Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tomatoes in Jars and fewer chemicals in my shampoo

I'm not really sure I like making New Year's resolutions. I think they are just a recipe for bad self esteem. It seems like most people make really outrageous resolutions thinking that since it's the new year they will suddenly change their ways overnight. Then when they slack off or give up a few months down the line, they feel bad about their inability to stick to something impossible in the first place. I believe in making more reasonable suggestions to your self whenever they seem appropriate or whenever you think of them. There's no need to hold off doing something you want to do or need to do just because it's not the new year yet.

In that vein, at the end of last year I decided to make 2 changes in products I buy for my family based on some research I did on toxins in the body. I decided to buy my diced and whole tomatoes in jars or cartons rather than cans, and i decided to start buying toiletries that did not contain sulfates or parabens.

Toward the end of last year I read an article called 7 foods the experts won't eat. For the most part I already follow these guidelines. We eat organic veggies as much as possible, buy milk without artificial growth hormones, buy grass-fed beef from a natural ranch, and buy wild salmon when possible. The only one I wasn't following was #1 Never Eat Canned Tomatoes. I would buy my diced canned tomatoes from Costco to save money thinking that this was a good choice.  But evidently the high acidity of tomatoes causes the BPA lining the can to leech into the food. So I'm switching to glass or cardboard cartons. This article at the Garden of Eating gives a rundown on good alternatives.

The second change I plan to make is to buy toiletries that do not contain sulfates or parabens. I bought a Mamapedia sweet deal about a month or so ago from Babo Botanicals and purchased some shampoo/body wash for the kids with it. According to their website these products contain no parabens, sulfates, or other questionable chemicals. I bought the detangling shampoo for my daughter and the aloe one for my son. I also got lavender body wash and lotion for me. The kids have been using the shampoo for a few weeks and so far all is well. Their hair is clean and smells good and they haven't had any skin irritations. I, on the other hand, had a reaction to the lotion. .I started to get little bumps on my face indicative to me that a product does not work with my sensitive skin. I know I'm allergic to Cocoa Butter in products, and the lotion contains something called Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, which may be close enough to cause me a problem. The kids don't have this allergy, though, so they should be able to use the lotion without issue.

So, I believe that making small changes a few at a time is the way for me. And I think these 2 changes I'm currently implementing will be absolutely do-able for the long term.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Make your own board and card games

My family loves to play games! We play board games, card games, strategy games, and video games together as a family and with friends. On nights when the kids eat their dinner, take their bath and get ready for bed early they get to play games with mom and dad as a treat. Some of our favorites to play together are Carcassone, UNO, Cranium and Wii Party. If the game we play is too hard for one or both of the youngest members of the family we split into teams to make the game more fair and fun for everyone.

Because of our obsession with games, we have a LOT of them stashed in cabinets around the house, and as you know, board games aren't cheap. Some of them are very NOT cheap. Many years ago we found a game company called Cheap-Ass games that sold what looked photo copies of game boards in manila envelopes with the titles of the games printed on them. The games were really good, but not manufactured in a fancy way that would make them expensive to produce. That gave me the idea to try to make my own board and card games for the kids.

Charades is probably the easiest game to make at home. I made a Christmas version by writing a bunch of holiday words on slips of paper then putting the paper into an old yogurt container. Shake up the container, reach in, grab a slip of paper and act it out.

Just as easily and using the exact same pieces of paper and words,  you can make your own Pictionary game by drawing the clues rather than acting them. My kids loved playing both of these games over an over at Christmastime. I'll probably make other holiday versions throughout the year on Valentines day, Easter, 4th of July, Halloween, etc.

Memory is one of those games that is even better when you make it at home. A few years ago I was thinking of getting Son a Spiderman Memory game but kept forgetting it when I was at the store. So, I decided to make one myself and customize it for him. I searched the Internet for pictures of Spiderman and other super heroes. I then printed out 2 of each one on card stock and cut them all to be the same size. We played a few games of this and had a blast, but I realized that we needed more cards to make the games more fun. I had already used all of the super heroes I knew, so I used pictures of people in the family for the next set of cards. I didn't tell anyone I had added the family pictures. So the next time we played the kids were very surprised to see their own faces and faces of mom and dad and grandparents popping up here and there. They thought it was hilarious.

