Archive for the ‘Living Simply’ Category

Halloween, already? Not exactly, but National Costume Swap day is less than three weeks away and we wanted to be sure to give our readers ample time to prepare. In years past, we seem to announce the event just after it occurs, or maybe the day before. Not this year!

On Saturday, October 8th, families across the nation will trade old costumes in for new trick-or-treat wear. It’s green, it’s free, and it’s a great way to connect with local families. And the truth is, no matter how adorable our children look in their baby bumblebee costumes, they can usually only wear them once. Why not share them with someone else?

Green Halloween has a directory so that you can find the swap in your area, or get one started. The site is run by the illustrious mother-dauther team of Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson who also co-authored Celebrate Green. We love their work on Green Halloween and are excited to see how National Costume Swap day is growing each year.

Are you planning on dressing up your babe this October? What are your costume concepts? You may want to think outside the box and use some of our rather creative (and odd) ideas for baby’s Halloween ensemble this year. —or better yet, head to the National Costume Swap near you!

Do Reusable Snack Bags Work?

As you may have read in my post on zero waste lunches, my son’s school has banned all single serving food items to eliminate trash. It’s time to invest in some greener food storage options!

I was excited about trying Lunchskins or other reusable snack bags, but read a comment on Monday from a user who struggled with mold on the fabric. Many parents LOVE the product, but others have also complained about stale food and not being able to dry the bags out enough before the next use.

Moldy bags and stale food reports make me hesitate on the brink of a purchase. At $7-15 dollars a bag, it’s tough to shell out so much and not know whether or not it will work. Does anyone else have feedback on reusable snack bags? Are you able to use them successfully? What’s your trick for avoiding mold on the fabric?

Packing Zero Waste Lunches

Just a few days ago I posted about my conflicted relationship with pre-packaged food. Convenience is expensive, wasteful, and sometimes really, really….convenient. Especially when it comes to packing school lunches, a chore my husband and I utterly dread.

So imagine my surprise when my son’s preschool sent home a notice asking us to exclude all single serving packaged items. What a glorious idea! Having a trash-free policy for packed lunches has a huge impact when sixty students follow it every single day. And since the kids compost and are limited to refillable drink bottles, the daily trash produced will be extremely minimal. But that means no more raisin boxes, or cheese sticks, or fruit leathers. From now on, it’s reusable containers all the way.

I’m actually glad to have the eco-pressure to take that step. It’ll require extra time, but in the long run it will save money and environmental impact. Instead of buying single serving items, we’ll buy large quantities and individually pack them up in the beginning of the week. At this point my inner lunch packing loather is horrified by the change, but like all lifestyle adjustments, I think we’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Cheese sticks will become cheese cubes.
Fruit leather will switch to frozen blueberries.
Raisin boxes will be replaced with homemade trail mix.

In terms of reusable lunch ware, we already love the small compartments in Lock & Lock containers with removable trays. They’re BPA-free, dishwasher safe, microwave safe, freezable and they nest for easy storage.

But we’re also thinking of buying something like Lunchskins so that we can squeeze more in lunchboxes. People also seem to really like the Itsy Ritzy Reusable Snack Bag. Do you have a snack bag solution that helps you pack a zero waste lunch?

I guess the easiest solution would be to wash out zip-lock bags on a daily basis. Are any of you managing on that system?

Green Toys Tea Set Review

My son, who helped to inspire our book The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, just turned five. Did he request reclaimed wood toys or organic cotton garments for his birthday? Nope. He’s in the midst of a feverish obsession with monster trucks, which are just about as ungreen as you can possibly be.

On the other end of the gender spectrum is my two-year-old daughter Jovi who must wear the finest dresses available (purchased at thrift stores), jewels, and purses on a daily basis. For her brother’s fifth birthday party (which included “pin the wheels on the monster truck”), Jovi received one special gift: A Green Toys Tea Set.

My thrift shopping habit has wildly skewed my price perception, so spending over twenty bucks on a plastic tea set was slightly painful, but I was happily surprised with the quality of the product. And when I did some research on the company, I was glad that I shelled out a bit more. All Green Toys are made in the U.S. from recycled milk containers. The whole process happens in California which saves the carbon cost of having raw materials shipped into the factory from overseas. They’re BPA free and meet the strict toy safety and environmental laws for the state of California.

I love the practical heft of the plastic, the colors, the simple design, and the fact that all lids are completely interchangeable. Since she got the set two weeks ago, we have had dozens of tea parties, and I think there are hundreds more to come. With a quality product like Green Toys, you get an heirloom toy that is made of recycled materials and costs just a bit more cheap plastic sets made in China. I’d definitely recommend it!

