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February 21, 2020

Picture Book March Madness 2020

It is my favorite time of year, March Madness! No - not basketball, that is for my significant other. No this is a tournament of books! I first started participating in a book March Madness in 2016. I originally found the idea from The Brown Bag Teacher.

In 2016 I used Dr. Seuss books and had the whole school participate as it aligned with Read Across America Week. However now those are not books that are used in my classroom. Now my books are thoughtfully selected to represent diverse people in a variety of cultures and settings. Click here to see the contenders from last year.

This year I researched books that were published in 2019 as I wanted to expose my students to books that they may not hear in their future grades. My students in the past have loved seeing which book would win and there was a huge buy in factor.

The Process

Selecting the Books

I spend a few days researching books that have been released the year prior. I want to share books with my students that they have most likely not yet read. I use different lists in Google searches but most look at the diverse books most recently published.

Pairing the Books

I try to pair my books based on themes that most likely make sense. This year I have the grandparents, different religions, stories centered around food, tough topics such as being a refugee and friendship. I try to also not select a book that would be a clear favorite. I really want to encourage thoughts and conversations.

Create the Bracket

I use Google Slides to create my bracket so that it is easy to display and less printing of pictures. You can click here for a copy, I have started setting up 2021 already.

The Competition 

I begin during the first week of March. Each morning I will read either 1 or both of the books that are competing. After reading the second one I will give each student a ticket and they will place it in the bucket of their choice. They are always so excited to do this.

The Contenders

And The Winner Is....

Check back to see our votes for this year!

February 17, 2020

My Journey With Switching to Non-toxic Products

Disclaimer - this post contains ALL of the product switches I have/will make. The information is overwhelming and frustrating. I did NOT make all changes at once and am still making changes. The biggest reason I am making these changes is due to certain chemicals being endocrine disrupters aka they mess with our hormones. 

Over the last few months I have been making conscious changes to the products that I use in my everyday life. There are many reasons that I am doing this but the main one is to provide a better and more healthy living environment for my family. I am very passionate in sharing better options for products with those I love and I wanted to share with you what I use.
**The images included are mostly not my own and used from the company.

Nontoxic changes go beyond the chemicals you use to clean your house. For me, they include what you eat, wear, cook with and clean with. Some of my changes also had a change in my environmental impact, I believe that these two elements go hand in hand. I use Branch Basics which utilizes a concentrate and reusable bottles, this limits the amount of plastic I use.

In my journey of finding the best not-toxic products I have noticed that just because a product has a really great advertising budget does not mean they are the best products. Mrs. Meyers is everywhere, but most of their products have a D rating (A-F scale) on the EWG website.Are they better than traditional products? Yes, but they are far from the best.

Why switch to non-toxic?

Personally a lot that drives me is the desire to begin a family. The scariest thing to me is that due of the chemicals I encounter every day I could become infertile. And many of these chemicals have not been tested for safety in human. HOW?! For years I have believed that the food we eat has a direct impact on us, it has just taking me longer to get to other products. What is comforting to know is that now that the damages of chemicals are being shared more, there are more companies making better products. Our money drives companies, if we stop buying crap ideally they will stop making crap. I have been doing research on this lately and it is kind of crazy to me that the EPA has shared that indoor air quality of homes may be worse than outside and our cleaning products could be one of those reasons. I also started to wonder why should pregnant women avoid certain products? To me if I shouldn't use it or be around it when pregnant, then it should just not be used. Also, just because something is organic does not necessarily mean it is the best option for you. Organic will certainly be better, but it is still not the end all be all. Do your research. Spend the time now and it will be easy to pull your favorite/best products.

Chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA), formaldehyde, phthalates and toxic flame retardants, are easily absorbed into our bodies and have been linked to obesity, infertility, asthma, heart disease and even cancer.

How I Switched

It is very overwhelming to think about changing EVERYTHING you use. This was NOT an immediate switch for me and I am still changing over some products. I also want to add that I am by no means an expert on non-toxic products and anything I share is what works for ME. My goal is to simply do the best changes I can and if something cleaner comes along I will use that. Everything I use is what works for me and you should do the same. 

