Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Challenge

The Christmas season is upon us once again. Hard to believe, I know.

This Advent, take the time to reflect on what Christmas really means. Take the time to teach your children that there is more to Christmas than Santa, gifts and cookies. My friend, Kristy, shared a great way to focus on the true meaning of the season while teaching our children that it really does feel better to give than receive. Won't you join us?

Since we already have an Advent calendar (and it's already December), we're going to improvise this year. I'll be writing different activities on pieces of paper and adding them to a bowl. After we use our already existing calendar, I'll have my son choose an activity for the day. I haven't finished making my list yet, but I'll be sure to share what we've done each day.

What will you be doing?Link

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Greatest Pancakes...Ever

As a mother of a picky eater, I've learned that, when I find something that my son will eat, I need to make it as healthy as possible.

Enter the pancake.

My son loves pancakes! In fact, last weekend, while visiting my brother and sister-in-law he conned his aunt into making him pancakes for breakfast...and then had them again for lunch. Talks of hotdogs or chicken weren't phasing him. It rarely does anyhow.

While I was going through a cookbook to plan my monthly menu, I came across this recipe. It was in one of those church fundraiser cookbooks so I knew it had to be good. ;)
Here is my new favorite pancake recipe:

1 1/4 c. Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 c. All-Purpose Flour
2 T Brown Sugar (firmly packed)
1 T Baking Powder
1/2 t. Salt

2 Eggs
1 1/2 c. Milk
3 T Cooking Oil (or melted butter, margarine or shortening)

Thoroughly mix together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Beat together eggs, milk and oil until blended. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix well.
Bake on hot, lightly greased griddle.

*I added a little flax in place of the all-purpose flour. Be creative and add other things like fruit (or maybe even chocolate chips?) I also made a few blueberry ones. Yum.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Dryer Balls?

I've been using dryer balls for quite some time now as an alternative to icky, chemical-filled dryer sheets. (I didn't actually purchase mine on Amazon, but these look like the ones I have.)

While these do a great job at controlling static and shortening drying time, I'm not sure what they're made of. I don't like that. For all I know, I think I'm doing a good thing for our planet and my family by not using softener or sheets and these things could be made of PVC or BPA. Who knows?

When one of these fabulous little things finally bit the dust last week (nothing lasts forever), I started thinking about better alternatives.
An Internet search brought me to this page. There are many retailers that sell wool dryer balls, but they seemed pricey for a cheapskate like me. ;) If you're interested in making your own, the above link has great instructions complete with photos.
If you're not the crafty type and you just want to support a WAHM (work at home mom), this is a wonderful business!! I buy all of my laundry detergent from Crunchy Clean and absolutely LOVE it!

Eliminating dryer sheets and fabric softeners is an easy thing for us to do. Should we be worried about what the dryer balls are made of or is just using them enough? I really guess this depends on how eco-friendly you are hoping to be. I urge you to give them a try either way.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Paper or Plastic?

I'm a huge fan of those handy dandy reusable shopping bags. I keep a stack in my car at all times and use them for all of my shopping, not just grocery shopping. The ones I have are not cute by any stretch of the word, but they serve their purpose. I can't really complain for a functional green (in color and urban dictionary definition) bag for less than a buck.

While browsing at my local fabric store over the weekend, one particular bolt of fabric really caught my eye. When I touched it, I knew we were destined to be together. You see? This fabric wasn't really "fabric" at all. (I'm ashamed to say that I don't really know what that "paper-y" fabric is called. I'll be even more ashamed to learn that it's full of chemicals.) It was cute regardless and it's kept me out of trouble and behind my sewing machine for a day or so.

I didn't buy a pattern because, while I'm no sewing pro, I'm not a beginner and I knew I could wing it. They did have a simple pattern by Green Pepper there. I checked it out and used it as a guide when deciding how much fabric to purchase. ;)
Really, a reusable shopping bag can be made out of any sturdy fabric. While the "paper-y" fabric is sturdy and cute, I don't intend on making my entire collection out of this material. I would actually suggest something washable. After all, you're going to be toting fresh fruits and veggies in them one day, raw meats the next and then maybe even something non-edible the next day. It's best to have something that's easily thrown in the wash. We probably don't want to know what kinds of germs are lurking in those bags. *blech*

To make a bag of your own, first choose your material. Canvas? A mesh or netting? A funky pattern? Fabric scraps?

Lay out your fabric with the wrong sides together and the folded edge on the bottom. Cut your desired size. If you're using scraps, you may have to do a bit more sewing to get the body of your bag. If you're using brand new fabric, just leave the folded side on the bottom and cut a square/rectangle out.

If you want a pocket on the front and/or back, cut out a square or rectangle for that, too. I got funky with one bag and made the pocket a triangle. :)

Fold the top and bottom edges of your pocket over and hem them. You don't have to be fancy about it. Functionality over style here, folks. I folded mine twice (think rolling it and then pressing flat) just so I could eliminate the chance that it would fray.

