Category Archives: Kids

No Impact Experiment: Consumption

Bug is enjoying his first summer vacation with a work-at-home-mom, which involves far more “summer school” than he anticipated. It’s really not so bad. For the most part, I just drill him on his times tables and make him write an occasional journal entry. But sometimes I insist on a more involved project, and that’s how we found ourselves participating in the No Impact Experiment, a guided one-week carbon cleanse.

The first challenge involves consumption. We were asked to make a list of everything we intended to purchase during the week, and then think about ways to limit our consumption of new “stuff:” can it be purchased used, can we make it ourselves, can we simply make do without it? Here’s our list:

  1. Sippy cups
  2. Noise generator
  3. Baby gates
  4. Jammies for Jupiter
  5. Baby food – vegetables
  6. Groceries
We’re generally not gratuitous shoppers, so our list is already on the slim slide. We can hold off on items 1 and 2 for now, though we’re currently using a humidifier for a noise generator (to help Baby Jupiter sleep at night) which is not the best solution.
The baby gates (item 3) are a must. We need two to completely block off the kitchen, and since Jupiter is now obsessed with things like climbing inside the oven’s warming drawer, digging in the garbage, and attempting to turn on burners, the gates are needed STAT. Because we have larger than standard doorways into the kitchen, I’m having a terrible time finding gates that will fit properly. I’m simply not willing to wait until a properly sized gate becomes available on the used market, so we’ll be going new with this one.
I don’t think Jupiter has a single pair of weather-appropriate jammies that fit him. This should be remedied soon, but we will go used on these as we do with all his clothing.
Baby food is also a must: Jupiter is all out of vegetables. We always make our own baby food anyway, so no big shift here.
Item six (groceries) is where we’ll focus most of our attention for this challenge. Obviously, we can’t simply go without! But there are several ways to reduce our impact. Here’s what we did for today’s trip to the grocer:
  1. Shopped our own pantry, fridge, and garden  first. A quick scan revealed that I already had goodly amounts of staples, including lentils, black beans, wheat germ, and corn meal, plus some leftover tomato, lettuce, and onion, and garlic threatening to move past their prime. I decided on black bean and lentil “burgers” for dinner, which would only require the purchase of a few additional items.
  2. Made a list. I’m terrible at remembering what I need once I get to the store, and I almost always forget something important and instead buy something that we already have plenty of (which explains the multiple cans of tomato paste in the pantry).
  3. Bought organic and local. I missed this week’s farmers’ market, but my favored grocer labels all their produce with location, so it’s  easy to select local goods.
  4. Bought whole foods (in this case, baking potatoes) instead of processed (frozen french fries), and cooked from scratch. (I did not, however, bake my own hamburger buns – but I did opt for buns baked at a local bakery with only “real” ingredients.)
All in all, I’d say challenge #1 was mostly a success. Tomorrow’s challenge has something to do with trash, and I’m enough of an eco-nerd to think that’s neat!
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Filed under Environment, food, Garden, Kids, No Impact Experiment

Making Your Own Baby Food

When Bug was born, I was full of lofty parenting ideas. I thought I would breast feed until he was at least a year old; I thought I would never let a disposable diaper touch his butt; I thought I would make all of his baby food with my own two hands. And so on and so forth. In the end, I did nurse for a little over a year, he wore cloth diapers most of the time, and I made his baby food… that one time. The combination of working full-time and being married to a man who didn’t help out a whole lot just didn’t leave me with enough time or energy to squash up baby food.

But this time, it’s different. While I was on maternity leave with Baby Jupiter, I lost my job. Only working full-time sporadically and/or working very part-time from home leaves me with a lot more time for parenting activities. Also? (And this is really the biggest and bestest change:) I have a man around who actually pulls his weight. Also, also? Making your own baby food is waaaaay easier and less time consuming than you might guess, especially if you make big enough batches to last the month. Plus, it gives you more control over what’s going into your baby’s mouth and it’s considerably cheaper than buying those tiny jars at the supermarket.

Here’s a primer, using apples as an example:

Step One: Prepare the Food
For apples, I core and slice. I don’t usually worry about peeling them because my food mill takes care of that for me. (Actually, the food mill would take care of the core too, but it makes cranking the handle a little harder so I usually opt to core ahead of time.) If you’re using a food processor, you’ll obviously want to remove anything you don’t want ground up into the pulp that ultimately lands in your baby’s gullet.