Do you own any Green Toys? Have you been satisfied with their quality?

Babysitting trades have been one of the biggest discovery of my mothering career. My kids are thrilled to play with their friends, my husband and I dash off to the theater with a bag of homemade popcorn, and everyone enjoys a change in the routine! When we’re hosting the swap, we enjoy seeing the budding friendships between our children and their peers.

Before the days of babysitting trades, there were no parenting breaks for me except when my husband arrived home. By then, I was so desperate for company (or privacy) that I’d either talk his ear off or lock myself in the bedroom just to experience a tiny slice of silence. (I don’t own a Snuggie, but the glowing smile in the picture captures how I felt when I crept into my bedroom. “Tee-Hee…no one is currently climbing, spitting up on, or peeing on me! Glorious!” )

Eventually I started to schedule our weeks at home around play dates, which were a welcome diversion for an extravert like myself. But when things evolved into babysitting trade status, life truly eased up–and not just for me! The families I swap babysitting with are just as grateful for the chance to host a play date or to get a sliver of freedom every so often.

Babysitting cooperatives take swaps to a whole new level. In a co-op, parents take on a few more children, but also get more opportunities for free babysitting. The Smart Mom’s Baby-Sitting Co-op Handbook:How We Solved the Baby-Sitter Puzzle can help you create one yourself. It’s gotten rave reviews on Amazon and thoughtfully lays out plans in careful detail for how to put together a community that works for you. It’s so popular that even though it was published over a decade ago, it’s currently sold out! (But should be available again very soon.)

I know with infants cooperatives or exchanges may be more of a challenge, but if you have at least two parents on duty it’s pretty amazing what you can handle. Does anyone else enjoy babysitting swaps? Do any of you have family who volunteer to watch your tot on a regular basis? I plan on doing that once my children get a bit older!

I have a strange relationship with packaged foods. In my heart, I’d prefer to whip up batches of homemade crackers, cereal, cookies, and even yogurt in my spare time. I hate buying pre-packaged stuff and tossing wrappers into the trash, but I’m also eternally grateful to have it on hand when we’re heading off to parks, swimming lessons, or school. I minimize packaged items in lunches, but when I’m in a rush it’s nice to be able to quickly assemble something healthy that my child will actually eat.

So are there some prepared foods that pack more of a nutritional punch and treat the planet just a bit more kindly?

Dry cereal is a great breakfast option but can also be tossed into lunches or stirred into trail mixes. I love Trader Joe’s O’s, but Annie’s Homegrown Organic Bunny O’s are also excellent. Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies are a terrific alternative to the ubiquitous goldfish.

My children can be tricked into eating pumpkin and pureed prunes due to the lovely taste of Kashi bars. At this point in my life, I’ve also realized that I may be the one having the hunger meltdown if I don’t have snacks along on our adventures.

Newman’s Own Organic Raisins are easy to pack up in tupperware or reusable plastic bags and can be thrown into trail mix, oatmeal, or cookies as a great supplement.

Bare Fruit’s 100% Organic Bake-Dried Fuji applies are currently on sale for less than $20 for two one pound bags. I know it can seem costly, but you have to think of the volume of apples that have to be dehydrated to produce just two pounds of dried fruit. (If you have a dehydrator and do the drying yourself, I envy you!)

Stretch Island Fruit Leathers have no added sugar or colors and are made just one state away in Washington. My kids love these and they’re currently less than $13 for a pack of 30 bars. Making fruit leather is an eventual goal of mine, but I’m not there yet…

If you’re trying to get a few more greens into their lunches, consider tossing some boiled and salted edamame (soybeans) in. Somehow the novelty of popping the soybeans out of their shells helps to get these nutritional gems into their bodies. My kids also love roasted Seaweed Snacks. It may sound a bit exotic, but the sheets of nori (the seaweed used to wrap sushi) are seasoned with sesame and then roasted and salted to create a really delicious snack that emulates potato chips.

Although they’re often forbidden in schools where children suffer from allergies, there’s nothing that beats the nutrition and ease of plain nuts. One pound of Raw Organic Almonds can be tossed in with cereal, raisins, and dried fruit to create a killer trail mix that’s easy to transport.

What are your best ideas for simple school lunch snacks? Do you dread packing lunches as much as I do?

My beloved and beleaguered sister has spent over four weeks battling a lice infestation in her home. That means for the last thirty days she’s had to launder all bedding, spray down mattresses, and vacuum thoroughly… Every. Single. Day. Not only has it been incredibly time intensive, she’s invested hundreds of dollars in treatments that haven’t worked.

