Natural Living Des Moines


Book Review: Choose to reuse by sarahtar
February 7, 2009, 9:50 am
Filed under: Books

This is a fun little book. It is basically an alphabetical listing of various items – toothbrushes, appliances, zippers – and ideas of how to reuse them, how to extend their useful lives, or how to recycle them. It’s an interesting read and a great reference.

The Des Moines Library has it, I highly recommend checking it out!



Book Review: Raising an Earth Friendly Child by sarahtar
February 2, 2009, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Books

I’ve borrowed several Green-ish books from the library and will be sharing my thoughts on them on here. First up is Raising an Earth Friendly Child by Debbie Tillsworth.

I will say, I’m about halfway through and I’m very disappointed. The book seems to take the same tired approach of “Scare Your Kids To Death and then Encourage Them To Do Something.” I personally do not agree with this approach at all, so activities like having my kid make a Play-dough city and then drowning it in the sink while telling him that his relatives on the coasts will all die when the oceans rise unless we turn off the faucet when we brush our teeth is completely out for me.

If we rule out all of those types of activities, the ones that are left are an interesting assortment. Many of them would be great for families wanting to make a transition to being more earth friendly with their chidren ages 4-10ish. Establishing an ecology cop, able to write tickets for pre-established offences, for example.

Many of the other activities would really come up naturally if a family is already living green – having a child help with recycling, for example, and talking about why we recycle. Getting rid of toxic cleaners and other items. Using cloth diapers.

Some of the activities are good ideas for any family – volunteering with a group that cleans up highways or rivers, for example. (I didn’t see cleaning up trails or parks in the book, but those are good activities, too. I know of a family who combines geocacheing with garbage picking up.) One activity suggested ways to help children understand the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources.

And there are some real gems in there, too. One is a diaper experiment where you take a disposable and a cloth diaper outside and bury them and mark their graves and then dig them up 6 months or a year later to compare. Wally will totally lose interest over the 6 months, but I think it’d be fun!

So, it’s really a mixed bag. Families just starting on their journey to being more green and wanting to get the kids involved would probably benefit the most from this book. Just, please, avoid tactics that make your child feel helpless or ridden with guilt – or fearful for his life.



Book review: Squeaky Green, the method guide to detoxing your home by sarahtar
April 29, 2008, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Books

Squeaky Green: The Method Guide to Detoxing Your Home

When this book arrived on my doorstep, I was completely prepared to hate it. I really detest the way advertising is creeping into our everyday lives – product placements on TV shows, informational brochures that are really just ads, etc. – and I thought this book would be more of that.

But as I read it, I really started to like it. Sure, it is published by Method, and it does mention Method products on occasion, but it’s not just a 157 page ad for Method. It’s actually informative.

The book is divided into sections – one for each room or area of your home – and then walks through the potential hazards in each area. For example, in your bedroom, there’s the flame retardants in the mattress, the pesticide residue in your sheets, dust mites on the floor and in your bed, etc. Then it gives you ideas on how to eliminate or reduce your exposure to these hazards.

It’s a great book for someone who is remodeling, redecorating, or building a new house – kind of an overview of the major areas of concern – and would also be good for just anyone who is wanting to reduce their exposure to unhealthy toxins in their home. Their suggestions are all achievable for normal, regular people.

Though I already was familiar with most of the concerns they raised in the book, one fact caught me by surprise – dryer sheets and fabric softeners. We don’t use them anyway, but the book claims that the secret ingredient that makes the clothes soft is beef fat (tallow). Uh, nasty.

It does have its drawbacks. It doesn’t back up anything it says with references. I happen to know that their assertions about the hazards of common household chemicals and residues of things found in every day items are based on fact and can be backed up by studies. But to not publish their references is a bit shady.

It also misses several obvious do-it-yourself ideas, in favor of urging you to buy a product. (For example, it discusses fabric softener and how gross it is, then encourages you to use vegetarian-friendly versions of dryer sheets instead, completely ignoring the fact that vinegar is nontoxic and makes a great fabric softener.)



a new book on vaccines by naturaldsm
October 18, 2007, 10:21 pm
Filed under: Books, Health

Dr. Bob Sears has a new book out called The Vaccine Book. I haven’t seen or read it – and I likely won’t, at least not until a copy appears at Half Price Books – but those still in the midst of deciding what to do about vaccines might want to check it out.