Step Two: Cook the Food
I generally prefer to steam things because the foods lose less of their nutrients that way. But boiling or baking or whatever you’re into works fine. Reserve the water if you steam or boil. We can use that later.

Step Three: Prepare to Squish
I use a Foley Food Mill set over a bowl unless I’m making a super big batch, in which case the food process comes out. Sometimes. Sometimes I still use the food mill. It’s just less fuss that hauling out the food processor, and it cleans up quicker too. But again, whatever’s clever.


Step Four: Squish
Either turn the crank (food mill) or hit the button (food processor). With a food mill, you’ll be left with this (skins):

…and this (baby food!):

Step Five: Use or Store
Depending on the age and preferences of your baby, you’ll likely need to thin out the food before feeding. If you’ve reserved the cooking water, you can use it to thin out the food while adding back in some of the nutrients that cooked out. (DON’T use the cooking water of foods high in nitrates, like carrots.) Or thin with regular drinking water, breast milk, or formula. You can thin the whole batch or only as much as you’re about to serve. I usually opt to thin individual servings at a time because Jupiter’s thickness tastes change from meal to meal. Store in the fridge the amounts that you’ll use in the next 24 or so hours. Freeze the rest using ice-cube trays.

(Yikes! Those aren’t apples. You caught me. Those are peas and carrots from a different day. I forgot to photograph the apples in the tray.)

It only takes a couple of hours for the food to freeze. Then pop the cubes out of the tray and transfer to a more suitable storage container. I’d recommend something that you can label with the date and contents (those cubes aren’t always so easy to identify later).

Step Six: Pat Back
Et, voila! C’est fini! Congratulate yourself on a job well done.

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Filed under food, Kids

Want!

Some of my favorite childhood moments took place in the back of my dad’s white Volkswagon microbus, four of us living on the road in a summer-long drive to Mexico and back. Fast-forward 30+ years to today, with my hippie roots blossoming into a blended family brood of six, and you’ll understand why the new all-electric (!) VW Bulli has me drooling. It’s only a concept car, but oh what a concept. Love.

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Filed under Environment, Green Goods, Kids

Dumpster Diving

As part of Plastic Free February, we are collecting our plastic waste for one week. This is a little counter-intuitive, because if we were actually plastic free in February, we wouldn’t have any plastic waste to collect. Right?

Sigh.

Sadly, we have plenty to collect. Yesterday Bug and I spread the collection from just one day on the kitchen floor to examine our progress.

  1. Two Amazon Fresh plastic bags from a recent delivery. (These arrive, despite the fact that I select the “less packaging” option every time I order. More infuriating is that one of those bags held a package of sausages that were inside yet another plastic bag, while the other held a single lemon. Why the sausages and the lemon couldn’t be put in the same plastic bag – or no plastic bag at all – is beyond me.)
  2. Red twist tie-type thing that holds Amazon Fresh crates closed.
  3. One interior plastic bag from a box of frozen waffles.
  4. One Odwalla juice jug, plus lid.
  5. Two plastic-windowed envelopes.
  6. Two string cheese wrappers.
  7. One Orbits gum 3-pack wrapper.
  8. One Orbits gum wrapper (the wrapper inside the 3-pack wrapper).
  9. One bag of Rice Chips (this is extra embarrassing in that I ate that entire bag in one day).
  10. The cut-off corner to a bag of baby carrots (the remainder of the bag will likely show up later in the week).
  11. One ziplock baggie from Bug’s lunch bag.
  12. One plastic-lined top to a bag of tortilla chips (the remainder of this bag will also show up later this week).
  13. One cap to a carton of orange juice.

If that’s just 24 hours, imagine what the pile will look like by the end of the week.

As we reviewed our stash, I asked Bug to suggest ways that we could reduce our waste. We could stop ordering from Amazon Fresh, he suggested. Make waffles from scratch (which would be divine, but honestly isn’t likely to happen during the rushed week-day mornings). Buy regular carrots instead of packaged baby ones (this representing a huge break through – Bug used to only eat baby carrots). Use ReUsies instead of ziplocks to pack lunch. We also talked about what items we can reuse and what we can recycle.

So, while we’re not plastic free yet, I like to think that participating this month is providing ample educational opportunities. If nothing else, Bug now walks around pointing at things and gasping, “That’s plastic too!” which is annoying and satisfying at the same time.

