End of Summer Fun – Camping With Kids

by Tiffany in Enjoying Nature

Summertime may be winding down but most of us have a few weeks to go. Now is the time that parents run rampant trying to think of things to do as a family while you still have sunshine and an open schedule. There are many great things to do with the kids; they just take consideration, cooperation and planning and all the summer activity thus far might have left you with a little brain fry. One great thing to do with the kids that also involves getting away and into nature… is camping. This can be a wonderful outdoor adventure; keeping in mind your children’s ages, with a little planning that can be hugely successful. We are hoping to take a little camping adventure in the next several weeks… but we actually want to wait for the cooler weather of Fall.

Naturally a large part of the camping experience happens before you leave. Make sure you have all the appropriate clothing, especially for the cooler nights, swimming, and sleeping. Then you are on your way. Let the children help. Its camping, so things do not need to be perfect by any means. Let them help with the tent, food, getting wood all of it. By helping they will keep busy and feel included. You can also spend your pre-trip days getting gear from thrift stores, yard sales, friends, or Freecycle. My son bought a 6 person tent last week at a yard sale for $2.00. This is actually the second nice yard sale tent he has bought.

Planning activities while at the camp site is important too. One of the neat things to do is a nature walk. We all know kids love that stuff. Make it a long one its great exercise and it will help with sleeping later in the night. Let them touch and explore, they can gather stuff to make craft projects as well. Bring a shovel with you and let them dig. Bring a pail as well and you will have hours of contentment. Ask then to build something by the campsite and they will be occupied for a long time.

It’s a great idea to bring some outdoor toys as well. Balls, Frisbee etc are great ideas. Chances are kids won’t get bored of all the nature stuff, but if they do you are prepared. Make sure you also pack a rainy day bag. Paper, crayons and such if the weather turns bad. A couple good children’s books are also nice. Hopefully you won’t have to use it but if you do it will be much appreciated. Another tip is to keep the food simple. You can still have nutritious food just simplify it. Lots of finger foods are best and again something the kids can help with is better.

Certainly one huge thing as well is to check the campsite out before you go. You need to do this to make sure it has everything that you will need. Everyone’s idea of camping is different. Some may want to completely rough it and others will not do without certain things. So take the time to check a few places out. You will find some have activities as well for the children or hay rides at night, that would be a great extra.

The most important thing is to remember to have fun. If it’s your first time with the kids there might be a bit of stress. Just relax and remember it’s camping and just about anything goes. Let the kids have fun and explore and be creative. For the most part let the rules relax and the kids will look after themselves. Try to find the fine line between being organized to provide structure, yet not be too regimented. All in all it will be a wonderful experience and one I am sure you will do again.


Garage Sale and Second Hand Home Decorating

by Tiffany in A Green Home

If you take a look at most any interior decorating book, magazine, or website you usually come away rather discouraged at the amount of money that it takes to achieve the look you want your home to have. It seems that anything resembling that glossy magazine photo is going to cost some serious green. But quite frankly there is a simple and effective method for attaining the look that you want without spending a fortune; all it takes is a solid knowledge of the style you have in mind, an empty car trunk, and a free Saturday morning for yard sales, thrifting, and time to pick up some Craigslist booty.

I do not happen to have the desire to turn my house into a magazine photo. There is nothing wrong with that but it just isn’t my thing. I like simple decor that screams “a family lives here” not “I have an interior decorator”. Plus my tastes are eclectic… I like farmhouse decor, modern, retro, bohemian, and new age and I am not afraid to mix, LOL. Either way you decide to go though… second hand shopping can get the job done. Garage and yard sales particularly are a great source for second hand items, but don’t overlook second hand shops and thrift stores as well as moving or estate sales or auctions that you can find advertised in your local newspaper. In fact, you never know where you are going to find awesome second hand objects and sometimes friends, neighbors and family will be more than willing to give you items they are looking to get rid of or that have been taking up much-needed storage space for years.

Avoidance Issues – There are plenty of people who shy away from decorating their homes with second hand furnishings or decorations because they somehow feel that purchasing something second hand will somehow give them a negative reputation; that somehow people looking at an object will know that it was purchased second hand. Success means having the money to buy the best and buy it brand new right? Whatever…

There are still others who won’t consider second hand decorating for reasons that range from quality to safety, but for those who can get past their aversion to having something in their home that once belonged to (or was used by) someone else, the benefits of decorating your home with second hand items is fairly self-explanatory.

