Sunday, April 27, 2014

DIY Toys: Story Rocks

Story Rocks are an easy DIY project that lead to lots of fun, imaginative play with kids, and the main component in this toy is free!

Story Rocks or Story Stones are great ways to create prompts for children to use in story telling.  They help foster creativity and imagination.  Because they are made of rocks, be sure to supervise your children when using this toy if they are not old enough to safely use the rocks without getting hurt or hurting someone else.

1.) Start by gathering some rocks.  Flat ones work best but the majority of the ones I found in my yard were bumpy and porous and they still worked out fine.

2.) Wash your rocks with soap and water.

3.) Then it is time to paint them.  I used Crayola's Washable Kids Paint because that is what we had in the house.  Start with a white coat (or any other background color that you want to use).

4.) Once that dries, paint your story prompts on.  You can paint anything you want on these rocks.  The prompts can be separated by theme or you can just paint a variety of prompts and see where they take your child.
Woodland Theme: Magic wand, Fairy, Turtle and Mushroom

Ocean Theme: Boat, Whale and Octopus
India Theme: Snake, Peacock, Elephant and Tiger
Random Prompts: Flower, Witch, King and Sun
Random Prompts: Indian Girl, Boy, and Tree
Random Prompts: Rain, Moon, Apple and Leaf
Once the rock paintings dried, I outlined them with a Sharpie Fabric Marker.  And once that was all dry, I flipped the rocks over and did the whole process all over again on the other side.  Double-sided rocks just seemed more economical to me.  
One Side Of The Rocks
The Other Side Of The Rocks
This is a fun, easy-to-make project that leads to lots of entertainment on rainy days, and you can even play with them outside, allowing your story-teller to weave his or her tales while getting in some fresh air and taking in the environment around him or her.  And if you don't have any kids in mind to make these for, hey, it is still pretty fun to paint a rock.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Nontoxic Toys: Tegu

Tegu makes fun magnetic toys that can be put together in creative ways.  These nontoxic wooden toys are made in Tegucigalpa, Honduras and a portion of their revenue goes towards reforestation efforts.  Since the toys do contain magnets, I always supervise my son when he plays with them.

Tegu blocks and cars can be purchased in stores and online, at retailers like Amazon.  Since they are pricey, I purchased the majority of our sets from  Tegu is only featured on Zulily a few times a year.  But if you look up Tegu on their site and click the red heart to be notified in advance of the next time Tegu is on sale there, you will get an email alert the night before Tegu is featured on Zulily.

Using the Endeavor Set, Prism and Maddy Micro Car, my son and I put together the following:

A person/robot

A person mowing the lawn



Peacock, Side View



Car driving through town

Dog and Cat

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunscreen and Bug Spray

Smell you later, Polar Vortex; the sun is finally out!  When the weather gets hotter, we depend on the following two products for sun and insect protection:

1.) Badger Baby's sunscreen cream with non-nano zinc oxide.  Since this is a natural sunscreen, part of its protection is based on it creating an actual barrier between your child and the sun so it does not absorb quickly into the skin like a chemical-based sunscreen, and will show white streaks.  I'd rather have that purely cosmetic issue than have phthalates and other chemicals we try to avoid absorbed into my children's skin.  You can read more about Badger Baby here.

2.) California Baby's Bug Repellent is a DEET-free, chemical-free spray.  We have only used this product a couple times but it provided adequate protection for our needs.  You can read more about it here.

Both products are available at Whole Foods, or online at Amazon or Vitacost.  Target carries a good variety of California Baby products as well and oftentimes has the bug repellent in stock.

 Update: Badger recalled some of their sunscreens earlier this year and will come out with a reformulated version next year.  From their website it seems that only their sunscreen lotions were recalled, not the creams, but this may be something you want to consider before purchasing their product.  I am a little shaken by the recall even though we don't have the sunscreen lotion.  Here are some more options from SafeMama.

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Play Food Tutorial: Bowtie Pasta and Chef's Hats

DIY play food is all the rage these days and it isn’t that difficult to make, even if you’re a sewing novice.  I put my beginner-level sewing skills to use this year making play food for my son, and as gifts for friends and relatives.


1.) A needle and good thread in various colors.  I like the quilter’s thread from JoAnn Fabrics because it is often on sale and it is strong enough to hold your creations together.


3.) A sharp pair of scissors.  Fiskars Razor Sharp scissors have a locking mechanism to prevent kids from cutting themselves if the scissors accidentally fall into their hands.  Available at Amazon and craft stores, they make cutting a breeze but they are incredibly sharp so be careful.  A few reviewers mentioned cutting themselves by mishandling the scissors while opening the package.

4.) Cotton fabric

I cut out two inch felt rectangles for my bowtie pasta.  I crimped the edges by cutting triangles out with my Fiskar Razor Sharp scissors.

