Saturday, January 28, 2012

Easy bird feeder "cookies"

Our Daisy Girl Scout troop has been working on the 5 Flowers, 4 Stories, 3 Cheers for Animals patch series this year, and the other leaders and I are always on the lookout for creative ways for the girls to express them selves, while staying frugal and not creating a lot of excess for parents to store!

The robin is one of the animals we've talked about this year. Most of our work around this has centered around the suggested activity of building a "bird nest" and papier mache bird, which the girls have loved. But finding something that translates into taking action, especially in the dead of winter, is challenging.

I found this activity on Technically it's for "Christmas Cookies" for the birds - but you could easily make it using any shape or cookie cutter - or even cut circles with the lip of a cup. We beta-tested it at home with a first-grader and preschooler, and the project took less than 15 minutes with clean-up. (Plan accordingly with the size of your group!)

Supplies needed are bread (they recommend slightly stale, and I agree - ours was too soft to hang), peanut butter or shortening, birdseed, sunflower seeds and/or raisins, cups or cookie cutters, straws (1 per three girls), knives to spread peanut butter with (1 per 2-3 girls) and yarn or twist-ties from garbage bags.

Simply put, you cut out bread into shapes, poke a hole in it with the straw, slather it with peanut butter and cover with birdseed. (We used raisins and sunflower seeds.) Setting these up on cookie sheets made for easy clean up!

To finish it, we used trash bag ties (which had been in my drawer for years) pulled through the hole. We're letting it dry before we attempt to hang it outdoors, so you may want to consider sending the projects home on scrap pieces of cardboard so projects don't break en route.

Messy, but fun!

Pimp my pooch

Last year, $51 billion was spent pampering our pets. Seriously. I'm sickened about it, especially in a time when so many - two-legged and four - need our help.

Today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm pitching an idea: Take one tiny piece of excess that you would have spent on your pooch (or yourself) and use that $5, $10, or $20 to make a difference in this world. Report back!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cancer sucks.

My daughter is six, and she knows too much about cancer.
She knows that people who get it die.
She knows a friend’s grandfather, a schoolmate’s father and now her great uncle got cancer. And died.
How do you explain death – and hope – to a child?
That sometime’s it’s explainable – like Uncle Kenny smoked for decades – and sometimes it’s not?
How that Grandpa smokes too but cancer might not be his curse?
How you can do things to prevent cancer, but that it’s not a given?
How sometimes cancer takes lives and sometimes people survive?
It’s something I’ve struggled with – a lot – the last few weeks, as we went from having a full family at New Year’s to having a hole in our lives. And both my kids struggle too. While their uncle was hours away, he was there.
And now my children hear the word “cancer” and ask questions about death. Ones I’m not quite prepared to discuss.
Or they say prayers to Uncle Kenny. Or tell me things like “When I go to Heaven, I’m going to run up and give Uncle Kenny a big hug.”
Or say in the dark, tucked into bed, that they worry one day we might get cancer too.
I so desperately want to break that cycle. To tell them there are things we can do. Things we can do to take care of ourselves. Things we can do to support others. Things we can do to care for our water, our air, our food, our planet. Things to take action, and not just pray and wait.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Making a smarter smart phone choice

I''m breaking down and ditching my "dumb phone" after two years. As I search for a smart phone, I'm trying to find a solution with the best cost, functionality and use - not to mention, least risk from radiation. Check out what I learned today at the Green Phone Booth.

And if you're not hunting for a phone? The Environmental Working Group has some ideas on reducing your exposure:

  • Text instead of talk, as it emits less radiation (and data use).

  • Use headsets or speakers.

  • If you have fewer bars, limit your use, as it takes more radiation to make it to the tower!

  • Limit children's cell phone use - ideally to emergencies only. Is Angry Birds really worth it?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Green and healthy lunch box ideas

Packing a healthy school lunch is tough enough, but when everything seems to be out of season, it feels far more challenging to pull together something fresh and healthy.

Still, you're not reduced to serving "fruit" snacks or bleached baby carrots as your only options. Here are some fast solutions for fixing school lunches that are as easy to pack as to manage at school.

Main dishes
The main event doesn't have to be a boring peanut butter on plain bread sandwich. With a little flexibility you can easily shake up your "sandwich" into something more creative.

