Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
- Momz can make this process go easier by pre-cutting the shapes: Santa hat (red and white felt), snowman (white felt), carrot nose (orange felt), pipe-cleaner arms, ribbon pieces. I used a number 8 cookie cutter for my snowman template, but you can do your own pattern. Older kidz might not need this help at all and can create their own ideas.
- I set out all the small supplies in little bowls for small hands to easily pick up. I poured glue onto plates and gave them wooden skewers (sharp end cut off) to dip in the glue.
- Glue the pipe cleaner arms to the back of the snowman. Then glue the snowman to the stocking.
- Glue the white band to the santa cap. Glue the santa cap to the top of the snowman's head.
- Glue jingle bell to santa hat
- Add features: googly eyes, carrot nose, pompom mouth and buttons.
- tie small piece of ribbon in a knot and glue on for a scarf.
- Add sticky letter to personalize.
Friday, December 19, 2008
"I made “family tree”. I spent about $6.00 per tree at Target for table top trees. Then I used mostly old small ornaments that I hadn’t used in years to decorate them. Hot Glue is my favorite tool, and makes everything go faster and STICK…although if it is too hot, it will melt those little pine needles J To personalize them, I used a photoshop type program to blend family members into (free) ornament clip art, printed them up, and then hung the ornaments on the tree. Each of our family members are represented, plus, I used extended family photo on my SIL tree. I think these would also make a nice wreath…we debated, but decided on the tree this year.
My Sister-in-law’s mom is joining us for Christmas, and I don’t know her very well. I was loathe to get a bath and body set or candy, so instead I printed up a picture of my brother and her daughter, and put it in a frame that was going unused. I garnished the frame with small ornaments and garland to dress it up."
Michele also made a DVD with photos and accompanying music to send as a gift. I've done this as well--she even made custom DVD labels! It's very inexpensive and grandparents adore them. When I made mine (using my Mac, of course) it was so easy to sync the songs to the pictures. Plus, I was able to use the song that always make me think of each child ("She" by Elvis Costello and "Wonder" by Natalie Merchant) and play each song for photos of each child. With today's technology this is a really great, inexpensive and thoughtful gift. In my opinion, way better than a $50 tie made by 8 year olds in a developing country for .20 an hour!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
A two-fer: a socially conscious and eco-friendly way to recycle Christmas cards
"The children participate in making the new recycled cards by removing the front and attaching a new back made with recycled paper. The new card is a beautiful, 'green' card made by the children and volunteers. The benefits are two-fold: customers receive 'green' holiday cards for use and the children receive payment for their work and learn the benefits and importance of 'going green'".
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
Hand Painted Gift Boxes, Cookies, and Ornaments.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Pasta of choice (amount will vary depending upon the size wreath you make) I used two bags of egg noodles
green food coloring
large ziploc bags (one for each kid involved works well)
scissors or utility knife
2-3 Bottles of white glue (one for each kid involved works well)
• Pour pasta into large ziploc bags. Do no stuff the ziplocs. The pasta needs to be able to slide around.
• Add drops of food coloring to the bags, 5-10 drops to start. Again, it will all depend upon pasta variety used and quantity that you are coloring. I add 5-10 drops, close bag and shake, slide, jiggle, whatever for a few minutes to get an idea of the coverage. Add more if desired. Some recipes call for adding alcohol or vinegar. I've never used either.
• Spread out 2-3 layers of paper towels on counter.
• After achieving desired coloring and coverage of the food coloring on the pasta, pour and spread out the wet colored pasta onto the paper towels to dry. I let mine dry overnight.
• Decide what size you want your wreath to be. I traced around a large platter in order to draw the large circle. I then traced a smaller plate for the middle. Because I was trying to bulk up the wreath, I cut three of those circles of cardboard and then trimmed them each down to be a little smaller than the next. All three layers were glued together with white glue.
Glueing on the Pasta:
• First divided the fully dried colored pasta into two large bowls (one for each child).
• Next, I drizzled white glue to coat the cardboard base. Leaving very little cardboard showing through.
• Place colored pasta on glue cardboard base anywhere and everywhere. Initially the kids were tentative placing only one piece at a time, but they soon learned that would have taken them days and we simply had way too much pasta. They then started taking small handfuls of the colored pasta and placing them onto the base.