Dr. William Sears and his son, Dr. Bob, are – I believe – in favor of routine childhood vaccinations. I recall reading somewhere, though, that Dr. Bob at least in the past advocated the use of an altered schedule, and using single vaccines instead of combined ones.

I am a big fan of the Sears family, and all of their books, but I have not seen this one so I can’t comment specifically about it.



Book Reviews: Two Books on Midwifery by naturaldsm
July 15, 2007, 5:06 pm
Filed under: Birth, Books

Giving Birth by Catherine Taylor.

This was quite good. Catherine decided, between pregnancies, to write a book on midwifery, so devoted a year to following some midwives around and documenting her observations. Hospital-based midwives, homebirth midwives, lay midwives, certified nurse-midwives, midwives of all types and personalities. During the course of her research, she got pregnant, and she weaves in the story of her own pregnancy and birth with the stories of the women she’s observing.

The most interesting part of the book for me was how Ms Taylor herself changed over the course of her year of research. She started out very pro-hospital birth. A midwife in a hospital working under a doctor is the best of both worlds, she thought. (And I know many who share this opinion.) But by the end of the book, she’s decided to have her own baby at home, in the water, with two CNMs onhand, and seems convinced that, for women who are comfortable at home, it’s the best place for a normal delivery. The book’s purpose is not to convince anyone of anything, but rather to give some insight into the world of midwifery, the variety of midwives out there, how they are similar to and different from one another and from OBs, the different settings in which they practice, and their differing beliefs about how birth should progress.

It’s a very easy read, written in a leisurely narrative. I finished it off in just over one day.

I marked a few particularly interesting (to me) passages.

1) Ms. Taylor has just asked one of the hospital midwives about the increased use of epidurals. After commenting on a few other things, the midwife says “I think increased epidural use might have something to do with the fact that we don’t think that we should have pain in this modern world. Most of the women we see don’t generally challenge themselves physically. They are sedentary, and they aren’t familiar with physical pain. But I think a lot of it is that we’re all so stressed out that we just can’t handle any more pain. It’s funny, at a time when there are so many conveniences, why are we all so stressed out?” Then later, she comments, “The increase in analgesia and anesthesia use may be related to our own pain as midwives as careivers. It would be interesting to do a study that tried to see if epidural use was in part because we, and the nurses too, don’t want to deal with mothers’ pain. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. When you’re with a laboring woman, sometimes it is hard to bear her pain. And we see so much, volume-wise. It gets to you. So now, with epidurals, we don’t have to bear their pain.” (p59)

2) Ms. Taylor is now talking to a homebirth midwife, who says, “The moms come out with these stories like ‘Oh, my birth was so great. They let me walk around.’ And I mean who’s in charge here? Look at where the power is in that sentence. ‘They let me use the bathroom.’ ‘They let me hold my baby.’ But to the women, that was a wondeful birth experience, because in their last one maybe they got cut with no one asking her permission, or they weren’t allowed out of bed, or they had to be catheterized, or their baby was taken away immediately. For me, it’s hard. I know in one part of my heart that that’s progress, but I’m also kind of sickened by how little progress that is, and I’m sad that women put up with it.”

3) Ms. Taylor is at this point visiting at a women’s clinic in Taos, NM. (which was interesting since I finished this book the day before heading to Taos myself!) The midwife in charge at the clinic has fought tirelessly for years to improve the birthing woman’s experience in her community, and she has made progress, but it’s been difficult. In a twist on the usual, her midwifery clinic has recently hired two OBs to work for them. (Normally, of course, doctors hire midwifes to work under them.) Her name is Elizabeth. “Elizabeth insists that, as a nation, we need to be asking some basic, logical questions. ‘Why don’t we care that mothers and babies are dying at greater rates in the United States than in so many other places? If we know that outcome-based care does reduce maternal and infant mortality, can we talk about why we refuse to go there? Do we care about mothers and babies?’

