sick clients consistently.  Is he just lucky?  He told me that he used to get sick during "flu seasons" when he didn't take care of his body.  Put simply, he shared that he exercises regularly, eats well, gets enough sleep, keeps his spine aligned, avoids caffeine, and takes a few supplements.  

Seems too simple doesn't it?  But honestly, it isn't really "easy" to take care of yourself in this way without some sacrifice, self-control, and dedication.  As I've shared previously, I get suckered into staying up too late.  Having kids means more sleepless nights. We all can't afford a gym membership or the childcare that goes along with it.  Does eating healthy and organic foods seem like a luxury too?  Well, there are many excuses and fortunately there are ways to afford to be healthy.  It just takes a little thrift and lots of prioritization.   Instead of spending your money at the doctor's office, you'll be saving by investing in your long-term health.

My family doctor in Tallahassee used to have the same formula for me when I'd come in sick or with a sick child: Cut out refined sugars, stick to a Mediterranean diet, try to eat organic fruits and veggies, stay hydrated, spend time outside with mild playing, and then would assure me all would work itself out.  In terms of medicine, he usually recommended supplements and homeopathic remedies:  Probiotics daily, sambucol syrup with elderberry and echinacea, Nature's Way Cold Care syrup, Omega 3, and vitamin D drops. Using a cool-mist humidifier was usually in there too. His final remarks were usually "keep up the good work and come see me if you need to."  I miss that reassurance he always gave me, especially when I was a new mom.  Sigh.

Thanks to Jill Welch, Kitchen Goddess and my local farmer Joe Gady from Farming for Life, I've also learned the amazing benefits of green smoothies, consuming tons of leafy greens, eating more sea vegetables, regularly eating fermented foods, and drinking teas and bone broths.  In other words, I'm receiving a bunch of live probiotics and minerals while balancing out the PH in my body from all the other foods I choose to eat that might not be as beneficial.  Refined grains, sugars, starches, and any processed convenience foods mess up our immune system.  While I would say we are on a healthy track in our house, it is not a flawless victory, especially this past month.

These are specific recommendations from those I have learned from and respect, and help promote overall wellness. I have also learned to rely on other remedies when we are sick: neti pots, green tea with honey, spicy bone broths with garlic, ginger, and cayenne, humidifiers, warm baths, inhaling vapors with eucalyptus oil, colloidal silver, vitamin C drinks, Kumbucha, gentle yoga, and LOTS of water and rest.  

What are you currently battling?  What is helping?

For our good health,

Jen Starks, Owner 

Healing From the Inside, Naturally-Part I

If you live in an area where holistic medical care is available and accessible, please take a moment to realize how fortunate you are to have it.  I moved from Tallahassee, FL (and area I had no idea would be as progressive as it is) to South Bend, IN.  I am so grateful that I was able to learn and grow in Tallahassee with holistically-minded physicians, chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapist, whole foods educators, midwives and more for the 6 years we lived there.  I now have more tools under my belt to use up here.

Before moving, I never understood why most of my family and friends consistently spoke of ear infections, ongoing colds, and rounds & rounds of antibiotics given to their family.  And don't get me started on all the anti-bacterial gel (that's another post!).  In our family, we rarely were sick enough to really need antibiotics.  Recently, I finally went through our medicine cabinet to discard old prescriptions.  I found an antibiotic that was about 2 years old from my son (who's about to turn 3).

This fall & early winter, we have been hit by cold after cold.  It has been very discouraging and honestly, it makes me question whether it is better to be pregnant in the cold vs. warm seasons.  My 2 other pregnancies were mostly summer bound.  I shouldn't be surprised by these colds though.  Our kids have been given such consistent rounds of sugary foods whether it is at my daughter's "snack time" at school", family members, strangers, music teachers, church, or our holiday festivities.  Thanksgiving really kicked it off and now I am realizing the consequences of all this.  I never would have put sugar and compromised immune system together if I always lived in this area.

From all the guidance I've received in Tallahassee, I realize my solutions aren't in seeking out the aisles in Walgreens or our "Wellness Center" Clinic.  These are synthetic solutions that will not improve "wellness" but rather relieve symptoms in the instant fashion we have all become accustomed to in our country.

