Planting our Fall/Winter Garden (Part One)

IMG_6426I have found summer gardens hard to maintain in Texas due to the intense, dry, heat. The summers that I have kept a vegetable garden going I had to set up soaker hoses and timers to make sure that nothing died while I was gone, which seemed a bit too much for a small backyard garden. The past two summers I haven’t planted summer gardens, but the weather is cooling down now and S. is a little older so I decided it would be a perfect time to plant a winter/fall garden. Actually, a few weeks or a month ago probably would have been the perfect time, but I have found that many things don’t get done in a timely manner with a toddler in the mix. The fun part this year though is that there is a toddler in the mix! To get our garden started we had to get some compost from a nearby garden center to revitalize our vegetable beds, it turned into a whole afternoon event with S. It is always so enjoyable to go places with S. that she finds fun and exciting and where there is no entrance fee required or crowds to contend with. She and Matt recently took a trip to the garden center so when we got there she knew exactly where she wanted to go, she was off running! I was able to slow her down a bit by getting her to stop and say “cheese” while I took her picture.

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S.’s destination: the goats. She was particularly fond of the goat named Oreo, I think she just liked the name. She was also thrilled to point out that the goat had a beard, I am not even sure where she learned what a beard was; it is always amazing to see things that she has picked up all on her own somehow. She probably would have loved to feed the goats, but Oreo and the other two goats are on a special diet so no feeding allowed (ahem, Matt). Instead, I think she had her own little private conversation with one of the goats.IMG_6409

The chickens were also very exciting. S. loves chickens and thanks to some chicken-sitting we did this summer she is very familiar with chicken noises and activities (such as snatching food out of your hand and laying eggs). She wanted to get as close to the chickens as possible, but there was a fence she had to contend with. IMG_6415

S. can also make some great donkey noises. The donkey at the garden center came right over to her and she kept asking to “touch it”. Or she wanted me to touch it. Luckily the donkey seemed pretty friendly so S. was able to gently reach through the fence and pet it. She was thrilled.

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It is amazing how exciting animals are to S., I love watching her interact with them and get so excited to see them. Pre-S. I went to the garden center many times and only glanced at the goats, chickens, and donkeys. Being with S. reminds me to go slow and enjoy things like a visit with a donkey. However, we did have a few other things to do at the garden center so once we had the prerequisite visits with the animals over it was time to head off and look for some plants. S. saw another little boy riding in a red wagon and was eyeing him with envy so Matt went to find her a red wagon to ride in as well.IMG_6432

Probably a lot of kids have a wagon at home and don’t get quite the same amount of joy S. gets out of riding in a red Radio Flyer wagon, but we don’t have one so this was a novel experience for her. She loves being pulled and pushed in any type of wagon or little car. She also loves to pull them herself and of course she doesn’t want any help. Lately she is starting to show more signs of independence so I try to support her by giving her more independent play time as well as letting do things all by herself, even if it means watching her (happily) struggle to pull a wagon around.IMG_6442

S. also found a “baby” house plant in one of the greenhouses. She picked it up all by herself and brought it to me to show me. We figured we would get her a little house plant if she wanted one and we tried showing her other options too, just in case there was another plant she would like more, but she was pretty attached to this one little house plant. She wanted to hold it as we pulled her around in the wagon which she did quite happily, although there were a few incidents including a couple that involved broken leaves and one that resulted in a loud “oops” from S. when the plant fell right out of the pot. However, for the most part S. held onto her little baby house plant “tight tight tight”:IMG_6439

The next day we did have to have a discussion about taking the plant for a walk and luckily now the kitchen counter has been deemed an acceptable place for her plant to live. While having S. as a caretaker is rough on plants, I love how excited she gets about things like plants, bugs, lizards, rocks, sticks, etc. I try to make sure that her life isn’t filled with loud, flashy, plastic, toys (although she does have a few of those too).

