Toy Shopping for Healthy and Happy Kids

Artist at WorkWhen you’ve got holidays or birthdays and you’ve got kids, you probably have TOYS! Watching my children open their presents is one of my favorite things, but figuring out what to give them can be a challenge. Added to the dilemma of figuring out what they want, what I think is appropriate and what they will get the most enjoyment and use out of is the worry about what is safe. I’ve compiled several great resources to help parents navigate the issues and the gift-choosing process.

According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), around 20 children in the U.S. die each year from toy-related injuries and about half of those deaths are from choking on small parts, small balls and balloons. A good test to use to see if a toy presents a choking hazard to a child up to age 6 is whether it fits inside a toilet paper roll. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, non-motorized scooters are the leading cause of toy-related injuries in children under 15.

U.S. PIRG has a good list of tips for avoiding dangerous toys. My favorite:

  • “New, powerful small magnets used in most magnetic building toys, toy darts, magnetic jewelry, and other toys can fall out of small toys and look like shiny candy. If a child swallows more than one magnet, the magnets can attract each other in the body (in the stomach and intestines) and cause life-threatening complications. If a child swallows even one magnet, seek immediate medical attention.”

U.S. PIRG’s full 2011 Trouble In Toyland report is here, including Appendix A, which has images of problem toys.

These days, parents need to be concerned not only about toys that might hurt children, but also about products which might be toxic to their health. Some children’s products have been found to contain hormone disruptors like pthalates and toxic metals like lead and cadmium.

Healthy Child Healthy World (HCHW) has Quick Tips for buying toys that are better for kids and the environment. My favorite:

  • “Is the toy re-useable? Can it be added-to, creating new interest? For example, doll houses and building sets get repeated use, and adding one small accessory at a time can bring much joy.”

HCHW also has more tips for finding environmentally friendly toys on their blog. My favorite:

  • “Ensure that children wear helmets when riding bicycles, skateboards, and scooters.” (Especially important considering all those scooter injuries.)

Here is my favorite idea from Consumer Reports‘ toy shopping safety tips:

  • “Do not buy metal jewelry — especially cheap metal jewelry — for young children.  About 20 percent of children’s metal jewelry has high levels of lead lurking beneath the surface coating.  A child who mouths or accidentally swallows a piece of lead-laden jewelry can suffer lead poisoning.” (High levels of cadmium are often found in cheap jewelry as well.)

The Environmental Working Group’s safe gift shopping tips are on their blog. My favorite tip:

  • Give activities, not things. Take your child to a play or a favorite restaurant, or sign her up for that gymnastics class. Time together and special activities make wonderful, non-toxic gifts!

My favorite tip from the Food Matters blog’s list is:

  • “Go au natural. Look for toys made of natural materials like solid woods (with no finish or a non-toxic finish) and organic textiles (cotton, wool, felt, etc).”

In that same vein, Jonathan Liu at the GeekDad blog has the ultimate, time-tested, economical kid toy list. As he says in the intro: “All five should fit easily within any budget, and are appropriate for a wide age range so you get the most play out of each one. These are time-tested and kid-approved! And as a bonus, these five can be combined for extra-super-happy-fun-time.” Enjoy this silly (but accurate) take on what kids like to play with.

And one final resource is‘s product search, which includes test results for over 8,300 products consisting of over 20,000 individual samples. Here you can look up a children’s product if you aren’t sure about its toxicity.

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Get Ready for Flu Season

With the cooler weather comes falling leaves, family holidays and unfortunately, cold and flu season. Symptoms of the flu may include fever, chills, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches and fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhea are more common in children than adults and not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Conventional recommendations include prevention with vaccines, rest and clear fluids at home once you are sick and, in severe cases, hospitalization. Several recent meta-analyses of the research have raised questions about the effectiveness of flu vaccines. The current research shows little effectiveness of flu vaccines in preventing flu in healthy children under age 2. Research in the elderly is lacking. In healthy adults age 16-65, in an average flu season, 100 people have to be vaccinated to prevent one case of the flu.