Pinch the middle of each noodle in a "W" and then just sew a couple times back and forth through the pinch to complete your bowtie pasta!

For the chef's hats, I followed this tutorial with cotton fabric but since I don't know much about sewing, I skipped a lot of steps and just attached a circle of fabric to a strip of it, by pleating the circle.  I then added strips of fabric to use as ties so that the hats could be used over several years for a growing child.

These homemade toys cost a fraction of their in-store counterparts and kids love them.

Check back here every Monday and Thursday for new posts, including more play food tutorials.

Monday, April 14, 2014

6 Common Reactions to Breastfeeding

Before I had a child, seeing other women nurse in public was always a little bothersome to me.  I was and am all for raising kids as naturally as possible but something about seeing even glimpses of one of the most natural acts feasible in child-rearing gave me the heebie-jeebies.

When my first close friend who had a child would breastfeed in public without a care in the world, or a cover, I didn't know where to look and oftentimes caught the eyes of mortified passersby.  However, seeing their looks of horror and disgust suddenly made me want to defend my friend.  If strangers took issue with a baby being fed, they were the ones with the problem, not my friend.

But I still wasn’t really comfortable being around a baby being nursed.

After all, my friend was feeding her child with what Carrie’s doting mom referred to as “dirty pillows.”

Even my phone's auto-correct changes "boobs" to "boondoggle."  Breasts were just not meant to be seen.  Right?

I suppose we can blame society.  If men suddenly had to start whipping out their anatomy in public I'd be just as horrified.  We've just been taught that breasts should be fully covered (except, you know, if you are at the beach, or wearing a dress, or a tank top or a v-neck shirt, or it is summer, or you are a celebrity, or an athlete).

It wasn’t until years later, when I had a child, that I realized fully how backwards and unfortunate this attitude is.  Although nursing is extremely convenient, when one first starts off it is oftentimes also extremely difficult, and without the proper support from family, friends and society, it can be easy for a first-time mother to abandon breastfeeding without giving it the number of weeks it takes to become just part of the routine.

On a scale of uber-conservative breastfeeding mom who nurses in hiding, (generally in the car with tinted windows and a nursing cover for extra protection), to the (nursing) bra burning, fling off your shirt in public, who-gives-a-damn-my-child-has-every-right-to-be-fed kind of mom, I'm now somewhere in the middle.  I’m a proud breastfeeding mom, who EBF’d my first son until he was 17 months old, until my milk dried up during my second pregnancy. 

Those 17 months weren’t always easy.  My son comfort-nursed for hours at a time in the early days and then reverted to nursing through the night, much more frequently than every two hours, in the later months.  But through the almost year-and-a-half adventure, I started to notice there were six types of reactions to a mother breastfeeding her child:

1.) Disappointment: the people let down by your choice, who would rather you pump or give formula so they can feed the baby.  (There's absolutely nothing wrong with bottle-feeding formula or breastmilk but if it isn't what you've decided to do, or if it isn't what you want to do right now, you shouldn't be pressured into doing it, just like a woman who chooses to bottle-feed shouldn't be pressured into breastfeeding).  This person may try to convince you how inconvenient breastfeeding is in the early days, when you’re struggling to establish a proper latch, or try to entice you in your most sleep-deprived state with promises of naps for mommy if you will just fill a bottle.  Stay strong, mombies; if a bottle isn’t your thing, don’t cave in to their demands.

2.) Embarrassment: the uncomfortable friend or family member who doesn’t know where to look, and if a nip-slip is to occur, will erratically shift her eyes every which way.  Should she look right at the bullseye to show how cool she is with you nursing?  Should she look away so you don’t feel bad?  Should she look at her cuticles and pretend nothing happened?  Should she make a dated Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction joke to lighten the mood?  Don’t worry.  By the time she figures out what to do, you will have figured out you’re hanging out, and all will once again be right in the world.

3.) WTF, bro: the shocked male friend who used to think you were this awesome, potty-mouthed, dude-trapped-in-a-girl’s-body bff, who now suddenly develops morning sickness symptoms at the sight of your nursing cover, should you choose to use one, and has to bolt out of the room in horror.  Just the mention of the word “breast” in “breastfeeding” shakes him to his core and can lead to gagging.

4.) Secret WTF, bro: the male friend’s significant other who rushes to defend you and admonish him while secretly being totally freaked out by what you’re doing. 

5.) Judgment: the bystander, who shields his or her children's eyes as they pass, like they had just witnessed an act of frotteurism, (Look it up, people.  I knew that Psych degree would come in handy one day).  Apparently these people were never clued-in to the fact that breasts are not sex organs.  If they are, a lot of us have been drinking milk that came from a cow's sex organs.

