Monday, March 30, 2015

5+ Great Simple Ideas for Non-Food Easter Goodies

Happy Monday, guys! Can you believe Easter is in less than a week?? Today, I'm sharing a few simple ideas for Easter basket gifts, aside from the candy.

We keep the sweets at Easter to a minimum. Sure, we still enjoy a visit from the Easter Bunny, and our little man definitely gets his fill of candy (a small amount of organic from the Easter Bunny and some of the "traditional" stuff from his super generous grandmas), but as far as what he gets for the day, the candy isn't the main event.

We don't treat the holiday like the next coming of Christmas, either. It's a pretty low-key day for us. We have a couple of family events, so it's really all about the FUN FUN FUN rather than the STUFF STUFF STUFF.

That said, here are a few of our favorite non-food treats for H to find in his Easter basket that never get old:




Clockwise from top left:

Urban Infant Chunky Chalk - This will be the first year we take to the streets for some sidewalk graffiti, but isn't it fun?? Since spring is just around the corner for us (or already underway for some of you), Easter is an awesome excuse to give "think spring" gifts.

Ollie's Easter Egg - We have multiple of these Olivier Dunrea board books with feature various adorable fowl (chicks, geese, etc), but any books your little one will enjoy (Easter-related or not) will be fine. This is one area that I don't mind overdoing a bit. ;-)

Kids Tool Set - Another beckoning of springtime, these tools will allow the whole family to get their hands dirty this planting season. Yes, it's messy, but it's also incredibly fun, educational and rewarding. Toss in a couple of organic seed starter kits (from the $1 area at Target, score!) and up the excitement level.  

Zoe b Organic Fantastic Beach Toys - Any little beach toys or ball or pail will work, but we like to give any new "summertime fun" stuff at Easter time. Feel free to include a floppy hat and sunglasses if you want.

Melissa and Doug Sunny Patch Turtle Bubbles - We ALWAYS got bubbles (and jump rope, which Hadley's too small for yet) in our baskets. Even on the coldest Easter, we'd beg to go outside and blow a few bubbles. It was heaven when it was warm enough to actually do so, but most of our memories involve frozen fingers and very brief outdoor visits.  


A few more ideas...

Clothes
- I know, boring, but depending on the season (and if he's already got sneakers he's using or not), we'll include a pair of sneakers or sandals, and maybe one outfit. It's a fond memory of mine to have our white canvas "play" sneakers peeking out from the top of the basket.

Stuffed animals - We're not huge stuffed animal fans, so sometimes we'll reuse a forgotten little bunny or chick here and there. May not be able to do that for much longer, though. ;-)

Coloring books and crayons/markers/watercolor paints - This one's always a hit, especially if you buy a book with some favorite characters. ;-)

Play-Doh - I know it's not super eco-friendly, but just one new canister of a new color blows his mind. Sooooo, yeah.

A figurine of some sort - We're into the Fisher-Price Little People ones, so we'll grab one of the two-packs to fit in the basket if he doesn't have too much yet. We definitely try to keep tabs on how much he's getting!

I'm hoping to be back this week to share with you some food treats that the Easter bunny does bring. We're not complete monsters, y'know. ;-) They might just give you some new ideas of what to give your little ones!

Feel free to share any additions you'd like to make in the comments!

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Real Food Challenge Week #13

For 14 weeks, the family and I are undertaking a Real Food Challenge (put forth by the awesome 100 Days of Real Food blog). I'm hoping to check in about any struggles and successes along the way each week. Our ultimate goal is to cut down on our dependence on processed foods and start using some cleaner fuels to energize our bodies. And stuff.

So, here's how it works. I'll get an email every Thursday for the next 14 weeks (the actual eating challenge will start on Sunday or Monday for 7 days, so there are a couple of days of grocery prep built in). Each email outlines the "rules" for that particular week. It's up to each participant as to whether or not they'd like to try each week independently or build on top of the prior week. In other words, continuing doing the prior weeks while attempting the new weeks, if that makes sense. There's also a very active Facebook group (I've actually joined an offshoot that's super supportive and far more focused) that's there to share, answer and support.

