Look on the Bright Side

Say the words “Muslim” or “Islam” and subconsciously most Americans will probably think “terrorist.”  I think that we have tendency to want to categorize things as “good” and “bad” these days.  We only need to watch the news – depending on if we’re watching something from a liberal or a conservative slant, the other side will be portrayed as evil.  When we’re at war, there’s a tendency to glorify how wonderful America and how evil our enemy is.  It’s an unfortunate truth, but the extremists who planned and executed the 9/11 attacks also created a link between the terms “Muslim” and “terrorist” in American minds.

I recently saw a great news story and read an article about a Muslim organization that is doing great work in a poor neighborhood in Chicago.  It’s called the Inner-City Muslim Action Network and focuses on building community regardless of race and religion.  One of their first projects was to build a free health clinic.  These days, they’re focusing on transforming corner stores so that they carry fresh produce and healthier foods.

So, try to think of “positive change” the next time you hear the word “Muslim.”

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Product Spotlight: Seventh Generation

One of the easiest ways to green our purchasing choices is to buy products made by Seventh Generation.  They make cleaning products, laundry detergent, trash bags, paper towels, napkins, tampons, and baby products.  According to The Better World Shopping Guide, they are the best company on the planet in terms of both environmental and social responsibility.

Think about the sheer amount of waste generated by baby diapers, or tampons and pads.  It’s so important to make sure that the products we choose are made of recycled materials, and that they are biodegradable (this means that eventually they will break down in a landfill or something, unlike plastic, which won’t).

So, a quick and easy way to make sure that the products you use are both eco-friendly and not paying lobbyists is to use Seventh Generation!

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One-Way Wantonness

A great op-ed piece by Frank Bruni.

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It’s the principle of the thing

Please enjoy this latest update on how female legislators are fighting back:

The debate these days isn’t about pro-life or pro-choice.  It’s about a man’s ability to tell a woman what to do.

Yes, abortion and contraception are moral and ethical dilemmas.  In no way am I trying to downplay this.  Let’s look at the even bigger picture, though.

Here’s the thing, gentlemen: Women can vote now.  We can hold property.  We can earn a living.  We can get divorces.  We can play organized sports – and even professional sports.  There used to be legislation preventing us from doing all of these things.  Now women have full legal rights.  It seems to me that this contraception debate is only a little bit about the ethics and a lot about the control.

Life is never going to be the way it was.  Women know what it is like to have freedom in their lives, and we are never going to accept less.  Some of us want to grow up to be firefighters.  Some of us want to be fashion designers.  Some of us want to be mothers.  Some of us want to be lawyers.  Somewhere out there, I firmly believe there is a little girl who will grow up to be the president of the United States.  The thing is – President, wife, mother, lawyer, or all of the above – it’s a woman’s choice.  If someone told a little boy growing up that he had to be a father, had to be an accountant or an insurance salesman so that he could have kids and support them, we’d be limiting his choices.  If a man chooses to have a vasectomy so that he can never have children, I think perhaps his parents would be sad that they’d never have grandchildren but no one would think twice about it.

So to the men of the world: please find within yourselves the testicular fortitude to recognize that women, not you, control their reproductive health – and, for that matter, everything else about their lives.

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The Great Contraception Debate

I am sick of hearing politicians talk about sex.  I am tired of hearing about their scandals, and I am tired of hearing these men talk about what women can and cannot do with their bodies.  Does anyone remember that the last President in office while there was a budget surplus was Bill Clinton?  Or does everyone just think of his sex scandal?  Does anyone actually know what Rick Santorum’s plan is for fixing the economy, improving education, or foreign policy?  Or is all we know that he is against insurance coverage for contraception?  I wish the candidates in this presidential election would start talking about the real issues.  The economy, for example, or foreign policy.  How to eliminate some of the ridiculous disparity between the wealthy and the impoverished.

I would like to applaud Virginia state senator Janet Howell, who had the brilliant idea of introducing a bill regulating the prescription of the men’s drug Viagra.  If her bill had passed, it would have required men to pass a cardiac stress test and a digital rectal examination before their doctor could prescribe Viagra to them.  Read more about it here.  Many people may be interested to know that Viagra is covered by more insurance companies than any contraceptive pill is.  I think that people who oppose oral contraception on religious grounds should also oppose Viagra unless the man is in a family trying to conceive a child – isn’t that the argument, that sex should only be used to conceive children? The fact that a pill that automatically gives a man an erection so he can have as much sex as he wants is covered by insurance when there is even a question about whether or not a pill that helps a woman regulate her cycle and control when she has children is appalling.  Check out this article which, while a bit dated, goes into greater depth on this debate.

