Guest post: Feminist mom in a house full of boys

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. This guest post is from Summer of Wired For Noise.

Hello everyone. My name is Summer and I’m a Crunchy Domestic Goddess addict.

There, now that we have that out of the way. I am super thrilled to be one of the cool kids chosen to do a guest post why Amy is away enjoying her vacation. Yes, all of her readers are cool kids too. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a reader. No really, I mean it.

When Amy emailed me to let me know about writing here she suggested I could write about what it’s like to be a feminist mom raising sons. Uhhhh, I don’t know that I could condense that into a single post. I might need to write a book to cover all the ups and downs that come along with that. It’s certainly an odd place to be. On the one hand I’m a stay at home mom by choice, living fairly crunchy with my cloth diapers and breastfeeding a toddler, happily building houses with blocks on the floor. On the other hand I’m a pretty vocal feminist, almost a little too staunch in some of my beliefs if you were to ask some people. It’s hard to juggle adoring my sons for everything they are and knowing that they have a mountain of male privilege holding them up.

There are pluses and minuses that I face every day. Some of the more hardened feminists occasionally make comments questioning my support based on my lifestyle. And to be completely honest there are plenty of moments when I’m questioning myself. How can I speak up about people want to reduce or take back women’s rights while I’m in the kitchen cooking and cleaning and my partner is the breadwinner of our house? Self-doubt is a reoccurring issue.

Yet I also find myself in the amazing position to help teach two little boys what life can be like as equals. It’s not easy at all. They pick up too much negative influence from media, family, strangers. It’s an almost daily battle, thick with “I don’t care what your cousin said, girls can too play basketball and they’re just as good as the boys.” Clearly there are plenty of head-exploding moments. But in helping them learn to be equals they also get to live a little more free. The culture of macho-male, do this or you’re a “sissy,” real men don’t A,B, and C is silenced a little more in my house. They aren’t required to fit into a certain stereotype of what boys should and should not be. They can play monster trucks and baby dolls at the same time without teasing or insults.

In the end it’s really no different than any kind of parenting. There are upsides and downsides, moments when you want to cry for joy and moments when you want to rip your hair out, with plenty of gentle reminders in between. And sometimes an after-bedtime glass of wine to de-stress. How else do you think I get up to do it again in the morning?

Summer is an opinionated, AP lovin’, stay at home mom of two very stereotypical boys. She dishes on life, parenting, and staying sane at her blog Wired For Noise.

Guest post: Veganism and AP – Peas in a Pod

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. This guest post comes from To-Fu who blogs at Attachment Living.

Attachment parenting is really just permission to parent intuitively, as Dr. William Sears has noted: “When I first began using the term ‘attachment parenting’ nearly 20 years ago, I felt ridiculous giving a name to a style of baby care that parents would naturally practice if they followed their own intuition rather than listening to the advice of others.” If AP is about child-led living and intuitive parenting, then I think it’s easy to see how veg*nism fits right in (“veg*n” is shorthand for vegan/vegetarian).

If I look at the world from the eyes of a child as I often try to do now that I have a babe of my own, I can’t imagine a child saying “I want to eat dead animals,” or “I want baby cows to be taken away from their mamas so I can have their milk,” when given the choice. Children tend to feel a natural fascination and connection with other animals and, I would argue, they intuitively understand on a very basic level that the difference between the family dog and the veal calf in a factory farm is an arbitrary one. After all, anyone who lives with companion animals knows that they are sentient and have feelings, moods, desires.

I figure that’s why a lot of APers are veg*ns, too. Learning to see the world through our children’s eyes lays at our feet the great and terrible potential for a larger sense of compassion and empathy. As a friend on another forum said, “Without embracing compassion for my son, I would never have moved my sphere of compassion beyond our family and beyond the human family.” It’s a fantastic joy, and it comes with its share of responsibility.

I know several APers who came to question society’s ways of doing things vis-à-vis attachment parenting, and that act of questioning turned into other sorts of activism and advocating. For me, it was the other way around: veg*nism led me to AP. As a vegan, it was not difficult to understand the concept of seeing dignity and value in non-human animals, that a calf and mother would not want to be separated from one another, or that animals (like children) do not exist to be used as objects or accessories.

As a fellow vegan and APer says, “In every single interaction I have with [my son], I try to see where he is coming from and what he might be thinking and feeling before I decide what the best course of action is. And it’s the same with veganism. I think about the cows and how it would have felt to have my baby taken away from me at birth and then forced to pump milk for however many hours a day, have mastitis, live in cramped quarters, etc., etc.” To put it simply (quoting another vegan APing friend here): “It’s all overlapping expressions of the same idea.”

Through veg*nism and the AP lifestyle, I have cultivated a sense of awe for life and a connection to the world around me. A fellow vegan and APer puts it best: “The connection I see [between veg*nism and AP] is simply considering things from the side of the other. If my baby cries, she would prefer to be soothed than left alone. So I soothe her. If an animal doesn’t want to be eaten or commodified (which s/he doesn’t), I’m going to respect that, too.”

I recall understanding this sensation most acutely during pregnancy and labor when I felt a remarkable affinity with all pregnant and laboring females—non-human animals, especially. There was something primitive and feral about me in those days, and there was something about relating to all kinds of female animals that empowered me to carry on even in the face of blinding pain and the white terror of the unknown. I have since learned it is not an uncommon feeling.

