Sunday, December 2, 2012

Giving Gifts: finding safe, local, or imagintive toys

I like to read Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder every Fall to give myself a good dose of meaningful minimalistic Christmas. I like to do this before I start getting too crazy about "getting" things for the holidays. Its not that I don't like a decorated home, Ma (in the story) decorates her home for the holidays. Its not that I don't want to give my kids gifts, Laura and her sisters get a few little things each year from Santa Claus and each other. I use these books to give me some sort of base to start from.

In the past few years we are usually in Atlanta seeing family around the Christmas time, and there is something about that city that makes me just want to go shop and buy things... mainly because they have stores we don't have here. Also because everything is so sparkly and shiny and pretty there, and everyone seems to already have "one" (whatever that "one" thing is they already have it in Atlanta). 

On top of our desire to make Christmas meaningful but also fun and have some sense of tradition we also try to deal with the issue of where "things" are made and the ethical practices that place might use. Many of you may have seen the Yahoo article, Why I Don't Allow Plastic Toys into Our Home. Its good, extreme but good. And the important thing to take away from the article is knowing where your stuff comes from and if you are okay with the way it was made, the chemical standards of where it came from and the working conditions for the people creating that item. Many people read article like this and get overwhelmed and think, "How can choosing a toy be so complicated?" But I'm here to tell you if you know where to go its not difficult. Here we go, I'm going to make ethical, natural toy shopping very easy for you.

1. Shop used. You can never go wrong with making the rounds to your local thrift shops. I have found, new in the box toys. Last year I found a whole new in box Calico Critters set. I have gotten great wooden play kitchen toys, Polly Pockets, Melissa Doug puzzles, Plan Toys instruments, all sorts of things are out there. Most all thrift stores support a non-profit, Haven Hospice, Jr. League, Salvation Army, Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, Children's Home Society. 

2. There are wonderful online toy shops that support ethically made toys. Most of the toys are made in Europe where the standards for toy making are very strict. Most of these shops are also family owned and they strive to provide toys that grow the imagination (vs. just pure entertainment). 

Nova Natural Toys -Love their art supplies
Oompa Toys -Wonderful doll selection, games and play kitchen toys. 

Product ImageI'm so in love with this little tea set from Plan Toys. Its on my list for Marin this year. The nice thing about this set is that Owen can be part of the tea party with her.

KangarooBoo-Great games and lots of vehicles. 

Maple Landmark- 100 Percent American Made

Vermont Teddy Bear Company -If you are looking for the most perfect teddy bear for someone. Marin got one from her grandpa and its just about the most beautiful bear you have every seen. 

Today Parenting from has a wonderful article on The 10 Best American-made Toys. I love using this article because it also serves older kids. Many times the natural toy companies seem to have very little for big kids. 

Finally, do some searching around your area. Many shops now carry American made toys or European toys. Its always nice to support local shops. We have a wonderful little place here that offers brands from Haba to Melissa Doug and Tom's shoes for kids. 

Happy Holidays! 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fall Happenings

Marin turns 6 years old. The letter pizza tradition continues!

Red headed children look good with pumpkins

When you are six, there is a lot to think about

going on a hayride, and getting all four of us in a picture

which way do we go? follow to toddler, they know everything

friends visit from Colorado, the girls are inseparable

of course I had to make them matching shirts

goofy kids

kids love acorns

going to the museum

we let them stay up really late and watch a movie

Rainbow fish comes out of the pages of the story and in pumpkin form! Literacy pumpkin contest at school

Laura Ingalls shows up on campus for tick-or-treating

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Raising a Girl

checking the garden after school
 We have a little girl, and while my last few posts have been about our boy, I have had parenting a girl on my mind these days. She's going to be six on Friday and she started Kindergarten this year, so there seems to be a lot of growing going on.

walking home from the pool
 Parenting a girl seems more difficult these days. We have been reading Laura Ingalls (as always) and Ma and Pa Ingalls raised four girls, so I like to take tips from each book. In the book we are currently reading, Little Town on the Prairie, Laura is 15 years old and her little sister Carrie is 10 years old. Throughout the book Carrie is called a small child, young child, little girl. She is not called a "tween". Let me pause here to say I HATE the term "tween". In case anyone cares its not a developmental phase, its a term tagged on to kids by clothing and marketing companies. Its not like some professor studying 10-12 year olds one day made up the term to fit a stage of development. No its a marketing scheme to get parents and kids to buy more things. Its the same for the term "toddler". This also is not a child development term but a label pinned on 2 and 3 year olds by clothing companies. 

