Mother Earth Living

Smart Parenting

Practical advice about raising children


1/29/2013

The weather here is unseasonably warm, so we’ve got seeds and planting on our minds. We didn’t grow very much last year, so this feels like the year to really go big. It helps that I’ve been reading Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail, again. It’s one of those books that makes the idea of planting a lot of food seem possible, even though we don’t have a huge garden space.  Here are some of the steps we’re taking right now, to get on track to grow more of our own food this year:

gardening in purple boots
Making a garden plan while wearing purple boots. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

• Mapping our entire yard space, so we can make better use of the light and shade. I really like this simple mapping tool from Gardener’s Supply Company. We’ll need to make a more detailed map of the small areas that we plan to use in our side and front yards.

• Deciding what we can realistically fit in our space.

• Gathering seeds! Seed Savers Exchange is a great resource.

• Finding and preparing alternative planters, inside and outside.

• Making a space to start some seeds inside; Gayla Trail has devoted a entire section of her You Grow Girl website to seed starting.

Isabel
Isabel, growing in the sunshine. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

In addition to working with the garden spaces in and around our home, I’m also hoping to buy a plot in our school’s community garden. When school began in August, Sam was very interested in the plum trees in the garden, so he’ll be motivated to help care for the trees and help with the fall harvest. We’re also figuring out our CSA (or NSA) budget, and which farm we’ll support this year. We’ve been very happy with Monroe Farms during past years, but we’ve recently heard about some options that are even closer to our home.

Beyond the details and logistics of learning to grow more of our food, we’re simply enjoying our time outside, absorbing the fresh air, the light, and of course the dirt.

What are you thinking of growing this year?


Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff, and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband, and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play



1/14/2013

I thought our intention for this coming week would be centered on meal planning or cooking with healthier ingredients. Those types of goals are important, but through our intention to celebrate during our family meals, it became clear that presence is at the heart of the party. Showing up, staying engaged and being real.

dinner table
Photo By Stijn Nieuwendijk/Courtesy Flickr

Maybe you've been at a party, and even though the celebration part is happening, you don't feel a sense of engagement or truthfulness, from yourself or the people around you. I have to confess that I've been both disengaged and disingenuous way too often, particularly during the past year. Instead of facing uncomfortable realities or situations, I tend toward denial and avoidance.

Everything is fine. Where's my iPhone?

I'll give myself a little credit: I believe that I'm getting better at being present. I'm getting better at it because I have the chance to practice every day, particularly when I'm with my family. I'm learning that presence doesn't mean presenting a perfect facade. And I'm learning to give myself a break when I fall short.

At dinner tonight, we were all present. We brought silliness, impatience, laughter, spilled water glasses, complaints about beef ravioli, fights over seating arrangements, scatological humor, and a lot of love. Everything wasn't fine, but I didn't retreat to my iPhone. We all showed up to the party, and it was a come-as-you-are event.

What does being present mean to you? How does being present affect your family meals?


Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play.



1/9/2013

At our house, Sundays will be about setting an intention or focus for the week to come. Last year we focused on more of the practical matters of family meals. We still want to think about meal planning and healthy ingredients, but our most important mission is to celebrate the time we have together. For our family, for the coming week and beyond, our focus will be bringing joy and celebration to our everyday family meals.

floral centerpiece
Our Kings Day celebration centerpiece. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

We're rolling back into a normal routine with all of us spending long days at work and school. Our time together each morning and evening rushes by and is often diminished by stress, frustration, complaints and exhaustion. We've just had two weeks of beautifully slow mornings and evenings, and I'm hopeful that we can carry our vacation ways back to real life.

Kings Day felt crowns
Our Kings Day celebration felt crowns. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

Celebrating Kings Day last Sunday was a foundation for our intention. Our pseudo-party was low key, not too fancy, and didn't require hours of sweating in the kitchen. The celebratory atmosphere was stoked by four kids running around the house with flashlights, a few felt crowns and one delicious, crumby cake.

Kings Day cake
Our alternative Kings Day cake. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

We started our own tradition by using a coffee cake recipe from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. Sam and I also chose some non-traditional "trinkets" to bake into the cake. They included:

■ A nickel: you will have 5 years of good luck!
■ A mini-pretzel: you will have a flexible year
■ Chocolate chips: you will have a sweet year, OR you'll eat a lot of candy in the coming year
■ A dried cranberry: you will eat a lot of fruit in the coming year
■ A goldfish cracker: you will eat a lot of fish in the coming year

I'm glad that Sam's friend Max found the nickel—his expression was pure joy, and he beamed as we all hooted and hollered and celebrated his good luck. We then went on to hoot and holler every time someone found a chocolate chip, and there were a lot of chocolate chips mixed in, to guarantee a sweet year for everyone present. The goldfish cracker still hasn't been found, so we have a few more anticipatory dessert sessions to look forward to.

