Green My Routine: How often do you replace your shower curtain liner?

Or is that too personal of a question? We usually replace ours when we start to notice that it is looking a little scuzzy. Shower curtain liners don’t seem to wash well and it just doesn’t feel right showering next to something dirty. We usually spend a little extra money and get the PVC-free liners, but they are still plastic and they still stink when you open the up for the first time. I always feel bad throwing away big sheets of plastic and sometimes cut the dirty bottom section off and then use the cleaner top part for various craft projects.

The other day when S. was playing in the shower curtain I realized it was once again time for a new shower curtain liner; but this time I decided that I am going to try something different. I decided to purchase a fabric shower curtain liner so that we can just wash it and (hopefully) never have to throw away a plastic shower curtain liner again. I don’t know why I had never thought of doing this before. I found a fabric shower curtain liner on Amazon that is nothing fancy, but will hopefully do the job of keeping the water inside the shower. The best part? at a price of $10.99 it isn’t that much more than a plastic, PVC-free, shower curtain liner (I think I paid around $8.00 at Target the last time I purchased one) so hopefully this will actually be a money saving purchase as well as a “green my routine” purchase. The fabric shower curtain liner that I ordered from Amazon is listed as Croscill Fabric Shower Curtain Liner, 70-inch by 72-inch, White. Here is the product image from Amazon:Just like I said, nothing fancy or expensive, but hopefully it will get the job done. With the purchase of this shower curtain liner, the remaining money in my “green my routine” fund is $322.40 (if you don’t know what I am talking about please refer to this post). Hopefully we never need to buy another shower curtain liner again! Well, with the exception of replacing the plastic shower curtain liner in or guest bathroom with a fabric one.

Why I don’t Rock My Toddler to Sleep

If you have been reading my blog since the beginning you might have read my post titled Why I Rock My Toddler to Sleep. This is my follow up post that I have titled Why I don’t Rock my Toddler to Sleep. The reason is simple: because she doesn’t want me to. Last week at just under 21 months old S. decided that she doesn’t want to be rocked anymore. When I go to nurse her and put her to sleep she pats the bed and says “lay down”. The first night she did this I thought maybe it was a ploy to avoid going to bed, but I decided to go along with it and see what happened. After rolling around a bit she actually fell asleep. Since then we have laid down in bed together for bed time as well as nap time and she has eventually fallen asleep, although sometimes she does flail around like a fish out of water for a while first.

This might not seem like a big deal or even something worth writing about, but to me it is pretty big. Not only is it a change in our routine and a sign that S. is growing up, but it is also justification. Justification that trusting S. to know what is best for her really works. Justification that my choices of how to parent work. Justification that, given time, a child can learn to fall asleep on their own without being left alone to cry. So much talk in circles of moms revolves around sleep and ultimately I always hear about how babies need to be sleep trained. While I know there are methods that don’t involve many tears and that everyone’s situation is different, I have never felt that sleep training was right for us. So I rocked S to sleep for naps and at night time. And I rocked her some more during middle of the night wake ups. I was frustrated some nights and I enjoyed the cuddles other nights. Now I worry that I didn’t enjoy them enough.

So last week when S. decided she didn’t want to be rocked any more I felt that maybe, just maybe, I am getting this parenting thing right. I felt that not pushing S. to fall asleep on her own was the right thing to do and that trusting her to develop her own sleep patterns is going to turn out just fine in the long run. I didn’t push S. to crawl, she crawled when she was ready. I didn’t push S. to walk, she took her first steps when she was ready and now she is running around like crazy. I didn’t push S. to talk and now she is a little chatterbox. I feel the same way with sleep, that I shouldn’t push S. to fall asleep by herself or sleep through the night by herself. She will do these things when she is ready. For now, we are one step closer to this ultimate sleep goal, we aren’t there yet though so I am trying to enjoy my time laying in bed with S. while she falls asleep; however part of me misses holding my baby in my arms and rocking her to sleep.

DIY Busy Board for Toddler

Our busy board for S. has been an ongoing project that we finally finished about a month ago. I should say that Matt did the majority of the physical work with both of us collaborating on the design. We started planning the busy board project back in May (I think) and it was just one of those ongoing projects that never quite got finished, well, until a month ago. We call it a busy board, but it is really a MEGA busy board, more like a busy station. It has all kinds of stuff on it to entertain S. and even a chalk board on the back for when she is a little older. There is so much to it that I can’t even begin to provide detailed plans for it, but I will include lots of pictures and at the end I will give a few more details about how Matt put it together. Here is a look at the front of it:IMG_6869It measures 23 inches high 18.5 inches wide. It can easily fit in the corner or be pulled out into the middle of the room (it has felt pieces on the bottom so that it can slide on our hardwood floors). It is pretty heavy so it would be pretty hard for S. to push over, but I do watch her if she gets a little crazy and wants to start climbing on it. We also made it so it would fit right under our windowsill since we planned to leave it in the living room for her. There really is a lot of different stuff on it so here is a closer look:

First, the latch side. It consists of four doors that open up:
















The top door doesn’t have any latches, but inside is a bike bell. This has to be one of S.’s favorite things on the board, she loves sticking her little fingers (and her toes with my help) in through the door and ringing the bell. At first she couldn’t ring it by herself, but now she is a pro.IMG_6689