My friends, the solution is to seek healing through other forms.  If you are already sick, then comfort will take a bit more effort on your part when you come from a holistic angle.  But the comfort you receive will actually heal you and promote future wellness.  Then once you get back on your feet, you can look forward to rarely getting sick while others around you are spending time in their doctors' office and coming out with an antibiotics prescription.

My next post is to share with you the wisdom I have found in finding wellness and great health.  Right now, my poor family is working toward that goal again.  And I'm thankful I feel confident that the rest of this "cold season" won't be something to fear but rather to look forward to. :)

For our health,


Jen Starks, Owner 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Finding Light in Darkness-Memorial

These days, my pregnancy hormones are controlling my mood.  It is quite unpredictable what is going to make me either cry, become offended or angry, or simply beam in delight.  But ever since Friday, I can't stop thinking about what happened at that elementary school in Connecticut.  I'm sure it's been on your mind a lot too.

My oldest daughter is 5 and she is in a pre-k program in an elementary school.  It has been a joy to watch her so excited for school as she runs away from my car with her giant backpack on her back.  But behind that joy has entered a darkness that crept in last Friday.  All this time, I have been trusting that my daughter will be safe from harm.  Pulling away from the school this week has been a challenge.  Without thinking about it too much, I get teared up imagining what it must be like for all those parents of the 6 and 7 year olds.  One of the victim's parents described their daughter to the media and it sounded identical to my daughter.  When they dropped their precious child off at school that morning, they probably did their normal "Have a good day at school, sweetie."  Like me, they might have switched over their kid's cd (Goodbye "Dora's Fiesta"!) to some adult radio and breathed a sigh enjoying the first quiet moments.

My kiddos (and myself too) have been sick since Friday.  Our nights have been filled with coughing and playing musical beds.  I have felt so beaten down.  But this time, I have been sticking around a little longer for snuggles and kisses.  Despite all the tragedy, this event has truly shown how love really does come out in a magnitude force.  Whether we give our own kids a little more love, send out prayers for the families who lost their loved ones, or have actually sent donations or notes directly to those affected, there is love all surrounding the event.  It is my hope that even more positives may come out of this event (i.e. better gun policies, safety laws, etc) and that the families know that the whole world is grieving over this event along with them.

In solidarity,

Jen Starks, Owner

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Deep in Our Deep Freezer!

Nope, that is definitely not a picture of what my deep freezer look like right now.  I'm relatively new to the deep freezer system, and I would certainly say I need to improve on utilizing it more effectively.  Recently, my husband made a comment to me, "Wow, our deep freezer is full.  We could be feasting." (Side Note: That's not really a direct quote but how I remember it.)  What he was saying was actually a nice way to put it.  In fact, I can barely put anything else inside my deep freezer and moving the nicely organized shelves back and forth is impossible.

This is a good problem to have really. Since I have been spending each season preserving my favorite fruits and veggies, my freezer has been storing delicious food waiting to be used in a meal.  I've also occasionally saved some larger meals and stuck them in one of the overflowing racks.  Additionally, I have joined a meat CSA where I receive a random cut of meat for future use.  Those have nonchalantly been tossed in there but not been used.

I'm willing to bet that I could eat for at least 3 weeks solid just from my deep freezer.  Cha-ching goes my brain as I look at my dwindling food budget as we prepare for another holiday feast at my house.  My husband's comment has sprung me into action (rather than put up my defenses!), and I am on a mission to wisely but regularly pull more from my deep freezer-meats, fish, chicken stock, pumpkin puree, green peppers, chopped tomatoes, corn, blueberries, and much more!  Once a week, I want to plan a meal centered around what's in my deep freezer or actually use one of those meals I have been saving for "convenience".  Who needs to order a last minute pizza when I have a delicious and nourishing frozen soup with homemade bread calling my name in that freezer.

What's in your deep freezer and do you have a system of regularly using what's in there?

Ready to feast frugally,

Jen Starks, Owner 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Our Top 10 Holiday Gifts

I don't know about you, but I appreciate any little guidance I can receive, when I am shopping for gifts for loved ones.  Since we have quite a few products on our website, I thought I'd scour through it and extract our top recommended gifts for the holidays.  Although, I must admit that I think all our products would make great gifts, since they are made with fair labor, are high quality, and highly functional.  :)

1. bumGenius Babylegs ($12)

These are great for all those crawlers, as leggings under dresses, for easy night time changing, and fit compactly in your diaper bag for a little added warmth.  I especially like to use these when I'm wearing my baby in a sling and their little legs are poking out. Cute prints in boy and girl options!

