Saturday, December 17, 2011

Stained-glass cookies

Stained-glass cookies are a Christmastime treat that I recall having as a child but hadn't reattempted until recently. They are a great way to use up the last of those Halloween candies, especially leftover lollipops.

Stained-glass cookies
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups flour
crushed candies, sorted by flavor/color

Cream butter and sugar; beat in egg until mixed, then vanilla and salt. Add flour until blended. Divide the dough in half, flatten each into a disk and cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or place in freezer for about 20 minutes.

Remove dough. let warm slightly, and roll to 1/4 inch thickness.

Preheat oven to 375. Cover baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Cut out cookies with larger cookie cutters, then with smaller cutters (or a clean top to a soda bottle) cut shapes within each.

Place on cookie sheet and sprinkle candies inside.

You will want to make sure the candies all are inside the centers, or they will melt into the cookie. (Read: If you want a perfectly "unstained" cookie, this may not be the part for helpers!)

Bake 10-12 minutes. Let centers cool thoroughly before removing from the pan.

Gifts for the gardener or locavore

Looking for a gift for your local food lover or gardener? Look no further than your bookstore. There are several great ideas for your friends and family who love to enjoy homegrown or home-cooked local foods.

Cookbooks I'd recommend are chef Emeril Lagasse's Farm to Fork and Daniel Orr's FARMFood. Both put a priority on locally grown produce, evident in the variety of ingredients used. These aren't your boring iceberg and romaine lettuce salads here - think watermelon, feta and arugula, or a corn, tomato and lobster combination.

Gardeners will drool over the new book, Heirloom Life Gardener, by Baker's Creek's owners, Jere and Emile Garrett. You know them by the tome they produce each winter, filled with oversized photos with a rainbow of produce. My bright husband pre-ordered this gift, so it arrived just days before my birthday. He's definitely on my nice list. This doesn't disappoint.

A bit more academic in tone but great reads, Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth or Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman are great ways for gardeners who want to complete the cycle of life to better use their gardens throughout the year and save seeds from year to year.

Happy reading!

Originally published at the Green Phone Booth, 2011.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which helps support this blog.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Holiday shopping is stressful enough, but balancing a birthday in the mix can cause a bit of mommy guilt along the way. Today at the Green Phone Booth, I share my challenges in celebrating the birth of Christ and the birth of my son in the same week.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent season: Slowing down

Advent was a season I had never given much thought to in years past. Beyond the candles burning at Sunday masses, an evening reconcilliation service and the promise of a Nativity scene, Advent didn't really register to me.

Until I started to slow things down.

First, I cut out a lot of clutter around the holidays. Over the years, I've worked most of my Christmas shopping to where my gift buying was completed over months, not weeks or days. Instead of a mad scramble to find something that "fit" the person on Black Friday, I slowly discovered gift ideas over the seasons. Come this Thanksgiving, I really only had a gift or two left to purchase, December birthdays included.

Further slowing my life down was my husband's unemployment/underemployment the last few years. Suddenly dinners out and shows seemed like unnecessary extravagances. Would I like to see Transiberian Orchestra? Of course. And some year it may happen. Just not this one. Instead I've begun searching for Christmas activities in our community that don't necessitate a $100 outlay. Like community Christmas tree services. Or a visit to Santa. Or the free day at the holiday trains at Garfield Park. Or the Nativity show at our parish.

Putting a focus on the Christmas season has helped our family put it back in the right focus. This year, I've made an ardent effort not to schedule non-Christmasy things on our calendar. Yes, we missed Scout night at the circus, and stayed home and played games and watched Rudolph. And other than a small family dinner and treats at the daycare, my son's birthday will be celebrated with friends after the Christmas business dies down. I don't know that either will be missed.

Instead of being stressed about errands, I can focus on my family. We can bake a batch of cookie if we want. Or read Christmas stories from around the world from the library. Or bring out more Christmas decorations. Or take them to play at the park for hours on a warm day without thinking about the "I need to do" list. Or (gasp!) even focus on cleaning our house for our Christmas company.

Is it tough to make a conscious choice to slow down during the Christmas season? You bet. But trading off the calendar items, the unneccessay errands, the stressed shoppers and children, it makes it all worth it. And I hope my family is happier for it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ferret fun

Seventeen Daisy Girl Scouts and three ferrets. You'd think it would be the recipe for trouble.

But our first-grade Scout troop couldn't get enough of these furry little creatures at our monthly meeting last night.

As part of our journey (patch series) this year, we invited two speakers from the Ferret Rescue and Halfway House in Martinsville to share about how they care for ferrets abandoned by their owners. The group, located southwest of Indianapolis, rescues as many as 400 ferrets each year.

Personality wise, ferrets seem to have a lot in common with my 3 year old son: energetic, can't sit still, don't want to be held for long, but sometimes relishing a quiet place to hide from the crowd.

The girls were captivated by the three ferrets crawling about the room, but they absorbed many fun facts about the ferrets and their care in the process. They loved learning about how the ferret was trained to do tricks for Harry Potter, seeing how their small bodies can stretch and bend, learning how they ate bugs and other facts. I'm sure it will be on one of those meetings they will be talking about for a while -- and I apologize to any parents whose kids suddenly ask Santa for a ferret!!

This is part of a recurring series sharing ideas from the Daisy Girl Scout patch series 5 Flowers, 4 Stories, 3 Cheers for Animals! journey. You can read the previous installment here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stretching your holiday giving

Helping others in need is one of the greatest signs of the Christmas season, one that I worry is getting ignored more and more.

So many organizations and people need help. So many in fact, that it seems people turn a blind eye anymore to the "noise" of cries for help.

This year, the first in my decade at my work, my department opted not to adopt a family for Christmas. I know for a few, money was an issue, though with some creative efforts and a small sacrifice of a lunch out, we could have pulled together something for a family in need. It breaks my heart; this was one thing that we truly did as a team, and one that touched little children's lives. How would you explain to your child that he or she was overlooked by Santa on Christmas Day?

The reality is, we all have a lot of gifts to bear. Many of them in our own homes, if we choose to look beyond the clutter, to really look at the unloved toys and things among our excess.

This year, we are still tight on budgets as we are working to rebuild after three years of my husband being out of full-time work. But a little creativity is going to help a single mom of two, who's in college and looking for work, this Christmas.

All in all, I spent $1.25 out of pocket for two little girls. Seriously. Here's how we did it:

  • We looked at gifts that were given but never used by our children. That included two PBS-themed plush puppets, two travel Etch-a-sketches that were used once and then ignored, and a stuffed dog from the Grinch.

  • We looked at what was outgrown but still in pristine condition. That included two children's cookbooks (a Sesame Street story/cookbook and a duplicate Princess and the Frog cookbook), two stashed-away but unused children's winter plates, a Dora fleece blanket and a stack of outgrown Halloween costumes and dress-ups.

  • We looked at our excess. We knew the mom needed many of the basics for everyday living, so we packed a reusable shopping bag with toiletries that we'd bought with register rewards and coupons. We can always watch for future sales and replenish.

  • The $1.25? Spent on a pair of cute pants on clearance for the toddler.

What do you have that you are blessing others with this Christmas season?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Local Indiana food gifts

Holidays and hometown foods just make sense. When it comes to Christmas gift giving, a taste of home can be a good thing.