Going back to Laura and Carrie. While Carrie is still considered a small child, she has great responsibilities and purpose in her family. She has a lot of chores to help the household run smoothly, and yet she is called a child. I want this for my girl, to be able to feel like a small child when she is small, and yet be able to grow into more responsibility and feel some sense of growing and purpose.

Michelle Obama comes to town
We took the kids to see Michelle Obama speak at the university (as you can tell we sat behind her, but oh well we still got to see her). We went because we wanted to hear her speak, I went because I love presidential wives, and we went because we wanted Marin to see a woman involved in the political sphere. It takes a lot of bravery to be Michelle Obama. Speaking in front of a stadium full of people, knowing that because of who her husband is people might want to hurt her, her husband and her children (there were security guards and secret agents all over the place). It takes a lot of courage to stand up for what you believe in, because someone will always disagree and very few people have been taught civil discourse. It takes compassion to work so hard, often away from your home and children, for people who don't always appreciate what you do and how hard your job is. Our calling in life might not always be easy, in fact it usually is not. Our girl can learn these things from being exposed to women who take their calling seriously, whatever that calling might be, and however that calling changes through their life. Getting to be a little girl who is not rushed into adulthood will help her understand these sorts of things. Being a little girl who is not rushed into adulthood will give her time to figure out who she is and what her calling might be.

being brave on the water slide
Growing up takes time, lots of water and sunshine and patience and a few ant bites. When Carrie Ingalls was 10 years old she was still called a child, I hope we encourage our girl to feel comfortable being a child. I know there will be outside pressure to grow up, but maybe at home she will let her hair down wear dresses and lay on the floor laughing with her baby brother, while they pretend to be bumblebees.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Passing on a Poem

My brother sent me this little poem this morning. I'd like to post it as Part 2 to Crazy Pants

I love my boy, today he has reorganized the kitchen pantry, pretended to be an Olympic diver, watched dogs and their people walk past the house, matched some color blocks together, had three snacks, and peed on the floor twice. I think he too will save the rainforest...


My eleven year son wants to fish,
he owns two rods, one saltwater,
one freshwater. He loves knives,
Bowie knives, Swiss Army
knives, "Knives like this one?"
my brother says, opening his desk
drawer and taking out a small
jackknife with antler handle.
My boy camps outdoors, begs to sleep
outside, is always shooting
arrows, rubber band guns,
he is lashing together a fort
in the backyard. He sails,
swims, kayaks and wants
to know the stars.
The outdoor hunting genes
are in the dark men in my family.
Yet I believe he is a son of light.
His joy in reading, cooking
and piano are fanned
from the tinderbox
of his father's heart.
He will save rainforest,
he will grow vegetables,
keep horses, fly his own plane.
He will make his own brave life,
he will not remake our lives
nor redeem us, nor pity us.
"Genes" by Sharon Dunn, from Refugees in the Garden: A Memoir in Poems.

the link to this poem is at Writers Almanac today. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Crazy Pants or Why Mommy is So Tired

We have a girl and a boy. We used to think we were good parents when the girl was a toddler. We never had the so called "terrible two's", any ill behavior was "redirected" with ease, there was little drama as she discovered her autonomy, and we thought it was because we did such a good job at setting boundaries and understanding our child. Then one night in May when the owls were hooting like crazy we gave birth to a little boy in our garage, and our whole life changed. Actually he had us fooled at first, he was a much easier sleeper, he let his daddy hold him as much as mommy, he never cried, he was cute as can be, and he had perfected snuggling within just a few moments after his birth. 

see how innocent he looked... don't trust him for a moment!
 Then he turned 27 months and strange things started happening.