Both the AP lifestyle and veg*nism require a person to strip away tradition and ignore well-meaning but faulty advice. Talking about veg*nism can be tough for the same reasons it’s hard to talk about extended breastfeeding, sleep sharing, gentle discipline, and all that is AP: People who aren’t into it (for whatever reason) tend to feel judged or indicted. My mother has had similar defensive responses to both my eating and parenting styles, and my guess is that she sees the choices I make for my family as criticisms on what she fed me and how she raised me. As such, AP and veg*nism have had other surprising lessons in store for me that went beyond how I fed my baby or what I put on the dinner table.

It’s hard sometimes, living as an attached veg*n parent. I want more than anything for my family to be united and buoyed by a sense of kindness, connection, and compassion for the world and all its inhabitants—human or otherwise—even though it sometimes causes problems in my interpersonal relationships, and even though it sometimes leads to feelings of isolation. I think most APers can understand these sentiments, veg*n or not. As John Robbins once said, “if you carry vision […] you’re a pioneer, and you can always tell the pioneers by the arrows in their back.

But you don’t need me to tell you that it’s all worth it.

Further Reading

Assuming that most of Amy’s readers are already familiar with the AP lifestyle, I offer here a few links relevant to veg*nism and parenting:


Veg*n since 1995 and APing Little-Fu since January 2008, To-Fu shares an AP/NFL blog with her Mothering Dot Commune due date club ladies: http://attachmentliving.blogspot.com/. Other things she feels strongly about that fit into the scope of attachment living (and therefore living compassionately) are: veganism, feminism, women’s sexual health, and social justice.

Guest post: What’s in Your Skin Care Products?

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. Today’s guest post comes from my friend Heather (who’s amazing and wonderful and taking care of my garden while I’m gone) of A Mama’s Blog.

A few days ago, I wrote about Ryan having keratosis pilaris (KP). One of the solutions that has helped Ryan, which I didn’t go into a lot of detail on, was our switch to natural skin care products.
As I wrote, this has been such a change and learning experience for me. Growing up with 3 other siblings, money was tight, and my mom bought the least expensive skin care products she could. This usually meant the typical products you would find at any drug or grocery store.

I am a beauty product junkie I’ll admit it. So I love trying out new shampoos, conditioners, make-up, lotion, and skin care products. Over the years I have gravitated towards more natural brands. I have very, very, dry and somewhat sensitive skin, and these products just work on my skin better.

I don’t know why I didn’t connect the dots, -if I was getting better results with natural products, then they were probably better for my baby, when Ryan was born. Like a lot of new mothers, I stocked up on Johnson & Johnson baby products. I also had received a Burt’s Bee Baby Starter Kit. I noticed right away after using J&J lotion on Ryan, his skin seemed very rough and dry. After using the Burt’s Bee lotion, his skin was softer and never felt dry.

I noticed this with all the skin care products we used on Ryan. The “traditional” products were always drying and somewhat irritating, where the more natural ones were not. I tried out a lot of lotions to try to keep Ryan’s skin hydrated, to reduce his KP flare-ups.

About two years ago, I came across this eye-opening, and educational website, Skin Deep, which is a cosmetic and personal skin care data base. It breaks down the ingredients in thousands and thousands of products, and lets you know which ones are the most dangerous based on ingredients in the products that are linked to cancer, developmental/reproduction toxicity, violations, restrictions, and warnings, and other issues like skin irritation. The most dangerous ones are a 10, down to 0 (with minimal hazards). It will tell you too, if the company tests its product on animals and if they have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetic pact.

I was SHOCKED and quite honestly, appalled to see the rankings of some of the products I was using on Ryan at the time. Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Lotion had a hazard of ranking of 7. In fact, 95% of baby lotions on the market have lower concerns. It is one of the most hazardous baby lotions, and how many millions of people are using it on their babies? No wonder Ryan’s skin always seemed stressed after using it.

I started to feel deceived by these baby companies, because so many of the products that sound natural, and sound good, like something you would want on your baby’s skin, is anything but. Like Huggies Baby Lotion with Shea Butter– sounds good but it also has a ranking of 7, which is a high hazard. The Burt’s Bee’s Baby Buttermilk Lotion has a ranking of 4, which put it in the moderate hazard category. I had to conclude that the lower the ranking on the products we were using, were not only better for my son’s skin, but also better for his potential health. What mother would want to knowingly expose her baby to potential toxins?

I was also surprised to find some products I thought would be high on the list actually weren’t. An example was Vaseline 100% Petroleum Jelly. Its ranking is 0, which is considered a low hazard. Another one was Johnson & Johnson Baby Oil. I thought it would be at least a 7 or 8, but it is a 3, with a moderate hazard. There are some baby oil’s that ranked at 0’s though, so baby oil wasn’t as bad as I had thought.

All of this taught me that I have to read ingredients on skin care products. I can’t just assume because a company claims the product is “natural” or because it says “baby” on it, it is safe and non-toxic to use on my children. I feel like my kids will be exposed to so many toxins in life anyway that I can’t control, but I want to cut down on the amount they are exposed to at home by using less toxic products in their bath, and on their skin.

Of course for Ryan this also means his KP doesn’t flare-up as much, and that is reason enough for me to have made the switch to less toxic skin care products for our family.

When not blogging at A Mama’s Blog, guest blogger Heather is an almost full-time stay-at-home mama to two boys, and works part-time a few days a week. Heather enjoys blogging about daily life with her sons, pregnancy and birth, and natural living. Heather is also a monthly contributor at API Speaks, Attachment Parenting International’s blog.

World Breastfeeding Week 2008: Support Moms (& a giveaway)

This giveaway is closed to new entries.