2. Carriwell's Maternity Flexi-Belt ($20) 

This belt is a way to save on all those maternity clothes to fit your growing belly.  It comes first with an elastic belt which extends your waistline during your early pregnancy.  Then it includes 3 colors of organic cotton panels to cover any exposed zipper area.  This is especially great for professional mamas who don't want to buy all those expensive maternity business pants!

3. PunkinButt Bubble Bath & Body Wash ($13.50)

A generous size bottle for its quality, this bubble bath uses healthy ingredients and provides lots of relaxation for either baby or mama.  This can also be used as body wash and comes in two wonderful scents.

4. Amber Teething Necklace ($22) 

Not only are amber necklaces (we also carry bracelets!) ridiculously adorable on babies, but they are also very helpful in helping baby feel more comfortable when they are teething.  Baltic amber's resin is absorbed into the skin and lessens sensations of pain related to teething and also growing pains.

The cord is made from silk and each bead is individually tied.  So, if the necklace is tugged enough, it will break free and only one small bead is released (too small to be a hazard).

5. LuSa's Organics "Welcome, Little One Gift Collection" ($35

This gift set has some of my favorite LuSa products in it.  In it, you'll receive Booty Balm, Bath Bath & Massage Oil, Sleeping Potion, a mild bar of soap made from Calendula, and a soft cloth wash cloth made from organic cotton.  The kit also comes in a reusable zipper tote to use over and over again.  This will make baby AND mama happy!

6.  Maya Wrap Slings ($75) 

I would argue that having a good sling is the investment over all baby gear items.  There are many psychological benefits for baby and mama when the baby is being worn (learn more here).  Mama (and Daddy!) are able to carry their baby in a way that will distribute the weight of the baby better, while also being able to free up their hands.  This particular sling is lightly padded, breathable hand-loomed cotton, and has 6+ positions in which you can carry the baby through it's developmental stages.  Purchase it with us and we will provide complimentary tutorials in addition to the instructional DVD included.  It also has a pocket to carry small items!

7. LuSa Organics Skin Care Items

All of our LuSa Organics products are handmade by a family up in Wisconsin.  They choose pure and highest quality ingredients, which in turn makes them very effective products.  For very fair prices, I also love that the products last and last, so I can use them over a long period of time.

If you are interested in learning more about their story and mission, you can check them out here. Oh, and their blog is also sensational and inspiring! :)

8. bumGenius Diaper Sprayer ($60) 

One of the best inventions for cloth diapers (besides Snappi's Fasteners), diaper sprayers are definitely worth having in a cloth diapering home.  These are awesome gifts for family members and friends.  Beyond the use of cleaning up messy diapers, they are great for cleaning out portable potty chairs, cleaning bathtubs, can be used as a bidet, washing pets in the tub, and filling up buckets of clean water. Easy to install, flow is adjustable, and it comes with a 3 year warranty!

9. PlanetWise Wet/Dry Bags ($21)

I wish I had more of these in my home for personal use.  Used for carrying dirty cloth diapers when on the go, they contain Smells and leaks.  Beyond diapers, they are great for swim gear, spit up/wet clothes, potty training, and can be used well beyond potty training for mom as well (gym clothes, shoes, etc).

10. Ecological Babies' Gift Certificates 

Not sure what would be the best gift?  Let them decide on their own!  Gift certificates come in $25, $50, and $100 denominations.  They ship free and we'll send their items to anywhere in the US.

Happy Holidays!  We truly appreciate you choosing to support our business.


Jen Starks, Owner

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Unexpected Lesson

Undoubtedly thinking something sarcastic.
Have you ever taught yourself an unintended lesson?  Had a realization that hits you like a brick wall?  Those that know me, even marginally, know that I tend to be a bit of a "wise-woman" and often use sarcasm to make light of serious things.  As November began, I observed many of my Facebook friends participating in the "30 Days of Thankful" movement.  It struck me as an ironic thing for anyone to do, because shouldn't we always be thankful for all that we have?  It certainly is useful to take time to reflect and remember all we have to be thankful for and I definitely do not knock it, nor those that participated, but the wise-woman in me awoke and I was compelled to participate in my own unique and sarcastic way. 