Let me start with the list of items that have gone missing (some found some not).
1. Trader Joe's Organic Chocolate Syrup (found under the couch with item 2)
2. Eggplant from our CSA (also found under the couch)
3. Jars of peanut butter (always found in random places, sometimes under the couch)
4. Chocolate graham crackers (never the other flavors, honey or cinnamon)
5. Marin's tiny special tube of tooth paste from her visit to the dentist. Still missing but no evidence of being consumed. 
6. Kitchen sheers (I think they went missing during his "throw it in the trash phase")
7. Paci's (I think this is very common in most households, but seriously where do they go? In two years I probably bought a dozen and when he finally weaned from it there was only one lurking about)
8. There are other things like socks that get flushed down the toilet, shoes found at the bottom of the dirty laundry hamper, DVD's, toys, silverware, cloth napkins... I tell you he's like a rat sticking things here and there. 

Next lesson I would have liked to have been prepared for before having a boy: Everything is broken! We had no broken anything with the girl, but the boy! Every one of our lovely board books was in great shape until the boy starting liking them, now not one of them has a spine. The sturdy wooden kitchen looked like it came out of the box for four years until the day the boy learned how to pull himself up and the first thing he did was rip out the hot and cold water knobs. Toys with wheels, have no wheels. The cute drawer shelves I put on the wall next to the kids beds... of course one got ripped right out of the wall (he was trying to hang from it). The holes where the screws were are so huge (in the wall!) I'm sure a mouse comes in and visits them each night.  

"the only reason I want to stand is to tear apart this kitchen sink"




 Fourth: There is very little "redirecting" with this boy. If his heart is set on doing something, its set. To all the authors out there writing parenting books, if you wrote "if your child is doing something they ought not be doing, offer them something else. Try to redirect their attention to a more positive behavior or object... blah blah blah" You probably never had a little boy is all I have to say. 

gardening with a girl

gardening with a boy 


"I love everyone, and blueberry pie"

 (two minutes later) "I don't like anyone, get me in bed for my nap before I get really crazy, and get this crap off me!"

"Hmm oh this book is about not being naughty, I'll just eat it while standing dangerously high on this box, and then throw it under the couch for safe keeping." (Another item that went missing)

He sleeps like an angel, with a monster on his head!

 Isn't he the cutest thing? People there is a reason he's wearing a monkey harness at IKEA! 

We thought we were good parents when all we had was a compliant little girl and a baby boy. But then we realized that it wasn't us being good parents, it was her being a good child. And its not that he's bad (okay well sometimes he is, like today when he asked for a cracker with the intention of pulverizing it into as many pieces as he could and then shoving it into the window frame. No wonder we can't get rid of the ants!) he's really opinionated, strong willed, mischievous, curious, silly, and has a brilliant sense of humor. All these things keep me on my toes more than ever before. When the girl was quiet it usually meant she was reading, playing with her dolls, coloring, something like that. When the boy is quiet it means he ripping another spine off a board book, undressing all the baby dolls and throwing them off the bed, coloring on the wall/fridge/door/book/shelf, something like that. I used to think quiet meant I would get something done, like fold the laundry while listening to an inspiring podcast. Now quiet means find him as quick as I can and expect a surprise. 

While I am for sure more frustrated and tired with my boy, he also makes me laugh hard and sing louder. I am working really hard at "responding in firm kindness" (I have that posted on my kitchen wall). But if anyone out there wants to prepare me for our next phase I would love a heads up before it starts! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Post Correction

If you read the post on How to Land Your Kid in Therapy, I have made a minor correction about sports. I want to make it clear that I am not against kids playing sports because they get a reward even if they lose. The research to the benefits of playing sports is abundant. I just wanted to be clear as to what I was getting at in that post. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Best Popsicles EVER!

There are three ingredients to making the most amazing popsicles EVER. They are listed above. 

I love popsicles, smoothies, milk shakes... hmmm what else can you make in the blender as a cold afternoon snack? Well I probably like that too. 

So the other day I was making another Naturally Ella recipe and it needed some coconut milk. But then I was left with a good amount of the coconut milk left over. I looked in the fridge and there was about a cup of strawberry yogurt, and Trader Joe's chocolate syrup. Not wanting to waste the coconut milk I threw all three in the blender and then poured the mix into my popsicle maker and into the freezer. There was some left over so the kids and I drank that with a straw. 

If you like to make popsicles the secret to making really smooth one's and not frozen ice one's the to raise the fat content and lower the water content. So if you use coconut milk, whole milk, whipping cream or yogurt you will get a much smoother frozen treat without the chunks of ice. 

Coconut milk is good for nursing moms (the high quality fat will increase your milk supply), underweight babies and kids and sick kids. No one in my house is any of those right now, but we do enjoy a tasty creamy popsicle over one full of ice chunks as a treat once in a while. 