On the top right is the only door that is flush with the main board. It has latch that you have to turn that S. plays with, but hasn’t quite figured out how to open and close yet.IMG_6699 Inside the top right door is a door stopper that S. likes to play with. We super glued the cap of the door stopper on since it could be a choking hazard if it came off. The bottom set of latches are a little stiff and S. always just wants me to open them for her; however, the middle set of latches S. has figured out and can open and close without any help (note to self: these latches are not child proof).IMG_6695

On the other front side there are little doors across the top and other handles and doo-dads for S. to play with including: a long handle with big fabric rings on it; smaller handles with plastic rings on them; a couple of vertical handles with random rings and quick link screw locks on them; a light switch (it doesn’t actually do anything much to S.’s dismay); a rope that can wrap around a knob and a tie down cleat; a door knocker; and another door stopper (S. always has fun with those at other people’s houses, we don’t have any in our house).IMG_6865

The doors across the tops have letters wood burned behind them to spell out S’s name.IMG_6655Since the busy board is a couple of inches thick there is room on the sides for additional busy elements to entertain S. On one side is a dowel with a rainbow of “beads” on it. The “beads” are made from the tops of those squeezy pouches that contain baby food. Matt chiseled out the middle and between pouches that S. and her cousin ate we were able to have an entire rainbow.IMG_6861

On the other side is a notched dowel with another stick attached by a string to make a sort of rhythm stick for S. to play on.IMG_6870

However, S. thinks that the stick on the string is a phone and is frequently making phone calls on it. IMG_6701

Also, on the top we attached a little toy that has four different colored lights that turn on when you push them. It is the only part of the busy board that is electronic and while S. does like it, I kind of think it was an unnecessary addition even though I liked the idea of it when we put it on.IMG_6691

The back also contains busy board elements. One side is a chalkboard since we had a can of unused chalkboard paint. We haven’t actually given S. any chalk yet and I don’t intend to in the near future, but I think she will enjoy this when she is a little older. The idea of her putting chalk in her mouth and biting down on it makes me cringe just sitting here thinking about it.IMG_6860

The other back piece has entertainment on it for S. as well.IMG_6855

The top is a magnet board made out of a clearance cookie sheet that I purchased at target (not all cookie sheets are magnetic so if you want to buy one for this purpose make sure to check and see if it will work before you purchase it).IMG_6857

The bottom is a collage of textures for S. to run her hands across. It includes mostly free flooring samples from Home Depot (Lowe’s makes you purchase them, but they are free at Home Depot) as well as a couple cheap tiles that I picked up to add a little variety.IMG_6856

When I was a teacher’s assistant I had a cubicle in a room with a bunch of other graduate students. I would always just tune out the commotion around me, but sometimes my students would come in and just stand behind me until I got that feeling that someone was watching me. To solve that problem I put a little “rear view mirror” on my computer monitor. Since I no longer have an office we took that little mirror that I still had lying around and added it to the busy board for S. to enjoy and maybe someday use to see if I am standing behind her watching her.IMG_6673

As I said, we call it her busy board, but it is really more of a busy station. It wasn’t really difficult to put it together, but just time consuming since it took a lot of planning on my part and a lot of building on Matt’s part. Since it was really just an ongoing evolution of ideas and random pieces of wood and other materials I don’t have plans for it, but here is a little bit more about how it was made:

For the front two panels we wanted some pieces of wood that were sturdy and looked good so we purchased an 18 inch wood panel and cut two approximately 16 inch wide by 23 inch long pieces from it.IMG_4896

For the back pieces we just used some thin plywood that we had in the garage and cut two approximately 18 inch wide by 23 inch long pieces from it.IMG_5391

For the top and sides we used some 1 x 4 pieces of pine that we had in the garage and cut grooves in them to slide the front and back pieces into.IMG_4897

For the two doors that open and have the bell and the door stopper in them, Matt cut square holes in the front board and then used some scrap pieces of wood to frame around the back of the holes so that when the door is open the bell/door stopper are contained within a little box-like area.IMG_5399

The dowels for the rhythm stick and rainbow beads were just pieces that we had in the garage. Most of the knobs and latches were purchased at the Habitat for Humanity Re-store. S. had fun helping me pick out the handles and other pieces.IMG_4664

Even though many of the pieces from the Habitat for Humanity Re-store were actually knew, they were relatively inexpensive. Here is what we purchased there:IMG_4666

And here is what we paid:IMG_4667

Items that we didn’t purchase at the Re-store were mostly either items that we had or items that we found in clearance bins at Home Depot or Lowe’s. There were only a few things that we purchased and paid full price for because they were pretty specific, like the hinges on the small doors that have S.’s name behind them.

We have had the busy board out for a month or so now and I think S. plays with it almost every day still. Hopefully it will continue to entertain her for a while as well as help her develop fine motor skills. Additionally, I do use it for a learning tool since it has the letters and colors on it as well as rings on the various handles that we count. While it was a long project that Matt was ready to have over with way before it was done, I’m glad we took the time to make it because I think it is a good addition to S.’s toy collection.IMG_6809


Made in the U.S.A. Gifts for Kids

Made in USAWhen I can I like to support companies who make their products right here in the U.S.A. I am always afraid that when products are manufactured in China they are made by workers who aren’t paid a fair wage or provided with safe and healthy working conditions. I also hope that manufacturing facilities in the U.S. follow better environmental practices and that the products they manufacture are safe for the consumer. You may notice that I say hope because there is no guarantee that made in the U.S.A. means better wages/environmental practices/quality than China, but I feel like when I purchase products made in the U.S.A. I am doing my best at being a responsible consumer. So with the holiday season upon us, here is a list of some products for our little ones that are manufactured in the U.S.A.


