NonPetroleum Jelly

Photo credit: D. Kuster 2009

This is the only balm that you will ever need.

I wish that I could tell you that this is my recipe. It’s not. Instead, it is one of the ingenious concoctions of Annie Berthold-Bond (, a best-selling author of five green living books. I came across her book, Better Basics for the Home, while I was registering for our baby shower. I instantly ordered it. It was one of the best $13 I have ever spent. It is truly a labor of love.

I made a batch of NonPetroleum Jelly when our daughter had a bout of severely dry skin at the beginning of Winter. Other lotions and creams wouldn’t touch it. NonPetroluem Jelly did the trick after one application. Safe, effective, and cheap…we had pretty much hit the jackpot. Over the course of using the first batch, my husband and I started using it on ourselves as well. We used in on our faces, lips, body, scars, cuts, dry patches, bug bites. It seemed to work on anything. I like to think of it akin to Windex in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This balm nourishes through olive oil, protects through beeswax, and preserves through grapefruit seed extract. Try it!

NonPetroleum Jelly by Annie Berthold-Bond

2 ounces olive oil (more oil to make it less thick)

1/2 ounce beeswax

12 drops grapefruit seed extract

Combine the oil and beeswax in a double broiler and place over medium heat until the wax is melted. Remove from heat, add the grapefruit seed extract, and mix with the hand or electric mixer until creamy.

Prep time: 25 minutes

Shelf Life: 1 year

Storage: Glass jar with a screw top

If you are not sure about using the grapefuit seed extract, this is a natural preservative. Add it if you plan on storing the balm for a long time, as the oil can go rancid. I have never used it because the batches that I make never hang around more than a few weeks.

For fun, let’s do a price breakdown! For my balm I use Trader Joe’s Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil (33.8 fl oz for $5.99), a block on beeswax from Joann’s Fabrics and Crafts (1 lb for $6.99 after coupon). The ingredients for one batch of NonPetroleum Jelly costs: $0.35 for the olive oil + $0.21 for the beeswax for a Grand Total of $0.56. Not bad! If we add in the cost of 12 drops of grapefruit seed extract we would add on approximately $0.03.

Choose your favorite ingredients and start mixing!

Stephanie loves making her own skincare products, not only because they are better for her skin-type, but also because she is a total cheapo.

Social Work Primed Me to be an Attached, Gentle Parent

I have a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree concentrated in clinical social work. When I walked across the stage in 2010 to be hooded for my MSW, snug in my uterus was the 8-week old embryonic version of the toddler who is, at this exact moment, sprawled next to me in bed, face blissfully soft with slumber.  I was clueless then just how significantly my education and career would color how I parent him.

I often say that I came to gentle, attached parenting through the back door; I ardently embraced some of its tenets long before I was ever a parent, long before I even knew there were these things called “attachment parenting” or “gentle discipline.” From the moment I saw those two pink lines on my pregnancy test, my parenting approach has been very much informed by my life as a social worker.

I  spent the 12 years preceding my son’s birth working at first in the domestic violence arena,  then in the protective services world, and, finally, in a hospital setting. When I hear or read people portraying attachment parenting as “extreme,” when I hear its practices (such as nursing beyond infancy and sharing sleep) depicted as “abuse” or “neglect,” I get downright pissed off. Because in my time as a social worker, I have been horrified by truly extreme parenting. I have cradled true neglect in my arms. I have testified against true abuse in court. There is nothing extreme, abusive, or remotely neglectful about nurturing secure attachment in your child. And people who posture otherwise need a dramatic expansion of their worldview.

Along with its extensive Code of Ethics, very specific values and principles undergird social work practice. I found that this undercurrent of values and practices naturally and effortlessly flowed into my parenting; below I’ve slightly modified some of these social work values and practices to show how they inform my parenting, swapping in the word “child” for the word “client.”