Next, we picked up a few plants to finish off some landscaping we started months ago as well as a few kale plants; however, we didn’t buy too many vegetable plants because I decided for financial purposes to start most of our plants from seeds we already had. S. willingly shared her wagon with her new plants and even allowed her “baby” house plant to be put with the other plants for a little while.IMG_6447

As we were getting ready to go checkout S. got side tracked by some water she discovered that was flowing through a rain chain display and, never one to miss a good opportunity to get wet, she was quick to stick her hands in the water.IMG_6449I have to admit, rain chains are pretty fascinating so I can’t really blame her for wanting some hands-on experience with one. Next, there was a short trip through the butterfly garden on daddy’s shoulders (we were hoping for some Monarchs to show S., but there were none to be seen).

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Then it was finally time to check out and to head for the compost piles to shovel some dirt. This was the whole reason that we went to the garden center, but there were just so many other great things for S. to experience along the way. We opted to save some money and bag our own compost which I also thought S. would enjoy. She isn’t always too fond of getting dirt on her hands (or feet) so I encourage “dirt interaction” when it comes to gardening, even if there is a little turkey manure involved. S. even got her own bucket to help bag the compost.IMG_6455

They had a shovel there just her size so she was able to help shovel the compost/manure into the bag as well.IMG_6463

I was happy to see her enjoying herself and not being concerned about the dirt that ended up on her hands and clothes. She was excited to be involved in a task that included use of a bucket and a shovel and she “helped” Matt fill all the bags and tie them closed.IMG_6465

While playing in a pile of dirt or garden compost may not sound like a good idea to everyone, I like S. getting an opportunity to be involved in gardening. I want her to know that food doesn’t just come from the shelves in a grocery store, but that we can grow fruit and vegetables ourselves. I am excited to show her how seeds grow into plants and how flowers turn into fruit. She may not understand these concepts right now, but hopefully as she gets older they will be things that are just second nature to her. I also hope she learns to love sticking her hands deep into the soil to pull out a nice big carrot, so next we will be planting carrot seeds along with some other greens in our fall/winter garden.

Note to anyone in Austin: This “adventure” took place at the Natural Gardener, it is a fun place to take the little ones on a nice fall morning or enjoy a quiet walk through the butterfly garden by yourself. If you haven’t been there yet I recommend going.

Happy Friday!

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I know I never got around to posting anything this week, but between feeling a little under the weather and enjoying the amazing fall weather we have all been a little busy. However, while I was sick at the beginning of the week I watched the first full movie I think I have watched since I was on bed rest with S. before she was born (thanks Matt for taking S. out to enjoy the park). To end our week, today S. and I went on a hike with some other great moms and their little ones and then started a new Friday afternoon tradition of a ride on the train at the zoo (“choo choo zoo pig big” followed by a pig snort and then “turkey” according to S.).

Tomorrow we have another fun day planned with a trip to a pumpkin patch (and I think there is a train there too!). I hope everyone else is experiencing and enjoying great fall weather. Remember to have a little fun and don’t fret over a little dirt on your face (or dried blueberries) and smile through the bug bites.IMG_6498

Green My Routine: Food Storage

I have been writing a lot recently about making sure I am using stainless steel or glass containers and dishes for our food, but I don’t think that I have mentioned why I am trying to avoid plastic. I will never forget reading a study in college that evaluated stool samples of two different groups of people; maybe just the thought of evaluating stool samples is enough to make me remember the article. One group was fed food that was stored and microwaved in glass and the other was fed food that was stored and microwaved in plastic. I don’t remember the details, but the main finding of the study was that there were plastic particles in the stool samples of the group whose food was microwaved in plastic, but not in the stool samples of the group whose food was microwaved in glass. After that I started making sure I only microwaved food in glass containers which isn’t hard to do because we don’t own a microwave. I have halfheartedly also used glass to store food as well, but not as much as I should. So here is a little motivation for me as well as anyone else making the switch from plastic:

  • Manufacturing plastic produces more toxic emissions than manufacturing glass does(1), these toxic emissions are what we as humans end up breathing, and unfortunately people who live in China and other manufacturing intensive countries probably get the worst of it.
  • Glass recycling is more environmentally friendly than recycling plastic because it produces less toxic chemicals (1) and not all plastic can be recycled in many municipalities across the country.
  • Health concerns associated with use of plastic used for food containers and packaging include potential exposure to dioxins, phthalates, Bisphenol-A (BPA), and antimony(1). While there is a rising awareness of the potential health concerns associated with BPA which has lead to many “BPA free” products, however, there is now concern with bisphenol-S (BPS) which is being used as a replacement for BPA in many products(2).

