Second Hand Finds for the Week

by Tiffany in A Green Home

I had an awesome week for finding/buying second hand things I have long been looking for this week. The thrift store near my home had this awesome picnic basket for only $4. It is sturdy and in very good condition. It came with 4 plastic plates, plastic cups, and plastic utensils that appear to be new in package. I plan on donating those items back to the thrift store and putting light weight, stainless steel plates and tumblers in their place. Regular silverware in cloth napkins will work for utensils. I have been looking for a good picnic basket for awhile so I am super happy.

Picnic Basket

The other item is a vintage nut grinder. I wanted to get a nut grinder for many months but I didn’t want a modern electric one that looks more like a coffee grinder. I don’t have a coffee grinder either since I don’t drink coffee. My Vita-Mix chews the nuts up a bit too much for my liking. What I really wanted was one of those glass and steel crank grinders like my grandma used so I decided to look on eBay. The first one I found was rusty but further down the list I found the perfect one. It looks brand spanking new!

Old fashioned, vintage nut grinder

The nuts go in the glass jar whole and the crank grinds them into small chunks up using steel blades. you can take the top off and just grind over top of your meal or you can grind them into the cup which is also measures them for recipes. Its just like my moms old nut grinder but mine is in a lot better shape and I only paid $12 including shipping. The memories of Sunday mornings long ago spent crushing up pecans for mom’s homemade waffles makes it worth every penny.

Have you found any great, used, items this week?

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

5 Comments on Second Hand Finds for the Week


Spellmaster Educational Toy Review

by Tiffany in Natural Toys

Playing with a Spellmaster

My daughter is going to be just like me I suspect when it comes to reading and writing… very passionate about both. Learning to read was her idea and every day she works on building her list of words she can spell, write, and read. In the car she spells random words, in the grocery store she tells the clerk about her spelling homework. She takes advantage of every opportunity she has to learn this whole reading and spelling thing and she finds it very fun to do. I wish it were that way for all my kids, but so far it is just her that finds excitement in writing and spelling.

I have reviewed a couple Natural Toys from Down to Earth Toys over the past year and when they contacted me to see what I might be interested in reviewing now, it was easy to choose the Spellmaster. It is a very unique educational toy that I knew my daughter would enjoy and I was not disappointed. She pulls her Spellmaster out 2-3 times daily to work with it for 30-60 minutes at a time and it has really helped her reach her learning goals.

Basically it is a platform for developing sequential memory skills, increasing memory span, improving letter recognition, and spelling simple to complex words.

Spelling Words with Wooden Letter Tiles

When she uses her Spellmaster, she chooses a flash card with a word and picture first. She works through the word phonetically to find out what it is as the picture isn’t always a dead giveaway. Then she selects all the wooden letter tiles she needs, saying the letters out loud. Next she spells the word on the chalkboard panel below the tiles and then says the letters aloud again after she has written them, followed by the word. She also usually covers the tiles with the wooden flaps so that she can try to write the word from memory. Afterwards she moves on to the next card and she usually doesn’t stop until she has completed them all. It came with eight recommended steps in the instructions but she developed her own system of steps so we go with that. I knew she would like it but just how much she would like it surprised even me.


My nine year old son likes to use it for his spelling words as well and it is a fun, visual way to work on them rather than just having him write them over and over like the school suggests. Going through all the words on his spelling list 2-3 times is not to repetitive for him and using the Spellmaster makes it just a bit more interesting. The fact that they can hide the tiles and work from memory means they are more likely to learn from mistakes as well.

My three year old has taken a liking to the flashcards so we use those for some speech therapy at home. He was recently “upgraded” by his preschool teachers and therapists from a mere speech delay to a developmental delay. After going through the IEP with them I have to agree with much of their assessment so I am doing more to help him at home. I will have to write up a post about that whole issue later.

Learning to Spell

Anyway… I love that the Spellmaster is something my kids can pull out and use on their own or work through with me if they want. We make it a bit more challenging at times when I come up with a word there is no card for. You can use many variations to make it harder or easier depending on their spelling prowess. All the letter tiles are capital letters but you can order lowercase letters as well. You could probably come up with some small sentences if you had more tiles… aka See Jane Run. I looked for info on ordering different flash cards but didn’t see that info. I guess any flash cards would work though. There was no eraser for the chalkboard so my kids just grab a sherpa cloth to clean up with, easy peasy.

The actual unit is made of wood so it is MUCH more sustainable than comparable plastic toys and it is made by TAG and is just one of many Toys Made in the USA. It gets two enthusiastic thumbs up here.

Wiping the Chalkboard

Thanks Carrin and Down to Earth Toys for sending the Spellmaster our way!!


How to Avoid the Poison in Your Pantry

by Tiffany in A Green Home, Healthy Eating

Steps You Can Take to Make Eating Canned Food Healthier and Safer…

Until recently, when I started eating less raw and cooking more in an attempt to win over my husband and ease us all into a more meatless existence I hadn’t used canned food in quite some time. I understood that there were issues with canned foods but since I didn’t eat them I didn’t blog about it. But now I seem to be on a Mexican, South American, and Caribbean cooking kick which uses a lot of beans and I have resorted to using canned beans on occasion. With all that I have read recently though I decided to buy a bean crock and force myself to only use dried beans until canned food is just a bit safer and healthier.

So what is wrong with canned food?

