Big boy…

After his first sleeping bag, our boy is trying this week his first real bedsheets. Up until now, he always slept in a sleep sack, this kind of wearable blanket that was made very popular by the research on SIDS (as the baby cannot get entangled – and choke – in it). But now that his sleep sack is getting too small, that he takes it off most nights and that the weather is getting cooler, he graduated to a real sheet and a real duvet in a cute Ikea duvet cover.

We went to Ikea because they seem to be the only store who sell linen with fun prints and designs in bright colors without the branding that usually goes with it. Other stores seem to have only Dora, or Disney linen. I know, some day our boy will discover the corporate world, but for now, I don’t think he’s missing anything by being kept away from TV and children’s characters! So the longer we can keep the status quo, the better!

Ikea also has another big perk: they follow the more stringent European safety rules, which means that their mattresses or linens do not contain carcenogenic fire retardant. At least I don’t think they do. You can never be 100% sure these days…

All that to say that he loves his new covers and it allows him to run upstairs at bed time, hide in his bed and wait for his daddy, who comes up growling like a monster, pretends to search for him and, when he finds him underneath the covers, tickles him until they’re both laughing their heads off.

I love my boys!

Ready to go camping

You should see our son in his brand new sleeping bag! We figured we had to get him a real one for this trip, as it is not supposed to be overly warm: it could go down to 11 at night. MEC makes a nice kid’s down sleeping bag, with cute sheep printed on the inside. Our son adopted it right away and this morning, when Zak wanted to pack it, he wouldn’t let him. He has a bit of trouble getting all the way in, but once he’s in there, he looks so funny! A real little mommy (or a sausage, maybe)…

Now we still have to make him actually sleep in it. We’re hoping we don’t get a repeat situation of Hornby Island, when he sometimes spent up to an hour playing in the tent before falling asleep with only his pajamas on, the sleep sack and sleeping bag scattered around his mat. This time, he could be really cold if that happens!

We are packing rain gear, although it shouldn’t be too bad. We are more worried about mosquitoes. According to the Bug Report (I didn’t even know such a thing existed), there is elevated mosquito activity and moderate deer fly and horse fly activity, although for those two, the activity should become elevated on Monday. If I can read between the lines, it means that on Monday, my son and I are going to look like we just had chicken pox (Zak somehow seems immune to bites) and I won’t go anywhere without a full layer of Afterbite. Of course, I could try and fight them off with Citronella, but last time I did that it didn’t work at all, except that my throat was sore from the chemical smell after two days. I am really tempted to try DEET: it may cause cancer, but sometimes it seems like a small price to pay to be able to actually stay outside for a few minutes. If only there was another solution! Zak wanted to buy a bug shirt and hat (basically, mosquito nets shaped like clothing… very trendy!) but they were out when he went to MEC.

Anyway, we still have a lot of packing and preparing to do before we can enjoy the relaxing outdoors… I’ll let you know how it went!

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate

If you are old enough to read this blog (and your name is not Darren), you probably received a full complement of shots when you were a child. In these days and ages, however, more and more people are questioning the relevance of the current vaccination schedule. Some of our neighbors don’t vaccinate their children at all. Unlike our parents, who didn’t have much choice but to follow the doctor’s advice, we have access to a ton of information over the Internet and we are in a better position to ask ourselves if we want to vaccinate our children.

The funny thing is, Zak and I didn’t research this topic when our son was born, but when we had a dog. The dog people are having the same debate: are we damaging these youngsters by giving them so many shots in so little time? Are we unduly taxing their immune system before it has time to mature? Are we therefore creating autoimmune diseases? In humans, there is an added concern, the link between vaccination and autism, which the medical community denies (all research points to a coincidence) but many parents are adamant about.

Vaccines mean big business for the drug companies that manufacture them, and many people feel that the reason we give so many to our children has more to do with the lobbying of those big companies than with actual medical evidence. I could definitely believe this. But all these arguments got me frustrated and made my head turn. Nobody wants to knowingly give their children drugs that could harm them. But it’s really hard to figure out for oneself what is true and what is not, what is necessary and what is or could be damaging. Doctors are pretty much all pro-vaccination, but then, doctors have been wrong in the past.