The good news is that there are natural ways to prevent getting the flu and to feel better more quickly if you do get sick. Managing your stress, sleeping well, and eating a nutritious diet help you maintain a strong immune system. They are the foundation for wellness. You can also take a high-quality probiotic, black elderberry extract, vitamin C and vitamin D3 during cold and flu season. All of these supplements have been shown to help in preventing flu and shortening the time you are sick. Your naturopathic doctor might also recommend specific homeopathic remedies, or at-home hydrotherapy treatments, such as warming socks.

Handwashing and other good hygiene habits can help prevent the spread of flu to other people. If you are sick, don’t just take medicine so you can go to work or school! Stay home and get well – and save someone else the trouble of being sick. Once you’ve been fever-free for 24 hours, you are generally well enough to go out.

With a few good lifestyle choices, some healthy habits, and a few natural remedies, winter can be a time to enjoy friends and family, and not a time to worry about getting the flu!

Helpful links:


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Healing Broths

If you were going to add one thing into your diet, my pick would be broth!  There are many kinds of broth and recipe variations.  Broths provide nutrition that is easy for your body to digest.

The first two broths I’ll share with you are ideal for cleansing and detoxifying, especially during acute illness, giving the digestive system a rest.  The third recipe, bone broth, is ideal for supporting the bones, connective tissues, hair and nails.

Each of these recipes will increase the mineral content of your soups or stews, as well as add delicious flavor.  Prepare broth ahead of time so that you always have this nutrition booster to add to your meals!

Bieler Broth:


  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 cup green beans
  • chopped parsley

Chop 2 medium zucchini, 1 cup of green beans, and 2 stalks of celery into a steamer and steam until soft (about 10 minutes).  Place steamed veggies, 3 cups of steaming water, and a handful of chopped parsley in a blender and blend until smooth (about 1-2 minutes).  If you like garlic, a clove or two may be added as you blend to help stimulate the immune system.

YIELD: 2-3 bowls

Alkaline Broth:


  • 2 potatoes
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped celery (leaves and all)
  • 1 cup of other available vegetable of choice

Use a stainless steel or enameled earthenware bowl.  Fill it with 1-1/2 quarts of water.  Do not peel vegetables, just brush them well.  Cayenne, pepper, basil, oregano, and other seasonings may be used as desired.  Cover and cook slowly for at least ½ hour.  Let stand another ½ hour; cool until warm, strain and drink only the broth.

YIELD: 5-6 bowls

Bone Broth:


  • 4 quarts of filtered water
  • 1.5- 2 lbs of beef knuckle bones (or any other kinds of meaty                                 bones or marrow bones – chicken necks work well)
  • Cloves from 1 whole head of fresh garlic, peeled & smashed
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (organic, unfiltered)
  • 1 tsp unrefined sea salt

If you choose, you may brown or roast the bones/meaty bones first (in a separate pan/pot if using a slow cooker) with bacon fat or coconut oil before putting them into the water. Place all ingredients in a 6 quart crockpot and set the heat to HIGH.  Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the heat setting to LOW.  Allow the stock to cook for a minimim of 8 hours and up to 24 hours. The longer it cooks the better!  Turn off the crockpot and allow the stock to cool.  Strain the stock through a fine mesh metal strainer and throw away what you skim off.  Place the cooled stock into glass jars for storage in the fridge (for up to a few days) or freezer for later use.

YIELD: 6-8 bowls

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Sleep Sweet (and Healthy!)

We’re in the process of buying a new mattress for our five year-old.  When our oldest was three, we began the journey of finding a good mattress.  Since then, that crib-sized mattress has been passed down twice, our oldest has gotten a twin mattress and we bought ourselves a new queen-sized one.  Now it’s time for our second to have his “big boy bed”.  We’ve learned a lot about healthy sleep on our journey and I thought I’d share some of it with you.

Adults spend about a quarter of their time sleeping.  For children, it’s more like a third to a half.  Not only that, the entire time is spent breathing the air right next to the mattress and bedding.  It only makes sense to keep that air clean and non-toxic.

A typical mattress is a chemical soup of glues, foam, pvc, and let’s not forget flame retardants.  For a discussion of the toxicity of flame retardants to humans (especially babies and toddlers who have a higher body burden), as well as their minimal effect on fire deaths, check out this article.  There is even some evidence that flame retardants and other chemicals may contribute to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), although this theory has been difficult to prove conclusively.