Leave the sides of the pocket raw. The handles of the bag will cover them so it's just a waste of time to hem them. ;)

Do the same thing to the top and bottom edges of the bag itself. I made my seams about 1/2 inch. (Again, don't get too crazy and start to over-think everything. Just fold it over twice and sew.)

Sew the pocket onto your bag if you're using one. Just stitch the bottom of the pocket to one side of your bag. Remember that the handles will go over the sides of your pocket and it will be sewn on three sides. Don't get carried away and sew the top closed. That would make a pretty useless pocket. :P

Next, you'll need to attach your handles. You'll need a looooong piece of fabric or bias tape for this. Seriously, then handles were nearly two yards long on one of my bags. Make the long, thin strip of fabric into a circle. Make sure that it's not twisted at all. Hold them right sides together (if it's plain fabric, it doesn't much matter) and stitch the ends together. Go back and forth a few times just to ensure strength.

Spread the body of your bag out with the back of the fabric on the floor or table. You should have a pretty long rectangle in front of you. Lay your handles on top. Make sure that they cover the sides of your pocket (if you're adding one) and that they are even. Pin those suckers down once you have them in place! I loathe pinning, but don't skip this step or you'll likely be fetching your seam ripper.
Sew your handles onto your bag. You can do two straight stitches down either side of the handles or you can do a zig zag down the middle. Be creative with any "fancy"stitches you have, but remember to be practical. These handles are going to be lugging around some heavy merchandise.

Put the right sides of your fabric together and sew the sides shut. It's a good idea to double up here just for strength.

Now, you could stop here. Once you turn your bag right side out, you'll have a functional piece for sure. I like to make mine so they "stand up" by themselves. The cashier will thank you.

To do that, keep your bag inside out. Flatten the bottom of your bag and push the side out to make a triangle. (This part is really hard to explain without illustrations so you may need to visit this link if you've never done this before. Heck, it looks like a cute pattern for a quilted bag!)
Sew straight across that triangle, as the illustration suggests.

Turn your bag right side out and go shopping! Like I said before, I didn't get fancy with this. It's really just a functional bag to get me in and out of the store without having to take a plastic bag home with me.
I'll post a photo of my bag when I can get iTunes and my laptop to stop arguing. ;)

I did a little search for other patterns and found this great resource! There are some really cute patterns HERE.

If you really aren't crafty at all (Even though I promise this is super easy.) this link is a great resource for retailers and all other things green.

And this, here, should get you thinking in the green direction if you've been living in a bubble and don't know the impact all of those plastic bags have on our environment.

What plastic alternatives have you tried when you hit the stores? I'd love to hear!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Batch of Clean

Our move has gone really well thus far. I have used this move as an opportunity to make some changes in our home. We have eliminated toxic cleaning chemicals from our home. Yesterday I jumped at the chance to whip up a few cleaners. Here are the recipes and a few photos of the process. It was super easy AND, better yet, the cleansers work just as well (maybe better) as the popular brands in the stores.

Here is what you'll need to make these three recipes:
Baking Soda
Distilled Water
Liquid Soap (Sal Suds, Dr. Bronners, etc. I used Biokleen because that's what I had on hand)
White Vinegar
Essential oils if you'd like. I used Tea Tree for its anti-fungal properties and Lemon for its fresh scent)
A bowl for mixing (that's my Pampered Chef batter bowl pictured)
Something to mix with
Measuring cups and spoons
A metal spoon to measure your essential oils (they'll damage plastic ones)

Mixing the soap and baking soda together. It's pretty clumpy and pasty to begin with.

When you add the water, it will thin out quickly. You'll get little bubbles and a nice, frothy mixture.

After you add the guessed it-it'll start to foam. It doesn't foam like a crazy science experiment so no worries. Just add and mix together.
Add the essential oils if you are going to.

Here's what you'll get: A toilet bowl cleaner, a furniture polish and a "soft scrub" cleaner.

Here are the recipes:

"Bowled Over" Toilet Bowl Cleaner
From Karen Logan's book Clean House Clean Planet. I changed the name though. I didn't dig "Hollywood Bowl". ;)

1/2 C Liquid Soap
2 C Baking Soda
Mix to get lumps out
Dilute with
1/4 C Distilled Water
2 T White Vinegar
1/2 t. Tea Tree Essential Oil (50 drops)

Pour into 22 oz. squirt bottle (I used an old Dawn dish soap bottle.)

"Dust to Dust" Furniture Polish
Also from Clean House Clean Planet
2 t Olive Oil (the lighter the better)
20 drops Lemon Essential Oil
1/4 C White Vinegar
13 oz. Distilled Water

Pour into a 16 oz. spray bottle (I bought mine at Walmart and Dollar General for a buck a piece.)

