Digging Dirt! Helping Kids Connect with the Earth
April 21, 2011 at 6:00 am
It’s Earth Day tomorrow! Are you ready to celebrate?
If you have kids, one way to honor Earth Day is to help them get a little closer to Mother Earth by spending some time with dirt!
There have been several studies published recently that say that dirt is actually really good for kids:
And then there are the benefits that go along with dirt: if a child is playing in the dirt, they are probably outside. And just being outside has lots of benefits – fresh air, sunshine and Vitamin D to name a few.
(And that other one — have you ever noticed how well kids sleep at night when they get lots of time outside during the day?)
Unstructured outside play is so important for kids. If you are looking for inspiration for getting outside, Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods” is a favorite of mine. He discusses what he has termed “Nature Deficit Disorder” and the effect it is having on today’s generation of children.
But as Louv talks about, nature isn’t necessarily available anymore the way it was a few decades ago. So for a lot of parents, the struggle is coming up with ways to help their children connect with nature.
I am one of those parents for sure. We have a small urban lot for a back yard, and live downtown. We do have a tree, but pretty much everything else we have to work at!
And so, we :
- have a garden
- feed the birds and squirrels
- built a sand area
- kept logs for play after a tree fell in our yard
We try to do nature-related projects and bring nature inside to encourage the connection.
We also like to go on outdoor adventures.
We love to:
- play in the creek
- visit the pond
- dig for bugs and worms
- and hit the playground
But sometimes I need some inspiration for getting dirty. I am not naturally an outdoorsy-type-person (although I am trying to raise some).
Some favorite resources are Let’s Go Outside and I Love Dirt. We also have a collection of nature guides. We’ve found the books at used book sales and online and try not to pay a lot for them, but I find that the more we learn, the more connected we all feel to that great big world out there!
So I am looking forward to spending Earth Day in nature with my kiddos. I will try not to worry about getting dirty — wearing old clothes and rainboots or other weather appropriate gear makes this easier — and instead focus on connecting with the planet where we make our home. How lucky we are that it can be our playground!
Looking for more ways to get outside?
Download this free Nature Club for Families kit.
And please share your ideas for helping kids connect with nature in the comments below!
A couple of fun Earth Day announcements:
First, tomorrow I am going to announce a really cool Earth Day give-away from I’m Organic. So stop by in the morning to sign up!
Also, for those in the Madison (Wisconsin) area, sign up for LivingSocial today if you are not already a member. I’m Organic is featured with a $12 for $25 deal!!
MYO: Spring Basket
April 12, 2011 at 6:00 am
We have a lot of stuff growing here right now.
Ellery told our friend at the library the other day that we now have 19 pets. I felt it important to clarify that 12 of those are worms and caterpillars. Four more are fish.
So I wanted to spend the first part of this week catching you up on some of the stuff we are growing here.
And today I’d like to talk about our baskets. We started these a few days ago using wheat berries.
(To do this project at home you’ll also need a basket; some kind of thin plastic — cling wrap is an option, or an old bag, or anything else you can recycle; potting soil and a spray bottle filled with water.)
The berries need to be soaked for 24 hours before planting. On the day you begin your basket, line the bottom with a thin piece of plastic and fill about half-way up with potting soil. Then sprinkle the wheat berries on top.
(Depending on the ages of the kids, an adult might want to make sure that the berries form a nice, even layer).
Then spray the basket with water and cover with plastic to make a “greenhouse” for the first 24 hours.
After that, keep your wheatberry basket in the sun (outside is great, but when we started ours it was kind of cold so we kept the baskets near a window and gradually introduced them to the outdoors) and keep the soil pretty damp.
In about 10 days, you’ll have tall grass. You can use the basket for Easter (and use real grass instead of plastic grass), or as a spring basket (you could mix in a few flower seeds too), or you can cut the grass and blend it into a smoothie (it’s wheatgrass!), or, if you have a cat, your cat will love it.
We have two of those as well, by the way.
Number 19 is a dog, but he ate one of our eggshell gardens, so I am listing him last so he knows what all that ranting and arm waving was about last week.
What Does Hummus Have to do with Jelly Doughnuts? I’ll Get There.
April 5, 2011 at 6:00 am
We ate at a place last year during a time when we weren’t able to eat at restaurants much. But it was Mother’s Day, and my lovely family took me to a fun restaurant that featured more than House Salads and french fries as its vegetarian fare.
Even with all our restrictions, including wheat, dairy and several others, as well as me and my flesh-avoiding leanings, we had the most wonderful festive meal.
