Archive for the ‘Home and Garden’ Category

Less Cleaning, More Meaning

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Once again, I am rushing around trying to spruce things up before guests come over. Don’t get me wrong, things are picked up and relatively organized, but why does it always seem that stuff just appears right before visitors are due to arrive? I know for a fact those dust bunnies I can see under the chair as I walk up the stairs were NOT there last night. Neither were the fingerprints on all the light switches, nor the smear across the front of the refrigerator. Where does it all come from? Maybe from the two teenage boys, the dog, the cat, and the perpetual remodeling projects in progress both inside and outside the house?

So, I take a deep breath, rip a drooping, yellow leaf off a plant as I pass by to answer the door, and have a sudden flashback of a weekend my family spent camping out in a friend’s backyard. There was nothing fancy about it; in fact, the yard was filled with 19 old cars, all in various states of disrepair, a few stacks of tires, some rusted yard implements, and several little buildings (shacks?) in need of a fresh coat of paint, among other things. There were three different enclosures filled with chickens, doves, parakeets, cockatiels, and finches. Not to mention three or four domestic turkeys, as well as two wild turkeys that hopped the fence one day, hoping to make new friends, and decided to stay. That yard was a little boy’s dream, bursting with endless possibilities of exploration and discovery. Resort-like, it was not.

The thing that sticks in my mind the most, though, is how much fun we had. Those turkeys were a riot. Every time someone laughed, those silly birds would gobble. Laugh, gobble, snicker, gobble, giggle, gobble, gobble. We spent time with precious old friends, cemented friendships with couples we don’t get to see too often, and started new relationships with folks we had never met before. That ramshackle yard, with the mismatched stools set around some old doors for tables, the tub from an old washing machine commandeered as a fire-pit, and the goofy gobbles of the turkeys, became a haven. It wasn’t the place (although it did provide a lot of atmosphere!), but the people that made the weekend so special—the laughter, love, and open hearts of good people just spending time together. I can’t wait to go back.

As you rush around this holiday season, trying to fit in all the activities and functions that are a natural part of this time of year, I hope you find yourself not worrying about the dust and fingerprints, the stray sock on the floor, or the wad of dog hair in the corner. I hope you laugh with the turkeys and delight in the people you are with. I plan to. And my friend waiting at the door? I just kick the cat toys out of the way and greet her with open arms and a smile that comes straight from my heart.

Cost Saving E-Cloth Microfiber Cloths Offer Best Green Household Cleaning

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Check out what Rebecca Lacko, writer at Examiner.com,  had to say about E-Cloths, available at our sister site, Isabella.

Where Will Armchair Travels Take You?

Friday, September 18th, 2009

For a recent birthday, my boys gave me a great book about entertaining. Beautiful pictures with ornate silver, hors d’oeuvres, garden parties — you know, just what I do every weekend in my spare time! And yet, I just love to read through these books —  and cookbooks too, even though I’m not much of a cook. In fact, for years, I’d go to bed with a cookbook and absolutely devour them. Even though I don’t entertain too often, I absolutely love to read books about fabulous meals set with gorgeous dishes and freshly ironed tablecloths and just drink in the luscious photographs.

Am I dreaming? Perhaps, but I think that’s what these stunning books do – they transport us to the south of France, or a beautifully set table, or an extraordinary garden. Although my travels have not taken me too far from home, I’ve always counted on my books to take me places in my mind. And perhaps when I step outside on my deck, or pull another weed (or twenty!), I’ll take some bit of inspiration from these books.

As the summer comes to an end, consider doing some armchair traveling of your own with a book filled with stunning photos that inspire you. Cuddle up with your children and turn the pages – you may be surprised to find they are ooing and aahing right along with you!