I utilize the Environmental Working Group website constantly to check their ratings of products. The reason I trust EWG is because they work to examine the ingredients in our everyday products that are not regulated. They call out dangerous chemicals and the companies that use them. They produce the dirty dozen list of foods to buy organic to avoid toxic pesticides. If a product is EWG verified it means that it has strict standards and does not contain chemicals that could be harmful. For example: USA cosmetics can contain chemicals that are banned in the EU and Canada, some chemicals are even known to cause cancer. 


Honestly - my anger is what drives me. Drives me to pay off debt and drives me to remove crap and harmful products from my life.

Want to Make a Change?

So where to start. Maybe pick an area of your home like the kitchen or laundry room. Perhaps start changing what you use the most or that impacts your skin because chemicals can be easily absorbed through like skin. Try a new soap, moisturizer or lotion.  Overall cleaning products might be the best place to start. This will be more of a cost because you may want to switch them before you have finished using the product. Overall, as I finished a product I simply replaced it with a better choice. 

My Product Changes

I began by changing the products that I use the most or when I run out of my old product. Yes it is important to me to make these changes, but the budget does not always allow for it. The first change I made was my cleaning products and meat. I switched to companies like Branch Basics (link contains my referral link to give us both $10 off) and Butcher Box (link contains my referral to give us both $30 off). Some of my purchases below are due simply to they are the best rated and in my local store. I try to minimize my online shopping.

Ditch the Plastic

Image result for plastic in ocean 2050
This should honestly be everyone's first switch. Get rid of the junk that is being put into our body. Cutting boards, containers, water bottles....all of it.
What to use: glass, cast iron, bamboo, stainless steel, silicone.

Why? Plastic in our systems has been linked to health issues like infertility. I also will avoid BPA free as to me, plastic is plastic. One day there will be more plastic bottles in the ocean than fish. This is an immediate and widely beneficial change you can make. Stop with single use plastic. I recognize that my privilege allows me to buy reusable utensils, but also I take my fork from my kitchen drawer every day for lunch, if you are reading this I am sure you can do the same.

If you haven't yet ditched those plastic food containers, make sure you do not heat your food in them.

Looking for an easy way to make a change? Visit Pop of Health for lots of great ways to start making the switch. Her Non Tox Box would make for an awesome birthday of holiday gift idea for friends and family!

Grocery Bags

This is an easy way to ditch the plastic by using reusable bags. I purchased my mom bags a few years ago and more recently we switched to produce bags. Because honestly, that is such a huge and easy way to stop using plastic.

Kitchen Changes

This was a relatively easy change. I purchased these glass containers from Costco, 2 sets and got rid of everything else.
Snapware Pyrex 18-piece Glass Food Storage Set
Glass containers from Costco for $35
I was going to purchased the Clearly FIltered pitcher to replace our Brita. It is a much better option.
Image result for clearly filtered water filter pitcher
After going back and forth between two water filters I have decided to splurge for the Berkey Travel Size. Both seem very comparable, and at the end of the day I like that the Berkey doesn't use plastic and that the filters will last longer.
Travel Berkey
For on the go water and in my coffee pot (speaking of, ditch the k cups), I use the Go Pure Pod. I am planning on purchasing at least 2 more for both of us to keep in our water bottles. I HATE when I run out of water at school and end up purchasing single use bottles. I feel like the water at school has a chlorine smell to it. I hated the taste. Used the pod and while the smell was still there it tasted SO MUCH BETTER. Best $25 I have spent in a long time.

GOpure pod

Stasher bags are HIGH on my list and I have just not purchased them yet. My plan is to use up the ziploc bags we have and then purchase. These are also on my wedding registry.

So long plastic cutting boards! I will be purchasing a bamboo or wooden one, preferably with the ridge.
Cutting Board, Wood Chopping Boards for Kitchen with Deep Juice Groove Organic Acacia, Butcher Block for Meat and Vegetable, Wooden Serving Board with Grip Handles BPA Free - Medium,Gift Box Included
Who knew that they bleached parchment paper to get it white?! Considering I do not even use bleach I certainly do not want it anywhere near my food. Thankfully this is an easy switch at target. 
Image result for if you care parchment paper
No more aluminum foil, unless it is under the mat. I am a huge fan of these silicone mats. I thiink I found mine at Costco.