• I then went and balanced the pasta heaping mounds out around the entire wreath. It would have been a tad lopsided otherwise.
• All three of us took a glue bottle and started drizzling large heavy amounts of glue all over the wreath. I think we may have used 2.5-3 full bottles by the end of all of it. We were overly generous, but they were having a grand time!
• Let dry overnight.
• I bought a roll of ribbon from Target that has the wire inside it, so it was each to shape. After forming the bow, I hot glued it in place.
• With the smaller wreath I made (that broke in our move!) I was able to use a small loop decorative silver ribbon similar to the kind you would wrap a gift with.
• We now have a glass panels on our front door, so there is no way I'm hammering a nail in the front and needed to use a over the door wreath hanger. The wreath hanger I purchased did not accommodate the bulk of the wreath very well, so I needed to create a way to attach the wreath to the hanger. First off, the wreath's size made it too heavy for the decorative ribbon to hang with, so I went with a spool of thin wire. I looped it through the center hole and twisted the ends together. Had I considered this issue prior to assembling all the pasta, I might have tried to leave a smaller hole or attach something to the back of the cardboard that would have hidden the hanging aspect of the wreath much more discreetly.
• My kids absolutely loved this project and each wants to make one for their bedroom doors. We'll see!
• I've wondered about adding more "red" to the wreath. I chose a silver bow, but could have used red. My daughter suggested red balls on the wreath like berries. I have mixed feelings about it. I like being able to see the pasta. Boring, maybe. Maybe next year!
Friday, December 12, 2008
- Send online cards via email. This is not my favorite because I adore getting something--anything--in the mail that isn't a) junk or b) bills. But it certainly cuts down on tree killing--you can include photos, holiday clip art, and the Christmas letter if you do those.
- Send postcards instead of folding cards in envelopes. This is what we are doing this year. Because we ran low on time and creativity, I used an online template from Vista Print. They offer traditional Christmas cards but I went to their marketing materials section and found an oversized postcard with a holiday theme, added my own photo and sentiments, and ordered them. You can even have them mail the cards for you! I ordered exactly as many as I need and will have no envelopes, so I am thinking I'm cutting back on tree killing.
- Reuse last year's cards. In an article by Jane Paige in the Carolina Parent magazine, one green idea is to make new cards from old by crafting your own cards on your own recycled paper, then gluing the paper to the old cards--giving you a sturdy foundation for your new card. You can also cut up elements you like from old cards to make ornaments, gift tags, and more!
- Create a traditional card, but instead of printing out the annual Christmas letter, write the letter online and include a link to the site in your cards. That way you save paper and printer ink, and can also upload photos and such onto your website. There are lots of free blogging sites (like Blogger and Wordpress) that work great for this purpose.
- Get the kidz involved--buy some plain notecards and envelopes made from recycled paper (try Paperworks online if you don't have a local source) and have the kidz make their own cards. You can have some photos printed up; set up a large table with magazines, old christmas cards, tags, colored papers, crayons, markers and even glitter and paint. Kidz can glue the photos down and decorate the cards how they want. If you have a sticker maker, kidz can cut out holiday images from magazines and turn them into stickers to put on the cards. What fun!
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Adorable Gift/Shopping bags, $1.49 each at Toys R Us.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
I promised to write about ideas for a holiday season that are thoughtful and creative and really bring the spirit of the season into our homes. So I am going to expand on one idea each day.
- It's easier than ever to find small businesses thanks to the internet; you can even go local by checking the chamber of commerce or locally themed bulletin boards online like the forums at city-data.com.
- find mom-run businesses and help a mother help her family. Here's one I just love: Karen's Kitsch (see picture for an example of her work). Karen makes gorgeous personalized jewelry. Check out the site!
- I have a new favorite business: Just Write! stationery in Cary, NC. I have been driving all of 5 minutes (saving the earth with the short drive!) to select gorgeous note cards and other stationery products as gifts; this local small business feels like what it is: it's staffed by personable, knowledgeable folks, and service is friendly and professional. Plus, when I purchase notecards or other products which can be personalized, I get to choose the font and color for personalization--and it's free! They have invitations, note cards, place cards, holiday cards, just about anything paper related. If you're like me and not quite artsy enough to do it yourself, finding a great local stationer is a great way to go.