 1. My First Keys Baby Toy by Green Toys (list price $7.99, current Amazon price $7.71)

My notes: you will notice that I will be listing quite a few products from Green Toys. I like that Green Toys are made from recycled materials and I find that they are both sturdy and affordable, as well as made in the U.S.A.

2. Multi Sensory Silicone Teether (2-pack) by Lifefactory (list price $14.99, current Amazon price $14.99)

3. Striped Karate Pants or an Organic Short Sleeve Lap T by American Apparel ($14.00 and $10.00, respectively)

4.  Wooden Baby’s First Christmas Train Ornament by Graphic Spaces on Etsy ($19.00)

My notes: We are giving S. the train engine ornament this year since she is a big “choo choo” fan, but check out their Etsy store for other ornaments and designs.

5. One Size Simplex All In One Cloth Diaper by Blueberry ($28.95)

My notes: these diapers were formerly made by the brand Swaddlebees and some listings on sites like Amazon are still listed as Swaddlebees instead of Blueberry. I usually try to use organic cotton diapers, but despite the fact that these are not organic and have a microfiber insert, they are my favorite diapers. It might not look like an exciting Christmas present, but remember at this age it is all about the packaging.

Crawler/Young Toddler

1. My First Stacker by Green Toys (list price $14.99, current Amazon price $15.19)

2. Munchie Mug Snack Cup by Munchie Mug ($16.99, but Amazon price varies based on mug selected)

My notes: recommended ages are 1 to 4. We have one for S. and it is the best snack cup I have found, definitely worth the extra money. MunchieMug

3. Organic Wooden Toy Gift Set by Honey Bee Toy and Craft on Etsy ($20.00)

My notes: I haven’t purchased anything from this seller, but it looks like a good product at a reasonable price as well as a gift set that might hold its own in the toy bin for a while. I try to support Etsy sellers by purchasing at least an item or two off of Etsy every Christmas.

4. Boynton’s Greatest Hits by Sandra Boynton (list price $23.99, current Amazon price $14.11)

My notes: I just chose this set because it has But Not the Hippopotamus included in it which S. likes, but there are other sets available as well as many individual board books by Sandra Boynton. I find that Boynton books are simple, but captivating for a young audience. I have a few Boynton books that I have purchased used that say they are printed in Mexico, but all the ones I have purchased new say that they are manufactured in the USA and I checked the three in this set to make sure they all say manufactured in the USA on the back.

5. Push Around Buggy by Step2 (list price $59.99, current Amazon price $43.54)

My notes: I was surprised to find out that this was actually made in the U.S.A. I am not always a fan of big plastic toys, but S. has loved this car since she was probably about 9 months old. It does say that it is for 1.5-3 year olds, but I feel that S. is already getting a little big for it sometimes.

Older Toddler

1. Shape and Color Sorter by Lauri (list price $14.99, current Amazon price $11.93)

My notes: we don’t leave this toy out all the time for S. because of all the pieces, but she does enjoy playing with it when we take it out. She still doesn’t understand the sorting part though.

2. Sand Play Set by Green Toys (list price $21.99, current Amazon price $15.39)

3. Wooden ABC Blocks with Bag by Uncle Goose (list price $42.00, current Amazon price $36.95)

My notes: if I didn’t already have letter blocks for S. I would probably buy these for her based on all the good reviews on Amazon.

4. Classic Jumbo Lacing Beads by Holgate ($12.00 on Holgate website, current Amazon price $11.68)LacingBeads

5. Little Pitterpat Soft Sole Shoes by Little Pitterpat, sold on Etsy and at select stores nationwide ($35.00)

My notes: I could just have easily listed these for babies or young toddlers because they come in all sizes. Prices vary based on the shoes you select. I noticed that for smaller sizes there were even some on sale for $16.00. I love soft sole shoes for S., especially at the playground, and I have heard nothing but good things about these shoes. If S. didn’t already have other soft sole shoes I would probably be buying these for her, actually, I still might buy her a pair when she outgrows her current pair of soft sole shoes. There are so many cute prints I had trouble selecting one to show, I’m not sure how I would ever choose one to buy.

Young Child

1. 4-Tone Pinewood Train Whistle by Brooklyn Peddler (current Amazon price $6.42)

If you have a train enthusiast, for an added bonus throw in a train engineer’s hat by Round House for $14.99 plus shipping.

2. Dish Set by Green Toys (list price $24.99, current Amazon price $21.21)

My notes: there is also a tea set as well as a pot and pan set made by Green Toys that would go well with this dish set. We have this set and the dish set; S. has already been playing with them for almost a year.

3. Name Train by Maple Landmark Woodcraft ($25.00 for three letters, engine, and caboose)

My notes: I think this could also be a great gift for a baby to use as a room decoration on a shelf; however, it says for ages three and up so I am listing it here, plus it goes with the train whistle and engineer’s hat.

4. Tinkertoy 100 Piece Essentials Value Set by K’NEX (list price $34.99, current Amazon price $24.49)

My notes: these aren’t the original wood Tinker Toys that I remember having as a kid, but they are made in the U.S.A. and they have better reviews on Amazon than the wood version.