As a naturally-minded person, it doesn’t take much for me to choose a non-toxic product over a toxic one, but when it comes to my kids, there simply is no choice.  Until our regulatory bodies rule according to the precautionary principle, we’ll have to do it for ourselves the best we can.

So.  When it comes to natural mattresses, there are several things to consider.  These days, most natural mattress companies choose organic cotton for the fabric covering as well as the fill (in an innerspring mattress).  Organic means that you don’t have to worry about pesticide residue in the fabric.

You can also choose a waterproof organic cotton cover, which can be nice for younger children.  The waterproofing is made from polyethylene, which is a food-grade plastic that doesn’t off-gas.  I’m torn on the idea of plastic, but I definitely understand the benefit of waterproofing a kid’s mattress!

You also have the choice between natural latex (Dunlop or Talalay have different densities), innerspring, and natural memory foam (this was a new and intriguing one to me).  Latex is heavier, but much more durable.  Innerspring is lighter and generally less expensive, but will compress within 10 years or so.  The memory foam strives for greater comfort and is one of the more pricey choices.

And what about that tricky flame retardant issue?  There are choices there too.  Some companies choose to treat their mattresses with boric acid, which meets the standard, but may be harmful to developing tissues, the lungs, and the reproductive system.  That new memory foam company actually uses Kevlar as its fire retardant material.  You can also get a doctor’s note and have your mattress made without any flame retardant at all.  As it turns out, though, wrapping a mattress in wool renders it flame resistant and this is what many companies choose to do.

The first time around, we chose a Vivetique innerspring crib mattress.  We’ve used it for seven years, through three children, and it has held up marvelously.

When we bought our older daughter’s twin and our queen, we got them at the same time from a local store, The Natural Sleep Store.  You can’t beat buying from a local business and their customer service is wonderful.  The mattresses are both organic cotton/wool innersprings.  I suggest going for a less-firm mattress or getting a mattress topper, as they are pretty firm, but we’ve been very happy with them for the last three years.

Now we’re on the hunt again.  We may go with the Natural Sleep Store again, or we may choose one of the on-line retailers, some of whom are less expensive or are running specials.  Here are a few I’ve found:  (I should mention that I’m not affiliated in any way with any of the companies in this article.)

Have you used a natural mattress?  What is your experience?

Sleep sweet!

sleepy kid

He doesn't always make it to the bed!

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Egg Allergy

chicken eggs


Hen egg allergy is one of the most common food allergies.  It is the second most common food allergy in children, although about 50% of these children will outgrow the allergy by the time they are an adult.  Fortunately, resources for people with food allergies are becoming more abundant, but it can still be overwhelming trying to figure out what to eat if you or your child are newly diagnosed.  Here are some suggestions to get you started.

First of all, if the allergy is life-threatening (anaphylactic), then eggs should be kept out of your house.  Teachers, other parents, coworkers, etc. should be notified and aware, and the allergic person should carry an EpiPen and know how to use it.  (EpiPen is a prescription medication.)  If the EpiPen is used, the person should then go to the emergency room or urgent care to be monitored.

If the allergy is not life-threatening, check with your doctor about a trial of duck eggs.  Some people with hen egg allergy are not allergic to duck eggs.

If the allergy is not life-threatening, and you have hen eggs in the house, wash your utensils and pots and pans thoroughly after cooking eggs, to prevent cross-contamination.

Make reading ingredients a habit. Egg is one of the “food allergy big eight” and is required to be labeled if it is an ingredient in any food product.  Of course, bad things happen, but if any egg-derived ingredient is in there, it legally should be labeled.

Going to restaurants can be a challenge.  Make asking about ingredients a habit.  TELL the server that you (or your child) are allergic to eggs and that it is important that you are not exposed.  With a life-threatening allergy, it’s better not to go to restaurants that serve any egg at all, because of the risk of cross-contamination.  If the allergy is not life-threatening, ask about ingredients before you order.  Also, remember that many baked goods (cookies, cakes, etc.) contain egg, as do some kinds of pasta, ice cream, and some sauces and beverages (for example, egg nog and Orange Julius).

Get in the habit of bringing safe foods to pot-lucks, sleepovers, and other special functions.  This is especially helpful for children.  If an allergic child is going to a birthday party, make some egg-free cupcakes ahead of time for the child to bring with them, and consider sending along some egg-free ice cream as well.