On the personal level, though, where this conversation should be taking place, this is a great chance for both women and men to reflect on their contraceptive choices and how they impact their lives.  Women who are on the pill could ask, “Why am I on the Pill?”  I don’t necessarily think that there is a right or a wrong answer, I just believe that we should have educated and informed reasons for why we do things – particularly when it comes to our health.

This is a chance to do research and investigate the many options out there for us.  Are there non-contraceptive ways to deal with health issues such as irregular periods?  Are we taking the pill because our periods are simply too inconvenient for us?  What exactly is the right way to use a condom?  What are the long-lasting consequences of intra-uterine devices?  What chemicals are used in spermicides and do we really want them inside our bodies? (After hearing from a girlfriend how some spilled spermicide ate through her boyfriend’s bedside table, I’m personally pretty wary of these.) How would we deal with an unintentional pregnancy?  Do we have the financial resources to deal with a child?  Are we in a relationship that would support a happy, healthy child?  Are we prepared for the moral dilemma and emotional burden of an abortion?  Would we be able to give up our child for adoption?

I don’t have any answers, because I think we all need to answer these questions for ourselves.  I can tell you from personal experience that I recently considered going on the pill to help with irregular periods.  I did some research, and I concluded that I would rather deal with a surprise period from time to time than deal with all the side effects.   For me, what really scared me was the prospect of uncontrollable mood swings.  I went through a period of tremendous emotional stress about a year ago and have only recently regained some measure of emotional equilibrium.  The idea of destroying my emotional balance just wasn’t worth it to me.  It also inspired me to do some research into women’s health.  I realized that I didn’t even know how the menstrual cycle worked.  To me, my period was just something to deal with for a week every month (or not, depending on how things were going).  I realized that all that emotional stress had caused my weight to drop to far below what a healthy weight was.  As one healthcare professional put it, my body was literally running on reserves of energy.  It simply didn’t have enough left to even make a period every month.  So, rather than chemically suspend my cycle, I got a calendar.  I started marking down the days I had my period so I could track it.  I’ve noticed that I do, in fact, feel more tired and emotional right before it starts and that as it ends and I begin ovulating, I have much more energy.  I started researching foods that were high in calories, the good kinds of fat, and nutrients and started incorporating them into my diet. (Sweet potatoes and nuts were two of the big ones.)  I started taking vitamins. (Women to Women is the company I get my vitamins from.  It includes a multi-vitamin, a calcium/magnesium supplement, and a fish oil supplement.  And best of all – they mail them to you.  I don’t have to remember to go to the store, and when I’m almost out my next batch comes magically in the mail.)  And my period has become more regular.

For men, some of whom seem to be incredibly opinionated about these things, I challenge them to go a step further and to learn about women’s health.  Educate yourselves.  Learn to have mature, informed conversations with your partners.  Learn about the menstrual cycle.  Stop saying things like “Oh, man, she’s PMSing.”  I was once horrified to hear a guy mention that his upcoming weekend with his girlfriend wouldn’t be that fun because she was “broken” – that is to say, she was on her period.  When I was reading online message boards and reviews about birth control pills, I was shocked to find that several women had written in to say that they had horrible side effects (mood swings, depression, migraines, weight gain, acne, loss of sex drive) but that they stayed on the pill because their boyfriend didn’t like to use condoms.  If you’re someone who has influenced your partner to go on the pill because of your distaste for condoms, I suggest that you do some research on sexually transmitted diseases, for one, and become more sensitive to her needs.

For all of us, contraception is a touchy subject because sex is a touchy subject.  For me, growing up, sex wasn’t bad, necessarily, but it definitely wasn’t something to talk about.  But I think we should ask ourselves why it is so important for us to have contraception.  And for those of us using it for its intended purpose, we should ask ourselves, “Are we having the sex we want?”

Whether we intend to create a child or not, sex will always be one of the most potentially life-giving acts that two people can do.  It brings people closer than anything.  And I think that’s something to ask ourselves.  “Is sex life-giving for me?”  Is it strengthening your relationship with your partner?  Does it make you feel closer to the divine?  Does it make you a better person?  Are we treating our partners with kindness, love, and respect?  Are we taking the time to develop other forms of intimacy along with the physical?  Does your sex life help make you the person you want to be?

Even if you have discerned that sex is something that waits for marriage, you can still deepen your understanding of it.  Some people just are told, “You can’t know this until you’re married.”  I personally think this is wrong.  By placing sex in the “forbidden” category, it just makes it all the more interesting.  Young people may decide to engage in sexual activity because it makes them feel rebellious.  Even worse, they may engage in sexual activity without understanding all of the health, emotional and spiritual consequences of it.  Young men and women should understand how each other’s bodies work – from a medical perspective.  Women need to understand their bodies and how to care for them.  Men should be encouraged to understand how the natural cycle of a woman works.  After all, that’s the cycle that helped to bring them into the world.