World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated by 120 countries worldwide Aug. 1-7, is just days away. This year’s theme is “Mother Support: Going for the Gold” and, in my opinion, is such an important one. Sure we can drive home the fact that breast is best and stress the numerous health benefits for both baby and mom, but if a mom don’t have the support she needs, the pressure from well-intentioned relatives or friends, the pressures of keeping a job, and the convenience and availability of f*rmula, coupled with the fatigue of caring for a newborn, can quickly become overwhelming and make it all too easy to give up.

2008 World Breastfeeding Week logoThe Village Midwife writes: “The WABA (World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action) World Breastfeeding Week program this year is promoting the Global Initiative for Mother Support, and is using the Olympic Games circles to remind us of the need for ‘circles of support.'”

I feel very fortunate that I’ve had a circle of support for the past 4+ years I’ve been breastfeeding. My mom, who breastfed me and my siblings, encouraged me, and I had the support of several friends I met through my Hypnobirthing instructor who were all breastfeeding and parenting similarly to me. While I was lucky in that I never had any serious problems with breastfeeding (knock wood), it was still wonderful to have a group of like-minded friends to turn to if the need arose.

La Leche League in the USA has a list of helpful suggestions for mothers, fathers, employers and just about everyone to help support breastfeeding mothers:

You can “go for the gold” when you —

  • give a mother the phone number of an LLL Leader.
  • tell a first-time breastfeeding mother she is doing just fine.
  • bring the new mother a nutritious snack and a big glass of water.
  • as an employer, accommodate a mother’s need to pump with a private comfortable space.
  • as the baby’s father, intercede with family and friends so that mother and baby can feel confident
  • write to legislators to support the enactment of laws supporting paid maternity leave and mother-friendly workplaces.
  • contact an emergency relief organization and request training to help in emergency situations, especially in breastfeeding support.
  • take care of your health and nutritional needs during pregnancy and lactation.
  • set up or join a network of lactation experts in your community.
  • provide transportation to a mother to attend an LLL meeting or visit a lactation consultant.
  • advocate for legislation that enacts the provisions of the WHO/UNICEF Code of Marketing.
  • ask for support and offer support to others.

As WBW approaches, there will undoubtedly be more Internet buzz about it, but here are a few WBW/breastfeeding-related contests I rounded up.

Food blogger Linda at Make Life Sweeter! is holding a Got Milk? recipe contest to help promote and celebrate World Breastfeeding Week.
The contest is open to bloggers and non-bloggers alike. All participants have to do is “Prepare a sweet dish with milk as an ingredient.
You can use any type of milk (cow, goat, sheep, …), non-dairy is allowed as long as is something that is generally substituted for milk.” After breastfeeding her two children for a combined total of 3 1/2 years, Linda says the reason for the contest is, “if this event will motivate even one mother (to-be) to breastfeed or breastfeed for a longer time it will make me feel like I’ve made a difference.” You can read the full requirements for entering the contest over at Make Life Sweeter! The deadline to enter is Aug. 7.

Breast Pumps Direct, a breast pump and accessories distributor, is holding a story contest for any woman who wants to share a story about her breastfeeding experience(s). The winner will receive a gift basket loaded with great stuff from Breast Pumps Direct. For more information, including rules, about the contest, visit www.breastpumpsdirect.com. The deadline to enter is Aug. 7.

There was also a breastfeeding photo and video contest recently held at official World Breastfeeding Week site. Here are the photo contest winners, which are just amazingly beautiful, and the video contest winners.

How about you? Will you blog about your breastfeeding experience or otherwise promote World Breastfeeding Week? What will you do to support breastfeeding mothers? If you do blog about it, please leave a comment with the link back to your post.

Breastfeeding resources:
KellyMom – one of my personal favorites for breastfeeding information
La Leche League International
Breastfeeding.com
CDC: Breastfeeding
Ask Dr. Sears : Breastfeeding
Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative – a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for lactation
Ban the Bags – a national campaign to stop f*rmula company marketing in maternity hospitals

Breastfeeding Blogs:
Black Breastfeeding Blog
Breastfeeding 1-2-3
Breastfeeding Mums
The Lactivist
Mama Knows Breast
Mocha Milk
The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog

Win It!

Mama Knows BreastThe ABCs of BreastfeedingTo help support breastfeeding moms, I’m giving away a copy of two breastfeeding books – The ABCs of Breastfeeding by Stacy H. Rubin and Mama Knows Breast: A beginner’s guide to breastfeeding by Andi Silverman. Both are wonderfully informative books and would make a great gift for any new mom or mom-to-be to assist her on her breastfeeding journey.

To be eligible to win, simply leave a comment with a helpful piece of advice for breastfeeding moms or a breastfeeding story AND let me know which book you prefer. There will be one winner for each book. The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9.

This giveaway is part of the ginormous Bloggy Giveaway Carnival. Go check it out. 🙂

Cross-posted on BlogHer

Guest post: The Longest Birth Story Ever

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. Today’s guest post comes from Sonja from Girl with Greencard. Sonja shares the birth story of her son Noah who was born just weeks ago.

The longest birth story ever

The plan:

Midwife-attended, natural home birth, potentially in the water.

The Husband and I made this choice for many reasons, but mainly because a normal pregnancy is not a disease and does not need to be medically managed. We wanted to have control over the parts of the birth process you can have control over, like avoiding routine interventions, knowing all the attendants, being comfortable in our surroundings, and making choices ourselves rather than having doctors or nurses make choices for us. On top of that, I was radically and irrationally afraid of being admitted to the hospital. I haven’t been to a hospital in the last 15 years or so without becoming lightheaded – and that was just when I visited others!

The preparations:

Find a midwife.

Take Bradley class.

Take many a supplement.

