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Lately I’ve been dragging my family out the door every weekend for a romp in the woods. Why? Because for the last five years of our lives, we were so caught up in domestic life that we lost our old wilderness lifestyle. We head to parks on a regular basis, but I wanted to go beyond sand and play structures and into real forest. Before kids we used to do this all the time! We strapped on our backpacks and boldly stepped into the trees without a second thought. Now we have to tuck the sunscreen, the snacks, the extra clothes, and the bandaids into bags even on a local hike.

But the rewards are tremendous. My children’s efforts to struggle up buttes are rewarded with a picnic, an incredible view, and a sense of accomplishment. In the process, we spot all sorts of wildlife. Including slugs. Trailing their silvery slime across our path, slugs may not seem like the most majestic of animals, but my children were utterly fascinated by them.

Beyond the joy of the hike itself is the sense of connection my kids can glean from the entire experience. This is why we clean with vinegar, frequent the thrift shop, and use bokashi to compost our food scraps. After all, if my kids can get excited about a wild slug, the bar is set pretty low!

A book I really would love to put into practice more in our family life is 15 Minutes Outside by Rebecca Cohen. Cohen has simple outdoor play ideas for every day of the year, in every weather, in every season to get your children outside.

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  • Ten years ago we choose Fiestaware dishes for our wedding registry and have enjoyed them ever since. They’re sturdy, classic, and scratch resistant. Amazingly, most of the eight place settings we originally received have made it through our children’s early childhoods in great shape.

    It occurred to me the other day that the dishes that have been lost have all been small salad plates. They’re the perfect size for my children, they don’t take up as much space in the dishwasher, and they help me control my portion sizes. Suddenly I realized that if I bought more of them, (we have just six) that I could get double the number of plates into the dishwasher.

    Plus, I could chuck the random plastic plates (drawn by yours truly on white circular paper and sent into a plastic plate-making factory approximately 30 years ago) that we use when we utterly run out of everything else. The whimsical drawings make me smile, but the toxins lurking in antique plastic can’t be good. Now I use the plastic plates as air tight lids in my bokashi bins and not for my children’s food!

    I ordered some new fiesta salad plates but also picked up a stack of eight perfect Ikea plates at a thrift store for less than four bucks. I love buying used, real dishes for the kids because I’d rather have them eating off of a ceramic surface than plastic, and when it’s purchased secondhand I don’t care so much about the occasional breakage. Since my small plate revelation, my cupboard is cleaner, the dishwasher is fuller, and I experience small hits of bliss every time I glance at the kitchen shelf. Not bad for a day’s work!

    For the past five years, I have admired people who coax seeds into lush vegetable gardens but have never felt I had the gardening skills to take the leap. Instead we spent around $50 each year on starts. Then, at an organic seed sale, it occurred to me that with an investment of less than five bucks and one used egg carton, my kids would enjoy the experience of trying to start our vegetable garden from scratch. If any of the seedlings survived, perhaps it would help my kids to bond with vegetables more deeply and actually embrace sauteed zucchini sometime this summer.

    Did I do thorough research before beginning? Not in any way. I knew that the seeds needed sunlight, a warming pad, and lots of water. Other than that, we’re flying blind.

    First Roscoe worked on the labels for each plant. He carefully drew out the letters and a quick picture of the plant. We covered his label with scotch tape so that it wouldn’t fade during waterings and attached it to a toothpick.

    Then the kids dumped spoonfuls of dirt into an egg carton with eighteen compartments. This was messy and thoroughly fun for everyone.

    Then we tucked each seed into the soil in the labeled compartment. The kids guessed before we opened the packets about the size and shape of each seed.

    Finally we put our egg carton into a casserole dish and placed it on a heating pad next to a window. There is a squirt bottle nearby that is used frequently to water the seeds or for a weapon in sibling squabbles.

    I also made little cards with numbers so that the kids can change out the cards on each day to see when the seeds germinate. Which ones come up first? (And, most likely) which ones are a total failure? I think we’ll do it every year, even though we may not ever be completely successful. I’m also hoping that all the care and coddling of these plants will lead my kids to enjoy gardening–and maybe even broccoli.

    Teflon-Free Frying Pan Options

    Pregnancy and breastfeeding motivated me to find safer, and often greener methods for cooking and storing food. But the recycler in me had a very hard time tossing the high quality Circulon skillet we’d received for our wedding. We’re still using it, but I’m finally ready to invest some money in a healthier option. And I’d love to hear your input!

    Stainless Steel Skillets seem entirely safe, but I’m so used to having a non-stick surface that the transition may be tricky. I also worry that I’d be using lots more oil in my cooking just to avoid burning food while sautéing.