  • Choose homemade breads, flat breads or crackers.

  • Even serve almond butter on banana or applesauce bread for something different.

  • Go 'round by creating wraps.

  • Slice cooked chicken or cheeses into strips.

  • Serve chicken or ham chunks, cheese and small veggie chunks as as "kabobs" on toothpicks.

  • Don't forget your thermos. Just a few hot meals packed in a thermos, and you'll come out ahead of hot lunches. My daughter has enjoyed spaghetti made with homemade - and homegrown - pasta sauce, and lo mein and other dishes are easily packed for a fun menu choice.

Winter veggies and fruits
It takes mere minutes to slice carrots into coin shapes or sticks, yet it's a far better alternative than bleached baby carrots. And if you can get some locally grown carrots - yes, even in January - you're in for a better treat!

If you have a salad lover, grab some winter lettuces; just pack your salad separate from the dressing, or your child could have a soggy mess by mealtime.

For an easy dip, drop the bottled ranch dressing and substitute dressing mix mixed with plain Greek yogurt.

And dont forget your seasonal fruits, which are suprisingly hardy (good for those of us whose children routinely whip those lunchboxes around!). Think apples, oranges, tangerines, tangelos, and pears. You could even add some homemade honey-yogurt dip for a fun option. Dried fruits tossed with nuts help meet that sweet tooth too.

What other options do you like for an easy - and healthy - school lunch alternative?

This post is part of the Healthy Child Network carnival on green and healthy lunch ideas.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dreaming of spring

Looking at my trees and blueberry bushes, it's hard to believe it's January. I'm seeing the beginnings of buds everywhere.

This weekend, instead of dodging snowdrifts, we're taking advantage of some 50 degree temperatures to play outdoors, take long walks and work in the garden. Yes, you can work in the garden in the winter. I'm sharing some quick tips that can save you some time when you're itching to garden this spring on today's Green Phone Booth.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Reducing food waste in our home

Food. For six weeks or more each fall and winter, it's all we can think about. Thanksgiving. Holiday parties. Christmas dinner. New Year's Eve parties. And then parties for bowl games and the SuperBowl. It's a lot of calories consumed, not to mention a lot of leftovers wasted. All at a time when our county food pantries are seeing a 25 percent jump in need compared with last year.

And we're not immune in our home. Cooking specialty dishes, coupled with lousy weather, meant far more cans, packages and normally compostable items going into our trash can the last few weeks.

For one week, in our post-Christmas haze, I focused my attention on eliminating much of the food waste in our own home, to see how much unnecessary food waste we could stop among us four. What I found is it's a lot harder to keep on track without a plan.

On typical weeks, we have at least humble attempts at meal plans, but with a fridge half-full with Christmas dinner leftovers and a stomach bug floating through our home, our plans went by the wayside. Instead of planned meals, we had humble fixings, turning instead to simple sandwiches to use up extra meats and breads, cheese and crackers, or other small-plate meals. We did a lot less heavy cooking (fine by me) but often failed to remember to make our meals balanced. It's too easy to forgo a veggie dish if you don't have sliced veggies in hand in the fridge and everything else is a 2-minute prep time.

But the self-imposed pox on food waste made for interesting meal options, too. My leftover eggs from baking, garlic chive butter from Christmas meals, and some sad-looking shitakes and green onions made for a fabulous morning omelet for one. Our leftover veggies made for good low-mein and stirfries, and this morning we're using the last of our breads and eggs for French toast. Our trimmings we redoubled our efforts in piling back on our compost pile, and we made no processed goods.

In all, a week after Christmas, our only things tossed were some gravy, a small bit of roast beef, a bit of cranberry sauce that my kids eschewed, a small plate of leftovers my husband had fixed for work then forgotten (a miscommunication for us both), and the cheesy corn dip from a New Year's Eve party that had to be tossed due to being out for six hours.

I don't believe you can completely eliminate food waste, but you can certainly considerably reduce what ends up in your trash can. It will take a little more planning but well worth it. If it saves me money, saves me time, saves landfill space and saves resources that could be used to feed others, what's not to like?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you
can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 10 with all
the carnival links.)