Monday, December 28, 2009
May you find time for all that calls to your heart.
May you discover new ways to care for your body and soul.
May you read something that changes you.
May you be compelled to offer more than just good intentions to your community, your world, and your family.
May you make time for quiet.
May you appreciate all that you have.
May you feel contentment.
May you know that you are loved.
May you do the best you can and be proud of it.
May you be able to hear “the other side”.
And may you be open to everything this world will offer you.
I wish you many blessings for the New Year. Thanks for reading. I am honored.
I’ll write again in 2010!
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
And it’s not just because I write one. (Actually ours is a New Year’s Letter because I just can’t get it together before Christmas, so I’ve stopped trying).
I hear a lot of Annual Letter bashing – it’s too impersonal, they’re boring, too long, no one really cares about all that stuff, or the top complaint – it’s just bragging.
Here's the thing, if you can’t brag to your friends and family about how great your kids are – who can you brag to?
I absolutely want to hear you brag about your kids – everyone should. Every kid needs to have people who brag about them! Is it worth telling us that your kid won third place in the 2nd heat of the Pinewood Derby? Absolutely – I want to know! And pictures of the winning car, please!
Should you tell us that your daughter was the little lamb in the school Christmas pageant? How cool is that? And what about the pet’s latest antics? Yes, yes, yes, this is good stuff. It gives me a window in to your life.
Maybe you're thinking that since we're friends on Facebook, I already know what's going on in your life, but you're wrong! I'm spotty with my Facebook attendance, and couldn't possibly keep up with the hundreds of "friends" I've accumulated.
People who criticize Christmas Letters are probably just jealous that someone else is taking the time to write at length about their own family. Face it; no one has time to write personal notes in all their Christmas cards. A Christmas Letter fills me in on what you’ve been up to all year. For too many of my long lost friends, this is all the information I will get until the next Christmas Letter, so I’ll take it and be grateful.
But a letter rocks it. It doesn't need to be anything fancy or clever. Sure, some people are super creative and do things like Top Ten lists or poems about their year. Good for them. If you're the type - what better way to invest your talents?
Maybe words aren't your thing, No problem - I have a few friends who send collages of pictures with comments. I have another friend who each year sends a collection of the funniest (or most poignant) things her children have said that year. And there are a few who just use bullet points, but that works too. It gets the information across.
If you need a selfish reason to write, here’s one - do it for posterity.
I’ve got annual letters that go back 25 years now. That’s a big chunk of my life history. Hopefully, someday my descendants will want to read it. If only to gawk at how we lived, back in the days when we couldn’t tele-transport and water was abundant and free. There’s important history in these letters. Something lasting. If I ever sat down to write, “my story” there’s no way I would remember all the details of our life over the years. These letters are a clue. They celebrate the things that were important to us, the events that moved us, and the accomplishments we were proud of in any given year. I wish that my grandmothers had written letters for me to read. I would have loved to have known what their lives were really like. So if you can’t write for the rest of us, write for your future relatives.
I love Christmas Letters. I open the cards and make a stack of the letters to savor over a cup of tea when the house is quiet. After I read them I think about the people who sent them and the people they wrote about. Sometimes there is a picture to study. Reading these letters is a little sacred to me. For a few minutes my heart is connected to someone whose life has touched mine somewhere in this journey. There are lots of friends I haven’t seen in years but who made an imprint on my life and heart and so I want to hold on to the fragile thread that connects us. These letters help me do that – much more so than a beautiful card with professional greetings and a quick signature. I’m not complaining – if that’s all you have time for than I’m just grateful I’m still on your list.
But for those of you who wonder whether you should write the Christmas Letter and are afraid of being boring or sounding silly or being one of those people – I’m hear to tell you - write!
Write the letter from your heart and brag all you want – there’s nothing wrong with bragging about people you love to people you love. Nothing. And there’s nothing wrong with photocopying your message to 100 of your closest friends and relatives. Or e-mailing if that's easier. It’s a celebration that you have so many people in your life who matter that you have to resort to mass mailings. This is a good problem!
So please write that letter. The people who love you want to know what’s happening in your life. They really do. Bring on the holiday letters!
p.s. If you send me a letter, I promise you'll get a copy of mine (but it doesn't make it in the mail until New Year's).
p.p.s. If you need help getting started, there are plenty of sites that will give you ideas! Here's a few-
Tips for Sending Christmas Letters
Seven Tips for Sparkling Christmas Letters
Writing a Holiday Letter
Thursday, December 17, 2009
This year will be different! It’s the year of the different Christmas (just ask my kids who are very worried about what Santa might not bring this year). This year I’m not using wrapping paper. However after surveying the options, not wrapping wasn’t one of them. I realize it’s very environmentally friendly and probably true to the real spirit of Santa to leave the presents bare, but I need the wrapping. I would miss all the anticipation, which is possibly the best thing about a Christmas present. So this year I’m wrapping our presents in fabric. I’ve seen this idea in several magazines but I’d always assumed it took someone who knew her way around a fabric store, could operate a sewing machine, and speak the lingo (“no, just 2 yards will be plenty from that bolt”). I can now say that you truly don’t have to be a whiz in home ec to handle wrapping your presents in fabric.
About two weeks ago, I set off for the fabric store with my daughter in tow (needed to have buy-in from the kids on this project). We picked out lots of beautiful Christmas fabrics that were on sale for ½ price and bought 2 yards of six different fabrics and a pair of pinking shears (love the name). Then we headed to the craft store where ribbon had been advertised 50% off. We picked out several spools of a different color ribbon for each family member. In lieu of tags we will tie the appropriate ribbon on each package.
Once home I chose a gift to wrap and carefully cut out enough fabric to cover the present just like I would if it was paper wrap. I used the pinking shears to make pretty edges on all four sides. Then I wrapped up the package like I wrap it with paper, only I was using fabric which was soft and didn’t tear or wrinkle. I folded the ends over and secured them with a tiny bit of masking tape. Then I looped a ribbon over the present hiding the masking tape and holding the wrap job on securely. It looked awesome! I have never been very good at wrapping presents neatly with paper. There always seem to be crinkles and gaps. I was a whiz with the fabric. I still can’t believe how gorgeous our presents look! And the best part is that on Christmas morning we can simply fold up the material and ribbons and save them until next year. This system will not only be better for the environment and my mental state, but it will make wrapping a snap. Grab a present, grab a suitable already cut piece of material, wrap, tie on appropriate color ribbon – done! No rolls of paper, ribbons that cost a fortune, or frustration.
For the smaller things, I sewed little bags to hold them. Now, before you stop reading, I must tell you that I don’t sew either so if I could do this, you can too. I can barely operate the machine and almost had a tantrum worthy of my daughter when I ran out of bobbin thread and had to figure out what to do. But I did it and in reality, it was super simple. The only thing you have to be able to do is sew a fairly straight line. I suppose you could even do it by hand, if you were so inclined.
Here’s what you do – cut out a piece of material about twice the size of what you want the bag to ultimately be. Fold it over with the back side of the material on the outside and sew along both sides, leaving the top open. When you are finished, trim off the excess thread, and flip the bag inside out. Instant gift bag! You can slip in the tiny presents and tie the bag closed with a ribbon. I made assorted sizes to hold gift cards or a small book.
My cousin shared her Santa bag idea with me. She sews a giant bag just like my little ones for each child. It is their “Santa bag”. They leave the empty bag and a note for Santa with their cookies on Christmas Eve and Santa fills the bag with their special present. I’m off too look for special Santa Bag material tomorrow.
Another idea for wrapping with fabric is to just place the gift in the center of the material and gather each end and tie with a ribbon – sort of like a candy wrapper. It looks cute too and is even simpler than actually wrapping. My kids, being partial to all things candy, will most likely employ this method.
