Friday, June 19, 2015

Natural Mosquito Repellent

We organic, crunchy, granola type parents have a love/hate relationship with the outdoors in the summer months.  When we were kids, I don't think many parents gave much thought to spraying "Off" bug spray when we camped and hiked; or to slathering on the "Coppertone" sunscreen when we went to the lake.  Of course, that wasn't long after doctors recommended smoking cigarettes either.  So there's that.  Or maybe I'm showing my age too much here.  Either way, a lot has changed.  Many more people today are cautious (rightfully so) when it comes to chemicals on our kids.  And yet, it's tough when the natural versions fall short.  We've all been there.  You spend too much money on an organic substitute and then it doesn't even work.

I'm still buying sunscreens from the store, albeit natural ones, but I have so many essential oils and I've really wanted to make my own insect repellent.  Here in Tucson, despite the "dry heat," mosquitoes are awful.  And they are awful from Spring through Autumn.  They are everywhere and especially love to hang out in our backyard along the patio where the kids play.  In the early or later parts of the day when I tend to the garden, I also get attacked.

So I've been trying a few recipes, and after many attempts, I think I finally have something that works.  The ingredients aren't expensive and it doesn't leave you feeling gunky after applying it.  I actually think it smells quite good.  Since it has a base of witch hazel and distilled water, it goes on clean too.  With it being natural, you may need to apply it more often and a few bites may still happen on occasion, but we're very happy with it.  I'd rather get the occasional mosquito bite (which is easily remedied with a touch of lavender essential oil applied directly to the bite) than cover my skin in nasty, toxic chemicals.

If you try this recipe, please do comment and let me know if it works for you!  If it doesn't, I'll gladly keep working on it.

Natural Mosquito Repellent Recipe
3/4 cup distilled water
1/2 cup witch hazel
4 drops thyme essential oil  (for use on children, it is preferable to use the Linalol / Linalool type)
8 drops lemongrass essential oil
4 drops lavender essential oil
4 drops peppermint essential oil

Simply mix all ingredients together and store in a glass spray bottle in the refrigerator.
To use, shake well and apply to exposed skin and lightly over clothing.

*As a side note for something even easier, try putting a few drops of lavender essential oil on your ankles or pant leg to keep the bugs at bay.  This can also be effective in a pinch, though you may want to test it on your skin or clothing in a small place first, just to be sure neither has a bad reaction.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's Really Important

Pretty sure that in my parents' time of learning to be parents, they went as far as reading Dr Spock's book.  Maybe that.  And probably not much more.  Well, outside of real conversations with other real people, of course.  Now, in the age of communication and all things internet, we are bombarded with blogs, articles, and various other digital opinions.  All in addition to the books.  And there are so many books!  Philosophies ranging from Attachment Parenting to Respectful Infant Educaring (RIE) to Montessori and so much more.  It's enough to boggle the mind and completely overwhelm an already overwhelmed parent.

As parents, we want to do what is best for our children.  We want to raise them to be successful, caring, intelligent and independent adults.  And by educating ourselves to try to do our best with this great responsibility, we read and we research, we discuss and we question, and we worry.  Boy, do we worry.  It seems so many of these "experts" giving advice offer conflicting information to one another.  And even when we find a general philosophy or adviser we trust, it can seem impossible to remember and follow every single piece of that advice.  This ultimately leaves us feeling anxious, guilty that we aren't doing enough (or doing it right), and probably fairly confused.

Well, maybe we aren't all confused.  Maybe it's just me.  (Is it?)

In any case, in my great number of years parenting (about 7 :)), here is my opinion.  You know, because you need another one, right?  Perhaps this can be your last stop.  Probably not, but I hope it will make you pause just a moment and be relieved of some of that confusion, guilt or anxiety.  If nothing else, it helps me to write this down so I myself can return to it in my moments of overwhelming parental responsibility.

This is what I know really matters:

Love your children.  You already do or you wouldn't be bothering to read yet another blog post like this.  So go easy on yourself.  Let yourself off the hook and if you do nothing else right, simply love your children.  Tell them.  Show them.  And they will grow up knowing how love feels and how to give it to others.  This alone has the power to change the world.