How is this possible? Apparently new strains of lice can quickly evolve to become resistant to toxic treatments–making natural alternatives even more appealing.

While she tried natural remedies such as Listerine, olive oil, vinegar, and many others, she’s finally found a product that has wiped out the infestation without hurting her young children’s skin.

A scientist developed ClearLice using a natural enzyme that lice excrete during molting, so they can’t develop a resistance to it and it’s very safe and comfortable for use on infants and small children. It’s a bit pricey at nearly $30 for a bottle of Clearlice shampoo or about $100 for a complete Clearlice family treatment kit, but since many other shampoos and treatments have to be used multiple times, it seems worth the investment to wipe it out in one attempt. (For the record, I’m not being paid to recommend this product. I’m just very thankful that my sister finally found something that works!)

There’s also a Clearlice Head Conditioner and Repellant, which I would consider using a few times a week once my children are back in school and daycare. (Often children with lice infestation are excluded from school for several days to ensure they are lice free. That’s a long time for families to take off work to de-louse every inch of their homes!)

Tea Tree oil is also supposed to be a natural lice repellant, and Trader Joe’s has some Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo for just $3.99 a bottle while Babo Botanicals also makes a Rosemary Tea Tree Lice Repel Shampoo that comes in at $15.99. We do use Tea Tree Oil shampoo with our kids, but careful rinsing is required as it stings quite badly in their eyes.

I hope your baby never, ever gets head lice. But if he or she does, it will be nice to know that there’s a product that won’t harm the planet or your baby, while quickly zapping the lice colonies nesting on their delicate little heads.

Have you ever longed for a personalized shopping assistant? Someone who can brief you on which products are best so that you can make quick decisions before the baby wakes up/your children start flinging legos at each other/the casserole burns in the oven? What if that assistant (let’s call her Betty) could also help you select goods that dovetail with your values, leaving you with a green afterglow following 15 minutes of online shopping?

She’s here! She’s free! She’s not actually human, but she’s more thorough than any person could ever be.

The Good Guide’s Transparency Toolbar
(you may still call it Betty if you like) provides you with detailed product information for online shopping. You’ll be able to quickly bypass green claims, using the Transparency Toolbar’s data to choose items that are non-toxic, eco-friendly, and socially responsible.

So how do you use the Transparency Toolbar anyway? Simply install it as a web browser extension and it will pop up only while you are shopping online. You customize what date is important to you out of fourteen different categories including climate change, controversial ingredients, energy efficiency, organic, and nutritious. The Transparency Toolbar will then rate the product you’re viewing according to the criteria you’ve selected, as well as listing similar products that might meet your needs more completely. Isn’t Betty incredibly resourceful for being free?

To quickly get a sense of how the Transparency Toolbar works, simply invest four minutes of your life viewing Good Guide’s Transparency Toolbar Video . It walks you through how to download the application and use it while shopping—showing you just how empowering it is for consumers.

For those of you who are currently gearing up for a new baby, the Transparency Toolbar can help you quickly decide which baby products you’d like to purchase or register for without having to spend hours researching companies or possible toxins.

Now honestly, I don’t do a lot of shopping online, but I’m thrilled to know that Good Guide’s Transparency Toolbar will soon be available as a mobile app! Imagine rolling through the grocery store and being able to challenge a label’s green claims on the spot with Betty’s capable assistance!

We love The Good Guide, not just because it’s so consumer-friendly, but because one of its authors, Josh Dorfman, is a green hero of ours. He wrote The Lazy Environmentalist and also penned the forward to our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide. In his television series on the Sundance Channel and his SiriusXM Radio show, he embraces the “progress not perfection” spirit that we promote in all our green endeavors. In addition to all those accolades, he’s currently in the trenches of early green parenthood.

So thanks to Josh Dorfman and his colleagues for The Good Guide’s Transparency Toolbar! It isn’t just about keeping our families safe and helping the environment. It’s about holding companies to a higher standard. Because The Good Guide makes information so easily accessible, companies are bound to start watching their ratings and realize that consumers are choosing products with superior records. If each of our dollars is a vote, then the Transparency Toolbar is the key to electing better businesses!

Releasing Summer Expectations

One week. That’s the last bit of my summer before I start cracking open teacher guides and scrawling out lesson plans.

I was going to make homemade jam from the hundreds of pounds of berries I was planning on picking.

I was going to read three novels in Spanish, develop abdominal muscles, and swim in a cold lake on a summer day.

I was going to camp in a yurt, make a pinata with the kids, and call my college friends.