This is just a short list, if you are interested in the topic or would like more details about what dioxins, phthalates BPA, antimony, and PBS actually are, there is a ton more information out there on the World Wide Web. I invite you to do your own research on the topic; however for me, just knowing that I have the opportunity to positively impact the health of my family simply by limiting our use of plastic containers for food storage is a good enough reason enough to start making a more whole-hearted attempt to switch to glass and stainless steel.

For dry food storage we usually leave food in its original package or if it is from the bulk bins at the store we put it in glass jars that we bought quite a while ago at Ikea. They have the hinged locking lids that I love and are easier to open and close than screw on lids (and the lids don’t get lost), they look like this:

Photo source: www.ikea.com

We have a variety of sizes, but here is a link to the 34 oz jar in the Ikea online catalog. While I really like these jars and even use them to store homemade yogurt sometimes, if I need more storage jars I will probably start to save glass spaghetti sauce jars, that seems a little greener than going out and buying more jars. One word of caution, be careful reusing glass pickle jars. We discovered that the pickle flavor is hard to get rid of even after you clean a pickle jar and pickle flavored grits are not that good.

Where I have been lacking in glass food storage is with all our food in the refrigerator, primarily leftovers. We usually make extra when we cook dinner so that we will have lunch for the next day which means there are always random containers of food stored in the fridge. While in the past we have had a few glass storage containers, we have always ended up using primarily a random assortment of plastic containers, so I decided that it was time to invest in glass containers to store leftovers and other miscellaneous food in. Here is what I decided to purchase:

Photo source: www.amazon.com

It is the Pyrex 14-Piece Storage Plus Set with

  • 4 round 2-cup dishes
  • 2 round 4-cup dishes
  • 1 round 7-cup dish

I purchased the set from Wal-Mart online because I found it for the best price there ($18.99); however I am sure it is also available from other retailers both online and in stores. I also purchased an extra 7-cup dish for $9.67. Yes, I know the lids are plastic, but for the most part food does not come in contact with the lids for extended periods of time. I chose this Pyrex set because it is oven and freezer safe as well as made in the USA. Matt asked for round containers instead of square or rectangle because they are easier to clean.

While still on the topic of food storage, I want to mention plastic bags. We have (almost) always used reusable grocery bags, and with Austin’s ban on plastic bags at the checkout we have become very good at it. Where we struggle is with those plastic produce bags and bags that you get bulk items in such as grains and nuts. If I can I just don’t put things in bags, but I also don’t like my produce rolling all over the shopping cart and the conveyor belt at the checkout, and rice and nuts need to be contained. To help solve this problem I just ordered some produce and bulk bags from Amazon. For produce I ordered Flip and Tumble reusable produce bags (a set of 5) for $11.47:

Photo source: www.amazon.com

And for bulk foods like grains and nuts I ordered two small Bring It Recycled Cotton Reusable Bulk Food and Produce Bags for $3.99 each:

Photo source: www.amazon.com

My grand total for “greening my routine” and avoiding the use of plastic for food storage comes to $48.11. That brings the total for my remaining “green my routine” money down to $383.38 (if you don’t know what I am talking about refer to this post). I will have to figure out what I want to do next to “green my routine”, I might continue in the kitchen, move to another room in the house, or even start looking outside…

 

Footnotes:

(1) Natural Resource Defense Council. Smarter Living: Shopping Wise, Food Storage Containers. Accessed October 7, 2014. http://www.nrdc.org/living/shoppingwise/food-storage-containers.asp

(2) Alliance for Natural Health. Is “BPA-Free” a Lie. Accessed October 7, 2014.  http://www.anh-usa.org/is-bpa-free-a-lie/

Green My Routine: Snack Time On-the-Go

I have found that S. is much better at eating small snacks throughout the day rather than sitting down and eating a meal. That means we have frequent snack times and lots of “grazing” so a lot of times I pack snacks for S. when we go to the park or even just to the grocery store. At first I always just put snacks in plastic containers and Ziploc bags because my only other alternative was glass which was heavy and breakable, but recently I decided it was time to invest in some on-the-go, non-plastic containers to put S.’s snacks in.

