Parenting

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by Wendy Gabriel

Little Greek goddess has been waiting for her First Day of School all summer and she is now an official kindergartener!

The important thing is never to stop questioning. ~ Albert Einstein

LIttle Greek goddess' First Day of School

Some of my favorite photos and photo blogs:
Twilight Earth’s Photo Sunday
Oakleigh Vermont’s Mother Nature Sunday
Photo Terri
True to Words’ Friday Photography
Twin Cities Photo Blog

by Wendy Gabriel

I am a huge fan of playing outside for kids of all ages. Now that my oldest isBe Out There in kindergarten (gasp!) it occurs to me it might get more challenging as she gets older to allow time for unstructured outdoor play. 

Our friend, Anne Keisman, with the National Wildlife Federation is helping us out by giving us some great tips to get outside during a busy day:

1. Scenario: Traffic made you late, there’s no time to cook dinner, so you drive the family over to the rotisserie chicken place to get a quick meal.

Tip: Keep a picnic blanket in your car for an impromptu picnic on any spot of grass you can find!

2. Scenario: Backpack? Check. Lunch? Check. You’re ready to head to school.

Tip: Whether you drive or walk to school, or wait with your child by the bus-stop, take a moment to notice nature. Make it a game of “I Spy” — or download this nature scavenger hunt at greenhour.org/hunt.

3. Scenario: Your child is studying plants at school and, at the dinner table, recites how photosynthesis works. You, yourself, have never successfully kept a plant alive.

Tip: Start small: All you need is some bird-seed and a sponge. For sponge-garden instructions, visit greenhour.org/spongegarden. Next step: check out National Gardening Association’s parents’ primer for gardening with kids at kidsgardening.com/primer.asp.

3. Scenario: You and your youngest wait outside your older child’s school, a few minutes before the bell rings.

Tip: Look up at the sky together. “Wait, mom — is that a sheep or a donkey?” Picking out shapes in the clouds is a classic childhood activity — and needs no special equipment.

4. Scenario: Your child looks at you and says, “Mom — I’m a little old for cloud-watching!”

Tip: For older kids, combine technology with the outdoors and go geo-caching or, the lower-tech version, letterboxing. There are about 20,000 letterboxes and 250,000 geocaches hidden in North America. Visit geocaching.com and letterboxing.org.

5. Scenario: The kids get home from school and immediately plop in front of the TV. You suggest going outside. They respond, “Indoors is more fun!”

Tip #1: Set time-limits for TV watching and video game playing. It won’t be popular, so make sure you have a back-up plan. If you have a backyard, kid-customize it with a homemade fort, dart boards, a trampoline, a craft table. Set up a bird house to keep wildlife visiting.

Tip #2: No backyard? Find your local parks using nwf.org/naturefind. For older kids, start stretching your child’s boundaries, allowing them to go for unsupervised walks in the neighborhood with groups of friends. They’ll love the feeling of independence.

6. Scenario: Outside, it’s a perfect fall day, but you look at your child’s homework assignments and realize outside play-time isn’t a reality.

Tip: Take homework outside! There’s no reason math problems can’t be done in the fresh air. Set up a clean outdoor workspace for your child on a patio table, perhaps.

7. Scenario: Your daughter comes home from school clutching new-found treasures: three crumbly leaves, two acorns and a dirt-encrusted rock.

Tip: Instead of putting them on the kitchen counter, a drawer, or — gasp — the trash, start a nature table. Set a limit of how many items they can have in the “nature museum” — so they’ll keep it to a manageable number. Other ideas: use an old tackle or sewing box, or a hanging shoe-organizer with clear plastic pockets. Have your kids decorate it!

9. Scenario: A blank piece of paper in front of her, your daughter asks you, “What should I draw?”

Tip: Have your child make a map of your neighborhood — using only natural landmarks. This will heighten his or her observation skills and can be the first step in creating a “field guide” to the nature in your neighborhood.

10. Scenario: It’s 8 p.m. Dinner’s over, but not quite time for bed.

Tip: Keep flashlights near the door, and go for a neighborhood night hike. Kids will love the novelty — and you can challenge them to identify “night sounds.” Learn how to make a moon journal at greenhour.org/moonjournal.

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by Wendy Gabriel

After fielding many, many, many questions concerning the reasoning behind last week’s Photo Friday – The Thrill of the Ride including only a photo of Baby Greek goddess (all questioning done cunningly and endlessly by Little Greek goddess), this week features the riding talents of… Little Greek goddess.