Incredible Earth, Eye-Opening Photos of Our Powerful Planet (pictured above), can be found here:
http://www.chinaberry.com/prod.cfm/pgc/11200/sbc/11202/inv/15369

A Spoonful of Sugar

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Mary Jo, our Accounting Manager and mother of two adolescent boys, is sidetracked right now with a bad knee injury. The fact that she’s under doctor’s orders to lay really low, knee in a brace, isn’t helping her feel as organized or in control as she’d like to be. She was already behind with some housework when the accident happened. Additionally, her very elderly and relatively incapacitated grandmother is 2 months into a 4-month stay and guests are in town this weekend-enough to make nearly any mother’s head spin.

We’ve probably all been in this spot to some degree or another. Whether it’s because of doctor’s orders to lay low, because we’ve got such a bad bug that we can’t even think of getting out of bed, or because we’ve been called out of town to be with an ailing loved one, there are times when we just can’t do all that we expect of ourselves or that our families have come to depend on. We can go crazy with stress about it or do our best to surrender to the situation (which, I grant you, is no easy task). And there is a lot to be said for knowing that somewhere in the situation there may be an unforeseen gift.

In Mary Jo’s case, she’s using her incapacitation as an opportunity to show her boys how much she does as their mother and as the person who manages the household. (A priceless lesson, I’d say.) The first night, her younger son cooked his first dinner for the family: hot dogs, sliced oranges, potato chips, pineapple, and carrots. He also had to set the table and make tea for his great grandmother. And he had to time everything so that they ate at some semblance of the dinner hour! The next night, her other son concocted a dinner around sloppy joes. Acknowledging and wisely surrendering to her limitations, she called in a day care provider to help with her grandmother. Her husband has kicked it up a notch, too, despite a busy time at work, and her brother is driving the boys to school for the duration.

She told me that she watched “Mary Poppins” one night and was intent on looking for all the spoonfuls of sugar that she can find in this whole kerfuffle. When I last heard from her, she said that there really are quite a few spoonfuls. “The crutches should motivate me to do more pushups. My upper arms needed this workout,” was her last report. I had to chuckle-and marvel-at her willingness to find what makes this whole knee thing more than just an inconvenience. While she’s finding the silver linings, perhaps the most valuable gift in all of this is the fact that her kids get to step up to the plate and help with daily chores that they assumed (as most kids do) just miraculously happen. A gift for the boys in that they are learning how much their mom does and they now get to contribute to her, and a gift for Mary Jo in that her family now appreciates her on a whole new level. Silver linings, indeed!

The Family That Cleans Together…

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Children are natural helpers. They love to share our work. But we must slow ourselves down enough to make space for them to work at their own pace and in their own way. They may not do things to our exacting standards the first few years that they are helping us, but with lots of opportunity and encouragement, as well as a healthy dose of acceptance for a job almost done (especially when they are very young), they will grow into capable workers. Teach skills sequentially, gradually adding the more subtle details, and soon you will have children who can see the dirt in a dirty sink and know how to clean!

Once a week, we clean our house as a family. Dividing up the chores, we go through our list and clean everything all at once. Our younger children always have a cleaning partner and are given a small but important job to do. A three-year-old equipped with two paper sacks can quite skillfully be in charge of sorting the trash and the recycling. As long as there is someone in the room with them, my children have always been quite thrilled to have tangible work that is in their care. Each year as we give them more freedoms, we also add to their responsibilities. By the time they are ten, they are capable of doing all the simple chores around the house—dishes, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathrooms. They still like company when they work, but now their efforts are truly helping. When you clean as a family, no one has to be the “house slave.” More important, children learn that work is intrinsically satisfying and that it takes the whole family to make the home run smoothly.

Frugal Gardening

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

In past years, many spring weekends would find me at a local nursery, loading up on plants, eager to bring home the latest and greatest. More often than not, what I chose did not flourish in my mostly shady but dry garden. Finding plants that thrive in shade with little water has been quite the undertaking since most shade-loving plants simply drink up every drop of water you offer them. As I’ve become more and more aware  of this precious resource – not to mention my pocketbook – I’ve searched out drought-tolerant plants that do well in sun but can also prosper in a bit of shade.