Pictionary Squiggle
This is a really fun one or 2 player drawing game. For Christmas one year I made these Squiggle books for both of my kids by cutting regular printer paper into quarters and stacking it up, cutting card stock for the front and back cover, then punching holes in everything and knoting it with yarn into booklets. I then drew a squiggle on each page in pen. This could be a few straight lines or a curvy line or a circle. Then I cut some slips of paper like in pictionary/charades above and wrote some names of animals, household items, people, and other random nouns. To play this game, a player draws a slip of paper without looking then has to draw that object on a page in the squiggle book and incorporate the squiggle into the drawing. The results are often funny, but always interesting and fun to watch.

Capture the number
I got the idea for this game from one I saw once upon a time. This is a 2 person math game played with a pair of dice and 2 sets of 12 colored stones (12 of one color and 12 of another). Print out a clock face without the hands for your game board. Each number on the board should have 2 circles next to it. Player "A" rolls the dice then adds the 2 numbers together. Player A can then put down one or more stones next to numbers that total to their number. If Player B has a stone on one of the numbers Player A wishes to use then Player A Knocks player B off of that number. To capture the number completely and lock it a player must have a stone on both of the 2 circles next to a number. There can never be 2 different colored stones next to the same number. An example roll could be a 6 and a 2. Added together that is 8. The player could then put stones on 1 and 7, 2 and 6, 3 and 5, or capture and lock number 4 by putting 2 stones on that number.  You can make this game easier or harder by allowing subtraction or adding more dice. Both of my kids enjoy playing it but the 5 year old doesn't get some of the strategy yet. So I'd say it's probably a game for ages 6+.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gummy Bears from College

Last  night I was cuddling my son before bed. I told him I was glad he liked to cuddle with me now because he wouldn't want to when he got older. He was a bit upset by that statement and said, "I'll always want to cuddle with you, mommy, even when I grow up. When I go to college I'm going to write you notes and send you some of my gummy bears." Then he thought for a minute and said, "But could you write the note, because I'll need help spelling?"

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Purple Potato Chips

Last week I bought a Mamapedia Sweet Deal for a Produce box from Mother Nature Organics. The box came with an assortment of yummy looking fruits and veggies that included a pound of purple potatoes.

According to the newsletter that came in the veggie box, Purple Potatoes contain the same antioxidants, called anthocyanin, found in blueberries. This antioxidant gives blueberries their blue color and purple potatoes their purple color. The color that is expressed in the food is based on the pH. Interesting...

My family generally doesn't eat many potatoes, but they do like potato chips and fries. I decided to make my purple potatoes into oven baked purple potato chips. There's really nothing easier than making your own potato chips.

You simply slice the potatoes (leaving the skin on) into the thinnest slices you can make, put them on a greased pan in a single layer, liberally sprinkle with salt and bake in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them in the last 5 minutes to make sure the thinnest ones don't burn.

And is there really any healthier way to eat a potato?

The chips with the brownish coloring are the crunchiest. Enjoy!

Green, Money Saving Gift Giving Ideas - Part #5

This post is the last part in the series. Each post contains 2 green gifting ideas. Click here for part 1, here for part 2, here for part 3, and here for part 4.

I hope you've enjoyed this series of ideas on how to be a little more green and save some money along the way. I have a lot more ideas rumbling around in my brain, and I hope to post more of these kind of articles soon. Let me know if this has been useful to you or if you enjoyed reading it. Thanks!

Green, Money Saving Gift Giving Ideas
10 Gift giving ideas that will save you money, reduce waste and save resources.

9. Re-gift
One of the best ways to save money, reduce waste and de-clutter your house at the same time is to re-gift items you’ve received that don’t fit your personality or that you don’t need. When I receive a nice gift that isn’t right for me but I know someone else will love, I put it away in my gift closet for later re-gifting. By doing this, the nice item will get used rather than going to waste or going into a landfill. And by using something that’s already been produced and purchased I’m not further contributing to the use of more resources to make another item. I know this gift giving method is somewhat controversial, but honestly, if someone re-gifts something I've given them it doesn't make me feel bad at all. My goal in gift giving was to give the person something they could use...and if they use it to not have to buy a gift for someone else, then it got used as that person saw fit. And hopefully somewhere down the line the gift will be treasured by its recipient.