Conveniently, I received a couple of reusable snack bags in a subscription box not too long ago. The one’s I received are by Bumkins and are listed on Amazon as Bumkins Reusable Snack Bags (small) for $6.95. They have Dr. Seuss characters on them which S. really likes since she is a fan of Green Eggs and Ham right now. They are perfect for Cheerios and other similar snacks that don’t crumble too easily:

While I like these snack bags OK, if I hadn’t received them in the subscription box I would have purchased some from a seller on Etsy. Perhaps something like this from Etsy seller Lunitouti:

Maybe once S. gets a little older I will need some larger bags and will go ahead and purchase some handmade ones, but for now the two small ones are perfect for us. They were also pretty cheap, maybe $1.50 at the most since I only paid $7 for the subscription box.

To free my kitchen and the diaper bag of random plastic dishes and containers I went ahead and ordered stainless steel snack containers from Amazon. After reading a lot of reviews I decided to go ahead and spend the money on the Kids Konserve Round Stainless Steel Round Food Containers (small): 

They cost $11.54 on Amazon and I really like them so when I saw a nesting set of three (small, medium, and large) at a local grocery store for $18 I went ahead and purchased them as well. This is the link to the nesting set on Amazon, but currently Amazon has them priced at $22.26, perhaps they will be cheaper in the future because if you haven’t noticed already, a lot of prices fluctuate on Amazon. All together I spent $29.54 on stainless steel food containers, kind of pricey, but I think it is worth the money since they are sturdy and will last us a long time.

One final thing I really wanted for S.’s on-the-go snacks was an insulated food container. There were so many times this summer I packed her a container of berries and it turned into mush and berry juice in the Texas heat or I packed apple pieces and they turned soggy and brown. I could probably pack a whole little cooler or something, but that just means I would have a lot more to carry. I decided to buy a small food thermos. I found a 10 oz Stainless Steel Food Jar by Thermos at Wal-Mart for $11.97:

With that final purchase of the food jar, I think I am all set with my on-the-go food containers for S. Matt and I usually use glass containers if we need to pack a lunch unless we are going to be hiking. Hopefully everything I purchased will last a long time so not only will it be a good investment in terms of our health and the environment, but it will be a reasonable financial investment as well. All total, I spent $43.51. That brings the total for my remaining “green my routine” money down to $431.49 (if you don’t know what I am talking about refer to this post). I think next I am going to continue with the theme of getting rid of plastic food containers and look into better food storage options in the kitchen.

Green My Routine: Toddler Dishes and Silverware

Yes, S. does have plastic cups and dishes. Sometimes I just need to give her something that won’t break or cause damage if she throws it on the floor or out of the stroller. However, I do try to use glass or stainless steel for her food and drinks as much as possible. My biggest challenge has been finding a straw/sippy cup that we all like. S. was better with a straw cup when we started giving her water so that is typically what we use. For the most part we have just skipped the sippy cup although we do have a couple of plastic ones lingering around that she asks for occasionally. I also have a plastic sippy cup for car rides when she is sitting in the back seat by herself and I can’t control head bonks and water spills. I have yet to find the perfect straw/sippy cup and I have pretty much given up wasting money trying. Our current go to straw cup is a Foogo stainless steel straw bottle like this one:

However, this listing is from Amazon and the price is about $5 more than I remember paying at our local grocery store. While we use this cup/bottle a lot, it has a few drawbacks: 1) the lid gets in the way and S. used to always push on it while she was drinking which basically made the lid hit her in the eye every time she tried to use it. For a while we just took the lid off the bottle all together. 2) If the lid is off or the bottle is open then it leaks. 3) There is a little hole in the top for air to go through when you drink from the straw. I know this hole is necessary, but despite the fact that we only put water in the bottle, the hole fills with black gunk that I think is mold and it is really hard to clean since the hole is so small.

