Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Giveaway

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  ~Charles Dickens

Merry Christmas friends! I hope that no matter how you celebrate, your day is full of love, warmth and light. I am eternally grateful for the connections I have made here and look forward to sharing more of my journey with you in the new year. 'll be back in this space after the first of the year with Green's first ever giveaway! How exciting! Until then....

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice!

Happy Solstice friends! Well, the day is almost over but hurray all the same.Winter is finally here! And though the clouds obscured my view of last night's eclipse, I am ready to embrace the cold and snow. Back at home it's rainy and gusty, and here at Granny's the clouds are thick, the wind is brisk and the weatherman says maybe, just maybe, we'll have a white Christmas!

To welcome old man winter properly, a little holiday baking was in order. And what would be better on this first cloudy day of winter than ooey, gooey, chewy chocolate cookies? We used this recipe, courtesy of Miss Martha herself. These cookies are quickly becoming a Christmastime staple in our house!

Grammy's Chocolate Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup Dutch cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups (2 sticks plus 4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups sugar, plus more for dipping

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


1. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, 2 cups sugar, and eggs on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix to combine. Gradually add dry ingredients, and combine with mixer on low speed. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and chill until dough is firm, about 1 hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough into balls. Dip top of each ball into sugar. Place on prepared baking sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. Pour a glass of milk, sit in front of the fire and enjoy. Don't forget to save a couple for Santa!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rainy Day

It's raining! Being such a rarity here, it puts everyone in a festive mood. We don't mind getting wet and the cloudiness reminds me of the snow I miss so much. I'm certainly feeling cuddly and Christmas-y today. The rain does limit us to indoor activities which isn't a problem per se, but my kids are the kind that don't entertain themselves very easily unless they're outside. This means whining....and bickering....and knock down drag out fighting. When things get really bad (as in I'm ready to lock myself in a closet and cry) an episode of Thomas or the Wonder Pets usually gets them calm enough to try again. But I've really been making an effort not to use the TV for my sanity breaks. I've really been trying not to use the TV much at all. And so today, instead of watching the SAME DVD for the hundredth time, I took hold of that holiday spirit that the weather had instilled in me and I asked my children what we should do. Crafts! Cookies! Books! Picnic! they shouted. I'm a self proclaimed control freak and actually allowing my kids to determine the agenda of the afternoon was super difficult for me. I usually suggest the activities (clean, quiet ones)  but I grit my teeth and started looking for glue sticks and construction paper.

K got to pick the first activity. A craft, she said. What kind of craft? I asked. A Christmas craft, she says. I'm not the craftiest person in the world  and trying to throw together an unplanned project for my young children almost had me running for the door. Spontaneity is frightening to me. I like order, a plan, an agenda. At the very least, a thirty minute internet search to come up with an age appropriate, and preferably environmentally  conscious Christmas project. Those big blue eyes peered up at me, waiting to be dazzled by my craftiness. A light bulb went off in my head. Paper chains! I remember making this craft as a child and figured it was simple enough for my two year old son's chubby fingers. We had all the supplies and could "green" it up by cutting up some of K's art to use. I cut the strips, passed out glue sticks and we go to it. When J was more interested in eating the glue than sticking paper together with it, and K insisted that the chain "needed glitter," I figured it was time to move on. I hate glitter. 

J picked next. He wanted to play a game. I picked up travel version of the game Perfection on my last jaunt to Target. It was on sale for 4.99 and I had a coupon for $5.00 making it FREE. Yeah. That's right, FREE. How's that for frugal?Anyway, the premise is to fit all the shapes into their holes before the timer goes off and pops them all out. They never get all the shapes in their places before the timer goes off, but J enjoys screeching with delight when all the shapes pop loudly out of place.

And finally, Mommy's turn to pick. I picked story time. I don't think there's an activity I enjoy more than reading to my children. They snuggle close at my sides, usually clutching their blankets, my eldest sucking away on her thumb. They listen quietly, attentively, occasionally asking a question or pointing to a favorite illustration. Time constraints usually limit us to one or two but today, we read until they didn't want to anymore. The rain was falling outside, the Christmas tree glowed in the corner and the three of us snuggled under our Dearie's Christmas quilt. A perfect afternoon really. A perfect afternoon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Since March

I posted my very first blog at the end of March. My, how things have changed. In that first post, I introduced myself and invited all of you along on my journey towards a healthier, simpler and more sustainable life. At the time, I had no idea what that would entail, nor did I realize that that kind of lifestyle is not a destination to be arrived at but truly an ongoing journey that will never really be finished and will always be evolving. A simple task that I completed last night made me stop and think "whoa!" Look how far I've come!

The aforementioned task was mending. Yes, mending. While on my 60 mile walk last month, I purchased some flannel pajama bottoms because a) the were super cute b) my Mom, Aunt and friend Marilyn all had a pair and they wanted me to match, and c) it was freakin' FREEZING and the sleepwear I had packed was not sufficient. I wore them on the walk, brought them home and washed them. When I went to hang them out, I noticed a large hole, right along the seam, like the serger they used to finish the hem wasn't threaded properly. I wasn't very happy. The pants were "charity priced" meaning outrageous, and I had only worn them twice! I pinned them on the line and stomped inside, cursing shoddily made garments and wasted cash.