But the very best part was the appetizer. I know — the appetizer is supposed to just be a tiny blip compared to the entree, but that first bite of hummus was so good, we almost ordered a second plate.
Hummus is one of my very favorite foods. I eat a lot of it, my kids love it. It is a picnic standard for us, along with carrot sticks or anything else that forms a proper dipper (pepper strips, crackers, pita chips, etc.)
For a long time, I wondered why my hummus wasn’t as good as the stuff other people made. I think I recently figured it out. I was afraid of water.
Sure, that’s a silly confession to make. Afraid of water? But my concern was that adding water would mess with the flavor and make it runny. (Not adding water makes it a semi-solid clay-like mass.)
Following that restaurant visit, I also had another idea — that maybe I didn’t need to add quite so much garlic, and instead, I could add a little paprika.
So what follows is a recipe for one of our favorite snacks, lunches, appetizers … pretty much anything but breakfast, although I’ve considered that too. We really love to serve it with homemade naan, so I’ll include that recipe as well!
Hummus with Paprika
(this isn’t an exact recipe as you can see, but what you are looking for is a nice “whipped” consistency; taste for flavor and adjust)
about two cups cooked chickpeas
a clove of garlic
a handful of fresh parsley
a little olive oil
a tablespoon of tahini
a pinch or two of salt
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
a little shake of paprika
water (I like to add just a little at a time)
Put everything in the bowl of a food processor and mix until you get a light, “fluffy” consistency. Serve with carrots, pita squares or anything else dippable.
(my kids love me to heat this up the next day for breakfast and top with butter and jam — they call it “Naan Toast” and I think it tastes a little like a jelly doughnut)
1/2 cup water
1 small container plain yogurt
3 tbsp melted butter
2 tsp evaporated cane juice or sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 to 4 cups flour
(we used a mix of unbleached spelt flour and whole spelt flour; wheat works too)
2 tsp yeast
Mix yeast, water and sugar in a large bowl. Add 3 cups flour, yogurt, butter and salt. Mix well to combine. Move to countertop and knead. You may need to add more flour. When the dough is smooth, place in a bowl and cover until dough doubles in size, about an hour.
When it comes time to cook, melt a little coconut oil in a small pan. Warm up a large skillet. Form dough into circles (we usually get 6 to 8 circles). Brush with coconut oil and cook on one side until it get nice and brown; brush other side with coconut oil and flip.
Are you celebrating Earth Hour?
March 26, 2011 at 6:00 am
A small break in format this week (Very Good Week links will be back next Saturday) to ask you if you are taking part in Earth Hour this year.
It’s pretty easy in theory — turn off your lights for one hour between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m in your time zone.
I like the idea of Earth Hour for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it is a reminder that little things do make a big difference, especially when we work together.
So tonight as my husband and I are putting two little ones to bed, we’ll read stories by candlelight or flashlight. The kids will love it, I think. It may begin a new night time ritual!
Will you be celebrating Earth Hour this year?
Green Spring Cleaning:Part 1 Essential Oils and All-Purpose Spray
March 18, 2011 at 6:00 am
Earth Day is only 6 weeks away, and leading up to this important environmental celebration, I’d like to spend the next few Fridays talking about green cleaning tips and recipes for homemade cleaners.
Green cleaning has really taken off in the past few years. Many companies like Seventh Generation have been producing environmentally-friendly cleaners for a long time, but some like Clorox have more recently jumped on the bandwagon.
But not all green cleaners (or the companies that sell green cleaners) are created equal. Because of that, and to save money, we like to make our own as often as possible.
We do still invest in some plant-based store-bought cleaning products occasionally. But we have found that by keeping baking soda, vinegar, castille soap, borax, washing soda and essential oils and a few other products on hand, we can make much of what we use.
To get started, you really only need a few supplies. The ones listed above are the big ones. You’ll also need some clean bottles and jars. We use some recycled spray bottles, but you can purchase new ones if you need them. Most of our jars formerly held pickles or coconut oil. I would say that I like the nod to vinegar and coconut-based surfactants, but really, those are just two things we buy in jars!
So once you assemble your ingredients, it’s as easy as mixing up a batch of cleaner and using it for its intended purpose.*
When I wrote about green cleaning a few weeks ago some of you asked if I was going to talk about using essential oils in cleaning. Yes, I am! So I wanted to touch on that a bit before I jump into a recipe for a basic spray-cleaner.
