31 October 2011

Halloween Festivities Preview

How appropriate that Halloween falls on a Monday this year and we're planning a sustainable celebration! Thanks for visiting the final October installment of Green Means Go(od)! What are you doing for Halloween this year?

Halloween festivities to be complete with a homemade costume, a re-used costume and homemade pumpkin, chocolate chip cupcakes.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to actually comment on our Halloween festivities until later today, but I wanted to give preview for my final October installment of Green Means Go(od).

We're all but finished with Benny's Halloween costume. The helmet and jet pack have been painted, the space suit has been assembled and the snow boots have been temporarily renamed the moon boots. Lila is lucky to have a hand-me-down costume from Maggie, who contributed to Green Means Go(od) earlier this month.

After making Benny's costume, I wondered if it really was cheaper and more environmentally conscious to make it ourselves. Here's the rundown:
  • NASA T-shirt: $12
  • Blue sweatpants: $5
  • Silver spray paint: $2.50
  • Red duct tape: $5
  • Papier mache helmet, personalized: $1 (the helmet was a re-used snack container with sparkly letters for personalization)
  • Jet pack with NASA sticker: $4 (the jet pack was a re-used snack container that we sprayed silver)
  • Moon boots: No cost
  • Orange paper to make fake "fire" from jet pack: $1
Grand total: $30.50

However, I bought the t-shirt and the sweatpants as actual articles of clothing that Benny will wear again (over and over), so I'm going to subtract $17 from the total. That makes the costume a whopping $13.50. Plus, I feel good about re-using a plastic tub and newspaper and re-purposing a T-shirt, pants and snow boots. And we can use the tape and sparkly letters for other art projects (Benny has already made party favors for his friends by spelling their names in sparkly letters).

On the menu for our potluck sustainable celebration tonight: salad, butternut squash soup and homemade mac cheese. For dessert: pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. Here's a preview of those delicious morsels (with pumpkin from the garden!)...

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 2/3 cups flour (I used half whole wheat, half white)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. all spice (or I used nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon in a pinch)

Mix the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, mix the liquids:

1 cup chocolate chips
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup melted butter (I substituted olive oil because I was out of butter)

Mix all the ingredients together and spoon into greased cupcake pan (no cupcake liners here!). Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz. cream cheese
4 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar

Use electric mixer to mix the first four ingredients together. Slowly add the powdered sugar. Frost the pumpkin chocolate chip cupcakes and you have a seasonal yummy Halloween treat!

Happy Halloween!

26 October 2011

The First Snow

The forecast for today was snow, snow, snow. Benny has been counting down the days since we found out it was going to snow today. When he woke up this morning, I told him to look outside. He was BEYOND excited and proceeded to tell me about everything that was covered in snow: the fence, the pinwheels, the houses, the grass, the trees. He had a hard time focusing on eating breakfast because all he wanted to do was talk about snow. There was snow all over the garden, the slide, the cars... Really, I got to hear about everything that was covered in snow.

After spending a solid 10 minutes bundling everyone up, we walked outside and Benny approached the stairs tentatively. I asked if he wanted help and he said no. As I was strapping Lila into her car seat, I heard Benny say, "Mama! This is soooo fun. Watch me!" He was just walking down the steps with his boots on, but he was in total nirvana.

Which made my bad attitude about the snow melt pretty quickly. I've never been a big fan of snow or cold. I don't like to ski. I'm not a huge sledding fan. I detest getting bundled up (although I do love scarves - one point for snow and cold). However, watching Benny's enthusiasm made me realize that maybe I should take a moment and just enjoy things, instead of instantly writing them off as incredibly inconvenient. Having kids has made me pause and rethink a lot of my attitudes about all sorts of subjects.

However, I will say that I don't like snow and cold for a very practical reason. I'm not much of a cold weather runner. Anything below 40 degrees and I'm paralyzed inside. And I'm far too lazy to find a winter weather sport. Extra fat isn't all that bad in the winter, I guess. Less to bundle up...