“Elizabeth is confident that change will come, slowly but surely, through education, saying that it isn’t a matter of opinion vs science, but of making the data known. ‘I mean, obviously, the science isn’t improving across the board,’ she says. ‘In 1989, our maternal mortality rate in the United States was around 8 deaths per 100,000; it has actually risen to 10 per 100,000! Some people would argue that we’re counting it better, but in any case, we haven’t improved. Not only have we not improved, but nobody’s objecting. Maybe they don’t know. Maybe they don’t know that, statistically, you should have your baby in Japan or Spain if you want a better outcome.'”

I really liked this book, but it does have one major hole in it – there is hardly any mention of certified nurse midwives who practice independently at hospitals and in homes. Ms. Taylor follows CNMs who work for hospitals and HMOs, and she follows lay midwives who work independently. But there is no mention of CNMs who work independently, beyond Elizabeth and her clinic in Taos. Maybe Des Moines is unique in this aspect, that we can choose among CNMs who are employed by a hospital, CNMs who work independently and do primarily homebirth, CNMs who work independently and do primarily hospital birth, and lay midwives who do only home birth. We have a wealth of choices here, when you stop to think about it. (The only thing we don’t have, that they do have in the book, is lay midwifes who are acknowledged by the state and allowed to practice legally.)

If you want to get a copy of this book, our local chapter of ICAN is selling it as a fundraiser.

A Midwife’s Story by Penny Armstrong and Sheryl Feldman.

Another good book, an easy read, written in a gentle narrative format and very short chapters. And another story of a woman’s transition from preferring birth in a hospital setting to seeing birth as normal and uneventful and perfectly suited to a home setting. Penny Armstrong completed her midwifery training in Scotland and worked there for a while before coming back to the US and completing a training program here to obtain her US credentials. After looking down at homebirth for a number of years, one day a call came to the hospital where she worked that a rural doctor wanted to hire a midwife for his clinic. On a whim, she took the job, which involved helping the largely Amish population of the rural Lancaster County, PA deliver their babies at home.

The book is largely just what the title suggests – the story of one midwife, and also of the women whose babies she delivers. It also provides wonderful insight into the world of the Amish as Ms. Armstrong slowly adapts to their ways and comes to admire and respect the Amish people with whom she works.

One of my favorite passages in the book has really nothing to do with birth. Ms. Armstrong is explaining about how the Amish think about technology. (Her story will then relate to a situation that arose with the birth of one of her clients.) She says “Most of all, an Amishman wants to protect his faith, keep his family close, keep his ways, keep humble before God, be a steward of the land, and make a living. If ne needs a technology to allow him to continue, then maybe, he’ll say, taking a long time to decide – debating the matter with his brethren – maybe he’ll use it; but if it gets in the way of faith, family, and stewardship, then he’ll stop thinking about it.”

We could all stand to put technology in that light, I think.



secret life of stuff by naturaldsm
March 26, 2007, 12:33 pm
Filed under: Books, Lifestyle

reposted with permission, written by Sara Janssen, former Iowan!

Last year I discovered a delightful, but disturbing, little book…called Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things (by John Ryan and Alan Thein Durning).

The book goes “behind the scenes” of your “stuff”. Where did it come from? Who made it? What type of working conditions did they have? What components went into making that item? What kind of environmental impact did it have? It’s an eye-opener to see how complicated and wasteful making “stuff” really is. The different items it examines: coffee, newspaper, t-shirt, shoes, bike, car, computer, hamburger, french fries, and cola.

Here are some excerpts from the intro:

“Made in Taiwan”. I’d seen thousands of such stickers in my life without ever giving them a second thought. Taiwan. Taiwan. Not just a word on a sticker. It’s an island. A country. A real place with real people across an ocean from me. Suddenly, the overloaded shelves around me looked different. I was stripped of the illusion that stuff comes from stores and is carted away by garbage trucks: everything on those shelves came from a real place on Earth and will go to some other place when I’m done with it. Everything had a history — a trail of causes and effects–and a future. Everything had a life, of sorts. If you tried very hard, you could put a “Made in __________” sticker on each car wax bottle, speaker component, or old magazine on those shelves.