As I was putting my laundry basket back in the laundry room and digging for a pair of scissors to make rags out of my ruined pajama pants, a light bulb went off in my head. I can fix them. Me. I know how to fix them! I had never mended anything before and the things I really wanted to save laid in wait until my Mom or my mother in law were visiting. But I know how to sew now (well, I use the phrase "know how to sew" loosely) and I could fix them. I threaded my machine, pinned up the hole, sewed it up and they were good as new.
The whole process took me less than five minutes. FIVE MINUTES. Before March, I would have cut them up for rags or thrown them away. The simple act of mending my own pants gave me more satisfaction than I can describe. Certainly more gratifying than going out and purchasing another pair. When I make my kids a sandwich with jelly that I made, or dress my kids in Mama made clothes, or treat my husband's cold with eucalyptus oil and honey, my heart soars. This is the life I want to live. Simple and sustainable. I'm not perfect. I still have a long way to go. But wow. Look how far I've come!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Potty Train

Cloth diapers scare me. The thought of having to throw poo stained fabric in my washing machine just grosses me out. So do cloth wipes. I was thisclose to using both on my son when he was born, but I chickened out at the last minute. I swallowed my guilt and gladly accepted box upon box of Huggies and Pampers from well meaning friends and relatives.

My boy is two now and after the new year, I will begin potty training and will be, at long last, free of disposable diapers. Pray for me. My daughter's potty training experience was as smooth a transition as I could have hoped. Ever the sticker lover, a quickly drawn potty chart and a fresh sheet of pony stickers and she would pee every ten minutes if I let her. Two stickers for number two. But I have a sneaking suspicion my son will not be cooperative as my eager to please little girl. He's....independent to say the least.

An example of the aforementioned "independent attitude"
As of right now, he has ZERO interest in the potty. None. He will sit in poopy diaper until it crusts on his little bum if we let him and screams bloody murder if we insist he be changed. We tried to start sitting him on the potty before bath just to get a feel for things, but that ended with a hysterical naked toddler running down the hall and diving behind the couch. I know potty training is not something to be pushed upon a child, but being the planner that I am, I have been researching "green" potty training and am both excited and nervous about what I see.

He prefers naked.
 Green potty training centers around cloth training pants. I used Pull-Ups on my daughter but quickly abandoned them for daytime use. They were just as absorbent as diapers and if little K was playing and didn't want to take a potty break, she'd do her business then and there. When I would go to collect her for whatever reason, I'd find her in a squishy Pull-Up and sigh over my missed training opportunity. She wouldn't even know she was wet! Cloth trainers are different. Peeing in a cloth trainers FEELS like you are wetting yourself. Cloth trainers  look and feel like regular toddler skivvies but have an absorbent core, usually made by layering three to five layers of organic cotton together. Your child will feel wet and uncomfortable and hopefully, start heading for the potty.

For my stubborn little prince, I think these are a go. I'm still skeeved out that his pee won't be magically absorbed and that should we have an accident of a...stinkier kind...I cannot simply bundle the thing up and toss it. That may still happen. I'm not making any promises. Maybe between cloth trainers, Thomas the Tank Engine stickers and extra applause for doing the deed, my little man will be on his way to big boy-hood in no time! Check out these cute trainers I found on Etsy. They're called Super Skivvies. Though underwear look pretty easy to sew, this is NOT a project I'd like to take on myself. Super Skivvies are patent pending. I think they know what they're doing! A little online shopping is in order....

My favorite print in the shop: "Bacon and Eggs"
We'll keep you posted. All aboard the potty train!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fleece Hat How-To

In addition to finishing up some handmades for Christmas, I have been looking for the perfect fleece hat pattern. If I could knit one if I could, but my feeble attempts with yarn and needles have left me with a whole lotta nothing. But sewing I can do.

We usually travel to New Mexico to spend Christmas with our families. Our parents live above 7000 feet  and more often than not, it's cold and snowy at Christmastime. Being the desert dwellers we are, I scramble about trying to thrift or borrow warm winter outerwear for my children. I hate to buy it as the coats and hats and mittens we need for the trip will probably only be used once, twice at best before they are outgrown. It seems like such a waste. I lucked out this year. Their coats still fit. Just a little short on the wrists but no big deal. But hats and mittens? Not so lucky.

I happened to receive a flyer in the mail informing me that fleece was 50% off at the craft store. That, combined with TWO 50% off coupons and I was in business. New hats and mittens here we come! I let each child pick their fleece, and found a great tutorial from Martha herself here. I fiddled and fudged it a bit as I am a lazy seamstress and hate measuring, but I turned out a hat in a little less than twenty minutes. Cute cute cute and cheap cheap cheap! I have enough fleece left over to make hats for all my other desert Mom's who are heading out into the snowy blue yonder for the holidays. Here's the lowdown:

I measured their noggins and added a half inch for your seam allowances. For example, my daughter's head measured 19 1/2 inches so I cut my fleece to be 20 inches long.  I measured down around their ears so the hats will have enough give to cover them. I made the hat 10 inches tall so I ended up with a fleece rectangle 20 x 10.