I love using essential oils in lots of areas around our house. They can be really powerful (so again, dilute well, and make sure you give oils the respect they deserve). Also, any time you use oils, you want to look for high-quality essential oils. You never want to use fragrance oils in cleaning. I actually avoid them entirely because most of the time they are just chemicals. Make sure you buy from a reputable company that harvests and processes oils sustainably and safely.
Some big ones I use for cleaning include:
- Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is amazing stuff. It is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti just about anything else you DON’T want in your home. It has super sanitizing power and is really affordable. It is featured in a lot of the recipes I plan to talk about.
- Eucalyptus oil: Like its buddy tea tree, it has some amazing purification properties. It is great for cold and flu season, when your house has a funk that really must die.
- Lavender oil: Smells great. Bring a peaceful and relaxing aroma to cleaning, and it balances out other oils like tea tree (which can be a little “who groomed a horse in here?”)
- Lemon or orange oil: Smells “clean.” Balances out strong oils well. When diluted carefully, it can be great for cleaning wood and making it shine.
- Peppermint oil: Smells great and acts as a natural pest deterrent. We often buy peppermint castille soap for use in cleaning recipes.
So the following is the all-purpose spray cleaner we often mix up on weekends. Like most all-purpose cleaners, it is great for counter-tops, floors, bathrooms and surfaces. We don’t use it on unfinished wood or carpeting or to clean mirrors, but I promise to talk about all those things soon!
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1 tsp borax (available in the laundry aisle)
1 tsp peppermint castille soap
2 cups hot water
1/4 tsp of either tea tree or eucalyptus oil
1/4 tsp of lavender oil
Mix in a spray bottle and shake well. Clean! (Use a dish towel or old rag — these cleaners won’t destroy your cleaning towels, so there’s not need to use paper towels unless there is cat vomit or something involved. Then you get a free pass!)
In the coming weeks, I’m going to be talking about greening your laundry room, bathroom, kitchen and lots of other areas of your house. So come back each week!
And don’t forget about I’m Organic’s Earth Day gear — I’m a big fan of the new design and of spreading the Earth Day word!
* Cleaning caution: Like with any new cleaning product, you might want to test your cleaner in an inconspicuous place first. Practice common-sense caution around kids and pets. Don’t eat natural cleaners, drink natural cleaners or spray them in your eyes. But you knew that already. Finally, always, always label your home-made cleaners really well to avoid confusion. And keep them somewhere safe. You just never know. Carry-on!
Some fun ways to go green today!
March 17, 2011 at 6:00 am
Growing up, if I didn’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, I got a pinch from family members. We still embrace this “green” holiday – here are some fun ways to make it earth-friendly:
- Buy an aloe plant. It will help purify the oxygen in your home. Aloe plants also help treat burns, and I hear they are really, really hard to kill.
- Go on a leprechaun hunt. March weather can be great for taking kids on a hike. Help them to spot leprechauns or, you know, anything green (because that’s a sign of spring!)
- Bring something green (or natur-y) inside. Anything will do — a cool twig; an interesting rock – these tables sure are nice.
- Make some green pasta.
- Try this oat-based natural face mask.
- Treat yourself to something green. I’m loving the new Earth Day design on this I’m Organic tote. They are limited edition, so order one before they are all gone!
How do you plan to let your green show this St. Patrick’s Day?
MYO: (Green!) Finger Paint
March 16, 2011 at 6:00 am
It’s gooey. It’s green (both in color, and because it is natural). It’s finger paint, and it’s not just for the tiniest kiddos anymore.
There are lots and lots of fun projects you can do using your kids’ fingerprints (check out this great book) – they’ll love it, and it if you date the project and store it away, you’ll have a lasting reminder of your little one’s small hands.
You can use stamps and store-bought paints to do these kinds of projects, but to make this Saint Patrick’s Day picture extra “green,” mix up a batch of do-it-yourself finger paint:
2 tbsp sugar
2 cups cold water
1/2 cup cornstarch
In a medium pot over low heat, mix sugar and cornstarch and then slowly add in water. Stir until blended. You can then divide the mix into small bowls and stir in food coloring so you can make more than one color.
In order to make the shamrock designs, create a smiley face and have your child “stamp” a fingerprint on top of the face and below that print off to each side. Or wait for the wet paint to dry and add details.
Posted in (activities with kids
,mix it up
) by KaraComments (4)
Vegan Shamrock Cupcakes with Avocado Icing
March 11, 2011 at 6:00 am
I’ve never been really into those books that teach you how to sneak healthy stuff into treats. I feel like as one of those famous cookbook names states, it’s a little deceptive.