"Earth Paste" Scrub
From... You guessed it. ;)

1 2/3 C Baking Soda
1/2 C Liquid Soap
2 T Distilled Water
2 T White Vinegar

Put in a jar or container with a tight fitting lid. A squeeze bottle could work too but that could get ugly. An open-topped container seems to make the most sense to me.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Here are some great ideas to celebrate Earth Day everyday!!

Truly, Earth Day should be every single day. Forty years ago, Earth Day was a fun way to teach kids (and adults) ways to be kind to the earth. Remember the whole "Recycle, Reuse, Reduce" chant they taught you in school? ;)
The term "being green" hadn't really come into existence yet. Today, however, even the youngest members of your family can help you live a healthy, "green" lifestyle.

Consider making even just one change today. Switch to more energy efficient light bulbs, start recycling or composting, plant a garden, or use Earth friendly (and family friendly) cleaning products. You'll be surprised at the results. I promise you'll "get something" out of your change. Chances are, you'll save a little green while being green.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Green Crafts

I was flipping through a current issue of Better Homes and Gardens when I came across a few cute ideas. These projects would be great to do with children to show them how to reuse/re-purpose things that you have in your home. The link above has tons of neat craft ideas. These ones just happen to use things you probably already have in your home.

The first project is for a magnetic message board. Here's what you need:
A metal cookie sheet (Teflon or non-stick won't work).
Some sandpaper
Paint of your choice
Wallpaper scraps, tissue paper, gift wrap, construction paper... ANY kind of paper to decorate with

Rough up your sheet with the sandpaper.

Paint it and make sure it completely dries.

Now cut or tear your paper and glue it on the flat surface of your sheet (leaving the painted edges exposed). The magazines suggested spray adhesive but that's not my favorite. I would try Mod Podge. It works great and is easy to clean up with soap and water.

Buy cool magnets OR make your own. I "framed" Alex's artwork behind flat glass rocks for Christmas gifts last year. Mod Podge the paper or "art" on the back of the clear stone and glue on a heavy duty magnet with hot or tacky glue.
Another cute magnet suggestion from BHG was to cut out pretty pictures from magazines and glue them on all of those business magnets you have on your fridge. You can either cut them to the shape of your picture or leave them rectangular. <---Cute idea!

Have fun with this project! These make great gifts. Another spin on this particular craft is to buy either a roll or squares of cork and frame them. (This is what I did for Christmas.) Glue extra game pieces, pretty pebbles, buttons or beads to flat thumb tacks and tack on a cute message for your recipient.

The next project is making a terrarium. If you've ever made one as a child, you probably remember how much fun it was to watch your plants grow. What a great learning craft for kids of all ages! Here's what you need:

Glass container or clear plastic bottle
Small pebbles
Activated charcoal (available where aquarium supplies are sold)
Potting soil
Seeds or small plant clippings

Select your container. A mason jar, fish bowl or pop bottle will work. (If you're using a pop bottle, clean it well and cut off the lower 1/3. Save the top for the lid.)

Cover the bottom of your container with about an inch of pebbles (aquarium rocks work well too) for drainage.

Add a thin layer (maybe a 1/4 in.) of the activated charcoal to filter the water that you'll add.

Place 2-3 in. of potting soil on top.

Plant your garden! Ferns, begonias, cacti, succulents and moss will grow well.

Water your plants or seeds well and place a lid on your container. If your container doesn't have a lid, a piece of plastic wrap secured with a rubber band will work just fine.

Watch your terrarium come to life! Explain to your kids how it works. The water in the soil will eventually form droplets on the inside and top of your container. Once they get heavy enough, they'll fall like rain. This process will keep repeating.

**If you don't see this process occurring, add more water.

The final project is a great one for older kids! Here's what you'll need to make your own decoupaged chair:

A salvaged wooden chair of your choice
Magazine clippings or pictures, old sheet music for your music lover, tissue paper, fabric scraps, etc. Basically any paper that can be glued. Let your teen get creative and use movie or concert ticket stubs, CD liner notes, photos of friends printed on lightweight photo paper...
Mod Podge
Sponge brush
Paint (optional)
Drop cloth

(I've actually done this with the top of a wooden bar stool. I cut out flowers and other neat pictures from magazines and decoupaged them to the top. They've served as everything from plant stands to actual stools in our home.)

Sand your chair to make sure the surface is smooth and ready to accept the glue. Wipe it clean. You can paint the parts of the chair that you won't be covering if you want to.

Cut or tear your images and gather your papers for decorating.
Sometimes it works getter to cut as you go so you'll be able to fill in gaps rather than having to rearrange your design a million times. Choose the system that works best for you.

Lightly cover the back of your image and the spot on the chair that you'd like to cover. Lightly cover the top of your image once you're sure you have it where you'd like it.

Apply two to three coats over the entire area once you're satisfied with your design. Use long, smooth strokes for a glassy finish or blot the area for a textured look.

Have fun and get creative! Share your craft ideas, too!