I decided to give the daily post my own spin, to be a little different, and, rather than post each day about things I am thankful for, post about things that I am less than thankful for - that "s" word that reflects what a vacuum does.  Much to the amusement of my friends, I began my journey with a post about realizing you were out of toilet paper and then, further realizing, it was, in fact, YOU, who failed to replace the roll.  The first few days were fairly easy to find topic fodder - but as the days wore on, it grew more difficult.  One would think it would be easy to find at least one thing to "complain" about each day, but it really wasn't.

As the days wore on, I found myself thinking more and more of the little things in life for which I was thankful, rather than random things that vacuum.  Some days, I wasn't able to post my "Day xx of ..." post at the beginning of the day, simply because I could not think of something to say.  As the realization hit me that my little sarcastic project was actually making me appreciate the positive things in my life MORE than I already did, I began to wonder, "Are those participating in 30 Days of Thankful finding it easy to post what they are thankful for each day, or are they struggling because they are examining it so closely?"

In any event - lesson learned - once again, from my own sarcasm and desire to be unique - and not a lesson I was expecting.  I am now more thankful, and humbled, than ever when I think of all that I have, both material and immaterial, and how very rich my life is and has been with experiences.  Even the experiences that were wholly unpleasant - because I learned from them.  If you participated in 30 Days, did you wind up feeling genuinely thankful or did you struggle to think of things you wanted to post about? 

Going forward, I have realized that even on the worst of days, there is ALWAYS something - many things, actually, for which to be thankful.  There's nothing quite like the profound impact of teaching yourself an unexpected lesson.

Jennifer Bacile, Tallahassee Rep.,, 850-228-3800

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Female Bodies & All Its Perfection!

This month, many of us have been focusing on gratitude for all that is in our lives..  It reminds us of all that we take for granted and how many blessings we have in our lives.  Unfortunately, the only other time I think we reflect this way is when something tragic happens around us.  Then somehow, we are forced to look at what we have and be thankful for it.  Even if it is only for an intentional month, it has been uplifting to hear or read people's posts on Facebook.

I've recently been reflecting on the gift of my life in this world and my amazing, perfect human body. And I don't mean that in an arrogant way!  During every pregnancy (all four), I have been completely amazed and in awe of my body.  In that sense, I am especially grateful that I am a woman and get to experience the miracle of growing life within me, birthing a baby, and then nourishing it through breastmilk.  I am amazed that beyond the effort trying to compensate for being extraordinarily tired during parts of the pregnancy and the efforts to take care of my physical health, I am completely out of control of this process.

Some might argue that the birthing process is also effort but in my experience, I was better off when I stopped trying to be in control and simply let my body do what it is designed to do.  Sure it was painful and challenging but my body knew exactly how to implant, grow, and expel the baby.  Even when I had my miscarriage, my body worked perfectly on its own.

Beyond all my exclusive female parts, it astounds me that my body is actually sitting here in front of the computer even typing words with my fingers.  All the while, my heart is pumping blood through my body, blinking, breathing, maintaining a sitting posture, and using all the rest of its senses-all automatically!  When I'm sick or have hurt myself, it fights off the bacteria and heals itself.  If I had to put in all this effort with thought, I can honestly say that I would not have survived.

I definitely take my life for granted almost every second of the day.  But right now, with this growing and healthy baby inside me, I am grateful that I have been able to give it life and have my body grow it for me.


Jen Starks, Owner

Friday, November 23, 2012

Save Your Turkey Bones-Homemade Turkey Soup!

If you hosted Thanksgiving this year or visited a home that doesn't use their turkey bones, you have just received an extra bonus of lots of turkey soup or stock to keep your family warm throughout the cold seasons.  Are you ready for a super easy, extremely delicious, and nourishing post-thanksgiving meal?

This soup has been traditionally prepared in my family since I was a child, except now I use a little better ingredients.  As you will see, the ingredients and quantities are flexible, as you cannot go wrong! If you don't have time or energy to make this the day right after Thanksgiving, you can simply freeze the bones and wait until you are ready.  So easy!