For our family, a decade out of Kansas City, there's the Strawberry Hill povitica we used to get each year. Or the Velvet Creme popcorn that my in-laws send that the kids will just dive into a tub from. Or, of course, bottles of Vignoles or Tailgate Red from Holy-Field Winery.

But finding Indiana concoctions has taken some time for me to find. I still vividly remember years ago asking a friend what Indiana was known for for food, since a visiting friend wanted to try it. I got a blank stare.

Recent years have led me to some great treat ideas. And as I started shopping for an old college friend, with whom I still exchange fun treats each Christmas season, I thought local is best. And I wasn't disappointed in my search.

Here are some of my favorite food finds in Indiana, some of which I'll be sharing this holiday season:

For the sweets fan

Try funky artisian marshmallows from 240Sweet in Columbus. We discovered these treats at a winter market a few years back, and the kids are always itching for tastes! These come in crazy flavors for every palate, from Bourbon Sugar Churro with Cajeta to Chocolate Hazelnut Swirl to Bacon Maple Toffee.

Carmel lovers will be thrilled with the homemade chewy goodness from Abbott's Candy in Hagerstown. Our graphic design agency shares these with us each Christmas season, and they disappear. Quickly.

Chocolate lovers will like the Indiana-made Endangered Species Chocolate (dark chocolate is fabulous!) or the artisian Chocolate for the Spirit, a new chocolate company out of Shelbyville I discovered at last weekend's Carmel Winter Market. Let me just say "Wow." If you haven't heard of them, you will soon. They were featured in yesterday's Indianapolis Star, and their Mayan Spirit Bars were selected among the top 5 favorites at NY Chocolate Show by gourmet magazine, "The Nibble."

For the wine lover

Locally, I love to visit Mallow Run Winery in Bargersville, but a new favorite for me may be Simmons Winery's Vignoles wine, which I found much drier than the Vignoles I'm used to from Holy-Field in Kansas City.

For the cook

Cooks may want to tap into oils, flavored sugars and spices from Artisano's Spices and Oils in north Indianapolis (also at the Carmel and Indianapolis winter markets). My sister-in-law quickly squirreled away the blueberry-flavored sugar last Christmas, and a good friend and I can just spend an afternoon snacking on bread with their fabulous flavored oils.

You might also check out a cookbook from Daniel Orr from FARMBloomington. We love to dive into his FARMFood cookbook, which focuses on seasonal eating year-round, and I understand he has a new Carribean-inspired cookbook as well.

Sometimes, a taste of home is well worth it this holiday season.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Carmel Winter Farmers Market

Hamilton County now has its first Winters Farmers Market in Carmel. Open Saturday mornings, the new indoor market tucked away behind shops at Carmel City Center, not far off of U.S. 31 in Carme,l could grow into something great.

Still a small market, it had a friendly atmosphere yet still room for me and my children to move around, something that's a growing challenge in the ever-packed Indianapolis Winter Market downtown. So I was excited to make the drive to check out a new market and explore options last Saturday. And if I hadn't been running errands on a warm Saturday morning, I would have grabbed some meats as well.

This time of year, you expect fewer and fewer produce offerings and more produced items, which was the case here. I had great conversations with a Mennonite farmer as I perused the lettuces, broccoli and brussels sprouts, all cold-weather crops. My kids eyeballed the apples from the fall harvest and slurped up tea samples from a Carmel tea company.

And if you're looking for holiday treats, you wouldn't be disappointed. Greek vendors, a chocolatier from Spirit of Chocolate in Shelbyville, and holiday desserts abounded.

The Winter Market at Carmel City Center is open 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays through March 17 (with the exception of Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve). The Winter Market will be held in a storefront at 719 Hanover Place on the interior of Carmel City Center, on the southwest corner of City Center Drive and Rangeline Road. Follow the signs for parking.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Snowman kits

Winter weather on the way means my kids will be begging to build snowmen in the dark tonight!

It's time for us to dig out our snowm an kit we received as a gift years ago, but it's simple to put one together for gift-giving or to have ready for eager children. Check out simple ways to convert unused items into a fabulous, frugal Frosty.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Living my 80/20 rule

It's easy to get swept up into a green lifestyle, or any lifestyle for that matter. But keeping that momentum up and letting it be a blessing, not a curse, is not the easiest thing to do.

Bake your bread. Grow your garden. Drink organic milk. Make your laundry soap. The list goes on and on--and if Itracked and tried every little green thing I could do, I might go insane.

There are only so many hours in the day. About 10 are lost to work, driving my children to school, and my commute. Another eight to sleep. If my math serves me right, I'm left to cram the most living in my life in a meager six hours a day. That's six hours of making meals, of playing with my kids, of doing laundry, of trying to have a great relationship with my husband, of making time for prayer.

Six hours to squeeze in any other green bits that might possibly extend my stewardship of God's resources.

I can certainly devote my day to breadmaking, or gardening, or learning to make soap, which I still think would be fun to try. But I don't have the time resources or the financial investment to try all things. And if I focused on that, then I might miss out on those magical moments making trash trucks and giraffes out of Legos, going for walks in the park with my family, sharing moments with my daughter as a Girl Scout leader or simply sitting in solitude early in the morning.

So these days, I make more careful investments. I buy laundry soap from the man at our farmers market. I grow what I can and buy locally next. I've just resigned for a produce delivery service, as our city's primary winter farmers market is 30 minutes away and packed most weekends, tough to take children to. And I'm left in the day with a few mninutes to savor the miracles of the season.

As Stephanie at Simple Organic writes:

There will always be ways that I could be healthier and greener, and much as I may want to, I simply won’t be able to make all of those changes. No one can do it all and live the “perfect green life” because I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist (and if it does, I don’t think I want to know
about it).
Letting go of perfectionism in natural living is one of the things that has most freed me to continue to do what I do, without guilt, without obligation, and with a whole lot less stress.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Peanut Butter Coconut Clouds

This flourless cookie was a huge hit with my brother and kids--though having three helpers for this project was a bit much! Based off of an old kids' cookbook my mother had saved from my childhood.

Peanut Butter Coconut Clouds

1/4 c. creamy peanut butter
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp. vanilla
dash salt
2/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. unsweetened flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 325 and lightly spray cooking sheets.

In small mixer bowl, beat egg whites, vanilla and salt on high speed until soft peaks form (hint: tips curl over). Gradually add sugar (do not just dump it in), beating until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight.)

Melt peanut butter, about 30 seconds in microwave. Fold in peanut butter and coconut into egg whites. Drop by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.

Bake 15-17 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool for a few minutes before removing from pan. Makes about 2 dozen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Thanksgiving Tale

An oral history, as told in the back seat by "Star Dancer" and "Laughing Sun."*

This is what happens when a 3 year old and 6 year old learn American history. It started when my son starts sharing abut the history of the first Thanksgiving.

"The boys with feathers, they had naked bellies."

"All the Indians wear mocassing, and Pilgrims wear tennis shoes," my 6 year old corrected. "They were always black. The boys would wear tennis shoes which is all there were in the olden days. The girls would wear high heels.

"Then they sailed to America. There was a storm. When it got to winter, some of the Pilgrims died. Like three Pilgrims."

"We don't know how many Pilgrims died."

"I do. Only 10 of those Pilgrims. One hundred minus 10 equals 90. There were 90 Pilgrims. And after 84 days, they were back to 100 Pilgrims. And the Indians were so happy they celebrated Thanksgiving for three days."