 With right sides facing, sew down the open end. You'll end up with a fat looking tube thing. Fold the bottom end up about three inches and than under about 1/4 inch to make a cuff. Stitch all the way around.

Stitch the top of the hat closed. Turn right side out. Join the two corners of the top of the hat together with a single stitch. Using strong thread ( I just doubled regular old thread), bring the needle through the inside of one corner and down through the other. Pull thread tight so the corners meet at the center. Tie it off.

To make a pom pom, I cut a strip of fleece and fringed both sides, leaving about 1/4 inch uncut in the middle. Again, you don't have to measure anything unless you really feel the need. Roll that bad boy up burrito style and
using a strong thread (or doubled thread)  bring the needle through the core of the pom-pom, and wrap the thread tightly around the center a few times. Bring needle through the core again, and tie a knot as close to the pom-pom as possible. Sew it to the top of the hat.
Presto! Warm heads. Are they perfect? No. Not by a long shot. These hats were number #1008 on a list of a million. I rushed the job. The seams are crooked, I didn't pin ANYTHING, and I would never let anyone inspect them up close. But you know what? I'm still pretty stinkin' proud of them. Now to find a fleece mitten pattern. Any suggestions?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Black and White and Read All Over

As I've mentioned, this is the first Christmas that I have attempted handmade gifts. I didn't produce as many as a I wanted but I think I'm on to something good.  To make up for my "lack of handmade-ness" I thought I might put a bit more effort into the presentation of the store bought presents. After all, I bought these presents because I love and care about the recipients. There are some gorgeous wrapping papers and ribbons out there but by taking the time to create my own, I'm showing my family a little extra holiday lovin' and not putting extra paper in to the landfill. Though I doubt I'll have time to handcraft ALL my wrap jobs, it puts a smile in my heart to know that I might have saved a tree with my craftiness. That should be on a shirt! Saving trees, one craft at a time. But I digress...

Anyway, I wanted something that was a) planet friendly, b) beautiful, and c) not so difficult that I want to throw things. Inspired by Alisa Burke and her post here, I combed my bookshelves for a book with whom I was willing to part. With a twinge of regret (it is a BOOK after all!) I starting tearing out the pages to create recycled Christmas wrapping. I couldn't be happier with the way they turned out! Have a looksie!

Gift tags were made by sewing three book pages together and trimming with pinking shears. It never occurred to me to sew paper. Brilliant!

I glued book pages together with a glue gun to create wrapping paper. Martha would be jealous :)

To make paper flowers, cut simple petal shapes and secure with a glue gun. I bent the edges of the petals upward to give it some dimension. Use buttons, ribbons, pompoms, etc to create the middle of your flower.

Gift card envelopes. So much better than just handing out folded pieces of paper!

Using grosgrain ribbon gives a neat and smooth appearance.

I used a snowflake punch to create this runner on the envelope.

Do you have any green wrapping ideas? Please do share!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lost Squash

My squash plants froze. I am sad. No more zucchini bread for me :(

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Saving Green or Green Savings?

Who doesn't love a good deal? I know I sure do. I have recently become part of a "couponing" community and have the potential to save a ton of money on groceries and other home items. It works like this. I get newspapers. Lots of them. I fish out the coupon inserts and put them in pre-labeled folders and then forget about them. Then, the company cross references those coupons with current sales and store specials and then tells me where to go and how to shop. The result? Mucho savings. For example, on my last drugstore transaction, I spent $7 and saved $29. I literally did a little dance at the cash register.

However.....this particular situation poses a dilemma for me. Though I haven't been with the program for long, I have come across several instances where I could buy green or could buy cheap. And I mean cheap. Example: dish liquid. As of late, I have been using Seventh Generation dish liquid that I love both for it's smell and it's lack of earth hating chemicals. It costs around $3 a bottle, depending on where you get it. I ran out and decided to see if my new coupon site had any deals. There weren't any for Seventh Generation but there were for Dawn. I got three (yes THREE) bottles of Dawn dish soap for .43 cents each by combining coupons with store sales. Three bottles of dish soap for LESS than the what I usually pay for one.
Though my pocket isn't as empty as it usually is, I still felt a little pang of regret putting that Dawn in my basket...and my non-biodegradable dishwasher tabs I got for a $1, and the three sticks of non-natural deodorant I got for .14 cents each. Natural and organic brands are generally more expensive than their generic counterparts and for the most part, I'm willing to pay for it. The organic brands do put out coupons on occasion, but nothing like the super companies like Unilever and P & G, who make 90% of what's in the marketplace. It's a shame, but that's the way of it. I am dedicated to organic fruits and veggies if they are to be found, and to organic dairy products but the rest....well, let's just say it's quite the battle in my heart when choosing between Tom's Natural toothpaste or the Crest that I can for FREE this week at Safeway.
Hopefully, I'll be able to strike a happy balance.  I want to enjoy the money I am saving and not feel guilty when this month's peanut butter isn't organic. How would you handle the situation?