The Benefits of Second Hand Decorating

The primary reason to purchase second hand furnishings and decorations is fairly obvious; price. Buying second hand items almost always costs less than it would to purchase the item new (unless you’re dealing with an antique – in which case all bets are off). Not only can you save yourself a great deal of money, you can also find high quality, even unique, one-of-a-kind items at a fraction of the cost they would cost you in a regular store. Items that would normally cost you hundreds of dollars can be had for a bargain; especially if the individual selling them is anxious to be rid of them. When we moved into our current house almost a year ago we had no kitchen table. Our previous one (which we had since we got married) bit the dust in the move. Anyway I knew I wanted either a farmhouse table or a vintage table from the 50s/60s. The farmhouse tables were over $800 used and the vintage ones were hard to find. I saw new vintage-style tables like I wanted for around $500 but I had serious doubts if the quality would be the same. So I waited almost a year but eventually I got what I wanted at an estate auction and the cost could not be beat… ready for it… $1.00. Yes, I said one dollar! It is a retro/vintage kitchen table set from the 60s I would say. I LOVE it!!!

This baby is metal and sturdy as heck. The color combo is brown/beige/mustard which also pleases me. But the table will match many different cushion colors so someday I might redo the cushions to mint and butter yellow. Some of the chair fabric is ripped or otherwise I wouldn’t even bother. It also fits the space better. Who was I trying to fool thinking a  farmhouse table would even fit there or look good? I am not Martha Stewart and I don’t have a farmhouse near a vineyard. I live in a rented duplex that kisses the outskirts of a large city. This table is me… simple, practical, no frills.

A few weeks back we got a white leather recliner from a sale for $5. We got it home and quickly realized why it had been sold so cheap. The cushion from inside was disintegrating and throwing up everywhere. Every morning it looked like someone had thrown popcorn all over the place. So, we freecycled that one and found another the same day via Craigslist for $15. It is even better suited to us and our brown couch… olive green, cushy, and cloth covered. The lady who sold it to us also gave us a nice metal filing cabinet and sold us two large dressers for $5. An older find is this old time school desk that was only $3 and serves as a homeschool nook for us:

I LOVE second hand stuff!

One of the least recognized benefits of purchasing items second hand is in knowing that what you are purchasing has already ‘proved’ itself. If the item is still usable and looks good after having been used for a length of time, chances are that it will serve you will and not wear out or fall apart as so many ‘new’ things tend to do fairly quickly after being purchased.

For art work we have purchased second hand of course but since I take pictures I like to hang my own art. To make that cheaper I use Group deal sites like Groupon and MamaSource and get them half price. When you refer friends you get credit too and all three of the canvas photos on my family room wall were FREE. I like that price!

It really isn’t hard to decorate your home, even if you are on a shoestring budget, it just takes a little creativity and a willingness to consider purchasing items from places you normally might not consider buying them, but by thinking outside of the box you can make your home into a truly original work of art.


Green Back to School Ideas

by Tiffany in Children

Getting ready to go back to school can bring a lot of mixed emotions; grief over the loss of summer, relief for the parents, dread for the kids, and it can have some green-minded parents shaking their head over the sheer amount of items (clothes, shoes, school supplies) that their kids seem to need to buy – and re-buy, each and every year.  Even when you homeschool you typically still buy some new stuff around this time because this is when it is readily available and on sale. Is there a way to green the return to the school scene? You betcha!

Luckily for us treehugger parents, there are several ways that you can turn a green eye on your back-to-school shopping and actually feel good about your reduced carbon footprint, and several have been included here.

The Green Scene for Back to School Clothes

Kids seem to grow a mile a minute, and sometimes it seems nearly impossible to keep them clothed without spending a fortune; add to that their insistence on being ‘hip’ or fashionable, and it can seem that trying to hopeless project go any shade of green.

For the seriously green-minded parent, there are a growing number of green-minded children’s clothing stores that are cropping up all across the US. From stores that use all organic cotton or hemp to stores that remake vintage clothing for today’s kids, there are plenty of choices available. I watched group deal places like Zulily and MamaSource all summer for deals on organic clothing. Those items work well for the limited amount of “new” stuff I buy each year and it is not so much a need for new as it is a need to help support companies making greener options so they stick around.

