Archive for the ‘Home and Garden’ Category

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.

These Boots Were Made for Walking?

Monday, November 24th, 2008

My girls love to recycle things — and we often discuss the many different ways to recycle. A couple of our favorite methods of recycling are donating to others and discovering a new use for stuff we no longer use in the original way. While sorting through clothes & shoes recently, we decided it was time to give away the rain boots that I bought for the girls three years ago (they still had to try to squish their feet into them one last time, but it ended up looking like Cinderella’s step sisters trying to force on the glass slipper).

I brought the boots to work, along with many other “treasures,” and placed them on our “Free Table.” As you can see from the photo, the boots were given whole new lives as planters. This was Cheryl’s incredibly creative idea. These would make excellent gifts, especially during the springtime. What an excellent way to recycle! My girls will definitely give their seal of approval.