Be present.  It doesn't have to be 24x7.  It doesn't even have to be more than some random moments throughout a busy day.  But when you can be with them, take the time to really be with them.  Don't answer the phone or check your text messages.  Present.  Mindful.  Quality time.  Whatever you call it, it's about showing them they are important to you.  Everyone wants to know they are important to someone.  So when you have the time, give it to them.

Be a good role model.  Provide for them.  That doesn't mean to give them everything they ask for either, so relieve yourself of any guilt due to not having the money (or the inclination) to provide them with everything their little heart desires.  Work hard either at home or in your career; both are equally significant as you prepare them for their someday adult lives.  Manage your own temper; and when you can't, talk to them about it once you are able.  Apologize.  Express emotions.  Listen; and open the doors to two-way communication.  Be the kind of adult you hope they will become.  Remember that children learn by example.

Keep your humor.  A wise friend once told me this... it's not a matter of "if" you are going to screw up your kids, but a matter of "how."  And that's ok because how else will they learn to grow, unless they have something they need to overcome.

If any of you reading this have grown children who are intelligent, successful, caring and independent - congratulations!  Sincerely.  I hope to be you someday.  Until then, please comment about the things you did that mattered.  For all of us parents of babies, children, and young adults, it helps to know that it can be much more simple than we think.  Because, ultimately, we aren't perfect and we aren't going to get everything right.  But if we can get just the few truly important things right, then our kids are going to be alright.  And we all may survive these years with a little less stress.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Looking for Contributors

We are looking for people who'd like to contribute articles to our blog - you can submit a single post or become a regular feature, whichever you'd prefer.  The goal is to have multiple writers providing insights into various health topics for kids.  We'll be reaching out to parents, health professionals, and anyone who has some tips or insight on raising healthy, sustainable children.

Topics of interest include, but definitely not limited to:
- local places to take kids
- kid-friendly restaurants that offer healthy meals
- tips for traveling with children
- outdoor how-to's (like hiking, camping, biking, skiing advice)
- natural health articles

All of these subjects should be kid-related.  So, even though we love rock-climbing - if the approach is super steep, full of cactus spines and rattlesnakes (Rivendale at Mt Lemmon comes to mind) or 5' tall smooth boulders lining the path, it's probably not a good fit.  But we're open to your ideas, so please contact us!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

{Reviews} Music to Love by

My favorite gift for expectant parents is an amazing music CD called "It's a Big World" by Renee & Jeremy. I was introduced to them through a friend in Tucson (the kind of mom/friend who has the most amazing energy, very warm and intuitive; she motivates and inspires me to be a better mom/person) when I was pregnant with The Muse.  D and I immediately loved the music and the song "Miracle" brought me to tears (of happiness) each time I heard it.  The music by Renee & Jeremy is pure love in musical form.  For the newborn days in particular, there is nothing better.  We listened to the album so often that we had memorized most of the words by the time The Muse was born and were able to use them as soothing lullabies for putting her to sleep, or just calming her down as needed.  I am convinced she recognized the music from when she was in the womb as she would immediately relax when we played the CD or even sang the songs ourselves.

Around the time The Muse was getting into the toddler stage, Renee & Jeremy released a second album called "C'mon."  The music was both different and the same; it seemed obvious to me that Renee and Jeremy's own children were growing up too and so they were creating the music that fit the age.  It was still full of love and joy, but more dance-able and fun!  Oh, and there are practical lessons being discussed too, like sharing and being patient; what toddler or kid couldn't use a little reminder?

More recently, a third album came out called "A Little Love."  Oh my goodness!  I cannot say enough about the positive vibe in this music.  It is a collection of covers, even more dance-party-worthy than their "C'mon" album.  As parents, we know most of the songs already but now they are well suited for our kids and we love it!  If I need a little pick-me-up (not that I ever get tired or crabby because, you know, I'm the mom), we turn this on and we all dance and sing.  Everyone's mood is better and I even feel better about the world in general...
"Think of your fellow man
Lend him a helping hand
Put a little love in your heart..."