I was so inspired by the success of this venture that I checked out the remnant bin at the fabric store and picked up some material that looked appropriate for birthday gifts. I’m finished with wrapping paper. I’ll miss the long empty tubes that make such great swords, but not the expense or the waste.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I’ve gotten better at curbing my expectations. My children have forced me to. Still, now and again, I can succumb. This past weekend was mapped out in my mind as the All-Christmas weekend. Friday night we would do a little Christmas baking and work on our shopping lists before settling down in front of the TV with popcorn to watch our much anticipated family movie – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (my oldest is a big fan of the books, as are his mom and dad). We would wake up early Saturday morning to attend the Santa Breakfast at school and get pictures with Santa. We’d do a little Christmas shopping, before heading out to get our tree that afternoon. Then we’d spend the rest of the day decorating and listening to Christmas carols. Sunday was church, an interruption of the Christmas festivities for the first indoor soccer game of the season, and then we were having dear friends for a Christmas dinner. Throw in a little wrapping and finishing touches on some homemade Christmas gifts and it was truly to be the uber Christmas weekend. The best laid plans.
Things began to go awry late in the afternoon, as I puttered in the kitchen singing along to Jimmy Buffet’s Christmas Island. My youngest child, who is normally my happiest child, wasn’t happy. Pretty much anything set him off. If I hadn’t been so caught up in my fantasy Christmas weekend, I might have picked up on the fact that there was more to his discontent than a long week at school and a much anticipated visit with Santa. But before I could even go there, I was interrupted by a chicken crisis. Seems the wind had blown the chicken pen gate shut during the day. Now it was growing dark and the most of the chicken’s hadn’t been able to get in to the pen to sleep in their hen house. Only six had been able to fly successfully over the fence and find their perches. Shining the flashlight on their annoyed faces as my daughter’s fear ramped up, I had a premonition that this weekend of holiday cheer was not to be.
We spent an hour looking for the lost hens and found three. I stacked up hay bales to climb up and retrieve one from a rafter in the barn. (How is it she could get up there, but couldn’t scale our four foot wire fence that sags in spots from the cat’s antics?). One was huddled behind the feed bins and one was roosting on the lawnmower. That left six still missing. We took a break from our searching to eat a quick dinner. So much for the amazing dinner I had created to launch our wonderful weekend – a decadent cream of crab soup and handmade French bread. There was no time to linger over a glass of wine and rub out tummies. There were hens in danger of freezing or being eaten by a fox.
As the temperatures dropped rapidly (the forecast was for 16 degrees over night!), we expanded our search. This turned up two more hens roosting on our tomato frames that were stacked against the bike shed, clearly in enemy dog territory. If the chickens were in the dogs’ area, they were obviously disoriented and panicked (and lucky to be alive!). One more chicken was discovered huddled underneath some bikes in the shed. That left three chickens out for the night. Once it gets dark, chickens hunker down. They don’t squawk or cluck or make noises of any kind. Two of the chickens still missing were Bard Rocks which are a dark color with little specks of white. So we were essentially looking for a small, silent dark blob in the dark. We finally gave up and decided we would pray that the hens would make it through the night. By the time we reached this decision, it was nearly bedtime for 2 out of 3 kids, so we nixed the much anticipated movie night and played a quick game of scoreless scrabble instead.
Saturday morning began before daylight when my youngest child woke with a migraine – begging for his eye cover and throwing up with every movement. He gets these migraines periodically and they pretty much level him. But today? On this weekend? So much for Santa and his breakfast.
I went out to see what had become of our three lost hens. There was no movement anywhere until I let out the rooster. He began crowing and yelling and strutting all over. He was definitely aware that some of his harem was lost. I didn’t think there was much hope, but then a squawk arose from a pine tree at the bottom of our property, far, far away from the chicken pens and the barn. Soon a very frightened hen was frantically darting for cover from bush to bush making her way back to her man. Another hen turned up later in the morning, unannounced silently sneaking back from her night out. But the third one was gone. Of course it was Thing 2. Thing 2 was our parade chicken, a great layer, and a beautiful Rhode Island Red hen. Why couldn’t it have been a bard rock? I made the mistake of thinking this out loud and my daughter chastised me with a horrified look.
After the chicken recovery, my daughter and I headed over to the school where she ate her fill of pancakes and I volunteered with the school book sale. Thinking we could still salvage something of the weekend, we went home to access the damage. I mentally laid out hopes of Christmas shopping and wrapping and convincing my husband to hang up colored lights outside. A friend stopped by to bring my son’s soccer shirt for the game the next day and as she was leaving her child noticed that one of our chickens was bleeding badly.
It took three of us a good deal of time to catch the bleeding chicken, which led me to believe the wound wasn’t mortal, despite the blood. We brought her inside and washed her up in the mudroom sink. She wasn’t thrilled at this adventure, but she allowed it. The wound was pretty huge. One entire side looked just like the chicken you see in the grocer’s meat case. On my daughter’s instruction, I slathered it in Neosporin and used a blow dryer to dry her off as best I could. As I sat cradling the wounded chicken, blood covering my jacket, holding a blow-dryer to her feathers, I wondered if anyone else’s weekend was going like this. This was not the Christmas weekend I had planned. I shook my head at my life, but I smiled because despite the blood and the chicken and the wrecked weekend, we have a good life.
We put the hen in a crate inside to keep her warm and see if the bleeding would stop. We couldn’t let her out with the rest of the hens if she was still bleeding profusely. Maybe you aren’t aware that chickens are savage beasts? If one is bleeding or injured, many times the others will peck it to death. Seems there is no compassion in the chicken world. Of course, the injured hen was my last remaining Rhode Island Red. Of course it was.
By the time the chicken was tended and the child with the migraine feeling better, there were two extra kids at my house and it was too late for chopping down a Christmas tree. In keeping with the Christmas Spirit, the kids decided to create a haunted house in the basement. Huh? That’s what I said as I listened to them make the mess downstairs, shrieking and laughing. I guess the blood was inspiring. So much for our Christmas weekend. Luckily that night I escaped for a Christmas party with my book club (no children, no hubbies, and definitely no bleeding chickens, just lots of cranberry-infused vodka and good company).
Sunday wasn’t much better as far as the Christmas celebrations. We didn’t make it to church because our hilly driveway was a sheet of ice (much like a luge course) and our friends didn’t make it down for dinner because the weather was worse up north. We did squeeze in the soccer game midday. After that, my husband retired to the couch and the football games and I retreated to my workspace and fought with my sewing machine (I don’t sew- this was for a new project you’ll hear about in an upcoming post).
So much for Christmas expectations. We still don’t have a tree. We’ll have to mail our letters to Santa. There are no twinkling lights in the trees around my house. There are two presents wrapped, and still no cookies baked. But the chicken survived. What more could I want?
I realize this post isn’t offering you any new information on Kid Friendly Organic Life, but I hope it is offering you a warning. Beware of Christmas expectations. They are not what Christmas is all about. In the end, my kids had a really fun weekend (minus the migraine). They got to play with friends, have an exciting chicken adventure with flashlights and danger and mom & dad, created a haunted house that was good for many laughs, and my daughter even learned to make an apple pie for the company that never came. It was a good weekend. It just wasn’t what I expected. And maybe that’s fine. I have to keep learning this lesson. When it comes to kids (and animals), it’s best to let go of the expectations and be grateful for what comes your way.
Like this morning when my 7-year-old came racing in to the kitchen chasing after the puppy as he shouted, “You can’t eat Baby Jesus!” at the top of his lungs. Seems the puppy was taste-testing characters out of our crèche scene and Baby Jesus was the tastiest. We rescued Jesus and laughed until we cried as the puppy came trotting back in to the kitchen dragging the entire barn backdrop and trailing a few wisemen! Nothing is sacred in our house. Except maybe a good laugh.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Did you know that exercise not only reduces your risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, but it can actually create new brain cells? Me neither. I’m all for adding brain cells. Charles Hillman, director of the Neurocognitive Kinesiology Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says, “Aerobic exercise increases the supply of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which protects brain neurons and promotes the growth of new nerve cells and synapses that are related to learning and memory.” Which in English means exercise makes your brain work better. And this was true for all the studies – regardless of age. The protein BDNF is active in the area of the brain related to relational memory – the ability to make logical connections among pieces of information.