Monday, August 27, 2012

How to Land Your Kid in Therapy

On Saturday Marin and I were at a birthday party and some moms started talking about how they won't put their kids in organized sports. I overheard just a bit and being the nosy person I am I had to jump in and ask questions. You know me I love to hear reasons behind parenting beliefs or styles (its sort of an obsession). "Why don't you like organized sports" I asked. Both mom's proceeded to tell me that they want their child to experience losing, and not being told they are awesome when they may not be. "We want our kids to live in the real world, you don't get rewarded when you don't win." Basically these moms (and I totally agree with them) want their kids to live in truth. If you lose the soccer game, you are not a winner, you lost. Its okay for kids to lose. In fact its great for kids to lose when they are little. If a child never experienced the devastation of losing when they are six, how do we expect them to EVER handle it in college, or even later, in the work force. If we lie to kids and tell them, "you're all winners" when the truth is, "some of you won, some of you lost" or "some of you are better than others" they will never learn how to work harder to improve themselves. They also will never be able to achieve job satisfaction when others are better than they are, or when the "dream" job is given to another better applicant. Children actually believe they are great at everything if we tell them they are, but one day they realize we were liars when someone excels beyond them. 

I loved hearing these moms have such a deep conviction of teaching their children truth, that organized sports have been dumped out of their after school activities. This in no way means that I am against sports (I'm saying this coming out of having paid for extra cable last month to pack in as many Olympic events as possible). And the research showing the positive benefits from being part of a team, learning discipline from a sport, and training is out in abundance. But I think its worth thinking about how those of us who will put our kids in sports how will be teach our kids to be good losers and winners.

Just in case you have not come across this article yet on the Atlantic 

I wanted to share it with you. 

How to Land Your Kid in Therapy by Lori Gottlieb

This is a really great read, long but good, about our obsession with our children being happy. The fear of our child experiencing any sort of disappointment and how by protecting them from that as a child results in very unhappy adults. I wanted to share it with you all because it is such a great parenting article. I came across it at Thriving Home


Thursday, August 23, 2012

School Breakfast (part 2)

prep for school breakfast
 Elementary school starts really REALLY early in our town. Seriously, really early! So I made breakfast two weeks ago and put it all in the freezer. Here is what I made, its easy and quick.

everything starts with eggs
 I made little "cheesy eggs", individual sized baked eggs. Yes those are chop sticks, I beat my eggs with chop sticks. I learned this little trick when I was a young teen and spend a few months in China. We had a cook who always beat eggs with chop sticks and so I tried it when I came home and it works better than a whisk. I know I'm a crazy cat.

baking cheesy eggs are so beautiful when they puff up
So a secret I learned, not in China, but at a little French bakery right here in town that I worked at for a few years, is how to make great awesome eggs without a skillet, in the oven! There are a few tricks, first whip them with chop sticks... just joking, first you must use WHOLE WHIPPING CREAM! Oh yes I did say whole whipping cream. Hey this breakfast is for a kid who may talk too much at lunch with her friends to actually eat lunch so she needs some high quality protein. And the rest of her family will just have to walk an extra mile. The second secret to awesome cheesy eggs, is use some good cheese, not just cheddar, but I use a great flavored goat cheese or some feta crumbled. This gives your eggs a great flavor.

wrapped in freezer paper
 I wrapped them in pairs in freezer paper and done!

hmmm what does go with eggs?
 Well something needs to go with eggs, so I made, baked breakfast oatmeal bars... I started with a recipe from a blog I came across when I did a search for breakfast bars. Cooking During Stolen Moments

Add caption
 I changed the recipe in the following ways (mainly because I'm not really very good at following recipes and would rather just cook and not do all that reading) 

2 Tbs ground flax seed
1 Tbs wheat germ
1/2 cup brown sugar (I always cut the sugar, or take it out and add honey or agave) 
no white sugar
extra cinnamon
half the salt called for
I was out of raisins 
I added a peach, yep a whole fresh peach. I cut it into really tiny pieces and it was a great addition

these taste like breakfast cookies!

oh the work is not yet done
This is the worst part of cooking 4 bags full of pre-made breakfast. No fun... I should have taken pictures of the mess the kids made in the house. It was a complete wreck too. But hey we have had a healthy breakfast all week. 

