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Real food, real quick

The past year has been full of life-changing events amid the backdrop of home renovation. With the second floor bathroom done and the third floor taken apart and put back together again, finding time to cook everyday meals has been a challenge.

We were quickly reined in by a few too many trips to the pediatric dentist’s office, realizing sugar was the culprit. But is this the way to teach kids to dial down the sugar? Can we teach them that food doesn’t have to come in a plastic wrapper or a box covered with claims that it’s healthy when it’s really not? Like many families, we got caught in the tug of war of getting kids to eat and keeping the peace. This is a tightrope to be sure.

Starting small, with leftover lumber from the third floor, we constructed raised garden beds, filled them with organic soil, and planted tomatoes, lettuce and herbs, hoping for the best. has easy-to-follow resources for organic gardening.

The results came in slowly between bouts of freezing cold spring weather and some sunnier days. The kids ventured outside, away from electronics, without being asked. Greens ended up on dinner plates. There were complaints at the beginning, and some nights there still are. But the greens are being eaten. Any parent who’s gone from zero to “they ate something” knows how truly sweet it is. We now have access to real food that’s as quick as it comes, right out the back door.

Recycled Bathroom Reno

Sometimes a room needs a little TLC right away, just to hold everything over until the real renovation can begin. Such was the case for the past two years with the second floor bathroom, which was doing just fine with a few minor upgrades until a leak proved to be the tipping point.

This has been a total – and unexpected – gut job, removing over 100 years of plumbing, tile and flooring. Thankfully the amazing crews that have been here for the rest of the house stepped up to the plate and worked around hectic holiday schedules, from Thanksgiving well past New Year’s. Bringing everything from plumbing to structural framing to electrical up to code has taken time. Now that it’s almost spring, we’re a few weeks from completion.

This is always the sweet spot in a project, when the environmental testing is long over with, the layers of debris are peeled away, the permits have been applied for, and municipal inspections have been passed. Here’s a few highlights of the processes and products used:

– As with any reno, I started with environmental testing. Lead testing was done before moving in, so that was already crossed off the list. I tested old floor tiles and wallboard for asbestos, which can be found in hundreds of building products. The EPA has a full guide here to asbestos information and resources.

– Having found asbestos in the old PVC floor tiles, I hired a certified firm for removal. Air sampling came back the same day showing all was well, and the firm provided documentation. Note…before any asbestos removal job, the state may need to be notified (as is the case in NJ) with a 10-day wait period. The delays and cost definitely ate into the budget and timeline, but the upside was knowing it was getting done right.

– I chose recycled denim insulation from Bonded Logic, which my carpenter loved. The town inspectors liked it, too and it became a talking point of the project. It runs pricier than conventional fiberglass insulation, but it’s a healthier product with out the toxic flame retardants or respiratory risks as with other insulations.

– With the recycled-content Florim USA tile in the downstairs bathroom holding up beautifully, I bought it again for this bathroom. At under $5 per square foot (uninstalled), it’s domestically made and purchased through a family-owned local store.

The other finishing touches such as paint, window framing, and built-in cabinetry are still in the works, so more on that to come.

Bringing Home to the Hospital Room

Some aspects of home life (including renovations) go on hold when a friend or family member becomes ill. Thankfully there are simple ways to bring familiarity – and a little more of home – to the patient room, whether for a day or an extended stay. (Note: As always, it’s best to check with the patient care team first).

1. Let the light in. Research shows patients who have access to nature may heal faster, have reduced stress and may require less pain medication. A window can connect the patient with the outside world that may seem a world away. Even a simple picture of a nature scene can bring a calming focal point to the space. Outdoor gardens are increasingly being used as healing spaces as well.

2. Bring in soothing sounds. An iPod or small radio can lift spirits and transform a place with sound. Some hospital rooms or patient lounges may even be outfitted with stereos. Favorite songs can bring back memories for the patient and lift the mood for visitors as well. In the medical setting, music has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety, boost endorphin production and more.

3. Bring in comfort with familiar photos, a soft blanket or plush stuffed animal as a tangible reminder of home that also brightens up the space.

