Friday, June 3, 2016

DIY Vegan Body Butter Bars

I love the popularity of lotion bars these days.  Of course, I would rather make them myself to reduce wasted packaging and to ensure the ingredients are safe for my ridiculously sensitive skin.  With a little one, I wanted something safe to use around her.  I also wanted something without beeswax which is a common ingredient in many of the bars on the market as well as many of the DIY recipes I found on the internet.  So, after some testing, this was the recipe I used.

I choose coconut oil not only for its moisturizing properties as an oil, but also due to its high content of vitamin E which is known for its antioxidant properties in repairing skin.  Unlike palm oil, more is being done to ensure sustainable practices are put in place with the increase in popularity of coconut oil.  As always, it is best to do your own research before purchasing to ensure the company you are purchasing from is instituting these practices.

Shea butter is also high in Vitamin E.  It has some of the same moisturizers produced by our own skin making perfect sense as to why it has been popular with the cosmetics industry for some time.  The popularity of shea butter and rise in its fair trade have not only lead to increases in environmentally but also economically sustainable practices with its production.

I choose to use Lavender for my essential oil.  I chose lavender as summer is approaching, and lavender is known as a natural mosquito repellent.  Lavender is also known to be relaxing which I know as a mom to a toddler, I know I can use.

You can use whatever essential oil you prefer, however, you should take safety into consideration.  I would avoid any citrus based essential oils due to photosensitivity they may cause.  Also consider whether you will have little ones around.  Since I have a little one, I avoided peppermint and eucalyptus despite these being scents I enjoy.  Both are known to cause respiratory with small children.  If you have pets, you will want to take their sensitivities into consideration as well.  When in doubt, consult a certified aromatherapist before using any essential oil.  I also highly recommend checking out this site for further questions about essential oils including where to find a certified aromatherapist in your area.  I appreciate their emphasis on safety and testing.

So, here is my recipe:


Mason Jar
Bamboo Skewer
Measuring Cup
Canning Rack or Canning Tongs
1/2 cup Fair Trade Unrefined Shea Butter
1/2 cup Organic, virgin unrefined Coconut Oil
4-6 drops of Essential Oil
Silicone molds
optional: silicone mat

1. Boil water.

2. Measure out the Coconut Oil and Shea Butter into the Mason Jar.

3. Place the jar into the boiling water.

4, Keep the jar in the boiling water until the Coconut Oil and Shea Butter have liquefied and well mixed by stirring occasionally with your bamboo skewer.

5. Carefully remove your Mason Jar either using the canning rack or canning tongs.

6. Allow your mix to cool slightly before adding 4-6 drops of your Essential Oil.

7. Carefully pour your mix into molds.  The size of your mold will determine how many bars you make.  I made 4 with mine. If you are concerned about your ability to pour into the molds, you may wish to place a silicone mat underneath the molds to catch any spillage.

8. Allow to cool until fully set usually at least 4 hours.

9. Remove from molds and store in an airtight container in a cool area. Room temperature is generally cool enough to prevent them from melting with air conditioning though I still would not recommend keeping them in the kitchen as anyone who uses coconut oil can attest to in the summer months.

10, Rub between your hands or directly on the skin you wish to moisturize.  The warmth of your skin will melt the bar enough to moisturize your skin.  The bars will keep for up to a year kept in an airtight container when not in use.

This post is part of series of eco-sustainable Diys from a group of bloggers I know.  Please check their posts out as well.

DIY Upcycled Corkboard

Slow Fashion - Sashiko

How to make your own bug spray and bug bite sticks: ‎

How To Build Your Own Vermicompost Factory ‎

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Free Donuts for National Donut Day

Tomorrow is National Donut Day. Unlike most food holidays, Donut Day actually has a story behind it of Salvation Army  female volunteers handing out doughnuts and warm beverages to World War II soldiers to provide them comfort.  I am more than happy to celebrate the warm goodness of a fresh donut once a year after spending several summers making donuts.  Okay, maybe I indulge a few times a year usually whenever they are free; and I see a hot and fresh sign lit up.