*********************************************************

Review of Week #12: Fail. Complete fail. No do-over necessary; just accepting the "F". Since Lisa wrote that she didn't expect everyone to follow the "zero sugar, even natural" rule for the entire week, and to just become aware of how much sugar is in stuff, I suppose I could say we succeeded in becoming aware. But, seriously. I failed so hard I ate ice cream mid-week...and I don't eat ice cream much AT ALL (like, once during the winter maybe, then kick it up a bit in the summer, but that's it). So, yeah. I'd say if you added the random snack here or there that I made sugarless and the fact that almost every lunch and dinner had no sweetener, we did okay. But, in my heart of hearts, I know I failed.

We failed so hard that we ordered meals in. Twice. Between the illness in the family and my absolute lack of willpower, we got a pizza one day and actual "meals" another. We never do that. (At least we were supporting a local business, but it's by no means "local" food.) Perspective-wise, though, we haven't had McDonald's in over three years (H has NEVER had it), so I guess I shouldn't beat myself up too badly. Right? RIGHT?

Let's move on, shall we?

Week #13 Challenge: This week involves eating nothing artificial or unnatural whatsoever. This includes things that were created in a science lab over the last, say, century or so. For the most part, we're okay on this, except for the random granola bar or maybe cracker (although I might just have a brand that has all understandable, real ingredients - woohoo!) or organic gummies for Easter. I actually think Easter will be an "off limits" day, but the food will mostly be whole with the meals 'n stuff.

Oh, and H and I are on vacation this week and Dave will be done with his show, so meals will be a little looser and less structured. Yay!

And then we're on to week #14 and a review of the whole thing! I'm sure we're all kinda glad to see it end, but it opened my eyes in some ways (and in others just cemented our beliefs, for better or worse).

Here's our meal plan for the week (sorry no fancy graphic):
Breakfasts: oatmeal, toast w/pb or butter, fruit, yogurt, eggs, homemade pancakes
Lunches: Leftovers, salads, homemade soup, sandwich  
Snacks: Homemade popcorn, fruit, yogurt w/fruit, veggie sticks & hummus, cheese
Dinners: Pasta w/chicken, homemade pizza, paninis/grilled cheese; potato soup; homemade pizza; homemade chicken fingers; marinaded chicken breasts w/rice & veg    

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Homes Away From Home

We all have a place that we visit, eventually getting high off the thought of possibly moving there. It's usually totally ridiculous to dream about and beyond impractical, but it happens. Even Liz Lemon fell victim to it...
 


Well, we have our "favorite spots", too. We may love a place for its natural serenity, its bustling energy, its sustainable living practices, its cultural activity, or the very important fact that dear friends live there. Here are a few (very outlandish) dream places:

- Middlebury, VT - We visit here (almost) every year since first visiting on our honeymoon. It's a green (in more ways than one), great little college town in a state that makes it far easier to live sustainably and support local. Somehow, it provides a mix of modern with traditional "New England small town" charm, all in an adorable package. Of course, we know no one who lives in the vicinity, making a move not only implausible but incredibly alienating and lonely. Sigh.

- Ithaca, NY - Much like Middlebury, it's a "gorge-ous" college city with abnormally eco-friendly practices (especially for NYS). With a high-quality theater scene and the most hippies-per-capita in all of "upstate", it's practically a miniaturized Portland, Oregon. (That's a good thing for us.) I can't begin to list all the reasons we'll never move there, but it's a nice place to visit.

- Western Mass - Dave went to school here, so he may be biased (I shouldn't say that; I went to Oneonta and I have no intention of moving there ;-)), but he has some of the awesomest friends on Earth whom we love to visit. So, it would be worth the price of admission just to move and see them once in awhile, honestly. Add to it the fact that it's another "like-minded" place as far as local eats, organic and sustainable practices, and more, and it's a dream come true. Unfortunately, it's just not worth leaving our respective families and low cost of living. *wop wop*