Buy lots of plastic sheeting and cheapo towels and set up birthing tub (sans water, of course).

Prenatal care and due dateapalooza:

After we had found a midwife and decided on the home birth, I saw both her and a midwife at Kaiser for prenatal appointments. Generally speaking, the appointments at Kaiser were awful (low iron! too much weight gain! scary big baby stories!) and the appointments with The Good Midwife (TGM) were great. I was low-risk, happy, healthy, and progressing normally. From the get-go, I had two different due dates: June 17th from Kaiser and June 19th from TGM. Then, Kaiser did the 2nd trimester ultrasound, and on the print-out it said that my due date was June 23rd.

Forward to week 35 of my pregnancy, when the baby dropped (I carried my belly between my knees all of a sudden), and TGM told me that first babies usually arrive four weeks after they drop. So now I considered my “due date” to be between June 12th and June 23rd.

Waiting…:

I didn’t have a baby on June 12th. Nor on the 13th, the 14th, or even on the 23rd. TGM went to a conference in Canada (leaving me in the capable hands of a very sweet stand-in). She was due back on July 1st, which was also my “due date + 8” (first time moms on average deliver 8 days past their due date) from June 23rd. I dealt with some crampiness and mucousiness while she was gone, but I had decided that I would have the baby on July 1st (because at that point I had STILL not gotten it into my blonde head that this was NOT UP TO ME). Starting on Thursday (June 26th), the crampiness progressed into nightly occurrences of pre-labor (or false labor), which was exciting, but robbed both me and The Husband of sleep. And… it didn’t progress into anything serious at all.

I didn’t have a baby on July 1st. Nor on July 2nd. I was getting a little desperate. Okay. A lot desperate.

Finally! Labor! Wooohooo!

Thursday night, July 3rd, I could tell my contractions were different. The Husband and I decided that FINALLY! I was in labor, and called TGM to giver her a heads-up. I took the birthday cake out of the freezer. In between my contractions we talked about how our baby had just waited so he could have parades and fireworks for his birthday every year. Needless to say, we were excited. Of course, being obedient Bradley students, we went to sleep. That is, The Husband went to sleep. I realized that real contractions are a heck of a lot more painful lying in bed that in pretty much any other position, so I walked around and dropped to my knees a lot.

Towards the morning, I felt increasingly annoyed with the contractions and got in the birth tub. This of course slowed the contractions waaaaay down, but I managed to wedge myself in so I could take a floating nap, which was great.

TGM arrived around daybreak. I was only 3 cm dilated and incredibly discouraged. She recommended resting and distracting ourselves during the day and felt sure that my contractions would pick up again at night.

The next night went much like the night before. When TGM arrived at the house early the next morning, I was 3 cm dilated and clearly not in labor. Also ready to jump off a cliff – angry, annoyed, and just way too pregnant to deal with still being pregnant.

Hospital:

That Saturday was a long day. Saturday night was the first night in over a week that went by without so much as a single little cramp from ye olde uterus. Sunday morning, I had a really hard time peeing. By 9am, I couldn’t really pee at all even though I had been drinking water and juice like crazy. I figured that this was just a new nuisance of being extremely pregnant – baby is putting pressure on my bladder (because BOY did I have to go!) and simultaneously sitting on the exit. It wasn’t until I dissolved into tears trying to pee at church around 11am that it dawned on me that something was not right (I’m real bright sometimes, what can I say!). We went home. I called TGM who phone diagnosed me with a UTI (a diagnosis that proved accurate though I shrugged it off as preposterous because it didn’t feel like a UTI) and sent me to urgent care.

Of course, when we got to the Kaiser hospital, we were re-routed from urgent care to labor and delivery.

I was asked to pee in a cup (HAHAHA!) and actually managed to squeeze out a few drops. I had to exchange my clothes for the breezy gown and was hooked up to a fetal monitor. A surly midwife scolded me for not having come in for a biophysical profile at 41 weeks. And this, my dears, is when I found out that Kaiser only adjusts the due date based on the 2nd trimester ultrasound if it is more than two weeks different from the due date based on LMP (which I think is sound medically – I just wish I had asked that question back in January!). In other words, June 23rd had never actually been my due date, which now put me at almost 43 weeks pregnant. I felt like a giant fool. But not for long, because of the commotion – baby’s heart rate dropped! Dramatically! To the 50s! Nurses rushed into the room, The Husband was pushed out of the way, and an oxygen mask was pressed on my face. As soon as the monitor had been adjusted, baby’s heart rate was fine again, but this “random decel” turned into another Big Deal, though I am convinced that it only happened because the monitor moved on my giant belly.

An ultrasound determined that I had next to no amniotic fluid left (not good) and an exam revealed that my bag of waters had ruptured – unbeknownst to me. It had quite possibly (and likely) been ruptured for three or four days (really not good).

So here I was – with premature rupture of membranes, too little amniotic fluid, a “random decel” of baby’s heart rate, a UTI, and 2 weeks 5 days past my due date. Oh, and without any contractions. We agreed to induction, happy that they were offering it rather than arguing for a c-section right away.

Intervention carnival:

Before I knew it, I had an IV with fluids and antibiotics. My bladder was catheterized (oh, sweet relief!), fetal monitoring was done internally (sorry baby!), and I got an infusion of amniotic fluid. Once everything was situated, they hooked me up to Pitocin.