  • My child has inherent worth, dignity and strengths: My child is unconditionally worthy of my respect, and that respect is the centerpoint of my parenting. My actions as a parent are designed to nurture my son’s sense of worth and safeguard his dignity. I do not view him through a lens of deficit (what he cannot do), but rather from a perspective that acknowledges his strengths.
  • I begin where my child is: For me, this means I recognize that my child has unique needs, and these needs might vary from month to month,  day to day, even hour to hour. For example, my toddler has never slept through the night.  I remind myself that he is waking for a need, that this is simply where he “is” right now. I could  measure him against other children who were sleeping through the night significantly earlier, frustratedly and desperately wondering why he can’t string together a minimum of 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Instead, I try to remind that this is where he “is” developmentally. Sleep is a developmental milestone like any other, and he will achieve it at his own pace.
  • I respond to my child with empathy. I’m sure you’ve seen this compelling statement before: My child isn’t giving me a hard time, he’s having a hard time.  This view is grounded in empathy. Very little is as powerful as the feeling of being understood. When I respond with empathy to my child–to a hurt, to a behavior I’d like to curb, to a tantrum–I am not only acknowledging and reflecting his emotions, I am also helping to gently and naturally cultivate his own sense of empathy. I am modeling an effective, compassionate way to navigate interpersonal dynamics.
  • I respect my child’s right self-determination and autonomy. Within carefully constructed limits, obviously. A toddler’s favorite word? “No,” right? And that’s because he’s taking his autonomy for a test-drive and learning to assert himself. Engaging my child’s choice-making–however simple it may seem–fosters feelings of empowerment, stokes feelings of competence, and honors his voice. It can be this simple: “Would you like strawberries or bananas with your breakfast?” or “Would you like to put that lotion back in the cabinet, or would you like me to help you put the lotion back in the cabinet?”
  • The human relationship is…everything. The relationship I am nurturing with my son is, essentially, the blueprint for his future relationships. This is  the crux of attachment parenting, isn’t it?

And, of course, social work education is also chock full of other worthy, parenting-applicable insight, such as the stages of human and growth and development and theories surrounding attachment, family functioning, and the like.

I chose social work more than a decade ago out of passion for social justice and advocacy, and I full-heartedly feel it has made me a kinder, gentler, and saner parent than I would have been otherwise.

Rhianna returned to her social work career after the birth of her son…and lasted a whole three days before submitting her letter of resignation. She’s been a stay-home mama ever since, way more fulfilled in her role as mother than she ever was in her role as social worker. And that’s saying a lot.

5 Tips For Traveling Light and Stress-Free with Your Infant

Photo Credit: Dan Kuster, 2009

Have you booked your Spring and Summer travel, God(dess)? Don’t be scared, especially if you are lucky enough to have a beautiful, gurgling infant. My mom, in her infinite wisdom, gave me an awesome piece of advice when our daughter was born. She said, “Travel now while all you need is a boob and a diaper!” (or in our case, some boobies,  a baby potty, and some back-up cloth diapers). I think at the time I rolled my eyes, overwhelmed with 24/7 nursing, very little sleep, and the obligatory “peak crying” at 46 weeks.

However, as the purple haze of the first few weeks of mommyhood lifted, we began to plan trips on planes and automobiles, and it was actually fun! Most likely your first trip will be to a grandparent’s house. It is a great place to get your sea legs and adventure more from there. Please enjoy these tips for traveling with your infant…and GET GOING!

Tip 1: Bring your nursing pillow.

The breast idea in the entire world! When my husband first suggested this for our first flight from Boston to Iowa with our daughter, I balked at the idea. Seriously? That was not my idea of traveling light. But once I removed the cover and stuffed it with baby’s clothing, cloth diapers, and burp cloths I realized how brilliant this was. Not only did I have everything I needed at hand, but also had a comfy place for our daughter to sleep during the flight. The result? I nursed her during take-off, she fell asleep for the entire flight, and I got to snuggle her without getting an arm cramp while reading a book. Win win win!

Tip 2: Ditch the stroller, bring the carrier.

Strollers take up a lot of space. Babies are light and love to be close to you. Bring your carrier! You can literally sashay through the airport, adventure forever through museums, go on long walks with grandma, and sooth her if you need to. A bonus? They are all-terrain!