Homemade Turkey Soup


Turkey bones
1 onion quartered (or leftover frozen scraps of veggies)
water (enough to fill your largest pot)
1 Tbs of vinegar (I use ACV)-optional
Leftover uncooked veggies (or frozen veggies)-use whatever you'd like to have in your soup
noodles or rice (adjust to amount to your liking or can be omitted)
sea salt


After I have stripped my Thanksgiving turkey of all the meat I can pull off, I put the turkey in the largest pot I have (or half of the turkey this year, since the bird was so big).  Next, I pull out my frozen scraps of veggies that I add to progressively with different meals (onion peels, carrot ends, mushroom bottoms, celery ends).  Sometimes I throw in some fresh herbs I have leftover in the fridge as well (parsley, oregano, rosemary, etc). I fill the pot up about 75% to the top and bring it all to a boil. Finally, I add a little vinegar which pulls out more nutrients from the bones of the turkey. Once boiling, I turn it to a low simmer and cook for as many hours as I want (minimum of 4 hours).  This time, I did this the night before and let it simmer all night long and into the morning.

Once you are done making stock, you strain all the bones and veggies out of the pot.  I put a mesh sieve directly into the pot and then put the remains in another bowl to use again for stock.  Once the stock is all cleared out, add any leftover veggies or frozen veggies you want.  This year, I added big chunks of carrots, corn and peas (nothing fancy).  I boiled it again until the carrots were softened.  Next, add either your noodles or rice into the pot.  Once cooked, throw in some leftover turkey (I use the dryer pieces of meat) and add salt to your taste.  Voila!

Later, you can reboil those bones over and over again using the same technique.  After your stock is made, you can freeze the stock in muffin tins and put them in a freezer bag for later recipes.  Stock can be expensive in the stores and this way, you know exactly how healthy it is!

I also like to make this for any family that is still staying with us.  This way, I don't have to worry about spending more money on a meal and it feeds a ton of people.  Depending on how big your pot is, ours would feed about 12 or more people.

Here's to good health,

Jen Starks, Owner 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Black Friday & Lessons in Simplicity

This post is particularly geared for those of you who are attempting to live a more simple life.  It's often challenging to work on a simple life around the holidays, while the rest of the world goes into a spending frenzy.

Ahh, the madness of Black Friday/Cyber Monday!!!  I must admit, last year I participated in Black Friday.  In previous years, I had avoided it like the plague, imagining elbows being thrown over some great "deal" and the air permeating greedy and desperation.  In an effort to avoid some of this, I shopped later in the morning and fortunately I don't pay attention to what's "hot" for the year.  My plan was to first make a list, then look at the sales online, then pick a couple stores I thought would have some items on my list on sale.

Honestly, the best part was that my husband was happy to watch the kids for half of the day while I was able to shop in peace...alone.  In addition, I enjoyed coming home to report that I had purchased many items off my list.  My favorite "score"  was my daughter's ice skates that she "had to have" at something like 30% off.

This year, I won't be participating and I'm not sure I will again. I'm absolutely not judging anyone who is going out this year.  I actually feel like some of my stereotypes about shoppers that day and all the hype has dissipated a bit, and now don't feel like I'm really missing out on anything. Good luck!

I am, however, intentionally avoiding these days to shop. I find two primary pitfalls of this whole "Black Friday/Cyber Monday" events.  First of all, I think we are often tempted to buy things just because they are such a good deal. I'm familiar with that initial feeling of that deal.  But do we really NEED this product?  By purchasing something you wouldn't have normally purchased, even if it is a good deal, you might end up spending more money overall. In addition, you have gained more possessions to clutter your home.  From a simplicity standpoint, making impulse purchases like these cloud our spiritual well-being.  Instead, we should be looking to purchase items intentionally for their usefulness or beauty in mind.  If you think back to impulse purchases you've made in the past, have you honestly used these items regularly?  Have any of these items been gathering dust in your cabinets, basements, or been sold off cheap in a yard sale? Maybe some have been winners, some not. How many broke after being used only a few times? My point is to try to encourage you to think ahead of what you really need and steer away from those impulse items.

