Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 Wrap Up

It's been nearly four years since I started this blog. I find it amazing that I haven't run out of things to say (my husband would probably find it surprising if I did). More than anything else, I have strived to keep this blog useful and inspiring, and hopefully even entertaining. I have some new things planned for the blog in the coming year. In addition to an effort to add more hands-on projects, practical parenting solutions and recipes, I will begin a new personal challenge (one that has my family already panicked), and write about it weekly as we progress. You'll have to click back over on January 1 to hear what the new challenge is - see I'm adding mystery to the blog also!

I've been contemplating pulling together some of the information on this blog in to a book format. I'd love your help on this project. There are almost 275 posts here, so willowing it down to what's most useful/helpful/interesting will be a challenge. If you have thoughts on that, please share. Also, Kid Friendly Organic Life is a mouthful and I'm searching for a simpler title. Ideas?

Wrapping up this year, I've decided to go with a top ten blog post list. These are posts that either a) generated a lot of discussion, or b) are ones that dealt with important issues or information that I want to be sure you didn't miss, or c) they are posts I thought were really great. Hey, it's my top ten list so I can choose it any way I want!

Happy Holidays dear readers. I can't thank you enough for honoring me with your time each week. KFOL is up to over 300 hits a week and should reach it's 100,000th hit this spring. May not seem like a milestone for bigtime bloggers, but for me and my little blog it is. Enjoy!

Top Ten Blog Kid Friendly Organic Life Blog Posts for 2012

10 Stop Junk Mail

9 Chicken Keeping Anyone?

8 Vinegar as Herbicide

7 Eating the 1%

6 Look at Those Bubbles Hon

5 It's Not What You Eat, But What you Eat Ate!

4 The Fly War

3 Me Thinks Thou Dost Protest Too Much

2 Home Ec Circa 2012

1 Families That Eat Together

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Less Holiday Hassle and More Christmas Calm

This week’s post is supposed to be about keeping calm and peaceful during the holidays. Maybe that’s an unrealistic goal, but I do believe it’s a worthy one. In light of the past week’s events, perhaps it’s something more of us may strive for this year. 

Most of the pressure we feel at the holidays is expectations we put on ourselves. We want to create a perfect holiday. But sometimes we’re so busy pursuing that perfect holiday that we never get to enjoy it. Here are my suggestions.

  1. You don’t need to bake every Christmas cookie your mother did. I pursued this at one point in our family history. And you know what? I’m the one who ended up eating all those cookies and berating myself for it. The kids don’t like the ones with nuts on them anyway. Pick a couple everyone likes and stick with that. Or – don’t make any at all! Or better yet – let your kids do the baking (and cleaning up). 

  1. You don’t need to put up every holiday decoration you own, every year. Tone down the chaos and pressure a little. You can put everything up 'next year.' And if someone misses a particular decoration, direct them to the appropriate storage bin or shelf. At the end of the holidays make a separate box of all the decorations you don't really like. Mark it "Goodwill Holidays 2013". Next year, without opening it, take it directly to Goodwill. I finally remembered to do that last year and this year it felt awesome to show up at Goodwill with the box (actually boxes!). Decorating was simpler because I wasn't making faces at the things I always put up but never enjoyed. 

  1. Cut down on presents. No one needs all the stuff we give them. A few good gifts are much better than a ton of meaningless ones. And anything you run out to buy desperately from Rite Aid two days before Christmas most likely is not something anyone will want. I remember sending my husband on such a mission many Christmas Eves ago when I had finally finished wrapping and realized one of the kids have far fewer presents than the others. It was Rite Aid or the grocery store – everything else was closed. (These days that’s probably not the case, but I’d still avoid the last minute panic shop.) 

  1. Give stuff that doesn’t need to be wrapped – experiences and gift certificates can go in a nice card. If it comes down to the wire and you haven’t got a gift ready to go, create a coupon for an experience like a hike + lunch (for a friend) or a movie night with five friends at our house (for your kids). Most people will enjoy time with you more than anything you might buy and wrap. 