Choose a carrier that is correct for your babe’s development. A Moby and Baby K’tan are great for very young babies (and pack down small too). For those with more head and torso control, I recommend the Boba or Ergo style carriers.

Tip 3:  Don’t forget the duct tape!

Macgyvermama approved! Duct tape can fix anything. Got a hole in your muffler during a road trip? No problem. Need a prom dress? Whip one up! However, a roll of duct tape is also a cheap (and light) way to baby-proof where you are staying away from home. If your babe isn’t mobile yet you don’t have to worry about this, but if you have a crawler/cruiser on your hands, duct tape is just the thing you need to blast out some DIY socket covers in the hotel room. You can also use it to tie up loose curtain and electrical cords, keep drawers closed, and patch sharp corners. Remember, less stress = more enjoyment. (Just make sure it doesn’t take the paint off the wall).

Tip 4: Organize baby’s clothes

Babies are small. They have small shirts, small socks, and small pants. When packing for your child (after you have packed your suitcase, God(dess)) use small, reusable drawstring bags (or gallon Ziplock bags if you prefer) to organize clothing. One outfit (shirt, pants, socks, etc) goes in each bag. This avoids overpacking and reduces the barrier to getting baby dressed (or re-dressed throughout the day). Whoever is with baby at the time of a wardrobe change can simply pick a bag without disturbing Papa from his nap or Momma from her soak in the bathtub.

Tip 5: Leave space for pottying and/or changing

I snuck this one in to see if you were following the “Travel God(dess) 75% Rule” from our last travel post. If you have followed the rule, you already have plenty of space! Traveling by car? Leave space either in the backseat or trunk to comfortably potty and/or change your little world traveler. It is less stressful than trying to dodge dirty truckstop bathrooms with your bundle of joy. Traveling by plane? Good luck. Most planes have itty bitty changing tables and most seat inserts fit on airplane toilets. Just take a deep breath (or six) and imagine yourself in a Saturday Night Live skit.

Continue practicing Elimination Communication as much as you can while you are traveling. You will gain a lot more space by not having to pack as many diapers and a little potty/bowl is an easy thing to bring with you. You may be surprised how your little babe rises to the occasion of travel!

Worth a mention: If you are planning a trip overseas with your baby, call the airlines and reserve a flying bassinet. Baby not only can sleep in it, but it makes an excellent “play space” where baby can sit and admire her surroundings.

Next up, Traveling Light with Your Toddler! Join us in two weeks. Happy travels!

Stephanie’s daughter took her first road trip to see her Grandmother in Maryland at 4 months old. It ended up being an 11 hour trip full of traffic jams, the Jersey Turnpike, and nursing escapades. She was a complete rockstar and hardly fussed. That was more than she could say for her parents.

Fighting the Flu and Colds with Elderberry

Homemade elderberry syrup

As I spend more time on Facebook and Twitter, getting to know other moms and hearing their concerns, far and away the most common issue for this time of year is health.

If our kids aren’t sick, we’re taking intentional steps to keep them that way. And if they are, we’re making a concerted effort to get them well. While both the common cold and the flu generally need to just run their course, we can (and should) do all we can to lessen the symptoms and make our patients comfortable.

Simple steps, like hand-washing and avoiding sick friends (no matter how much you want to have that playdate) are key to prevention. One of our favorite winter-time supplements is elderberry though.

The elderberry is a tiny fruit that grows on a shrub or small tree. You can find them in the wild, and harvest them in the fall. (But please don’t eat them raw! Most varieties are poisonous in their raw state.)  If you’re not much for foraging, you can find them dried at your local health food store, or online at Mountain Rose Herbs.

What makes these itty bitty food so powerful? Elderberries contain flavonoids that boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. One recent study found that 90% of flu suffers given elderberry syrup were symptom free in 2-3 days, (1) whereas the placebo group took an average of six days.

Ready for this easy-peasy recipe?