5. Wooden Block Set “Basic Builder” with 60 Blocks by Back to Blocks ($60.00)


Older Child

1. Slinky by Slinky (list price $5.99, current Amazon price $4.99)

My notes: the box says for ages 5 and up, but S. is already a Slinky fan, although she has a Slinky Jr. (the smaller version).

2. Some Classics: Jump Rope or Frisbee by Green Toys (list prices $10.99 and $5.49, respectively, current Amazon prices $10.24 and $5.49, respectively) or a Plain Yo-Yo by Maple Landmark ($5.75)

3. 28″ Wood Baseball Bat by Louisville Slugger ($15.99)

My notes: I don’t know much about baseball bats or baseball for that matter, so if this bat doesn’t look like the right fit for your child there are other Louisville Slugger bats that are also made in the U.S.A.

4. 35 Model Ultimate Building Set by K’NEX (list price $24.99, current Amazon price $25.25)

5. Silver Proof Set 2014 by the United States Mint ($53.95)

My notes: this might not seem like an exciting gift, but it is something that is fun to look at and talk about as well as something that can be tucked away as a small investment. We give S. a set for Christmas every year (well we intend to, this will only be her second Christmas).

Just as with my eco-friendly toy list, I do not have personal experience with all of these products so please use your best judgment when determining if a gift is appropriate for a specific child based on their age and skill levels. Also, I think it is great if you can find these or other made in the U.S.A. products from local retailers; I link to Amazon because it is the easiest way to provide additional information about many of the products. Prices change on Amazon all the time, so my “current Amazon” price may be different from the price you see when you click on the link, many times I find that Amazon prices are competitive with other retailers, but not always so it can pay to shop around.

If you don’t see anything you like, or you think your child would like, on this list then check out other items made by some of the companies listed, I have found that many companies that make one of their products in the U.S.A. make all or most of their products in the U.S.A. I also came across some products like tricycles, roller skates, and skateboards that were made by American companies; however I did not include them in my list because the products are expensive so I would consider them specialty items that would not appeal to a wide audience. Also, feel free to add your favorite made in the U.S.A. gift for little ones in the comments below.

Eco-Friendly Gifts for Kids

photo credit: 19melissa68 via photopin cc

Photo credit: 19melissa68 via photopin cc

While the greenest or most eco-friendly gifts of all are the gifts that don’t involve manufactured items wrapped in manufactured wrapping paper and decorated with manufactured bows, many of us will still be purchasing gifts for our children this holiday season. Sure we might make them some things from recycled items (that’s great!) and we will make sure to spend lots of good family time with them (the best gift they will ever receive!), but we will probably still go buy them toys for their stocking and wrap up at least a few gifts to put under the tree. So, if you are going to be out purchasing gifts for your own children, or for other special children in your life, consider buying gifts that are a little bit more eco-friendly than many of the traditional plastic toys you see gifted as Christmas time. I realize that everyone’s idea of what eco-friendly means is a little different, but below you will find a list of gifts for babies, toddlers, and children that I find to be on the eco-friendly spectrum. Please feel free to post your ideas for eco-friendly gifts in the comments below, it is always great to have new gift ideas.


1. Panda Teether by Hevea (current Amazon price $12.79)

My notes: I like that these teethers are made of natural rubber with no additional paints or dyes. I probably would have bought S. one if I knew about them earlier, but I didn’t find this brand until I was looking for some good bath toys for her (you can read about her bath toys in this post).

2. Chan Pie Gnon Natural Rubber Teether (Blue Chan) by Vulli (list price $16.50, current Amazon price $14.85)

My notes: this little guy is from the company that invented Sophie the Giraffe, the natural rubber teether that almost every baby has. S. actually liked this one better when she was little. It is a softer rubber, has a wobbly mushroom head that has a nipple shaped top, is easy to make squeak, and in general just fun for little hands. As a warning, if your baby spits up in the hole the squeak noise might not work quite so well. If your husband then tries to clean the spit up out with an air compressor you will never hear the squeak again and your toddler might declare the toy “broken”. 

3. Picnic Pal Organic Soft Block Set by Apple Park (list price $30.00, current Amazon price $23.20)

4. Swaddle Blanket Set by Under the Nile (list price $32.00, current Amazon price $25.20)

My notes: these were my favorite swaddle blankets when S. was a newborn. They are made from soft organic cotton and are just the right weight and size as well as slightly stretchy. I still often cover S. with one during naps and it is one of the two blankets she sometimes likes to have next to her when she falls asleep.

5. Swim Lessons or Other Activity

After the first month or two there is nothing better than a good excuse to get you and your little one out of the house. Why not give them the gift of swim lessons or another mommy and baby (or daddy and baby) activity? We started swimming lessons with S. when she was 2 months old (you can read about it in this post). If swimming isn’t your thing then perhaps a mommy and me yoga class or stroller exercise class? In most decent size cities there are quite a few mommy and me activities available.IMG_1553

Crawler/Young Toddler

1. Toddler Zoom by Camden Rose ($6.99, but doesn’t currently qualify for free shipping on Amazon)

My notes: recommended age is 18+ months so use your best judgment when giving it to a crawler or young toddler.

2. Pilot Cap in Organic Cotton by Hanna Andersson ($10.00 to $14.00 depending on hat selected)

My notes: S. received some of these little organic hats from her cousins in Maine and I have to say they are the best hats for keeping little heads warm once little hands start pulling at things. They fit snug and stay on! For cold days you can put a regular winter hat over them for added warmth.