- For those nights you just can't cook because you're busy decorating or shopping for Christmas, visit your local pizza place. Unlike employees at big chains, they are probably more willing and able to talk to you about allergy and natural food product concerns. If pizza's not your thing, seek out a local restaurant that offers freshly made meals, or your local natural food store; many of these offer ready made or ready to cook dinners for a reasonable price. I found this online listing of organic/natural restaurants in the US and Canada.
- Sure, kids aren't going to be thrilled about a jar of home made jam or hand-crafted Christmas cards, but there are alternatives to the usual stores for some of your shopping. Believe it or not, there are still local toy stores out there. I have been doing a lot of shopping at my local Learning Express store, which is a franchise but owned locally. The toys there are usually more creative and learning-focused than your average TRU store, and I have even found organic baby toys there.
Monday, December 8, 2008
- Make home made ornaments and bring the kids into the fun for a double benefit: family time + checking off some names on the Christmas list. Some specific ideas: applesauce/cinnamon ornaments (see previous post). Use to decorate your tree, as gifts, or to tie to gifts as tags.
- Make personalized stationery. If you're really crafty, make your own folded note cards and stamp or otherwise embellish them. You can also go simpler and add a pretty monogram or personalization with your computer. Tie with leftover grosgrain or giftwrap ribbon and you have a great gift.
- Bake cookies and consider having a cookie exchange in the neighborhood or with family and friends. I like the neighborhood idea because it brings neighbors together during a festive season when people decorate their homes but it might be too cold to run into each other on the street regularly. I'll have a separate post explaining the tradition.
- Bake cookies as gifts. Home made cookies are a great treat at the holidays. Have the kids help decorate them. To gussy them up, be sure to make up pretty recipe cards. You can also buy simple cardboard boxes at your craft store for a couple of dollars, paint them with craft paints, and put the cookies in them and tie them up with a bow. You can even trace cookie cutter outlines on the box to hint at what's inside! Then you have a beautiful gift box that can be reused for another purpose.
- Here's a great idea shared by Karen of Karen's Kitsch: buy cute shopping bags at stores (she saw some great ones at Ikea; a girlfriend of mine had the same idea and got some great ones at Trader Joe's) and use them as gift bags. These bags are all the rage now at grocery stores, even at my local Hallmark! So not only are you wrapping up a gift in an attractive fashion, you're giving the recipient a shopping bag for future use. How cool is that? You can even find fabric bags in a variety of sizes at Oriental Trading in bulk.
- Use newspaper as gift wrap. The comics are a colorful and fun way to reuse, and then recycle, your newspaper. It's practical, it's funky, and it's eco-friendly.
- Have a clothing swap: find other Momz who are about your size and who have kidz who are either your kidz' size or one up/down. Pull out the clothes that don't fit your kidz any more or those pieces that, let's face it, you bought and they just never wore. Find things of your own that you bought without trying on and just didn't work; the shoes that turned out not to be as comfy on you as you thought; or things you might not have use for any more (such as business attire when you're working from home or in a less formal environment). Have everyone over, make hot cocoa and offer some of your home made Christmas cookies, and go "shopping!"
- Make things from scratch. Yes, I know, you want to smack me. Who has time, especially during the holidays? But if you can set aside a Sunday afternoon you can probably knock out several entrees in large batches and freeze them in portions sized for your family. You can also save money this way--processed, prepackaged food is more expensive than buying whole ingredients. We pay for convenience with our wallets and our health. Make your own cocoa instead of buying the boxes with the mystery ingredients: Hershey's has the recipe right on the can and it's nothing more than milk, cocoa, sugar and vanilla. My kidz love it!
- If money's tight, make an agreement with the family that this year will truly be about the kids. Skip the ties and the itchy sweaters for the adults and just do presents for the kids. You'll save tons and have less "stuff" to clutter up your house. Or, just do home made gifts that the kids had a hand in making.