Maybe, just maybe, if we all took the time to educate ourselves and our partners, we would all be healthier and happier.  And maybe then we could talk about the economy.

Useful material for continued research:

This amazing video is definitely worth watching, despite its 90 minute length.  Vicki Thorn, the founder of Project Rachel (the Church’s ministry to help women who have had abortions), talks in very straightforward, non-theological terms about the differences between male and female brains and gives some valuable information on contraception.

Dr. Christiane Northrup has written extensively on women’s health.

Planned Parenthood’s website on different contraceptive measures available.

Great, healthy recipes.

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Spring Cleaning (Part 3)

Okay.  I’ll flatter myself for a moment and think that you’ve read my previous posts.  Perhaps you’ve changed which products you use to clean, and maybe you’ve even started to declutter a small corner of your home.  But there’s yet another dimension to this idea of spring cleaning, and this one is by far the most difficult: your mind.

We all have beliefs.  I’m not talking about religion.  We have beliefs that range from “Marriage isn’t stable” to “I always get what I want” to “I’ll never succeed at this” and everything in-between.  Some of these beliefs are from external influences, and some are from our own experiences.  Some of them are true, but many of them may not be.  Of those that are true, there may be many that we wish were not.

So, I challenge you: pick one or two of your beliefs that you no longer wish for your life, and clean them out!  Get out of that relationship, take that new class you’ve been wanting to, learn that you can manage money, love yourself!

I want to offer a few exercises that may help to articulate your beliefs, and whether or not you wish to keep them.  These are all adapted from books by the marvelous author Louise Hay.  If any of this resonates with you, you may want to pick up a copy of one of her books – You Can Heal Your Life is an excellent place to start.

1. If “I hate myself,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not worth it,”or “I’ll never be loved,” are thoughts that you have or beliefs that you hold, this is the first thing that must go!  Do you really want to go through life hating yourself?  Has it helped you?  Has it gotten you the life you want?  Are you enjoying the life you have?  Louise Hay says that you can make incredible changes in your life simply by looking into the mirror and saying, “[name], I love you.”  Try it.  I know that when I did, I found it hard to do.  Say to yourself throughout the day, “I love myself.”  Just try it.  If hating yourself isn’t helping you at all, then maybe, just maybe a little love might make a difference.

2. Eliminate the word should from your life.  Finish the following sentence with as many things as you like. “I should…”

When I make this list, it looks something like this:

I should:

…do the dishes

…vacuum my room

…go to bed at a decent hour

…read books instead of surfing the internet

…exercise more

“Should” has negative connotations.  If we are saying we “should” do something, we are probably not doing the thing we should do.  Therefore, the thing we are doing instead of the thing we should be doing is bad.  Very bad.  And there’s a sense of shame, too, an underlying thought that says “If only I were a better person I would be doing this.”

So, take that list.  Replace the phrase “I should” with the phrase “If I really wanted to, I could…”

Let’s look at some items from my list with both versions side by side.

I should exercise more.

If I really wanted to, I could exercise more.

I should go to bed at a decent hour.

If I really wanted to, I could go to bed at a decent hour.

For me, the second version helps motivate me.  It eliminates the sense of shame, the thought “I’m a terrible person because I’m not doing this” and pushes me straight to the thought, “How can I make this happen?”

3. This last activity is a bit more time-consuming.  Take several sheets of paper.  Across the top of each, put a different heading.  Here are some of the headings I suggest, although you are free to find others: Women, Men, Love, Relationships, Work, Money, Health.  Under each heading, write down what you think.  Give yourself a few days to do this.  I was shocked to find that under the “Money” heading, I wrote “I will never have any” and “I have no idea what to do with it or how to get it.”  This was a major clue to me that I needed to learn more about managing money.  I started a spreadsheet where I tracked all the money I made and all the money I spent.  It was a great exercise for me – and just knowing where my money was coming from and where it was going made me feel stronger and more independent.

Maybe you’ll find that you believe work is tedious and not something you can find joy in.  Maybe you think that great health is out of your reach.  Maybe you’re totally healthy and balanced.  I don’t know.  Chances are, you have at least one or two negative thought patterns.  I challenge you to identify them and their causes (my negative thoughts about money came from hearing society and family members tell me constantly that someone in my career field wouldn’t make it financially), and to eliminate them from your thoughts.  Replace them with positive, loving thoughts toward yourself.

4. Listen to this wonderful sermon given by Father Greg Schenden of Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown, Washington D.C.  It’s from Independence Day, and he talks about freedom. Listen to it and ask yourself “Do I feel free in my life?  What is holding me back? Where do I feel stuck or trapped?”  Just food for thought.