One thing is for sure, though: if some people can “afford” not to vaccinate their children, it is because the huge majority of us do. And I find it a bit hypocritical (the term freeloader comes to mind). If I didn’t have my son vaccinated, chances are very low that he would catch polio, because there is so little incidence of this disease in the population. But if suddenly half of the population stopped vaccinating their children, chances are much better that polio would come back and people would regret their decision. So because I am glad to benefit from the vaccination of the majority of the population, ideologically I wouldn’t want to not vaccinate my child

Some people follow a limited vaccine protocol and give vaccines one by one instead of as a combination. It sounds logical: you don’t bombard them with as many intruders at a time so it’s easier for them to deal with. However, regular doctor’s offices usually won’t offer that possibility. People who opt for that have to look for a special clinic that will do it for them and charge a lot for the service. Of course, the few hundred dollars would be totally justified if we were guaranteed that it is actually better for our children. But it’s hard to spend that kind of money when you’re not convinced that there is actually any advantage. Besides, there are so many vaccines that if you were to give them all separately, wouldn’t you end up giving your child shots all the time?

I don’t know what the solution is. But on this one we went with the flow: we are following the usual schedule, and now that DS has received his 18-month vaccines, he is good to go until kindergarten. And I’m really glad about that. I’m also thankful that so far, he is showing no sign of autism. As for autoimmune diseases, only time will tell. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. And enjoying the fact that he doesn’t either have rubella, polio, mumps, etc.

Koodos for Mother-Ease

I’m not sure if I mentioned Mother-Ease in my post about cloth diapering. But I am starting to think it is the best company ever!

First, they do amazing diapers. Everyone that I know who tried them have rated them as the best diapers ever. They work so much better than disposable diapers! They never leak, they are resistant and easy to wash… Simply put, an amazing product that makes your life easier. And they are made in Canada (Ontario), which is always a perk, by what started out as a small family company.

The company also gives some of the best customer service in the modern world. Their Web site is not always up to date, but their staff is friendly on the phone, they ship orders quickly (I received my diapers within a week of ordering them) and they accommodate special requests when customers want something slightly different from their usual packages. This week, though, in my opinion, they reached a new high.

When I bought my diapers, they were among the first bamboo diapers available. It was a new product, and after a few months people started complaining that the fabric binding, on the diapers, was fraying and tearing. Mother-Ease replaced every single defective diaper after finding a new binding that was as resistant as the rest of the diaper. My diapers seemed fine at the time, though, so I didn’t worry.

This week, after a year of continuous use, I realized that most of my diapers were tearing on the binding, just like the other diapers several months ago. I was worried that Mother-Ease may not want to replace my diapers, as they have seen a lot of use. Let’s face it: if you bought a shirt and it started tearing a year later, any company you complained to would only laugh at your dismay. Not Mother-Ease. They claim that their diapers will take you from birth to potty-training with your child, and they mean it (actually, according to their customers, they will be good for several children).

I emailed them, and the next day they replied that they were sending me replacements for every single one of my diapers, even the ones that still look fine. They are not taking any chances. They are even sending a prepaid shipping label so I can return my used, torn diapers free of charge. They know, of course, that mothers talk about their diapers and that word of mouth is their best publicity. And they are right, aren’t they? I heard of them through a neighbor, and I advertised them to at least 2 or 3 other mothers that didn’t know about them. But I have no qualms about spreading that good news. I believe in this product, and after my last experience, I will also spread the word about their amazing customer service.

Now, if they had known about the effects a whole summer of my son eating blueberries had on those diapers, they may not have asked for them back… I am looking forward to a whole new stack of soft, stain-free diapers to replace my old stash. I’m a happy customer and a happy camper.

You stink!

My husband is allergic to perfumes. At first, I thought he was exaggerating when he complained about the smell of some laundry detergent or cleaning product. I was so used to those kinds of smells that I thought they were nice. I was almost sad to switch to a scent-free laundry soap, and I couldn’t understand why he made me wash my clothes again after a trip at some scented-laundry-using relatives’ house. But over the years, two things happened. First, his condition worsened, and now if he’s exposed to chemical perfumes for too long it can push him into what looks like a full-blown cold. No one who sees him could ignore the very real effects of perfumes on his body. Second, I got used to living scent-free and started developing a new awareness of and intolerance to perfumes.

I don’t have a physical reaction to perfumes. They just get on my nerves. After doing some research, I now understand that chemical perfumes are actually bad for your respiratory system. You can see it right away in people like my husband or like my cousin, whose asthma gets worse every time she cleans the house with scented products. In people like me, you don’t see the effects, but it doesn’t mean there ain’t any. Perfumes are irritants, so why use them? I now wish I could educate everyone to the fact that those store-bought smells do nothing for us, quite the opposite!