Look at LB enjoying her first half of a hot and fresh donut last Halloween.  Occasionally, she gets that expression of being in absolute heaven eating a food.  That day, I concurred.

Several places are giving away free donuts in honor of the holiday.  Here are a few:

Krispy Kreme: One free donut.  No purchase necessary.(We'll be looking for the hot and fresh sign on our way home.  Fingers crossed it's on.)

Dunkin Donuts: One free donut with the purchase of any beverage.

Duck Donuts: As long as you claim their offer on Facebook, you can get a free sugar donut.  No purchase necessary.

Sugar Shack: Varies by location, and most locations have had different ways to get a free donut all week.

Just in case you happen to be local to Fredericksburg, Virginia, I thought I would include:

Paul's Bakery: One free glazed ring donut.  No purchase necessary.

We may also celebrate by trying to perfect a homemade cronut recipe since I have been a convert ever since trying a croissant donut at a Wawa not in our area.  I haven't been able to find them at any Wawas since.  If I do finally get one that is up to my standard, I'll be sure to share.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Chunky Guacamole

I know it's not Meatless Monday.  However, due to the holiday weekend, I thought I would post one of my favorite party or even every day dips.  I struggle with whether I like guacamole or hummus more.  Both are delicious and nutritional powerhouses.  Don't worry, though as I am still planning on my recipe for Coleslaw with Crushed Pineapple on Monday as it will go perfectly with our sweet potato faux bbq sandwiches.


2 avocados
1/2 red onion or a sweet onion like a Vidalia in a pinch
3 roma tomatoes
1 tbs minced garlic
1 lime
1/2 a bunch of cilantro
salt to taste

1. Cut your avocados in half.  Remove the seed and peel.

2. Roughly mash the avocados with a fork being sure to leave occasional chunks of avocado.  Sometimes, I like the chunks the best.

3. Dice your onion and tomatoes and onion adding them to the avocado.

4. Juice the lime and add it to your mix.

5. Using kitchen shears, roughly cut the cilantro and add it in as well.

6. Add the garlic and as much a salt as you prefer.

7.  Stir everything up to mix thoroughly.

This recipe serves 2-4 depending on the appetite.  You can always double as needed.  I gave a recipe instructions for a small batch as this is more than enough for our family of 3.  Guacamole browns easily, so I usually only make as much as we will eat in a sitting and usually prefer to make it as close as possible to serving.

We like to use this as a dip for tortilla chips or veggies as well as on sandwiches and homemade tacos.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Early Lessons in Container Gardening

This post has been in the work for weeks.  Due to the nature of our land, traditional gardening is not really in the cards for us.  I had my heart set on being able to make and can tomato sauce to last us through the year this year as last year's haul from the farmer's market and my parent's garden only last us through the middle of April.  So, I decided to take on the project of container gardening despite my poor results the one time I tried to raise a tomato in a pot when I lived in an apartment.  To be fair, I didn't kill the tomato despite almost always being in the shade and my not doing the best job of remembering to care for it.  It did eventually produce three whole tomatoes.  They were still better than just about any I could get in a grocery store.

With everything going on with our family including having two members in the hospital at one point with one being an hour and a half from home, time has not been on my side.  Then, we got hit by almost a month straight of rain with at most 2 days a week without rain.  So, work on my container garden has taken place in fits and spurts.  Often with just a couple plants getting planted a week.  While I have made some mistakes along the way like leaving some young seedlings outside in hopes of getting them some sun not realizing we were going to be hit with a large downpour, I wanted to post here about my journey to encourage others to consider container gardening as well.  So, this will be my first post with hopefully many updates throughout the summer and eventually autumn as I am hoping to plant some fall crops as well.  I know if I can be successful despite everything working against us, there is hope for anyone.

These were the first bloom of a blue potato.  I adore the purple hue the leaves have when they are this tiny and just erupting from the soil.   The blues were grown from seed potatoes, but all the rest of my potatoes are from scraps.  As of this week, all 9 of my potatoes have erupted through the soil.  Hopefully, since they were all planted at different times due to my time constraints, they will all be ready to harvest at slightly different times allowing me to continue to work just a bit at a time on them.