Happy Spring, and happy cleaning!

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Spring Cleaning (part two)

Here’s a link to a great article on the Whole Living website about decluttering your home.  I know that every time I move, or even pack for a trip, I ask myself “Where did all this stuff come from?”  I’ve lived in my current apartment less than six months and my desk is covered with papers.  I’m not sure where they came from, but it’s been quite some time since I saw the surface of my desk, much less was able to do any work at it.  So, as part of your spring cleaning, I challenge you: Get rid of some of your stuff.  Find a place to donate or recycle or dispose responsibly of it.  Make some literal space in your life!  Open the windows and let the fresh spring air fill all the spaces in your home.


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Spring Cleaning (Part 1)

Here on the East Coast, the weather is warming up, flowers are starting to bloom, and the days are getting longer.  Chances are that some of us are starting to think about spring cleaning!  Consciously choosing our cleaning products is one of the ways we can make positive change in our lives and the world.  Firstly, you and your family will likely feel better in an environment with less chemicals.  You will be adding fewer chemicals to your community’s water supply by rinsing environmentally-friendly products down the drain.  And finally, your purchases will support companies whose goal is to make products that serve you and the environment.  Your budget on cleaning supplies, believe it or not, could be working against you in Congress.  What happens if you’re a staunch Democrat and the company that makes your cleaning supplies lobbies Republicans to ensure that their big business keeps its tax cuts and other benefits?

So, here goes – the products you absolutely want to avoid:

Clorox, Green Works, Pine Sol, Tilex, SOS, Glad, Liquid-Plumr, 409, Lysol, Easy-Off, Soft Scrub, Joy, Ivory, Swiffer, Dial, Mr. Clean, Dawn, Tide, Downy, Bounce, Gain, 20 Mule Team Borax, Cheer, Febreze. 

Products you can replace those with: Seventh Generation, Method, Dr. Bronner’s, Earth Friendly, Citri-Glow, Ecover, Mrs. Myers, Bon Ami

There may be some germophobes among you who shudder at the idea of giving up your abrasive chemicals since you’re sure that they are the only way to kill all the germs.  I promise you, your body was designed to handle some germs.  You encounter germs every day and fight them off.  Our ancestors lived in forests, deserts, and everywhere in between – they walked on dirt, touched outdoor things and dealt with germs every day.  Using natural products and hot water will keep your home and all your belongings cleaner and healthier.  It’ll actually make the environment healthier too!

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Quick and Easy Internet Makeover

1. Stop using Internet Explorer, Hotmail, and Bing.  (Again, because of The Better World Shopping Guide.)

2. Download Mozilla Firefox for free here or download Google Chrome for free here.

3. Set your default search engine to GoodSearch.  I absolutely love GoodSearch because every time you search anything on the internet, they donate money to the charity of your choice.  There are literally tens of thousands of charities that can benefit from this.  And all it takes is a few seconds of time for you to reset your browser defaults and select your charity of choice. (Mine, by the way, is The Michael J. Fox Foundation).

All it takes is a few moments of conscious downloading, and we can be on the way to a better world!

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Product Spotlight: African Black Soap

In my last couple of posts, I’ve pointed out some beauty products that we should avoid and other brands that are better for the world and for us to use.  However, I want to share my latest discovery with you: African Black Soap.

One of my weaknesses in this whole battle between ethical purchasing and what I want is my skin.  I’ve struggled with acne for years.  I’ve tried just about every product out there.  Clean & Clear, Neutrogena, Oxy, rubbing alcohol, tea tree oil…scrubs, foaming cleansers, creams, lotions, on-the-spot treatment…everything, with varying degrees of success.  Sometimes my skin cleared up.  Most often, though, the acne would get mildly better and my skin would dry out completely so I would have to stop using the product.

A stunningly gorgeous friend of mine recommended African Black Soap to me a few months ago.  I bought the bar soap and the lotion.  I wash my face with plain water and use the lotion in the morning, and wash with the soap at night.  It has all-natural ingredients in it, and no harsh chemicals.  It also smells great (at least I think s0.)  And…my skin looks better than it has in years.  It took about a month for me to really start seeing results, but my face has started to clear up.  I still get minor breakouts every so often, but they clear up much faster.  And, best of all, my skin doesn’t dry out.  In fact, it feels great, especially after using the lotion.

As far as I can tell, Nubian Heritage is an ethical company.  The box says the ingredients are Fair Trade, although The Better World Shopping Guide doesn’t have it listed as either good or bad.

Here’s the product I use.  Good luck! Let me know if it works for you!

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