  1. If you need to wrap – used reusable wrap to make next year easier. See my post on this one. It truly revolutionized wrapping in this household. 

  1. Make time for quiet. I know you’re busy. I know your kids are noisy. I know you’re exhausted. But find five minutes of quiet to reflect each day. A great place to do this is in a dark room with a lighted Christmas Tree. Or outside. Or with an animal in your lap. Or standing in your children’s room while they are sleeping. Call it investing in Christmas Spirit. I promise it will make Christmas feel more like Christmas. 

  1. Make time for your kids. Read a Christmas book (even if they’re big kids – they’ll probably still love being read to). Ask them what holiday activity happened at school today. Go for a walk, shoot baskets, play music with them. Just be with them. Kids have more down time at the holidays. Take advantage of this. Your presence is the best present. 

  1. Enjoy your holiday food. Let go of the guilt. Make a moratorium on stressing over calories. Enjoy a Christmas cookie – slowly, savoring it. Don’t do anything else except eat that cookie. Or sip some eggnog. Yeah, I know it has sixzillion calories, but this is the only time of year you drink it. Even better – warm it up and add Bailey’s! Focus on the taste, the extravagance, and the sheer pleasure – or don’t eat it at all. 

  1. Sleep more. Go to bed earlier. Take a nap. Close your eyes for five minutes (not while you’re driving). Rest your soul. This is the darkest time of the year. If you were a bear, you’d be burrowed in your cave, so give in to your body’s natural inclination to sleep more and – sleep more! 

  1. Exercise every day. I know, I know. But do something. It’ll relieve stress, keep your guilt in check (remember how you’re savoring those cookies?), and give you energy. You need this. Make it a priority, even if it’s only ten minutes. Can’t find a parking place at the mall – perfect opportunity to get some exercise. Kids making you nuts? Take a time out on the treadmill or put on your sneakers and go for a hike. If nothing else, make more trips up and down the stairs.

 The holidays are a rich time of year. But it can also be a stressful time of year. Let go of some of that stress this year. Don’t worry so much about how the house looks or the kids look or the number of presents or the perfect holiday. Instead enjoy the holiday you’ve got. Truly enjoy it. Instead of wishing everyone a Happy Holiday, actually have one.
Postscript from previous blog: We decorated our Christmas Cookies with all natural dyes. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth, but in the end they still looked great and, more importantly, tasted wonderful!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dye-Free Christmas Cookies

Many moons ago when food dyes
 roamed free in our house
No holiday is complete without Christmas cookies. My children devotedly subscribe to this theory. Last year, somehow amongst the guests, gifts, and chaos of Christmas, we never got around to making Christmas cookies. You know the kind- cut in to bells and reindeers and stars and loaded with icing and sprinkles and candies. The store-bought decorations were so chock full of artificial ingredients, food dyes, and preservatives they last for centuries (I know this is true because we still have a container of silver ‘bullet’ candies that I purchased before I had kids).  

Early last January, my youngest child pointed out the travesty and accused me of depriving them of Christmas cookies! You’d have thought I’d sold off his legos and barbequed the cat. As soon as Thanksgiving concluded this year, maybe before the pumpkin pie even, he began his lament, “Last year we didn’t even make Christmas cookies!”    

This year we’re going to make Christmas cookies, I promised. We aren’t going to forget. But there is this part of me that doesn’t want to make them. I don’t want to watch as my children load up their delicious homemade whole-wheat sugar cookies with artificially colored and sweetened candies. I’m not that na├»ve. I do realize the toppings are the whole point of Christmas cookies. The cookies themselves are simply a conveyor for the forbidden candies that I never buy for my children the rest of the year. They revel in the colored sprinkles, M&M’s, and jimmies strewn atop dye-laden brightly colored icing.