I have a Lifefactory glass water bottle that I use to drink out of everyday like this one:

I like the bottle OK and S. can drink out of it just fine for the most part, but again, it has it’s issues: 1) If the straw is not flipped open all the way water doesn’t come out and when S. drinks out of it she frequently pushes it closed just slightly and she can’t get water out of it until I fix it for her. 2) It can be hard and loud to get water out of if you really suck on it, but I don’t think this is a problem for S., more for me if I try to get a quick drink of water. 3) The top doesn’t always screw on just right and more than once I have thrown it in the bottom of the stroller thinking the lid was on tight and in fact it wasn’t so I ended up without any water in the bottle and a wet stroller. 4) It leaks in the hot car. I guess when it gets hot the pressure is enough to force water out the top even when the bottle is upright in the cup holder. Also, it is glass and while it has the outer silicone sleeve I am pretty sure that it could still break, but S. is learning to be careful with it and knows she is supposed to sit to drink from it.

I have also tried the Safe Sippy Cup and returned it because it was so hard to suck/sip water out of (maybe I got a defective one?) and I have a Kleen Kanteen water bottle with a sport cap that I have given S. to drink out of, but the water didn’t seem to stay in her mouth too well without me making sure she held it right and drank from it “properly”. All that, and I still haven’t found the “perfect” straw or sippy cup. I think once I can trust S. a bit more with glass I might invest in a Camelbak glass water bottle, but for now I am using what we have and working with her on drinking out of a regular cup. Unfortunately, she loves water so much she just wants to stick her hands in the cup and then dumps the water on the floor to play with.

Moving on to silverware and baby spoons. When S. started eating at about 6 months old I looked around at the different options for feeding spoons. Almost every feeding spoon I found was plastic or had a plastic coating on it. I decided to invest in a 3-piece baby silverware set by Oneida with a feeding spoon, toddler spoon, and toddler fork:

The set was $14.99 so it wasn’t cheap, but I think it was definitely worth it. S. is currently using the toddler silverware and it is just the right size for her, she especially likes the fork, but that is probably because I restrict her access to it so that she doesn’t hurt herself running around with it in her mouth. Since the set was expensive I didn’t want to take it with me and lose it somewhere when we were on the go, so I also purchased a pack of plastic spoons by Green Sprouts like this one:

They were OK little spoons and S. still gets them out now and plays with them while she eats sometimes, but they are too small to hold a lot of food so they were really only good for the first few months of her eating. I definitely didn’t need to buy a pack of 10 of them. Other options I looked at for baby spoons for S. were wood spoons, but they had mixed reviews and I wasn’t confident they would hold up as well as actual stainless steel spoons would.

And finally, dinner dishes. This is what I have been searching for to buy with my “green my routine” money (see this post if you don’t know what I am talking about). I have found that S. can’t handle our ceramic dishes yet and we have lost a few bowls and plates along the way. The worst part isn’t the broken dish, it’s the cleanup. Last time I had to clean up a broken dish I knew S. would scream if I put her in her crib while I cleaned the kitchen (that’s the only place I have in the house to safely “contain” her) so I ended up bringing her stroller in the kitchen and strapping her in so she could safely be with me while I cleaned up all the tiny, shattered pieces of what used to be a dinner bowl. So ceramic dishes aside, we have a few plastic plates, but I don’t like to put hot food on them for S. I like giving her divided plates so that she can keep her food separate (or transfer it from one area to another for entertainment) and it would be nice to have a plate with a lid so that when she doesn’t eat much I can easily put the plate in the fridge and pull it out again later. So the ideal plate: a stainless steel, divided plate, with a lid. I have looked and looked and these don’t seem to be easy to find. The only one I have found is in the shape of a school bus which might actually be a bonus since S. loves buses. It has mixed reviews on the durability of the lid and it is on the pricey side at $20. Here is a picture:

It is the Innobaby Din Din Smart Stainless Divided Platter with Sectional Lid. I recently had a coupon for $10 off a purchase at Citrus Lane so with shipping I was able to get the plate for $15. Hopefully it is worth it and it lasts S. through her toddler years.

With the purchase of the bus plate I think I am all set with S.’s dinner and silverware. I may not have the perfect straw or sippy cup for her, but as I said, I have called it quits on that search. After the $15 I spent on the bus plate, I am down to $475 to spend on “greening my routine”. I think next up are containers for S.’s snacks and lunch when we are on the go or at the playground (if you read this post then you know we spend quite a bit of time at the playground).