    I’m intrigued by Bialetti Aeternum Skillets that use a nano-ceramic nonstick coating. They are made of aluminum with a silicone exterior and are free of PFOA, PTFE and cadmium. Still, one one pan costs about $40.00 and they can’t be used in the oven.

    At this point, my top choice is a cast iron skillet. The one above made by Lodge Logic is pre-seasoned and I know my mom’s trusty cast iron skillet still works like a non stick surface after a decade of use. Plus I’d love to get small doses of extra iron in my food while I cook. Cast iron works in the stovetop and the oven at all heats and costs just $22.95 for a 12 inch skillet. Am I missing something, or is cast iron the obvious choice?

    While I’m greening my kitchen, I may also toss all my old tupperware that could have BPA in it to find a safer and more uniform system. Stay tuned for my review of food storage options!

    Here at Green Baby Guide we’re focusing on eco-nomical solutions this month and bokashi composting is the best one I’ve run across all year. My efforts at traditional composting were failing due to mice, fruit flies, and general laziness. Now I’m enjoying bokashi composting and finding it’s a far better solution for a slacker mom like myself. Still, most people have no idea what bokashi is or how bokashi composting works. Here are some simple questions and answers just to get you started.

    How much Bokashi bran do you need? The key factor is that you don’t want the waste to smell. If you sprinkle some into the bin each time you load in food, you should be fine. Remember to pack down the bin and close the plate tightly on top each time. (It’s an anaerobic process so air is your enemy!)

    Can I let the fermenting bin sit longer than two weeks? Yes! It could sit in the bucket all winter and be fine. The only reason I have to empty mine out is that we produce enough food scraps to fill a second bucket in two weeks. The bokashi bran will prevent smells and speed the composting process.

    What is the weirdest thing you can toss in the bokashi bin? Pet waste. That’s right! Bokashi will neutralize odors and compost pet waste.

    How much money does it take to get started with bokashi composting? If you make the bins yourself, it can cost as little as $30 or less. If you invest in a bokashi system it ranges between $50-100.

    How Do I Make My Own Bokashi Bin?
    Yes! Using simple buckets that you may already have and a hand held drill, you can be ready to begin bokashi composting in less than an hour. I’ll be putting up a post next week with more details so stand by for more bokashi support!

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  • This month Rebecca and I are focusing on reducing household consumption and waste. As we’ve both shared, we’re probably considered tree hugging hippies by many, but our thrifty, green fervor has slacked off a bit over the years. Even though I no longer hang out every load of laundry, I have to say that giving up composting altogether wasn’t an option. I simply couldn’t dump moldy melon rinds into the trash without chest pain caused by eco-guilt. Plus, since we’ve had kids our household production of half eaten macaroni, expired yogurt, and soggy grapes has drastically increased.

    So why did I want to stop composting?

    1. Often there were dairy products, eggs or meats mixed with food waste, which meant it couldn’t be composted.
    2. Our compost bin is a huge distance from our kitchen.
    3. We were constantly besieged with clouds of fruit flies.
    4. MICE! Lots of them, who happily nested in the bin while food was delivered to them on a daily basis.

    The last factor eventually grossed me out so much that I began researching another solution. Bokashi Bins have been fantastic and greatly lessened our overall family garbage. (And fruit flies, and mice, and the trek to the compost bin!)

    You can read my post written nearly three years ago entitled, Do Bokashi Bins Work?, to find out more. But also, stay tuned to my series of upcoming posts on how to start your own bokashi system, how to build your own bins, and how to rapidly change table scraps into rich soil.

    Despite the fact that my eco-nomical efforts may have slacked in some areas, I feel like bokashi composting is a huge victory that actually makes my life a tad bit easier. Do you use Bokashi? Have you ever even heard of it?

    Yesterday Rebecca wrote about losing her zest for diligent green living. I have to confess that I too have slipped when it comes to eco-pursuits and my tightwad lifestyle.

    In college when Rebecca and I first became frugal buddies, I gave up store-bought calendars. Instead I made my own with a ruler and a pencil every year to save money. (If I would have shelled out cash for a calendar, it probably would have been the one pictured above–so that I could have become even thriftier!) Years later my husband joined my tightwad pursuits as we regularly hung loads of laundry around our 500 square food apartment with bungee cords to save approximately two dollars at the laundromat. It was fun, it was adventurous, and I relished every crazy moment.

    But frugality requires attention to detail, focus, and the ability to delay gratification. Now, with two children under the age of six, I feel that we’ve entered a rather slipshod period of fiscal life.