The Illinois researchers also found that aerobic exercise improves executive function (the ability to plan and make decisions, correct mistakes and react to new situations). All I know is after a long run, I can think clearly. I thought it was just me, but turns out exercise makes everyone’s brain think better.
All of this is well and good for those of us who appreciate improved executive function and relational memory, but what about our kids? The best way to teach kids to do anything is to model it for them because we all know our children are much more likely to do what we do, than what we say (no matter how many times we say it). If you aren’t already a regular at the gym, then it’s time to get off the couch. If not for you, and your improved brain function, than for your kids.
I read all of this useful information in a promotional booklet from Nutrition Action Newsletter (published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest) which arrived in the mail today. My new subscription is a gift from my mother-in-law (Thanks Margot!).
Here’s another interesting tidbit I read – Sitting can kill you. Peter Katzmarzyk, an epidemiologist at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisana, says, “People who sit for the majority of their day have much higher mortality rates than people who don’t, even if they’re physically active during another part of the day.” Ouch. The article goes on to site several studies illustrating his point, including a representative sample of 17,000 Canadian adults who were followed over a 12 year period. 20% of those who said they sat “almost all the time” died. Bad luck? Probably not. Compare those numbers to the people who said they sat “approximately half the time” – only 12 % of them died in the same period. And of the people who said they sat, “almost none of the time”, only 6% died. I’m sure this is a toughie for people who are paid to sit at a desk. The article had a few suggestions like getting up and standing as you work, taking frequent breaks to stretch and walk, and even mentioned “treadmill desks” which sound like modern torture devices. But I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.
If growing new brain cells and not dying aren’t enough motivation for you, here’s some more:
Active people are 15-25% less likely to be diagnosed with depression than inactive people. In people with depression, moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise improves symptoms.
Forty minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise three to five times a week lowers systolic blood pressure by 2 to 5 points. That may not sound like much, but it would save an estimated 11,800 to 27,600 lives a year.
If you have arthritis, moderate intensity, low-impact exercise for 30-60 minutes three to five times a week can reduce pain and disability. Both aerobic and muscle strengthening help.
Older adults who are physically active have about a 30% lower risk of falls.
Weight-bearing aerobic and strength-training exercise three to five days a week can increase – or slow the decrease in- the density of spine and hip bones. In one study, women who walked at least four hours a week were 40% less likely to break a hip than those who walked less than an hour a week.
Aerobic exercise lowers the risk of stroke.
Aerobic exercise cuts the risk of heart attack by 20-35% in most studies.
Moderately active people have a 30-40% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than inactive people.
Exercise can curb your risk of cancer. It can directly lower your risk by keeping off excess weight, or it can work directly on cancer risk (particularly colon and breast cancers).
(taken from the article, “Seven Facts You May Not Know About Exercise” by David Schardt)
This is where the sneaker rubber needs to hit the road (or the treadmill or the gym). It’s not really optional – you need to exercise. And your kids need to exercise. This is not something to put off until you have more free time. Find a way now. This is so much cheaper than medical bills and so much less painful than heart attacks, cancer, and premature death. If you don’t teach your kids the importance of exercise, they may never know. This is a total win-win. When you exercise, you feel better mentally and physically and you model a behavior that could save your child’s life. Plus it makes you smarter – and who doesn’t need a few more brain cells?
Here’s a few ideas to get your kids moving:
• Enter a 5K. I know for a fact that even very young kids can run (or walk) a 5K. I get beaten in races by runners half my height on a regular basis. Pick a cause you care about. Bring along the family dog. If running the entire time is too daunting, make a plan. You can run at the start and finish and walk in between (everyone will think you ran the whole way!) or choose a pattern like running a minute and then walking a minute. I have a running watch that times intervals. On days when I just don’t have the energy, it helps me by sounding an alarm that reminds me to walk (one minute) and then run (4 minutes). I’ve discovered that this doesn’t really even mess up my time and when I run intervals I can run much farther.
• Go for a hike. Invite some friends. Make it a scavenger hunt. Give your kids a list of things to find. Or make it a family goal to hike all the parks in your area. Or all the parks in the country. Geocaching is another great way to get your family moving (check out www.geocaching.com for information on this fun treasure hunting hobby).
• Walk the dog. Don’t have one? This is a great excuse to get one. They need walking several times a day. Having a dog forces you to get out and exercise.
• Join a team – swim team, soccer, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, anything that requires you move. I aim for allowing my kids two extracurricular activities each season – one that gets their body moving and one that gets their mind moving.
• Ride bikes. Ride skateboards or scooters. Jump rope. Rollerblade.
• Take a spin in a skating rink. I remember as a kid, this was a regular event in my social life. These days they are a little harder to find, but they’re out there.
• Play games – capture the flag, kick the can, hide & seek, kickball, wiffleball, ultimate frisbee. Play with your kids – you’ll surprise them and you’ll laugh yourself silly.
• Do an exercise video together.
• Create a weightlifting center in your basement. You don’t need anything fancy, just a clear space and a few weights to start. A bench and a mat help too. Take a personal training session together with your kids and learn how to do exercises safely.
• Set a goal – a number of miles, a number of hours, whatever and focus on it. Plan a celebration when you’re finished.
• Try something new – martial arts, gymnastics, dance, fencing. Isn’t there some sport you’ve always wished you could do? Who’s stopping you? Ask your kids to join you.
• If you’ve got the cash, buy a treadmill, stationery bike, elliptical, or some other such device. When it’s too cold, wet, or early, I run on my treadmill. I’ve got a TV set up in front of it hooked up to a DVD player. I keep a steady stock of netflix DVD’s of TV shows - mindless brain-candy that keeps me distracted from the fact the basement is a mess, the kids are about to get up, and the cat box needs to be changed. Most shows are 40 minutes long – perfect to get in 4 miles.
The bottom line is you have to make a conscious decision to exercise. It won’t ever be convenient. Or easy. Some days it really is hard to do. But you need to do it every day. I mean that. A couple times a week is not enough. Our bodies were designed for real physical exercise every day and now that we aren’t out slaving in the fields or hunting down our supper, we have to find new ways to move them. Pick what works for you, but pick something. Your life just might depend on it. Not to mention your IQ.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
OK, maybe it is a little about my issues. I use the same glass all day long. I’ve mentioned before that I have dishware issues. My glass is a green stemware goblet that I am certain makes water (or any cold beverage) taste better. The people in my house have been trained not to put my glass in the dishwasher until I say so. I use the same glass all day long. Early in our cohabitation, my sweet husband was unfairly criticized time and again when he, in the interests of helping out, put my glass in the dishwasher only to have me screech, “Where’s my glass?” at 10 o’clock that night. Poor man, he’s had to learn to humor his sick wife. Anyway, my issues aside, the children do not need to dirty thirty glasses a day. They do not.
But when questioned about this issue during one of my crazy-lady rants, one child sheepishly explained, “I don’t remember which one is mine.” It was that simple. Nevermind that these children share germs on so many levels, the idea of drinking out of a glass that their sibling touched was enough to risk their mother’s wrath.
As Thanksgiving approached and I considered the nine children who would be dwelling here for a few days, I needed a solution. I also needed more glasses. So I set off for Goodwill. Mid-way through my evaluation of the many varied glassware options, I came upon a full set of small goblets. They were smoke colored and looked like “grown up” glassware. And they had a stem! The solution came to me just like that. I could make “wine glass markers” for the kids! I trucked my new set of 11 goblets home for just $5.
That night, the kids and I made the markers. They were very simple to make. We used bendable wire and colorful glass seed beads. I have a very part-time beaded jewelry business with a friend, so these supplies were readily available to me. You can find them at any craft store. We added charms for fun, but you could also just use different colors and patterns of beads and forget the charms. The wire and seed beads are very inexpensive. The other thing you’ll need is a pair of pliers and something to cut the wire. Here’s what you do –
1. Cut a piece of wire about five inches long. Place one bead on the wire and bend that end back on itself about ½ inch and twist it (like a bread bag twist). The bead will be trapped in the loop you created. Use the pliers to squash the end of the wire back on itself so there isn’t a sharp edge sticking out.