I have learned to appreciate the clean, fresh smell of scent-free laundry. I clean up with scent-free products. But it’s hard to avoid perfumes, and it’s amazing how strong they can be. Some days, my laundry has a smell just because someone else washed their clothes with stinky perfumy soap at the same time as I did my clothes in the laundry room, and my husband gets a physical reaction just by walking in front of the laundry room. I had to re-wash clothes several times when I don’t notice that someone has left a piece of scented fabric softener in the drier after doing their load. Some people wear so much perfume that our dog (or our baby) smell after being petted by them. And all that for what? What is the use of perfumes?

If there is any, let me know!

There is no more lead in MY dinnerware… I think…

I have been delaying writing a follow-up post to “I’m sorry, why is there lead in my dinnerware?” for a while, however after hearing last week a very unsettling news report out of Utah, in which a toddler may have suffered lead poisoning in utero and from breast milk due to her mother’s exposure to the lead glaze on their Gibson Overseas dinner plates, it was pretty hard to delay it further.

A few months back I contacted a number of dinnerware manufacturers – Corelle, Dansk, Dudson, Homer Laughlin China Co., Ikea, Lenox, Mikasa, and Pfaltzgraft – to see if any of their dinnerware products were lead-free. Of these eight manufactures two (Mikasa and Dudson) have never replied, perhaps because they didn’t like the question, or worse, they didn’t know the answer.

Luckily six manufacturers were nice enough to provide some information about their products. Below are the important excerpts from their emails:

Our specifications are that stoneware products and glazes are made of clay-based materials and glazes used throughout the industry. Decorations, if present, are made from low-lead enamels and fired at temperatures exceeding 1000 degrees F, which binds any heavy metals both physically and chemically so that their release is minimized.

All Dansk dinnerware is made Lead Free.

Homer Laughlin China Co
All of our ceramic products meet the requirements of California’s Proposition 65 for lead and cadmium release. We meet the technical requirements to be called lead free and cadmium free. As we are sure you know, there are trace amounts of lead in the atmosphere which make it impossible to be 100% lead free. You can be sure that our products are as free of lead and cadmium as it is scientifically possible to be.

The IKEA product range is subjected to comprehensive tests and complies with the strictest applicable laws and safety standards, and we have detailed regulations on the use of chemicals and other substances in the manufacturing process. If one country tightens its rules, we introduce these new regulations on all IKEA markets, whenever possible. The lead and lead compounds are not allowed to be used and the contamination limit value adopted at IKEA is 100 mg lead/kg.

Note: We followed up with Ikea to see if they could clarify what their reference of 100 mg lead/kg was all about and although they have not yet responded to us we did find the following at the bottom of one of the pages in their catalog:

All Ikea ceramics for preparing and serving food are lead- and cadmium safe. This means no heavy metals may be transfered from the glaze to the foodstuffs. For products which come into contact with food. Ikea imposes tougher criteria than the law demands. And tests are made regularly.

In response to your inquiry regarding the lead content in our products, lead can be found in our tableware, crystal products and hand-painted products.

It is our Company Policy to use only lead-free glazes, pigments or decals in our porcelain, stoneware, china and earthenware products. We know of no company with a more stringent policy with respect to the use of lead, cadmium and other contaminants than Pfaltzgraff.

So what is a consumer to do? Well, we immediately took Lenox and Corelle off of our shopping list, followed by Homer Laughlin China Co. simply because we were not overly fond of their style. Next we tried to look for Dansk, but unfortunately we could not find any company selling their dinnerware locally. That only left us with: Pfaltzgraff, Ikea, using glass dinnerware or starting the process all over again.

We hesitated for a while between Pfaltzgraff and Ikea. Pfaltzgraff had some nicer looking dishes, but they all seemed to be made in Asia and we were hoping on finding something made a little closer to home. Ikea in turn had not bad looking dishes made in Europe, Asia, etc. but some of the sets didn’t have any cups. In the end we decided that if we were going to buy dinnerware from a-far, we may as well pick the nicest style, and so we are now eating off of brand new white, stoneware Pfaltzgraff dishes.

The problem with being a consumer, is at the end of the day, it all comes down to blind trust. You can be informed and careful until the cows come home, but unless you can take every product that you purchase into a professional lab for testing, on some level you have to believe that these companies – who are often solely accountable to their shareholders – are doing the testing and have the quality control that they claim to. These days, that is more trust than I have… Which is why although there shouldn’t be any lead in our dinnerware, according to its manufacturer, unless we get it tested I will always have a little spec of doubt! Maybe we should have went for glass dinnerware…

Now, what about the glaze in our slow-cooker… is it lead-free?

Cloth Diapering – Why?

The number one reason why people don’t use cloth diaper is probably that they don’t know enough about them and they think they are awfully complicated to use… It sure is the first thing that came to my mind when I first considered diapers. I will address that concern later in the – How? sequel to this post, but I decided to start with the main reasons why people do use cloth diapers: money, environment and health.