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.  ~John F. Kennedy

Little Greek goddess and bike

Some of my favorite photos and photo blogs:
Twilight Earth’s Photo Sunday
Oakleigh Vermont’s Mother Nature Sunday
Photo Terri
True to Words’ Friday Photography
Twin Cities Photo Blog

by Wendy Gabriel

Jennifer Taggart is a mom of two, an environmental and consumer Jennifer Taggart with sonproduct attorney, a blogger and author of Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

Basically, I try to make more sustainable choices. Being green isn’t about buying green, but more about making do with what you got. That doesn’t mean that I don’t use the power of my purse to make green choices when I shop. When shopping, I prefer to buy from companies that support sustainable principles in all aspects, not just one product line. At home, we do all the basics- turn off lights and electronics, recycle, etc. My one big thing is trying to avoid disposable plastic. We use re-usable bags for shopping, including our produce bags. I buy in bulk when I can. The kids have re-usable stainless steel containers. It doesn’t always work – my husband bought a container of plastic wrap from Costco eight years ago that we are still using because I loathe it and hardly ever use it.

Your book, Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure, should be required reading for anyone who has children in their lives. What was your impetus for writing the book?

Thank you for the recommendation! I’ve gotten a fabulous response. One reader even tweeted that she tested her home for radon after reading my book, and found elevated levels. She is getting it fixed. That’s what motivates me, helping people out. But the impetus for the book was two miscarriages before the birth of my son. Those unexplained miscarriages prompted me to consider whether anything in my environment was causing or contributing to the miscarriages. Then, after having my son, I attended a weekly new mom/breastfeeding support class. Given my background and my interests, I was routinely asked questions about how much fish was safe, or how to read information from a termite company. The facilitator asked me to teach a class on going green and non-toxic for new moms, and from that, the book just flowed. I really wanted to provide a resource with easy-to-understand information for parents and caregivers.

I recently heard you on Martha Stewart radio giving some great green cleaning advice. What is one of your favorite green cleaning tips?

I have a couple. To clean your garbage disposal (or snow cone machine), make vinegar ice cubes. Just put 1 cup distilled white vinegar in an ice cube tray, fill the balance with water, and freeze. Once frozen, drop a couple down the disposal (or put in the snow cone machine), run it and voila! The vinegar helps disinfect and the ice helps remove any food stuck on the blades.

To clean your microwave, just use lemon slices. Place some in a microwave safe cup or bowl with 6 ounces or so of water. Heat on high for 3 minutes, let sit for 3 minutes (without opening the door), and then open and wipe clean. Crusted food should lift easily and your microwave will smell lemon fresh without hormone disrupting phthalates.

Finally, my favorite is Dr. Bronner’s rose liquid castile soap and baking soda. I use this combination as a soft scrub for sinks and counter tops, and also to clean my toilet. Just mix them until you get a consistency you like. I prefer to place them in a old squeeze bottle and stir with a chop stick. If you are cleaning your toilet, just squirt under the rim and let sit. After 5 minutes or so, follow up with some vinegar and left foam. Then flush.

You recently blogged about a new regulation that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued exempting various materials from the lead content limits for children’s products in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). As an expert, what kind of clothing would you tell parents to look for to ensure that their child is not getting exposed to lead?

The CPSIA has banned lead in children’s products above 300 parts per million (ppm) and in paints and coatings above 90 ppm. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that you don’t still find children’s products with lead. Most fabrics do not have lead in them and that is why the CPSC issue the exemption for certain materials, including textiles. After testing thousands of fabrics, the only fabrics I have found with let are some synthetic felts, certain leathers and some screen prints. However, you can find lead in some buttons, rhinestones and crystals, zippers, eyelets, etc. Most of those aren’t going to result in an exposure to a child, however. Lead is also sometimes used to stabilize polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. PVC plastic must be stabilized and it is usually a metallic salt, often lead. PVC is also bad for the environment and can contain hormone disrupting phthalates. So, I always recommend that people skip PVC, which includes many fake leather items.

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by Wendy Gabriel

We recently discovered a fabulous park in the Fargo Moorhead area, Lindenwood Park. We got on our bikes (and a trike) and explored the beauty of the outdoors!

When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments.  Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man.  And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became.  Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others.  Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.   ~Elizabeth West, Hovel in the Hills

Baby Greek goddess and trikeSome of my favorite photos and photo blogs:
Twilight Earth’s Photo Sunday
Oakleigh Vermont’s Mother Nature Sunday
Photo Terri
True to Words’ Friday Photography
Twin Cities Photo Blog

by Wendy Gabriel

Lisa Fahay is a working mom with two kids and a Jack Russell Terrier. About Lisa, Peter and kidsa year ago, she and her husband, Peter Troast, founded the home energy efficiency company EnergyCircle.com. Peter is a serial entrepreneur in the environmental and socially-minded business arena, whose past startups include Moulded Fibre Technology and FetchDog.com. Lisa and Peter have been passionate about the environment for most of their lives. In fact, through a recent Facebook message to Lisa, an old 6th grade friend wrote, “Of course that’s what you’re doing. I remember you yelling at me about cutting up six-pack rings when we were 12!” Lisa is no longer twelve, but she’s still doing her best to get us to think twice about the way we impact the environment in our daily lives. She annotates their home energy usage in real time, which feeds to Twitter at @EnergyCircleKW. Peter muses more seriously on energy issues @EnergyCircle.