My biggest success has come with a striking plant called Calandrinia grandiflora, a gift from a like-minded frugal-watering friend. When I saw these plants for sale at our local water conservation garden, I figured Calandrinia would fit right in with my limited watering scheme. And boy was I right!

The first year I planted it, I was rewarded with nodding stems of hot pink flowers emerging from beautiful grey green foliage shaped like flowers. I fell so in love with this plant that I wanted to have it in other areas too.

By using another economical gardening tip, I filled one hillside with my new favorite plant. Since I’d had success growing more succulents by putting broken-off tips into dirt, I thought I’d try this method on these plants too. One day, I broke off pieces of the mother plant and poked holes in the moist soil (kids love to help with this!). I watered the hillside sparingly, and while I lost some of the plants in my first season last year, most of them grew and even flowered.

This spring, I was rewarded with almost the entire hillside covered in spiky grey green shoots, covering so much of what had been bare soil (most of the ivy trailing down this hill had withered with my less-is-more watering plan). I’ve already planted Calandrinia in another area this spring, in hopes I’ll have even more flowers next year.

Anyone else have water-saving gardening tips? No doubt you’ll be helping other gardeners who want to conserve water but still enjoy a lush landscape.

For gardening with children, we recommend A Child’s Garden: 60 Ideas to Make Any Garden Come Alive for Children by Molly Dannenmaier. This book will inspire you to give your children the gift of growing up in direct contact with the natural world.

Healthy and Whole Foods on a Budget

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009


When my children were young, my husband and I were on the verge of being “poor.” One of the ways we kept costs down was to avoid buying packaged and processed food. Now recognized as not the most nutrient-filled items to eat, packaged and processed food didn’t give a grocery-shopper much bang for her buck back then (or today). So I attempted to cook using as many whole foods as I could get my hands on.

Trust me, I didn’t spend my days in the kitchen! I’d make a pot of legumes to use over the course of several meals, or freeze; a larger-than-needed serving of rice so that I could add some to soups or serve for breakfast with fruit, yogurt, and maple syrup; as many fresh vegetables available at a given time of year to use every which way. It really wasn’t very complicated. My family ate well and without spending too much money on food.

I bring this up because I think adults tend to believe that kids need their food jazzed up in some way and several generations removed from its natural state in order to eat it. Maybe kids believe that, too. (Madison Avenue has surely had its way finagling us into thinking we absolutely need what they are selling.) But truly, children are born with unadulterated taste buds and the real flavors of real food suit them perfectly. An apple slice is a fine treat to most. Almond butter on a whole grain cracker is a pleasure to eat. Sparkling water with a touch of unsweetened apple juice is an infinitely better choice than a soda, and unless your child has already consumed sickeningly-sweet soft drinks and thinks that is the way liquids are supposed to taste, will suit her just fine. Truly, unless and until we get our children addicted to food that has “flavoring” on the label, or is packed with sugar, they are generally delighted with many foods that are real and unadulterated.

To this day, my own kids, now adults, appreciate a piece of fruit from the farmers’ market and a sandwich made with real whole wheat bread more than they do something out of box that you have to unwrap. And they know their way around the kitchen and how to use basic ingredients to create meals.

There are many things I wish I could go back in time and do differently as a parent, but feeding my children real food from the start is one thing I know I did right.

Happy May Day

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Can you believe it’s already May??? Ever since I became a parent, time just seems to fly by at record speed. One day our family is celebrating the new year, and then, with Houdini-like magic, it’s Valentine’s Day, then Easter, then my twins’ birthday, then time to sign them up for summer camps. Isn’t it crazy?!?

Anyway, I digress… the photo is of the May Day 2009 Bloom from Susan McKinley Ross, toy and game designer. Check out our interview with Susan from last week for more information.

Here’s to life slowing down just long enough so we can catch our breath.