Enjoy your eggs with your school year!

Monday, August 20, 2012

First Day of Kindergarten, aka The Day Mom Cried Her Eyes Out

It all started with a little girl who loves learning, her little brother, her parents, her friends and Jesus

She was very worried about waking up too late. Her mom was more worried about her getting enough to eat

Taking an apple to her teacher on the first day was completely necessary

Her little brother wanted to dress in uniform too (don't trust that smile he's up to complete mischief)

He thought it would be nice to walk her out... and whack her a few times (and the car) with the umbrella, see you thought he was being nice on this cloudy morning

Marin and her daddy will join the biking community from our neighborhood each day and make the seven minute ride to school for Marin and then on to work for daddy

it was a humid sweaty ride to school for daddy, but a breeze for the girl, final hugs all around
Marin found her own cubby, sits across from a red-head with the same name as her uncle in Missouri, and has a delightful teacher who's name comes right out of a storybook. A good friend of ours who teaches at her school had her office moved into the Kindergarten building this year and I cannot begin to tell you how much that has calmed our fears having a friend near our little one during the day. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

School Breakfast and Lunch (part 1)

We have 15 days until school begins! Fifteen days of Summer to enjoy, play, watch more Olympics, have friends over and swim (of course we do live in Florida and the swim season doesn't end until late October). But with 15 days left along with our Summer fun we also must begin preparing for kindergarten. Our check list includes; drop off up-dated vaccination record at school office, practice riding new bike to school with daddy, bake pre-made healthy breakfasts and prepare for daily packing lunches. 

Our school day starts very early so we need to have our lunches packed the day before, and our breakfast needs to be nutrient rich but also ready made. So here are a few things I am doing to make food enjoyable and tasty but also not the variable that slows us down. I really want to avoid rushing more than we have to so that we can make going to school pleasant for Marin's first year.

I am having a pre-start of school baking day. I am going to have healthy breakfasts in individual servings in my freezer ready to go for the school days when we have to rise early. Here are my requirements:
Nutrient Rich
High in Protein 
Freezes Well
Here are the recipes I will be rotating for the time being (of course there are others but this is a good start)
Baked Apple Pie Oatmeal by Naturally Ella     
Banana and Dark Chocolate Waffles by Naturally Ella
Individual Sized Quiche--My Own Recipe (I'll post those later) OR
Baked Egg Cups by Thriving Home
Breakfast Sandwiches--I'll tweak this recipe and add ham
Spinach Feta Empanadas--My own recipe

I probably will not have all of this in my freezer by the time school starts but we need a few ready to go and I can add different batches as we need them. We will also make some of these Egg Toasts
Marin "makes" Egg Toasts (age 3)

Lunch can become really daunting. Packing lunch each day already has me worried. Last year I only had to pack them three days a week, and preschool started much later than Kindergarten. So like always I turned to my friends who pack lunches for four kids. I figure if they can come up with routines that work for four children, than it should go really smooth for me with just one (although some days Owen insists on eating out of a lunch box too). Here are the suggestions I have gotten:
Always pack lunches the day before. Pack each days lunch the day before and pack it in a container and place it in the fridge. This way each morning you can reach into the refrigerated and have everything you need to pack the lunch box(es). 

Check your schools' requirements for what you can and cannot pack. Many schools are going peanut free. This means that not only the kids with allergies can't have peanuts but the entire building is peanut free, so no child can bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Other schools may have other rules. Be prepared for knowing options for lunch that fit within your schools rules. 

If you have a small/young child don't pack foods in your child's lunch box that they cannot open. Don't use containers with really tight lids, individually wrapped foods that you child cannot open (those all natural fruit strips are really hard to open), drink containers that have had snap lids or straws that are difficult to get into the top. Teachers have to open a crazy amount of milk, juice, water cartons. You don't want your child to need help getting into their food and drink because this means they loose time getting to eat. And lunch time is never long enough for kids to sit and eat and have a period of rest and chatting with friends. 

Don't pack things you know your child does not like. You will have a hungry child all day, and you will just unpack everything you took time to pack. I'm not saying you should put only cookies in your child's lunch, but if you know your child hates hummus don't pack it. Have your child learn to like foods at home. Teachers like to teach, but hungry children are not very good learners.