Archive for the ‘Home and Garden’ Category

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!

Spring Cleaning (aka Mom vs. Clutter)

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Spring Cleaning? In my house, it’s more like spring, summer, fall and winter cleaning. Where do we store all the stuff we don’t use very often?  Some favorites are in a “spare” room, a large closet, the garage, or even a storage unit –  in our family, it’s the garage. I am so envious of people who can actually fit their car(s) in their garages — wow, what a concept. Although I try to live by many of the principles of voluntary simplicity, sometimes the road to simpler isn’t always easy or simple. This is the third time in only two years that I’ve attempted to clean & organize our garage. I used to think I was somewhat organized… then I had kids. Enough said.

The ‘Mom vs. Clutter’ match went something like this:

  • In this corner we have the current champion, the infamous Clutter; and in the other corner sits the stressed-out, always-exhausted, overwhelmed challenger, Mom. [spectators cheer loudly]
  • Round 1: Two years ago: We moved into our new home. I only had enough time & energy left to stack the multitude of packing boxes in one (large) area of the garage. Round goes to Clutter.
  • Round 2: One year ago: I bought a bunch of plastic tubs and moved all our stuff from the cardboard packing boxes into the tubs. At least it appeared to be more organized. Round again goes to Clutter.
  • Round 3: Last October: I started in and I’m almost done now, only five months later. This time I was serious about organizing our stuff.
    Some things I pondered as I cleaned:

    • How many stuffed animals do my two girls need? Four tubs full? Definitely not, but how do I give away all those cute little critters that seem to mean so much to my kids?
    • When am I actually going to have time to fix all those broken toys and damaged clothes? Yep, probably never.
    • (more…)

A Home for Cats

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

If you’re a cat-lover like I am, you just have to check out this video of a great cats’ house, created by home owner Bob Walker.

You can also “visit” The Cats’ House own website: www.thecatshouse.com.

Wild and Wintry - Searching for Animals During Wintertime

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

The following excerpt is taken from I Love Dirt by Jennifer Ward.

Cold winters are certainly a bit quieter than the summertime, regarding what’s out and about. It’s a less active time for many species that adapt to cold temperatures by seeking shelter or migrating to warmer climates. However, it’s not a completely vacant time in nature. Many animals remain active throughout the winter, even in the coldest temperatures. You need only look and see.

Have your children search for animals that are present in the wintertime, such as cardinals, owls, deer, squirrels, blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, bunnies, foxes, and so on. Even though you may not see an animal, chances are you’ll see evidence that it has been around. The lack of foliage on trees makes spying a bit easier, however, and animals leave tracks and trails though the snow. Chances are you’ll have great luck finding wintry wildlife.

Look for evidence with your children, be it in your backyard, at a park, or throughout your neighborhood:

  • Food caches, such as seeds and nuts. Look but don’t touch. Animals hid these food stores specifically to help them survive the winter, when less food is available.
  • Chew marks. Many animals will nibble and eat bark from trees, since leaves are sparse. If you’re near a natural water source, beavers are probably burrowed in their dens, but chances are you can find evidence of their existence from chewed branches and logs.
  • Tunnels and burrows in the snow.
  • Sounds. Can you hear birdcalls? Squirrel chatter? A coyote’s howl?

Keep a journal of your discoveries, and use a sketchbook to render what you see.

Detoxing the Kids’ Rooms: The Dirty List

Monday, January 26th, 2009

The following excerpt is taken from Squeaky Green, the Method Guide to Detoxing Your Home, written by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry:

The Dirty List: Kids’ Rooms
This is the nasty stuff that you should be eliminating from your life, if you followed all of our tips and suggestions.

  • PVC Plastic Toys
    Toys made from PVC and vinyl contain phthalates that leach into the body through the skin and when placed in the mouth. Solution: ditch any plastic with the number “3″ and be suspicious of any soft plastics. Generally the harder the plastic, the less likely it is to leach. A good test is to smell the plastic; if you can smell plastic it means it is off-gassing and you are breathing it.
  • Diaper and Wipes Bleached with Chlorine
    Diapers and wipes that are bleached with chlorine (which is how that diaper gets white) can rub onto your little one’s skin. Solution: reach for nonbleached or chlorine-free instead.
  • Nonbiodegradable Wipes
    While the eco-diaper dilemma is a tough one, it is easy to switch to biodegradable wipes. Most of the traditional wipe brands are full of plastic filler so they live in landfills for centuries. Solution: befriend biodegradable wipes.
  • Mattress and Bedding Residue and Off-Gas
    Traditional mattresses and bedding can contain synthetic materials that can transfer residue or off-gas while your child sleeps. Solution: demand natural options such as organic for anything that goes into the bed. Same goes for those fluffy stuffed animals.