These sponges were an impulse purchase but I LOVE THEM. Throw them in the microwave or dishwasher to sterilize...hello limiting waste! Honestly, they work, I have used the same sponge for months!
SCOTCH-BRITE Scrubber Sponge, 4-1/2"L, Brown, PK3

Cleaning Products

"Clean can come with a price". Is it worth it?

My Branch Basics All Purpose Spray is my go to for wiping down anything in the kitchen, or anywhere.

Image result for aspenclean floor cleaner concentrate
I have also switched to a Spray Mop that I can use my own solution for. Yes I have a mop and bucket but I was over it. It took me months to spend the $20 on this microfiber mop but I am SO glad I did.

Image result for aspenclean floor cleaner concentrate

This HEPA vacuum is on my wedding registry. Why HEPA? The vacuums are more efficient at trapping small particles and likely remove more contaminants than a regular vacuum.

Image result for shark hepa vacuum

Dish-washing Products

One thing I learned through experience is not all brands have equally clean products. I purchased a Seventh Generation Dish Liquid since it was a brand I use often and came home to discover it had a D rating by EWG.
I found this at my local Walmart.
Image result for aspenclean dish soap

EWG Verified Products

AspenClean is a Canadian brand and their products can be purchased off their website or in Canadian stores or CA Amazon. I have now switched almost exclusively to these products because I am honestly so impressed. At the end of the day I want the cleanest and AspenClean is that and actually works and is affordable.
Natural Dishwasher Pods Unscented 
This window cleaner is what first sold me. Holy goodness was it amazing. I love that they pair their products with a color coded microfiber cloth. Makes it so easy and environmentally friendly.

Laundry Products

I used Branch Basics for while and wanted to save my concentrate for my every day cleaner. I found these pods at my Walmart.

Natural Laundry Detergent Unscented
This product is EWG Verified but only available to purchase on their website. Or in Canada.
Dryer sheets are a product I have not used a lot because they often leave a strong smell that I have found myself sensitive to. However, on more research I found how truly bad they are to use. I have been utilizing 100% wool dryer balls that just did not seem to cut it in regards to static. I have read that you can attach a safety pin to help with the static cling but have not tried that. In the summer/spring I line dry but needed something for winter to remove the static. 
Grab Green Natural Wet Dryer Sheets, Unscented/Free & Clear, Fabric Softener & Static-Reducer, 64 Loads, Reusable & Compostable, Fragrance Free
These sheets I found definitely reduce my static cling issue. They are also biodegradable with I LOVE. You use each sheet twice, they are also cruelty free and made in the USA.

I will also be switching to 100% organic cotton (because it is grown without pesticides) bedding in the near future. Again, I use it everyday so I want the best and support those farmers who are doing it right and sustainably.

Personal Care

It is time to take ownership and read our labels. Look for products that are phthalate- and paraben- free. Again, if I am making the switch to better products I want the best and that means EWG verified.

Image result for everyone unscented lotion
This lotion is amazing and worked really well for my awful winter hands.
Image result for everyone body wash
I love this soap, do not love that it comes in a plastic container
Image result for beautycounter bar soap
Image result for 3 organics bar soap
I am looking for clean bar soaps to cut down even more on my plastic waste. From the reviews I have read this bar seems to be last a lot longer than others that are equally as clean. I will report back!
Image result for attitude sensitive skin hand cream
It is exciting seeing such a big brand clean up their products. 
Brands that seem to have an overall clean line of products.

Also - I have yet to switch my toothpaste to a better option. Progress people!


Branch Basics is my go to for removing germs. I have not used Lysol or Clorox wipes in a while because I do believe in the development of super bugs. 

We are loving this hand soap! Found at Walmart. The first one we tried and still use is the Meyer Lemon and Mandarin in the foaming hand wash.


This is the area that is the last I am switching. Simply because I have a full supply and I do not use makeup that much. My biggest focus is skin care ( I tell myself if I have the clean product on before makeup it will help) and then I will switch out the makeup as it expires.