Breakfast can be another challenge, but there are many ways to get protein at breakfast without eggs – yogurt, smoothies made with yogurt or protein powder, sausage, nuts, nut butters (like almond or peanut), or just “eating dinner for breakfast.”  Leftover dinner meals can work well as a reheated breakfast.

Here are some egg substitutes. Each one is a substitute for one egg.  Some will work better in certain recipes than others, and none will work well if the recipe calls for more than 3 eggs:

  • 1 teaspoon yeast dissolved in ¼ cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder + 1 tablespoon liquid + 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1½ tablespoons water + 1½ tablespoons oil + 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 packet gelatin + 2 tablespoons warm water (don’t mix until ready to use)
  • 1 tablespoon pureed fruit such as apricots or bananas
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds (flax meal) + 3 tablespoons water

For cakes and cupcakes, the flax seeds work pretty well, though if it’s a vanilla cake, it might affect the taste a bit.  It doesn’t change the flavor of chocolate cake at all.  Chocolate hides a lot of sins.  ;)

A helpful cookbook is The Allergy Self-Help Cookbook – My family loves the “Grain-Free Pancakes,” which are also egg-free.

A final quick tip:  if a food says “vegan”, then it will be egg-free.

Starting an egg-free diet can be difficult at first, but it’s worth it when you or your child feel so much better!

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Natural Care for Painful Ears

It’s cold and flu season again, and that means it’s ear infection season too.  3/4 of the patients I’ve seen this week have had a sore ear, some for the first time, and some as an ongoing complaint.  Treating a painful ear at home is often simple and effective – it’s just a matter of knowing why the ear is sore, and when it’s safe to self-treat.  Since about two thirds of acute ear infections resolve without any treatment, this is often!

Most adults and older children will recognize when they have a middle ear infection.  The ear feels full and painful.  With a younger child or nonverbal adult, you’ll generally see signs such as a red ear, crying or screaming, fever, tugging at the ear or digging in the canal, or non-wax discharge from the ear.  Acute middle ear infections usually come on with a cold or follow closely afterward.

The first thing to do when someone has a painful ear is to look inside to see what is going on.  Sometimes the infection is actually in the canal (otitis externa), rather than behind the eardrum (otitis media).  (This article doesn’t cover therapies for otitis externa.)  Sometimes in an intense infection, the eardrum will rupture.  Unfortunately, it so often happens that the pain comes on in the evening or in the middle of the night.  In this situation, it’s important not to put any medications INTO the ear canal until someone can take a look inside.  If you feel comfortable using a home otoscope, you can look in there yourself, otherwise call your favorite ND.  Laughing

Parents often wonder if their baby or toddler is just teething.  In my experience, if tugging or poking at the ear is the only sign, there is no fever, no screaming, no discharge, and no red ear, and there’s a lot of drooling or biting, then teething is the more likely culprit.  If any of the other ear signs are present, though, it’s important to check for an infection.

If you haven’t looked in the ear, there are still things you can do to ease pain and support the immune response, including homeopathy and hydrotherapy

Homeopathy is very effective for ear infections.  Two to three doses of a 30c potency (available at your local health foods store) will usually do the trick, when you get the right remedy.  Several common remedies for earaches include the following:

  • For a child or adult with a terribly painful ear that starts around 9 or 10pm, who won’t let you even think about touching the ear (except maybe with a warm cloth), and wants to be carried or held even though they are irritable and demanding, think Chamomilla, especially if one cheek is red and the other is pale.
  • If the earache comes on at night, there’s an associated sore throat, drooling and sick-smelling sweat, think Mercurius, especially with yellow-green discharge from the ear.
  • The most frequent remedy for ear infections, both acute and chronic, is Pulsatilla.  The person needing this remedy is weepy and wants to be held tenderly and given lots of affection.  It’s often the left ear that is most affected, with a painful full or bursting feeling.  It is worse with heat and better in the open/cool air.
  • In a person with a very high fever, red, hot face, cold hands and feet, and an unbearably painful ear (especially the right side), think of Belladonna.  The pains throb, tend to come on around 3pm or after midnight, and are worse with being bumped.  This person may be delirious with fever.