And thus, we eat well each November, to celebrate the spontaneously reproducing Pilgrims wearing black tennies.Who knew?

* Wondering about the names? These were the Native American names their teachers had picked for them this week. If you know my children, the names fit so well!

Friday, November 18, 2011


"Go tell it on the mountain...'cause I'm getting nothing for Christmas."

Yet another reason why I love my child.

(Sometimes, you just need to start your day with a smile!)

Battling bugs

Mucinex. Benadryl. Antibiotics. Dinatep. Ibuprofen. Even honey I think I've tried it all the last two mnonths in trying to put an end to my daughter's cough and congestion. She's tired of her cough, tired of not sleeping well and tired of the kids' comments in the classroom.

Yet I admit being nervous about natural remedies, particularly untested ones and use in children.

Today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm seeking answers. Are there any safe remedies for kids that work?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pasta carbonara with leeks

Bacon pasta. That's how you sell pasta carbonara, a fancy name, to a three-year-old... My husband loves eating leftovers for breakfast!

This is adapted from a recipe published years ago in Cooking Light.

Pasta carbonara with leeks
1 lb. spaghetti, cooked
1 c. parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large eggs + 2 egg whites
1 cup chopped bacon
5 cups sliced leek (Speed tip: Trader Joes sells these sliced in a package in the freezer section)
3 tbsp. minced garlic

When cooking pasta, reserve 3/4 cup cooking water when draining. Let it cool somewhat.

Combine cheese, pepper, salt, eggs and egg whites in a bowl. Gradually add the reserved cooking liquid to egg mixture, stirring constantly.

Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove from pan, reserving drippings. Cook leeks in the pan drippings about 4 minutes. (Note: Depending on the amount of grease in pan from the bacon, you may want to drain somewhat to reduce the overall fat in the recipe.) Add garlic and saute another minute.

Ad d pasta, cheese mixture and bacon, reduce heat and cook one minute, tossing to coat. Serve immediately.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Christmas wishes

Today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm writing about the challenges of drafting a wish list without emphasizing the getting of stuff. Check it out.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

3 Cheers! Daisy Scout Journey - Our Adventure

Daisy animals journey activities
3 Cheers for Animals – and 3 cheers for surviving our kickoff meeting!

This year, I’ll be sharing some of our Daisy Girl Scout troop’s experiences with the new 5 Flowers, 4 Stories, 3 Cheers for Animals! journey. For those of you who haven’t sold a cookie in awhile, journeys seem to be the new name for badges.

Our first-graders, as we’re wrapping up our Daisy petals, are turning our attention to animal care for the rest of this year. Our challenge is that our troop meets monthly, so we’re trying to condense what can be a very unique, robust 10-session program into six or seven meetings. (The 10-session program, outlined in the Girl Scout’s leader guide, is great, but there are a lot of extra activities, snacks, etc., that aren’t required to complete the journey.)
This month’s meeting focused on the kickoff for the journey. Our group of 17 girls makes it challenging to incorporate some of the activities, such as a team mural (creating one animal element each meeting) or the team paper mache birdbath. If you have a larger troop like ours, you can do what we did, and stagger other projects in rotation. Our girls worked on a few service projects – creating shoeboxes for St. Vincent de Paul and completing a few welcome cards for each of the 18,000 anticipated hotel visitors for this year’s SuperBowl in Indianapolis – a huge initiative that many Indiana schools and troops are participating in.

The girls, who are early readers, loved getting their companion books and eagerly thumbed through the colorful pages. I’m sure my daughter and I will be reading often from the selection of stories at bedtime in the coming weeks.

Our toughest challenge so far? Other than the revolving stations of activities – not in itself a bad thing – narrowing down our guest speakers. Session 2, our December meeting, is to feature a speaker on some element of animal care, and we were at no loss for ideas: veterinarians, Humane Society, even a recent high school graduate/4-H’er who helped expand her father’s cattle business into locally grown meats featured at our local farmers market. Our final decision? Ferret rescue. Quirky, yes, but I can’t wait to see the girls’ reactions!
Follow Robbie @'s board Girl Scout Projects on Pinterest.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Santas in shoeboxes

Santa isn’t just a chubby old man with cold feet and a warm heart. In our home, we stress that we are Santas for other people, regardless of time of year.

I never want my children to forget that they have an opportunity, in fact, a duty, to be there for other people and share the resources they’ve been given. And I’ve been humbled time and again how they have held up to their part.

My children offer outgrown shoes to “Haiti” (actually a fundraising sale for a mission there). They offer well-loved toys, even ones they still play with often, to share with others. They proudly share the few coins they have to Faith Filled Fridays at school or other drives. And they are an example to me. One I should pay attention to more.

Each winter, for as long as I can recall, the preschool class at my daughter’s school does a shoebox drive for the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry at our church. I suppose it is much like Operation Christmas Child, only on a much smaller scale.

The children wrap a shoebox (top only or the full box) and include a gently loved toy, book, a few candies, apple and orange, and a note of hope for the holidays. These are distributed to young children in families helped with food baskets and other Christmastime support at the church.

It’s such a simple thing, but I love that it’s grown beyond the preschool, stretching to the Moms group, the Girl Scouts and other volunteers who’ve learned about it. A Santa in a shoebox. That’s what Christmas is about.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Clutter-free Christmas Gifts for Grown-Ups

The best Christmas gifts are meaningful or useful. And while I'm all about fun, sometimes, having a clutter-free home counts too.

I don't know about you, but I'm drowning in t-shirts from my alma mater, supplies for my scrapbooking, holiday decorations from craft shows, bottles of lotion, and other things. What I need is a clutter-free Christmas. Who knows if I will get it.

If you're looking for painless ideas for gift-giving this year, here are some helpful, clutter-less gift ideas.

  • Tickets for movies, sporting activities, shows or other events. It doesn't have to be the best seat in the house, and with Groupon and other discount sites, you might find it fairly budget-friendly. Particularly if you're a parent, the dual cost of activities and babysitting can damper plans.

  • Even better? An offer to babysit!

  • Local wines, beers or coffees, particularly if the "local" is from another city.

  • Treats from local vendors

  • Certificates for a local/organic food delivery service

  • Gift cards to a home improvement store. As fewer people are buying homes, the need to maintain or improve one's home they live in is more important than ever!

  • Make a meal. My sitter loved the fact that instead of a kitchy present, I got her a kitchen one: Dinner to go! (Simply put, it was salad, dressing, pasta, a fancy sauce and French bread. But it took the pressure off for one evening!)

  • Find out what needs to be replaced or repaired. In tight times, sometimes needed repairs are being held off.

  • If you know someone who's returned to school, a gift certificate to Amazon or another online book store can go a long way!

  • Finally the gift of time is something not to be shrugged off. Get off line and share some time with a friend you've been meaning to see!

What other clutter-free solutions do you have for holiday gift giving?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Seeing Green at Black Friday

Black Friday and green consumerism don't seem to go hand in hand. But holiday shopping can be more about the deep sales.

I can't remember a year when I didn't spend part of Thanksgiving Day pouring over the Black Friday ads--and only one year when, pregnant and miserable, I just stayed home.

Everything about Black Friday, on its surface, is about more, more, more. More sales. More early hours. More lines. More stuff that you didn't know you needed. More waiting in lines and driving circles around the parking lot. I can see why it turns a lot of folks off.