10. Make your own gift bag or wrap from a pillowcase or fabric remnant
My kids are constantly being invited to birthday parties. For the most part, I’ve been able to reuse gift bags we already have to wrap the gift for the party child, but in some cases, the toy or book is too large to fit into the bags we have. In those instances I pull out a plain white pillowcase I’ve purchased on sale for this very purpose, decorate it with the child’s name, let my child further decorate the bag to personalize it, then tie up the top with ribbon or a pair of sparkly shoe laces furthering the re-usability of the packaging. I’ve gotten a lot of complements about this wrapping method, and I feel good that the wrapping is really a second gift and will be used again as well.

Another gift wrap idea is even simpler. Take a fabric remnant large enough to wrap around the gift. Then tie it up with ribbon. There’s no tape or paper needed for this one at all. Then the fabric remnant can either be used by the recipient to wrap another package or they can sew it into something new like a quilt or use it to recover a pillow.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Green, Money Saving Gift Giving Ideas - Part #4

This post is part 4 in the series. Each post contains 2 green gifting ideas. Click here for part 1, here for part 2, and here for part 3.

Green, Money Saving Gift Giving Ideas
10 Gift giving ideas that will save you money, reduce waste and save resources.

7. Bake or cook something yummy from your garden or from a farmer’s market
For those of you with a garden or who make regular trips to the farmer’s market, make a yummy, organic, healthy treat to give. In the spring, the garden and market overflow with organic strawberries and raspberries. Around here blackberries grow wild everywhere and are even considered a nuisance, but that’s free food! In the fall, pumpkins are on every corner and are even pretty easy to grow in your own garden, compost pile or flower bed. Go berry picking or to the pumpkin patch and then make a pie to give. What’s better than giving something as practical as food and as yummy as a pie? You know the recipient will love it and when it’s used there’s nothing to find store on a shelf or in a closet and it will never end up in a landfill.

8. Shop at a used book store or thrift store
Used book stores have to be one of my favorite places to shop! There are so many treasures hiding on those shelves! I usually scour the clearance sections several times per month and pick out the books that are still in near perfect condition. I’ve found books that still crack when you open them, so they are absolutely as good as a book in a new book store. And because everything is much less expensive I can give a lot more books for my gift giving dollar. I’ve found whole series’ of books for just a few dollars that were in perfect condition. And once again, by buying something second hand I’m not contributing to the creating of a new product that uses our earth’s resources. That makes me feel good!

Thrift stores are a great place to shop as well. The trick to shopping in a thrift store is to take lots of time to inspect every item for any flaws. Some items may have rips or tears or stains, but if you spend the time to weed these out you are left with awesome deals. As with the used books, I’ve found new items in thrift stores: clothing that still has tags on it, shoes that have never been worn and household items that are still wrapped in their original plastic. And all of these items were sold to me at a fraction of the original cost. Thrift stores are not places where you can just run in and grab something, but if you have the time and take the time you can find some real gems.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Green, Money Saving Gift Giving Ideas - Part #3

This post is part 3 in the series. Each post will contain one or 2 green gifting ideas. Click here for part 1 or here for part 2

Green, Money Saving Gift Giving Ideas
10 Gift giving ideas that will save you money, reduce waste and save resources.

5. Paint a pot and plant it with a propagated house plant or divided herb or flower from the garden
I love gardening. So this gift idea is one of my favorites. Every spring when I plant seeds in starter trays in my greenhouse I always plant too many. I assume that some of the seeds won’t germinate and some that do may not survive as seedlings. But even taking these factors into account, I always have extras. When I have extras of herbs, veggies and flowers, I have the perfect start to a great hostess or birthday gift. Terracotta pots are very inexpensive at the garden store, hardware store or even a discount store. You probably have some old ones in your garage or tool shed. I often get several when they are on sale to have on hand when I need them. I, then, paint them with any paint I have on hand. Stripes, polka dots, flowers and vine designs work well and will fit into most home decors. Be sure to plant your start several weeks in advance of your gift giving date to give the seedlings time to grow and mature into a nice plant or bloom into a beautiful flower. Alternatively you can propagate a house plant such as an African violet or spider plant or divide a plant that has outgrown its spot in your garden and use that plant in your decorated pot.