Oh, and speaking of firsts, Lila has taken her first steps! She started about a week ago. She's not too sure on her feet, but gets more courage every day. She typically sticks to three or four steps at a time. She's pretty proud of herself. And I'm pretty happy that I get to watch it happen!

23 October 2011

Visions of Halloween

Thanks for visiting Green Means Go(od) this week! A brief update on homemade costume adventures:

Candy, check. NASA shirt, check. Blue sweatpants, check. Silver spray paint, check. "Moon" boots, check. Papier mache helmet, still under construction (round two)...

After realizing that the first round of papier mache was not going to work, I reluctantly started over. We tried the helmet on Benny's head yesterday and it only hit his nose. It wasn't a very convincing helmet for a space ranger. The second try is looking much better. Once we spray it silver, to match the jet pack on his back, I think he will pass as an astronaut. So, if you didn't already guess Benny's costume, there you have it.

We have one week to get this costume put together. Luckily the candy is taken care of. So much for buying "sustainable," healthy candy. Benny and I were at Target this weekend and when i saw big bags for sale, I let him pick out what he wanted to use for trick or treaters. It was amazing to see how much candy was for sale. No wonder Americans consume so much sugar every year!
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18 October 2011

All the Right Signs

Lila is signing! We almost gave up on the signs, and then she did it! She started with a strange rendition of milk (squeezing the air like you're squeezing a cow's udder - I'm not kidding). Yesterday, she was sitting in her booster, watching Benny and his friend Toby play. She started waving her hands and screaming "aaaa doooo!" (All done.) And that's it, she's signing! Just before 13 months.

Benny was the same way. We nearly gave up signing to him, when he started signing back at around 14 months. Signing is such a cool thing to teach babies and toddlers. Lila still does her fair share of sqealing and pointing when she wants something, but now she can start signing! Benny could sign nearly 50 words by the time he was talking consistently.

Oh, and this is completely unrelated, but as soon as I saw these boots, I knew all the signs were right to buy them. I really need to stop buying boots. But these are just so great...

17 October 2011

Scrumptious Pumpkin Bread

Last night Benny helped me make my third batch of pumpkin bread. We've got to use these pumpkins up and I can only make so much bread, soup, and pie before we're sick of all things pumpkin. My friend, Amanda, sent me this scrumptious pumpkin bread recipe. She always comes through! Check out her blog, The Rhythm of Cooking, for many more great recipes! And try this pumpkin bread recipe. It's simply delish!

Scrumptious Pumpkin Bread
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup nut oil, such as walnut or almond or
    sunflower seed oil (I use coconut oil, but good olive oil would work too!)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I use whole wheat)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (bump this up if you love cinnamon)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pitted dates


Preheat an oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a bowl, whisk together the sugar, pumpkin puree, eggs and oil until smooth, about 1 minute.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth and well combined, 1 to 2 minutes. The batter will be thick. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the dates just until evenly distributed, no more than a few strokes. Do not overmix. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until the top is browned and crusty and develops a long center crack, 60 to 70 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf should come out clean.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Unmold the loaf onto the rack and let cool completely. Serve at room temperature, cut into thick slices. Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf.

16 October 2011

Homemade Halloween Costume, Part One

Happy Monday and welcome to the third installment of the Sustainable Celebrations portion of Green Means Go(od). The rest of the month will be dedicated to writing about my struggles (and hopefully ultimate successes) in making my first homemade Halloween costume.

Benny decided what he wanted to be for Halloween early this year. As soon as he said it, I knew it would be a real challenge to make from scrap. But, I got a few good ideas and I'm moving forward. I'm not going to divulge what that costume will be, but I bet you have a pretty good guess (go ahead, guess!).

The costume includes papier mache. I've never made anything out of papier mache. I'm fairly certain using whole wheat flour was a mistake, but there's no turning back now! I'll have more clues about the costume in next week's Green Means Go(od)! Until then...

15 October 2011

Book Review: Pretty

I have been trying to get more involved in the blog community. I've learned some amazing things and follow some really cool people (I think). I first learned about Jillian Lauren after reading one of her columns in the New York Times "Modern Love" column (Finding a Marriage Without Losing a Self). I have read all of the Modern Love columns, and have never followed up on an author. However, Jillian's story prodded me to. I found her blog and instantly liked her story.