My biggest gripe is that so many clean products are not readily accessible. As you'll see many of the products that I actually purchase are done so at my local Walmart.

I like supporting companies like BeautyCounter as they are out there advocating and fighting for changes in the beauty industry. I finally too the plunge and bought myself a skin care set. I also bought one for my mom, I got her the CounterTime as an early Mother's Day gift. We are both loving how our skin is feeling and looking!

Feminine Care

Ladies - as I am sure you know, deodorant is really important as the aluminum in our normal products can be linked to breast cancer. This was the first switch I made. 

My go to is primally pure. This is half the price and available at Walmart.
Click here for 10% off your order for Primally Pure.
Image result for primally pure charcoal deodorant

Ladies - again, when it comes to our sanitary products, 100% organic as it will not be treated with pesticides. I personally love Cora as it donates products to allow girls to go to school and not have to miss due to their cycle. However, I do not have a regular cycle and a subscription does not work best for me.

OI are the New Zealand products I use as they are available at my local stores.

My Classroom

I was originally using my Branch Basics Bathroom Cleaner to remove germs in my classroom. However, in the cold and flu season I am stepping up to this disinfecting spray.
I also have big feelings on hand sanitizer, however, I teach littles and want to do my best to keep them from getting sick. I push washing our hands before we eat and occasionally use this spray. Found at Walmart.
**This has a very strong herbal scent to it that most of my class was fine with. However, one student was not a fan (the odor lingered in the air when they came into school). So I will spray at the end of each day and allow my room to air out.

Air Fresheners 

These are a HUGE issue when it comes to toxic chemicals. Fragrance is one of the trickiest chemicals listed on an ingredient list because it can truly be an umbrella term for anything. It is very similar to "natural flavors" in our food. Essentially if you walk into my home you will not have floral smells hitting you when you walk in the door. I use products to remove odors and essential oils in candles.

In addition to bamboo charcoal I have been researching the best air purifying plants. So there is that, I am a plant lady now, HA. 

Candles can be a big no no due to the waxes used as well and the wicks. I purchased my Beeswax candles off of the recommendation of a trusted company. I'll be honest, they do not smell great when you sniff them, I expected more of a honey scent. I love that they use 100% beeswax from a local bee farmer. They are also a woman owned small family business.
Beeswax Candle - 10 oz
Welch and Candle Company Beeswax Candles
Know better = do better. In this original post I shared a candle company that I liked but was questioning their ingredient list. This company used therapeutic grade essential oils for their fragrance. Well, little did I know that potentially essential oils can become toxic at high heat - i.e. burning them in a candle.This is where stuff gets frustrating because I am not throwing out the candles I have purchased. I am just telling myself for now that it has to be a better option with essential oils, not the best.

In the future I am looking to diffuse 100% organic essential oils. Again, this is down the road because spending $60 on a diffuser and oils is not a necessity nor currently in the budget.

In the future when we buy our forever home I will be splurging on paint  that is low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Baby Care*

*I do not have my own children, however, a huge part of this journey is preparing a clean home for my current and future family. While I have not yet used these products they are currently the ones that I have found to try. And when it comes to clothing and linens - 100% cotton, organic if possible. Do I have a secret Amazon list of baby items? You better believe I do!

Also - keep in mine when buying car seats and other materials you want the material to be free of chemicals like flame retardants. 

EWG Verified
Attitude is another overall good brand of clean products.
EWG Verified

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day I am just trying to do what is best for my health and the health of my family. I fully recognize the privilege I have in order to afford to switch my products. It is also important to note that I budget for all of these changes. I live in a modest income, but safe products and quality food are high on my list of priorities for where my money goes.

 I have a HUGE privilege of my parents living on 3 acres and growing a ton of our own produce and raising our own chickens for eggs. I am also fortunate to live in a state with quality/local meat. I am aware and so grateful for all these factors. I will also continue to use my privileges to support my family in changing their products and advocating for the government to change our laws so that so many more people can have access to affordable and safe products.


Here are posts I have read of other people and their journey into non-toxic homes

Pop of Health

Personal Care Products - as always, do your own research