Navigating the Playground

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I grew up in rural Maine where playgrounds were rare and trees and streams were our playscapes. Living in Austin I have discovered that large wooded play areas with babbling brooks are rare, but there is a playground with swings and manmade playscapes in every neighborhood. So S. and I are learning to navigate the urban playgrounds together, me as a mom and S. as an active little explorer.

Our neighborhood park is usually calm and relatively quiet. It is spread out under large oak trees and S. and I know it well. Often we are the only ones there before 10 AM at which point a few other parents and kids typically begin to trickle in. S. is frequently the playground greeter, running to investigate new kids as they arrive and then staring at them from a short distance until she figures out if they are going to do something she considers fun and entertaining. She is figuring out the situation just like I am. When she approaches another kid I frequently end up standing in close proximity to his or her parent so I too have to figure out playground etiquette. I have found that at our neighborhood playground parents are typically friendly and we will talk as our little ones play. S. and I have made many 30 minute friends at our neighborhood playground.

S. loves playing with other kids and typically there aren’t too many battles between the littles unless toys are involved. I don’t bring toys anymore for this reason. Frequently if there is a toy involved that  S. is invited to play with or that I have brought, S. and the other kid will be screaming about the toy being “MINE”. At that point there is usually parent involvement required in one way or another and frequently the other parent and I are left to introduce the topic of sharing or trying to return the toy to the original owner. And what one year old grasps the concept of sharing? It is more like we parents are talking about sharing just so that the other parent knows we recognize that our child just ripped a toy out of another child’s hands and has now run off with it claiming it as theirs. I made the mistake once of taking S. to the park in her little push car instead of her stroller and I think it caused more than on sibling fight between other families that were at the playground. Lesson learned. If only there were a few more universal parenting rules for playgrounds, maybe then I would know what to do when there is one truck, 4 kids who want to play with it, and 4 parents who all have an idea about how their child should share, be shared with, or not be expected to share at all.

On the other side of the coin, S. has been invited to play with other kids toys many times and has joined in games involving various backhoes, toy cars, and dump trucks. She has sat on picnic blankets with other families and has played catch with a little girl whose dad was teaching her how to throw a baseball. As I said people at our neighborhood park are typically friendly and welcoming even when S. and I are kind of crashing a mom’s group play date (awkward for me, irresistible for S.). However, I have learned that not all playgrounds are the same. Recently we went to a neighborhood park that was full of hustle and bustle with kids exploring on their own and parents chatting on the sideline while others hovered above their young toddlers. S. tried to figure out tunnel etiquette (there is no tunnel at our neighborhood playground) while I had to learn to speak up for her when an unsupervised little boy a year or two older than her put his foot on her chest as she climbed up a staircase and began to kick/shove her down the stairs. It is as if every playground is a whole new little environment that has a personality in and of itself; however even that personality changes every day.IMG_4053

I also have to learn S.’s ever changing abilities while she grows and gains new motor skills and improves her balance. The first time I let he go down a big slide by herself she twisted and smashed her face into the side of the slide, it took months before I was brave enough to let her go down a big slide by herself again. Now she pushes me back and goes down big spiral tube slides all by herself. As a mom I am constantly need to decide what features she needs me by her side in case she slips and where she can go alone. I need to trust her knowledge of her own ability, but I also guard ladders that she tries to go down, knowing that she is not yet big enough to attempt them by herself. I am also constantly reminding her to sit at the top of slides (yes, she has pretty much tried to run down them before) and reminding her to watch her feet on stairs because she is so easily distracted. But I give her space where I can, letting her learn her own capabilities and while I spot her, my general rule is “if you can’t do it yourself then you aren’t ready to do it”. To me, choosing my interaction with S. can be just as challenging as interacting with other parents and children at the playground. I want her to learn new skills and be confident in her own abilities, but I don’t want her to get seriously hurt. I really would like her not to get hurt at all, but I have realized that life at 18 months old is full of bumps, bruises, and a few bloody lips.