1 cup dried elderberries (They are on sale at Mountain Rose Herbs for $10 for a one pound bag. Each bag has about 4 cups in it)

6 cups water

6 dried cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

1 inch of sliced ginger

1-2 cups raw honey


1 cinnamon stick (love me some sweet cinnamon)

a few cloves (can’t forget the cloves!)

some allspice berries (allspice is all right!)

a tablespoon of grated fresh ginger (gotta get the ginger)


Put berries and water in a pan and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer 30-45 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced in half.

Strain the berries and mash ’em up so you get all the good juice in those berries.

When your mixture is cool enough, add the honey. (You want to preserve the good enzymes in the raw honey!)

Bottle and refrigerate.

We take a tablespoon a day when we’re healthy, and up to 3 tablespoons a day if we’re sick.

(1) Zakay-Rones, Zichria; Varsano, Noemi; Zlotnik, Moshe; Manor, Orly; Regev, Liora; Schlesinger, Miriam; Mumcuoglu, Madeleine (1995). “Inhibition of Several Strains of Influenza Virus in Vitro and Reduction of Symptoms by an Elderberry Extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an Outbreak of Influenza B Panama”. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 1 (4): 361–9.

Tips for Cold Season

I’ve been fortunate that Anabella has only had one significant cold in nine months. But man, it was a doozy. She woke up one Sunday morning with what seemed like a bottomless fountain of clear liquid pouring from her nose. Over the course of a week, the thin liquid morphed into an Elmer’s glue-like substance, but ten days later, there’s not a trace of illness left.

Since colds are viral, we’re often told there’s not much you can do except wait them out. That can be very difficult, especially with a non-verbal, nursing baby. I wasn’t content to wait, and pulled out all the stops. Here are a few of my best baby cold remedies.

Steam, steam, steam. After realizing Anabella wasn’t going to sit quietly with a towel over her head and breathe in the steam from a bowl of hot water like I do, I had to rethink this option. Instead, we took baths nightly (and daily when things were really clogged). We kept the shower curtain closed, and jumped in as soon as there was an inch of water. I put a few drops of Eucalyptus oil in the water while the tub filled, and we both breathed the benefits, no towel needed. Eucalyptus is known for loosening congestion and improving lung function. You may notice your bathroom smells like Vicks Vapor Rub, only natural.

Steam is important to keep the congestion runny. In order to rid the body of the virus, you need to expel the congestion. If things get blocked up, it can lead to ear infections, difficulty breathing, and even vomiting. (I did notice that Anabella spit up more times during the week she had the cold than in the rest of her 9 months combined!) A warm mist vaporizer at night can also help with congestion.

Stand tall. I tried to keep Anabella vertical for most of her waking hours, and often let her sleep with her head resting on my arm, to help clear her nasal passages and speed up drainage. She also nursed upright in the ERGO which was a total lifesaver during this time. When energy is low, and babe’s not feeling well, carrying her close is a valuable remedy in itself.

Clear it out.
If you don’t have a Nosefrida Snotsucker Nasal Aspirator, they’re a worthy investment. We must have used this 10 times a day. I can’t say Anabella enjoyed it (the screams were my first clue), but I felt like I was able to “suck” out far more snot than I could with the bulb. I know it seems unhygienic, and gross. You’re probably thinking you could never use a tube that connected your mouth to your baby’s nasal passages, but it works. There are even YouTube videos that demonstrate. The difference in nursing after removing mucus from Anabella’s nose was remarkable.

Eat, drink, and be merry.
Keeping baby hydrated is key. Nursing is best, but sometimes Anabella was so congested she could barely latch. I tried hand expressing some milk into a cup, and that was a little easier. She also preferred water at times. I ate as well as I could, and included lots of raw garlic in my diet, as it’s a potent anti-viral. Anabella had a tiny bit too, but it’s pretty strong, so a little goes a long way. We cooked with onions almost every night, too. Onions contain sulphur, which breaks up mucus and increases circulation. Avoiding dairy is often recommended, because of its mucilagenic properties.

It can be stressful to have a sick baby (especially one that wakes up every 40 minutes screaming because breathing is so difficult), but our babies mirror our emotions, so it’s important to stay positive and remember that this too shall pass.

Do you have any tips to share?