3. Scrappy Cat or Scrappy Dog by Under the Nile (list price $14.00, current Amazon price $11.65)

4. Wonder Walker by Hape (list price $99.99, current Amazon price $64.57)

My notes: Hape claims that their products are eco-friendly, made from sustainable materials, and meet the strictest international standards for quality and safety. Hape products are however made in China which I know might disqualify them from some people’s “eco-friendly” list. S. received this walker for Christmas last year and for us it is a very durable product that I am sure could easily last through many different toddlers. To me, that helps bump it into the “eco-friendly” category.

5. Zoo membership (cost varies, but look for coupons on daily deal websites)

My notes: To me, the greenest thing you can do is not buy a physical item for your child, but instead buy an experience. I am not the biggest fan of zoos just for the simple fact that they keep animals in cages, but there are good zoos out there that treat their animals well. Luckily for S. Austin has a small zoo/animal sanctuary that takes in exotic animals that have often been kept as pets or in other similar circumstances and need a good home. If there aren’t any zoos you can easily go to you could look at other wildlife sanctuaries or farms where you can visit the animals. At this age I think most kids really like to see live animals.

Older Toddler

1. Natural Non-toxic Crayons by Clear Hills Honey Company ($9.95)

My notes: since things still go in S.’s mouth both purposefully and inadvertently, I really would like to have some safe art supplies. I purchased some other expensive crayons for her that are little squares and they are kind of a letdown because she can’t figure out how to hold them up on their side so that they will actually draw. I haven’t purchased these crayons for her yet, but they are on my wish list.

2. Wooden Toy Camera by Keepsake Toys on Etsy ($28.00)

My notes: according to the seller this little wooden camera is handmade and finished with a homemade mix of beeswax and certified organic food-grade oil.

3. 6 Piece Magnetic Wooden Block Set by Tegu (list price $30.00, current Amazon price $32.99, but check other color options for different prices)

My notes: I have been intrigued with these little blocks since I first saw them in a store a few years ago. They come in a variety of colors and shapes as well as sets with different quantities of blocks in them. I always thought they were a little too expensive for blocks, but I recently read about the company and I think that they are pretty clever blocks from a company that is worth supporting.

4. My Very First Games – My First Orchard by Haba (list price $29.49, current Amazon price $28.03)

My notes: I love board games and can’t wait until I can play them with S. This game has great Amazon reviews and says it is for ages 2 and up, so maybe if I get this game we can start playing sooner than I thought! Too bad all of her Christmas shopping is pretty much done.


5. Music, Dance, or gym “lessons” (price varies)

My notes: your toddler is most likely going to get a lot of gifts from relatives as well, so why not give them something that doesn’t sit in the toy box and will provide them with weeks, months, or even a year of fun. There are so many different activities out there that involve music, dance, and movement for little ones. I know S. loves to bop to music or run around and climb on things so I think this would already be a great gift for her. We go to a free music show every week, but I would like to enroll her in a little weekly gym class as well, or maybe a mommy and me yoga class that we would both enjoy. 

photo credit: jhhymas via photopin cc

Photo credit: jhhymas via photopin cc

Young Child

1. Mushroom Kaleidoscope by Plan Toys (list price $5.00, current Amazon price $8.78)

My notes: made from rubber wood. Plan toys manufactures their toys in Thailand from materials they claim are all environmentally friendly.

2. Waldorf Selection Unlacquered Triangular Giant Colored Pencils, set of 6  by LYRA (list price $12.05, current Amazon price $11.32)

3. Wooden Fruit Set in Shopping Bag or Wooden Vegetable Set in Shopping Bag by HABA (list price $25.99, current Amazon price $46.60, but recently they were selling for around $23.00 so I would expect it to change again soon)

My notes: manufactured in Germany from beech wood with a non toxic water based stain. There are quite a few companies that manufacture the wood fruit and vegetable products. Melissa and Doug is probably the one you see the most; however, I find their quality to be inconsistent and they are manufactured in China. Hape also makes the wood food play sets and while I haven’t purchased any of their wood food, I have been pleased with the quality of their products; however, they are also manufacture in China. Plan Toys makes similar products as well and they manufacture their toys in Thailand from materials they claim are all environmentally friendly. I have read good things about Plan Toys, but don’t have any personal experience with their products. HABA manufactures their wood toys in Germany and generally has good reviews when it comes to wood toys, for those reasons I chose to include HABA play foods on my list instead of similar products from other companies.

4. Monthly Subscription Craft Box by Green Kid Crafts ($19.95 a month)

My notes: if you sign up for multi-month plans you can get a slightly lower rate. I have also seen deals for this company on various daily deal websites so keep your eye open if you are interested in this program.

5. Children’s museum membership (price varies)

My notes: we have a relatively new children’s museum in Austin that S. loves to go to. If you have one in your area this can be a great gift for a young child that doesn’t involve buying more stuff. If you don’t have a good children’s museum or other child-friendly museum close by, how about the gift of a trip to one?

Older Child

1. Potato Clock by 4M (list price $11.99, current Amazon price $9.25)

My notes: keep batteries out of the landfill by setting up this little clock. For an added bonus grow your own potatoes! If you aren’t into potatoes, you can also find clocks that are powered by water.

2. Handmade Paper Bookmaking Kit by Artterro (list price $22.00, current Amazon price $20.71)

My notes: paper used is 100% post consumer waste. Artterro also has quite a few other craft kits if bookmaking doesn’t appeal to you.

