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We Could All Use More Free Passes

I have wanted to write about this topic for some time, but for some reason, I haven’t yet. It feels like the right time now. With all the negativity in the world, I think we could all use a little more compassion, more understanding, and more forgiveness in our lives. On many days, we all could just use a “free pass”.

The “free pass” is something I created a few years ago, and now I find that I use it all the time.

Here is how it usually works: I run across someone during my day and maybe they are agitated, angry, or even sometimes, downright rude. Now, I’ve never met this person before or don’t know them well. Instead of getting annoyed or making all kinds of horrible assumptions about them, I just issue them a “free pass” and go along with my day.

The thing is, that person may be dealing with something difficult – a fight with a spouse, illness, or problems with their kids. It has nothing to do with me so I can’t take it personally. And their actions may be totally out of character for them, so I can’t make some sweeping judgment about them.

For me, it’s an offshoot of the quote by T.H. Thompson and John Watson, “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” I’m sure most of you have heard this quote before, but it’s a powerful one. I try to think of it often and keep it close to me so I don’t forget its message.

Even if someone is a friend, you may not be aware of or understand that battle. You can issue a free pass to friends and family too – like to a friend who is normally reliable but suddenly flakes out on an obligation, or a family member who is short with you because you caught them in a bad moment.

Of course there are people who eventually run out of free passes. It’s not an endless pass to be a jerk. But those people are really few and far between.

So, the next time someone cuts you off trying to get on the freeway, just give them a free pass and move on. It’s a small gesture but the world would be a better place if we all walked around with a bunch of these in our pocket:

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Summer Activities for Kids: Cheap, Easy and OC Local

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Summer is finally here. Tomorrow is the last day of school! We are so excited!

Although we all can’t wait for summer now, I know that inevitably, about four days in I’ll hear those famous words, “Mom, I’m bored.”

When my kids were younger, and boredom led to creative play, artwork and playing outside, I didn’t mind so much. A little boredom was good for them. Now that they are older, and boredom leads to video games and YouTube, I like to keep them busy.

Here are some of my favorite summer activities for kids. Criteria for this list – they must be free or inexpensive (no Disneyland trips or tips on this post), they must be eco-friendly (i.e. no burning of fossil fuels or excessive use of plastic), they should be suitable to a wide variety of ages (I don’t specialize in babies or toddler activities anymore), and they must be local to Orange County.

This is also not an exhaustive 101-things-to-do-and-that-is-every-single-thing-I-can-think-of-and-you-are-exhausted-just-reading-it list. These are things we have actually done ourselves and found enjoyable for adults and kids alike:

Exploring OC Parks:

Hiking – The OC Parks have great hiking trails. Some of my favorite are back in the Whiting Ranch area. Of the 27 trails in Whiting, one in particular that is a great hike for kids is the Red Rock Trail. It’s not a really long or steep hike, you can do the round trip (from the park entrance in Foothill Ranch to the end and back) in under two hours – or less depending upon the age of your kids. The best part is at the end, you are rewarded with the Red Rock view. It feels like you have entered the desert of Arizona. So cool!

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OC Parks Summer Programs – OC Parks also have lots of great summer programs, including educational programs for kids, summer trail hikes, and free concerts during their summer concert series. For a complete list of events, check out the calendar of OC Parks Events.

Discovery Science Center – It’s Orange County’s leading destination for hands-on, interactive science fun. I especially like the Eco-Challenge interactive exhibit, where kids can learn how to become an eco-friendly shopper in the Discovery Market, discover the importance of identifying and properly disposing of household hazardous waste in the Eco Garage, and learn how to be wise about sorting trash and recyclables in the Race to Recycle. It’s specifically designed to meet the science content standards for 3rd to 6th grades, so perfect for that age group.

Discovery Science Center

Volunteering and Donating – Volunteering is a great way to get your kids to think outside of their own little bubble (always a challenge), and to give back to your local community. In addition to volunteering, we will be cleaning out closets to donate to Goodwill, gathering old blankets and towels to donate to our local animal shelter, and gathering food and clothing donations for the Orange County Rescue Mission. To match your interests and location to the right volunteer opportunities, visit volunteermatch.org.

