Archive for the ‘Home and Garden’ Category

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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Feeding Your Green Baby

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

 

Feeding Your Green Baby

Feeding Your Green Baby

I found this article on the MomsMenu.com website. It was written by Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers from http://freshbaby.com.

If you are looking to reduce your carbon footprint making organic baby food is a great way to go. Consider the green facts:

Organic- Organic fruits and vegetables are the best choice for making baby food. They are the most natural ingredients and organic foods drastically reduce harm to the environment.

Less waste - When you make your own baby food, there are no jars, labels or metal lids to dispose or to recycle.

No factory required - Just a little energy to steam foods and run a blender is all you need to make your baby’s meals! Did someone say near “zero” greenhouse gases?

Local - Your baby’s food does not need to trucked to you from a factory thousands of miles away. Instead you can simply buy organic produce from your local farm market and get started.

Healthy - Homemade baby food is safe and nutritious. Baby food jars are often lined with bisphenol-A, a controversial hormone disruptor that should be avoided. In addition, homemade baby food has no preservatives, additives or chemicals - it is pure and natural goodness.

Homemade baby food and healthy meals in less than 30 minutes per week:

To prepare: Wash, peel and cut fresh fruits or vegetables, then stove-top steam or microwave in less than 10 minutes. Create a very smooth texture with a blender of food processor. Add a little water if needed to reach pudding-like texture. Pour into baby food storage trays, cover and freeze overnight. Pop cubes out and store in freezer in an air-tight container or freezer bag. Frozen baby food cubes last up to 2 months.

To Serve: Select frozen baby food cubes from the freezer place in a dish and thaw or warm. Stir food before serving and check the temperature. If you want to thicken something, use baby cereal, yogurt or mashed banana. For thinning, use breast milk/formula, 100% juice or low-sodium soup stock.

Making healthy Meals: You can mix different baby food cubes together to create tasty, healthy meals. You can also add yogurt, melted cheese, ground nuts, mashed pasta/rice to introduce new flavors and textures. Here are a few ideas:

  • Green peas and sweet potatoes
  • Butternut squash and mashed banana
  • Broccoli, cauliflower and melted cheese
  • Peaches, pears and oatmeal baby cereal
  • Black beans, corn and rice
  • Strawberries, apples, yogurt and ground pecans

The bottom line: Making baby food is a great gift to give the environment and your baby. Plus homemade baby food tastes great. Who knows? Your baby may even grow up to like the taste of Brussels sprouts and mangoes!

Apple Puree

6 medium golden delicious apples

Step 1: Prep - Wash, peel, core and cut apples into one-inch (3 cm) slices.

Step 2: Cook - Place apples in a microwave safe dish. Cover. Cook 5 minutes and let stand for 5 minutes. Cook an additional 5 minutes. The apples are done when they can be pierced easily with a fork.

Step 3: Puree - Place apples and cooking juices into a blender or a food processor. Puree to a smooth texture.

Step 4: Freeze - Spoon into So Easy Baby Food Trays or ice cube trays. Cover. Place in freezer eight to 10 hours or overnight. Remove cubes from trays, place in storage container or freezer bag, and return immediately to the freezer.

Makes 24 1-ounce servings. Stays fresh for two months in the freezer.

To serve, select frozen apple cubes from the freezer, defrost and warm, check the temperature and feed.

Age to introduce: About 6 months.

About the Authors:
Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children and founders of Fresh Baby (www.FreshBaby.com). They are the creators of the award-winning So Easy Baby Food Kit and Good Clean Fun Placemats.

The Magic of Good Soil

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Years ago when I was new to gardening, I would read books about amending the soil and be absolutely mystified about this. What was organic matter and where do you get it? Since I wanted flowers, I went ahead and dug a hole and plopped my rose bushes into the ground. When they barely bloomed, I wondered what I was doing wrong.

A few years later, we were in the process of buying a house with a much larger garden and discovered that the owners were meticulous gardeners, with plans and drawings of their garden from bare dirt and stories about what worked and what didn’t. When I marveled at the huge trees, they mentioned the trees were planted from one-gallon pots, lovingly watered and regularly weeded.

One day while we were visiting (these generous souls had us over practically every weekend, while our house was still their house,  to share stories, show us their manuals for practically everything, and — now that I look back on it — gently ease their way out of their home of 38 years), I noticed a huge mound of leaves at the end of the driveway. Doris and Glenn proudly showed me their compost heap. They added leaves, water, and this and that and ended up with this marvelous dark rich soil – black gold, they called it – that they added to their soil. Even though they lived in an area known for loose-draining soil, theirs was rich and held water well. This was their secret to the majestic beauties that made this yard more of a park.

Just like in cartoons, a light bulb went off above my head and I “got” what amending the soil was all about. Compared to what I read in books, this made a lot more sense. And perhaps, even more importantly, I now understood the benefits, since the evidence was right in front of me.

We’ve now been in this house and garden more than 20 years, but I fondly remember the story of how those trees grew from something so small into something truly majestic. Now that I know the secret, I have a lot more garden successes, with my trusty compost heap to help me along the way!

