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.

Infant/Baby

 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)

wooden_blocks_60_piece_set_1500_x

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.

Infant/Baby

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

ToasterOven

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.

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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.

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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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Playing Dress-Up

Over the past few months S. has had more and more input about what she wears. She often likes to don outfits that include her pink cowgirl boots (purchased for her cousin’s theme party in July and luckily I decided to buy them big so they still fit) and my t-shirts. She requests certain clothes with fun prints or characters on them and she often will try to copy me. Since she is still breastfeeding and I am still using nursing pads, one of her favorite things lately is to try to put nursing pads in her shirt, very frustrating when you don’t wear a bra yet. On Friday she wore her awesome superhero costume that her grandmother and aunt made for her. Like any good superhero costume made for a one year old should, it included a tutu and cape.

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We forgot to show her what she looked like until we went to undress her at the end of the night. I wish I could have seen her expression when she saw herself in the mirror because Matt said it is one of the best reactions he has seen from her. Her mouth went into an “O” shape in a moment of pure excitement and surprise and then she leaned into the mirror to get the best possible view of herself. She quickly learned the word “costume” as well. Needless to say she was thrilled. So yesterday we went to Target and picked up a few clearance costumes for her. I was hoping to find some more occupational outfits (like doctor, firefighter, chef), but seeing as it was the day after Halloween there weren’t any left in her size. We ended up with some cute girly costumes that we thought S. would like. No masks or huge head pieces (she doesn’t like those) which eliminated most animal costumes and nothing scary because S. couldn’t handle scary costumes this Halloween; she only made it to one house for trick-or-treating before she wanted to go back to her grandmother’s house. She sat with her uncle to hand out candy, but when costume clad kids showed up she was ready to go inside. So at Target we found a cowgirl outfit (to go with her boots), a ladybug outfit (she likes dots), a green fairy outfit (I think she will like the wand and wings) and a Little Mermaid costume (her choice).IMG_6797

Most of the outfits were size 2T so if she isn’t into them right now they should fit for another year or so. Yes, I probably could have made her some nice costumes that are more my taste (and I still might, eventually), but I just don’t have the time right now and the fabric and accessories would probably cost me more than the $10 Target costumes.

I realize that when we leave the house now pieces of these costumes may be with us and S. may be dressed as a ladybug or cowgirl. To me, play is such an integral part of childhood and playing dress-up is not only a fun, but also an educational form of play so I don’t mind having a little ladybug by my side in the grocery store. S. can start to learn how to dress herself as well as express herself. She can learn about imagination, pretend, and make believe. Once I expand her dress-up wardrobe into more occupational outfits, she can learn about different jobs and occupations. Of course, the best thing S. will probably get is the time and opportunity to enjoy being a little kid, to run around wearing whatever she wants without being judged, and to engage other children in make believe worlds and new adventures.

So if you would like to start a dress-up box for your little one (or add to one you already have), you might want to look around the next couple days and see what you can find on clearance as the stores get rid of their Halloween decorations and make room for the crazy amount of stuff  they stock for the upcoming holiday season .Here is some proof that S. is already enjoying her costumes:

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DIY Toddler Pants

IMG_6606I wanted S. to have some cute Halloween pants, but I didn’t want to go out and spend money on pants that she would only wear once, or maybe twice at the most. Instead, I decided I would try to make S. some Halloween pants since I had jack-o-lantern fabric from last year’s weekly photo shoot (you can see my post on that project here); a year ago she was a cute little 35-week old pumpkin with only a few teeth:WeeklyPhoto35

Let me first state that I have never made pants before, just like I had never made a skirt before when I made S. a simple toddler skirt. I like to make things, I like to sew, I like to save money, and I like S. to have cute things to wear, so I decided I would give sewing pants a try. I started with a pattern that I found on the internet, there are a lot of different ones out there for different styles and different sizes. Here is a link to a website I used to help find different toddler pant patterns, I realize that it says the patterns are for boys pants, but I think most of them work just fine for girls as well. After I printed out a pattern for pants that were a size 2T I laid out a pair of S.’s pants on top of the pattern to see if it looked like it might work. I used a pair of her jeans that I knew were a little loose on her since my jack-o-lantern fabric didn’t have a lot of stretch in it and I didn’t want the pants to be tight or uncomfortable for S. The photo below on the left is S.’s pants laid out on the original pattern. It looked like the width and cut of the pattern would probably work, but the length looked way too long. I took a couple inches off the pattern length (photo below on the right) and figured I would just hem the pants once I had them put together.

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Once I had what I thought would be an acceptable pattern, I pinned it to my fabric. Note here that there are two pieces to the pattern; a front and a back, each of which you need to use to cut out two pieces of fabric. I folded my fabric right-side together so that I could cut two front pieces at the same time and then two back pieces at the same time, it saved me a little bit of time as opposed to cutting each piece separately.

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I apologize for the poor lighting. A lot of my projects are completed once S. goes to bed so there is no natural light available and no, I don’t have a photography studio set up just to take pictures of pants that I am sewing.