And all we did was move. We packed, tossed, gave away, and lifted everything we own. Now our garage is littered with boxes and random tools. I still can’t find the hole puncher.

But the view out this window is lovely. The hydrangeas are in bloom and we did manage a few picnics on our new deck. We went swimming at sunset today in the local pool and we picked a handful of blueberries in the backyard. I’ve watched one telenovela and studied a dozen Spanish verbs.

And that will have to do. Because expectations aren’t always our friends–especially when we’re raising small children. If we get caught up in what we could be doing, we forget about that magical thing happening right in front of our eyes. And who’s to say that my kids’ random dragonfly sighting in our backyard isn’t more exotic than any expectation on my list this summer?

Maybe our work as eco-conscious parents is to remember that the “progress, not perfection” mantra we use in The Eco-nomical Baby Guide is about more than just the planet. It’s about our ability to sustain ourselves as parents, partners, and friends during this crazy-wonderful era of our lives. I shall also try to remember that this phase of parenting will fly by before I even have time to realize it’s gone.

And my expectations for sleep, order, and homemade jam will have to be downgraded considerably. (Can you really buy “homemade” jam? The company above is based close to our home. I may have to settle for something made in my region instead of something in my kitchen…)

Have you lived your summer dreams this year? Have you also found that you must shift your goals dramatically to accommodate a family lifestyle?

What to Expect When You’re Expecting is a thorough guide to pregnancy that has been tremendously popular for over twenty years–and this week their website, What to Expect, is sponsoring a giveaway! We’re throwing in a few copies of our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, to sweeten the winnings for two lucky readers. There are multiple ways to enter so get in on the action!

Prize #1
What to Expect Before You’re Expecting (+ a copy of our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide: Down to Earth Ways for Parents to Save Money and the Planet)

For women who are planning conception and pregnancy, What to Expect Before You’re Expecting is a great resource. It provides tips on everything from nutrition to medical care for women (and men) in the months before you get pregnant. And it will help you make the good choices that will lead to a healthier newborn. For couples hoping to conceive quickly, Murkoff educates readers about how to pinpoint ovulation cycles to raise your odds of getting pregnant.

As for our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, we’ve spoken to many women who received it late in their pregnancies only to wish that they would have read it months earlier. Why not learn about cloth diapers and used baby gear before you’re dealing with morning sickness and exhaustion? We hope that having the book far in advance will allow you to gather up the new and used green gear you need while saving thousands of dollars.

Prize #2
What to Expect When You’re Expecting(+ a copy of our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide: Down to Earth Ways for Parents to Save Money and the Planet)

What to Expect When You’re Expecting is read by over 90% of pregnant women who read pregnancy books and has been on the New York Times bestseller list for decades. So what can you expect from the book? The book is organized into monthly chapters which provide information about how you may feel, common questions, a week-by-week guide to baby’s fetal development, and information about what your midwife or doctor is likely to say during that phase of pregnancy. The book also addresses childbirth plus the emotional and physical issues that couples face in the postpartum period. The question and answer format helped me pick out sections that were relevant to my pregnancy. I was too overwhelmed and exhausted by growing a fetus to actually read any book cover to cover so I appreciated being able to easily reference what I was looking for.

We wish every newly pregnant woman could get a free copy of The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, just to have access to humble, humorous, hands-on advice for gearing up green on a budget. Since we can’t just stand on the corner and hand these out to pregnant passers-by, we’ve decided to send one to accompany What to Expect When You’re Expecting in this giveaway. We hope you can win!

Whether you’re lucky enough to win one of the prizes or not, you should know that What to Expect online now offers heaps of free information for expectant women and new parents. You can pick up a copy of many What to Expect books on Amazon for less than nine bucks and The Eco-nomical Baby Guide is currently on sale for less than eight dollars. (And it will save you much, much more than what you pay for it!)

Enter the What to Expect When You’re Expecting (and the Eco-nomical Baby Guide) Giveaway!

Each comment counts as an entry. You can enter up to four times. Here’s how:

1. Simply post a comment

2. Like the Green Baby Guide on Facebook (then tell us you did it in a separate comment)

3. Visit the What to Expect website and comment on what you learned.

4. Spread the news about the giveaway! Email someone, post it on Facebook, tweet it, blog it, or send someone a message about it via carrier pigeon. (And again, don’t forget to tell us all about it in the comments!)

This contest ends on Thursday, August 11th, and is only open to U.S. Residents.

Great luck!

Great luck!

The Eco-nomical Baby Guide
Eco-nomical Baby Guide
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