This is for the Birds: A Midwinter Tree

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Making a feast tree for the birds and small woodland animals that live by our home has always been one of my children’s most treasured holiday activities. They love the whole process—making the food, decorating the tree and then watching through the kitchen window as the little animals eat their treats. We usually make our tree for the birds out of our own Christmas tree after we have dismantled it, but most any tree will do. We drag it outside to a sheltered spot in the backyard where we can unobtrusively observe the animals’ doings and then decorate it with all kinds of yummy bird and squirrel treats. This is a fun activity that preschoolers manage with ease. In case you are interested in trying this out for yourself, here are a few ideas on how to decorate your tree.

  • Strings of Popcorn—All you need to make this welcome delicacy is plenty of freshly popped corn (omit the butter and salt) and a needle and thread for each person. Knot the thread and then carefully push the needle through the popcorn. Some young children have trouble making these, as the popcorn needs to be threaded with a light touch or it tends to crumble. You’ll have to judge your child’s dexterity level. Some enjoy this activity greatly; others find making popcorn strands tedious. Our family has found that if we appoint one person to read aloud and have the rest of the family stringing, our popcorn strings grow much longer with much less effort. We have tried stringing cranberries but the animals in our area, anyway, don’t seem to care for them.
  • Peanut Butter Pinecones—This treat is always the first to be eaten by the birds at our house. They’re simple to make and a big hit with the preschool crowd. Be forewarned, these can be a bit messy to make but are always worth the effort. You’ll need pinecones (most any kind will do, the more open the better), string, peanut butter, birdseed and sunflower seeds. To begin, knot a string loop on the cone so it is easy to hang the finished product on the tree. Next, mix the seeds together and pour them into a shallow pan (a pie pan or a small roasting pan will both work well). Slather pinecones with peanut butter, using a knife or your fingers to gently push the peanut butter into the cracks. I tend to assign this task to the oldest child, if she is willing, since it is the messiest and small children have trouble getting enough peanut butter on the cone. If there are no older children available, an adult might want to do this. And last, roll the cone in the seeds, trying to get as many seeds as possible onto the peanut butter. (Many two-year-olds are fabulous at this messy task!) It should look like one big blob of seeds when you are done.
  • Fruit Strands—Slice apples and oranges in rounds and string like the popcorn.
  • Suet Balls—For this nutritious tidbit, ask the butcher for suet. You will need to have a few empty paper egg cartons on hand, as well as some birdseed and a bit of yarn or string. To begin, melt the suet over low heat (be very careful with the hot fat and young children). Add in an equal amount of birdseed and stir. Gently stir the suet-birdseed mixture as you pour it into the egg holes in the egg carton. Make a loop of yarn or string and place it into the melted suet mixture. (This is a great job for three- or four-year-olds.) When the suet cools, the yarn will become the handle with which you hang the suet on the tree. Some people like to add some peanut butter to this mixture for extra nutrition. Allow the suet to harden and then gently peel away the egg carton to hang the suet balls on the tree.
  • Once you have gathered enough goodies to decorate your tree, make it an event. (For inspiration read Night Tree by Eve Bunting. After you decorate your tree, don’t forget the ground-feeding birds. Leave a few peanut butter pinecones and some extra birdseed on the ground for them to nibble, too.

Holiday Spirals Craft

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Here is a quick and easy holiday craft that, while simple to make, adds extraordinary beauty to your home. All you need is a needle, thread, scissors, paper (colored origami paper, gold paper or slightly stiff paper all are good choices) and tape. Simply cut out a circle of paper—four to six inches in diameter. Then with scissors, gently spiral your way to the center of the circle, cutting a quarter-inch in from the outside of the circle as you spiral your way in. Once at the center, leave a half-inchwide
center piece and use a needle to attach a knotted thread to the center. Make the thread long enough to dangle from your ceiling at a pleasant height. Attach your spiral to the ceiling with tape.

We dangle spirals all over our home and let them dance and sway in the gentle breezes of the blowing furnace. You can also hang them high above a lighted candle (high enough that it won’t catch on fire) and have the spiral spin continuously. These spirals are especially pretty when made with gold or silver paper, as the metallic sheen of the paper glimmers in the light.