Classes at Local Community Colleges – Your local community colleges offer lots of great classes over the summer – classes specific to hobbies, interests, and sports. From swimming, to cooking, to chess, to art and theater, there are classes for virtually every interest.

There are also some academic class offerings, including the College for Kids series at Saddleback College, where students between 7 to 17 years old have an opportunity to experience college life and develop their own individualized class schedules from a wide range of offerings, including: acting, archeology, art, chess, computers, film and animation, history, languages, manners, math, modeling, music, reading, science, sports, study skills, theater, writing, and more. New to the program this summer is an offering of a College For Kids Junior program for 3 to 5-year-olds.

All classes are offered in two-week blocks, Monday through Thursday, June 22nd through August 6th. Click here for more information and to register.

The Sawdust Festival –  The Sawdust Art Festival is a tradition for us each summer. This year, the festival runs from Friday, June 26th to Sunday, August 30th. It’s not only a great activity to do with the kids, it supports local artists in Orange County. The Sawdust Art Festival is a non-profit group educating the public and promoting the art created in Laguna Beach.

It’s open from 10-10 daily. Admission is $8.50 for adults, $4.00 for kids 6-12 and free for kids under 5. There are also discount tickets available – for more information, click here.

There is plenty to entertain the kids, including a kids art center, reserved just for young artists to make their own creations – at no charge. There are also free live art demonstrations and art workshops (additional fee for workshops). My kids enjoy the “throw-down experience” where they get to create their own pottery on the potter’s wheel – with some guidance from experts to help them. You can get their creation fired and painted for an additional $8.00.

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OC Beaches – A good day at the beach is hard to beat – it’s one of the reasons many of us live here. There are no shortage of great beaches in Orange County. Some of our favorites are Crescent, Thousand Steps, and Victoria in Laguna and Huntington Main Beach for riding our cruiser bikes. Even the dogs enjoy a good ride along the beach, with a quick stop at Dog Beach, of course.

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For a good list of beaches in Orange County, check out visittheoc.com.

When you go, don’t forget your safer, all-natural sunscreen. You can find a complete list of better sunscreens over at the Environmental Working Group. Which works out well when you have young kids and you are supervising the sunscreen application. When you have teenagers however, they will pretty much refuse to wear anything other than spray-on, brand-name, chemically-laden sunscreens. If you don’t have those at home, they will just borrow their friends at the beach. Eventually, after a few summers of this, you decide you’re not going to die on that hill – that summer is short and they will probably survive the application and inhalation of chemical sunscreen fumes – just as you will survive parenting during the teen years. Just keeping it real here folks. But if you have young kids, by all means take a look at that list and find some safer sunscreens for you and your family.

Taking Public Transportation – Public transportation is alive and well in Orange County. You don’t have to drive everywhere this summer! Taking public transportation is easier than you think. Two of our favorite summer destinations in Orange County are Angels Stadium and the OC Fair. The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) makes it easy (and saves you money) when traveling to both.

Here is a previous post I wrote here at OC Family about traveling to the Orange County Fair on OCTA. You can also travel to Angels Stadium on the Angels Express – and even get 50% of game tickets when you do. For more details about the Angels Express, click here.

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Here’s hoping you get out and enjoy some of the many fun, cheap, and sustainable summer activities in Orange County. Happy almost summer!

 

When School Shopping Goes Bad

(This post originally appeared on OC Family on August 29, 2013)

I recently went back-to-school shopping with my kids, who will both be in Jr. High this year. Hold me.

How can my kids be that old? How am I going to handle two with the raging tween/teen hormones? When did this happen? How did this happen? (wait, don’t answer that)

Don’t get me wrong, I actually love the ages they are right now. They are funny, and interesting, and opinionated and smart, and finally laugh at my jokes – well, not all of them but at least a few. Also, I can leave them home for short periods of time. I don’t have to drag two kids around with me everywhere I go this summer. Freedom!