A week later, here is the same potato plant.  As you can see, sadly they do not retain that gorgeous color to the leaves.  I can't wait to see them flower.  

Here is the one tomato seedling that I thought had survived my unintentional drowning of the tomato seedlings.  This is a green zebra from the foodie lovers pack I received from Uncommon Goods.  I highly recommend their site for purchasing gifts especially and will be posting about them soon.  Please check them out.  
Luckily, once I was able to dry them out, about half of the other seedlings eventually perked back up.  The remaining tomato seedlings are all Black Krim.  Sadly, none of my Roma tomatoes made it.  I was so looking forward to using them for tomato sauce.  

This picture was taken 2 weeks ago.  The picture at the top of the post is an update taken today.  

To cut down on time, I used a mixture of plants grown from seeds myself, plants I purchased, and plants I grew from scraps.  We were limited on space, so the majority of our plants are growing on a makeshift plywood table.  In fact, I only have two large pots on the ground; one tomato on the deck and one potato by the office door.  Most of these are in small plastic pots,but I am planning on transplanting the potatoes seen here to 5 gallon buckets as I can acquire them.

So far, I have 3 different types of potato, 2 different types of eggplant, 6 different types of tomatoes, 2 types of pepper, 1 zucchin, thai basil, sweet basil, dill, garden sage, rosemary, and lavender.  I still have several veggies and herbs I plan on adding.

So, I have a few lessons thus far.

1. Even just being able to carve out 20 minutes of time, you can get your garden started though it will be slow.

2. Spacing out planting will allow you to space out harvesting.

3. Using a variety of planting methods whether it be seeds, scraps, or seedlings can save time as well as give you early feelings of success which will provide you incentive to keep going.  

4. Plants can survive our mistakes. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why You Should be Taking Your Infant to the Library

I am sure we all want our kids to take joy in reading and see the benefits of taking our kids to the library once they are old enough to read or at least to sit still to be read to.  However, I would argue there are benefits to taking little ones who are just months old to the library, now.  Many libraries have changed and evolved beyond places you merely check out books.

1.  Many libraries now have story time specifically geared to infants.
My local library breaks down their story time by age bracket offering a Mother Goose story time for the under 2 bracket.  Even I was a bit skeptical of how much my daughter would get out of a story time that I wasn't doing at home by trying to read everything I could to her out loud even labels on cans.  Well, it's not just story time.  They incorporate music and movement in addition to stories.  So, a typical Mother Goose story time which is only 20 minutes usually begins with an opening song that involves hand movements like Itsy Bitsy Spider, then moves to a story either in the form of a short book especially a flap book the older kids can help open, a felt board story, or a puppet show, then there is music and movement time which lasts for generally 2 to 3 songs, and ends with a closing song also with hand gestures.  During the music and movement portion, librarian passes out egg shakers or bells for either the kids to play or for the parents to play for them when they are really little.  Several centers in my area offer similar classes usually for $20 or more a class.  Getting it at the library for free(through taxpayer dollars, I know) is quite a bargain.  I've taken my daughter to a free trial of one of these classes and can tell you the only notable difference was that they also have a parachute time.  As my daughter has grown, she has enjoyed participating at different levels in the activities.  The librarians often even include handouts especially at holidays with books and activities specifically for their age range.
My little one dressed up for the costume parade during Halloween story time.

2. The library is a great place to meet other moms and babies.
I don't think I realized the importance of having mom friends with babies until I had a kid of my own.  Things are ever changing when it comes to babies whether it is car seat recommendations, where to take mommy and me swim lessons, pediatricians taking new patients, etc.  If you happen to be a stay at home mom, I found it super helpful to be able to talk to other moms who were in the midst of the same trying times as I was especially when it came to sleep regressions and teething or even my own hair falling out. Being a stay at home mom, I find the chance to talk to other adults necessary for my sanity. Plus finding other tots for your little one to play with is helpful these days.