4. Essential oils, used for centuries, can change the mood in a room by calming anxiety, bringing increased focus, reducing nausea or simply promoting relaxation. The National Library of Medicine provides an overview of aromatherapy, including resource links and research. (Note: Care must be used with essential oils as they’re highly concentrated.)

5. Healing laughter…One of the best experiences may be watching a comedy together, playing a silly board game or reading a funny book.

6. Take breaks. Taking turns with visiting, and getting back home every so often can be an essential part of keeping balance in what may be a tumultuous time.

7. Bring in the spiritual. On-site chapels, meditation rooms, and pastoral care services at the bedside can bring in a sense of home and community. Free guided meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center and calming meditations for kids and adults alike, benefiting the nonprofit Kula for Karma are also available online.

Moving in a Healthier Direction

A great friend recently moved several hours away to a cottage on a nature preserve. For most families, moving can be hectic no matter where you live. Visiting her new home brought back fresh memories of our three moves in seven months before renovating the Healthy Home Project. Despite a sea of packing boxes and a new school for the kids, a few things made the transitions smoother, and healthier:

1) Explaining things to the kids early on, and enlisting their help: This will vary depending on children’s ages and stages, but getting it out into the open made things a whole lot easier. Talking about the things we’d miss and the positives on the other end was helpful, too. has specific tips for talking to children of different ages.

2) Enlisting help of friends and family: A working plan with days when help is needed can give much-needed structure during times of busy transition. During one of our moves a friend and her daughter helped for an hour transporting dishes. A small block of time can mean the world.

3) Keeping routines the same: With all the change afoot, continuing little everyday rituals can bring comfort to the whole family, kids especially. Eating meals at the same time, connecting with friends, and bedtime routines can all be kept to one degree or another, even if the scenery is different.

4) Having an “essentials” bag for each person: Kids can help pack their own, with books, stuffed animals and anything else familiar and well-loved. Activities like small games can be helpful too. Ditto for any items that would be missed if lost among the packing boxes.

4) Giving back and giving thanks: We used the opportunity of downsizing to give away anything that wasn’t essential. Opportunities to give back can help offset moving stress. The American Academy of Pediatrics lists other great tips for minimizing stress during a move.

When it’s over and the last box is unpacked (even if that’s many months later), the fresh surroundings can be good for all and can help shape kids – and the whole family – with a new perspective.

Need to Know: Is There Lead in the Bathtub?

Is it really necessary to test the bathtub for lead?  Turns out it could be. One of the little-known sources of kids’ lead exposure may be where they spend hours of time.

When the story made headlines that a Virginia family discovered their tub was a lead hazard, more parents started asking the question. Another news report in Dallas found,

The lead comes from cast iron or steel tubs coated with a porcelain glaze. As the glaze wears down from age and use, the lead in the glaze can leach into bath water. Young children who drink bathwater or put their wet hands or toys in their mouths during bath time are at greatest risk. (Source: Dallas News 10/19/14)

Despite awareness that lead-based paint can be found in homes built or remodeled before 1978, bathtubs aren’t regulated by that law. That being the case, I decided to test our bathtub.

I picked up a lead test kit at a home center in the paint isle. They’re also available at general big box stores and online. (Consumer Reports gives a rundown of options in the Lead Test Kit Buying Guide.)

I’ve never used a DIY lead test kit before, and found the directions were easy to follow, and the process quick. The kit can leave marks on surfaces, so I’d only go this route if testing a hidden area, or if replacing or reglazing the tub anyway. Another option is to call a professional environmental testing company, though the cost is considerably more.

If testing a tub sounds complicated or costly, it’s not. The kit retails at about $10 for a package of two, and the actual test process takes about five minutes, start to finish.

The results? They were positive. Even for someone who works in children’s health, this was an eye-opener. I can only be thankful no one’s taken a bath in there, and I’ll be getting this older tub reglazed or replaced before anyone does. (More on that in a future post.) The good news? This was a hazardous exposure avoided. The bad news is there are homes – and kids – all over the country that could potentially be exposed to lead by older bathtubs. Spreading the word, and testing is the only way to know for sure.

More info at