Except when I take them back-to-school shopping. For that, they need to come along to offer their opinions – and boy, they have no shortage of those.

I remember fondly the days of grade school.

Those days they would sit together in that over-sized shopping cart – the one that sort of feels like you are pushing a Zamboni around the store – while I loaded the cart with all the items I picked out for them (organic cotton shirts – fine, recycled paper – great, organic shampoo and hand sanitizer – no problem) and our shopping trip went more like this,

“Put that down.”

“Stop touching your sister.”

“No you can’t unbuckle and run around the store…Wait, come back here!”

And while those days were challenging for many reasons, I appreciate that when shopping, I was free to choose and purchase any items that I wanted. They pretty much went with the flow.

Now, it’s all changed. Back-to-school shopping has become an endless series of negotiations.

My daughter Emma asks, “Mom, can I have this notebook?” I answer, “How about this one, it’s made from recycled paper?” She responds, “Yes, but this one is turquoise.”

Over in the makeup aisle, Emma says “Mom can I have this Revlon lipstick?” I respond (not even looking at it) “No.”

She finds another brand I’ve never heard of, “How about this one?” She hands it over and I read the label, “The first ingredient is petroleum. Put it back.”

Not one to give up easily, Emma finds a third and says “What about this EOS lip gloss? You said it was okay last time.” Giving in, I say “Okay, that one.”

This endless series of negotiations lasted through pencils (they want the mechanical ones with the plastic outsides instead of regular biodegradable wood ones), pens (the giant pack of colored ones we don’t really need), binders (do those have PVC in them or not? I can’t tell).

I was at the point of exhaustion when this exchange happened:

Emma: “You know, Ellis (my son) is going to need deodorant for his PE locker. We need to get an extra one for him.”

Ellis: “Mom, can I please, please have some regular deodorant? I promise I’ll still wear the natural one at home, but I don’t want the other boys to make fun of me at school.”

So right there, in the middle of Target, I had an I-really-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing mom moment.

Balancing on the one hand, wanting to protect my kids from chemicals and do the best I can to raise them in a healthy environment. On the other hand, concern about my son, off to a new school where very few of his friends are going – off to the world of Jr. High, and changing for P.E. and tall boys who look closer to men than to anything resembling my son.

Ultimately I said “Yes, let’s pick out some regular deodorant to put in your locker.” I cringed and he smiled.

At the end of our shopping trip, Emma said “Mom, we’ll load everything on the check-out counter. Don’t worry. We got this.” And Ellis smiled. And I got suspicious.

As I glanced over, I saw that they had conspired to hide a big bottle of Dr. Pepper under our items when I wasn’t looking. I picked it up and handed it right back to them. They knew it wasn’t going to happen. But they got a good laugh out of it and so did I.

So I admit, sometimes I’m not a very good “green mom”. I let them get the turquoise binder, and the regular deodorant, and the giant container of colored pens that they really don’t need. But I do know that I am a good mom – and Jr. High will require some balance and compromise on both sides. Peer pressure will be powerful, but I hope that I’ve said things enough times in enough different ways, that they will remember my words later, in the key moments when they need to make good decisions.

Well, that and I made them put back the Dr. Pepper.

My Twelve-Month Challenge: Eating Better Starts with Shopping

The most frequent question people ask me after finishing my Twelve Week Fitness Challenge is “What do you eat?”

A lot of people ask me for my meal plan or more specifics on what I ate during the challenge.

It’s a complex answer, involving determining your basal metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn per day at rest), logging your food intake and exercise burn, and tracking macro nutrients. There isn’t one right answer for everyone.

But there are some underlying truths that work for everyone (tracking calories, eating clean, increasing protein, reducing sugar, etc). I learned so many of these during my challenge, that I want to start sharing – including the details about what I buy, prepare and eat.

Because healthy eating begins with better shopping, I thought in my first post, I would highlight some of the products that I could not have lived without – both during the challenge and now to maintain my results. For this particular post, I’m going to focus only I products found at Costco.