In the year or so that I've been following her blog, she's published two books. One of her posts was a giveaway for a autographed copy of her new book, Pretty. And I won! If this blog stalking isn't worth anything else, it's worth a free copy of a book.

I just finished the book. I didn't realize that it would be another book about addiction (see my Beautiful Boy review). The story is about Bebe after she's hit rock bottom and is about finished with rehab. She followed a musician to California from Toledo, Ohio, did a bunch of drugs, and was with him when he crashed their car and died. It's a good book and a compelling story. I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the Bebe character. I didn't really relate much with her pain. It would have been helpful to know about her history with depression and how it impacted her present circumstances.

In terms of a truthful and respectful story about one person's story with mental illness, it's pretty good. One chapter described how badly she wanted a drink and it was painful, but also probably a completely realistic portrayal.

Also it's a fast read, which is appreciated.

13 October 2011


Last night I impressed Benny with my wicked "throwing-jams-at-your-head" skills.

The scene: In Benny and Lila's room, trying to get Benny to put his jams on before bed. Benny climbs into bed and starts jumping and throwing his jams. I start throwing them back with some mad kung fu skills. We were having a great time. That is until I took it up a notch and decided to jump and throw the jam shirt and jam pants UNDER MY LEGS. It seemed like a great idea at the time. In my excitement, I forgot that I have a two inch vertical.

I jumped (barely) and managed to launch the jams. I landed, with full body force, Mary Katherine Gallagher-style on my wrist. Game over! It hurt immediately and I thought it might be broken.

I iced it, took three ibuprofen and went to bed. It was difficult to get comfortable with a throbbing wrist and arm. But, I did it. And woke up this morning to a still-sore wrist and arm. I'm not sure if this is a case where I need to buck up and go to the doctor or ride out the pain (complaining all the while) and see if this injury gets better with time. I'm guessing the former, but I'm pretty stubborn!

10 October 2011

Recycled Halloween Costumes

The idea to re-use and recycle Halloween costumes isn't a new one. My mom did it and your mom probably did it too. We've been lucky enough to have generous friends pass along their costumes for Benny (and, by default, for Lila). It's made the past three Halloweens very easy for us. It wasn't until my friend Maggie mentioned a stat about Halloween costumes that made me think about the practice of buying costumes a real issue. She's contributing to this week's Green Means Go(od) post. Thanks, Maggie!

"6,250: the amount of landfill waste (in tons) that could be avoided if half of the kids in America traded Halloween costumes instead of buying new ones." Real Simple

I've known Maggie for over a decade now. Her husband and Nate went to elementary school together and have remained friends despite not having lived in the same city since high school. We love getting together with this family. They are so fun and down-to-earth. Enjoy the photos of her adorable kids!

1. What are your kids going to be for Halloween?
Henry is dressing up as Darth Vader. He received the costume in August for his birthday to be used for "dress up." He uses the costume almost daily for play. Isabelle is also dressing up as Darth Vader using an old costume of Henry's.

2. Have you re-used costumes before? Which costumes?
Yes. Isabelle is dressing up this year in one of Henry's old costumes. Last year, Henry was Woody from Toy Story. All we did was use his pajamas, which is kind of like re-using. Isabelle's costume from last year, a peace sign, was purchased from Once Upon a Child, a second hand consignment store in the Twin Cities.

3. What are your plans for Halloween?
We will trick or treat with another family. Since Henry was born, we have celebrated Halloween with the same family by joining them for dinner and trick or treating.

4. Any other thoughts?
It is my opinion that it is not necessary to buy new costumes for children. There are many second hand stores, families with previously worn costumes, and/or directions in books or online for making your own costumes. This year, national costume swap day is October 8th.

Check here for locations that are holding a costume recycling event.