BPA – The major issue is BPA or Bisphenol A. It is the endocrine disruptor that I have mentioned oodles of times on this blog that is found in plastics, water bottle liners, and canned goods, among other things. We may have been quick to take that BPA leaching baby bottle or sippy cup out of Juniors hand but perhaps we didn’t think to look in their green beans. BPA is making its way into our food. Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group have both studied the issue and found BPA in many of the canned products they tested, including infant formula, vegetables, soda and soup. And we are what we eat. BPA is present in detectable levels in over 90% of Americans’ bodies and groups are many are trying to send a message to the powers that be, that poisoning us, just isn’t cool.

BPA free canned goods are available through ethical companies like Eden. We just need to make sure more companies follow suit.

Salt – Canned goods are outrageously high in sodium often times so look for low sodium or salt free brands. Also make sure to put beans in a colander and rinse really well before cooking. Be weary of canned soups since they can contain a third of the recommended amount of sodium for the day just in that one can. Try no salt versions and just get creative with spices and herbs.

Be Fish Aware – If you like canned fish, and I say that with a twinge of longing for canned Alaskan Wild Salmon on crackers… gulp – make sure to get fish stored in water rather than oil. And make sure to buy WILD caught fish since they typically have less contaminants than farmed fish.

Bean Pots! – These are made of clay or ceramic and where very popular decades ago in making beans. You can cook the way your ancestors did! You just put your beans in the pot with some herbs and spices and put it in the oven. The pot keeps the beans from burning and creates wonderfully flavored beans. You can soak the beans in the pot the night before and after rinsing just return them to the pot for cooking. Older pots should be put in a cold oven to get gradually hot rather than putting them in an already hot oven, as they may break.

The idea for crock pots likely came from bean pots but I still think the latter has a place in the kitchen because unless I am making chili or some sort of bean stew I need something smaller. Bean pots are great for baking black beans that may end up in burritos for dinner or under a fried egg for breakfast.

You can find new ones on Amazon and old ones on Ebay.

How do you feel about eating from a can? What do you do to make slow cooked foods just as convenient?

Related: Everything Beans Book


Fruit and Muffins on Brochette

by Tiffany in Healthy Eating

My 5 year old daughter made breakfast for us on Saturday. She picked a recipe from one of her cookbooks (the girl’s collection rivals my own) and she chose Fruit and Muffins on Brochette. The recipe is from the Pink Princess Tea Parties book. It is very simple, just mini blueberry muffins and assorted fruit on skewers. Simple and tasty!

Fruit and Muffins on Brochette



WildCraft – A Game for Holistic Families

by Tiffany in Children, Natural Toys

wildcraftgameWe love to  play games in this house or uh… couldn’t tell ya by this post on educational games, or this post on eco theme board games? Until my kids can give me a run at Gin Rummy, Hearts, or Bonco then board games do the trick.

For MANY months now the favorite for my kids has been The Farming Game. Mom was getting mighty board with it and I thought they might never find a new favorite. I hate to even say that since it is an awesome game that teaches the concepts of farming, farmer’s markets, and food value and it is great for teaching math at many levels. But playing it over, over, and over… can wear on you.

But no worries, they have found a new favorite and this one I can see us playing for a very long time. No doubt the weekend tradition that will be with us all winter will be a couple rousing games of Wildcraft and I am THRILLED because I love this game as much as they do. In fact I am thoroughly convinced this is the coolest game ever… no seriously… coolest EVER. This purchase was well worth the money, even if it was a hair pricier than CandyLand.

It is a gorgeous game that teaches the players all about herbs and how useful they are. The players are on a mission from grandma to go and pick wild Huckleberries. They have to go up and down a long mountain path to get them and along the way they find herbs (plants cards) and they they even run into some trouble (trouble cards). Some of the trouble you find would include sore muscles, an earache, a toothache, a hornet sting, diarrhea, splinters, and much more. But thanks to the herbs you have been collecting you may just have an herbal remedy to help you.

On the trouble cards it has little pictures of herbs and you must identify what they are. I love that it doesn’t just give you the name of the plant, it makes you look closely at the leaves and flowers so you can visually indentify the plant. That feature makes it easy for non readers to play and it ensures that older players are really learning these herbs and their uses. If you get a hornet sting you look in your collection of plant cards to see if you have the herbal remedy and if you don’t you must wait until you do before you can discard that trouble card.

Cooperation Cards

Another cool feature is that there are cooperation cards, yes the entire game is cooperative instead of competitive. The whole mood that it created was wonderful. I admit I went overboard with the imitations of pain and anguish when I got a sunburn or a toothache but it was still lovely to see my kids so worried about getting to their turn so they could help me (or another player) out with an herbal remedy they had in their own stash that I did not.

As you play you risk backsliding down streams or landing on “moon” spaces. The moons then have to cover the suns at the top of the board game, giving you less time to finish the game. Everyone has to get back to grandma’s house with two buckets of Huckleberries each before nightfall. The cooperation cards (or rainbow cards as my kids call them) can also be used to move a player that is far behind forward so that the game can be completed on time… its all about cooperation!

I love that we learn about the medicinal uses of plants as we play and learn to identify them by eye. Hearing my kids talk about how they can use St. John’s Wart for this and Dandelions for that is just amazing. So many kids grow up thinking over the counter medicines are required for healing and soothing but it just isn’t so. And for all of us to learn to identify edible plants that can be eaten when hungry is incredibly useful. The earth has always provided what we need if we care to educate ourselves and look. I love that this game was invented by a Dad who just wanted his kids to play something more valuable than Candyland.

This game is also eco friendly! Box/board made with 100% recycled chipboard, printed with vegetable oil based inks, water based coating on paper, no varnish. Forest Stewardship Council certified paper. All material is 100% recyclable.

Wildcraft is a real gem and one that I think every natural, holistic, green, family is going to want to play.

Herb Robert Card on Wildcraft