6.) Anger: the old stranger offended to the point of anger because you dared to feed your child at a chain restaurant.  It doesn’t matter that she gets to eat so your baby should get to as well.  You made her lose her appetite and she longs for the good old days when women knew to do this kind of thing behind closed doors.  Apparently no one from a generation prior to hers reminded her that in the really good old days of early humans, women would have been free to nurse in public as they pleased, with or without a cover.  This type of person may actually be Carrie’s mother, so make sure you cover up those dirty pillows while engaging in the act of something as X-rated as feeding a child.  (Remember, flashes of mammary glands are not to be seen in public, unless you’re at the beach, or wearing a dress, or a tank top or a v-neck shirt or…)

In the end there is a seventh type of reaction too.  It doesn’t come from an angry person or an embarrassed person or a disappointed person.  It comes from someone who is rather new at being a person but his reaction is the most normal of all.  He just latches on and drinks, nourishing his body and fulfilling a basic need in the most natural way possible.  He is your baby and he hasn't been tainted by society.  Yet.

So to all you nervous first-time moms forced to Google terms like “EBF” to know what the heck those SAHMs and WMs mean when they talk about their LOs and DHs in online moms’ groups, hang in there.  Don’t let anyone else’s reactions to you feeding your child make you feel bad about yourself or make you want to give up.  Go ahead and feed your kid from under the cloak of your tinted minivan windows or out in public with or without a nursing cover.  Be proud of your dirty pillows and always remember reaction number seven is the only one that ever really matters when it comes to nursing.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Are You My Mother Themed Birthday Party

For my son's birthday, we did an Are You My Mother theme since it was one of his favorite books last year and I had made all the preparations for the parties months in advance, knowing how difficult it would be once the baby was born.
We did a small party at home with our parents.

Luckily for me, there are only a few colors in Are You My Mother and brown is the most used.  I just drew the characters on pieces of cardboard from packages with crayon.  Since the cardboard is already brown, I just had to use white, yellow, red and black to add details.

I put the characters on the stairs in the morning and my son was really excited to see them as he came down for breakfast.

Unfortunately, his Are You My Mother phase ended a few weeks after I had made all these decorations.  This year, he moved on to Owl At Home so I let Owl join the party.  And luckily for me, owl is also brown so I just added detail to the cutout with white, orange, yellow and black crayon.

Our dessert was watermelon cake.
And the counters were decorated with the pom pon birds and nests I blogged about on Monday.

I made rennet-free goat cheese stuffed mushrooms to look like nests as well, and I put the Are You My Mother felties I had made last year into a nest too.
And here's the spread below: greek quinoa salad, salad with homemade fattoush dressing, stuffed mushrooms and watermelon cake.

It was a fun, simple party with decorations made by upcycling old yarn, felt and cardboard scraps.  And because the eyes and beaks weren't glued to the pom pons, they can be used in a different incarnation at future parties and the cardboard characters are also sturdy enough to last for years.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pom Pon Bird Craft

Here is a simple pom pon craft.
I made the pom pons by wrapping old scraps of yarn around three fingers, several times.  
Then I wrapped the loose end around the bundle of yarn vertically and tied it.
Then I pulled the yarn off my hand and cut the loops and the pom pon was done.

Since I wanted to be able to reuse them for other crafts in the future, I cut scraps of eco-fi felt into eyes and beaks and just placed it on the pom pons.  Because they're felt, they stuck to the yarn easily.

I then took brown paper packaging material from some parcels, looped it into a circle and stapled it into a nest.  

Using this method, I was able to make nests of different sizes.

We used these nests to decorate an Are You My Mother-themed birthday party I will be posting about later this week.

Remember to check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to Pesticides, (Herbicides, Fungicides and Insecticides)

My Herbicide/Pesticide/Insecticide/Fungicide-free Yard

What pesticides are: Pesticides are chemicals meant to kill certain pests, including weeds (herbicides), fungus (fungicides) and insects (insecticides).

2,4-D, the herbicide found in most “weed and feed” programs, disrupts hormone processes in plants in order to kill them, and it just happens to be one of the active ingredients in Agent Orange.  It kills selectively and doesn't destroy grasses, making it a popular choice with fertilizer companies.  Farmers also use it on grains, rice and corn because their make-up is similar to that of grasses, so weeds that could kill these foods die and the corn, grains and rice thrive.

Where pesticides can be found: In many of our yards, playgrounds, parks, schoolyards, golf courses, soccer fields, trees and produce.  According to Slow Death By Rubber Duck, American lawns "consume 90 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides each year."  

Almost every lawn treatment program is the aforementioned weed-and-feed program, where they feed your grass with fertilizers and then use herbicides and sometimes insecticides to kill weeds and insects.  The terms "organic" or "natural" aren't regulated so any company can make those claims and sometimes they can be deceptive and still include poisons even if some of the product or treatment plan is organic.  As far as I know, there is no poison-free herbicide that can be selective in killing broad-leaf weeds and not your grass.  Remember, just because a fertilizer company shows people lying barefoot in the grass or dogs happily rolling in weed-free yards, doesn't necessarily mean it is actually "green."