But my Black Friday shopping has evolved in recent years, particularly since my family has grown. I've transitioned more out of the "buy" mentality to using it as an opportunity to buy things my family did need at a deep discount. Like replacement items, winter clothing or tools for the home.

But recent years and my shift toward being more sustainable have cut my Friday-morning sales even more.

By planning better, I'm able to find gently used clothing and books for my children throughout the year at a fraction of the price of even those fabulous Black Friday sales. Are they new? To them.. (I admit I can't always find what I need at a resale shop or sale, but it helps dramatically.) And my daughter, a new "chapter book reader," as she calls it, is getting a shoebox full of animal books for Christmas, bought for just a few dollars.

By listening more, I've found great ideas for gift-giving, instead of just buying something so that I can check that person off the list. My brother? Desperate to figure out how to landscape his shady scrap of land. I found the perfect book on shade gardening, at a library sale. I doubt I would find it if I'd waited until December, even on Amazon. My brother-in-law, a new dad? Literally wants a nap. So I'll give him free babysitting time during their visit.

By sharing more, I will have helped others and my family. We have always adopted someone for the holidays, no matter how tight things are. But the last few seasons, instead of racing to buy things, I've gotten more creative in my gift-giving there too. Last year, our daycare adopted a family with a little boy my son's age. I'd just gotten a huge bag of train tracks and accessories at the used children's store, and divided them up among my son and this boy. Sure, the boy got a new Thomas too, but it was a way to stretch my resources and bring more joy. My son never missed what he didn't have. This year, the daycare is adopting two little girls whose mother is a college student but can't find work. I posted on our employee classifieds that we're looking for clothes in their size, and people are coming through. And my children, bless their hearts, have always come through with my requests to "be a Santa" and donate an outgrown toy to a child in need.

This year, I suspect my shopping outlay will be even smaller than before. Many of my gifts this year have leaned on the practical, spiritual or creative sides. And I've encouraged my family, whom I still know will buy the toys, to subsidize experiences for my children this year.

Will I still go out for Black Friday? Yes, and here's why. My mom and I have, since I was little, created a tradition of early-morning (I said morning, not middle of the night) shopping followed by breakfas t and a few other mixed errands. I'd miss that one-on-one time too much to go without it. But maybe this year, I'll leave my wallet at home.

Posted at the Green Phone Booth Nov. 5, 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Calla math game - and it's compostable!

Calla Math Game \ DIYWanting to help my daughter's confidence and math skills, we made the decision she could join her school's math club again this year.

The kids do bimonthly meetings where they practice math and strategy games in preparation for the city's annual Math Pentathlon. Last year, she participated for part of a year, only after begging. A lot. (And then more begging on the part of mom to let her join so late!)

I'm fortunate that my school supports these costs 100 percent, as I learned quickly during the parent orientation session that the games can be costly. (Not more costly individually than the average board game, but an expense I was still unprepared for.)

Instead, I found an option that worked in our home, one that didn't cost me anything but a few minute's of time and some unused supplies in our home. The deceptively simple Calla game is a great strategy game and quietly teaches the kids basic math skills as well. My daughter has become more and more interested in it, though the small piece sizes are an occupational hazzard in our little house. (Our Yahtzee pieces lasted all of a month before being scattered about!)

Our solution? A makeshift board game for her to practice the concepts. Our first attempt was a fully compostable one - made from a long-leftover paper bag and dried chickpeas that have admittedly been in our pantry far too long.

Unfortunately, it didn't lie as flat as we'd like, so we created a more permanent solution using the bottom of a reusable bag (which never seem to stay with the reusable bags!).

We now have the flexibility to play whenever we want, and any misplaced pieces can easily be replaced with a few dried chickpeas. Is it as nice as the original game? No, but it works for us.

What simple solutions have you come up with to replace a child's "want"?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween is over...Now what?

Halloween costumes may seem worthless on Nov. 1, now that the Halloween parties are over and the candy wrappers are stacking up.

But this year's costumes don't have to be doomed. Here are just a few ideas on what to do with your "last year's" costumes.

  • Princess, cheerleader and other "dress-ups" in good condition can be shared with little girls in need. In our house, we've collected a bag of "dress-up" clothes and costumes that are going to two little girls our day care has adopted for Christmas. (You can always pair them with accessories from the clearance isle, if desired.)

  • Store and trade your costumes in for nearly new ones on National Costume Swap Day 2012, held in mid-October.

  • Donate or sell them to a resale shop, particularly if they're individual items like pants or shirts in good shape. Even period pieces can find a reuse.

  • Those "bloody" shirts your teenager created? Bring them back to a new life as rags to use around the house.
What are you planning to do with this year's costumes?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Frogs and the pond

A story by the Green Eyed Monster, age 6

I went to the Children's Museum to see the frogs. Once I dressed up as the blue dotted poison frog and it was fun.

Little poison frogs are my favorite frog in the whole world.

This frog is the funniest frog I've ever seen.

This frog looks like a leaf. Can you find it?

I like the tomato frog best because it's awesome to me.

{Mom's note: The frog exhibit at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis is well worth the trip!}

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Heirloom Guilt(y)

Heirloom guilt. I'm guilty 100 percent.

Somehow an item passed along carries an emotional weight. The table you spent Christmas dinners around. The painting your grandmother lovingly painted (even though you have eight others.) For those items, I struggle with their future.

I love the term heirloom guilt. It's just so right.

The box of paintings that I've yet to find a home for after five years in this house mocks me every time I enter my son's room. The stupid wooden ducks that do little but collect dust on top of our bookcase stay, year after year, because they're among the few things my husband has from his family. I have no idea from whom it came. But they stay.

Worse yet, I caught myself imparting this on my 3 year old the other day. The well-worn blanket that somehow made the return trip home from Kansas City? It's my husband's 37-year-old cuddle blanket. And it came home. And has joined my son in his bed.

It's easier to cope with items when they have a purpose. Like several of my grandmother's paintings. Or a quilt my husband's grandmother made. Or my grandma's dining room set, destined to pinch tiny figures, which later found a new home at my brother's house after a furniture swap.

For others, I struggle with the clutter they impart and the memories they represent. The box of photos and smaller paintings my grandmother made - which have taunted me to do something with them for five years now - doesn't diminish the love she had for me or the work she created. Quantity of things doesn't replace the quality of love.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Herb harvest

Threats of frost kicked my preservation into high gear. Today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm sharing a few ideas for quickly using up the last of the season's herbs.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kelsay Farms open for the fall

Kelsay Farms, a dairy farm located just south of Greenwood, opens its doors each fall for a festival. My kids have been begging to visit again after a summer-time field trip with their day care, so this was a great opportunity to get out and enjoy some fall weather.

The place was packed with activities, including the mandatory hay to climb on and corn maze to weave through, dairy tours (which we missed), more dairy products than you could ever eat (how we managed not to get milkshakes or ice cream was a miracle!), and a traveling magician -- who did an impromptu performance in a corn pit!
While the kids enjoyed the magician, the stars of the day were the cows, of course, particularly these 21-day-old calves.

My little guy loved showing off the "grown-up" cows too!

It was a cute afternoon, and our kids, who are in preschool and early elementary school, were just the right age for a visit. They're still celebrating on weekends through the end of October.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Homemade chive butter

I'm trying to beat the clock before our first frost or freeze, so this morning the chives are coming down! Chive butter looks to be a great option for baked potatoes, French bread or at Thanksgiving dinner.