- Make shadow box picture frames. You can make them yourself or buy them at a craft store. One year I bought smallish shadow box frames on sale (my craft stores are perpetually offering 40% off a single item coupons). I used scrapbooking paper for a mat, mounted a photo of my children at the beach and a seashell or two they had collected, and personalized by writing or printing out a related quote on vellum. Voila! A grandparent gift. This is an especially good idea if you have pictures from a special time your kids spent with their grandparents.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Friday, December 5, 2008
With the pace of life being so frenetic these days, it seems like most of my recent years have been nourished (I use the term loosely) by bags of frozen food or semi-fast food. While I feel okay about trips to Panera, with their fresh baked bread and organic options for the kids, I have to face facts: there are about 10,000 too many french fries in my family's past.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Below is a link to a great holiday resource: almost 300 alternative shopping ideas from Twitter Moms. With the economy in so much trouble, I've been trying to shop locally and with small family-run businesses as much as possible; I have to worry that they will be the first to suffer. Check out these shopping ideas--there are some wonderful, creative, and unique gift ideas, all from moms!
Saturday, November 22, 2008
$22.99 plus s&h
Friday, November 21, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Kidz Rating: D
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Yesterday we took the kidz and dogz to Umstead State Park. One of the things I love about living in NC (we're recent transplants after 8 years in Tampa, FL) is the parks: we have a state park just minutes from our house, and loads of local area parks all around the metro area. We have parks with sailboats and paddle boats to rent, parks with miles and miles of walking trails, even a park with a carousel.
Umstead State Park has over 20 miles of walking trails. It's autumn in NC now, and I am realizing that this is my kidz' first ever real fall, since Central West Florida is not known for its deciduous trees. It was utterly beautiful yesterday, and it was such a joy watching the kidz run around, pick up leaves, and just enjoy the beauty of the place. Other than the sirens we heard at one point, it was very peaceful and quiet. We occasionally saw other people walking their dogs or running the trails.
It was a wonderful (and free!) outing and a great way for my Nature Kidz to experience autumn for the first time. Go check out your local parks and enjoy!
Amy's Macaroni and Cheese made from Organic Pasta
Kidz Rating: A (kid 1), C+ (kid 2)
Momz Rating: A
It's not easy finding prepared foods that aren't full of scary ingredients like artifical flavors, colors and preservatives that are made from petroleum. Amy's is a yummy, natural option that has the added bonus of not having any GMOs in it--it says so right on the box.
I have never been a fan of the scary blue box. My kids never had it until dining out, and of course they loved it. I've had a hard time weaning them off it. Can nuclear orange powder really somehow have any relation to actual cheese?
I love Amy's. Whenever I prepare this for my kids I always lick the spoon and scrape the sides of the box for my own secret treat. 6 year old Nature Kid loves it, too. 9 year old Nature Kid is less enthusiastic, calling it "goopy." Apparently all that real cheese offends her palate.
And the best part? This meal takes 3 minutes in my microwave and serves two Kidz (they eat this along with veggies and usually a bread or fruit, too).
Amy's isn't cheap. But it's comfort food one step away from Momz own.
Cherchie's White Bean Chili and a Home Made Slow-Cooker Alternative
Momz Rating: A
Dadz Rating: A+
Kidz Rating: B-
Momz Rating: B-
Dadz Rating: B+
Kidz Rating: C-
So, this afternoon I was slaving over my Kitchen Aid mixer making yummy cornbread from scratch and Cherchie's White Bean Chili for dinner when the doorbell rang. Nature Dad answered and, when he returned from a brief discussion with whomever was at the door, informed me that Thomasville (that's the furniture people--we live in NC) had people at the door asking if we wanted to buy furniture direct from the warehouse; they had two trucks full of stuff and were going door to door selling it.
Within two minutes, Nature Dad returned from the playroom after checking on Nature Girlz (they were being too quiet--we knew that they just had to be up to no good) and informed me that they were playing "homeless children." He asked if I remembered playing something like that as a child.
Of course not. We didn't even have the term homeless when I was a child.
Now, maybe it's because I recently watched Kit Kittredge for the second time, but this really affected me. Here I am trying to live a more back-to-basics, natural existence for my kids' sake, and someone (was it really Thomasville reps? was it stolen? Is Thomasville going under?) it out selling nice furniture out of the back of a truck, and the world seems to be crashing around us.
9 year old Nature Girl has been bringing home her ziploc bags from her lunch box--so I can use them again.