Fast-forward about 12 hours. I was stalled at 7 cm but felt veeeery pushy with each contraction. Baby’s head was tilted (not good) and his heart rate continued to have “random decels” (Pitocin side effect). TGM had come to the hospital to support us, and at this point, she recommended I get an epidural to give me the chance to continue dilating without having to try not to push, to relax me so that perhaps baby’s head would move into a more favorable position, and to allow me to get some rest. I went for it, and it really helped. I dilated to 9 cm while I took a little nap. Baby’s head turned. I got a second wind. But… I had to keep the oxygen mask on at all times to prevent baby’s heart rate from dropping (and take slow, deep breaths). Baby had turned posterior (no wonder – I had to labor on my back!) and I stalled at 9 cm with my cervix stuck between baby’s head and my pubic bone.

We decided that at that point, a c-section would be the best option to get the baby out safely.

Noah was born at 10:15am on Monday, July 7th. He was covered in meconium, but had APGARs of 8 and 9. His daddy fought the nurses for skin to skin contact while they were cleaning and suctioning him and then stayed with Noah until they had sewn me back up. I was able to hold and even nurse Noah in recovery – before I could even wiggle my toes (or actually really feel my boobs).

The aftermath

Healing from a c-section is no picnic. Getting into and out of bed was nearly impossible for the first few days – even in the hospital. At 16 days post-surgery, I still cannot carry Noah and the diaper bag at the same time. I don’t stand a chance lifting the stroller into or out of the trunk of the car. Sneezing, coughing, and blowing my nose are extremely painful – I feel as though those things rip me apart at my incision.

Healing emotionally

I’m actually doing pretty well emotionally. I certainly have learned a lot.

One of the reasons why I chose a home birth was my fear of hospitals. I didn’t want to have to assert myself and to fight for the natural birth I wanted. In many ways, home birth was the path of least resistance for me. Not only did the hospital turn out to be very accommodating of all of my special little requests, but I never felt judged for my decisions (like refusing the eye treatment and Hep B vaccine for Noah). My wishes were actually respected (I told the first nurse I did not want pain medication offered to me and nobody ever mentioned it after that.)! I felt well taken care of the entire time I was in the hospital, and I realized how strong I was. I was able to get what I wanted without having to drop-kick anybody (or even arguing for it).

I know that I did everything I could to have a natural delivery. I feel that all interventions were medically necessary. Sure, the Pitocin led to the random decels in baby’s heart rate which ultimately led to the c-section, but I did need the Pit to get me to go into labor. The stalling at 9cm and baby’s poor position could have been avoided (or remedied) had I been able to move around while in labor, but again – with the issues I came in with, laboring on the bed was my only option.

And so I learned that the hospital is not an evil place (though choose your hospital wisely if you’re planning to birth there), that I am stronger than I thought (I sort of want to cross-stitch “12 hours on pit with not pain meds” into a pillow), and that even though it can sometimes appear as though they are, medical professionals are NOT the enemy (but… do your research! I’m always amazed at people making decisions based on little to no background info. One of the nurses actually asked me if I was a nurse because of how much I knew about labor and birth.).

And to end the longest birth story ever told (which is fitting since it felt like the longest pregnancy known to womankind), here are some photos:

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Girlwithgreencard is the pseudonym of Sonja. She is a retired elementary school teacher and new SAHM living the high life of smog, terrible traffic, and crazy hot summers in Southern California. She has a green card because she came to the States from Germany eight years ago to get married to this guy she fell madly in love with. Sonja likes the smell of rain and her baby’s blissed-out smile when he comes off her boob. She very much dislikes crumply sheets and people talking on cell phones in public restrooms.

Sonja chronicles her daily life at Girl with Greencard and shows off her crafting endeavors at Girl with Fabric.

Guest post: Don’t Forget the Gummy Worms (photo tips)

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. Today’s guest post comes from Anna of Hank & Willie and is chock full of great tips for photographing your kids.

DON’T FORGET THE GUMMY WORMS
(And six more tips for taking better photos of your kids this summer)

It’s summertime, and the activities from each busy day could fill their own photo album. Amy and family are probably enjoying one of those days as you read this. I know that many of Amy’s readers are, like her, accomplished photographers and even professionals, but if you aren’t, I’m hoping you’ll find something to enjoy in this post.

Maybe you’ve got a new digital SLR camera, or maybe you’re a diehard point-n-shooter, but we’ve all got the same goal in mind: to take the best possible pictures of our families, preserving the memories in the jewel-like light we remember them.

I can guarantee you’ll see great results in your photos if you try a few of these techniques, and I won’t even talk about shutter speed and f-stops. And if you’re a devotee of automatic settings, you don’t have to change your stripes. You can try all these tips in auto mode.

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1. Get involved.

Get close. Then get closer. Then get down low. Chances are you’re taking a photo of your child in a location you’d like to remember—maybe a scenic mountainside or a sparkling beach. But one of the biggest mistakes we can make in a photo is trying to include too much information, like taking a landscape photo that just happens to have a small, faraway person in it. Instead, fill the frame with your subject, making them the most important part of the photo. Because they are.

Want to remember the beach? Get up close to your child and photograph his toes buried in the sand, or the look on her face when she spies a new piece of sea glass. Want to remember the mountain? Zoom in as your child reaches in to pick a wildflower or throws a rock in a rolling stream.

And unless you and your child are the same height, you’ll want to get down where the action is. It’s all part of getting involved.

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2. Find the sweet light.
Your photos will be 1000-percent improved if you do nothing else but this: think about the best times of day for kids to be out in the sun and shoot your photos then. Early morning before the sun gets too intense (you’re all awake anyway, right?) and afternoon/evening when the intensity wanes.

Here in North American, that’s roughly before 8 a.m. and after 5:30 p.m. this time of year. (Bribe ’em with ice cream if they are melting down at day’s end.) Full-day sunlight washes out colors, creates harsh, unflattering shadows and causes sunburn, of course, while the warmth and softness of early and late-day sun will bring a beautiful, unrivaled tone to your images.