And to make it even better, we had a funny experience with The Muse after she listed to "A Little Love" a few times, where one of the songs is Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Give it Away."  We were out for a walk and offered her a drink from her water bottle.  She paused, danced around a bit, took a sip, and broke out into the lyrics "you do a little dance and you drink a little water... give it away, give it away, give it away now..."  She was only 3 at the time, she sang loud and it was hysterical!

Music like what Renee & Jeremy are creating is perfect for helping us to create positive and fun experiences with our children.  Sure, we could still make these memories and have a good time without it, but I couldn't imagine a better soundtrack.  You can find more info, preview the music, and buy their albums at

Thursday, June 14, 2012

{Recipes} Allergen-Free Chocolate SunButter Bars with Puffed Millet

Tomorrow is The Muse's last day of school and they are having a picnic.  These past weeks have been so busy, I actually considered buying something from the store to bring (shudder).  Alas, as I pride myself on being a crunchy, healthy mom and baker, I couldn't do it.  After consulting the pantry for supplies to make something easy and quick, I realized we still had some Puffed Millet cereal from my days of eating completely allergen-free after Little Dude was born.  If you've ever tried puffed millet, you understand why an almost-full bag was still sitting around.  There must be something you can do with it, right?  

Hmmm... and then I noticed the chocolate chips.  And the sunbutter.  Aha!  These turned out absolutely delicious and may just be my new go-to dessert when in a hurry.  And as an added bonus, they totally satisfy any urge for a Chocolate Peanut Butter cup; they're that good.

Here's the recipe for this delicious and healthy, most certainly kid-friendly, and totally allergen-free (no gluten, dairy, nuts, soy, or eggs) snack:

10 oz package of Enjoy Life brand chocolate chips (I've done taste tests and found my family likes this brand best and it's free of soy, nuts, gluten and dairy)
1 cup Sunflower Seed Butter (I like Trader Joe's brand, but any will do)
6 cups Puffed Millet cereal

 - Heat oven to 300 degrees.  Place puffed millet on a cookie sheet or in a shallow baking pan and toast for a total of 4-6 minutes, turning/tossing to move millet around for even browning after 2-3 minutes.  It is ready when it is slightly golden and you can taste that it now has a bit more crunch.  Do not let it burn. 
 - Put your chocolate chips and sunbutter in a double boiler or in a saucepan over very low heat.  (I used my 4 Qt Chef's pan so I could keep the dirty dishes to a minimum.)  Stir until mixture is melted and smooth.  You can also melt it in the microwave, being careful to not overcook or burn the chocolate.  Remove from heat. 
 - If your pan full of melted chocolate and sunbutter is large enough, add the cereal to it.  Otherwise, pour both the chocolate sunbutter and toasted cereal into a large bowl.  Mix thoroughly.
 - Line a 13x9 pan with aluminum foil and press mixture into it evenly, using a spatula or the back of a spoon. - Refrigerate until firm (about an hour) and then cut into squares of desired size.  Since I'm feeding kids, I kept them around 1" square and got a total of 72 squares (my pan isn't exactly 13x9, sorry about that bad math).

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

{Recipes} Kale Yogurt (or Kale Salad)

Our Kale and Chard garden
I didn't grow up eating greens.  Well, not unless you count iceberg lettuce.  No?  I didn't think so.  As I've gotten older and had children though, I understand more and more the importance of good nutrition and passing those habits down to The Muse and Little Dude.  And they are habits.  I don't want my children to struggle the way I have with changing well-established bad eating habits like those of us who grew up on overly sweet, overly processed foods.  When I was a kid, one of my favorite foods was "Salisbury Steak."  It was some kind of pressed meat (beef?) covered in thick, brown salty sauce.  I cringe as I think about how little it resembled anything close to whole food.  Yikes.

In my present life, in addition to growing some of our own, we get organic fruits and vegetables delivered every week from Boston Organics.  It's similar to a CSA, but not exactly.  I signed up after our second child was born and I could no longer manage a regular trip to the grocery store.  They deliver.  (If you're in the Boston area, I highly recommend them!)  We now eat tons of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and our meals are planned around the week's delivery.  Since we almost always get some kind of greens, I have been learning to put them into all kinds of dishes that the whole family will enjoy.  Sometimes I don't know which is more challenging; getting myself to eat enough vegetables or getting the kids to eat them.  The good news is that what works for one then, often works for us all.  I slip them into pasta sauce, simmer them into soups and stews, saute them, blend them in a smoothie, and occasionally eat them raw.  The recipe below is a variation of what I found in the Boston Organics recipe collection and again at A Thought for Food.