But the question remains: How can we come back to joy and celebration, when we're tired and burnt out?

To try to answer that question, we had a party brainstorm. Here are our top nine party moves that we'll try to bring to our meals. The caveat is that we'll only use the ideas if they lower our stress levels. If any idea results in even a hint of extra household stress, the idea will be abandoned mid-use and may or may not be entertained again.

1. Great parties have great music—girl, put your records on!
2. Mood lighting: flashlights, candlelight, Christmas lights, or all of these
3. Appetizers that could pan out to be the entire meal
4. Fancy drinks in fancy glasses
5. The “nice” dishes
6. Minimal dishes: napkins make great plates, and who needs forks if you've got toothpicks and skewers?
7. Electronic devices stowed away
8. Be a party person, or better yet, be the witty, charming, funny person that you are when you're at your best. Smile and look other people in the eye, because you want to connect. Ask your fellow party-goers questions, because you genuinely want to know the answers. Relax and enjoy the moment, because that's what you do at parties, right?
9. End the party with dancing, always.

What party tips would you suggest, to bring more celebration to everyday meals?


Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play.


12/26/2012

Throughout my life, I have lived in communities where I knew only a handful of my neighbors. I didn’t ever ask to borrow a cup of sugar or flour like they did in the communities depicted in 1950s sitcoms. My mother, however, grew up in such a neighborhood, where there were 42 children living on one block. When kids played outside, all the neighbors looked out for them, not only the parents. In many ways, my husband and I have been seeking out such a community for our two young children.

My family will soon be moving to Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage (BC&E) on the midcoast of Maine. Cohousing is collaborative housing where residents actively and intentionally participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhood.

kids flying kites at the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage
Photo By Jeffrey Mabee/Courtesy Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage

BC&E is a 36-unit community on 40-plus acres that will soon break ground on the approximately 4,000-square-foot common house with a large dining room, commercial kitchen, guest bedrooms, laundry room and playroom.

The community layout—including restricted access to automobiles with parking on the periphery, clustered homes, community vegetable and flower gardens, and preserved open space—makes it a safe and dynamic place for children to call home. There are currently 11 member households with children or little ones on the way, as well as numerous senior households that are eager to have a role in these children’s lives.

Before deciding to join a cohousing community, I spoke with other people about their experiences. “Living in cohousing is amazing for children,” says Forrest Espinoza, a mother of two, ages 8 and 11, who lives in Troy Gardens, a cohousing community in Madison, Wisconsin. “My kids enjoy playing with children of all ages. They play outside so much more. Before we moved here, I had a hard time getting them to go outside because there weren’t other kids outside. The first couple years we lived here, I had trouble getting them to come inside!”

Espinoza believes this experience has been an opportunity for personal growth. “I’ve been thinking about how my children have to share a yard,” says Espinoza. “If you were in a typical community, you would invite other children to come into your yard. If your children weren’t getting along, you wouldn’t invite those kids to come over and play. In a cohousing community, they have to work things out. It was frustrating in the beginning, but our whole family has experienced incredible growth.”

In addition to having other children on hand to play with, there are also numerous adults that can enrich the children’s lives. “My children know more adults who care for them and have relationships that go beyond me,” says Stacy Lewis, who lives in a Seattle cohousing community with her husband and two sons, ages 6 and 9. “While moving here didn’t instantly give us twenty new grandma and grandpas or aunts and uncles, cohousing provides many opportunities for shared experiences, and our connections deepen over time. It’s true that we are closer with some folks than others, yet by the time they are grown, my children will have known and been known by many warm-hearted folks.”

Restricted automobile access with centralized parking is a common feature of many cohousing communities. In addition to helping preserve open space, it also makes the community safer for children. “I know when my children go out the door, they’re not going to get hit by a car,” says Nessa Dertnig, a member of BC&E and a mother of two. “They can ride their bikes around and I can feel safe, even if they are not within eyesight. That certainly isn’t the case where we live now.”

The parents can also benefit considerably from a supportive cohousing community, particularly with childcare. “The kids can run back and forth to each other’s houses,” says Espinoza. “We don’t have to call or text to work out all the details [for childcare] and we don’t have to drive the kids back and forth.”