My second issue is about how this "holiday" tends to corrupt our culture overall.  Do you think that supporting these box stores like Walmart who have these rock bottom prices, mandating that their employees come in on Thanksgiving, are really contributing to the better good?  When you are choosing to support businesses like this on these holidays, in encourages them to continue to do this.  In fact, next year they want to make more profit and will come up with a strategy to do so.  In the meantime, the small businesses who choose to stay home and be with family, who absolutely can't compete with those prices, and who value fair wages are the big losers.

What happens when we choose the box stores?  The Walmarts stick around (or abandon cities when they aren't making enough profit), and the small businesses close up shop.  Then those business owners whom you love to visit and know who you by your name (and love your precious little baby you are holding while shopping) will be something you remember that used to be around.  "Oh I loved that store."  "Oh the owner, Mary, was so sweet and friendly."  Can you think of some small businesses or boutiques you used to enjoy going inside?

Here's a scenario:  The box store's bakery is probably a couple dollars cheaper, tastes pretty good, and is open 24 hrs. It's an easy purchase, especially if you are shopping for other items in their store. Let me ask you this- Do you feel different when you walk inside your local bakery shop, breathe in the wonderful smells, and actually see the owner of that business greeting you with a smile on their face?  I know I do.  I sometimes walk out feeling a million dollars when I know I am supporting a specific person in my community who has put love into what they are producing and appreciates my business.

Have you also started to notice that the media and these big stores with huge marketing dollars are adding on days for shop in their store?  Now we have extended hours in the middle of the night and you now can come on Thursday, the actual day we have traditionally stayed home to give thanks with our family.  Those family members and friends of yours who work in retail might not be joining your family dinner soon, and might not be able to just relax and spend time with family.  What's next?  Is this going to become a week long event?  I've had a hard enough time going into stores with Christmas music playing and all the fall decorations taken down.  I was even in a store the day after Halloween and they were pushing Christmas already.  Sheesh!

Final thoughts on simplicity and the upcoming holiday (I know this has been lengthy!).  Please consider less "toys" and "stuff" for your kiddos this holiday. If you have fewer, high-quality items and also trying to pick ones that you know your kids will play with over and over again, this will make your holiday experience richer for your kids and you.  Your wallet (and budget) won't even know the difference.


Jen Starks, Owner

Monday, November 5, 2012

Appreciating Nature

Gratitude.  Defined by Merriam Webster as “the state of being grateful; thankfulness”.  November, the month of Thanksgiving, is a month that sets many adrift, thinking of all the things for which they are thankful.  Most will mention the basic things, if you will, although certainly important; family, friends, a roof overhead, a paycheck, food on the table.

We are all guilty of taking for granted the very things for which we should be eternally grateful – the things that are just "always there" - the air we breathe; the shade provided by a tall, willowy tree; rain, nourishing the parched earth as it gives new life, revitalizing a wilting plant; the crunch of leaves and the soft cushion of pine needles underfoot, the thunk of a pine cone, bouncing off of your roof; the warmth of the sun, filtering through the trees or glaring brightly on a cloudless day; thunder, as it rolls through the air, followed by the sharp crack of a lightning bolt; the absolute silence -that which simply cannot be described to those that have never experienced it- of snow, softly falling, creating a blanket of undisturbed white on the frozen ground; the equally indescribable smell of the ocean - so distinctive that you know you are near without consulting your map or seeing the water. Nature.  Something we all enjoy in various ways, even those of us who are ‘not outdoor people’. 

When was the last time you remembered to just stand, be still and absorb the nature around you? Even if you live in the city, there is still nature to be found – a little bird, hopping around a park bench, scavenging crumbs; beautiful trees, flowers, shrubs; a cool breeze that freshens the city air.  Take a minute, the next time you head out your front door to run an errand, to put a bill in the mailbox, to dash your child to the school bus.  Take a moment and stop.  Be still. Breathe. Observe.  Really LOOK.  Appreciate.