Chive butter
1 stick butter, softened
2 tablespoons fresh chopped chives
2 small cloves garlic

Mix well. Refrigerate or freeze.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Happy birthday to me

The last time I really celebrated my birthday? I was 21 years old.

Birthdays, instead, have evolved to a day I spend with my loved ones, keeping it simple in a hectic life. So I was surprised the other day, when, while having cake with my department, someone asked me what I was doing for my birthday.

My husband was scheduled for work that night so I have kid duty, I explained.

Silence. As if there was something wrong with me for that remark.

Finally someone ventured, "Take the kids someplace where they eat free."

But I realize I would be outnumbered during the witching hour, and setting the expectation of perfect behavior in a booth just wasn't my idea of fun. Strangely enough, I'm more than content to make the salmon I've been meaning to cook from my freezer and let the kids enjoy their life.

So, yes, I have no major plans to celebrate #37. But I'm OK with that too. Because my favorite people will make it a party, in their own quirky kid ways.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Being Buggy

Four weeks, two rounds of antibiotics and more sinus and cough medicine than I care to count. I'm ready to be healthy again.

Early bedtimes and less than normal energy has taught me a few things this last month.

1) That sometimes life is out of your control. (Apparently I needed that refresher.)

2) That its OK to ask for help at times, or to say "enough."

3) That you don't have to be Supermom to be a super mom. Sometimes slowing down your schedules is what your family needs most.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Are Girl Scouts Greener – Or just in the Pocketbook?

Being a Daisy Girl Scout troop co-leader this year has been an eye-opener in many ways. Fundraising is the biggest one of all.

I’m not naive enough to think that dollars magically float from the air, but the way the Scouts are approaching the fall fundraiser is a big disconnect from their messaging that they are “always greener” and from their emphasis on recycling, etc.

Girls earn not one but four stackable participation patches: One for selling magazines (Interestingly, only print editions are for sale. My retired mom wants digital subscriptions.). A second for selling a certain quantity of chocolates and nuts.

A third is for loading up a website with a dozen email addresses of their closest friends and family members to receive requests from. And the fourth for completing a mailing booklet (assuming to the same people) with addresses to send two print mailings to.

I am a mass marketer. My six year old is not. But I’m further bothered by the fact that families and friends receive multiple print mailings for this fundraiser. And parents will be encouraged to turn those in as well, as I’m told each troop makes $2 per completed booklet, on top of a percentage of sales. Shouldn't we be about reducing waste instead?

For an organization that is purporting to be “always greener,” this practice flies in the face of what we’re encouraging girls to be.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Second-chance gardening

While my neighbors have sadly ripped up their gardens and mourned a bad growing season, I'm back for more. Today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm sharing what's starting to grow in our fall-season garden.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Homemade basil oil

Basil and other herb-flavored oils have always been on my wish list, always tried in specialty shops but never purchased or attempted. The reason? Storage. While I hate to "waste" flavored oils on "ordinary" meals, the last thing I want to do is to hold on to them until well past their prime. So rather than enjoy them, I've held off.

Until I ran across a comment in an eating-fresh cookbook that said the flavored oils freeze well. My problem solved: My muffin tins easily hold 1/4-cup servings, easy enough to make flavored oils and store in small quantities until I'm ready to use.

So this weekend, I attemped my first flavored oil to good success. My basil oil is currently in my freezer and ready to pull out for the "right" pasta dish.

Basil oil
based off of a recipe from Farm Food

1/2 cup fresh parsley
1 3/4 cups fresh basil
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Blanch herbs then shock in cold water. Squeeze most of the water out of the herbs and put in a blender. Blend with oils and pepper, about 2-3 minutes, until well-blended. Season to taste. Freeze in 1/4-cup servings or use immediately.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Harvest Prayer

Anonymous 17th Century Sermon

Please be gentle with yourself and others.
We are all children of chance,

And none can say why some fields blossom
While others lay brown beneath the harvest sun.

Take hope that your season will come.

Share the joy of those whose season is at hand.
Care for those around you.
Look past your differences.

Their dreams are no less than yours,
Their choices in life no more easily made.

And give.
Give in any way you can.
Give in every way you can.
Give whatever you possess.
Give from your heart.
To give is to love.

To withhold is to wither.

Care less for the size of your harvest
than for how it is shared,

And your life will have meaning
And your heart will have peace.

DIY Halloween Costumes

Halloween costumes don't have to be costly, nor do they have to take much time. Today on the Green Phone Booth, we're sharing quick ideas for do-it-yourself Halloween costumes.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

No clutter for Christmas

Christmas gifts for my kids have thankfully never been a problem. I'm blessed with pretty generous children who don't ask for much, and at home we've stuck with the three-gift rule from us. (Santa and siblings are the exceptions.)

This year, I have our "birthday-Christmas" gifts fairly well planned out, and truthfully they lean on the practical side this year. My son, who turns four five days before Christmas, will be getting more than his share of clothes, a "big boy" booster seat, a lunch box for all-day preschool next fall (he likes to pack a "lunch" for daycare too), and a few fun items, like a small stash of Cars toys. My crafty daughter is being blessed with jewelry-making supplies and a book, some books and clothes, and tickets to the princess Disney on Ice show in January. Santa, knowing the kids' interest in lacrosse, is splurging on a kid-size lacrosse set for the pair.

But when it comes to gifts for the kids from family members, I'm always searching for ideas. The truth is, we don't have a lot of room for large toys, or little things that clutter the space up, for that matter. We've worked hard to purge cuddle friends and other outgrown toys, and we're working on workable systems to store the rest when not out in use.

I'm thankful that my kids are more interested in experiences than stuff. I get fewer complaints about a friend having toy X than not getting to attend Girl Scout camporee or ice skating or trying out tae kwon do at the parks department, for example. But when you factor in a family of four, even going out adds up quickly. A $15 per person trip to the Children's Museum is suddenly a large chunk of your grocery budget.

Not that I'm one to say "no presents under the tree," but given high shipping costs and long distances, perhaps the gift of experiences is a far better deal than anything else. If you're looking for ideas this holiday season for your loved ones far away, you might consider giving gift certificates or memberhips for the family to experiences like:

  • art classes

  • a day at the zoo or aquarium (or a special event)

  • children's museums

  • sponsoring a scout or Camp Fire activity

  • contributing toward athletic activities like a class or team at the parks department (Great for burning off energy in the winter!)

  • tickets to a sporting event - even the "cheap seats" or the minor league team are thrilling to a kid!
What are your great ideas for clutter-free gifts for kids?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fast food without the fast-food costs

Here is my confession: In four day’s time, my family ate three dinners of pizza. Blame it on one part laziness of a mom expecting company while getting ready for a business trip that same weekend, one part dealing with a sick husband, and one part $4 Papa Murphy’s pizzas. Toss in some veggies for a side dish, and we rode that pepperoni pizza wave.

On most days though, I’m hesitant at best about putting fast-food in my family’s mouth. It’s costly, often laden in salt and fat, and frankly isn’t nearly as good as what I can make at home.

Not that we don’t suffer from our chaos. The 30-minute window between getting the kids home and when we leave for soccer or scouts seems to fly quickly by. Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be much time to even whip up spaghetti or quesadillas. But we do it anyway.