A good book for homeopathic self-treatment is Homeopathic Self-Care: The Quick & Easy Guide for the Whole Family.  If the remedy isn’t having any effect after three doses, stop.  If you are having difficulty finding the right remedy, call your ND or homeopath for help.

Two simple hydrotherapy treatments for an ear infection are the onion poultice and warming socks.

  • To make an onion poultice, thinly slice an onion and sauté in a small amount of distilled or filtered water until the onions are transparent (clear).  If all you have is tap water, that’s okay.  Place the sautéed onion into a cotton cloth (a flat-fold diaper works well) and gather the loose fabric.  This is where you will hold it.  Make sure the poultice is not burning hot before you apply it over the entire outer ear.  Leave it on until it cools and then gently dry the area and go to bed.  For a stronger treatment, make two poultices and do the second as soon as the first cools.  This treatment helps the pain and is antimicrobial.
  • The warming sock treatment is useful in any cold, ear infection or sore throat.  It increases the circulation of blood and stimulates immune activity.  The most important part is to be WARM before you start.  Take a warm bath first if there is no significant fever.  Next, take a pair of thin cotton socks and soak them.  Wring them out as much as possible and then apply them to warm feet.  Cover each entire sock with a wool or fleece sock and go to bed.  Kids will often want to take them off at first, but a few minutes of distraction usually gets them to the more comfortable part.  In the morning, the socks will be dry and the feet will be warm.  ***It is very important NOT to do this treatment in a person with impaired sensation or circulation in the feet, such as a diabetic.***   Here is a fun instructional video made by an NCNM student.

Once it has been found that there is no rupture of the eardrum, in a person without tympanostomy tubes, it is also possible and helpful to use ear oil drops.  There are many herbal formulations – one of the most common is garlic and mullein in olive oil.  You can find this oil at the health foods store, or make it yourself (ahead of time).  Warm the oil to body temperature before applying 2-3 drops in the painful ear.  You can put a cotton ball in afterward to help keep the oil in, if needed.  The warm oil is soothing and the garlic helps fight the infection.

I often get asked about ear candling for ear infections.  I do not recommend ear candling, as I find no evidence that it is helpful or even does what it’s intended to do.  There is also a risk of burns from the hot wax, as well as getting wax into the ear canal.  As you’ve already read, there are many simple, effective ways to treat ear infections.  Why use an ineffective, possibly harmful, and costly therapy instead?

The best way to treat an ear infection, of course, is to prevent it altogether.  Prevention includes maintaining a strong immune system, drinking plenty of water, and eliminating reactive foods.  Prolonged exclusive breastfeeding is also protective against ear infections in children.  Your naturopathic doctor is well-equipped to give you support with all of these.

One last note, there are other times to seek out medical help (not an exhaustive list):

  • Any fever in a baby under 4 months.
  • A fever higher than 104°F, especially if the cause is unknown.
  • Redness is not confined to the ear, but extends behind the ear.
  • There is swelling behind the ear.
  • An infant or child is listless, unresponsive, dehydrated, or your instinct tells you something is not right.
  • Home remedies have not helped.

I wish you a happy, healthy fall and winter, but if you or someone you love does get sick, now you have a home toolkit for feeling better faster.

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Kids’ Wellness Weekend

As a parent, you may wonder if there is any difference between a naturopathic doctor’s visit and a  conventional one.  You may be curious about how a naturopathic doctor is trained.  (Find out here.)  You may already be considering naturopathic care for your family, but were waiting for the "right" time.  Whatever your situation, now you have the chance to give it a try!

This holiday season, I’ve decided to spend a day giving back to my community.  I’m offering a low-risk opportunity to experience the real difference between naturopathic care and conventional care. 

It is true that a naturopathic doctor’s visit costs more than your typical insurance copay to see a conventional doctor – on the surface.  When you include the potential long-term expenses, however – additional doctor’s visits, medications, surgeries, and a reduced quality of life – a holistic and preventative approach to health begins to make real financial sense.  There is no better time to start this than at the beginning – in childhood.

For one day only, December 12, 2009, I am providing well-child visits for $30 (a $100 value for new patients).  Each 45-minute visit will include a physical exam, a developmental assessment, and information about nutrition and natural therapies for children.  (Read more about naturopathic well-child visits on my website.)