Nature is the most precious of our resources, the most under-appreciated – the most overlooked thing that we should be most thankful for.  Without it, we would not survive.  I challenge you – connect with nature.  Encourage your children to do the same.  During the next rain storm, dash outside and play in a puddle together.  Sidewalk paint – with mud.  Make a snowman, throw snowballs, make snow angels.  Enjoy the warmth of the sun.  Spread out an old blanket and cloud gaze.  “Build” something with sticks and stones.  Sit quietly and watch the birds and squirrels; feed them the ‘butt’ from your bread loaf that is only ever consumed out of desperation, when you are flat out of bread.  If you have to cut down a tree, let it lay in your yard.  Let it become a balance beam, a bunker, a school bus - whatever your child can imagine it to be.  As it deteriorates, sure, it will attract bugs.  Observe the bugs.  Watch the Woodpeckers that may come to visit. 

If you reside in an apartment, visit a park.  Find a nature center or preserve; visit a State Park, create your own little outdoor space – just go.  Get out – meet nature, introduce it to your children.  We teach them to appreciate and respect nature by our actions when we cloth diaper, recycle, reduce, and reuse – but also take an active role and show them how YOU respect and enjoy nature – and allow them to find their own way to do the same, from the simplest aspect to the most complicated aspect.  Create a little garden together, even if it’s only a small, potted flower or plant.  Show them how to water it and care for it and appreciate its beauty and the subtle, almost miniscule changes it will undergo.  Show them how to nurture our natural resources, in the hopes that they will always be there for our future generations.

Most of all, use this challenge as a way to create memories.  Some of the best memories I have are of simple things – playing in a giant sand pile, so large that it seemed as if a mountain had been dumped into our backyard.  “Parachuting” my sister’s doll onto the porch roof, by fashioning a bandanna into a parachute and tying it to the doll with yarn (well, I wasn’t about to test it out on MINE – I did, however, learn a lesson about wind direction), laying on my back in the grass, imagining shapes in the clouds; sledding down a steep hill with snow spraying up into my face, snowball fights and snow fort building with my siblings; playing "bat and ball" with my dad, hitting that plastic softball sized ball with my big red bat and laughing as my dad pretended to dive for the ball, rolling across the grass; playing at the edge of the water for hours on end, making sandcastles and stacking pretty pebbles; watching the sun sparkle on the water, as if it contained thousands of diamonds.

As an adult, many of my fondest, most peaceful memories involve nature – a gorgeously canopied trail through the woods, blanketed with long–leaf pine needles, with birds, squirrels and armadillos foraging along the bramble to either side of the path – the stillness of the water as I run around the lake – cranes standing and silently observing - a loud splash - one which I choose not to let my mind wonder if I startled a gator back into its watery home; a sudden rustle in the undergrowth, causing sudden gooseflesh to erupt, as my mind is sure it's a snake.

Get outdoors – part of saving our environment is learning to enjoy it and to see the “unseen” – you can't help preserve it if you’ve never noticed it.  Accept this challenge - shatter your own expectations.

Friday, November 2, 2012

In the Beginning- Our Vision & You!

Today is the first day of this month when I'm sitting down to really contemplate the ways in which I'm truly grateful to have Ecological Babies in my life.  And it absolutely couldn't have become what it is today without customers I've met over the 4 years who support our mission and choose to support a local resource.

When I was pregnant, there weren't options locally where I could attend a workshop, talk to a cloth diapering friend, or have a private consultation where I could learn what I needed to know to get started with cloth diapers.  I couldn't recall bumping into any babies out in the community with fluffy bums because it wasn't common yet in Tallahassee.  Overwhelmed yet committed to the idea, I scoured the internet to learn about cloth diapers.  Instead of finding relief and feelings of empowerment (Yes, I can do this!), I was left with nightmares and even more confusion.

After my daughter was born 5 years ago, I knew I wanted to stay home with her full-time but would need a way to add some income and get out in the community.  (My local priest has coined me the "extrovert of all extroverts" -connecting to people feeds me spiritually.) The idea of Ecological Babies came to me when my daughter was young.  I wanted to be that live contact who could walk people through the process of getting started with cloth diapers.  In addition, I wanted to do something that promoted values important to me like social justice, simplicity, spirituality, and community.

Ecological Babies was a way to do this.  I am able to investigate companies I want to support and ask questions about their ethical choices.  I test out and decide which brands are quality and provide fair wages to their workers. I am able to educate out in the community at no charge as a way to promote environmental justice keeping thousands and thousands of disposable diapers out of the landfill.  Babies are healthier and more comfortable.  Families are saving thousands of dollars, meeting other like-minded families, and making more sustainable choices.  I love all of it!