From media exposure to conflict resolution, different parenting styles can present challenges for communities. My family is currently living in a cooperative house where there is a shared kitchen, dining room and family room. When a new family moved in, they brought a plastic battery-operated machine gun toy for the family room that lit up and made sounds when fired. I was shocked when I saw my 4-year-old daughter pretending to kill people with it. Thankfully, the other mother was receptive to keeping such toys out of common areas of the house.

Peacefully resolving potentially contentious situations requires a commitment to communication and the community. “To really get this community to work, we’re all going to have to really work on growing as people and taking responsibility for our own issues, and learn to work with all different kinds of people,” says Dertnig. “It’s going to be important that we figure that out, support each other, and get training when we need it.” 

In addition to having other children on hand to play with, there are also numerous community traditions that kids can participate in. “I think we have richer spiritual lives,” says Lewis. “My kids have more rituals and traditions than they would living in a single-family home. Traditional celebrations include an Easter egg hunt, Passover Seder, and pumpkin carving, but we also have coming of age ceremonies for teens and a waking up the trees procession for winter solstice. These mark time and provide context for what it means to be a human being in relationship to others and the natural world.”

Uprooting ourselves and moving to BC&E is a big step for us and a leap of faith. My husband, Kiril Lozanova, grew up in a tight-knit Bulgarian village, where numerous families have lived as neighbors for generations.

“Humans are designed to live in communities, and it is much healthier to live that way,” says my husband. “It is a human desire to share.”


Sarah Lozanova is a mother of two, a holistic parenting coach, and a freelance environmental writer. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has an MBA in sustainable development. View her natural parenting blog at RawMama.org. 


12/6/2012

With the holidays representing such an incredible time of consumption, many of us are looking for ways to honor our traditions in a more sustainable way. Thankfully, there is a vast assortment of wonderful and eco-friendly options for kids on the market today, making it easy to find a unique gift that will please both the planet and a pint-sized recipient.

Of course, the gift solutions that are least impactful on the planet are right at home—upcycled gifts repurposed from household objects that would otherwise end up in a landfill are oftentimes easy to make and the most special. Not to mention easiest on your wallet. (You can find some ideas online on our Pinterest boards; be sure to check out our “Trash to Treasure” series.)

But, if you’re looking for some more off-the-shelf options, here are some great ones that fit the following criteria.

• Produced domestically, and by smaller businesses
• Made with sustainable materials that are reusable, biodegradable, and/or recyclable
• Help to broaden children’s perspective of the world around them

1. Adopt an Endangered Animal through WWF

WWF Panda Adoption Kit
WWF Adoption Kit; Ages 0+; $25-$50

The World Wildlife Fund offers dozens of endangered animal adoption kits, from lions to Komodo dragons to rockhopper penguins. (They even have Gift Adoption Cards so your recipient can choose their own!) Adoption kits start at $25, but at the $50+ level you get a 12-inch plush replica of your new family member along with an adoption certificate, photo and species info card. This is a great way to support a child’s love for a specific animal, or get them interested in a new one.

2. Encourage Creativity with Green Kid Crafts

girl crafting on picnic table
Green Kid Crafts Discovery Boxes; Ages 3 to 8; $19.50/month, gift subscriptions start at $58.50 for 3 months

This is a gift that keeps giving—every month your recipient receives a Discovery Box in the mail filled with three fun craft activity kits related to an exciting nature theme. Past themes have included Feathered Friends, Dinosaurs, I Love Bugs and Around the World, to name a few. Crafts are designed to build creativity and boost confidence, while the themes and extension activities spark their love for nature. The company uses safe, sustainable materials in each of its kits, donates a portion of sales to environmental charities, and retains a carbon neutral status through Carbon Fund.

3. Inspire Pretend Play

Felt Sandwich Set
Felt Sandwich Set; Ages 18 months+; $23

Boost kids’ creativity with gifts that allow them to use their imaginations and engage in pretend play. Old formal wear that you have at home may quickly become a child’s prized possession for “dress up.”  Or look for gifts like this Felt Sandwich Set from chickinfeathers, which is made of eco felt from recycled plastic bottles.

4. National Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids cover
National Geographic Kids; Ages 6 to 14; $15 for 10 issues

Of course anything published by National Geographic is bound to be filled with stunning photography, and their kids’ title is no exception. Add in some fun games and other kid-appealing content and you’ve got a gift that will keep them exploring all year.

5. Handmade “Peace on Earth” Soy Crayons

Peace on Earth Dove Crayons
Set of 8 soy "Peace on Earth" Crayons; Ages 3+; $10

These beautiful crayons are made from soy wax to be biodegradable, are paraffin-free and tinted only with nontoxic mineral pigments. In addition to its eco credentials, this set is simply beautiful and sure to make creative time even more special. It arrives in a cotton storage pouch and is sent in a gift box.