And I remarked the other day to another mom that I think I might go bankrupt at Whole Foods just trying to keep artificial junk out of my family's foods (Though I'm learning to find things at my local grocery store, too). Why is is that Cheetos are much cheaper than cheese? Why is it that, pound for pound, it's cheaper to buy fatty ground beef and Hamburger Helper than it is healthful meats and fresh vegetables? What's going to happen to our health in tough economic times?
I, for one, have no intention of turning to Velveeta and margarine.
The soup I made tonight claims to be "81 cents per serving" on its website (I think I paid a bit less than the site's retail price for my bag); I added some cut up chicken breast to it, and served it with homemade cornbread (another inexpensive option). While this meal was, of course, less costly (to our wallet and our health) than a meal out eating food of questionable provenance (did you know that many shredded cheeses have an anti-caking agent made from WOOD?), it is also labor-intensive and takes an 8-mile hike to Whole Foods to get everything (hello, Whole Foods, can you please open a store closer to me?)
But as for the food: I cooked the chili in my crockpot, bypassing the directions. I used a carton of natural low-sodium chicken broth to replace most of the water called for, and also added about a pound of cooked, chopped chicken breast. My additions made the meal not vegetarian, but leaving out the chicken broth and chicken makes a nice, inexpensive vegetarian meal (with leftovers!). The chili is also gluten-free. I topped each bowl with a hearty dollop of sour cream and shredded cheese.
The chili cooked in my crockpot all day while the Nature Peepz were out enjoying ourselves. The result was absolutely wonderful. Fall has really set in here, and it was a blustery day in the 50s. Chili was a great option for dinner. The white beans make for a creamy, thick, yummy concoction and Cherchie's adds just the right seasoning. I often make my own white bean chili, but I think I like the mix better than my recipe. The package states that it has jalapenos, and I suppose it does, but it's not an especially spicy food--suitable for kids for sure!
For the cornbread I used the basic recipe on the package of my corn meal. I don't use corn meal "mix" because I never really know what goes in there--I used House Autry Plain Yellow Corn Meal for this recipe. We found it to be really too dry--I had to choke it down. We like a moister corn bread, ever since a former neighbor baked a sinful recipe with sour cream and all sorts of other additions that my kids dubbed "corn cake" for its moist, sweet yummy-ness.
If you like a dense, crumbly corn bread, this one is good.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Momz rating: A-
Dadz rating: A
MOM RATING: B+
KID RATING: C
Lifeway Organic Website
My first reaction to this product was to think that finally someone in the natural food industry has figured out kid packaging. The bright colors, yucky name ("Sublime Slime Lime"), and cool screw-off top seemed like a sure seller to me. Who bought the stuff while in the grocery store alone. Oops.
I'm going to try another flavor with my kids to see if they prefer that and will review later. I am a regular customer of Lifeway's "adult" versions of kefir--it's smooth, delicious, and, if you buy all the hype about probiotics, very good for you. I prefer to buy whole milk products for my kids since the Vitamin A that gets added to reduced and nonfat versions can have artificial elements, so I was thrilled to see these on the grocery store shelf. A closer look at the ingredients, however, says "Vitamin A Palmitate," which is always a warning flag to us Nature Momz. They have all the parent-friendly buzzwords on the front: organic, probiotic, and my favorite: "no spill spout."
My six year old (pickiest eater on the planet) was interested in the top--it's a cool black plastic device shaped similar to a 4-leaf clover. She told me at breakfast: "I don't want this, but I want the top." I told her to try it. And that if she wanted the top, she had to finish it. She tried it, made a face, and shook her head no. Tried it again, same reaction. She said it was too "banana-y" even though there was no banana in it.
My nine year old thought it looked cool enough to try (and who am I kidding, she's a great eater and will try most anything). She thought it was "okay" but didn't like it enough to want a full one of her own.
I tried it and I think it's delicious. Almost like a creamy lime popsicle, just not frozen. I say give it a try. After all, as the label says, the product is made with 100% renewable energy. Gotta support that!
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
In our efforts to avoid artificial colors, flavors, and other unwanted additives, we recently purchased some Tom's toothpaste. Back in my crunchy vegetarian grad school days I'd used Tom's and liked it, other than the somewhat chalky texture. I bought the kid version at my local grocery store and asked my kids to give a review.