Although the idea of having a green, weed-free lawn to be proud of is a dated one, many of us grew up thinking this was the ideal and just blindly went on to fertilize with poisons when we became home-owners because it was the norm.  Sadly, we allowed this outdated, inherited belief that everyone should have an emerald green, weed-free, water-guzzling, resource-wasting lawn to prevail.  I have seen people obsessively spray their lawns with herbicides even after their lawn is chemically treated by professionals, determined to get every one of those weeds.  One of my friends' HOA rules even dictates the maximum weed height allowed.  We often forget that weeds grow so well because they're native plants, meant to thrive in our natural conditions.

The health effects of pesticides:
According to Slow Death By Rubber Duck, some of the long-term effects of exposure to 2,4-D include non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, neurological impairment, asthma, immune system suppression, reproductive problems and birth defects.

The book also discusses the work of Dr. Theo Colburn, who studied the effects of pesticides on infant brains.  It notes that even small and brief doses of pesticides can damage infant brains.

See more health effects here from the Pesticide Action Network.

How to decrease your exposure to pesticides:

1.) Xeriscape.  Plant native plants that don't need to be watered because they are meant to thrive in natural conditions in your area.

2.) Use a truly natural, poison-free lawn program.  In Michigan, we use A-1 Organics.  They don't use any poisons and don't weed-and-feed.  All they do is feed your lawn with natural, non-synthetic chemical fertilizers and they fight weed growth by over-seeding your grass.

3.) If it were up to me, we wouldn't do a thing about the weeds.  But we live in a subdivision with rules so to get the weeds out, we do it the old-fashioned way: by hand.  A dandelion weeding tool and a tool like this one by Fiskars, which allows you to stand and pull weeds with deep root systems out, are extremely useful for weeding your lawn.  When we can't weed, we hire neighborhood kids to do it.  
You can look online for natural weed killing methods but just be aware that natural methods like vinegar and boiling water will not discriminate what they kill.  So if they land on an insect or your grass, chances are they will kill them in addition to the weeds you were aiming for.

Like Kermit said, it's not (always) easy being green.  Depending on the size of your lawn, fighting weeds can be tough.  But if you find a truly natural company in your state, like we have in Michigan, they will usually help you figure out other tips to fight weeds naturally.  You can also finds helpful organic lawn care tips on watering and mowing such as these online.

4.) Eat organic when possible.  If it isn't possible to buy the majority of your produce organic, try to purchase the EWG's Dirty Dozen and previous years' Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables in organic form rather than their conventionally sprayed counterparts.

If you have a chemically treated lawn, remember that just because you mark off a patch of garden above ground to grow your vegetables in, doesn't mean that it is truly segregated underground, where the herbicides and other pesticides that are sprayed can seep into the roots of your vegetable garden (or onto the plant itself, if the fertilizer applicator accidentally sprays some in that direction.  When I take my dog on a walk after our neighbors have had their lawns treated, the concrete sidewalks in our neighborhood are peppered with tiny little balls of fertilizer and pesticide, so it isn't too far-fetched to think some can get on your plants above ground too, whether it is applied in solid or liquid form).  It is for this reason that I try to avoid eating fruits and vegetables grown in home gardens in summer.

5.) Urge your schools and Parks and Rec to eliminate poisons from their parks and playgrounds.  There is no need for us or our children to be breathing in pesticide fumes for the majority of the year thanks to overly-zealous neighbors or city officials who are uninformed.  Let them know the effects of these chemicals and let's break the cycle of these inherited beliefs.  Check out Beyond Pesticide's website for more info on how to inform your neighbors, local paper, school administration and officials about this issue here.

Canada has several municipalities and a couple provinces (including Ontario) with a ban in place on the cosmetic application of pesticides on private property.  This is amazing.  And if Canada could do it several years ago, one can hope we can do it in America within our lifetime.  So speak up, speak out, and let your actions speak for you as well.  Stop using lawn chemicals and tell your neighbors why you don't.  Hopefully one day poison-free yards and parks and playgrounds will be the norm and we won't be greeted by that ubiquitous chemical smell on morning walks in spring, summer and fall.

Further reading:

1.) Slow Death By Rubber Duck
2.) The NRDC on 2,4-D
3.) Beyond Pesticides, a group dedicated to educating Americans on pesticide health-risks and making a change
4.) The Pesticide Action Network
5.) More info on the Cosmetic Pesticide Ban in certain areas of Canada

Previous Posts in My Series on Decreasing Your Exposure to Toxins:
1.) PFOAs
2.) BPA
3.) Triclosan
4.) PBDEs

5.) Phthalates