But I’m also blessed with two veggie loving kids. If I had a child who literally would not eat anything green, I very well might reconsider.
So the cupcakes I am going to talk about today are not a ploy to get your kids to eat avocados. There is so little avocado and so much sugar, that I’m not sure it would be worth the effort if the only reason for making them was to mainline some Vitamin A into your tot.
But they are fun, they are delicious, and yes, they are a slightly healthified treat.(They are still a pretty big treat around here — I’m talking 3/4 cups of sugar after all!)
We made them for the first time a few years ago. We’ve changed the actual cake recipe a few times, but finally found a really moist citrusy cake that compliments the avocado icing really well.
If you find them too citrusy, you can use a vanilla cupcake base. That’s what we used to do and they were tasty as all get-out too.
A note about the icing:We don’t use food coloring here (except for the all-natural $9 a bottle kind once in a while … a rare while), so this icing is just to add a little shamrocky green. It is a loose icing. You could certainly add a bunch more sugar to tighten it up, but we just put on a light smear of the stuff and everything works out fine.
A note about making the cupcakes: As I stated above, the cake recipe doesn’t really matter. You could use any favorite recipe. But only fill the muffin cups about 2/3 full so they don’t puff over the sides and lose their shape. Also, you need three aluminum foil balls per cupcake, so roll them ahead of time. I just cut foil into small pieces and get my kiddos to help (be careful, though, foil can be sharp.)
Oh, and did I mention Happy St. Patrick’s Day?
Vegan Citrus Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups flour (we used white spelt)
3/4 cup evaporated cane juice crystals or sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/3 cup light olive oil
zest of one organic orange (organic is really important here because you are using the zest, but feel free to substitute store-bought orange juice in place of fresh squeezed)
2 large avocados
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp lemon extract
confectioner’s sugar (around two cups is good. I keep adding until I get a nice icing consistency.)
Prepare muffin tins in advance with paper liners. Have aluminum foil balls at the ready, but don’t use them until the batter is in the liners.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add all dry ingredients and mix together. Add juice, oil and zest.
Transfer batter to muffin cups right away and place three foil balls around each muffin cup creating a shamrockin’ shape.
Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched.
Scoop out avocado and use that pit to make plant. In a clean bowl mix avocado and lemon juice. Mix using a whisk attachment. Beat until the avocado is smooth. Add lemon extract and about a cup of confectioner’s sugar. Beat until combined. Keep adding sugar until you get a consistency you like. We usually use around 2 cups, but for a tighter frosting-like consistency, use more.
Frost cupcakes and add an herb stem for looks. Spinach stems work well too. You need to find some use for those guys.
Have a healthy and fun St. Patrick’s Day!!
Celebrating Earth Day the I’m Organic way!
March 10, 2011 at 6:00 am
Around here, we start planning for Earth Day early. Whether it’s planting seedlings; helping to clean-up a favorite park; or figuring out the best route for an Earth Day hike, we love celebrating the day and all it stands for.
For many of us, “Every day is Earth Day,” but for some folks, the day passes right by unnoticed.
What better way to offer a subtle reminder to reduce, reuse and recycle, and embrace this environmental day than with I’m Organic’s new limited edition Earth Day T-shirt?
I’m so excited to have one of these guys on its way soon. And, I am already getting excited about talking about Earth Day! We are planning lots of posts about ideas, projects, and ways you can celebrate Earth Day in your home and community.
But I’d love to know what you want to see! What sorts of Earth Day posts would you like to read? Do you have an Earth Day story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear how you make Earth Day special in your world.
So fill us in in the comments below, and hurry and order a 100 percent organic cotton shirt (or bag!) today.
Like all I’m Organic shirts and bags, they are made in the USA using Earth-friendly water-based inks and only 100 percent organic cotton. Shipping starts March 22, and supplies are limited, so order now and start your celebration a little early this year!
Breakdown of a (Spelt Berry Pancake) Yes Day
February 28, 2011 at 6:00 am
I decided the night before that my kid deserved a Yes Day.
You’ve heard of these, right?
The concept is simple — you just say yes, or even just not no, as much as possible (factoring in safety and other real-life concerns) throughout the course of a day.
It’s a good reminder of how often, as parents, we find ourselves saying no or stop, or not now, or get down, or in some way discouraging normal kid business.