Now, I know what you’re saying. Plenty of life goes on between 8 and 5:30, in fact most of the day for those of a certain age in my household. So if you’re stuck outside at high noon on a sunny day, pray for a cloud or find some open shade (a spot out of direct sun lit by reflected light. Just go under a tree.) and shoot your photos there. And if you end up with a cloudy day on vacation, you can be the annoying one that chirps, “Well, it’s an absolutely perfect day for photos!”

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3. Go for the unexpected
If your child is about three or up, they probably know what it means to pose for a photo and you end up with a series of lock-jawed grins. So go for the anti-pose. Have your child leap in the air. Make a crazy monster face and challenge them to make one, too. (Guaranteed to get a laugh.) Sing the ABCs to them, and get it wrong, so they have to correct you, giggling all the way.

Younger than three? Try positioning them in or on something, like a ride-on horsie, a bathtub, a bucket or a basket and shoot away until they escape or are done. Then follow them around and capture their entirely unselfconscious anti-poses. Or hand them a prop you can stand to see in your photos, like a bright red ball.

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4. Get cheeky
When photographing more than one child together, have them avoid perpetuating the grip-and-grin pose they see in adults. Instead get creative to get their faces close together. Have them lie on the ground and look up, which almost always will bring on the giggles. Encourage a whispered secret or a kiss on the cheek. Or just request “Cheeks together!” which will bring you sibling closeness you didn’t know you had.

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5. Remove the bulls eye from your child’s forehead

So you’re on the beach. It’s 5:45 in the afternoon, and glorious streams of golden light are bathing the scene in front of you. The sky is a brilliant blue, the sand is warm and inviting, Junior is waving his snappy red shovel and he flashes you a big, natural-looking grin. Mentally patting yourself on the back, you get down on his eye level, perform a quick check on the background to be sure the lifeguard chair isn’t growing out of his head, center him perfectly in the frame and…STOP!!!!!!

Try this. Move your camera slightly to the right or left, so that Junior is now off center. Is there something else across the frame that you can bring into the photo, like the bright blue bucket he just threw in frustration when his sand castle caved in? I promised no photo lingo in this post, but if you’re ever tempted to Google the phrase “rule of thirds” you’ll learn a lot more about this composition technique. In short, it can make for a much more appealing and interesting photo. Give it a try.

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6. Take your camera for a spin

Take your camera and turn it 90°. Try using the camera in vertical or “portrait” position to capture an image of one or two children, a format that naturally crops extra information from the photo and focuses in close on the important stuff: your subject. While excellent portraits can be in either landscape (horizontal) or portrait (vertical) position, trying the portrait position might bring a brand new focus to your shots.

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7. Don’t forget the gummy worms!
While portraits don’t need to have dead on eye-contact to be successful, there is always something a little disappointing about the image that is nearly perfect in every way, yet has a child with a vacant stare over your shoulder, probably because a well-intentioned person was jumping up and down trying to get a laugh.

When I’m nearing the end of a session (and I use the term loosely, I’ve been known to break out this trick in the backyard with my kids) and want to bag a few more good shots, I might drape a gummy worm around the barrel of my lens. This usually promotes a tractor-beam lock on my lens (hello, eye contact!), as well as an interesting discussion about worms and eating them, depending on the age of your subject. It doesn’t last long, and if you’re shooting someone else’s kids you probably want to check the guidelines on sugar consumption, but it can be a serious secret weapon at the right moment.

Before and After

This morning at a playdate, I tried to use some of these tips to demonstrate what they can do in two quick snapshots.
Here’s Sydney before, out in the blazing sun at about 11 a.m., in a cluttered snapshot, taken in landscape view. Like the disembodied adult arm and half toddler in the background?

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Here’s Sydney a minute later, under a tree in her yard. This photo was taken at her level, in portrait view, in lovely open shade. She was so happy about it she even gave me a smile!
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Got a great summer photo to share?
Post a link to your blog, Flickr or web page in the comments section here, and let me know if you give these tips a try!

Anna is a mother, writer and photographer from New England who can often be found
picking up toy trucks off the floor and blogging at Hank & Willie.

Guest post: Healthy Eating on a Budget

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. Today’s guest post comes from Kayris who blogs at The Great Walls of Baltimore, among other places.

When a friend of mine went to her doctor earlier this year for her annual physical, he had bad news for her. Her blood sugar was up, her cholesterol was in the high range, and she had gained ten pounds in the past year. He told her she needs to lose weight or face serious health risks. Frightened by the prospect of diabetes and heart disease, she immediately overhauled the way she cooks and eats. Since then, she’s lost that ten pounds she gained last year and she feels better than she has in years. In fact, there’s only one downside to the new eating plan. Buying healthy food has taken a big chunk out of her grocery budget.

We eat pretty well, health wise, and I’ve found it hard to cut our grocery bills further than I already have because I’m not willing to make certain sacrifices to save a buck. To be sure, eating well and taking care of yourself will save you in the long run, but I wondered, is eating healthy really more expensive when you’re looking at it strictly from the standpoint of your credit card bill?

The answer is yes…and no. I’ve been meaning to blog about this topic for some time, but wasn’t quite sure where to start. If you’re talking about swapping fattier cuts of meat for leaner versions, or non-organic produce for all organic produce, then yes, it costs more to eat healthy. But if you shop for seasonal produce or wait for sales to stock up on meat, then you can eat healthier for about the same price. If you rely a lot on convenience goods or processed foods, making your own meal from scratch is not only healthier, but much cheaper. In order to prove my point, I wanted to compare how much it would cost to buy enough canned soup for a family of four, versus making a pot of your own, or how much it would cost to buy a premade, frozen lasagna versus how much it would cost to make your own. But that would have required a lot of research on my part, and I didn’t want to spend that much time on the post.