If you want to get your kids really “into” the greening of their closets, try taking them to a thrift store; some of the upscale thrift stores have styles and brands that even picky teenagers can’t complain about, and you’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief that you are helping planet earth as much as possible. We went on our annual back to school thrift store trip this past week. I got so many adorable clothing items that my 7 year old daughter is happy to spend hours in her room trying them all on and figuring out all of the combinations she can make. The most we spent on anything was $5.99 and that was for a brand new with tags 3 piece outfit (shirt, skirt, and alternating pants). Most of the clothing we bought was $1.99 a piece and we only bought nice stuff. Then we came home and freecycled their clothing that doesn’t fit anymore so that we can help other families keep it green too.

For shoes I recommend Simple Shoes. They have some very nice, eco friendly choices for kids.

There are also other components of fashion beyond clothing, especially for girls. My daughter usually starts out the year with some new piggy paints, non toxic nail polish and some natural lip gloss or balm (no lipstick yet!). She gets jewelry such as beaded necklaces at yard sales and garage sales and pretty soon earrings too since she will start this year with pierced ears.

For backpacks we use the same one from year to year. My youngest son will be going on year two for his Crocodile Creek Pack for his speech therapy sessions. My daughter decided to freecycle her backpack of 2 years for a new one this year. I didn’t complain because it was an iCarly backpack (which I objected to with no success) and this year she wanted an unbranded horse/pony backback. I still consider it a success.

Green Lunches for Green Kids

Lunches are a big part of your child’s school day, so why not focus on creating lunches for them that are based on organic and local grown foods? Local bakeries for the breads, farmers markets for the fruits and vegetables, or at the very least organic products from your local grocery store. I like to stock up on Apple Butter during the Fall days of our Farmer’s Market and it makes an appearance in lunches quite often. Local apples are another favorite as well as pumpkin soup (served cold) made from local pumpkins.

As you pack lunches use recyclable lunch bags or lunch boxes instead of paper bags. Even the pickiest kid can’t complain about the new metal water bottles with the awesome designs that can be used to send their drinks to school. You can even send green smoothies in them for a powerhouse of nutrition. For the best lunchboxes I recommend LunchBots, Tiffins, or The Laptop Lunchbox. I love that the laptop lunchbox has lids that can be used on some compartments so you can send pumpkin soup or chia seed pudding and not have it make a mess.

If you have teens that don’t want a lunch box you can give them a stylish reusable bag and some Planet Wise sandwich wraps. They can be used for more than just sandwiches and they are an eco friendly way to wrap foods. Plus the wrap can be unfolded and used as a placemat. Cool! Teens also like Built NY bags. They are funky and stylish while still be functional.

For more eco lunch ideas check out Bento Lunchbox.

An Eye on Green School Supplies

School supplies are perhaps the hardest thing to consider going green with when it comes to back-to-school shopping, but making wise choices can actually make a difference in the long run. When shopping for filler paper, notebooks and pencils, don’t settle for the cheapest products available, but choose instead items made from recycled paper and wood. An alternative paper notebook I like is the Writersblok Bamboo Notebook made from bamboo pulp. Also conventional stores usually have a greener notebook available it just costs more than the virgin paper notebooks for some reason.

You can buy eco pencils or dispense with standard wood pencils altogether and opt for a mechanical pencil where the only thing you have to worry about are the graphite refills. The same holds true with pens. While the solid case pens may be the cheapest, try choosing some refillable retractable pens instead. We have some Smens Scented pens made from newspaper and recycled plastic that my kids will be using this year. EcoPencils makes colored pencils too. This Terracycle pencil bag made from recycled juice bags would be an awesome way to carry them. ;)

And whatever you do, try to keep track of your mainstays from year to year. Re-using things like rulers, calculators, protractors the like may seem time consuming, it can make a decided difference, not just in the cost of your back-to-school supply shopping, but in how much it saves the planet to not have to deal with one more plastic calculator or ruler or protractor in the landfills. Throughout the year you can find these items at yard sales too.

For more info check out my main green school supplies page and this letter to the teacher.


Raise Baby Green and Save Money Too

by Tiffany in Birth & Baby

raise-baby-green-and-save-money-tooWith a pregnancy often times comes the realization that babies are expensive. But is that really true? Does having a baby automatically mean you have to kiss your money goodbye? In my opinion the answer is NO. Green moms are way ahead of the curve when it comes to raising baby on the cheap. The old saying applies equally to “stuff” we accumulate when raising children… “Use it Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without”. There is no reason we need to fall victim to the marketing hype that declares we NEED all the latest baby gadgets, equipment, and toys. Here are some ways to raise baby green… and cheap.