    If we need something, I buy it far sooner, just because I don’t have as much time to shop around. Things in the refrigerator die more regularly because I don’t keep track of all the odds and ends and come up with creative recipes like I used to. We buy more convenience foods and throw away more stale graham crackers than ever before.

    My new goal for 2012 is proactive focus, which can quite easily be applied to household consumption. My husband and I plan on sitting down for 30 minutes each week over coffee and cookies for a kitchen table meeting. Our agenda? Planning a daily menu, talking about what we need or want, doling out tasks and assigning responsibility, and typing notes on the laptop to record exactly what we decide. A week later we can sit down and see how we did.

    A few years ago we held kitchen table meetings and marveled at how good it felt to be ahead of the game instead of always reacting. In fact, it was so effective that we didn’t seem to need it and stopped doing it altogether….which brings us to the randomness of today.

    In my life thus far, I’ve found the combination of proactive focus and accountability are pretty amazing. We’re looking forward to bringing that energy to Green Baby Guide as well. Please keep us accountable by letting us know what you’d like to see and how we can bring you more fresh content.

    This month’s theme here at Green Baby Guide is “Reduce! Living With Less.” Stay tuned to learn how you can save money going green, and perhaps have a few thrifty green adventures of your own!

    What are your goals for 2012? How do you plan on staying accountable?

    Once upon a time, before these two wonderful children entered my life, I used to contemplate the future. Then, with one colicky baby and then a second, I learned how to go with the flow and give up on getting ahead of anything. (Don’t let this sweet photo fool you, my son screamed for hours at a time in that first few months…)

    Now that both my kids are potty trained, weaned, and sleeping through the night, I actually have time to pour my energy into proactive pursuits. What do I want from 2012? What values do I want to pass onto my children? How can I build relationships and care for my health? How can our household achieve new green goals?

    With a group of friends, I’ll be checking in weekly to see if I’m working toward my writing, environmental and fitness goals. The bottom line is, I need accountability and support to gain even more momentum in 2012.

    Happily I’d like to report that Rebecca and I have scheduled out a year’s worth of fantastic themes for you. We hope that our proactive approach will make Green Baby Guide an even better resource choc full of with fresh new content in 2012!

    Have you set any resolutions for 2012? Are you in the midst of survival or do you feel like you have a bit of energy for proactive pursuits?

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  • Focus. It is so hard to hold onto it in the midst of sleep deprivation, constant interruption, and the piles of laundry that slowly compound over the course of a week.

    So now, before the New Year celebrations begin and just after the crush of gift giving it’s a good time to focus on getting ahead of upcoming challenges. What would you like to tackle in 2012?

    Are you hoping to begin a cloth diaper collection? Do you want to make your own household cleaners or whirl up batches of homemade baby food? Are you hoping to take your first camping trip with toddler? What are your wildest green dreams for 2012?

    Here at Green Baby Guide, we’re laying out an editorial calendar for the year, and would love to get your input. What topics would best meet your needs right now? How can we help you overcome one hurdle at a time in your efforts to make life just a bit more manageable? What research would you like us to compile on your behalf?

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  • There have been a few eco-friendly toys we’ve invested in over the years that have turned out to be duds. Just so you don’t make the same mistake this holiday season, we’ll share our failed purchases. (Let me add that my kids have a much longer list of green toys they have loved. Check out Monday’s post for details.)

    Melissa and Doug is a company that makes beautiful, quality products out of sustainable materials. When we invested ninety dollars at a local toy store for the Melissa and Doug Deluxe Parking Garage, we didn’t realize that it would be quickly abandoned in the closet for the next few years. The elevator (operated with a string and winding knob) sticks and something about the stacked layout just didn’t jive with our vehicle obsessed son. (On the other hand he LOVES his friend’s Plan Toys City Series Wooden Parking Garage. Go figure!)

    We received the Plan Toy Tower Pounding for our young toddler, but it received almost no attention from either of our children. The ball was easy to lose and hard to pound into the hole in the tower.

    I LOVED the Natural Wooden Baby Shaker Rattle by Earnest Efforts, but both my children couldn’t be bothered to play with it. It’s made locally out of Oregon hardwoods remnants, hand sanded, and finished with bees wax. My children didn’t seem to appreciate its quality or beauty and discarded it every time I playfully shook it just a few centimeters from their nose in an effort to gain their interest. In the end, I had more fun with it than they did.

    Have you had similar, or totally different experiences with natural toys you’ve purchased? Have your children been willing to bypass the plastic to go after more eco-friendly playthings? (I must add that today is the LAST DAY of our Charlie Banana hybrid diaper giveaway. There are four ways to enter so get those comments in to win!)

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    Eco-nomical Baby Guide
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