Cloth diapers cost less than disposables. Sure, there is an initial investment involved, and it can seem quite costly if you purchase good quality diapers (which will pay off later, because if you buy cheap ones, you may not stick to it and they will have little resale value when you get sick of them). For instance, we bought about $600 worth of diapers when preparing for the arrival of our baby. You need to put the money upfront, but it’s nothing compared to the cost of disposables, especially if you plan on having more than one child. According to some sources, disposable diapers and wipes cost around $2000 over the life of one child. Of course, you have to factor laundry and reusable washcloths into the cloth diaper equation. The estimates I have seen added another $400 for laundry. You are still at about half the cost of disposables. That’s really straightforward! A diaper service is more expensive and can get close to the price of disposables, but most estimates still put them a bit cheaper. And there is a large market for second hand reusable diapers if your stash is still in good condition when you are done with diapering.

The number two reason, which was number one for us, is environmental factors. Some people disagree with that, saying that if you factor in the water needed for laundry, rinsing diapers or flushing diaper liners, the harsh soap and bleach needed, etc., cloth is not any better than disposables. But after doing a lot of research, I disagree. First, you don’t need bleach or harsh soap. We use an environmental, biodegradable, phosphate-free detergent, and very little of it, and our diapers are perfectly clean. Also, even if it is true that cloth diapers need quite a bit of water (although there are several ways to save on that front too), it is too easy to forget that water is also needed to manufacture disposable diapers. How much? Well, that’s the catch: the numbers most people use are provided by disposable diapers manufacturers, which are a doubtful source, to say the least. And you still need to factor in all the other resources needed to manufacture thousands of disposable diapers as opposed to only a few dozens of cloth ones (you can further reduce the impact of those by buying organic cotton or bamboo diapers). Finally, there is the issue of disposing of the diapers. They fill up the landfill, they pollute tremendously (it is actually illegal to dispose of human waste in garbage, but who actually washes poop off from disposables?), they don’t break down at all, and even so-called biodegradable disposables won’t actually degrade since they will be nicely packaged in plastic garbage bags and stuck in the middle of a landfill.

But even if cloth diapers were not actually better for the environment than disposable ones, there would still be the issue of health. Disposable diapers are full of toxic chemicals. Here is what the Less Toxic Guide has to say on the matter:

Harmful ingredients: dye, fragrance, plastic, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene, dipentene

Disposable diapers consist of a plastic exterior, an inner super-absorbent layer treated with chemicals, and a liner. One commonly used absorbent chemical, sodium polyacrylate, can trigger allergic reactions. Disposable diapers may also contain dyes and dioxin, a carcinogenic by-product of the chlorine bleaching process.

A study conducted by Anderson Laboratories in 1999 and published in the Archives of Environmental Health found that disposable diapers release volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), including toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and dipentene. All of these VOCs have been shown to have toxic health effects, such as cancer and brain damage, with long-term or high level exposure.

The researchers also discovered that mice exposed to the chemicals released by disposable diapers were more likely to experience irritated airways than mice exposed to emissions from cloth diapers. These effects were increased during repeat exposures. The authors suggested that disposable diapers may cause “asthma-like” reactions and urged more study into a possible link between diaper emissions and asthma.

That almost says it all… Except for the issue of heat: disposables tend to heat up the skin more because they breath less, which is bad especially for little boys whose fertility can suffer.

On top of those three main reasons, there are a few bonus ones. For instance, cloth diapers (at least good quality ones) work better. In 3 months now, I have never had a leak, whereas people using disposables complain about them all the time. They also look better, at least in my opinion, and they seem more comfortable for the baby (would you prefer paper or cloth underwear?). They seem to make potty-training easier, as the toddler can feel the wetness better than in disposables. Finally, cloth diapered babies seem to have less rashes… Maybe because you tend to change cloth diapers more often – disposables should be changed just as often, but since they absorb so much, people are less likely to.

Are there downsides to cloth diapers? Sure: you have to wash them, but it’s not as complicated as people think. You have to bring them back if you use them while you’re away from home. And they are more bulky, giving your baby a bigger bum. That actually scared me a bit; I thought I would hate it. But I got used to it really fast, and I just use larger clothes to accommodate the diapers. Et voilà! As a convert who initially had absolutely no intention of using cloth diapers and who had never met anyone who did before I got pregnant, I have to say that I love my bamboo diapers, I have not used a single disposable diaper since I left the hospital with my son, and I have absolutely no regret.

Stay tuned for the sequel…