After the pieces were cut out I decided it would be easiest to pin and sew the front and back crotch seams together first since the pieces were already together (a good reason to turn the fabric right-side out when you cut it). I used a 1/2 inch seam allowance, which is what I generally use when I am sewing because it is easy for me (i.e. I can run the fabric right along the outside of the sewing machine foot) and I like easy since I am always limited on time and I am not a professional seamstress. IMG_6563

My fabric was already fraying a little and I don’t have a serger so I just ran a zigzag stitch along the edge of the seam to make sure that the material wouldn’t fray too much and the pants wouldn’t fall apart.IMG_6570Next, I pinned the front and back pieces right-side together and finally got a glimpse of what the pants were going to look like (well, at least what they were going to look like in-side-out).IMG_6565

Then, I proceeded to sew the outer seams of the pants together (is it called an out-seam as opposed to the in-seam?) as well as the in-seam. For all of the seams I used a 1/2 inch seam allowance and then followed it with a zigzag stitch along the edge of the fabric the same way I did for the crotch seam.

Once I had the outer seams and the in-seams sewn I started working on the waistband. I actually found that the pattern I used had a dip in the front of the pant waistband, I guess to give the pants a little more style (I’m not quite sure). This was frustrating for me because it made it difficult to get the waistband folded down and ironed straight. Luckily, all the extra time and frustration working on the waistband actually made me take long enough that I gave up sewing for a little while and tried the pants on S. I found out that the waistband was really low on her and that it wasn’t going to make it over her big cloth diaper butt very well. I had intended on sewing a thick waistband like I did on the skirt I made her (you can see a picture of the skirt here), but I realized that I was going to have to sew a thin waistband to make the pants fit S.

For the waistband, first I folded and ironed the top edge down 1/2 an inch so that I would have a clean inner edge.IMG_6582

I had found some 3/8″ wide elastic in my sewing bin so I decided to use that for my waistband. As I stated above, I really would have liked a thick waistband, but that just wasn’t going to work. Next, I folded the waistband down again to create the casing for the elastic. I folded the waist down 3/4 of an inch, leaving just enough room for a 1/4 inch seam allowance and the elastic. Ideally I would have made the elastic casing part of the waistband a little wider just to give my elastic a little more room, but I was trying to make the waistband as small as possible so that the pants would fit S.IMG_6595Prior to sewing the waistband, I used pins to mark a two inch opening on the back of the waistband to make sure that when I sewed the waistband down I would leave a big enough opening to get the elastic in. IMG_6597With the two inch opening marked, I went ahead and sewed the waistband down using a 1/4 inch seam allowance.IMG_6719

Next, it was time to cut the elastic and thread it through the casing. I measured the waistband on a few pairs of pants that fit S. well and decided that with the thin stretchy elastic I was using, about 19 inches of elastic would be good for S. At 19 inches, I had one extra inch to overlap and sew the ends of the elastic together. I used a large safety pin to help me thread the elastic through the waistband.IMG_6601

With the elastic threaded through the waistband casing, I pulled the two ends out, overlapped them, and sewed them together. I tried to sew a nice rectangle with a cross in the middle, but I have learned that my sewing machine hates sewing elastic. Either that or I just don’t know how to sew elastic. Luckily, the elastic is inside the pants where it will never be seen so it doesn’t matter that my stitching didn’t come out very pretty.IMG_6603

With the elastic threaded, I sewed the two inch opening on the waistband closed and moved on to the bottom hem on the pants. First I made S. try on the pants (if you get her in the right mood she can actually be quite cooperative trying clothes on, you just have to hope she doesn’t get too attached and not let you take them off). As I had assumed they would be, the pants were way too long, about 3 inches too long to be precise. I could have cut the bottom of the pant legs off, but I decided to leave all 3 extra inches on and just sew a thick hem. My reason for leaving all three inches was that if S. continues to grow up instead of out like she has been, and if she gets rid of her big diaper butt (i.e. learns how to use the toilet), maybe, just maybe, I will be able to let the hem out next year and she can wear them again.

Since I decided to have a thick hem, first I folded and ironed the bottom of each pant leg up 1.5 inches.IMG_6589

And then I folded and ironed each pant leg up another 1.5 inches:

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Finally, I sewed the hem using a 1/2 seam allowance (measured from the top of the hem).IMG_6720

You may notice that I started sewing the pants with white thread and then switched to black. When I was just sewing the inner seams white thread seemed like an OK choice. As soon as I started sewing seams that were visible on the outside of the pants I realized that I should have been using black, so I switched to black thread for those seams.

Once the hem was sewed the pants were almost done. I finished up by ironing down all the seams and ironing all the wrinkles out. When I finally tried the pants on S. I was relieved to find that the pants actually fit and that my adjustments to my original waistband worked, allowing just enough room that the pants fit over her diaper. Not only did they fit, but they were actually pretty cute on her (at least in my opinion) and she was able to wear them to her first Halloween party.

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I would like to make S. some more pants with all the fabric I have, but I think I will have to revamp the pattern just a little. I would like future pants to not require such a large bottom hem and I think I would like to get rid of the dip in the front of the waist because I find it unnecessary and frustrating to work with. I would also like to be able to have a thick waistband while still being able to cover her big cloth diaper butt. However, for my first pair of pants I’m pretty pleased with how these turned out, especially considering S. was able to wear cute Halloween pants that were free for me to make since I already had all the materials. Oh yes, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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.

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