1. How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

We’ve always been diligent recyclers, composters, organic gardeners, etc. Those efforts remain in habit, but our core focus now is energy use reduction.

2. Recently your company, EnergyCircle.com, launched Moolah Maker, a project aimed at getting kids actively involved in cutting energy consumption. How was this project conceived?

As soon as we started using a real-time electricity monitor in our house (TED, The Energy Detective), the entire family started to engage. It made a huge difference in our utility bills. Giving the kids incentives just made sense. (Now the teenager doesn’t IRON his clothes in the dryer!) MOOLAH MAKER makes it fun and easy to track the deals parents and kids make. And how cool is it to invoice Mom and Dad?

3. Your website is full of great tips for energy efficiency. Is there an easy energy saver that most people overlook?

We’re firm believers in a comprehensive energy audit as the starting point. That way, you have a master plan for reducing energy use & buttoning up your home. Even though it will take time to accomplish, you will move down a logical path. There is a lot you can do before you get the low-down from a pro. Again, the power of a real-time electricity monitor is huge. Start there. Then go for the low-cost no-brainers like energy-efficient lighting, smart strips to control vampire power and programmable thermostats.

4. I love how you end the About Us page on your site: When we are at home, we are entrepreneurs, activists, writers, partners, parents and handymen. When we are at work, we are dreamers, hoping to make the world better and cleaner, one house at a time. What has been your biggest challenge making your own home better and cleaner?

Our audit found that our house leaks a lot of air, in spite of a recent addition done by a competent architect and builder. Getting that leakage down is our big challenge. Air sealing is one of the least sexy things you can do but it makes a huge difference. At Energy Circle, we’ve sussed out the great products. Even I, with no chrome thumb, am getting into the projects. (I’ve fallen in love with my caulking gun!) Caulking and foaming will make our house more comfortable, reduce our costs, and cut back our carbon footprint.

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by Wendy Gabriel

Mindy Lockard is the founder of ManneroftheMonth.com, an interactive Mindy Lockardpublication that teaches manners and etiquette to everyday users as well as industry professionals. She is the president of the Mindy Lockard brand, which includes seminars and training materials, stationery, and industry coaching. Mindy teaches formal etiquette courses for people of all ages and provides valuable corporate training for schools, government agencies, and private companies. Mindy writes for Crane & Co.’s, The Crane Insider as well as Stationery Trends magazine’s column “What’s Write.” She is also the online etiquette consultant at GartnerStudios.com and works as a freelance contributor for several other publications and websites.

She lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her two daughters and her husband and enjoys traveling throughout the United States.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

Dare I admit it…I was a plastic-aholic! I loved plastic bags! I now make a concerted effort to reuse my plastic bags or find creative ways to substitute the itch to turn yellow and blue to green. For example, I will now wrap sandwiches for a picnic in cloth napkins which the etiquette consultant in me always loves having a good lap napkin on hand.

Your May 2009’s issue of ManneroftheMonth.com was entitled “Graciously Green.” What is one of your favorite ways to be Graciously Green?

I love the farmers’ market! I have a French market basket that I wheel around and fill with the bounty grown from my local soil. I think it’s really beautiful and gracious to support those who are committed to living organically, promote healthy living, and truly care for the environment. Not to mention the food we buy there tastes so much better!

What has been your biggest challenge living Graciously Green?

I think my greatest challenge to live graciously green is creating new habits, but just like any aspect of living graciously it takes denying my own desire to do what’s easier for me to impact the greater good. The Native American proverb rings true: “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Since we wouldn’t re-gift an item that had been misused, abused, chipped, or broken, we should not bequeath an eco-disaster to our children and their children.

As an etiquette expert and the mother of two little girls, what advice would you give others about ways to teach children Graciously Green manners?

As parents, it is so important that we are aware of what our words and actions are teaching our children. It’s much easier to tell our children a rule; it’s when we take the time teach and model behavior that our little ones can actually learn. At our house, we had many discussions with our children about giving items away so they could be used by another child. Children, almost more than adults, have an amazing capacity to care for others. Giving them the power to contribute brings smiles to their faces.

by Wendy Gabriel

Recently, the Greek took the goddesses with him to one of his favorite places in Fargo. I was thrilled to have a moment to unpack in relative peace. Later in the week, I noticed a new photo when I downloaded my pictures… I think he’s doing his part to make sure the girls acclimate to our new city.