I started wondering where the things in my life come from. As coffee beans, newspapers, and soda cans make their way toward me, what wakes do they leave behind, rippling outward across the world? And what had to happen for millions of people like me to go about our ordinary business…using lots of stuff?

What happens around the world to support a day in the life of a North American is surprising, dramatic, and even disturbing. Multiplied by the billion members of the world’s consumer societies, it adds up to stresses greater than the world can withstand. The first step toward solving any problem is recognizing it. I’ve started by looking at the things in my life in a new way and learning what I can about their secret lives.

One of the reasons why the Compact is so appealing to me, is that it forces me to find new avenues of acquiring things. I am becoming more creative and more patient as I search for an item that I need. When you buy something used or someone gives you a used item…you are helping to stop the need for NEW resources to be tapped to replace that item you bought from the store.

A great example of this from the book is the chapter on the life of a T-shirt. If I went to the mall to buy a new t-shirt (instead of the thrift store), the following resources would be used (paraphrased from p. 20-25):

  • Oil: the polyester in the shirt started as a few tablespoons of petroleum (they go on to talk about all the effects of oil drilling, environmental concerns, etc.)
  • Cotton: to get the 2 oz. of cotton needed for the t-shirt, 14 square feet of cropland in Mississippi were harvested. The soil was first fumigated with aldicarb, one of the most toxic pesticides applied in the U.S. The cotton seeds were also dipped in fungicide.
  • Dyes: Regulated by the EPA as hazardous substances.
  • Sewing: the fabric was shipped to Honduras. Honduran women cut and sewed it into a T-shirt and earned 30 cents an hour. After it was completed, the box of t-shirts went to Baltimore, by train to San Francisco, and by truck to Seattle. It was unpacked on a department store shelf under a 150-watt floodlamp. That’s where I found it. I bought it because I liked the earth-tone color. And I brought it home by car in a bag of low-density polyethylene from Louisiana.
  • Laundry: I spilled coffee on myself and had to change…and I threw the other one into the laundry chute. Later I washed it in water heated to 140 degrees by natural gas flames. Boxed powder detergent and chlorine bleach from a high-density polyethylene bottle removed the coffee from the fabric. The coffee, detergent, and bleach washed into Seattle’s sewer system. An electric dryer evaporated the water from my shirt. The greatest environmental impacts associated with my T-shirt arose in my own laundry room: washing and drying the shirt just ONCE demanded 1/10 the energy as manufacturing it in the first place.

What can one person do to make a change in this process? Well, let me tell you. Little things make a big difference. In the case of the t-shirt, you can…

  1. Buy USED or vintage clothing.
  2. Wash only full loads of laundry.
  3. Use warm instead of hot water when you can.
  4. Wear your clothes more than once before washing.
  5. Look for organic cotton apparel.
  6. Encourage others to do the same.

If anything, I hope this has encouraged you to THINK about the secret life of your stuff.



Book Review: The Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent by naturaldsm
June 20, 2006, 4:28 pm
Filed under: Birth, Books

I just finished Peggy Vincent’s Baby Catcher. What a great book! I highly recommend it for ANYONE!

This book is like a breath of fresh air, the perfect antidote to A Baby Story or to mainstream birthing friends! Peggy talks about her career – starting from when she was a student nurse at Duke helping a young black woman birth her baby her own way, despite Peggy’s inexperience insisting that the woman lay down on her back and be quiet!

She discusses the hundreds of births she attended as a shift nurse at a Berkley hospital, her growing awareness of the beauty of normal birth, then her desire to learn about midwifery and become a CNM. She remained as a hospital midwife for several years before finally deciding to strike out on her own, then finally opened her own office to see patients independently. Her career ended with her back as a hospital shift worker, which was not her ideal situation, but she did admit that having regular hours and benefits again was a nice change!

More here.




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