2. Have your children string on a pattern of beads on to the wire. If you are going to use a charm, string that on last.
3. Once you have about four inches of beads (it can be more or less – that’s no big deal, just personal preference), bend the wire back around itself, leaving the charm in the loop you create so it can dangle (or you can leave a bead in the loop, like on the other end).
4. Holding the loop and charm with one hand, twist the wire back around itself (like closing a bread bag) several times.
5. Cut the excess wire and use the pliers to squash the end back against the wire twist so that there isn’t a share end sticking out.
My kids chose their favorite charm and designed their color pattern to make their own personal marker. We made nine total water glass markers so that all of the cousins and friends who visit can have their own. They had a great time making them. I did the twisting and refereeing. Simple! And the kids love these beauties, so they’re motivated to use them. They proudly explain the concept to all our visitors, helping them choose a perfect marker for their glasses. Now whenever the kids get out their glass, they also choose a marker and twist it around the stem of their glass. We’ve since discovered when using identical hot chocolate mugs, you can twist the markers around the handle and prevent your sibling from inadvertently (or not) violating your mug.
An added bonus is that when an errant glass is discovered on the desk “RIGHT NEXT TO MY LAPTOP!!” I know who the criminal is.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this isn’t a safe project for very young children who still like to put anything that doesn’t move in to their mouths.
So, it is a little Martha Stewarty, but it works. And you can easily come up with a simpler marker – like using pipecleaners or real wine markers. The idea sprang from the wine sitcks my partner and I sell for “Busy Mamas Beading”, but feel free to claim it as your own. Or maybe you don’t mind washing thirty kid glasses every day. Your call.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I started with the Christmas lists which began weeks ago. My youngest pours over every catalog that comes in the mail, even the gardening catalogs, with his sharpie marker poised. As he circles item after item, I gently remind him, “only five things.” That’s what we’ve decided. Their list can be only five things long. I want them to think of the five things they want the most, more than anything else. There’s just too much potential for disappointment and guilt in a list that fills all 26 lines on a sheet of notebook paper. So we’re sticking to the five most wanted. Still, it is fun to wish your way through a catalog.
When the other Santas in my children’s lives began calling, I encouraged them to think small. I’d like my kids to get experiences rather than “stuff”. Magazine subscriptions to really good magazines are a great idea. Then the present renews itself each month. Check out www.cricketmag.com for some great kids’ magazines that are educational, cool, and advertising free. My kids love the magazines Odyssey, Ask, and Muse. My daughter loves the magazine New Moon. It has nothing to do with a certain vampire phenomenon, but is a magazine designed to empower and encourage girls ages pre-tween to early teens. It’s full of great stories that inspire girls to be all they can be and no advertisements.
The other gifts I’m dreaming up for my kids include experiences. Don’t tell my daughter, but her Nana is giving her a gift certificate for a manicure/pedicure and a home nail care kit. She will love this experience and the home nail care kit will be used for years to come. We’re trying to work out tickets to a really good museum like the Franklin Institute (Philadelphia) for my oldest. More ideas include tickets to the theater or movies or a professional soccer game, passes to the Ice Arena, art lessons, or a gift certificate for bowling.
What I don’t want is big, plastic stuff that will be forgotten the week after Christmas. We have more things than we know what to do with in this house, as evidenced by the constant condition of my living room. We don’t need any more things, but if things are needed, I’m encouraging them to include music, art supplies, and books on their lists.
I’m applying this same policy to my gift giving outside our family. All year long I’ve been saving the books I read. (I read a lot of books) I’m going to look in my stacks and select the books I think people on my list would enjoy and then wrap them up with a ribbon. Then I’ll select a charity that I think they would appreciate and make a donation in their name. The card on the books will explain that I think they are the kind of people who would appreciate used books and charitable contributions instead of more “stuff”. (Sorry to any of you who are reading this and will not be so surprised on Christmas morning!).
Another great idea for a gift is Heifer Project International ( www.heifer.org ). Heifer Project is a non-profit organization that gives live animals to families in impoverished areas around the world. The only stipulation is that the family must give the first born offspring to another family in their community. Heifer distributes cows, pigs, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, rabbits, and bees to name a few. There is a range of prices. A flock of chickens costs significantly less than a cow. We are going to give some chickens in a friend’s name and then bake sugar cookies in the shape of eggs (we couldn’t find a chicken cookie cutter) to accompany the card explaining the contribution and Heifer Project International. If we don’t have time to make cookies, we’ll look for something suitable at the candy stand at our farm market (they have every candy known to humankind, they must have a chicken!). When I was a teenager I volunteered on the Heifer Project Ranch in Arkansas. I saw first hand how much this organization does to empower people to help themselves and their communities.
Over the last few years I’ve been creating a cookbook for two dear friends. I gave them the binder with the first installment of recipes several years ago. The recipes were ones my family had discovered that year, complete with notes on what makes the recipe special and cooking tips we learned the hard way. Each year I give them new pages containing our latest culinary masterpieces for their recipe books. They love the personalized recipe selection.
Another simple present we make is bookmarks for the grandparents (who are all avid readers). I simply cut out a piece of cardstock and the kids help me select pictures of themselves to attach and then they add drawings and notes to the card. Next we laminate the bookmark with laminating sheets we bought at the office supply store, punch a hole through the top and tie on a ribbon. They are beautiful and the grands love having pictures of their grandkids handy to share with the people who sit next to them in doctor’s offices and on airplanes.
My most time consuming project is making calendars for the grandparents. I buy a blank calendar, add pictures and quotes to each month; then write in all the important dates and information (like just how old grandson number #2 is going to be this year or how many years my brother & sister in law have been married). They look forward to these masterpieces each year and even though it’s a lot of work, I relish the chance to look back over our year and remember what makes us a family.
This holiday I challenge you to get creative. Give a gift that is more lasting and meaningful than the latest toy/gift/gadget featured in the Sunday circulars. Feel free to copy my ideas, but I bet you have some great ones of your own. I’d invite you to post them here if you’re feeling generous. Remember copying is the sincerest form of flattery.
Christmas will mean more if you put less stuff and more of you in it.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
But there is one garden that I am still busy with – the winter garden. This is where I plant my parsley, because some winters it makes it all the way through. My rosemary and thyme are there also because they have been known to stay green despite the cold. This little garden is tucked up near the house, hiding the lid to the septic tank. I always think of Erma Bombeck and involuntarily recite, “the grass is always greener over the septic tank” when I set to work in it. I do think the septic tank keeps the ground here warmer.
Originally I planted the garden as a flower garden to hide the septic tank lid, with a big whiskey barrel of zinnias placed on the lid itself. But flowers die and leave the septic lid and whiskey barrel exposed all winter looking ugly and obvious. So now it contains rosemary, thyme, and oregano spilling over the lid and a box of parsley that flourishes bright green for at least three seasons and on good years – four. The rest of the garden is devoted to the garlic, onions, and shallots – my winter crops.
Now is the time to plant if you’d like to grow your own fresh garlic! If you plant it now, it will be ready by early June. Garlic is easy to grow – just as simple as planting bulbs. All you need is a head of garlic. I like to experiment with heirloom varieties, but you can use any old head, even the one beginning to sprout in your cupboard right now. All you do is break off each clove and plant it pointy side up. You’ll want to plant it as deep as it is big, or a little deeper. I tend to err on the side of too deep when planting in the fall just in case the winter is worse than imagined. The garlic will be one of the first green things poking its leaves up through the ground as soon as spring hits. When the leaves begin to brown and fall over, it’s ready to harvest. Pull the garlic up, shake off the dirt (don’t wash it) and hang or braid it to dry. Fresh, home grown garlic is much stronger than the stuff you get at the store – you’ve been warned. I love garlic, can’t get enough of it, so the strength of homegrown garlic suits me just fine.
You can also plant shallots and spring onions now. Follow the same procedure as the garlic. The onions should be ready in time for Easter. As long at their leaves are green you can leave them be and let them get bigger. I pull them as I need them.