There are only five openings available, so make sure you don’t miss out!  Call (970) 232-8447 today to schedule your child’s appointment.  Experience the natural, compassionate, whole-child care that is naturopathic medicine.

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Baby Steps

Making changes can be overwhelming.  I know this from personal experience, and I talk with patients about it all the time, because so much of getting healthy is about changing habits.

In my own life, I find myself looking at my ultimate goal and thinking that it’s all too much and I don’t even know where to start.  Take cleaning the house, for example.  I really don’t like housework, so it’s a struggle to stay on top of two busy adults and three even busier kids.  I can clean a room and it will be like the aftermath of a tornado within half an hour.  Every few weeks, my husband and I spend a weekend in a cleaning frenzy, trying to get things in some semblance of order.

Patients often tell me how overwhelmed they feel too.  As they learn about one healthy change, and then another, the information starts to snowball.  At first they may be simply trying to eat real food, and then they learn about hidden ingredients, and that leads them to organic food, which then encourages them to learn more about harmful chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA) and mercury contaminating food.  It can be enough to make a person go hide under the bed!

So what’s the trick to getting where you want to go?

I think there are four big steps: 

  1. Decide you want to change.  It won’t work if you’re doing it for someone else.
  2. Start small.  Baby steps work because they are easier than giant ones. 
  3. Focus on the change for one month.  It takes time for your mind and body to ingrain new information.  
  4. Give yourself a break!  We don’t always get things right the first time. 

So here’s how I’m trying to put it into action at home.  I decided that we really do need help managing the housework.  I’m ready for change!  I found a great site,, that has an excellent "Beginner BabySteps" program and I started today with shining my kitchen sink.  (I didn’t use bleach, by the way.  The baking soda worked just fine.)  I will try to implement each of the changes for a month, and take a new step each day.  And I’ll try to relax when I forget one day or am too tired, and will jump back in the next day.

When you’re ready, you can make a small change too.  And know I’m working on it right alongside you.  :)

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So, What About All That Halloween Candy?!

I have three kids and they have been looking forward to Halloween for over a month.  My eight year-old has actually been counting down and regularly announces how many days are left.  I am secretly pleased that they’re more excited about what to be for Halloween than about how much candy they’ll be getting, but I can’t stop thinking about all that candy.

Every year I fret about the sugar, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and food allergens we’ll have to try to avoid.  I wonder whether I should just let them stuff themselves for one day and then throw the rest out, or dole it out piece by piece until it’s gone.  I wonder if it’s too late to introduce the "Halloween Fairy" or the "Sugar Sprite", who will come to my house to magically transform all the candy into fairy dust and presents.

I remember how much fun Halloween was when I was a kid.  My mom would help us create whatever bizarre costume we got it in our heads that we had to have.  My sister and I were witches and gypsies, princesses and doctors.  One year I was actually the Ace of Hearts.  And the candy!  We would go out and spend HOURS walking through our neighborhood trick-or-treating.  There was the weird guy who gave rolls of pennies and the dentist’s wife who always gave out toothbrushes, but mostly there was candy!

So this year I’ve been thinking about how to change our Halloween tradition for the better, because I want my kids to have great memories too, and I’m not convinced that wallowing in junk has to play such a big part.  Here is some of what I’ve come up with:

What To Give Out

After searching a bunch of websites for ideas, I found three that I thought had the most to offer.  (Thank you to Suzi Milovanovic on, Jayne Pupek on, and Emily’s blog, PaperSeed.)  Here is a list of "treats" that you don’t eat:

  • Art supplies: activity pads, coloring books, crayons, chalk, notepads, pencils, pencil toppers, erasers, play-doh, stampers, stickers, paint sets, child-safe scissors, modeling clay, markers, glitter, colored pencils, origami paper and instructions
  • Toys and activities: balls, bubbles, glow sticks, maps, mini globes, books, mini magnifying glasses, matchbox cars, toy dinosaurs or animals, whistles, yo-yos, marbles, dominoes, decks of playing cards, small dolls, coins
  • Dress-up: false teeth, temporary tattoos, bracelets, necklaces, key chains or clips, sunglasses, hair clips, ribbons, scarves, eye patches

Some of these are more expensive than others, but you can make some of them, or find many of them at a dollar store or thrift shop.  You may want a separate stash of child-safe goodies for the 3 and under crowd.