Taking the long route to putting food on the table may not be easy, but for almost all Americans it remains a choice, and if you can drive to McDonald’s you can drive to Safeway. It’s cooking that’s the real challenge. (The real challenge is not “I’m too busy to cook.” In 2010 the average American, regardless of weekly earnings, watched no less than an hour and a half of television per day. The time is there.)
- Mark Bittman, New York Times, Sept. 25, 2011
Yesterday’s New York Times asks “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” and answers a resounding no. Bittman cites the costliness of his local McDonald’s, where a meal for a family of four could easily top $28. Here in the Midwest, take the simplest of meals, the kids’ meal, for each of us, and I’m out $12 to $15. That buys me on the busiest of days a rotisserie chicken, a package of microwave rice, and veggies to steam, with room for a gallon of milk. (Cooking time: Five minutes.) And there's likely leftovers for lunch, as well as the makings of chicken broth later.

Sure, my children clamor for the thrill of Happy Meal toys, but they know that eating out is a treat, not a right. It’s reserved for special occasions, and we leave it there. As Bittman writes:

Children, after all, are born without bad habits. And yet it’s adults who must begin to tear down the food carnival.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Avalanche of apples, now what?

what to do with extra apples
Apple picking was on the agenda for Labor Day weekend. I pulled into the packed Anderson Orchard in Mooresville, and the children dutifully picked up their bags and a list of which varieties were ready.

I naively thought that the bags were the smaller size ones like the kids had received on their field trip to Apple Works last year, but I was wrong. As we tossed the first apple into the bag, I watched as the little bag unfolded into more than double in size. Whoops. And I figured we paid by the bag.

Watching my 3 year old go through four apples (and fisting two more as we walked to our car), I assumed we would still be done in no time. I was wrong.

Two weeks later, I'm down to about half, even with apples packed in the lunch box each day. Lesson learned.

Instead, we've been on the hunt for great apple recipes to race through this stash as quickly as possible. I've already been instructed not to make more applesauce by my husband (I had already made two batches a few weeks before.) I already have apples chopped and frozen for Christmas apple streudel making with my brother. I suppose I could make apple cobbler - or "apple priss" as my daughter colorfully called it last fall. Or apple ladybugs (though my kids are burnt out on the suggestion of raw apples at this point.)

But this is where my repertoire ends. I'm on the hunt for new ideas. This morning I tried a baked breakfast sausage and apple recipe, however, I still have plenty of apples to use up. So, post great links to your favorite recipes here. Thanks for your help!

Created a monster

What I thought was a great idea has meant more clutter in my household. How my mom's Happy Meal habit is leading to a pre-Halloween headache is my topic at today's Green Phone Booth. I do have to say, she means well...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011



Two escapees, last seen Saturday morning. Fat and dressed in green with black stripes. Apparently chewed their way out of their cage in a desperate attempt at freedom. May be hiding in a small brownish tubelike crysallis.

Here's hoping we find those caterpillars before they find their end! (Yuck!)

Monday, September 19, 2011

When hunger can't wait

It's so easy to dismiss news from across the globe as being a world away. But what if you could do something simple to make a difference in the lives of others? Today, guest blogger Sarah Lenssen from #Ask5for5 shares her ideas on how a few dollars and a few friends can make a big impact:

A hungry child in East Africa can't wait. Her hunger consumes her while we decide if we'll respond and save her life. In Somalia, children are stumbling along for days, even weeks, on dangerous roads and with empty stomachs in search of food and water. Their crops failed for the third year in a row. All their animals died. They lost everything. Thousands are dying along the road before they find help in refugee camps.

At my house, when my three children are hungry, they wait minutes for food, maybe an hour if dinner is approaching. Children affected by the food crisis in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia aren't so lucky. Did you know that the worst drought in 60 years is ravaging whole countries right now, as you read this? Famine, a term not used lightly, has been declared in Somalia. This is the world's first famine in 20 years.12.4 million people are in need of emergency assistance and over 29,000 children have died in the last three months alone. A child is dying every 5 minutes. It it estimated that 750,000 people could die before this famine is over. Take a moment and let that settle in.

The media plays a major role in disasters. They have the power to draw the attention of society to respond--or not. Unfortunately, this horrific disaster has become merely a footnote in most national media outlets. News of the U.S. national debt squabble and the latest celebrity's baby bump dominate headlines. That is why I am thrilled that nearly 150 bloggers from all over the world are joining together today to use the power of social media to make their own headlines; to share the urgent need of the almost forgotten with their blog readers. Humans have the capacity to care deeply for those who are suffering, but in a situation like this when the numbers are too huge to grasp and the people so far away, we often feel like the little we can do will be a drop in the ocean, and don't do anything at all.

When news of the famine first hit the news in late July, I selfishly avoided it. I didn't want to read about it or hear about it because I knew I would feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. I wanted to protect myself. I knew I would need to do something if I knew what was really happening. You see, this food crisis is personal. I have a 4-year-old son and a 1 yr-old daughter who were adopted from Ethiopia and born in regions now affected by the drought. If my children still lived in their home villages, they would be two of the 12.4 million. My children: extremely hungry and malnourished? Gulp. I think any one of us would do anything we could for our hungry child. But would you do something for another mother's hungry child?

My friend and World Vision staffer, Jon Warren, was recently in Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya--the largest refugee camp in the world with over 400,000 people. He told me the story of Isnino Siyat, 22, a mother who walked for 10 days and nights with her husband, 1 yr-old-baby, Suleiman, and 4 yr.-old son Adan Hussein, fleeing the drought in Somalia. When she arrived at Dadaab, she built the family a shelter with borrowed materials while carrying her baby on her back. Even her dress is borrowed. As she sat in the shelter on her second night in camp she told Jon, "I left because of hunger. It is a very horrible drought which finished both our livestock and our farm." The family lost their 5 cows and 10 goats one by one over 3 months, as grazing lands dried up. "We don't have enough food now...our food is finished. I am really worried about the future of my children and myself if the situation continues."

Will you help a child like Baby Suleiman? Ask5for5 is a dream built upon the belief that you will.

That something I knew I would need to do became a campaign called #Ask5for5 to raise awareness and funds for famine and drought victims. The concept is simple, give $5 and ask five of your friends to give $5, and then they each ask five of their friends to give $5 and so on--in nine generations of 5x5x5...we could raise $2.4 Million! In one month, over 750 people have donated over $25,000! I set up a fundraiser at See Your Impact and 100% of the funds will go to World Vision, an organization that has been fighting hunger in the Horn of Africa for decades and will continue long after this famine has ended. Donations can multiply up to 5 times in impact by government grants to
help provide emergency food, clean water, agricultural support,
healthcare, and other vital assistance to children and families suffering in the Horn.

I need you to help me save lives. It's so so simple; here's what you need to do:

  1. Donate $5 or more on this page (

  2. Send an email to your friends and ask them to join us.

  3. Share #Ask5for5 on Facebook and Twitter!

I'm looking for another 100 bloggers to share this post on their blogs throughout Social Media Week. Email me at if you're interested in participating this week.

A hungry child doesn't wait. She doesn't wait for us to finish the other things on our to-do list, or get to it next month when we might have a little more money to give. She doesn't wait for us to decide if she's important enough to deserve a response. She will only wait as long as her weakened little body will hold on...please respond now and help save her life. Ask 5 for 5.