6. Wooden Cars and Things That Go Vroom

wooden jeep
Reclaimed wood Safari Jeep; Ages 3+; $20

Etsy has a great selection of well-made, safe wooden car and train sets, like this Safari Jeep from Aro’s Wood Crafts. Made of reclaimed oak and cedar wood, with wheels that move, luggage and a trailer hitch, this is a toy that will definitely be passed down.


Kristine Ford is part of team at Green Kid Crafts, a mom-owned company making fun, earth friendly craft kits for kids. Learn more about Green Kid Crafts and their craft kit subscription service at GreenKidCrafts.com.



11/26/2012
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For most of us, the holidays are a season filled with a lot of hustle and bustle. If we can conquer our shopping list, decorate the house, get the cards in the mail and still find time to don a reindeer sweater and sing a carol or two, we’ve found success. 

So, while I am wary of adding another item to your holiday to-do list, I do want to propose that we parents keep in mind that the holidays are one of the best times to teach kids lessons that they will use for life about how to be thankful, how to be generous, and how to be responsible for their actions in the world. The best part is that most of these teachings arise from the things that you’re doing anyway; you just need to be aware of them.

child with Christmas gift
Give kids the best gift of all this year—self-awareness. Photo By Fotowerk/Courtesy Fotolia.

The underlying lesson for children is to realize that they are part of something bigger and that every action has a consequence, good or bad.  Here are three ways to keep these goals in mind during the holidays:

1. Celebrate thankfulness at Thanksgiving.

So many families focus on turkey and pumpkin pie, but not nearly as many spend time actually talking about what they’re thankful for. Whether setting up an activity like a Gratitude Tree, or simply making a point to go around the table during dinner and giving thanks, make sure that you focus on this key aspect of the holiday. For younger kids, I suggest that parents get the ball rolling so children think past the extra gravy they’re happy about and start thinking deeper. Don’t get discouraged if you get answers that wouldn’t inspire a Dickens novel. It will take time, but they’ll get the idea eventually.

2. Invite your children to give.

Having talked about some of the things you’re thankful for, and things that make you happy, ask your kids to answer this question, “Can you think of anything you can do to make someone else happy?” In an effort to support their creativity, try to resist the urge to evaluate their ideas but simply encourage them to brainstorm as many as possible. Once you’ve gotten a good set, pick out a few that are actionable. Calling Grandma and singing her a song, shopping for groceries for a family who doesn’t have a nice meal, donating old blankets so someone else can have a warm bed, and donating toys to kids who don’t have as many are all wonderful outcomes. Try to find some activities where kids can witness the effects of their actions first hand, supporting their understanding of cause and effect. For more ideas, Dr. Robyn Silverman offers a good list on her blog.

3. Teach them to be kind to the environment through modeling.

At Green Kid Crafts, one of our goals is to use our craft kits to engage kids with nature and help develop their respect for the environment. We feel that it is not only imperative that the next generation understand the importance of caring for our planet, but that this creates a higher level of self-awareness and compassion in them for all things. During the holidays, there are plenty of ways to teach environmental awareness at home:

• Make gifts by upcycling found objects at home. You can find any number of ideas online; we’ve collected our favorites on our DIY Gifts and Gifts for Kids Pinterest boards. Think too about immaterial gifts, like doing something nice for someone, instead of giving them a physical gift.

• When you do buy gifts, look for options that are minimally packaged and produced by socially responsible companies. Green America is a great resource for this. Talk to your kids about these benefits and why they’re important to you.

• Think upcycling when it comes to decorations and wrapping paper to avoid introducing more things to the waste stream. You’ll save money, have some fun and end up with a more personal and special result. Brown paper bags, egg cartons, and other commonly found household items make amazing decorations. Check out some inspiration here. Your kids will have a blast making these projects with you, and you’ll be able to talk to them about why you’re doing it this way versus buying something in a store.

• Recycle. Recycle. Recycle. Don’t let the holidays throw off your family’s good habits!

Keep these themes in mind throughout the holiday season, making sure to talk to your kids about them at every opportunity. You’ll be amazed at how responsive they’ll be and what a positive effect it will have on your holiday!

What are your best holiday moments? Leave us a comment below.


Kristine Ford is part of team at Green Kid Crafts, a mom-owned company making fun, earth friendly craft kits for kids. Learn more about Green Kid Crafts and their craft kit subscription service at GreenKidCrafts.com. 