Halloween Traditions

I know that there can be much more to the fun of Halloween than just walking around the neighborhood getting candy.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  • In Fort Collins we have a fun Old Town tradition for younger children, Tiny Tot Halloween, a morning-time trick-or-treat parade around Old Town Square.  This one does involve candy, but it’s always so much fun to see all the kids in their costumes, and they don’t have to be out after dark.
  • Also, the Gardens on Spring Creek have a Halloween Enchanted Garden, complete with a garden tour, pumpkin painting, magic show, and stories.  Kids 2-8 are encouraged to get dressed up and come  have fun.
  • There are many other events in our area for both kids and adults.  The Coloradoan has a list here.
  • When my oldest was little, a group of friends arranged our own "trick-or-treat street" at our school.  We set up "houses" using sheets and the kids would go from "door" to "door", getting treats that we all felt comfortable with them having.  All the fun of the "real" thing, at least for the toddler and preschool bunch, without the stuff mom and dad don’t like.
  • For each holiday, we try to share with our kids where the holiday came from, its place in the cycle of the seasons, and different cultural ideas and celebrations.  Samhain, All Saints Day, and Dia de los Muertos are just a few that happen this time of year.
  • One tradition that I would like to be more consistent with is taking a picture of each of my kids in their costume each year.  It is so fun to look back and remember the creativity and silliness from Halloweens past.

So, What About All That Candy!?

Now we’re left with what happens when your little monsters (and ghosts and stockbrokers) DO go trick-or-treating and come home with all that sugary loot.

  • Some families have started their own "Halloween Fairy" tradition, along the lines of Santa or the Tooth Fairy.  The kids leave their candy out, and in the morning the Halloween Fairy (or Sugar Sprite or Great Pumpkin…) has left them a little present.  I personally think this is a great idea, but I have a feeling my eight year-old wouldn’t buy it at this point. 
  • Which leads me to the next idea – candy bartering.  Although it misses out on the "magic" of the Halloween Fairy, it gives kids the chance to pick their own gift.  Essentially, kids trade in their bag of candy for something else – a toy, tickets to a movie…whatever you and they can come up with together.
  • Next is what I like to call the "Gorge and Purge" method.  It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of junk food – for one night only.  The benefits are that the kids get that liberating feeling of being able to eat as much candy as they want, and then they get the lesson of why that maybe isn’t such a good idea. 
  • Or there’s the "Trickle-Down" method.  A few pieces on Halloween, and then one a day until it runs out.  (Or whatever mom and dad decide.)  The benefit of this is that the junk is sandwiched between all the healthy food.  The biggest downside we’ve found in our family is that the candy lasts until the next Halloween.
  • And then there’s the one that my parents instituted:  mom and dad’s candy tax.  When we got home and started counting out our treasure, 10% was swiped right off the top.  Laughing  
  • Or you can mix-and-match one or more of these.

I’m going to try some new things at Halloween this year.  My hope is that Halloween can be a fun family celebration with a lot less of the junk.  We can do it!  And if any of you have great ideas for reducing the Halloween candy load, or if you would like to share your family’s traditions, I would love to hear from you!

Happy Halloween!

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Birth On Labor Day 2009

If you haven’t yet heard about the play, Birth, you are missing out!  Written in 2006 by playwright Karen Brody, Birth is a series of interwoven monologues that follow the birth stories of eight modern women. 

Birth On Labor Day (BOLD) is the name given to events worldwide which combine local performances of the play and "Red Tent Events" (sacred spaces offered for women to share their birth stories).  BOLD was created as a way to inform people about modern birth culture and to empower women to have the best birth experiences possible.

In 2008, The Family Journey brought BOLD to Fort Collins to enormous support and rave reviews.  This year, the event is even more exciting, with a new venue (the Lory Student Center on the CSU campus), a birth art show, a mother-baby friendly vendor fair, the Red Tent Event, and a talk-back panel after the play.  This year’s panel includes Mothering Magazine editor Peggy O’Mara, a long-time champion of natural living and empowered birth.

This amazing event is happening Saturday, September 26th, with the Red Tent Event on Sunday, September 27th.  The performance is powerful, funny, transformational and enlightening.  Tickets can be purchased through The Family Journey’s website.  Come and experience it for yourself!

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