Yes, Valentine’s Day is two weeks away. And heart-shaped desserts do not have anything to do with “green” or “babies.” But I don’t care! It’s February and time to start thinking of chocolate and cheesecake.
We’ll start with the most obvious: heart-shaped sugar cookies. Use your favorite sugar cookie recipe or try these Heartfelt Cookies from delish.com. There are so many ways to decorate them—sprinkles or frosting or chocolate or jam.
You’ll need some heart cookie cutters.
This one’s from Reader’s Digest: Heart-shaped Strawberry Pavlova.
Naughty Ice Cream Sandwiches from Pinch My Salt.
Of course we can always count on Martha Stewart for the most adorable themed desserts. These heart-shaped meringues with passion fruit curd is just one example. Check out her mouth-watering gallery of Valentine’s Day desserts for more inspiration.
Valentine’s Strawberry Shortcakes from Kaboose.com. It’s not exactly strawberry season, but who can resist a shortcake?
I just came up with a great reason for posting this so early: you need time to try them all before the big day. Happy early Valentine’s Day!
This month we’ll be exploring how to outfit a green nursery with high quality baby gear on a budget. Of course, our favorite green strategies involve those old school R’s: reduce, recycle and reuse. But it can be tough to score all secondhand baby gear if you are the first one of your friends and family to have a child. You may end up being showered with so much loot that it’s hard to find your way out from under the pile of ribbons. If that’s the case, heading off to the consignment shop is a bit futile until your child grows out of all those gifts.
On the other hand, if you’re the last one to welcome a baby, herds of relatives and friends may be thrusting their gently used Boppy pillow and Ergo Carriers into your life. You may even be slightly bummed out that you won’t be unwrapping a single new toy, as you have grocery bags full of wooden cars stored in the basement. (Note to readers, Rebecca and I wackily loved all things used and never had the urge to purchase new gear. This may seem weird, but it’s true.)
I have to say that I belong to both parts of the hand-me-down system. We supply expecting friends with deliveries of sturdy secondhand cloth diapers and tiny denim overalls, most of which we bought used. But my daughter will probably never own a piece of new clothing as we have endless tubs of beautiful girl’s clothes handed down to us by my four nieces. It’s fun to be on both ends of the cycle!
So are you the one handing down the goods or are you receiving the secondhand baby gear? Are you buying secondhand gear online and hoping to stumble into some gear exchanges later on? Do you prefer to buy new items for your first child and save them for your future children? Do you loan out gear between the births of your children and ask people to return it?
During my pregnancy, I had some real concerns about giving birth and breastfeeding. But I also enjoyed obsessing over other issues that—six years later—no longer feel quite so urgent. Here were my particular bugaboos:
Nursing pads. What are nursing pads? Do I need nursing pads? How do I choose nursing pads? What if I choose the wrong nursing pads? Who knows why I cared so much about nursing pads. Read my nursing pads reviews. Or buy some LANAcare nursing pads and be done with it.
Cloth diapering. Prefolds? Diaper covers? Pocket diapers? All-in-ones? How will I ever decide? How will I wash them? If only I could have gone into the future and written the Eco-nomical Baby Guide, then brought it back to 2006 so I could read it and learn everything I needed to know about cloth diapering.
Pink clothes. Now that I know I’m having a girl, what if everyone buys her pink clothes? And pink blankets? How will my daughter defy gender expectations in pink ruffles? Well, it happened. And at six, my daughter’s favorite color is . . . yes, pink. She also wants to grow up and become a doctor (okay, or a ballerina).
Bad baby gifts. What if someone buys my baby something and I hate it? I really over-thought this one. Two choices: I can keep it or donate it.
For the baby, it’s a magical jungle. For me, a garish petroleum product that will one day wind up in a landfill.
Did you have any goofy pregnancy obsessions? What were they—and what did you do to alleviate your (admittedly silly) concerns?
In my life before kids, I was much too cool for furniture. I had been a world traveler and wanted to live out of my backpack for the rest of my adult existence, even when I moved back to Oregon. Eventually I settled in enough to buy a great quality used futon for $100. It was functional, it was uncomfortable, and it was going to be temporary. That was exactly fourteen years ago.