Admittedly, it has been discouraging to learn about companies in China who are using current prototypes of American-made diapers, not testing their materials for lead, not providing fair working conditions, and producing a cheaper product to sell here.  Their skewed currency allows them to sell their diapers at a price American companies could never afford.  And I'm just so grateful for those in our community who are still choosing to vote with their wallet and support Ecological Babies.  Thank you for supporting us and also allowing us to support you!

There is not much more fulfilling to me than being able to be a part of my children's lives, while operating a business I believe is providing change for the good and allowing more families to make more sustainable choices in their lives.


Jen Starks, Owner 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Tales from Crunchy Mama

My Witches Brew (Jambalaya)!
Instead of focusing on all the Halloween candy my children are going to consume (already have consumed!) and all the wrongs of Halloween from a mom who primarily tries to focus on good health, today I am savoring that "sweet joy" (pun intended) my kids have over a holiday I have outgrown.  One of my favorite parts of motherhood is being able to enjoy events and places by watching my kids enjoy through them.  It reminds me of our Disney trips and Christmas mornings.  I've found renewed enjoyment watching my kids captivated and entranced by all the excitement and mystery.

I'm wearing two hats today (actually 3 if you count my witch's hat!).  One- I want my kids to still be healthy and not just bouncing off the walls in excitement over sugar.  I've prepared healthy meals in between the sugar highs and am going to make sure they are bundled up for trick or treating (it's cold and rainy here).

The second hat is the one where I let things go and have fun with WITH them.  This is not always easy for me.  I get wrapped up in my "To Dos", meal preparation, cleaning, working, etc.  Today, we're having fun together and sharing memories.

Despite all the fun, I realized how normal making Halloween "greener".  I cringe at all those individually wrapped candies filling the trash cans (or blowing in the wind while trick or treating), all the chocolate that has been made from exploiting children , and expensive costumes only to be worn once.

Sometimes I am not conscious of the ways I've become accustomed to sustainable choices but here are some I can think of for this holiday:

1.  Second-hand costumes- Nope, I'm not mother of the year with a handmade and sewn outfit for each of my kids.

2.  We are re-gifting candy.  Unopened candy that for some reason makes its way into our house (especially suckers!).  My kids receive candy, I say we can have them later, and then they disappear into a bucket.  Now I have a bucket full of candy.

3.  Tonight's dinner is from the crockpot.  Not only does it use less energy, it makes dinner prep more manageable so I can focus on other activities and preparations, AND it's warm and healthy!

4.  Our kids reuse their little Easter baskets that are little market baskets made with fair labor practices.  I skip the plastic pumpkin and don't just designate the baskets for any holiday.  In fact, we often use it to collect "treasures" when we're on outings.

5.  Pumpkins-Instead of going big on the pumpkins, I've convinced my kids (ok, coerced a little!) that the medium sized pumpkins are the best and whatever one they pick, they have to be able to carry it from the patch to at least the hayride wagon.  Our pumpkins are from an organic farm I worked on (Bertrand Farm) which supports local sustainable agriculture and economy, while also providing us with some delicious pumpkins.  We'll be able to use these pumpkins for lots of recipes, which I've recently become a bit obsessed with since I've been pregnant.

Post Halloween:

1.  After Halloween, my responsible mama hat comes back on.  With the exception of a few favorites, their candy will leave the house.  There are 2 ways I am debating on doing this:
               A. Candy for the Troops- Some dentists collect candy and trade it for a prize or some small dollar  
                    amount.  Then the candy is shipped overseas for our troops. To find out if there is a dentist in
                    your area that participates in this, click here.
              B.  The Halloween Fairy- The kids put their candy out somewhere designated by you, and then in  
                    the morning there is a small gift (game/activity/toy) waiting for them. (I'm personally leaning
                    toward the one for the troops but can see how the fairy one could be fun)

While I think it is a great idea to not just focus on candy for Halloween, I still think this is the essence of the holiday.  When I think of my childhood, I am very fond of our trick or treating and sorting/trading candy after.  I am definitely going to make sure that treats and junk food is not the focus of other upcoming holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and so on).  And if you hand out something besides candy this year, cheers to you!

Getting ready to watch "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown",

Jen   :)

Jen Starks, Owner