If you’re a smart and thrifty shopper, you’ll be checking the bargain bins right about now for the leftover bulbs. It’s not too late to plant flowering bulbs. I hate paying full price for bulbs – they’re only flowers after all. Plus, I don’t enjoy the tedium of planting bulbs. My kids quickly lose interest when they discover how difficult it is to plant anything in south central PA. We have incredibly hard and rocky soil around here and planting big bulbs was always a chore – until now! I splurged on the coolest gadget. Even my hubby, the tool guy, was impressed. It’s essentially a giant drill bit. Nick hooked it up to an 18 volt cordless DeWalt drill and I was powered to drill to China. It made quick work of the bulb planting task. My friend Lisa was here the first time I used it and the two of us were truly wowed. It doesn’t take much to impress women who love dirt. I planted 8 tulip bulbs in less than a minute. And I looked really cool doing it. Lisa took pictures. The noise and excitement attracted my youngest son and his buddy, eyes wide and adrenaline ready. They were eager to try it out, but after nearly breaking my own wrist, I think it’s a bit too powerful for a seven-year-old. The two of them are always looking for trouble, so I’m keeping my bulb planting drill hidden deep in the shop. Get one for yourself – you’ll be newly inspired to plant! I used it to break up the soil before transplanting some perennials this weekend and it worked great. I’m sure I’ll dream up plenty of reasons to justify the $21 price tag.
Plant a few more bulbs and a handful of garlic, and then put your garden to bed. Rest up. It’ll be time to start the seeds before you know it. The seed catalogs start arriving the day after Christmas. Nothing I love better than curling up on the couch near the woodstove pondering the possibilities of spring.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
But this weekend I found a purpose for them. I’m always on the lookout for new places to tuck in another garden. Last spring my daughter planted Jolly Jester marigolds all around one sunny corner of the barn. Those marigolds thrived. So much so that they spread themselves a good six feet out away from the barn in a perfect semi-circle. Last weekend when I finally cut down their dying stalks, the ground that was uncovered was barren – no grass left. What else can you do with such ground but plant a new garden?? No, I’m not a fan of grass seed.
The only complication was that the nice neat semi-circle is on a hill, like pretty much every piece of ground on our property. When I informed my husband of my plan he told me I’d need a wall to contain the garden or it would just wash away down the hill. I didn’t point out to him that the marigolds never washed away. In fact, they were pretty difficult to remove from their spot.
Saturday morning, I lugged several bags of newspapers up to the barn to lay the basis of my new garden. My plan was to lasagna garden the whole spot so that the soil would be rich and ready for my new salsa garden come spring time. I had visions of tomatillos, cilantro, and a gazillion new types peppers. But as I stared at the space, I had to concede that my husband might be right (don’t tell!). It is a pretty hilly spot. So I fed the horses and pondered what to do. I still didn’t know what to do, so I began the nasty chore of cleaning out the chicken pen. It’s really the only downside of chickens. Of course the manure collected from this nasty chore makes wonderful fertilizer. As I laid my broom against the huge stack of bricks next to the chicken coop, I had my eureka moment! The bricks! They’ve needed a purpose beyond stoking my guilt and supporting soggy chickens for 7 years! So I began hauling them once again.
I laid out a beautifully shaped garden using the bricks. I was not deterred by the absence of mortar or a mason. I once dry-stacked a beautiful stone wall that still contains our strawberries, lilacs, and mint, so I’m pretty confident in my ability to build a sturdy wall in to the hillside. My neighbor’s 150 year old farm house is built completely on a dry stack stone foundation.
For now my husband is going along with this, but he’s not yet convinced of my plan. For sure one of us will be thinking “I told you so,” by spring. My new brick wall is only two layers high so far, but as I fill in with dirt, manure, wood ash, leaves and whatever else I can find, I’ll build the wall up with more bricks.
There’s nothing wrong with holding on to useful things. Some people call it hoarding, but those people are simply not very creative. Sure, it’s a pain to store all this useful stuff, but in the end it’s worth the pain. And it saves you money. And it doesn’t load up the landfill. And it saves you time because you don’t have to go to the store. And it makes your neighbors and friends wonder if you’re nuts, which makes them keep their distance (and think of you when their daughter’s brownie troop needs 15 cream cheese containers!).
This past Sunday the pastor at our church was pondering Thanksgiving and he made note of the size of that day’s newspaper laden with store circulars. He pointed out that during this time of year we are naturally inclined to hunt and gather and fill our storehouses. It’s a natural instinct and a good marketing department preys on this fact. Instead of gathering lots more stuff, the pastor encouraged us to look around us at that moment and gather memories – a beautiful sunset, the sound of a baby, the smile of a loved one. Good thought, but most of us still want to shop right about now.
Shopping is a guilty pleasure. No, we don’t necessarily need what we are buying, but it feels good to have that power, to rub shoulders with all the other people picking out new stuff. Carrying our bags of stuff in to our houses and cutting off the tags feels very satisfying. I’ve been trying to let go of those feelings. Now, when the urge to shop hits me, I head to the Goodwill where my weakness won’t deplete my wallet.
When the urge to store all my nuts for winter hits, sometimes I spend time sorting out, rearranging, and repurposing – handling all my stuff. I have to say that repurposing is incredibly satisfying, much more so than buying which always leaves me feeling kind of sleazy. This weekend, I wasn’t the only one getting in on the repurposing. My whole family found something to repurpose. My husband repurposed the gravel left from where our old deck once stood. He removed that gravel to use under and around the flagstones at the base of the steps to our new deck (flagstones held on to after the same construction project that yielded the bricks!). It looks great, cost us nothing, and the spot the gravel used to occupy is perfect for –you guessed it – another garden!
My older son spied the shoe sorter my daughter was removing from her closet (the shoes were never actually sorted, most days they were piled on top of the little shelf with all the neat shoe cubbies). He laid claim to it. He’s repurposed it as a cabinet to hold all his game pieces for the complicated games he and his best friend invent.
My youngest son cleaned out his room and re-discovered his marshmallow shooter which isn’t really repurposing, unless you consider that its old purpose was to lie under his bed and collect dust.
My daughter, lacking a decent jewelry box (cheap parents!) decided to turn her lamp shade in to a jewelry box. She poked holes through the shade to hang earrings and secured a thumbtack (with an eraser on the other side) to hang her necklaces. Makes the lampshade very useful and actually, better looking.
None of these actions were necessarily intentional. They arose because of a need and our new found ability to look around us rather than run to the store. We ran to the store for plenty of years and now we are drowning in the stuff we’ve acquired. Before you go running off to the store for your solution – look around you. What have you got that would do the job?
So before you head to the store, or the trashcan, take a moment to consider your options. You have more than you realize.
Look how we repurposed this weekend!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Nevermind the cost – how about the benefit? There are no regulations specifying that bottled water has to be anything beyond decent tap water. I’ve heard all about the special springs where this water and that water come from, but I’m certain that for many of these companies, that special spring is a hose in the factory where the water is bottled. Someone’s making lots of money because we’ve never learned the lesson of the Emporer’s new clothes.
This is an easy one, folks. Instead of spending your money on bottled water, buy some really nice stainless steel or plastic water bottles and refill them. You’ll be helping the environment and your pocketbook. This is a no brainer. Stop buying water! If you’re concerned about taste, spend $30 bucks and get a water filter pitcher or attachment for your sink. I had a Britta Water Pitcher when I lived in an apartment and that water tasted great.
Back when I bought in to the whole bottled water deal, I justified it by re-using those bottles. Now, come to find out this isn’t safe! Even worse are the hard plastic bottles we used for formula – and heated in the microwave! Two of my children were breast fed, but the third had a milk-protein allergy and had to be fed soy formula. There’s no way to undo the damage that was done. If only we’d known then what we know now. And now we know that many plastics aren’t safe – heed this knowledge!