Later my husband and I waited to buy furniture because our house was small. Then because our kids came along and slid half chewed bananas along the surface of everything we owned. Our futon is still solidly sitting in our living room and has survived nauseous children, early potty training, and dozens of guests who have graciously attempted sleep on its lumpy surface. (My co-blogger and co-author Rebecca is one of them…)
At some point last week, I came down with a feverish desire for a couch. Now that our kids are a bit older, it suddenly seemed possible to move beyond combat furniture. I didn’t give a whit about style, I just desperately wanted a soft space on which to rest my 39 year old bones. For the last two years I have searched craigslist for the right fit, color and frame and haven’t been inspired. After a visit to a few local furniture stores during their January clearance events, we have opted to buy a new couch rather than wait for used.
If you have followed this blog, or read our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, you know just how shocking it is for me to splurge on anything new. But unlike baby furniture or clothing, this couch is going to sit in our living room for the next decade or more. (Remember how long that futon got stuck there?) Our favorite model is made by Stanton Sofas right here in the state of Oregon with a hardwood frame and an extensive lifetime warranty that will ensure our kids don’t destroy it within the first six months. (The picture below isn’t from Stanton, but it’s the type of small sectional we’re buying.)
Although I’m a bit shocked that we’re finally moving out of our spartan furniture phase, I have to say it feels great to have scrimped all those years so that we can finally appreciate owning a good piece of furniture. Having spent the last decade flopping down on a lumpy futon, it will be glorious appreciate the comfort of a soft sofa each and every time we collapse at the end of the day. The futon will be moved down to playroom to officially become “the jumping couch.” I think our kids may end up taking it to college in about fifteen years….
Some people avoid the futon phase altogether and buy a great couch before their children ever arrive. Maybe their offspring are much calmer than mine or perhaps better trained to respect fine furniture. What has your experience been? Do you have any couch advise for me? Are you still living in futon-land?
My husband and I have a recurring “discussion” (I wouldn’t classify it as an argument or even disagreement, really) about proper dishwasher use. When we first had a dishwasher installed over two years ago now, I did a lot of research. These wonder appliances clean better and more efficiently than even the most frugal hand washer, my sources told me.
So I wrote all about greening your dishwasher. It turns out that using a dishwasher is only more efficient than hand washing if you avoid extra rinse cycles and the heat dry options. Further, if you rinse dishes in the sink before placing them in the dishwasher, you probably won’t see any water savings. That’s right: Don’t rinse your dishes! (Sadly, I did not see any water savings after one year of dishwasher use. Read all about it in this startling post: Do dishwashers save water? Hmmmm.)
But let’s get back to our debate. My husband sets certain items aside for hand washing, such as bowls, pots, and some cups. He would rather hand wash the same cup five times than to fill the dishwasher with five different cups. Some bowls and pots are large, so he’ll hand wash them to make room for a greater number of smaller items in the dishwasher.
Rebuttal: My way is thinking is that if using the dishwasher is more efficient than hand washing, and if rinsing dishes partly contributes to water-waste in the kitchen, then it’s always better to use the dishwasher. I maintain that it’s more efficient to fill the dishwasher with more cups and big bowls and run it more often than to run fewer loads in addition to hand washing select dishes. Also, please note that my way is also the least amount of work.
I would run some sort of test to settle this once and for all, but I’m not sure how. If anyone has any brilliant insight into this dilemma, let me know! In the meantime, I’ll continue to stick bowls in the dishwasher, and Andy can keep on hand washing whatever he wants.
If you haven’t, don’t worry…this is not a gathering will involve actual nudity. It’s really just a clothing exchange. I have to say that I’ve never attended a Naked Lady Party, but it sounds like a great way to bond with girlfriends while we hold each other mutually accountable for cleaning out our closets. Plus, we’d get to recycle our clothing while scoring new garments from trusted friends…for free!
I feel as though at this point, my closet doesn’t have much to offer, but someday I’m determined to set up a Naked Lady Party. My plan is to talk to interested friends and pick a date that is at least a month in the future. My pals will arrive with unwanted bags or boxes of clothing in hand. I’ll supply some wine and chocolate as we all strip down to the basics to try on each other’s unwanted loot. If you are more experienced in the art of clothing exchanges, is there a way to make this step more equitable so that there aren’t hurt feelings if one person ends up with several garments while someone else doesn’t find a single thing?