05 October 2011

I'm a Little Slow

"A little" may be an understatement. I'm a little slow when it comes to music and pop culture. I'm a lot slow when it comes to technology (in fact, I'm a downright ludite). I'm slow with new trends in decorating and fashion and anything that changes any faster than, oh, five years. I could blame it on having two kids, but I've always been this way.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy these things (except technology - if I didn't have to use technology, I probably wouldn't). However, this is the world in which we live. I love music, but I tend to listen to what I listen to to what I listen to to what I listen to (you get the picture). And since Nate and I have similar tastes in music, I generally just listen to what he listens to.

This summer I discovered Adele and Florence + the Machine. (Do you see how I referred to Florence the right way? I do pay attention!) Benny's favorite song this summer was "Rolling in the Deep." It's a fantastic song. A bit overplayed, but just brilliant. The great thing about both of these artists is that their sounds are SO interesting. Their albums are amazing. They have a few popular songs, but the entire album is superb.

This summer I was introduced to "Home" by Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeroes. It's a super catchy song and now I have some great memories of it. Our friends used it as their "song" at their reception. It was such a great display of their relationship and their personalities and their love. (Shout out to Sarah and Bob!)

Nate and I started listening to the song shortly after the wedding and soon we bought the entire album. Benny and Lila both love the music. Benny told me that it was his favorite band the other day and Lila started dancing to "Home" a few weeks ago. She would hear the song, stand up and bounce. Now I can't stop listening to the entire album. Each song is incredibly diverse and happy and interesting.

P.S. I just realized that I posted the whole ludite diatribe the day Steve Jobs died. That's not lost on me.

04 October 2011

My Mom. Is Amazing!

Someone posted this image to Facebook today. It instantly reminded me of my mom. She loved Rick Astley when I was younger. She had his CD (when CDs were brand new). My dad served on the school board, and whenever he had a meeting, Mom would break out Mr. Astley and we would DANCE! I have such fond memories of those dance parties.

My mom has created so many memories for her kids. It wasn't until I became a mom that I realized how much she did for us. I strive to be more like my mom every day.

My mom made all of our Halloween costumes, she made our birthday cakes from scratch, she made us homemade breakfast nearly every morning, she tucked us in at night, she read to us, she attended nearly every school event (and with five kids, that's no small feat). She is truly one of the most thoughtful and amazing women I have ever met.

Benny is spending the week at my parents' house. He is very close with both my parents, but he is particularly close with my mom. In fact, if my mom is around, he really wants nothing to do with me. It makes my heart swell with love to see their relationship bloom. She is just as good as a grandma as she was a mom.

03 October 2011

Small-Impact, BIG Love

Welcome to the October series of posts for Green Means Go(od)! This month I'm focusing on sustainable celebrations, what with Halloween a month away! Most of the posts will have something to do with Halloween - from re-using costumes to the menu for our Halloween party (complete with pumpkin ice cream from our garden!). But, to kick off the month, I'll write about Lila's birthday party, which was part sustainable part wasteful. Hey, this blog affords me the chance to reflect on my own practices and change them as necessary!

We hosted Lila's birthday party last weekend. She had a great time (I think - it's hard to tell with a one year old). We were able to celebrate with some great friends and Benny had a good time too, even though he is still sick. Poor guy.

Here's how we made it sustainable: Few decorations, save for the balloons. Homemade cake (thanks Mom!), inviting neighbors who are close enough to walk (and just so happen to be good friends). Using veggies from the garden for a relish tray. Serving sausages from the local grocery store, which are made on-site.

Here's how it was really unsustainable: Paper plates and plastic silverware (shame on me!). Serving hot dogs to the kids. After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, I'm a little conflicted about that!

That's about it I guess. The secret was keeping it low-key, which is pretty much our style anyway. While we enjoy other kids' birthday parties that are much more planning heavy, it's just not something I'm comfortable doing (or have the energy to do).

Overall, Lila finally got the birthday love she deserved and some pretty great presents! We haven't started the "experience" gifting for her yet, so she got a tug boat for the bath tub, made out of recycled plastic from Naturally Loved, a great local natural baby store.