3.Libraries now often have tot rooms specifically designed for the age 5 and under crowd.
Ours has wooden puzzles, a magnetic board, activity cubes, cardboard blocks, foam puzzles, and other toys designed for the younger set.  Both my little one and her cousin who is 4 love playing there.  I usually have to argue with them to get them to go even after an hour or more of playing.  It's especially nice free retreat on a rainy day, when you just need to get out of the house, or even a good time to play with the other littles after story time.

My little one playing with a bead maze in our local library's tot room.

4.Many libraries now have book sales as fundraisers where you can get books for all ages for uber cheap or even free.
 The libraries in my area have different sales.  I've posted before about the semiannual sale the library where I used to live has where the last two days you can fill a large box with books all for $1.  The books are either donated or books the library is removing from circulation often due to more copies than necessary anymore.  I used to be able to fill the box with 60-80 adult books.  You can imagine how many children's books I could have fit.  The library closest to where I now live does something similar once a month where the last two days you fill a plastic grocery bag for $1.  The times I've gone, I've averaged 20-30 children's books per bag.  Then, after the sale is over, the remaining books are available for free. Very few if any children's books make it past the sale, though.  My best luck with scoring children's books was last July when the sale occurred over the Fourth of July weekend.  Since they were closed for the Fourth and had less than usual visitors for the holiday weekend, they had lots of books leftover by the dollar days.  I picked up an almost complete set of the Sweet Pickles books along with several other books for just a dollar.

5. Libraries offer special events for babies and toddlers.
The local libraries have several events throughout the year for the under 5 set.  

One we particularly enjoyed was a holiday open house last December I have pictured above.  LB and I are in the back right.  You can find me by looking for my big blonde hair.  One of the high school choirs performed both traditional Christmas carols as well as kid songs like Frosty the Snowman.  They had a snack break with cookies and pretzels.  Then, they read two holiday stories while families could take turns taking pictures with Santa for free.  Even better than the free part was that when it wasn't our turn to take pictures, the girls were entertained with a story.  I dread the idea of waiting in line at the mall with my little one for pictures with Santa or the Easter Bunny that I've only done pictures at events like this to avoid the frustration for her.  We meet up with one of a friend and her little one who is a couple of months younger than my little one.  The girls loved seeing each other though neither were fond of this Santa.

The best picture I could manage with the library Santa.  Thankfully, we had better luck with the Santa at Walmart, so I was still available to avoid lines to get a picture of her with Santa.

6. There are meeting rooms you can utilize for not for profit meetings.
Several groups I participate in hold their meetings at the library.  I have even checked out rooms to hold sample demonstrations of products to other moms.  We don't have many community centers left in our area, so the meeting rooms are great meeting spots that are safe to have your kids with you.  The particular room I used below had all the outlets for the room in the center of the table which made it easy to keep little hands away from them.

I'm demonstrating the Neil Med Naspirator for a local moms group I participate in.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Tangy Honey Mustard Marinated Brussel Sprouts

Meatless Monday

Sadly, the first time my daughter had brussel sprouts. I was not the one who cooked them.  She was offered some by a relative and rejected them.  My daughter had never turned down trying a new food, so I was a bit concerned.  As a kid, I refused brussel sprouts after having some at a holiday dinner prepared by my aunt.  My mother tried to convince me my disdain was due to my aunt's poor cooking skills.  I refused to believe my mother on the topic and spent years avoiding brussel sprouts.  However, after my aunt made mashed potatoes one fateful Thanksgiving that had a consistency closer to wallpaper glue, I, thankfully, began to reconsider my position on brussel sprouts.  Now, they are one of my favorite veggies.  I try to make sure they are at all holiday meals myself now to ensure they are not ruined.  So, I decided to taste the offending brussel sprouts my own daughter was rejecting.  Well, no wonder she was having none of it.  They were freezer burnt.

I was a bit nervous reintroducing brussel sprouts to my daughter after she had a negative experience.  So, I decided to use two ingredients in my preparation I knew are universally popular with toddlers; lemon juice and honey.  Not only did she eat all of her's the first time I prepared them, she began stealing ones off my plate.