So what’s a mother to do? I’ve made organic pop-tarts, cheezits, and chocolate chip cookies. I would find a suitable alternative. Chocolate chips, yogurt covered raisins, chocolate covered pretzels, and organic candy coated sunflower seeds are all well and good, but the real problem, the sticking point in all of this is the food dyes necessary to color the icing. My spoiled children are accustomed to having five or six different brightly colored frostings to choose from. How would I do this? It’s not like Easter when you can use onion skins for pink and yellow. Somehow I suspect they might complain if I dyed their frosting with onion juice. 

But what about cherry juice? Or apple juice? Grape juice? Blueberry juice? I turned to the internet and discovered there is a whole plethora of suggestions out there. So I commenced experimenting. I whipped up a huge batch of homemade buttercream frosting and I started coloring.  

We had cherries, strawberries, and blue berries in the freezer, so that was an easy start. I thawed them out and drained the juice. Pink! Lighter pink! Purple! But no red! The blogs on the internet claimed you could make red from beet juice. No beets in the cupboard. And really how red are beets? They’re really more a chartreuse. Cranberries crossed my mind, but it was time to move on to another palate.  

From top clockwise- strawberry, cherry,
spinach, blueberry, and carrot/orange (yes that
speck in the green might be an errant piece of spinach!)
Next I shredded carrots in my food processor and dumped them in a colander with some sugar (to draw out the juice) to drain. Orange was a big disappointment. I added real orange juice squeezed from an orange I found in the very back of the fridge. It was hard on one side, but it did have juice. The icing turned only a faint shade of peach which didn’t look orange at all unless you put something stark white next to it. The bloggers claimed that if you drained the juice from golden beets, you could get a bright yellow-orange. No beets here. They also suggested saffron. What?  

Green was the big challenge. I have a friend who makes smoothies with spinach and swears you can’t taste the spinach if you mask it with enough fruit. Would spinach juice work? I retrieved a bag of frozen spinach, thawed it and chopped it to oblivion in the food processor. Then I drained juice from the spinach and added it to the frosting. It created a lovely muted shade of puke green. One of the kids wandered through the kitchen during my spinach activity and passed the word. No one would try the green frosting besides my husband, who did so under duress. He declared it “tastes like frosting.” 

My colors do seem more appropriate for Easter, but at least we now have options beyond white without the help of artificial food dyes. My colors were pretty, if muted. And the bonus is that the icing is even yummier with strawberry juice! A note to anyone thinking of trying this at home – you’ll need to add more confectioners sugar when you add the ‘dyes’ or the icing becomes too runny. One more note – if you purchase juice for your dyes, be sure to check the labels because many commercially processed juices add food dye to achieve the optimum color. 

The success of my icing inspired me to make colored sugar. I had on my shelf some coconut and raspberry sugars I purchased from a local shop, so I figured I could mix any of my ‘dyes’ above with white sugar and make some of my own. I made some blueberry sugar, but decided against spinach sugar or carrot sugar. 

The real test will come this weekend when we apply my concoctions to our Christmas cookies. Personally, I think these will be the yummiest ones yet, but my children are skeptical. Sugar has the power to win over even the stubbornest child, so I’m taking bets on whether this year’s cookies will be decorated or not. To be continued….

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Holiday Decorating on the Cheap

I have to begin this week’s post once again with a disclaimer: I am decidedly NOT a decorator. It’s not just that I don’t have any knowledge of decorating and have never even perused a decorating magazine; it’s that I have very little interest in the idea of decorating. Don’t get me wrong – I completely appreciate someone else’s ability to decorate a house or lawn or child. It’s just that I take no joy from my own efforts. In fact, I have nearly no interest in the idea of it.  