The Muse loves yogurt, so I named this "Kale Yogurt" and she ate it!  D and I can't get enough - it's that good.  My recipe is also lactose-free (no cow-dairy).

Kale Yogurt (or Kale Salad)

1 large bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves sliced
1/2 cucumber, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup plain goat yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt to taste

Stir thoroughly the yogurt, lemon juice, mint, garlic, olive oil and salt in a large bowl.  This is a good time to taste and adjust the salt or add more garlic or lemon juice (I ended up using 3 TB of each because I like those strong flavors).  Stir in chopped cucumbers, if using, and kale.  Enjoy!

Note: this recipe is double the original recipe amounts, so you could halve it if you prefer less dressing.  When I tried it the first time, it just didn't seem like enough.  Perhaps I had a larger bunch of kale or perhaps I'm just a saucy kinda gal.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

SylvanSport GO Adventure

rock climbing, outdoor couple
It's been a long time since I've won anything.  When D and I met in Chicago, eight years ago, I found myself on quite the lucky streak; in addition to meeting each other, we won many free concert tickets from WXRT (best radio station ever, I might add) and had a couple of amazing years in Chicago together.  Now, two cross-country moves later, I am hoping my luck didn't get left there in my hometown.

Do you know why I specifically need that luck now?  Not just because we have two children (we all know parenting itself could use the occasional luck), or because our life has been stagnant for some time while moving and raising little ones, but because it's time to start creating amazing adventures for those minis.  Interestingly, D and I both stumbled upon a review for this super cool pop-up tent camper trailer called the SylvanSport GO, a few months back.  In their words, "it's an American-made, gear-hauling, hyper-engineered, fully tig-welded piece of Mobile Adventure Gear."  And it is truly impressive.  Unfortunately, considering the pending move coupled with the current real estate market, the price tag is a little high for our budget.  Still, we've been pining for it ever since.

Best Pregnancy Picture Ever
Ah, but there is a contest in which the Grand Prize is a SylvanSport GO!  Even before deciding on a grand prize winner, they will be choosing three finalists who will be awarded their dream GO Adventure.  Obviously, we'd love to win the Grand Prize - but we'd also settle for being a finalist if it meant we could take the family vacation of a lifetime.

Now, I'm sure there are plenty of good candidates out there and I have no idea the actual odds, but this could be a real dream come true.  How many other entries were from women who hiked through their entire pregnancy, including the due-date, which became the day they delivered?  That should be make me a worthy adventurer, right?

what you do when you need a camping fix, but can't get away
Not to get all dramatic on you, but it has honestly been a rough five years since leaving Chicago and I would love to experience the kind of adventure we could take with a little vacation time and some awesome giveaways from this contest.  Our plan would be to use the SylvanSport GO to drive from east coast to west coast, starting in Acadia National Park in Maine and stopping at as many National Parks as possible.  It would be the first true Adventure trip for the kids and it's not likely they'd ever forget it.  Let's hope our essay is compelling enough to win.

More family hiking
In case the SylvanSport judges are reading this now, they should also know that we are a serious outdoor family and we'd represent them well.  D and I fell in love because of rock climbing and camping together.  We got engaged in our tent, which was in our living room at the time, then took a road trip from Chicago to Tucson and back to get married the same month.  I spent every weekend hiking in the Mountains while pregnant, and our kids are expert backpackers already.  In addition, since some of the contest is based on our being able to promote the SylvanSport GO, it may help to know that D & I met online (we understand internet marketing!).  Of course, we also have this awesome new website to use for documenting the Ultimate GO Adventure.

The finalists will be announced October 1st, which, coincidentally, is our Anniversary.   Fate, perhaps?

(And even if we don't win, you should definitely check out the details on the SylvanSport GO!)