1 lb brussel sprouts
1 tbs brown mustard
1 tbs honey
2 tbs lemon juice
1/2 tbs minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

1. Combine the honey, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper to make the marinade.

2. Cut each of the brussel sprouts into quarters.

3. Toss the brussel sprouts in the marinade and place in the fridge for a minimum of an hour though overnight is best.  If necessary, you can cook just a portion of the brussel sprouts at a time and keep the remainder in the fridge for up to 3 days.

4.  Saute the brussel sprouts in olive oil until they are slightly crisp

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tips for Gardening with a One Year Old

Let's be honest, I had two opposing thoughts when it came to including my little one in my gardening adventure this summer.  My first thought was how excited I was about including her in the food to table process, teaching her the limited things I do know and am learning about gardening, and being able to get her more time outside which is always a plus in my book.  However, my second thought was that my "destructo" child may be more of a hindrance than a help.  So far, I've discovered both are true.  But, I am convinced the benefits outweigh the difficulties she may create; so I had to find a way to make it work.

I thought I would share with you some of the lessons I've learned.

1. Find age appropriate ways your little one can participate.
At 19 months, she is an expert at ripping things right now, so I've been able to allow her to tear off herbs for now while waiting for the fruits and vegetables to come in.  They may not be perfect, but herbs tend to be forgiving unlike some tender fruit.  I suspect she'll be great at pulling root vegetables when they are ready as well.

 If I were gardening in the soil, I would definitely allow her to help me to dig holes for planting with a kid safe shovel or her hands depending on the size of the hole I needed.

We went to a Spring Carnival put on by a local high school's Band Boosters.  A local realtor was handing out wildflower packets with her card.  Letting my little one throw out the wildflower seeds are a perfect activity at her age.  She can be messy, and it is perfectly okay.  If you are worried about placement, of course, you can do flower bombs.  As for me, I figured I could allow her to throw them and let nature take its course.  As they grow, she can pick them or just watch them grow. The wildflower seeds were all small enough that I would not consider them a choking hazard either.

If I had a traditional garden instead of a container garden, she would be at a great age to help with weeding as long as there were no seedlings nearby.

Include her while shopping for your gardening supplies.  I took my lo with me every shopping trip.  Sometimes, I would give her two choices i.e. two similar tomato plants and allowed her to pick one.  I talked to her throughout the whole decision process.  Not only is this a chance to work on her language skills, but she also got to feel as if she was part of the process.

We have had too much rain here this last month to need to water my plants.  However, we have a kid size watering can at the ready for the drier days of summer for her to assist in watering.

2. Remember, as always, safety first.
Even with organic gardening, there are still some things you won't want little one getting into.  I used a trowel to transplant some of the plants I bought as I acquired larger pots or containers.  While my trowel is nowhere near as sharp as kitchen knife, I still didn't want her getting her hands on it and possibly hurting herself.  So, when the trowel wasn't in the soil, I made the effort to put it far out of her reach.  If you buy store bought plants, many have plastic wrap that needs to be removed by either a knife or scissors.  It is worth the extra planning to have a surface high enough they can't climb or walk it back inside as soon as you are done.

I would also recommend using compost or potting soil that is free of manure.  Little ones love to put things in their mouth, and I, personally, wouldn't want to risk exposure to bacteria that might be in manure.

Also, be cautious with what plants you choose to grow as some plants have parts which are poisonous to eat including tomatoes, rhubarb, and asparagus.  That being said, I am still growing tomatoes.  I have them high enough the little one will not be able to reach them without assistance allowing me to keep a good eye on her to assure no leaves make it into her mouth.

If gardening outdoors, remember sun safety.  My little one is terrible about wearing sun hats and has to be in the mood to keep her sunglasses on.  However, we do practice use of sunscreen and proper reapplication if necessary.

3.Find alternatives that are encouraging.  
Some of this may be trial and error.  I originally was going to allow her to aid me in adding some potting soil and compost to my plants once I placed them in containers.  She had other ideas.  Instead, she decided it would be fun to try to remove as much soil as she could from the pots.