3. Earthopoly by Late for the Sky (list price $29.99, current Amazon price $16.97)

My notes: an environmental twist on the traditional game of Monopoly. Players are the caretakers of places around the planet and increase their property value by collecting Carbon Credits and trading them in for Clean Air. They have also made an effort to make the actual game materials more environmentally friendly.

4. Light Duffle by RAREFORM ($39.95)

My notes: made in California from upcycled billboards. Water resistant and durable, this could be the perfect bag to take to sports practice and games. They also have backpacks; however they cost $49.95 or $64.95 depending on the style you choose. 

5. Adopt a Whale, Dolphin, or Turtle by Pacific Whale Foundation ($25, $75, or $97 depending on options you choose)

My notes: there are many different programs that you can adopt a whale or sea animal through. If you live on the ocean it might be worth looking for a local organization; however I like that the Pacific Whale Foundation is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect our oceans through science and advocacy. I also like that many of their adoption programs include maps of sightings of the animal that you adopted. I still remember that the humpback whale my parents adopted for us when I was a kid was named Salt and we would get updates about when and where she was spotted.


Please note that I do not have personal experience with all of these products so please use your best judgment when determining if a gift is appropriate for a specific child based on their age and skill levels. Also, I think it is great if you can find these or other eco-friendly products from local retailers; I link to Amazon because it is the easiest way to provide additional information about many of the products. Prices change on Amazon all the time, so my “current Amazon” price may be different from the price you see when you click on the link, many times I find that Amazon prices are competitive with other retailers, but not always so it can pay to shop around. Happy Holidays and thank you for at least thinking about making some eco-friendly gift giving choices this year.


Green My Routine: Toaster Oven


S. was pretty thrilled with our new toaster oven and wanted it to “turn on, turn on”. I’m not sure what she thought it was going to do, but the one little light that came on was only slightly entertaining. The fact that I told her she couldn’t touch it because it was hot once we turned it on was not so exciting.

I am still working on “greening my routine” even though I haven’t been posting about it every week, we just have so many other fun projects going on that my “green my routine” endeavors don’t always seem quite as exciting to write about. I do however feel that they are important so here is one that I thought would be simple, but it turned out to be a little more challenging than I anticipated: a new toaster oven.

First, let me explain why I consider a toaster oven to be green. We don’t have a microwave (and no, we don’t want one), so I find that when I go to heat up leftovers for lunch I either have to throw them in a pot on the stove and watch them carefully so they don’t burn or turn on the oven to heat that one small dish. S. isn’t always patient when it comes to waiting for me to stand over the stove stirring something so I usually go the oven route and reheat our leftovers while S. and I play. Our conventional gas oven puts out quite a bit of heat, warming the air that our AC is working hard to cool in the summer. Not only that, but according to an ENERGY STAR Market & Industry Scoping Report, “a toaster oven uses about 1/3-1/2 less energy than a conventional electric oven for cooking small meals”. Even if I am just using the oven a couple times a week to reheat leftovers, I could save a bit of energy if I had a toaster oven.

Deciding that a toaster oven was a good investment and a greener option for our family was the easy part. The hard part was choosing a toaster oven to purchase. We really didn’t want something big or expensive so I started looking for a four-slice toaster oven with good reviews. There were some out there, but then I realized that a lot of toaster ovens have non-stick elements inside. I avoid all non-stick pans, so do I really want a non-stick toaster oven? To be on the safe side, I decided that no, I don’t want a non-stick toaster oven either. Non-stick typically involves Teflon and according to the Environmental Working Group website, “[t]oxic fumes from the Teflon chemical released from pots and pans at high temperatures may kill pet birds and cause people to develop flu-like symptoms (called “Teflon Flu” or, as scientists describe it, “Polymer fume fever”)”. Again, this may not be the case with a toaster oven, but why take the chance?

At first I thought I might have to settle for a more expensive, larger, six-slice toaster oven to get a non-stick toaster oven that I thought would last more than a year or two (that is how long our last one lasted), but then S. and I were admiring the Christmas decorations at Lowe’s the other day and I saw it, a four-slice toaster oven without a non-stick interior by a brand that I had read good reviews on:

It is a Waring Pro four-slice Toaster Oven; a small, simple toaster oven with no crazy digital programming. I like digital things, but sometimes they just seem like they don’t last as long as the simple knobs that you manually turn. The toaster oven costs $49.99 and since it was at Lowe’s I was able to get a gift card from my Citi Card Thank You Rewards program. Not the cheapest toaster oven out there, but definitely affordable. With the purchase of this toaster oven, the remaining money in my “green my routine” fund is $333.39 (if you don’t know what I am talking about refer to this post). Hopefully this toaster oven will last and save us some energy (and money) since I won’t have to use the conventional oven as much.