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Filed under Environment, Home, Kids, Plastic Free February

Plastic Free February

Rodale.com is going plastic free during the month of February and inviting all of us to join in on the fun. The rules:

  1. Don’t buy/acquire any new plastic.
  2. Don’t cook or store food in plastic.
  3. Minimize all other plastic use.

I’ll admit, I’m tempted… but I’m just not up for it. Maybe it’s because I spent the day yesterday caring for an ill infant, but the mere idea of trying to go without his (plastic-handled) pacifier for an entire month almost makes me cry.

Still, I like the idea of a month spent being more conscious of our plastic consumption, particularly as an educational tool for Bug. With that in mind, we carefully examined the contents of our most recent grocery bag. It contained:

  1. one pizza-flavored bagel (a snack for Bug)
  2. 1/4 lb of sliced deli ham
  3. deli container of a farro salad (a snack for me)
  4. small container of fresh sage
  5. freezer-sized plastic baggies
  6. one jar of blue cheese salad dressing
  7. one package of blueberry scones
  8. one bunch of green onions
  9. one bag of apples
  10. one lime

As I pulled each item out of the bag, Bug shouted out “good!” (no plastic) or “bad!” (anything with plastic packaging). I placed all of the bad items at one end of the dining room table, and all the good items at the other end. The deli ham was sealed in a plastic baggie before the butcher handed it to me; the sage and scones came in plastic clamshell containers; the freezer baggies are, well, baggies; the salad dressing, while packaged in a glass jar, had a plastic lid; I put the green onions in a plastic produce bag; the apples were packaged in a bag (I normally don’t buy them that way, but these apples were small enough to be eaten in their entirety when packed in Bug’s lunch). Out of 10 items, only three were plastic-free (the lime, bagel, and farro salad). Pretty abysmal.

After shaking our heads in dismay at the piles, we decided to spend the rest of the month at least thinking about our plastic consumption, even if we don’t aim to eradicate it entirely. I have some fun activities planned for us to help wrap our minds around how much plastic is in our lives. Will be sharing more as the month goes on…

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One less butt wipe… sort of

When we’re at home, I prefer to use small wash cloths on my baby’s butt for diaper changes. No wasteful disposable wipes laden with chemicals, just cotton and warm water. They work just as well as wipes (better, even, because they’re more absorbent), can be tossed in the laundry for use over and over again, AND they don’t irritate delicate baby butt skin.

But they’re not exactly practical for outings, so some disposable wipes are kept on hand for the diaper bag and other emergencies. And by “emergencies” I mean “those days when I’ve remembered to wash the baby’s load but forgot to throw it in the dryer and am now left with a mildewy-smelling load that needs to be washed again.” Way to conserve water, mama.

Anyway.

We bought an econo-box of disposable wipes at Target because they were on sale. I was hesitant to do so, because I hadn’t used this particular brand on my baby’s delicate bum and I knew there was a chance that he’d have a less than positive reaction. Afterall, these were just regular ol’ wipes: not “all natural,” not organic, not biodegradable, not even chlorine-free. They were regular ol’ Pampers, “sensitive” variety.

I know. What the hell was I thinking?

One diaper change with those things and we were left with one very red-bottomed little boy. Like, baboon’s bottom red. Seriously.

So now what? We bought a couple packages of hippie wipes to tide us over… but what about the HUGE box of unusable Pampers wipes.

Here’s what: turns out you can launder those puppies. I’d discovered this before during Bug’s diaper years. But the discovery was  completely inadvertent (accidentally throwing some wipes into the hamper and running them through the wash with the rest of his clothes) and it never occurred to me to do it on purpose. Mr. Legume had much the same accidental experience with his youngest daughter. When, in a lame attempt to rid the wipes of offending chemicals, I hesitantly suggested we rinse them in warm water before use, Mr. Legume one-upped me and suggested we launder them first.

Brilliant.

They wash up quite well the first time, emerging from the dryer soft and fluffy. The second wash leaves them a little less fluffy, and by the third they emerge from the dryer looking moth-eaten. But we’re getting two to three diaper changes per disposable wipe before needing to throw them away. We haven’t washed our other disposable wipes because they’re compostable, which I presume means they won’t do well up against a washing machine. But any other disposable should work just as well… just be extra careful about cleaning out your dryer’s lint trap.

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Filed under Environment, Kids, Operation One Less