- Concord, MA - Okay, a few of these are my dream whereas a few are more Dave's, so bear with me. Have you BEEN here? It's a step back in time, with many historical homes and well-kept historical and nature preserve sites (Hello! Walden Pond much?!). I'm fascinated by the transcendentalist movement and the life of Louisa May Alcott (and American history, of course), so when I tell my students I've visited her home, they tend to think I'm a stalker (then ask if it's haunted, of course). The place is just bursting with history, culture...and incredibly expensive housing. *scratches off list* 

- New York City - We've never said "I want to live here!" In fact, when we were in our dating stages visiting every 6 months or so, we looked in restaurant windows to see parents with kids and said, "Wow, I can't imagine raising children here." Between the noise and constant over-stimulation, the sheer cost is unthinkable. But, of course, not enough positive can be said about the place. So, when the time comes, we'll allow H and any future siblings tiny doses of over-stimulation. ;-) 

- The Adirondacks - Here's another one that's all me and pretty much 2% Dave. Maybe 0%, who knows? While we're relatively close to the majestic Adirondack mountain range and park, we rarely ever utilize the place, going maybe once a year (like the year I went camping for a couple of days with my family or our Old Forge visits). The Adirondacks are the total opposite of NYC, with their constant barrage of peace and quiet, natural wonder, outdoor activities, and, yes, more history. (Although NY has quite a bit of history, it's modern to the max.) Again, it's pretty darn expensive (unless you pick a less popular lake) to get even a shabby camp, and I'm admittedly a pretty crappy swimmer to be utilizing a lake, anyway, but for the gentle calm, fun and exercise of canoeing and hiking, and animal encounters? I'd take it. Plus, what better way is there to raise a child? 

- Cooperstown, NY - This is by far the closest "home away from home" for us. Every once in awhile, we take the drive out for their Saturday (indoor!) farmers' market, random event (like their annual Candlelight Evening I've mentioned several times), or just to grab a deli lunch and head down to picnic by the lake. It's another diamond-in-the-rough: rich literary history (no, really), incredible museums (sure, baseball, but so much more), picturesque scenery and perfect "Andy Hardy old-school town" vibe, plus an incredibly active group of people working to make the place as good as it can be. If I ever make millions of dollars writing the next big American novel, we're movin' there. 

What's YOUR "home away from home"? I'd love to hear your favorite spot(s)!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Beatles Songs for Toddlers

You wouldn't think the words "toddler" and "Beatles" belong in the same sentence, right? Well, in our house, they do. We're pretty big on educating our little guy that there's a wider world past his Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (not that there's anything wrong with that...in doses). He already enjoys a variety of classical music (he can actually name numerous composers by song), 1940s big band, and 1960s/'80s pop. 

So, given that Dave and I are big Beatles fans, it was only a matter of time before our Pandora listening with the little guy started showing the Fab Four. But, better yet? While listening to some Beatles recently, I rediscovered that they're not all psychedelic storytelling and upbeat love songs. There are actually some valuable life lessons that can found within those awesome, timeless tunes.


Hello, Goodbye - Ohhhh, disagreements. Obstinence. It's all part of a toddler's daily to-do list. (Sad but true.) I love the lyrics in this song for so many reasons, but particularly in the idea of opposites. You could use this song with children simply to point out the opposites ("you say yes, I say no..."). A fun spin on an argumentative tune!  

We Can Work It Out - Another song about getting along with others. My favorite line? "Life is very short and there's no time for fussing and fighting, my friend." Preach, brothers.

Blackbird - Perfect lullaby, and although it's actually about racial tensions in the South in the 1960s, kids can take it in the more literal sense and still find beauty. Even after great pain, we can fly and thrive.

Yellow Submarine - What's better than a little drinking shanty to sing with your kiddos? I actually sang (and loved) this song in kindergarten (even better than "What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor"). It's actually a fun song that seems to build friendships and solidarity between the singers. See also - Octopus's Garden

Good Day Sunshine - What an upbeat, happy song! Why not spread the joy?

Here Comes the Sun - Similar to Good Day Sunshine, this is a sweet love song that perfectly describes the coming of spring. Great for teaching seasons!

Penny Lane - Just a fun story of an English street set to music, but great for the imagination.

All You Need is Love - This is my mantra for life and was the "closing song" at our wedding reception, so of course I'd love for H to be exposed to such an epic tune. Definitely helpful with creating peaceful minds.