So much information has been thrown at us about what is safe and what isn’t when it comes to plastic. And some of us aren’t taking it seriously enough (ahem, I’m directing this comment at a certain someone who almost microwaved a disposable plastic sandwich container just the other night. Thank God he was saved by his hysterical, over-reacting wife!). So here’s the basics on each of the plastics by number (the number is found on the bottom of nearly all plastic products these days, normally inside a triangular recycling symbol).
1 Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) Used to make soft drink, water, sports drink, ketchup, and salad dressing bottles, and peanut butter, pickle, jelly and jam jars.GOOD: Not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones.
2 High density polyethylene (HDPE)Milk, water, and juice bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners, and grocery, trash, and retail bags.GOOD: Not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones.
3 Polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC) Most cling-wrapped meats, cheeses, and other foods sold in delicatessens and groceries are wrapped in PVC.BAD: To soften into its flexible form, manufacturers add “plasticizers” during production. Traces of these chemicals can leach out of PVC when in contact with foods. According to the National Institutes of Health, di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), commonly found in PVC, is a suspected human carcinogen.
4 Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)Some bread and frozen food bags and squeezable bottles.OK: Not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones, but not as widely recycled as #1 or #2.
5 Polypropylene (PP)Some ketchup bottles and yogurt and margarine tubs.OK: Hazardous during production, but not known to leach any chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer or disrupting hormones. Not as widely recycled as #1 and #2.
6 Polystyrene (PS)Foam insulation and also for hard applications (e.g. cups, some toys)BAD: Benzene (material used in production) is a known human carcinogen. Butadiene and styrene (the basic building block of the plastic) are suspected carcinogens. Energy intensive and poor recycling.
7 Other (usually polycarbonate)Baby bottles, microwave ovenware, eating utensils, plastic coating for metal cansBAD: Made with biphenyl-A, a chemical invented in the 1930s in search for synthetic estrogens. A hormone disruptor. Simulates the action of estrogen when tested in human breast cancer studies. Can leach into food as product ages.
Adapted from Green Remodeling, by David Johnston and Kim Master (New Society Publishers, 2004).
While the number 1 (PET) bottles may be safe, they are not intended for re-use. Disregarding the temperature change dangers, the structure of the water bottle makes it nearly impossible to thoroughly clean and poses a risk for bacteria.
The hard plastic bottles favored by so many outdoor enthusiasts and baby bottle manufacturers for their durability have also been deemed dangerous, particularly when exposed to boiling water. When heated or exposed to hot water, the polycarbonates that contain bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic hormone that mimics estrogen, can leach traces of BPA in to the liquid they contain.
If you go by the numbers, avoid 3, 6, & 7. These types are not safe for storing food and beverages. 1, 2, 4 & 5 appear to be relatively safe at this time, but that is completely relative – remember those baby bottles we used that were deemed “safe” at the time. Me, I just avoid plastic whenever possible. We don’t eat off of plastic plates or use plastic cups or dishes of any kind. I have a strange dish-fetish that has always believed food and drinks served in plastic don’t taste as good. It just doesn’t seem worth the risk. Plastics can get scratched and cracked and harbor all kinds of germs. And heating plastic to the temperatures necessary to kill those germs breaks down the plastic. Next thing you know you’re ingesting plastic. Even if it’s the ‘safe’ plastic, that can’t be good.
My rule of thumb is only put room temperature things in plastic containers and don’t ever heat in those containers. There are plenty of glass containers that are inexpensive, dish-washer safe and will last years longer than any plastic, no matter what the number. Any plastic lids or containers are always washed by hand and never put in the dishwasher where the heat can not only morph them in to new funky shapes, but can break them down and expose harmful chemicals to the foods they touch.
I’m slowly trying to convert our family to stainless steel water bottles. It’s a process because these beauties are pricey and ugly. I have to weigh the “drink more water” belief with the “heaven forbid it’s in plastic” hang-up. We’ll get there. Probably about the time scientists decide there’s some danger lurking in stainless steel water bottles. Maya Angelou once said, “You do the best you can with what you know at the time.” That’s all I can do. That’s all any of us can do.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
President Obama has set aside an extra $1 billion for child-nutrition programs and has challenged the decision makers to get more fresh fruits and vegetables in to the mix - “We’ve got to change how we think about getting local farmers connected to school districts.” Amen is all I have to say to that. Now would be a good time to call your congressman/woman and share your thoughts on the importance of healthy and local food. There is a national farm-to-school program in place that 9000 schools have joined. Pick up the phone and find out if your school is on board.
My daughter, my most challenging child to feed, brought home a paper the other day that had 5 tips for eating smarter. She was very proud to tell me she already knew them all. These tips were taken from a kid’s version of the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I’ll share them with you here.
1) Try not to eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
Love this one. I’m fairly certain my great-grandmother would not recognize a dinosaur shaped chicken nugget or Dipin’Dots ice cream. We had fun thinking of food that didn’t look like food.
2) Avoid eating packaged foods with more than five ingredients, or with ingredients you don’t recognize.
This one prompted one of my children to pick up the box of Cheezits, hoping to prove to me they were “healthy”. The list was nearly as long as the box itself. No dice.
3) Limit food and drinks that contain a sweetener called high fructose corn syrup. It has been linked to obesity.
Duh, mom. We know this one. I guess I’m a little over the top in my vigilance against the high fructose corn syrup. We all should be – they are dirty words.
4) Try to avoid food that doesn’t eventually rot. A food made to last forever is usually full of chemicals. Food should be alive and that means it should eventually die.
My daughter phrased it more simply, “Don’t eat foods that don’t have an expiration date.”
5) Be your own food detective. Read labels. Pay attention to where your food comes from and how it was grown.
And this really is the key. Give your kids some power over what they eat. Make them responsible for the choices they make. Talk to them about the impact of buying local versus buying global. Grow some foods together. Notice what’s growing in the fields near you and stop at the roadside stands and meet the farmers. Talk about why one food is good for you and another is not – and tell them why it is not.
One of my constant refrains is “Your body wasn’t designed to eat that food, so if you do, it’s very hard for your body to process it and that’s why it makes you feel sick.” I’ve explained to my children that one of the reasons people get sickness and disease is because they are putting things in to their body that there body was not designed to eat. It’s hard on a body to process this kind of food, making it weaker and more susceptible to illness. Just like putting the wrong kind of gas in your car – it may run, but it won’t run well and it certainly won’t run for as long as it was designed to run. Help your children make the connection between what they eat and how they feel.
We all need to talk to our kids about what and why they eat. If we teach this generation to make better choices – for their bodies, their neighbors, and their planets – things could change. In fact, I believe that’s the only way they will change. I grew up on programs like “green circle” and desegregation. My generation is measurably less racist than the previous generation. Granted there is still progress to be made, we wouldn’t be where we are if adults hadn’t started teaching kids about racial equality a generation ago.
The only way to bring about real, lasting change is to teach the children differently. We make decisions not only about what we eat, but how we live, based on the way we were raised. That stuff is hard-wired in there. That’s why it’s so much harder to break the TV, fast food, instant-gratification habits that most of us struggle with – it goes against how we were raised.
You have a chance to change all that. Your children could live differently. They could turn the tide on so many issues. They could literally save the planet. Don’t miss your chance to empower them. It starts at your table.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I make it sound like it was just that simple – go to the store, find the dough, buy the dough. Not so fast. This was the night before Halloween and since I don’t frequent this particular grocery store I was not aware of the significance of the night before Halloween. The entire store was clogged with children and employees (not always so easy to tell apart) in Halloween costumes. Intermittently throughout the store, employees were positioned with buckets of candy to dole out to already sugar-hyped kids. I suppose this was a nice community service and oh, by the way, since you’re here why don’t you buy something? At any rate, it made my task of locating pizza dough in unfamiliar territory even more challenging. I retreated to the place I am most comfortable – the organic aisle. It is almost always less crowded than the others. But even the organic aisle was in on the Trick or Treating, so I wormed my way in and picked up some organic treats for my kids (yes, I’m wearing a costume – I’m dressed as a frantic, pizza-dough-less mother in a loopy grocery store). The “treats” were three packs of different organic vitamins and a juice box/bag from a new organic company.