Occasionally, I do rally the troops hidden in my brain and carefully choose a new paint color or arrange a few flowers, but for the most part there is no theme, style, or strategy to the way my house, lawn, or children look. Although I do wish the lawn were decorated with a lot less garden jumble and child flotsam. The children prefer to decorate themselves without my assistance. (And they do seem to have a unique “style” all their own. My oldest was even a trend-setter in kindergarten when the zip off pants were all the rage. Each day at some point during the day, he would zip off the bottom portion of one of the legs of his pants. Not both, just one. This made him look like a pirate because his little white leg resembled a peg leg. It was cute until other children started doing the same and parents complained when pant legs were lost. That was the first call home from a teacher.) 

When it comes to holiday decorating, I’m even worse. Most of the time I just don’t see the need for it. I stick to minimalist efforts for the most part. I used to only put up Christmas decorations (most of which were wedding presents – what’s with that?). But then my children guilted me in to buying Halloween and Easter decorations. And then my youngest visited a friend who decorates as if her home is a finalist in Extreme Makeover: Holiday Decorating Edition. He came home incredibly disappointed in his mother’s meager efforts. Since then, I’ve tried to step it up a bit.  

Here are the guidelines for my holiday decorating:

  1. It has to be cheap (as in expense, not value).
  2. It can’t take up much room in the off-season.
  3. If it’s made of perishables, all the better.
  4. It has to be tasteful and/or meaningful.
With that in mind, I’ll share my best tips.

Supplies that can help:
-A big spool of wired red ribbon
-Evergreen branches (if you don’t have some in your own neighborhood and you’re local, feel free to cut some of ours. We have gobs of evergreen trees and I’ll even loan you my clippers.)
-A box of shiny ornaments (dollar store and walmart are good sources, although I found some at the Goodwill)
-Pinecones (These need to be collected through out the year. The ones lying around on the ground now are undoubtedly mashed and moldy)
- Christmas Cards (the ones that you receive in the mail)
- Children's Holiday Craft Projects (What? You didn't save them?!)

Tie pretty red wired ribbon on anything and it becomes a holiday decoration (including the dog). I’m pretty horrible at the ribbon tying, but this much I know – start with one end longer if you want your bow to be even and use wired ribbon because it’s incredibly forgiving and anyone can make it look good (even me).
 Utilize nature. It’s free. Evergreen trees and bushes are everywhere and they forgive a little trim this time of year.
Pull the dead stuff out of your porch pots.
Fill it with evergreen branches arranged artfully, tie a colorful ribbon on it, and set it on your front porch.
Add evergreens and a ribbon to a wreath you already have.

Attach greens to porch lights, mailboxes, signs (be careful not to allow them to touch bulbs).
Fill a bowl with bulbs, pine cones, candy canes or peppermints (if you use mints, tell your children they are fake or that they’re left over from five years ago so they won’t beg you for them on a daily basis. If that doesn’t work, tell them the dog had them in her mouth.). Again, add a ribbon if possible and it’s instantly festive.
Add white twinkly lights to anything – an old sled, a porch decoration you already have, a chair, a mirror, whatever happens to be lying around (not the dog).
Hang up your children’s Christmas crafts from years past. I love this one. It’s my favorite thing to put up each year. I love the fingerpainted wreaths made from their tiny handprints and get a sentimental chuckle out of their signatures on the back of each creation.
Find a clever way to display your Christmas cards. We tape them up as we receive them around the doorway in to the kitchen. You could also hang a string like a clothesline along a wall and clothespin them to the line. (no pictures because we haven't gotten any Christmas cards yet - C'mon people!)
One last idea that will not only decorate your house, but make you feel as thought you've got Christmas under control: Wrap the presents that aren’t for the short people in the house and place them in a nice decorative pile in a window, under the tree, or as a table centerpiece.
This morning it was nearly 60 degrees here. Bizarre, but lovely. I spent a half hour decorating my porch. It cost me $3 for the spool of wired ribbon which was on sale for half price. I spent $6 on a short string of white LED lights. Everything else was free. 

Bottom line: Holiday decorations don’t need to cost a fortune or take up half your basement. If I can do this, you can do this.