Thank you on behalf of all of those who will be helped--you are saving lives and changing history.

p.s. Please don't move on to the next website before you donate and email your friends right now. It only takes 5 minutes and just $5, and if you're life is busy like mine, you probably won't get back to it later. Let's not be a generation that ignores hundreds of thousands of starving people, instead let's leave a legacy of compassion. You have the opportunity to save a life today

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Derail the TRAIN Act

Imagine this scene: Some maniacs have tied your children to a train track–then hopped on the train, released the brakes, and sent a mighty engine roaring down the track. Right for your children.

That’s what’s going on in Washington DC right now.

The train is, literally, the TRAIN Act of 2011, and next week, the House will vote on a bill (HR 1705) that was designed to cripple Clean Air Act regulations and intimidate the Environmental Protection Agency. The TRAIN Act requires a committee of cabinet secretaries to re-analyze the costs of public health protections. That’s right: RE-analyze. For a third time. Because when a bill is introduced, its costs are analyzed during the comment period, and again by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Learn more about the TRAIN Act, and then write your legislators to help derail it!

Killer cantelope and arsenic in apple juice: What's a mom to do?

The news is depressing -- and it's not just from the political debate!

This week alone, I've come across three major news stories involving food-borne illnesses and health crisises in what's supposed to be "healthy" food. And that's with very little interaction with the media.

So how can you, as a parent, help prevent food-borne illnesses? Check out today's post at the Green Phone Booth for simple steps you can take to keep your families safe.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cleaning out the fridge: Mac and cheese with cauliflower

Whoops. Carrying in two armloads worth of farmers market finds on Saturday, I realized I had no room to put anything - and worse, plenty of things I should have already fixed in the fridge.

That's where a little inspiratio n struck. I tweaked a recipe for Rachel Ray's Mac & Cheddar with Broccoli and came up with an acceptable surprise for lunch. It was not the originally planned sausage and portobello pizza, but the end result was a few less cauliflower and several half-used packages of cheese from the fridge.

Mac and cheese with cauliflower

1 lb. pasta shells
2 1/2 c. cauliflower (about 1/2 head)
1 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
1 small onion, chopped
3 T. wheat flour
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 t. smoke paprika
3 c. skim milk
1 c. chicken stock
3 c. grated cheese (used a mix of sharp cheddar, taco cheese and colby jack)
1 T. dijon mustard

Cook pasta in boiling water, 5 min. Add cauliflower and cook additional 3-4 min. or until cauliflower is just tender. Drain well and return to the pot.

Meanwhile, melt butter with olive oil in pan, at medium heat. Cook onions 3-5 minutes. Raise heat, whisk in flour and spices. Whisk until roux bubbles and cook 1 minute more. Add milk and stock and raise the heat a bit higher until it bubbles. (Be careful to continue stirring, or you may have it scald on the bottom.) Drop heat and simmer 3-5 minutes or until sauce thickens.

Add cheese and stir to melt; add mustard and salt and pepper. Pour over pasta and cauliflower; stir to combine.

Spicy but good!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Green Phone Booth: A Time of Need

As a parent of a first grader, I've struggled with a balance of staying informed with the news and opening my daughter to the reality of 9/11 and the questions I'm sure will follow. Rather than marking the 10th anniversary beyond what's said at our church on Sunday, we'll quietly remember it in our hearts and follow my child's lead if any questions arise.

One thing that has stuck with me this week is a comment I heard on the radio on turning 9/11 rememberances into a time of forgiveness. Others have talked about a time of prayer or a time of good works. All are remarkable ideas - turning our small sacrifices of a way to remember those who sacrificed their lives on that day.

Today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm reflecting on the anniversary and how it makes life's hassles seem so small. Join the conversation.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Today I was reminded again and again just how fragile life can be.

I turned on the news to see a good friend's town engulfed in flames. I wasn't able to reach anyone until nearly 10 p.m. my time, when I finally reached her sister. Thankfully she is well, and her home is located between two of the shelters in Bastrop, Texas, so it appears to be out of harm's way.

Then I arrived at work and learned that a priest I'd known for years had passed away unexpectedly during the weekend. Fr. Ruta was such a friendly soul, and such a good servant of God.

And finally I learned tonight that a friend's mother has been diagnosed with cancer.

No matter the good times or bad, they can change in an instant. And that is why we have to have hope that things work out, in this world or the next.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Organizing kids' clothes: A way to Excel at it

Garage sales, hand-me-downs, resale and other sources for kids' clothes have gotten us through the last few years. The challenge is keeping tabs on my finds.

Whether it's my daughter tearing apart diaper-size boxes of clothing in her closet out of boredom or my accidentally stockpiling 20 (yes, 20) short-sleeve T-shirts in a size for my son, remembering what you've acquired can be a challenge.

My solution? It's a simple one: Creating a spreadsheet to track numbers.

I track each kids' clothing pieces by size and type, and I have it uploaded so that family members who are Christmas shopping or hitting sales to splurge know what we have. My hope is it keeps us from wasting money and space, and freeing us from having more than we really need.

Want to start this simply? Create an Excel or Google Docs spreadsheet with a column for size and a row for each clothing type. For example:

uniform shirts
uniform skorts or pants
fall/winter weight PJ's
spring/summer weight PJ's
yoga/dance pants
t-shirts (long-sleeve and short-sleeve)
sweat pants/athletic pants
winter coat

I could expand this to include shoes I've picked up (such as at clearance or soccer cleats from garage sales), but those for now are much easier remembered.

I update the spreadsheets after purchases, and reprint the well-folded sheets as needed. It's an easy reference at a garage sale and has kept me from at least one unneeded purchase.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Super Undies cloth overnight training pants review

super undies reviewCloth overnight pull-ups: Were they our answer for our bedwetting preschool boy? Absolutely.

Fed up with traditional pull-ups that leaked through each night (even with buying the overnight varieties), three months ago I decided to check out whether cloth alternatives were out there. We'd had success with cloth diapers, and even in a working home, found it was a manageable and more financially friendly option for us.

The challenge was finding a pull-up alternative. After some research, I checked out Super Undies, which was a little more expensive than some other varieties but sold definite "overnight" varieties. I ended up purchasing three cloth overnight pull-ups and what they call "soaker pods" through the company.

Three months into it, I've more than made my money back, and I have a more confident boy. He happily wears his "super boy undies" and "potty pads" (when I know he's had a lot to drink at night) each evening, without complaint. I really believe that having the cloth on has made him more aware at night - and we're having more and more incidents of "dry" mornings!

I love the fact that I don't have to do a bedding change each morning, that the Super Undies washable and dryable (though I've more than broken the rule on no fabric softener!), that my kid is comfortable using them and putting them on without mom having to help.

Yes, the cost gave me pause at first; but if you do some research, you may be able to find "seconds" (often returns, which they can't resell at full price). And if you factor in the cost of disposables - and of washing and rewashing laundry - it was well worth the investment. While I'm hoping to be through the bedwetting phase before he outgrows these, I'd comfortably reorder the next size if needed!

Disclaimer: I received no discount, payment or any other renumeration for my Super Undies, though I did my cloth seconds.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dear home association

Dear home association,

Today I received a letter from you stating that we were once again in violation of our shrub count on our property.