If we did have a few rejected outfits at the end of the Naked Lady Party, we’d donate them to a charity like Dress for Success, that helps low-income women find professional wardrobes as they search for employment. Or I guess we’d drop off the less professional duds at our local thrift shop. What a fun way to exchange clothing and make memories with friends at the same time! Have you attended a clothing exchange party? What tips can you share?
If you’ve read The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, you know I got pretty hardcore about baby gear. That is, if it wasn’t going to last a long time or perform five functions at once, I didn’t want it. The pleasant side effects of this policy was that I didn’t have mountains of blinking plastic toys to wade through on my way to the kitchen. I saved money and the environment. Great!
But . . . in retrospect I have to wonder if I might have eased my restrictions just a bit to make my life with a new baby a little easier. In Baby Gear I Lived Without, I go over some of the common baby items I didn’t buy. Here are a few things I might have liked after all:
Bottles (plural). I got by with one bottle for my daughter’s entire babyhood, and I was very proud of it. It was a plastic bottle, too, since I purchased it right before the BPA scare was all over the news and glass bottles came back in style. If I had to do it again, I’d get a set of glass bottles. A whole set!
Breast pump. My hospital gave me a free hand pump, which was nice. But you know what would have been even nicer? A more sophisticated model like the Hygeia breast pump.
Eco-friendly disposable diapers. I bought six packs of disposable diapers for my daughter’s entire diaper-wearing career. That’s an accomplishment to applaud (I guess), but because I used so few disposables, I should have shelled out the extra money for Seventh Generation diapers that don’t use chlorine.
Stroller. We bought a Maclaren Triumph stroller, and it is hands-down the best piece of baby gear I had because we used it daily for over five years. But for a little more money, I could have bought the Maclaren Quest instead, which would have made the first ten weeks with a new baby more enjoyable.
Baby monitor.Our first house was so small a baby monitor wasn’t necessary. We didn’t really need one after we moved, either. But now I wonder what life might have been like with the monitor. I could have ventured out to the backyard during naps or sat out on the front porch reading. Did I inadvertently tether myself to the nursery for all those years?
Dishwasher. This last one is just wishful thinking. There is no way I could have bought a dishwasher in those early days of parenthood. But oh, what a difference it would have made!
Did you purposefully skimp on any baby gear for cost or space reasons? What baby gear do you wish you had? Or what fanciful doodad (maybe some baby bangs?) would you like us to talk you out of buying?
At a certain point though, I peered into my closet and saw not a single thing I wanted to wear. My maternity clothes were baggy, my pre-baby clothes were impossible, and I was tired of looking at all of them on a daily basis.
Since we’re focusing on eco-nomical solutions this month, we won’t recommend burning your old clothes—though I have to admit that I have had pyromaniacal fantasies about setting fire to those black stretch pants that I wore three times a week for almost a full year. There are less drastic ways to make your closet a more refreshing place without fire–and without tossing your skinny jeans, or your hopes of wearing them, into the wind.
Step One. Pull everything out you hate. As a frugal, green soul, I always got hung up on this step. I would contemplate how much that hot pink plaid flannel jacket with hideous vertical stripes cost or who gave it to me and grudgingly hang it in the back, where I would catch a glimpse of its woodsy ugliness every single day. Eventually I learned that if I hate it on a gut level, it’s time to let it go!
Step Two. Organize everything else. Once I had a giant pile of loathed garments on the floor, it was time to actually arrange what was left in a way that made my life easier. I made sure my favorite pair of jeans were easy to access and the lovely floral sundress I wear once a year at summer weddings is stashed in the back. Nail up some hooks or invest in some hangers if it makes getting dressed even the least bit more fun.
Step Three. Determine what you might need. Would your life be infinitely better if you owned a pair of black yoga pants? (Mine is..sigh.) Do you need more work blouses that button down for easy nursing access? Make a concise list of what you need.
Step Four. Go buy it! You can certainly head off to Macy’s with credit card in hand, but our favorite eco-nomical solution for post partum clothing is buying used. Consignment shops or thrift stores often have top quality brands for a fraction of the price. Since your body may be fluctuating a bit over the next few months, it’s best to forgo expensive clothing that may not fit in the short run for high quality used garments. (Note..buying clothing at thrift and consignment stores may become habit forming. I began hitting used shops after my baby was born, and am now fully addicted four years later!)