6/20/2012

KyLynn HullKyLynn Hull is a freelance writer who dabbles in many things including writing, urban farming and raising backyard chickens. She writes regularly for garden and food blog, Green City Garden Girl - Bound by the Seasons. 

Lukas HullThis is our newest addition. His name is Lukas or "Lu" for short. He's six months old and the smiliest little thing you'll ever meet. I wish I could say it was always like this, but we had a rough start when he developed a little thing called colic. After a few dozen tears (on my part) we got through it with flying colors and his charming personality shined through.

It's funny how quickly you move on from those tough times with a newborn. It's like it never happened, and now the fun begins. He is a breast-fed baby, which I'm happy to say has not only gave him a nice nutritional start but also saved us A LOT of money. Recently, we started introducing solids after a recent trip to Idaho visiting my sister. We are a bossy bunch and she demanded to be around for some of his firsts, which included starting him on solid foods. (And this she says after being there when he was born; I would say that was some first!) So we steamed some of his "first" carrots, added some unsalted butter and watched him go to town. It was like he had been eating this stuff his whole life. (Yes, all six months of it!)

I don't like to rush my kid's little lives, but I have to admit I was anticipating this stage because, with my first son, I loved preparing his food and being very specific about what he ate. It was always a family joke about my obsessive ways and the many kidney beans I gave him to snack on. "Kidney beans?" My brother would ask, convinced I was ridiculous. I was a little, but it gave me complete satisfaction to methodically prepare his food and I was really looking forward to doing it again.

The best thing about making your own baby food, besides saving you tons of money, is the fact you know exactly what you're giving them. I like choosing fresh foods and, although I don't always buy organic for my family, I do for my baby. Somewhere down the road later, much later, they'll want their candy fix and some french fries—but right now it's a time for wholesome baby foods.

fresh pureed carrots 
Fresh pureed carrots. Photo By KyLynn Hull. 

unsalted butter 
Adding unsalted butter to carrots actually makes them more nutritious. Photo By KyLynn Hull.

steamed peas 
Steamed peas ready for a spin. Photo By KyLynn Hull.

Homemade baby food recipes are so ridiculously easy. It's a cinch to make enough food ahead of time to store in the refrigerator. I don't spend the time freezing mine for future use, because I make small enough batches. (I think I just like the whole process of preparing the food, so I don't mind making new batches twice weekly.) If this isn't your style, and you would rather make several weeks worth in advance, I'd definitely recommend freezing your homemade baby food.

Now the fun part: exploring homemade baby food. It's a fun process and the opportunities are endless. These could be the easiest and quickest recipes I write, so let's get started. Here are some tried and true wholesome recipes you'll have success with. These are "firsts" for baby when introducing them to solids; down the road you can add some fun stuff like wild salmon, organic chicken and legumes.

Homemade Baby Food Recipes

Note: you can add rice cereal to any recipe with baby's preferred milk. You can also have fun combining the recipes below for a variation, like peas/carrots, avocado/carrot, apples/pears, etc.

Homemade Organic Pureed Carrots  

Adding butter to the carrots actually adds nutritional value because it allows the beta-carotene in the carrot to be absorbed.

Organic carrots
Unsalted, high-quality butter

Peel carrots and place in a steamer over boiling water; steam until soft and place in food processor or blender. Add a dollop of unsalted butter and blend until soft; add carrot water to thin puree.

Homemade Organic Pureed Peas 

Frozen varieties are just as nutritious as fresh.

Bag of frozen, organic peas

Place peas in a steamer over boiling water; steam until soft, add some reserved water or baby's preferred milk and blend each until smooth.

Homemade Organic Butternut Squash or Sweet Potato Puree

Peel and cut in cubes and place in a steamer over boiling water; steam until soft, add some reserved water or baby's preferred milk and blend each until smooth.

Homemade Organic Broccoli and Cauliflower Puree

 Note: broccoli loses half of its vitamin C content when boiled; it pays to steam it.

 Place in steamer over boiling water; steam until soft, add some reserved water or baby's preferred milk and blend each until smooth.

Smashed Banana, Avocado and Papaya Baby Food 

No need to make in advance: these are dandy no-cook, nutritional options.

Half, ripe banana (or avocado or papaya)
Baby's preferred milk

Smash banana in bowl until smooth; add baby's preferred milk to thin.

Homemade Quinoa Baby Food 

The best part of making this highly nutritional seed is you can add any above fruit or veggie to add additional flavor. 

Box of quinoa

Cook as directed on package. Blend in food processor until smooth. (Now would be the time to add banana, steamed apples, carrots, etc...)





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