Extended Breastfeeding – Why buy expensive formula when you have milk on tap. Its the healthiest food you could ever give your child and it is FREE! And while you are at it, don’t rush solids. There is no reason to start your 4 month old baby on solid baby food, in fact most conventional doctors recommend to wait until at least six months. Many natural parenting advocates recommend starting even later than that, perhaps around the 9 month mark. Waiting to introduce solids can help prevent food allergies.

Co-sleep – You most likely already have a bed so why buy another? Co-sleeping is very safe and it is very convenient for breastfeeding moms as well. In our family, we didn’t have to worry about buying beds until our kids were about 4-5 years old. An added bonus for co-sleeping parents is the deep bond you form with your kiddos.

Wear Your Baby – Investing in a good baby sling or wrap can save money in the long run. When you choose to wear your baby you can often forgo a stroller, bouncy seat, rocking swing, or other device meant to entertain your baby so you can be hands free. You would be surprised how much you can get done while wearing a baby in a sling and once again it helps you to bond with your child. Modern interventions do nothing to help you and your child form a deep attachment.

Buy Used – Check out yards sales, thrift stores, and online classifieds sites to buy baby items like clothing. Organic clothing is certainly worth it but used clothing has been sufficiently washed so that pesticide residue is no longer an issue and buying used saves energy resources used to make new clothing. Babies don’t need expensive little outfits either; they can’t read the tag to know whether the outfit came from Gymboree or whether it was purchased at Baby GAP.

Used maternity clothing is another smart purchase. If you only need those clothes for 5-6 months why buy new?

Cloth Diaper – Using cloth can mean a hefty initial investment in diapers but it also means a large cost savings in the long run. To keep costs low use prefold diapers and diaper covers. You can even dye the prefolds groovy colors if feel the need to jazz them up. If you knit you can also make homemade wool diaper covers and longies for baby. Another option is to buy used. There is a huge market for used diapers on eBay and cloth diaper forums. Doing it this way enables you to try dozens of different diaper types to see what ones you like best. And of course you can always make your own for only a couple dollars per diaper. They really are one of the easiest things you can sew.

Make Your Own – Thrifty moms can save a lot by avoiding commercial versions of the products they need. If you need baby food why buy the little jars for $1 a piece when you can puree your own in a food processor or blender. Just set aside some of the food that the big people are eating and blend it for baby. There are also numerous baby food cookbooks on the market. Get some from the library and and write them down your baby’s favorites on recipe cards for easy reference.

You can also make your own natural baby products like natural lotions, bath oils, creams, diaper creams, talc-free powders, and shampoos. You will save money AND prevent exposure to dubious chemicals and synthetic products.

Forgo The Gadgets – Do you really need that exersaucer or the wipes warmer? Probably not. Get creative and come up with alternatives. Instead of a wipes warmer why not use cloth wipes sprayed with a bit of warm water? Then you won’t need to buy store brand wipes either.

What is your favorite way to go green and save green while raising baby?


Second Hand Christmas for Kids

by Tiffany in Green Holidays

Christmas can be a budget breaker for many families but it really doesn’t have to be. My husband and I are so conditioned that we now scour Craiglist, eBay, and our local thrift stores before we buy just about anything these days. We have come to HATE paying full price for anything when we know we can get such good deals and we can knock out our Christmas shopping list during a good estate auction or two. Just recently we bought a NIB wrought iron canopy bed for my daughter off of Craiglist, a microscope for homeschool off a local college student, and my husband picked up a large terrarium set-up w/stand and lights at an auction, for my son (well actually for a bearded dragon).

That toboggan my kids are on in the above picture… $10 at a yard sale!

Here is a quick list of some things that you should look for second hand on your local Craigslist or at thrift stores:

Children’s Desks
Costume jewelry for dress-up
Reptile Terrarium
Stuffed animals
Video Games
Gaming consoles
Snow globes
Sporting goods (sleds, skis, rollarblades)
Camping Gear
Fishing Equipment
Board Games
Muscial Instruments
Music Box/Jewelry Box
Record Player
Frames (frame their favorite pictures)
Crafting Supplies
Motorized Ride-On Toys
Rocking Horse
Play Kitchen
Old tractor tire (for a sandbox)

Do you have items to add?