IMG_4065While I choose my interactions with S. I also watch how other parents interact with their children. I will admit that sometimes I do silently judge, but for the most part I just observe and make note of what works and what doesn’t appear to work. Dads are typically more hands on, getting the kid to climb the rock wall that might be still a little outside their realm of capabilities. Moms more frequently watch with a close eye as their children navigate the playscape. Some parents sit and fiddle with their phones and parents with older children may just sit back and watch, but those with little ones like me will walk around the playscape, guarding open holes that require advanced skills to navigate like sliding down a fire pole. Nanny’s bounce babies while older children run wild and siblings fight and simultaneously guard their little brother or sister under a caretaker’s watchful eye.IMG_4059

S. and I will continue to navigate our way through the playgrounds of Austin. Every week S. grows and changes and I am sure there will be new joys and obstacles that come with those changes that will impact our mornings spent climbing playscapes and zooming down slides. Since I grew up far away from the playground world that city children seem to scramble to on an almost daily basis, I am learning the etiquette associated with being a parent of a little one in a playground. With every visit to the playground I am choosing my actions and my words just like S. is choosing her steps across each new playscape feature. We are learning and exploring together as we grow together and while I love her enthusiasm and excitement every time I take her to a playground, I also want to teach her about the excitement that nature has to offer without needed the entertainment of a manmade metal playscape. We live in an urban jungle with manmade playscapes where children run free and parents hover around them, joining in imaginative play and friendly conversation, all while learning to navigate the world of the neighborhood playground.IMG_4057

Living a Little Greener: “Green My Routine”

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photo credit: StockMonkeys.com via photopin cc

I have really been into spending time with S. this summer and writing my Wet Wednesday blog posts about some of our water adventures; however, I realize I have been slacking on posts focused on other topics that I initially intended to write more about, especially “living a little greener”. I feel like I have also been slacking on “living a little greener” in my life as well so I think it is time to refocus a bit. As long as it is warm S. and I will still be playing in water when we can, but I just might not write about every one of our new water activities.

In terms of being green, I know the big thing I need to do is think about my actions and start doing things like grabbing reusable bags instead of plastic when I can, but I also know that there are a lot of products out there that would help Matt, S., and I live a little greener. I have decided that not only do I need to reevaluate some of our green living practices, but I also need to stop being so cheap and buy a few new things that will help us lead greener lives both in terms of better for our environment and better for our health. The problem is that I have trouble convincing myself to go out and buy new things that might not be 100% necessary. I mean, I could just keep using plastic Tupperware instead of investing in glass right? I already have the plastic Tupperware or if I need more I can pick it up cheap somewhere; however I know it would be much better to store our food in glass or stainless steel. So in order to make myself feel better about the money I want to spend on green products, I asked Matt if he would mind using money from various credit card reward programs or other similar programs to buy some products to help us live a little greener. This is money that we look at as “extra” usually since it doesn’t come from a regular paycheck. Matt agreed and I set out to add up how much money I have to spend:

  • Reward points from our Citi Card MasterCard. This used to be the card we used most frequently until American Express swooped in with a better rewards program. Now we just use the card when they have bonus categories where you get extra points. We have a total of 13,401 points saved up that I can cash out for approximately $125 in gift cards (i.e., Amazon, Target, Home Depot).
  • We are currently using our American Express card as our every day card because we get cash back on all of our purchases. Our current cash back amount available is $294.
  • I also have an Amazon credit card that I only use for Amazon purchases. Since I only use the card on Amazon, it takes a little while to accumulate reward points, but I currently have 2,335 points which amounts to about $23 to spend on Amazon.
  • I used to use the website Swagbucks a lot, but now I just use it occasionally for their affiliate shopping rewards program. If I was more diligent about using Swagbucks for searches as well as shopping rewards I am sure the points would add up faster, but I currently have 2,962 Swagbucks, which amounts to about $35-$40 in gift cards.
  • I also recently started using the shopping apps ibotta and Checkout 51. I haven’t been using them as much as I should since I haven’t been very organized with our grocery shopping the past month or two, but I do have $12.50 from ibotta that I can cash out.