6. Make memory pillows or quilts from scraps
If you can sew a straight line either by hand or on a machine you can make a gift that any recipient will cherish for years. Although the word quilt may bring to mind something complicated, huge and very difficult, a decorative quilt doesn’t have to be any of those things. After my kids were born I made memory quilts of their hand or footprints for each of their grandmothers. I simply made hand or foot prints on a regular sheet of paper, scanned it into my computer and printed it onto printable fabric I got at the craft store. This square of fabric became the center of a very simple 18 inch by 18 inch quilt meant to be hung on the wall. The same quilt front could also be attached to a backing and stuffed to become a pillow. Other than the center printed square, the rest of the fabric used to make the patchwork front came from remnants I had on hand and scraps of old clothing that had a nice pattern.

Another idea I plan to get around to making some day is a memory quilt made from baby and toddler clothing my kids wore when they were little. I’ve saved a lot of t-shirts that have a graphic pattern on them and plan to cut those into squares and sew them together into a childhood memory quilt. I have so many memories of my kids wearing particular outfits and want to preserve those memories in a physical way that I can look at whenever I feel the need. Or maybe they’ll take the quilt to college with them. Who knows.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Green, Money Saving Gift Giving Ideas - Part #2

This post is part 2 in the series. Each post will contain one or 2 green gifting ideas. Click here for part 1.
Green, Money Saving Gift Giving Ideas
10 Gift giving ideas that will save you money, reduce waste and save resources.

3. Give “time” coupons
Time is a precious commodity that can’t be purchased in stores. As such, it makes a great gift for any occasion. Customize your gift of time to suit your recipient. For dog owners, offer to walk their dog or pet sit for them when they go on vacation. For parents, offer to babysit. For family members, offer to do their household chores. For home owners, offer to paint a room or weed the garden. The possibilities are endless. Make coupons for your offers of time on fancy paper or print them from your computer using clip art or a publishing program. Since “Time coupons” are virtually free, they make great gifts for children or students to give to their loved ones.

4. Write a poem or an appreciation poster and frame in a refurbished frame
Although it may seem like something a child would give a parent, writing a poem or story to give as a gift can make a great gift for anyone. You can write down a fun or heartwarming memory you have of the person or write a short poem about the person and what makes them special.

If you don’t have the poem-writing gene, making an appreciation poster can make an even more meaningful gift. An appreciation poster can be something as simple as a photo collage or as complex as a “Ten things I’ve learned from you” list. Over the years I’ve made the “Ten things…” posters for almost all of my parents and grandparents. Although I’m calling it a poster, the finished product is usually only as big as a piece of paper. Thinking of 10 things you’ve learned from each person may be easy or it may not. I usually try to include a few funny items in my list and a few that are more heartfelt and sentimental.

Some examples of ones I’ve used are “I learned how to be a strong woman and stand up for what I believe”, “I learned that popcorn can be dinner”, “I learned that even adults can play games and have fun” and “I learned that 55 is the speed limit; you don’t have to drive that fast”. To finish off the poster I usually put a nice border around it or put a picture of me and the recipient at the top of the page then frame it in a nice frame I purchase or refurbish one that I already have.

Green, Money Saving Gift Giving Ideas Series - Part #1

I've been thinking a lot lately about Green Living ideas I want to share through my blog. I've got a list as long as my arm of things I think might be fun and interesting to write. So today I'm launching the first series in that long list: Green Money Saving Gift Giving Ideas. Although this series may have been more useful a month ago during the Christmas season, I think the ideas in this series will still be useful for other kinds of gift giving throughout the year. Each post will contain one or two ideas for green gifting. If you find you enjoy this kind of post please let me know so I'll know it's worth it to launch into the next series when it pops into my head.

Green Money Saving Gift Giving Ideas
10 Gift giving ideas that will save you money, reduce waste and save resources.

1. Give an experience like a museum membership or theatre tickets Rather than contribute to consumerism and the production of more stuff, give an experience as a gift. Memberships to museums, tickets to a concert, play or to the movies, music lessons, cake decorating classes, wine tasting tours and many other experiences can be much more fun than any gifted item.
2. Make a donation to a charity in the name of the recipient
With so many in the world in need of the basic necessities of life that we lucky ones take for granted, consider making a charitable donation with your gift giving dollars rather than buying more stuff that the recipient really doesn’t need or want. Most charitable organizations will either mail a card to the “In honor of:” person telling them about the donation or allow you to print your own from their website and personalize as you wish. I often print a few more fact pages from the organization’s website to give the recipient more information on what the donation will be able to help the organization accomplish or stories about people the organization has helped in the past. Two of my favorite charities are Habitat for Humanity, which builds houses for those in need, and Heifer International, which gives farm animals and training to needy around the world.


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