Once safely home, my kids were delighted to munch on chewy vitamins and syrupy juice while I tried to figure out how to work the dough in a can. (Not good, by the way, nearly impossible to roll out and laden with sugar and preservatives) When dinner was finally eaten, I collected the empty juice bags. As I tossed them in the garbage it occurred to me that there was something terribly wrong with the amount of trash three small servings of organic juice had just created. It seems counterproductive to sell organic juice in un-recyclable containers.
Shopping today at my health food grocery store, I was keenly aware of the multitude of organic products that are overpackaged. If organics are about healthy and sustainable living, then these companies have a responsibility to produce environmentally friendly packaging. I believe this, so I wrote a letter to the juice bag company. I’ve yet to hear anything, but I’ll let you know if I do. I’ve shared this rambling story with you to encourage you to also insist on environmentally responsible packaging. Nothing changes unless consumers demand it. Even Wal-mart is making a tiny attempt to reduce packaging, so how is it that a company proclaiming to be “organic” doesn’t lead the way? I don’t know. That’s why I wrote my letter.
It’s time to speak up. It’s time to stop making excuses for the waste and the laziness. I have complete faith that there are creative solutions out there. Just today I purchased reusable “produce bags” to put my loose fruits and veggies in. They are simply cotton mesh bags that weigh nearly nothing. I can’t wait to pull them out at the Giant grocery store and freak out the cashier. But they’ll get there. Just like the reusable grocery bags – eventually, they’ll get it. Reusable produce bags are good for the environment, work just fine, and, bottom line – they will save the store money. And isn’t it always that bottom line that motivates?
You have rights as a consumer, so exercise them. Don’t support companies that overpackage their products and let them know why you won’t support them. If more people did this – change would come much more quickly. If it’s just one nut-job lady at the Giant check-out it may take awhile.
Just in case you don’t know that homemade dough is MUCH better than dough in a can, here’s my recipe. I use a breadmaker and just dump in the ingredients in the order listed. I’ve also written out directions for anyone not blessed with a good breadmaker.
1 ½ cups water
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon succanot (or organic cane sugar)
¼ cup flax seed meal
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups organic white flour
2 teaspoons yeast (or one packet)
Directions for handmade dough:
Use warm water (hot enough to wash dishes, but not boiling) and dissolve yeast.
Add sugar and salt; stir to dissolve.
Add oil, flax seed meal and 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Mix thoroughly.
Add the rest of the flour. Work in to a good size lump of dough.
Place in a greased bowl and let rise in a warm spot for 1 ½ hours.
Punch down the dough and let rest 5 minutes.
Roll out dough to make pizza crust.
Sprinkle corn meal on pizza pan before placing crust on it.
Top with whatever you like.
Bake at 400 for 12 minutesish.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Local elections affect you MUCH MORE than national ones do. Sure, the presidential election is pretty exciting and we like to get fired up about it, but as much as I adore our current president, I am aware that the president doesn’t truly affect my daily life that much. What does affect my life is the decisions made by the local politicians – the township supervisors, my state representatives and senator, the county judges, the sheriffs, and the school board. These people have the power to ruin my real estate value and my children’s education. They can increase my taxes, force me to jump through legal hoops, and decide how late my children can stay out and whether they will ever be old enough to drive a car. In short, the decisions they make have a huge impact on my quality of life.
It’s easy to complain when new laws or new stores or new developments or new taxes are forced upon us, but unless we vote in the local elections (and do more than just pull the party lever), we have no one to blame but ourselves. I realize I may be too late to inspire many of your to find your polling place on Tuesday, but I hope this causes you to think for a moment about your own local elections. My old excuse was that there were too many names and I didn’t know any of them. Because I didn’t. But now I do. I’ve attended opportunities to hear from the candidates and read their literature. I’ve read the endorsements of our paper (for what it’s worth) and the letters to the editors. I’ve listened to anyone brave enough to hike up our driveway or call me on the phone. In some cases I’ve been able to speak to the candidates themselves. One thing I’ve learned is that any local candidate that is flowing with cash, most likely has someone with ulterior motives providing that flow. Many local positions are virtually voluntary with minimal reimbursement for expenses. The people who run for these offices do it because they are citizens who care. Sadly, just like Washington, local politics can be rife with “lobbyists” and “outside interests”, but you’d never know it unless you get involved. Don’t vote for someone just because they have lots of fancy signs. If you don’t know who you’re voting for and why, it would be better for all of us (including you!) if you stayed home.
I’m certain that I’ve offended plenty of people who believe that politics is something we shouldn’t talk about. (I offend the people who don’t want to talk about religion too.) But it seems crazy to me that something as important as our government is taboo in our daily conversations. We need to talk about this stuff - especially at the local level. As I said before, local politicians are not typically flush with cash, so it’s not easy to get their message out. It shouldn’t be completely their responsibility either. We need to step up and get involved. We need to find out who’s running and what the heck a “township supervisor” or “orphans court judge” does. Otherwise we are simply part of the problem.
Which brings me to how this is connected to Kid-friendly Organic Life. We need to vote for politicians who will move the wheels of government towards a more kid-friendly organic life. Voting is our most powerful tool, particularly when it comes to local decision makers. Recent local elections in my neck of the woods have been decided by one vote. One vote! If I want to improve the quality of my children’s education, one thing I can do (besides make sure my kids do their homework and respect their teachers) is know who I’m voting for when it comes to local elections. If I want laws that protect my children and this planet, they won’t happen unless the elected officials are people who are also interested in protecting my kids and this planet. If I would like to see more organic farming, I need to support the local officials who protect our farmland and believe organic farming is a more sustainable way of life. I’ll never know how any local politician feels about any of these things unless I make an effort to find out.
We know every crummy detail of our president’s and our governors’ and too many of our senators’ lives, but we don’t seem to know squat about the people who run our local government. I think that’s backwards. I hope that, if not this year, then next year, you will get out and make an informed vote in your local elections.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Vitamin D has been all over the news lately. “New” scientific breakthroughs have revealed that there is much more at stake in our daily intake of Vitamin D. Are we getting enough? What happens if you are deficient? How do you get enough? What happens if you get too much?
Here’s the quick and dirty – Americans (probably most first-world nations) are spending more and more time inside. We are no longer farmers, but computer watchers. Most people’s work doesn’t allow them a whole lot of time outside their cubicle or classroom or factory. And when we are home we tend to spend a good part of our free time in front of computers, TV’s, and video games. Our yards are smaller and in some cases, not safe. When we do go outside, we are covered up with technically advanced clothing that blocks UVB rays and slathered in sunscreen (which prohibits our body from absorbing the sunshine necessary to make Vitamin D). Consequently, we aren’t getting our Vitamin D on a daily basis. And this includes kids. Huge numbers of people are Vitamin D deficient.
Let me back up, first of all what do we know about Vitamin D. You probably remember that milk is fortified with Vitamin D and it’s necessary to build strong bones. This process was developed years ago to prevent kids from getting rickets. A deficiency in Vitamin D can cause rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. Vitamin D isn’t technically a vitamin because it’s produced in the human body. And it’s not found in any natural source except fish and egg yolks, and even then it requires the body to make it in to vitamin D. The body can also use sunshine to create vitamin D. It then stores the extra Vitamin D in the fat cells to use for, literally, a rainy day.
But how much do we need? The first government recommended allowances said 200IU of Vitamin D daily. In 1997, it was up to 400 for kids and 600 for adults. New research is indicating that we need even more, perhaps 800 or 1000. This research is also showing that Vitamin D is more essential than at first thought. Scientists believe that Vitamin D is critical to the brain, prostate, breast, colon, heart, lung, muscles and our immune cells. Much of this research has been around, but is only getting attention of late. The auto-immune “community” has been touting its benefits for years. Many people who suffer from Alopecia Areata (the autoimmune condition my youngest son has) buy “happy lights” to get more UVB light. Vitamin D is powerful, helping normal cells grow, but also helping abnormal ones (cancer cells come to mind) die. It has been proven to destroy infectious agents, such as TB.