That is a grand total of about $490 in either cash back rewards or gift card value. I was pleasantly surprised when I added it all up and I am not sure I will spend it all on “greening my routine”, but I will see how it goes. There are a few other sites where I have some credit, but not enough to get any actual cash back or gift cards at this time so I didn’t count them. They include the stock photo sites iStockphoto, Dreamstime, and Shutterstock, the shopping rewards programs Checkout 51 and Ebates, and the collaborative group invention site Quirky.

So yay! I get to spend our “extra” money. I am way better at saving than spending so we will see how this goes, but I am excited. I know I have some work to do in our kitchen in terms of food storage, but I also want to take a look around the rest of our house and even our yard to see how I can “green my routine”. So please, if you know any great new inventive products or other ways to help me live a little greener let me know! Also, if there is anyone who would like to join me on this journey, it would be fun to share our experiences. I will definitely share how I choose to spend my money, ways I hope to make my life a little greener (even if it is free, which would be even better), and I will try to share follow-ups on the things I do and products I purchase to see if they really are making our lives greener and if I think they are worth the money.

Wet Wednesday: Maine Lakes

I know I have already had a couple of posts about our recent vacation, but I have just one more adventure to share. Maine has thousands of lakes and ponds scattered throughout the state and it seems like you are never further than a short drive away from one. It is one of the many things I love about Maine and one of the things Matt and I both look forward to when we return to Maine every summer to visit my family. I grew up swimming in, and canoeing on, Maine lakes and I was so happy to share that experience with S. for the first time this summer. So what did we do to give her a memorable first experience? We put her in a life jacket and dropped her off in the middle of a lake to let her float around by herself.IMG_6171

OK, not really. Matt was right below the surface of the water holding her. See, here he is swimming around with her while she practices floating on her back.IMG_6164Wearing a life jacket was a little cumbersome for S. who loves to freely splash around in the water, but it did help her float on her back and for safety we put it on her whenever we were in water where we couldn’t touch the bottom. The water was a little chilly, but not as cold as the ocean. S. didn’t protest the water temperature, but she did get cold easily so we spent some time cuddling on the dock to stay warm and exploring the adjacent parking lot and boat ramp. While she loved being with her grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins, she is going through a “mommy phase” so she frequently made sure I was close by or pulled me along when she wanted to go off exploring.

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But she did separate from me long enough to sit on the front of a kayak all by herself while her uncle paddled her around. What do they call those mascots they put on the front of boats? Well, whatever they are called, that is kind of what S. was.IMG_5926

OK, I’m joking again. Matt was right there just like before, ready to catch her (and she was ready to grab onto him). IMG_5927I tried to put her on my lap for a little while and paddle her around in the kayak. I think she would have liked it, but once we paddled a short distance away from the shore she looked back and saw a tractor at the property adjacent to where we were swimming and it was all over, she wanted to go see that tractor! In addition to (or should I say in spite of) the tractor obsession, she had fun throwing rocks in the water, watching her cousins swim, and having us chase her into the water.

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And one day we got to watch a little visitor that came up close to us and swam near (and then under) the dock where we were swimming. I think this was the closest I have ever been to a water snake in Maine and it was pretty exciting for everybody, well except the snake, it didn’t appear to be too excited or even bothered by us being there.

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On one of our last days in Maine we were able to take S. on a short canoe ride. We didn’t go for too long because I wanted to make sure she enjoyed it and didn’t have a bad first experience, but she really seemed to have a good time. Luckily she didn’t insist on paddling like I had imaged she might because that probably would have been a little counterproductive to the whole canoeing experience. Instead, she just sat in my lap and floated along with us while we sang songs for her.IMG_6131

And at the end, after she had figured out how to lean over the side and dip her fingers in the water, she was still smiling. I hope this means she loves canoeing and kayaking as much as her dad and I do so that she will sit on our laps before too long and go kayaking with us (we don’t have a canoe).IMG_6152

What a fun way to spend a vacation; introducing S. to the lakes of Maine. It was a great way to escape the heat of Texas, spend time with family, and marvel at how well S. adjusts to every new experience we throw at her. Not only did she adapt to everything while we are were on vacation, she seemed to really be having a good time and enjoying each new activity like it was a grand new adventure we were taking her on.

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