My 3 year old knows that 10 bushes and four trees on our little lot far exceed the minimum eight bushes and two trees required by our agreement. All of my bushes are indeed alive, though they've taken a toll by our harsh summer. (I for one, would have loved to have had my blueberry bushes produce, but the hailstorms followed by the heat meant we got fewer berries than could fit in my hand.) Others are currently obscured by the fact that my black eyed Susans shot up to unforseen heights.

Before you waste my HOA fees again to mail me a letter, please visit my property when I'm here and actually pay attention. Or take kindergarten math. Your choice.

Homeowners at lot 425

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chinese Red Noodle Beans: A Great Find!

Purple beans, yellow beans, grean beans. Now we're happily adding red to our mix.

After last year's happy discovery of asparagus beans (which strangely enough the wasps happily hung out at all season), we opted for another variety of long beans this summer: the Chinese Red Noodle Bean. An heirloom variety, the red long beans easily grew more than 18 inches long, and the vines taller than myself.

The red noodle beans took little more than bamboo poles to climb and water to grow - no extra care or skill required - are still producing in this heat when other plants - my purple bush beans included - aren't.

I found this interesting tip from Harvest by thickness not by length, but take caution not to wait so long that the seeds bulge, which means the beans are too fibrous.

If you're looking for ideas to try these with, most recommend a stirfry, often with garlic or chilis, or try this recipe for glazed long beans from the Food Network.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lunchbox Love: Chocolate-covered banana chips

Chocolate-covered banana chips were one of those happy accidents, and an easy treat for my daughter's lunchbox. Not the fanciest, nor possibly the prettiest dish, but a great addition for her to munch on!

We had purchased some banana chips from a natural food vendor, which didn't fare so well for my children. These weren't the usual fried and salted variety, so they were a bit bland for their liking.

Instead, we shook things up by melting some chocolate chips in the microwave and letting them dip the banana chips into it. (An easy enough task that even my 3 year old could happily help.) We let them cool overnight before packing. It's the fastest those banana chips have ever been eaten!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sew what? Stuffy and the Sandwich Bags

Last weekend I was excited to have scored both a "grown-up" and a kids book on sewing at our local library's Friends sale. To which my very own mother retorted, "Will your daughter learn to sew first or will you?"

First off, I can sew. And my sewing machine? It's been lovingly packed in its box since I got it...11 Christmases ago. (Of course, I was in graduate school and working full-time, then in the middle of a move, then became a parent...blah blah blah.)

Last year, I decided my first dive into actually using it as a sewing machine instead of a potential first step for my son in his closet would be making reusable sandwich bags for school lunches. I had the chance to review a few last fall, and realized that they are fairly simple contraptions...if you have the time to make them!

So with the best of intentions, I picked up nylon scraps and velcro at a fabric store...last fall. Summer passed, and I realized that I really could use a few more sandwich or snack bags, but was hesitant to pay for more cloth wraps (or for their plastic counterparts).

So this weekend, armed with $4 worth of materials, the fabric from my beloved pink wrinkle-free Coldwater Creek shirt that ripped after four years, and a hovering six year old, I went to work. Without a pattern. Or reading the instructions for the sewing machine!

My daughter, to her credit, made felt finger puppets patterned (loosely) after those in her kids sewing projects book. And that's when I learned a few things:

1. My daughter doesn't like directions any more than I do.
2. Imperfect is OK too.

For a few hours' of work, four dollars and minimal swearing, we wound up with two sandwich bags, two snack-size bags (great for crackers or the dried mango she loves), and Stuffy and Floofy (her names) finger puppets.

For two girls who don't listen, I don't think we did bad work! And, thankfully, I have up to another year to convert my other ripped wrinkle-free shirt into blue baggies for full-day pre-K. (Oh, and mom, I guess you could say it's a tie. And I could use a few more Coldwater Creek wrinkle-free shirts for my birthday.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Putting plastic out of schools

"Plastic is good," my daughter announced to me one afternoon on the way home. I think my eyes bugged out of my head.

What I didn't realize until we talked further is that that my recycled toothbrush-toting child had interpreted a plastic recycling message into "It's a good thing" after her Earth Day lessons.

But what if our kids were really taught that plastic is a good thing? That's what may be happening in San Francisco, and it's a scary thought. There, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the plastic lobby has influenced children's textbooks, adding statements like plastic bags are convenient to use and use less energy than paper bags. (Yes, and they hold one to two items, have to be doubled up because they constantly rip out before even one use, and will still be here for generations to come!) You can read other edits the American Chemical Society proposed and were incoporated into school textbooks on the Chronicle's website.

If you live in California, stand up about this interjection into your children's education by signing this petition.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hot dog! The holidays are coming!

Christmas lists in my household are remarkably short. I've always been impressed that my children have yet to come up with long wish lists of gift ideas.

Recently my sister, ever the planner, asked for our Christmas lists for the kids. My daughter struggled and then said nail polish. (Maybe there's an eco-friendly version?)

My son? Well, that's a different story. He requested:

  • a hot dog pan

  • a "quacker" to turn the hot dogs

  • a hot dog grill

  • and, as if it needed to be said, hot dogs.

The lesson? Feed that boy first!

Aunt B? I'll send a list of needs soon!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Local produce that's not

South Carolina peaches at an Indiana farm stand? It just seems out of place - and that it breaches that unsaid promise of locally produced (or at least grown in the state) produce.

Today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm writing about my confusion of local farmers who sell really non-local produce at their markets.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bringing out the blessings

The next phase in my story of stuff....

The summer months are an awkward time when it comes to the accumulation of "stuff." It's a time of compiling - birthday presents, school supplies, new shoes and socks, the right size of uniforms. Not to mention produce to be "processed" for the freezer for the winter, the smattering of seeds drying all over my kitchen and other tell-tale signs of summer.

But this summer, our story of stuff took a somewhat different turn. It was regifting our blessings that have gotten us through the last few years.

I've been reading FlyLady off an d on for a few years, and I admit very little has actually stuck into process (as evidenced by my office.) But the one concept that stuck with me was that our unused items can truly be a blessing for others. Maybe it's the idea of Christian stewardship. Maybe it's because so many helped us in small ways in those three years of immense need. Maybe it's simply time to pass things on.

But doing so means breaking free of worries - and in a sense, letting God take control. What if I get pregnant and need those boxes of baby items stashed in my closet (and surprisingly not yet being climbed on by my precarious three year old)? Then hopefully the right garage sale or hand-me-down will materialize.

What if I don't see that toy again? It's SPECIAL (though unplayed with), my children will cry. That too is mitigated, by sharing with a younger neighbor friend, our daycare, or baby cousin.

But those kind of mindsets take time to change. So slowly, box by box, bag by bag, items have disappeared from my house. Outgrown clothes are boxed by size and put on "sale" - dirt cheap - on our employee classifieds, helping everyone from grandmas now raising their grandkids to foster parents-to-be.

Sets of snowsuits and boots went to a garage sale this weekend, blessing my neighbor with a less expensive winter expense and me with funds to do more damage at the farmers market.

The last of the girl clothes were divided into a box for my sister (wrapped, so she can't return a holiday gift!) Those few items in unneeded sizes went next door to our expectant neighbor.

The cloth baby burp rags and blankets? Being boxed this week for our crisis pregnancy and adoption center.

My well-worn work clothes that I struggle with parting with? Getting picked off, one by one, for Goodwill.

In the end, those things that got us through the tough times might help another through their's. And it's a good feeling.