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 everything...now" 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?