This post is not sponsored, but I admit that I do have a Costco bias. My first job out of college was at Costco and I’ve been in love ever since. The quality of the organization – from the way they pay/treat their employees to their liberal return policies, it’s just a really good, solid company. Plus their quality standards for the items they sell is top-notch.

I also shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Mother’s Market, Sprouts and local Farmers’ Markets (I pretty much avoid any traditional grocery stores unless I absolutely have to for convenience sake) – but for the staple, go-to items, you can’t beat the price and quality of Costco. They have so many more organic products these days. Their produce is the very best of any store – IMHO. Combined with the fact that it’s the absolute best price per pound (yes, you usually do buy more pounds of it), you can’t go wrong.

Here are my top Costco items that I can not live without –

Organic Produce – The organic produce varies from store to store and season to season, but on my most recent shopping trip, I found organic apples, organic strawberries, and organic bananas all in one trip. Score! Plus, these organic strawberries were so good. Like 1000 times better than the ones I purchased at another store the week before.

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Yes, it’s quite a bit of strawberries, but you can make them last. As soon as you get them home, wash strawberries (or any berries) in a solution of one-part white vinegar to ten parts water. You won’t even need to rinse them. The vinegar smell subsides quickly. Your berries will resist molding and last twice as long – I promise.

Earthbound Farm Organic Power Greens – I eat a salad almost every day, and almost every salad starts with this base. It’s quick and easy, organic and healthy – plus the baby kale is much easier to eat straight out of the bag, without any further cooking, rubbing with oil, etc. I even throw this mix in my smoothies. It is a must-have.

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Healthy Grains – Here are three of my favorite Costco items. Coaches Oats (the best oatmeal ever), Qia (an organic cereal that is a mixture of the power foods chia, buckwheat and hemp) and Hemp Hearts (the most nutritious part of the hemp seed. I sprinkle on cereal, salads and yogurt).

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Organic Chicken – You can not beat organic chicken breasts for $5.99 per pound. You can purchase this fresh or frozen (in individual packets so you can pull out one chicken breast at a time for defrosting). You can also purchase organic drumsticks and whole organic chickens for roasting.

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Organic Eggs – I’ve written about this before – egg whites are my new BFF. Quick, easy, packed with protein, and very low in calories. I cook up a batch every week and grab them when I need a quick snack, or add them to my salads. Costco’s eggs are certified organic, cage-free, and now (hallelujah) come in a recyclable plastic container that is made from recycled water bottles. What more can you ask for?

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Sustainable Seafood – Costco is one of the largest suppliers of sustainable seafood in the country. They took great strides a few years ago to ensure that all the fish in their stores is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, the most recognized independent group certifying sustainable fisheries. Fish is a dinner staple. I buy Wild Alaskan Salmon, Wild Halibut, and my kids’ favorite, the very mild tasting Wild Alaskan Pacific Cod.

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Although the inventory can vary from time to time, you can also find all kinds of additional healthy, organic products. Here are just a few that I ran across on my recent shopping trip. From a vast selection of frozen organic veggies, to organic acai, to raw honey and almond butter. Also, there is the greatest condiment of all time – Cholula. It has the power to turn almost anything (but especially scrambled egg whites) into a gourmet meal – yes, I’m a little obsessed.

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Your local Costco is serving up all kinds of organic fare – in bulk of course, but if you have the storage space (or hungry teenagers) you can not beat the quality and price.

One final note about packaging. My only issue with some of the Costco products is that there is too much packaging. So, I purchase selectively and am hyper-vigilant about reusing and recycling. We reuse bags, cartons, rubber bands, virtually anything that we can find another use for. Cardboard and plastic all gets recycled so very little (primarily just shrink wrap) ends up in the trash.

Coming up in future posts, examples of what to eat, from breakfast to lunch to dinner. Also, recipes that are family-friendly and challenge-friendly.

If there are any questions you have or things you want me to cover, let me know in the comments below or just send me an email.