Then, back in March, I popped into Safeway for milk and spotted a new magazine.
Clean Eating is a new magazine by the publishers of Oxygen and it’s aimed, not at dieting, but at changing your lifestyle. When you “eat clean,” you try to eat foods in their most natural state and avoid refined grains, processed foods, etc. The idea isn’t new, but I think it’s a great way to reduce unnecessary sugar, salt and calories in your diet.

Anyway, the front of the magazine caught my eye because of the headline “Feed your family for five nights–Only 60$.” Food prices have been steadily rising and I’ve been struggling to keep our grocery expenses to a reasonable level, so I checked out the article. The five meals listed are very similar to meals that I cook, so I decided to give it a try and see how the magazine’s total bill compared to mine. I also made a few changes to suit the tastes and needs of my family.

Here’s the shopping list from the magazine’s website. Their prices are listed in blue.

PRODUCE
3 small onions $1.99
1 head garlic $.39
1 lime $0.50
1 bag pre-washed mixed greens $3.49
MEAT
2 lb. extra-lean ground white turkey breast $5.18
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts $14.97
DRY GOODS
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes $1.49
1 14.5-oz can Italian-style tomatoes $1.00
1 box high-protein or whole-wheat lasagna $2.39
1 small bag brown rice $2.00
2 1-qt. boxes reduced-sodium chicken stock $5.58
1 15-oz. can mixed tropical fruit packed in juice, unsweetened $3.19
1 6-pack bag whole-grain sub rolls $2.29
FROZEN FOODS
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach $0.95
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen mixed vegetables $1.89
DAIRY
1 15-oz. container non-fat ricotta $2.29
1 2-cup package shredded reduced-fat mozzarella cheese $2.19
1 6-oz. container non-fat yogurt $0.69
1/2 dozen eggs $1.99
FROM YOUR PANTRY
Extra-virgin olive oil
Ground cinnamon
Ground nutmeg
Ground cumin
Dried oregano
Chili powder
Curry powder
Dried bay leaves
Peppercorns
Salt
Cooking spray

Total: $54.46

For Pasta Roll-Ups with Turkey and Spinach, I substituted my own Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups recipe. I wasn’t able to find whole wheat lasagna noodles at Safeway, and I don’t like reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, so I used part-skim cheese. My husband doesn’t like ground turkey and Johnny prefers cottage cheese over ricotta. Since the jarred pasta sauce I used had plenty of salt already, I also omitted the additional salt.

For Spicy Chicken With Brown Rice Pilaf, I used lime juice I already had on hand instead of buying a fresh lime. In place of the chicken stock, I used two teaspoons of sodium-free chicken bouillon granules and two cups of water.

For Chicken and Rice Soup with Spring Vegetables, I left out the bay leaf and made my own broth with water and bouillon.

For Curried Chicken Salad with Tropical Fruit, I didn’t use the bagged greens, substituting green leaf lettuce instead. I knew this meal would be too light for my husband, so I also made twice-baked potatoes on the side with ingredients I already had on hand.

For Turkey Meatball Subs, I substituted 93% lean ground beef for the turkey and part-skim mozzarella for the reduced-fat version.

Making adjustments for some of the items on the shopping list (eggs, for example, are listed as 1/2 dozen and we eat a lot of eggs. I usually buy three dozen at a time because Safeway runs buy one get one free sales on the 18 pack), my shopping list looks more like this. My prices are in red.

PRODUCE
3 small onions $2.22
1 head garlic $0.40
1 lime1 bottle lime juice $1.97
1 bag pre-washed mixed greens 1 head green leaf lettuce $1.19
MEAT
2 lb. extra-lean ground white turkey breast 3.5 pound 93% lean ground beef value pack $7.00
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts $12.00
DRY GOODS
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes1 jar pasta sauce $2.00
1 14.5-oz can Italian-style tomatoes $1.15
1 box high-protein or whole-wheat lasagna 1 16-ox box Safeway brand Semolina lasagna noodles $1.56
1 small bag brown rice $2.50
2 1-qt. boxes reduced-sodium chicken stock1 jar reduced-sodium chicken bouillon granules $3.75
1 15-oz. can mixed tropical fruit packed in juice,
unsweetened $1.25
1 6-pack bag whole-grain sub rolls $2.89 for 12 rolls
FROZEN FOODS
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach $1.19
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen mixed vegetables $1.99
DAIRY
1 15-oz. container non-fat ricotta1 16oz container cottage cheese $4.49
1 2-cup package reduced-fat mozzarella cheesePart-skim mozzarella cheese, 32 ounce block $6.99
1 6-oz. container non-fat yogurt1 32 ounce container fat-free plain yogurt $1.99
1/2 dozen eggs3 dozen eggs $5.49
Parmesan cheese 7oz block $4.49

The total for my grocery list comes to $66.51, and that’s pretty close. It’s even better, actually, when you consider that I purchased the larger container of some things and will have leftovers. The eggs are the most obvious example, but I’ll also get many more meals out of thr 32-ounce cheese that I bought. The rest of the cottage cheese will get eaten for breakfasts, and I also bought the large container of yogurt because I cook with yogurt a lot and it’s the more economical choice. In addition I already have many of the items on this list in my pantry. Rice is something I always have, as is chicken bouillon. I also stock up on commonly used ingredients when they go on sale, so we have ground beef and chicken in the freezer, yogurt in the fridge,and lime juice and canned tomatoes in the cabinets. So when I only buy the things I don’t already have, the total comes out to $39.53.