My son turned 7 this past Saturday, and it seemed like a little extra gift I could give him to say yes as much as possible that day … and this is how it went:
A little before 8 My son wakes and I tell him Happy Birthday. (Perhaps I sang a little. Just a little.)
“Can we have a ticklefight?” he asks.
He proceeds to jump on my head 25 or 30 times. It ends when I rip his socks off and tickle his feet and he can’t stop giggling, so he calls a time-out for breakfast.
8:30 “Mom, can we have waffles with strawberries and blueberries today?”
Well … I respond, usually on your birthday we have pancakes with blueberries, so we actually don’t have strawberries. (Not a no.)
“OK. I forgot!” he says.
9 a.m. “Mom, can we do the egg experiment?”
I put an egg in a jar of vinegar. It literally takes less than a minute. (The kids check on this project at least 10 times throughout the day and they laugh and jump every time.)
9:15 a.m.“Mom, can we play Qwirkle?” (Which he received as a gift for his birthday, but we hadn’t actually played yet.)
Um … yeah … just let me read the directions.
9:45 I actually figure out how to play the game correctly.
9:50 “Mom, can I put this piece here?”
Uh … I think it says to build on like this instead. That isn’t a no, is it?
11:30 “Can we have pizza for lunch?”
(A year ago I would have HAD to have said no because of dietary restrictions, so this is a hearty yes.)
12:30 He runs some errands with his dad. I stay home and look at the things we will be learning in the next few weeks. I try to imagine saying yes more to the things that interest him, even if they aren’t on “the list.”
More Geronimo Stilton books? Yes. More animal study? Yes. Buying him a bird whistle? Why not.
2 p.m. He returns home. “Mom, can I look up baseball stuff on the computer about the ball I got for my birthday?”
Well … not everything on the Internet is always OK for kids. How about if when Daddy has a minute he can help you and until then you can work on your book?
“Yeah! That sounds like a good idea!”
3 p.m. “Mom, will you play with us?”
We play with logs and animals and their little houses. I realize it has been days since I have sat on the floor and played. Last week was so hectic – dentist appointments and doctor’s appointments, playdates and general busyness. Has it been a week since we have played? Even for a few minutes?
“Mom, you are in SUCH a good mood today,” he says as I make a sign for the animal tower.
And I see that he’s right. He’s definitely right.
5 p.m. “Mom, can we go anywhere I want for dinner?” he asks. “Can we get ice cream too?”
Whoa. Last year at this time, we ate steamed vegetables and plain rice noodles in a little Thai place. When the owner offered a birthday dessert, we had to decline because of allergies.
Still, this is dangerous territory.
But birthdays come once a year …
Yup. Anywhere you want.
He chooses burritos and ice cream for dessert.
But when we get to the ice cream shop, he is overwhelmed with options.
“Can I get 3 kinds?” he asks.
How about one kind today. (We compromise at two.)
“Can I get anything I want on top?” he asks.
How about just one thing … but pick a good one.
He asks to try my ice cream.
(I remember how last week when we got sushi rolls he saved one of each kind for me — a little kindness that came so unexpectedly. It was such a 7 kind of thing to do.)
8 p.m. We are home. It is almost bed time, and we go upstairs to put on pajamas.
“Mom,” he says, with a mischievous look in his eye. “Wanna wrestle?!”
He dives at me and I realize he might get riled up right before bed …
But then again — maybe he won’t.
Ahhhhhh! I scream as he tackles me.
A little while later he climbs on my back and we head downstairs. He takes his vitamins, and drinks a cup of peppermint tea. And then he brushes his teeth without a discussion about the merits of dental hygiene.
We say goodnight, and he heads upstairs.
But before he goes, I ask him something I have been wondering about all day:
So … did you have a good birthday today?
“Yes!” he smiles, and I can tell that it’s true.
So did I, kid. We’re going to have to do this more often.
Owen’s Spelt Berry Breakfast Pancakes
1 cup whole spelt flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
2 tablespoons evaporated cane juice (or sugar)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup almond milk (or any milk)
2 tablespoons light oil
1 cup blueberries
Mix dry ingredients together and stir well. Add in egg, milk and oil, and mix thoroughly. Carefully fold in blueberries. (If batter seems too thick, add a little more milk to thin it out.)
Grease pan with a small amount of light oil. Pour 1/4 cup of batter into pan. Cook pancake until it bubbles, and flip. Continue to cook until both sides are golden brown and pancake is cooked through. Repeat with rest of batter.
Serve on birthday mornings (or any other happy day!).