Step Five. Decide What to Do With Your Rejects. Stay tuned to an upcoming post about establishing a clothing exchange with friends to swap out clothes and get new ones without spending a dime. You can always donate the lot or sell them at a consignment store to earn some cash for the clothes you’d like to have. The pre-baby jeans can be packed away out of sight for a later time so that you don’t have to view them on a daily basis.
Step Six. Enjoy Getting Dressed! Every day that you open your closet doors to see comfortable clothes that fit, is a day that starts out just a tad bit better. Celebrate your body where it is and realize that it takes time to shift back to your former shape. In the meantime, make your closet a friendly space!
Have you pulled out those maternity jeans yet? Are you still wearing them? Have you managed to attack your closet while caring for a newborn?
I may have lost some of my zeal for thrift and the environment lately. I don’t bake my own bread (anymore) or make my own cheese (ever). But as far as saving money on food and cutting back on packaging waste, there are some lines I will never cross. I may have given in on the individually packaged cheese sticks, but there are five prepackaged foods that just aren’t worth the expense or the plastic:
Bagged salad greens. Buy heads of lettuce at the store or grow your own. Triple wash everything. Yes, you will need a salad spinner. It will pay for itself in due time.
1 lb. tub of organic baby lettuce at Whole Foods: $6
1 lb. head of organic red leaf lettuce: $2
Money saved: If you go through 1 lb. of lettuce a week, you’ll save $208 a year washing your own.
Packaging saved: One non-recyclable plastic tub and lid
Homemade cinnamon sugar with organic sugar and cinnamon (7 oz.): about $.65
Money saved: If you go through 14 oz. of cinnamon sugar a year (and we do!), you’ll save $14.70 a year by making your own.
Packaging saved: one glass or plastic jar with a lid every time you make a batch.
Microwave popcorn. Read our homemade popcorn post from way-back-when to learn our corn-popping secrets.
Microwave popcorn: $.30-.90 a bowl
Homemade popcorn: less than $.10 a bowl
Money saved: If you pop 208 bowls of popcorn a year (a modest estimate for us), you’ll save up to $166.40.
Packaging saved: To quote ourselves: “If your family goes through one box of microwave popcorn (4 large bowls) each week, you’ll save a whopping 52 boxes of cardboard trash, 208 cellophane wrappings, and 208 paper bags by switching to homemade.”
Bottle of Whole Foods balsamic vinaigrette (16 oz.): $4.69
Homemade vinaigrette (with olive oil and balsamic vinegar): $3.28
Money saved: You’ll save $8.46 a year by making your own vinaigrette if you go through six bottles.
Packaging saved: One liter bottle of olive oil plus a pint of balsamic will make about three bottles of vinaigrette. So in a year you’d keep two bottles from a landfill . . . which I’ll admit is not too significant.
Homemade cookie dough using organic sugar, flour, etc.: $3.75
Money saved: If you bake 24 batches a year, you’ll save $15.36.
Packaging saved: a plastic tub. (To be fair, I did throw away a butter wrapper for the homemade version.)
Savings in Review
So how does it all add up? First I’ll note that I did all my price comparisons at Whole Foods. Now obviously you can find better deals elsewhere, but remember that prices are inflated on both the pre-packaged and DIY sides of the equation (i.e., I calculated the cost of homemade cookies using Whole Food’s ridiculous sugar prices). I estimated the amount I’d save in a year based on my family’s eating habits. Here are those savings again, broken down:
52 pounds of lettuce a year = $208 savings
14 oz. cinnamon sugar a year= $14.70 savings
208 bowls of popcorn a year= up to $166.40 savings
6 bottles of salad dressing a year=$8.46
24 batches of cookies a year=$15.36
Total saved: $412.92
Avoiding just five prepackaged foods amounted to saving more than a dollar a day. With $412.92 we could buy a salad spinner, a set of glass storage containers, and a dishwasher to help avoid more packaged foods in 2013. Yes!
All right, so the savings on salad dressing and cookie dough wasn’t as dramatic as I had hoped. But look at the savings in cinnamon sugar! What convenience foods are almost as convenient to make at home for you?
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.
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!