May Day History and Significance (from TheHolidaySpot.com):

Well, it is a fact that May Day, which the children do enjoy with all vibes, is not an overly prominent holiday in America. Yet, it does have a long and notable history as one of the world’s principal festivals. The origin of the May Day as a day for celebration dates back to the days, even before the birth of Christ. And like many ancient festivals it too has a Pagan connection.

For the Druids of the British Isles, May 1 was the second most important holiday of the year. Because, it was when the festival of Beltane held. It was thought that the day divides the year into half. The other half was to be ended with the Samhain on November 1. Those days the May Day custom was the setting of new fire. It was one of those ancient New Year rites performed throughout the world. And the fire itself was thought to lend life to the burgeoning springtime sun. Cattle were driven through the fire to purify them. Men, with their sweethearts, passed through the smoke for seeing good luck.

Then the Romans came to occupy the British Isles. The beginning of May was a very popular feast time for the Romans. It was devoted primarily to the worship of Flora, the goddess of flowers . It was in her honor a five day celebration, called the Floralia, was held. The five day festival would start from April 28 and end on May 2. The Romans brought in the rituals of the Floralia festival in the British Isles. And gradually the rituals of the Floralia were added to those of the Beltane. And many of today’s customs on the May Day bear a stark similarity with those combined traditions.

May day observance was discouraged during the Puritans. Though, it was relived when the Puritans lost power in England, it didn’t have the same robust force. Gradually, it came to be regarded more as a day of joy and merriment for the kids, rather than a day of observing the ancient fertility rights.

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Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

710 Games and Activities for Ages 12 Months to 10 Years
by Bobbi Conner

You will never hear the words ”I’m bored” again from your children if you own this extraordinary book. It would take years for anyone to play all the games and do all the activities within its pages, so there’s the grand feeling of always having something new and marvelous to play, learn, or create. It is set up so you can begin when your child is a year old and keep going for ten years, adding more and more ways to imagine and create, run, jump, skip and exercise, be outside with nature, laugh and be silly, and share good times with others. All this instead of watching TV, surfing the Net, or playing video games that aren’t really about being connected, happy, and alive.

What a gift this book is. There are great pages with information about what children need at every stage of growing — how creative play helps children develop healthily and with joy. Each age range has sections: Solo Play, for the times you need children to play on their own; Play Ideas for Parent and Child to do together; Playing with Others, and Birthday Party and Group Play. The appendixes support family game nights and creating a well-stocked toy cupboard to be ready for fun at any time. I can’t imagine a childhood without this book now, so I am giving one to every child I know and love.

Attack of the Robot Gardeners

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

(Or The Cherry Tomato-nator)

While I’m hoping to be proven spectacularly wrong here, I can’t help but hope a gardening article I recently encountered is not one of those deeply ironic signs of some ridiculously unnecessary science fiction-themed Armageddon heading our way.

I, robot — and gardener: MIT droids tend plants

By MELISSA TRUJILLO, Associated Press Writer - Fri Apr 10, 2009 11:25AM EDT

These gardeners would have green thumbs — if they had thumbs.

A class of undergraduates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created a set of robots that can water, harvest and pollinate cherry tomato plants.

The small, $3,000 robots, which move through the garden on a base similar to a Roomba vacuum, are networked to the plants. When the plants indicate they need water, the robots can sprinkle them from a water pump. When the plants have a ripe tomato, the machines use their arms to pluck the fruit.

Even though robots have made few inroads into agriculture, these robots’ creators hope their technology eventually could be used by farmers to reduce the natural resources and the difficult labor needed to tend crops.

Last spring, Daniela Rus, a professor who runs the Distributed Robotics Lab at MIT, began a two-part course. In the first semester, the students learned the basics of creating and using robots. By the fall, the students were ready to have robots tackle a real-world problem. Rus and Nikolaus Correll, a postdoctoral assistant in Rus’ lab, challenged the students to create a “distributed robotic garden” by the end of the semester.

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