If You Want to Push the Boundaries... 

Here are a few that, if you think they'll go over your child's head (which, in general, they will), you can try. Otherwise skip over them and assume I'm a bad parent. Go ahead!

All Together Now - A super adorable, upbeat song about child playtime listing numbers and colors along the way. Let's just hope the kids don't ask to take their friends to bed.

With a Little Help from My Friends - Okay...if you're a family who's not shy about nudity ("I can't show you but I know it's mine") and you can explain that getting "high" means lifting your spirits, you're golden. Or not, up to you. ;-)

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite - I can't say that any of the lyrics are questionable here (it describes carnival-like festivities), but the minor key and general "strangeness" of the melody might scare some children. Our son, however, has a preference for minor keys and finds nothing scary about them.

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds - Considering this "technically" came from the mind of John's son and "allegedly" NOT about an acid trip, maybe your little one would appreciate the silly lyrics and imaginative happenings. Seriously, keep your kids away from Sgt. Pepper's if you're not into this one.

What do you think? Would you add any songs I haven't included? What's your favorite music to listen to with the kiddos?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Real Food Challenge - Week #12

For 14 weeks, the family and I are undertaking a Real Food Challenge (put forth by the awesome 100 Days of Real Food blog). I'm hoping to check in about any struggles and successes along the way each week. Our ultimate goal is to cut down on our dependence on processed foods and start using some cleaner fuels to energize our bodies. And stuff.

So, here's how it works. I'll get an email every Thursday for the next 14 weeks (the actual eating challenge will start on Sunday or Monday for 7 days, so there are a couple of days of grocery prep built in). Each email outlines the "rules" for that particular week. It's up to each participant as to whether or not they'd like to try each week independently or build on top of the prior week. In other words, continuing doing the prior weeks while attempting the new weeks, if that makes sense. There's also a very active Facebook group (I've actually joined an offshoot that's super supportive and far more focused) that's there to share, answer and support.


Review of Week #11: This past week has all about "going local." I totally love the idea of it. While the suggestion was originally to eat one local thing per meal, it was far too challenging for many of us still dealing with cold temps and snow flurries (our CSAs and full-time farmers' markets don't start until May, and even them tend to have slim pickings). So, "at least once a day" it was. We hit up an indoor FM Saturday morning, which saved our bums. Local, grassfed beef made a stew that lasted us Sunday and Monday, locally milled and baked bread (sourdough, mmm) helped with breakfasts, eggs fit the bill several ways, and some local spinach and onions helped localize our salads.

I'd love to try this throughout the summer months! A fun challenge to eat as much local food as possible. ;-)

Week #12 Challenge: Well, we only have a few weeks left and, of course, the challenges are mounting. Next week is all about eliminating ALL SUGARS, whether naturally occurring or not (even maple syrup and honey, which have been my saving grace). I've decided to opt Hadman out of this one since he doesn't eat "sugary" foods on the average (zero candy, maybe a little in his organic cereal bars yogurt unless I'm packing it with maple syrup). I don't need to put him through the misery.

While we were actually told that we didn't HAVE to do the whole week (suggesting that we try a couple of days and just recognize how challenging it can be to find ANYTHING without sugar), we're going to try our best to see how much we can do. This will be relatively easy for my husband, but darn near horrible for me. I'm pretty sure I have a "sweetener addiction" (not necessarily straight sugar since honey and maple syrup have worked fine for me), and I don't quite feel ready to say "goodbye" forever. I'm sure I'll feel healthier...but I may feel hungrier, which definitely never helps the situation.

I'll be trying naked herbal teas, toast for breakfast...but my favorite snack of the day (whole plain yogurt which I usually add berries and maple syrup to) will sacrifice and, dare I say, probably won't be eaten at all. Which sucks. Also, bought some Larabars, which aren't organic but...I'll try them. I've got my doubts. I've stocked up on fruits, veggies, local breads (not made with sugar), nuts, and Dave will make some homemade popcorn...any other suggestions are terribly welcome!!!! Breakfast will be carb-laden, as you can see...