A daughter may outgrow your lap, but she will never outgrow your heart. ~Author Unknown

Goddesses as Bison

Some of my favorite photos and photo blogs:
Twilight Earth’s Photo Sunday
Oakleigh Vermont’s Mother Nature Sunday
Photo Terri
True to Words’ Friday Photography
Twin Cities Photo Blog

by Wendy Gabriel

We absolutely loved our park in Minneapolis. It was walking distance from our home, had an awesome play structure, a lot of green space, a pond, a stream, a walking path, wildlife galore… we went there almost every day. Now that we’ve moved to Fargo, we are on the hunt for a new park.

Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.  ~David Polis 
Baby Greek goddess at the park
The Greek and goddesses at the park
Little Greek goddess at the park

by Wendy Gabriel

Marghanita Hughes
is a children’s book author, illustrator and the Marghanita Hughescreator of the award winning Little Humbugs. It was while observing her children revelling in the awesome wilderness of their new surroundings in British Columbia that the idea for the Little Humbugs was conceived. Marghanita is passionate about encouraging our children’s interest in the guardianship of The Earth we share. She strongly believes that children can influence change. Her Mission is to deliver this positive message to them through the delightful characters in her enchanting stories.

Marghanita lives on the edge of a forest, with her husband David, their three children and Prince, their faithful Flatcoat Retriever.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

It’s all the small things that collectively make a difference. I love recycling so my yogurt pots become paint pots, tin cans become pencil holders, flower pots and decorative lanterns. We use only eco-friendly home cleaning products, all natural toiletries, eat local organic food whenever possible. We grow our own fruit, have extended our vegetable patch and added a compost bin. By composting it has cut our garbage by half. We shop with our reusable cloth bags and take our Klean Kanteen bottles everywhere.

Your company, Wildwood Media Ltd, tries to adhere to sustainable business practices. What are some of the things you do to accomplish this goal?

Our small company use local suppliers and business whenever possible. The Little Humbug books are printed in Canada on 100% Post Consumer Waste, Old Growth Free and Chlorine Free Paper using vegetable based inks. Our All Natural Humbug products are formulated and manufactured in British Columbia in a certified organic facility utilizing only all natural ingredients all of which are biodegradable reducing the associated aquatic toxicity upon disposal or spillage. We work with local farmers who provide us with organic seeds for the Humbug seed collection. We have just started working with a Fair Trade Organization that helps support women in work in Nepal. We designed our dolls so they come with no wasteful packaging. And our latest dolls are filled with 100% recycled material (recycled plastic bottles) and their hanging tag doubles as a pledge. In our office and studio we only use 100% post consumer waste paper and we shred most of our mail and reuse for packaging.

There is still a lot to learn and do but we believe we are making small steps to a more sustainable future.

You have written some very charming children’s books, The Little Humbug Series, with an awesome message. What are some of the ways the Little Humbugs teach children about being green?

The storybooks immerse the reader into the world of the Little Humbugs and reveal to the young child just how important it is to look after the natural world they inhabit and that they have an important role to play in caring for it too.

The first lesson the Humbugs teach children is to get outside and explore the wonders of nature. By instilling a love for nature in a child, they will want to protect it.

The little Humbugs encourage children to take an active role in making change with simple tasks they can do by themselves, for example: Use both sides of paper; make your own greeting cards with recycled card. switch off the TV and go for a walk or cycle; swap your old books and toys with friends; turn off the tap when brushing your teeth; switch off lights when leaving a room; attract butterflies and other wildlife to your yard by planting a Butterfly Bush (Buddleia); give a plant or tree as a birthday gift.

I love your quote on your blog, Marghanita, When children and nature mix, something magical happens – every child deserves that Magic! What advice would you give parents about encouraging their children to find that magic?

What’s so wonderful about nature and the outdoors – It’s FREE to all who want to experience it. The magic can be found in your own backyard, local park or even under a rock or fallen branch lying on the walkway.

By taking your child outside, they get to use all their senses. Together you can listen to bird song and spot the many different birds (borrow a bird book from the library). Follow a slimy snail trail, climb a tree, go on a bug hunt. Wade in the creek, let minnows tickle your feet, watch dragonflies perform acrobatics. Plant some seeds or vegetables, kids love to watch things grow and they can learn where food comes from at the same time. Smell the flowers, watch the bees buzz and the butterflies flutter from one flower to the next.

The magic is there to be discovered, at any time of year because each season brings its own magic!

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