Thinning Out the Garden and Our Lives

Thursday, March 19th, 2009


Spring finds me out in my garden every chance I get. Nothing is as nourishing to me as working the warm soil, seeing new growth on trees, and stumbling across new shoots of plants that looked all but dead in the torrid days of August. Few other things are as much of a delight as receiving my order of seeds from my favorite seed catalog, sketching the vegetable garden layout, and then preparing the soil. My son, Evan (a.k.a. Mr. Dirt), loves to help me. He’s the self-appointed organizer of the earthworms, and as we move along digging in the soil, he picks up every one, says something admiring to it, then places it exactly where he thinks life will be good to it. The cats drop by to visit us, mourning doves touch down a safe distance away to check us out, and if I hear our phone ringing, too bad. When I’m in the garden, I’m immersed in another world.

When it comes time to plant the seeds, the dirt is so fine and smooth that all we need do is run our fingers through it, making a shallow line. Evan’s the expert at distributing the seeds, and does so one by one, no matter how tiny they are. (Last year, he admonished me for shaking the seeds directly from their package into the soil, explaining that each seed needs to be touched by the person planting it. “That makes sense,” I think to myself.) So the seeds go in, the rows are reasonably straight, I note in my gardening journal exactly what went where, and finally we lightly mist the soil, wishing the seeds a healthy life. Few times during a year do I feel as alive, as accomplished, as good as I do when I’ve planted my garden with care. Then, about two weeks later, the sprouts appear, and soon it’s time to thin the seedlings according to package directions.

Now, as anyone who gardens knows, “thinning” means plucking out sometimes three quarters of the baby plants so that the ones left will have enough room to grow. It’s my least favorite part of gardening. In fact, most of the time I can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t simply discard what turns out to be most of the seedlings-healthy seedlings-that have sprouted, at my beckoning, in the soil I’ve so carefully prepared. Nope. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. “Somehow, they’ll all manage to survive,” I tell myself. But, of course, what always happens is that as the plants grow, they eventually crowd each other out. Not having the space or nutrients they need, all of them become less pest- and disease-resistant. Gnarly and mottled, they die an early death, and even though I know from experience that this will happen, I still can’t bring myself to thin the rows of seedlings.

Yesterday afternoon, as I scrutinized the dense new strips of one-inch tall sprouts, I was struck by the similarity between those crowded rows and a pitfall of modern family life. In an effort to expose our children to the right things, we expose them to too much, in hopes that a few of their encounters will “take.” But what really happens is that life gets too crowded and nothing really flourishes. It just seems to be made up of a bunch of experiences, all of which turn out to be shallow, because there is no time in between them. There is no time to daydream; no time to be with one experience (or toy or whatever) before the next experience is plopped in front of them; no time to dig deeply enough into anything and realize that it could grow to be a passion if it were well-tended. It is so easy to lose focus of the fact that just as seedlings simply need good soil, the right environment, and room to grow, children have equally simple needs: love, respect, and space to be themselves. Life can get so cluttered, and then it’s hard to thin it out- just like my rows of seedlings.

Early this morning, before it was light, I heard the unmistakable sounds of one of our neighborhood skunks rooting through the garden. I sneaked out our bedroom door and sat for a long time on the steps in the warm night air, straining to see him (her?) in the darkness. I didn’t want to scare him away, for I knew he was up to something very important, indeed. In dawn’s first light, he finally left, and I made my way over to the garden, knowing what I would find. Sure enough, he’d been feasting on grubs and things, and in doing so, had uprooted most of my seedlings. Granted, the job wasn’t quite as orderly as I’d have done it (had I ever done it), but my rows were now thinned, and each plant would have enough space, soil, sun, and fresh air in which to thrive. I chuckled, and wondered if some giant skunk would ever lumber into my life and thin it out!

The Joy of Plants

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

I looked up at my calendar yesterday to discover that it’s Plant a Flower Day on March 12. What a great idea to have a day devoted to plants! Just think of all the joy plants bring us, and they sure make our yards, decks, patios and offices look beautiful. Not to mention the benefits of having plants indoors to freshen up our air, literally.

If you want to encourage your kids’ interest in plants, try something easy like succulents. These plants thrive with little water, come in a myriad of colors and styles, and are extremely forgiving with little hands. In fact, if an eager tug results in a broken piece, just put that piece in the dirt and more times than not, it will thrive.

In fact, one of my fondest gardening memories with my boys was when they had a friend over and they all “decorated” a mound of dirt in a rusty old wheelbarrow with broken-off pieces of these wondrous plants. I was not sure how long their creation would last, especially since I was quite a newbie gardener back then. Years later, that wheelbarrow is spilling over with a beautiful assortment of succulents that at times is almost breathtaking. Just looking at that wheelbarrow brings back the excitement of that afternoon.

So enjoy some of nature’s finest plants with your kids now and you’ll be making some beautiful memories — as well as some pretty cool plants!