DIY Floor Cushion for Toddler

IMG_6840For a while now Matt and I have been working on putting together a reading corner for S. in her bedroom. My father-in-law made her a great shelf for her birthday that displays all her books so that she can see them and Matt fixed and repainted his childhood rocking chair. For my part, I made her a fun round “cushion” as we call it for her to sit on.IMG_6838

S. really likes the cushion when we sit in her room reading books (which is a regular activity for us). If she isn’t sitting on my lap then she is sitting on the cushion, putting her feet up on it, resting a book on it, or I am using the cushion for a pillow. The cushion even helped S. learn what a circle was one day when I was trying to show her how to run around in a circle; she didn’t grasp the concept until I put the cushion in the living room and had her go around and around it.IMG_6874

The idea of making a round cushion was a little intimidating for me at first; however, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. It also didn’t cost much because I had enough fabric on hand, but if you didn’t have fabric it still wouldn’t be too expensive of a project because you should be able to get by with 1.5 yards of fabric (dependent on the width of the fabric you choose and how many different fabrics you want to use). I decided to make the bottoms and sides of the cushion one color and the top a separate color, but you could make the top and bottom the same, or even use a completely different fabric for the bottom. Here is what you would need to make a cushion like the one I made:

  • One yard of the fabric you want to use for the sides and bottom of the cushion.
  • Half a yard of the fabric you want to use for the top of the cushion.
  • Two packages of piping.
  • Stuffing (I don’t know how much because I used kind of random stuffing as I will discuss later).
  • Thread (I would recommend using the same color as the piping when sewing the piping on).

I started by cutting out the top and bottom pieces. Instead of figuring out how to draw a perfect circle, I looked around the house to find something round that was approximately the size I wanted. Our pots and buckets weren’t big enough, but a dart board hanging on the garage wall turned out to be perfect! It had an approximate diameter of 18 inches. You could probably just lay your round object on the fabric and trace it, but I made a pattern using some large paper that I had.IMG_4899

After I traced the dartboard I cut out the paper and pinned it to the fabric I was going to use for the top of the cushion.IMG_4904I then cut the fabric along the edge of my pattern.IMG_4905

I repeated this with the fabric that I had chosen to use for the bottom of my cushion. When I was done I had two, approximately 18 inch diameter pieces of fabric. Next, I pinned the piping around the circumference of the two circles. The piping needs to be pinned and sewed to the right-side of the fabric (the side that will be showing when the cushion is done).IMG_5022

When I got to where the two ends of the piping overlapped, I just kind of gradually overlapped them and cut off the piping with a couple inches to spare. As you can see, it took quite a few pins to hold the piping in place along the edge of the circle.IMG_5030

You could pin one circle and sew it before moving on to the next one, but I went ahead and pinned the piping to both the top and the bottom pieces before starting to sew.


Once the piping was pinned I sewed it down to the two circle pieces. I had never sewn piping before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It wasn’t too difficult; however the only thing I wish I had done differently was go to the store and buy some thread that was the same color as the piping so that it would blend in a little better (I used yellow thread and the piping was obviously red). In the end though, it didn’t matter too much, but it is just one detail I think I could have easily improved on. When sewing the fabric I found the most important thing to do was to attempt to sew right on the existing piping stitching.IMG_5114

While I was working with the piping I went ahead and made a handle for the cushion. I thought the handle would allow S. to carry the cushion around, but so far she hasn’t taken much interest in it. Oh well, I think it looks nice. I used the same fabric as I used for the top of the cushion to add another dash of color to the cushion. I cut two 3 inch by 12 inch pieces of my poke-a-dot fabric using a piece of paper pattern with the same measurements.IMG_4906

I then pinned and sewed piping to the right-side of one of the pieces of fabric I cut for the handle. I used two pieces of piping, one along each of the long sides of the handle. IMG_5032With the piping sewed to one side of the handle, I pinned the other piece of handle fabric to the one with the piping sewed on it so that they were right-sides together with the piping sandwiched in the middle. I sewed the two pieces together by sewing along the existing stitching on the back of the piece with the piping sewed to it (the stitching that attached the piping to the fabric). Once the pieces were sewed together I turned the now fabric tube right side out to where the piping was exposed on the edges of the handle. I left the two short sides turned into the center of the “tube” so that the raw edges were not exposed.IMG_5353Once I had the piping sewed to the top and bottom circles and the handle made it was time to start working on the sides of the cushion. I cut a 12 inch by 60 inch piece from the fabric I had chosen to use for the sides of my cushion. The fabric I was using happened to be an interior design type fabric that had a 60 inch width. If you are using a fabric that isn’t as wide you may find that you need to sew two pieces of fabric together to create a piece that is wide enough to go all the way around the cushion. Next, I pinned the 12 inch by 60 inch side piece to the top circle with the right-sides together.

IMG_5233When I cut the side piece I decided that I would determine the final width needed once I pinned the side piece to the top piece. I did the math to make sure that 60 inches was more than wide enough, but figured it would be better to determine exactly where it needed to be cut once I pinned the pieces together. So I just went ahead and pinned the side piece to the top piece right up to where it came together to complete the circle.IMG_5235I then marked where the fabric met with two pins and a fabric pencil (OK, I think it is just a colored pencil I keep in my sewing box, not an actual “fancy” fabric pencil).IMG_5241I took out just enough pins so that I could lay the two ends of the side piece out flat on the cutting mat and cut the excess fabric off. When I cut off the the excess fabric I left about an inch of overlap in order to give myself plenty of room to sew the two ends together.IMG_5242Next, I pinned and sewed the two ends of the side piece together.