What’s in My Bag: The OC Green Mama Edition

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You know how you turn to that feature of Us Magazine called “What’s in My Bag?” and you think “yeah, like I really care what’s in Mel B’s bag.” Then, somehow, you find yourself reading the entire article. No, just me?

I think we all (well atleast I do) have some curiosity to see inside people’s homes, purses, cars, etc. It’s like a peak into their lives.

So, I had this idea to empty out my bag and over-share. Not because I think I’m as interesting as say, Nicki Minaj (thankfully I’m not), but because it helps highlight some of the great green products that I rely on daily. Products that help me live a little more eco-friendly on a daily basis (and none of which I received for free or in exchange for a blog post – just products I love).

OCGreenMama_MyPurseHere are some of the highlights:

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Organic hand sanitizing spray – Right now, I’m using the Dr. Bronner’s Lavender spray. It’s organic, fair trade, free from harsh and problematic anti-bacterial chemicals, and helps alleviate my OCD hand washing tendencies.

Mineral Fusion Powder – this all-in-one mineral powder gives you a daily touch up – especially good for hot sweaty summer days – and provides SPF protection. Its color is subtle enough that I can use it on the whole family, and great to have stored in my purse for those times I realize we headed out to the OC Fair all day without sunscreen (true story). And, it’s free from gluten, parabens, SLS, phthalates, artificial colors and synthetic fragrances. 100% vegetarian and never tested on animals.

To-Go Ware – I carry this bamboo utensil set in my bag (which includes a knife, fork, spoon and chopsticks) to avoid single-use plastic utensils. You can see in the photo, I have accidentally thrown away (or others have tossed for me) a few of my bamboo utensils, but I just replaced them with some sturdy plastic ones that I wash and reuse again and again. Bonus: the RePeat carrying case is made from recycled PET plastic.

Chico bag – This is saying a lot but seriously, the Chico bag is the single most useful green product I have ever purchased. It is in my purse at all times, so I’m always prepared with my own bag. Not only has it saved me literally hundreds of shopping bags, but it’s also hauled sunscreen and magazines to the beach, sandwiches to a picnic, and even brought home wet swimsuits after a day at the pool. It is durable and super easy to clean – just toss in the washing machine and air dry.

Bag of Lip Products – I can’t stand searching in the bottom of my purse for my lip balm, so I keep all these products in a little bag within a bag. Among my favorites are Kiss My Face lip balmBurt’s Bees Lip gloss, and Vapour Organic Beauty lipstick. With these three products I can go from no color, to subtle color, to night-time color, using safe, all-natural ingredients.

Other purse items: My Prius key, iPhone, Coach wallet (which I’ve had for fifteen years and counting), EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce; Bowl of Heaven punch card; Dry Soda coupon; random things like a salt packet from the movies that I didn’t want to throw away and a cork from a champagne bottle opened at a restaurant (which I brought home in my purse to add to my cork collection); a purse hook (no purses on the floor – gross!); sun-glass-cleaning cloth; and hair bands and bobby pins (which every good dance mom carries at all times).

So there’s a look into my not-Us-Magazine-worthy purse. I mean it’s no $3000 Louis Vuitton bag filled with over-priced makeup – just a $100 straw purse full of eco-friendly products I use and love – those that make a green, OCD-tendencied mama’s life easier on a daily basis.

Ecofessions: Episode 4 – I’m Uninspired

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I haven’t posted since February 27th – yikes! In my latest ecofession, I try to figure out why:

Related posts:

Ecofessions: Episode 1 – To Color or not to Color
Ecofessions: Episode 2 – I Used a Plastic Bag
Ecofessions: Episode 3 – I Faked It

Ecofessions: Episode 3 – I Faked It

The latest in my ongoing series, Ecofessions, where I confess to all the things I do that are not so green. Here is Episode 3:

Related Posts:

Ecofessions: Episode 1 – To Color or not to Color

Ecofessions: Episode 2 – I Used a Plastic Bag