02 October 2011

Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma

I finally did it! I finally finished The Omnivore's Dilemma. I felt a little out of touch because I hadn't read this sooner (or faster). Michael Pollan's provided such a rich, wonderful, and ultimately scary description of the modern food system. The feedlot and CAFO issues are something I've known about for years: I worked with small family farmers and communities in Iowa and we were often fighting to keep these types of confinement structures out of the community due to economic and environmental impacts. I even worked with George Naylor, who features prominently in the first third of Pollan's book.

I did not, however, know about how much corn is in our food. It's everywhere and it's disturbing. Nate and I try to limit the amount of processed foods we eat. I make a lot of stuff from scratch, save for things like pasta and bread and whatnot. We don't eat fast food either. Benny has never been to McDonald's or any other fast food chain. That's not to say we don't consume plenty of processed foods, but Pollan's book gives me plenty of reasons to continue to make things from scratch.

While Pollan puts much of the blame for the current food system of the government, I am conflicted about how much the farmer fits into this picture. My dad is a farmer. He's the son of a farmer and the grandson of a farmer. The way he farms has changed drastically even since I moved away from home. He uses industrialized methods and he is paying big prices for using big tractors and lots of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. He is certainly part of the system. He has switched from producing many edible things - like dried beans, sunflowers, and other crops, to almost strictly planting corn and beans. Those are the subsidized crops. In order to make a living he plants more and more of those two crops.

It is clear from Pollan's account how much needs to change systemically, culturally, and economically for this to change. People need to start buying local food and supporting local farmers. The government needs to stop paying subsidies to huge corporations and start supporting small, local farmers.

The book is a great read and I learned quite a bit. I was a little disappointed with the final chapter. Pollan makes a meal from hunting and foraging food. It's a little too existential to me and it watered down the earlier accounts of what is happening to food in America.

I was having a conversation with a co-worker a few months back about the politics of food. She looked at me like I was crazy. I guess it will take a lot of education to make most Americans realize that being conscious of what they're eating is a political decision. Overall, it was a great book.

01 October 2011

Cloth Diapering Outtakes

Technically I should save this for Monday, but I have a whole new theme for October's Green Means Go(od). So, you're getting a bonus post (lucky you!). Both of my kids had a penchant for yoga at a young age. This is the first time downward facing dog has appeared in a picture though. If we all be this flexible.

The purpose of the Green Means Go(od) series is to show that sustainable practices are relatively easy - if you can make the commitment. And while the positives always outweigh the negatives with these practices, they aren't without challenges. Cloth diapering is no different. As the previous two posts indicated, the positive economic and environment benefits of cloth diapering are huge. And the designs today make cloth diapering ridiculously easy. However, here are some of the not-so-great aspects of washing your own diapers. (WARNING: Not for the faint of heart!)
1. Scrapping poop off diapers is never fun. Lila has an amazing ability to poop the most incredibly sticky poops right after I've washed her diapers. I try to scrape as much as possible on, but these poops are like glue. So, I must soak the diapers and then store them in plastic bags until we're ready to wash again. It also never fails that I'll forget the diaper in the toilet until one of us has to go to the bathroom really really bad and we'll have a surprise waiting for us.

2. Hauling a stinky bag of diapers down to the basement to wash is never, ever fun. Ever.

3. I had never heard of "stripping" diapers the entire three years of using cloth diapers on Benny. Stripping is when you wash all the soap residue off of the diapers that has accumulated with washings. Turns out that residue causes the diapers to stink, no matter if they're dirty or not. Luckily the smell was never outrageous with Benny. But as soon as I learned about stripping diapers with Lila, the smell improved considerably. Basically, you just wash the diapres in hot water, without soap, until there are no suds left. Definitely a case of live and learn.

4. If anyone sells you on the idea of cloth diapering by saying that you kid will potty train earlier, they aren't being entirely forthcoming. We were convinced that Benny would use the potty early because he could feel when he was wet. Not at all the case. Good thing the cloth diapers are adjustable. We used them from the time Benny was four months old to when he trained, just before his third birthday.

I guess you do have to go into cloth diapering knowing that you're dealing with raw human waste. It's baby waste, but it can still be really nasty!

Preview for October's Green Means Go(od): I'll be looking at sustainable celebrations, including a post about the importance of reusing Halloween costumes!
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