With the ends of the side piece sewn together, I finished pinning the top piece to the side piece (where I had unpinned it to lay it on my cutting mat) so that I could sew the two pieces together. At this point the piping was sandwiched between the top and the side pieces that were pinned right-side together. I then sewed the two pieces together, making sure to sew on top of the stitching that held the piping to the top fabric piece.IMG_5351

Before I moved on to attaching the bottom piece, I went ahead and sewed the handle on. I decided to center it on the side directly opposite from where the side seam was. However, the handle could be placed anywhere you like. You could even attach two handles. I decided to have a horizontal handle, but you could also make it a vertical handle. To attach the handle I just pinned it where I wanted it, making sure it wasn’t stretched too tight so that it would have a little bit of give once the cushion was put together (and room for hands to fit around it). IMG_5357

Next, I sewed each end down with a rectangular pattern and an “X” in the middle of the rectangle. I sewed over the stitches twice to make sure it was sturdy, but because of my sewing skills (or lack there of), sewing over the stitching also made it so the stitching wasn’t very clean looking. Seeing that the handle doesn’t get much use, the extra stitching was probably unnecessary.IMG_5359The final piece to attach was the bottom. Just like I did with the top, I pinned the bottom piece to the side piece with right-sides together and the piping sandwiched in the middle.IMG_5363

I sewed the bottom piece to the side piece the same way I sewed the top piece to the side piece; however I left an approximately 6 inch opening so that I would be able to turn the cushion right-side out and add the stuffing.IMG_5377

I filled the cushion with left over pieces of stuffing that I had on hand as well as some stuffing from homemade pillows that I made years ago that were just sitting in the closet unused. You could add whatever you like for stuffing, but I like to use whatI already have if at all possible since it saves money and resources. You could take apart any old pillows that you no longer use or need, and of course you could go to the craft store and buy stuffing as well.

With the stuffing in place I carefully stitched the opening together. I found it was easiest to sew down through the piping and then hold the side of the cushion folded in and sew through the folded part of the side with the needle going from the inside to the outside.IMG_5385

And there it is, our completed cushion for S.’s reading corner. It gives her a soft and fun place to sit, lay her head, or rest her books on while she “reads” them. It also adds a little bit of color to the room. The best part is that I made the cushion from fabric and stuffing I already had so the only thing I had to buy was two packages of piping. I think S. approves of this project.IMG_6876

Planting our Fall/Winter Garden (Part Two)

I was a little distracted last week with Halloween pants and costumes, but we did actually plant our garden. We brought our compost and turkey manure home from the garden center (you can read more about that in this post) and S. and I prepared the existing raised bed removing weeds and loosening compacted soil. S. wasn’t as thrilled with this activity as I was. I took her shoes off and sat or on the edge of the raised beds and she wasn’t too happy about the dirt on her feet.IMG_6482

Her next reaction was “up up up” get me out of here Mom! She just doesn’t really like to stick her feet (or her hands) in dirt. I thought all kids loved dirt.IMG_6483So I picked her up and gave her some time to run around and then we slowly worked our way back into gardening. I took my shoes off and put my feet in the dirt, encouraging her to do the same. I try to let her be her own person and decide what she likes and doesn’t like, but I don’t see any harm in trying to encourage her to try different things, especially if I can do it in a fun way and of course it helps if it is something I like to do myself. IMG_6485Playfully encouraging her and using myself as an example worked. I am not sure I would go as far as saying that she thoroughly enjoyed getting her feet dirty, but she wiggled her toes around and got dirt on them. IMG_6493And then cautiously, and probably a little reluctantly, sat down in the garden with me to help pull a few weeds and turn the soil.IMG_6489When we were done turning the soil the gardens were ready for us to add the bags of compost and turkey manure. Once the soil revitalizing compost and manure were added and the gardens were smoothed out, we were ready to plant. I will admit though, this did not all take place in one day. If nothing else, I have learned that many things are multi-day projects with a toddler. It seems like it is always time to nap, eat, or get ready for bed. We prepared the gardens one day and planted them another day.IMG_6499

Our yard is sloped and the top soil is thin so when we moved into our house we built three, 4 foot by 4 foot, raised beds out of 2 inch by 10 inch boards. After four years, two are still in relatively decent shape; however, the wood of one has been mostly eaten away by some insect so this will probably be its last planting season. My intention was to use more of the square foot gardening method (you can read more about that in this book), but usually I just end up planting what I want where I want. This time we put in some kale seedlings, leak seedlings, and chard seeds in one raised bed; some mixed greens and spinach seeds in another; and then lots of carrot seeds in the third raised bed. I tried to let S. help in the seed planting, but she just wanted to open and dump out all the seeds from every single seed packet. Instead, she hung out with Matt while he finished making some signs to label all the different vegetables. IMG_6611

In the past I haven’t really bothered with labeling most of our plants in the garden, I usually know pretty much what everything is, but I wanted to have labels for S., including little pictures to help her understand what is growing in the garden. She liked the signs and helped us put them in the ground, she wasn’t so happy that I discouraged her constantly taking them out, collecting all of them, and then jabbing them back into the soil where our fresh little seeds were planted. Maybe that is why she decided to just ignore the signs when I tried to take a picture of her putting them in.IMG_6608

The final thing was to water everything. Matt and S. were actually inside getting ready for dinner when I went out to water, but S. just could not stand me being outside without her. After quite a bit of fussing at the patio door I brought her out to help finish watering the gardens. She was diaper clad and fearless of mosquitoes, or maybe she just didn’t notice them in her excitement to be outside with me “playing” with water.IMG_6619

Now we are just waiting and watching all the little seedlings come up. Oh, and all the weeds, they seem to love the added compost and manure as well as the water just as much as the vegetable seeds and seedlings do. Hopefully we will be able to make at least a few salads from our plantings as well as have some fresh carrots to munch on.

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