People with low levels of Vitamin D are at a 30-50% increased risk of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as prostate, ovarian, and breast cancer. They are at a higher risk for diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, schizophrenia, depression, and muscle weakness.
Does this news make you want to grab your beach towel? It should. Being a person of incredibly fair skin, I am also aware of the dangers of too much sun. I have the freckles to prove it. I’m fairly sure that Vitamin D is not one of my deficiencies. Actually, all you need to get your vitamin D is 5-10 minutes of direct sunlight between the hours of 10am and 3pm. So maybe your plan could be to put the sunscreen on after you’ve set up your chair and had your snack.
Here’s an interesting tidbit I found in my research this morning. If you live above 37 degrees north of the equator (draw a line from Philadelphia to San Francisco) or 37 degrees south of the equator, it’s not quite as easy to get your Vitamin D from the sunshine during the winter. The research didn’t say if you just need more time or if there isn’t enough sunshine altogether. That said, you can get Vitamin D from supplements and fortified products like milk and orange juice. Some doctors, who worry about skin cancers, recommend you do that, but be aware that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. While you can’t overdose on Vitamin D from the sun, you can from supplements resulting in grogginess, constipation, and even death. But you’d have to really work to get that much vitamin D in to you. Experts at Harvard say up to 2000IU a day is safe.
Vitamin D aside, I know that sunshine is a real pick-me-up for me and for my kids. Sometimes it’s tempting to stay inside, especially when it’s really hot, but 10 minutes won’t kill anyone, and it just might save your life.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Cut the pumpkin in to sections and remove the pulp and seeds (save for roasting). Place the pumpkin skin side up in a baking pan (or pans) filled with about one inch of water. Place in oven and cook at 375 for 45 minutes. When it is finished, the pumpkin just scoops right out of the shell. From there, puree the pumpkin in a food processor and freeze. I filled large yogurt containers with about 2 cups each because that’s how much my favorite pumpkin bread recipe calls for. That average size pumpkin my son brought home made 18 cups of pureed pumpkin and it didn’t cost me a thing. Our pumpkin pie was delicious at Thanksgiving and no one but I was the wiser. Why would you ever buy canned pumpkin? Fresh pumpkin tastes better, hands down. And it costs only a fraction of the price even if you have to buy one.
This year no one has come home with a painted pumpkin and we just might be beyond the age of birthday parties and painted pumpkins. Sad. Along with tomatoes, our pumpkins were a bust this year in the garden. They were attacked by squash bugs and I was so distracted by the tomato disaster and life in general that I didn’t realize it was happening. Next year…
The other great thing to do with pumpkins is make roasted pumpkin seeds. It’s a delicious, healthy snack. My daughter says she knows it’s fall when she gets pumpkin seeds in her lunch. She loves them. Roasting pumpkin seeds is simple. When you carve your pumpkin separate out the seeds as best you can. They will probably still have some pumpkin guts clinging to them. Don’t worry they will wash off or roast off and even if they don’t, they won’t hurt you. It’s generally recommended that you soak the seeds overnight.
The next day, spread the seeds out on a towel to dry. Most directions say spread them out on a paper towel, which you can do, but then you’ll be eating roasted pumpkin seeds with paper towel bits. Just use a towel and pat them dry. You can also use a colander, but this takes much longer and the seeds don’t really get very dry. They roast better if they are dry when you put them in the oven. Preheat the oven to 300. Spread the pumpkin seeds out on cookie sheets in a single layer. I like to spray them with olive oil so that the salt will cling to them. Salt them to taste. Bake for about 45 minutes depending on how crispy you want them and how big your seeds are. Easy, easy, easy. You should teach your kids to do this.
There are lots of recipes out there for flavored pumpkin seeds. My kids won’t let me try them because they don’t want me messing with their seeds, but I do envision a day when I will make the recipe that follows. If you’re kids are less possessive of their seeds and you get to try it, please let me know how it turns out!
Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
1 large egg white
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1¼ teaspoons celtic sea salt
1¼ teaspoons paprika
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups pumpkin seeds
1. Heat oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and coat with cooking spray.
2. Whisk egg white in a medium bowl until very foamy. Add sugar, salt, paprika, cayenne and cinnamon; whisk well. Stir in seeds to coat.
3. Lift them up with a slotted spoon, allowing them to drain, and spread in a single layer on baking sheet. Discard leftover liquid.
4. Roast seeds, tossing them several times until puffed and edged with brown, about 25 minutes.
5. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently pry the seeds from the sheet and break up any large clumps into smaller shards. Seeds last two weeks in an airtight container.
A friend sent me the following link that allows you to cyber-carve a pumpkin. Very fun. Check it out: http://www.cubpack81.com/images/carve_pumpkin.swf
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Gluten is actually a protein found in wheat, rhy, and barley. So it’s in just about everything we eat in the States – cereal, bread, cookies, most processed foods. Its primary purpose is to give flour elasticity and strength, which is why my bread isn’t as soft and flexible as store bought bread. I couldn’t find any information about how it affects taste, so I’ll assume it doesn’t.
Now comes the interesting part. There were skads of websites about gluten free products and the dangers of gluten. Literally tens of thousands of hits. So I tried to stick to the sites that seemed more mainstream. Celiac disease, which has just about every horrible symptom know to mankind, is basically an allergy to gluten. A person suffering from celiac disease has damage to the gut wall which results in difficulties absorbing certain nutriets like iron, calcium and vitamin D. Consequently patients develop conditions like osteoporosis and anemia, in addition to a whole host of gastrointestinal issues. Children with Celiac disease do not develop normally. Celiac disease shows up as gut damage in a biopsy. The treatment is very successful and includes removing gluten from the patient’s diet.
The estimates of how many people it effects are wide ranging - from 1 to 146 in 1000. But judging by the amount of webspace dedicated to celiac disease and the dangers of gluten combined with the number of gluten free products on the market, I’d say it’s affecting plenty of people in one way or another. Here’s a partial list of the symptoms. Some are things everyone experiences on an off day and some are really gross and horrible.
Change in mood
Pale, foul smelling or fatty stools
Bone or joint pain
Tingling numbness in legs
Pale sores in mouth
Tooth discoloration or loss of enamel
Failure to thrive in infants
It appears as though pretty much any complaint you can come up with could be tracked back to gluten. I’ve heard a fair amount about celiac disease. My son has alopecia areata (http://www.childrensalopeciaproject.org/ or http://www.naaf.org/) and a loud group of people in the alopecia areata circles I run in see a connection between their hair loss and celiac disease. It seems to be pretty common among people with autoimmune disorders, allergies, and eczema.
One of the websites I discovered was based on a book by two American doctors, James Braly and Ron Hoggan. The book is titled Dangerous Grains. Their research has led them to believe the gluten intolerance is much more widespread effecting 2-3% of the population. The book purports that “gluten sensitivity” is the root cause of some cancer, auto-immune disorders, neurological and psychiatric conditions and liver disease. The authors imply that the heavily wheat-based western diet – bread, cereals, pasta, cookies – is making people sick. Interesting theory, huh?
I’ve long believed that our lifestyles have created the rise in so many auto-immune disorders, cancers, and other diseases. I’m not saying it’s due to over-consuming gluten; there’s still too much research that needs to be done, but I do think we need to pay attention to what we are putting in our bodies and especially what we are putting in our children’s bodies. It’s not as hard as you’d think to cut out gluten and if you or your children are suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, it might be worth a shot.
There are lots of grains that don’t contain gluten – rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, quinoa (comes in a yummy flour form), oats, soybeans, and sunflower seeds. I love to use quinoa flour or garbanzo bean flours in my breads, and almost always add whole or crushed sunflower seeds. That’s the beauty of making your own food instead of relying on processed food – you can control what goes in to the food you put on the table.
Seems like the key here is much like other questionable foods – moderation. We really do eat too much bread and pasta. And most of us don’t feel well when we do. I’d be curious to hear from any of you who are more informed than I when it comes to gluten.