See the pile of potting soil beside her in the picture above.  While she looks like she is calmly examining the plant marker of this tomato plant her grandmother bought her, that pile was her doing.  
She also tried her hand at eating it repeatedly.  Being a first time mom who tends to worry about pretty much everything, I desperately tried my best to clean her mouth out.  Thankfully, potting soil whether organic or not is not going to kill her.

So, eventually, I gave her a pot with plastic under and let her go to town removing as much dirt as her heart desired.  She was happy and I could get work done.  I call that a win.

4.Accept learning even if it wasn't the lesson you had planned.
Remember her dirt pot I just mentioned.  She eventually got creative and found a stick to aid in the dirt removal.  I must admit I was so proud of her for her use of a makeshift tool that I called her father immediately to tell him while I continued to watch her.  I am so amazed at the little connections her brain is constantly making.

5. Sometimes, babywearing saves the day. 
I know I have touted my love of babywearing previously, however, just in the last few weeks, it has been a lifesaver with both allowing me to work on my garden as well as maintain my sanity.  This year, we are doing a container garden most of which is on a makeshift table made of a piece of plywood on two sawhorses.  Due to the height, she is unable to even see most of the plants unless I have her on me.  However, just like being on me while cooking, I am convinced she is still absorbing lessons by just seeing what I am doing.

Just the other day, she was being especially fussy at a superbly inconvenient time while her father was trying to deal with work matters on the phone.  Her fussiness was mainly due to her fighting taking a nap.  I took her outside to our plants and talked to her about their growth, pointed out the new shoots some of the potatoes had made through the ground, discussed the color of the flowers that had begun to bloom on our patio eggplant, and talked to her about the meals we could cook with the food we were growing.   She calmed down almost immediately both from being worn and being outside.

6. Consider multiple senses.
Pick plants with consideration to color, texture, smell, and of course, taste.

Herbs are especially helpful in the smell and texture categories.  I have already been able to give her a sage leaf to rub between her fingers with much glee.  I have held up all our herbs for her to sniff as well.  I tried to choose a variety of herbs considering our limited space.  So far, we have cilantro, sweet basil, rosemary, dill, sage, thai basil, and lavender in bloom.  I hope to add a few more especially parsley and oregano as well as possibly some variety of mint.

I am trying to ensure that the garden we have will be colorful as well not only because we try to eat all our colors, but also, as we know kids like a variety of colors.  So far, we've got yellow and red from tomatoes, purple from eggplants and peppers, and green with zucchini and peppers.
7. Think outside the box.
Creating adventurous eaters begins with exposure to variety.  Getting kids to try new things can start with small touches like nontraditional colors for everyday food.  I am fairly sure the first pepper my daughter had was a purple one from my parent's garden.  However, I know that is not the norm for most kids.  So, I've planted blue potatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, and purple peppers.

8. Have a backup activity.
At this age, they tend to work on their schedule.  They may be over garden time as soon as you get out there or even ten minutes into it.  Just being outside with you is good enough, though.  As you can see in the picture above, she has her bubble wand in hand for when she's ready.  A play lawnmower or ride on toy are also great to keep them nearby but occupied.

9. Work in smaller increments.
I could stay outside working in the garden for hours happily; however, a one year old rarely has the ability to maintain interest in an activity for that long.  Consider their attention span when planning your time.  So, this may mean going outside for 15 minutes after breakfast, twenty minutes after snack time, and another 15 minutes later in the day.

10. Think about some plants just for hummingbirds and butterflies.  
This is a great age for them to happily watch birds and insects. Many stores sell mini garden kits for this sole purpose or you can easily choose the plants yourself like bee balm, milkweed, and coneflowers to name a few that they like.

11. Make use of naps.
Realistically at this age, it probably easier to do some of the work of gardening on your own time if possible when napping or another adult is watching them.  As much as I love my daughter, I know I would be wary of her trampling my seedlings if I had a garden in the ground.

She may have muddy knees, but it certainly was worth the extra work for stain removal being able to remember the joy captured in this picture she felt not only being outdoors but also participating in something with me.