Of course, that’s for dinner only. It doesn’t include things like those 3-4 gallons of milk we go through a week (at $3.50 a pop) or fruit for lunches or things like crackers, cereal, bread, peanut butter, waffles, butter, etc, that quite often show up on my list. It also doesn’t include side dishes, like steamed veggies or salads. And while all five recipes are similar to recipes I already make for my family, I wouldn’t cook five recipes containing meat in one week. Another thing to consider is leftovers. We usually have leftovers, and my husband takes them to work for lunch the next day, or we have a night during the week when I don’t cook anything new and we eat whatever is in the fridge. Finally, while I have found that produce prices don’t vary much from store to store, prices for other items, such as meat, can be found in a wide range of prices. Some of the prices on my list are sale prices. The Perdue chicken is sale priced at $3.99 a pound, and I estimated that I would need three pounds. I almost never pay full price for Perdue chicken ($5.49 a pound at Safeway), but I also won’t buy storebrand chicken. How cheaply you can buy this list of food will depend heavily on sales.

Even so, I think that’s a reasonable amount to spend for a family of four in a week, especially considering that all five meals are tasty, healthy and easy to prepare.

How would your state/store stack up against such a challenge? Could you purchase those ingredients for 60 dollars? What do you consider to be a reasonable grocery budget for a family of four? And do you agree or disagree that it is more expensive to eat healthy?

Kayris lives with her husband, two kids and one grouchy cat in Baltimore City, MD. When she’s not home with the kids, she works part-time as a veterinary technician at a busy, multi-doctor animal hospital. She blogs about raising kids in the city at The Great Walls of Baltimore, shares family-friendly recipes and cooking tips at Mommy, What’s For Dinner?, and contributes to Generic Mommy, a blog about being a smart consumer.

Guest post: Giving with Art

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. Today’s guest post comes from Carrie who blogs at Passage.

“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

MintAt my last birthday, a friend gave me a pot of assorted mint plants. I keep the pot in a sunny window, and I catch the scent of mint over my breakfast in the morning. My husband and friends lavished me with attention and well-chosen gifts that birthday. Admit it, birthdays all kind of run together after age 21 or so, but they helped me remember what it feels like to be made much of on a birthday. I came away from my celebration wanting to lavish others, but quite frankly, I couldn’t afford much, and I didn’t want to promote any more consumerism or un-green living. I just wanted my friends and family to feel abundantly loved.

The most heartless gifts I’ve given have been those bought quickly and impulsively from a store. They have been gifts matched with a dollar amount: Okay, I have $30? Well, then it’s a pair of candlesticks. $50? I’ll get a sweater. Stores scream their seasonal promotions at me. They make gift giving as easy and thoughtless as possible. And while parting with the money may be painful, I’ve decided it requires no more sacrifice than paying the monthly electricity bill. Oh, yes, that’s often painful, but the sacrifice in gift-giving should be a pleasurable one. It may be a noble thing to sacrifice money for a gift, but in a consumer-driven culture of easily attainable credit, fast cars, and drive-thru restaurants, perhaps the most valuable gift is one that requires a sacrifice of time.

So, I started a list of gifts for all the wonderful people on my birthday calendar. They deserved more than a card. And, I pledged, they deserved more than mere money. For creation’s sake, they deserved a green gift. For being a blessing to my life, they deserved a gift that was well-thought-out. And in spite of my pride, they would get a frugal gift.

So, with no further ado, my new recipe for green, anti-consumer, thoughtful, frugal gift-giving:

Creating Gifts

NapkinsIf you sew, if you make crafts, learn to hone those skills for creating gifts. I sewed my first set of cloth napkins last week. They will be for my sister-in-law, and although I bought new fabric from a table of pre-cut scraps for a mere $1.99/yard, I could have made napkins from any scrap fabric around the house.

Even the most amateur knitter can create a scarf. When it’s complete, my first scarf will be beautiful enough to give away because I used a fuzzy yarn that covers my errors. A stack of denim from our old jeans is piling up on my piano. I’m excited for the day I start sewing together the patches into a quilt.

If you cook, cook for a gift. Make granola from organic ingredients, and bottle it in an old pasta sauce jar. If you make any of your own household cleaners, make samples for a wedding or graduation gift.

Giving What I Have
PhotobookCards A few years ago, I worked at a scrapbook store, and over the course of two years, I collected enough paper and embellishments to last a lifetime. Now, I make all my birthday cards, and create packets of cards for gifts. Grandparents are fully satisfied to receive a book of pictures of their grandchildren. If you paint, paint for someone. Draw pictures for someone. Find a quote that embodies your friend or relative, and present it in a frame. Recently, I found some plain, abandoned hair barrettes, and created colorful bows for my nieces from my scrapbooking ribbon collection.

If you have no crafty or culinary talent, give away something precious to you. A few months ago, I found my childhood rock collection, and instead of boxing it away again, I’m giving my treasures to my nephews for their birthdays. Have books on the shelf that you loved but will likely not read again? If you love the books, I propose that it is not stingy to use them as gifts instead of buying another copy to give away.

Beyond Things

Maybe the greenest gift possible is the gift of service. On Father’s Day, I treated my husband to the best massage I knew how to give. It took time and concentration and affection to make it worthwhile. Mood music, candles, lotion — these helped make my massage almost as good as any massage therapist’s. Well, anyway, I assume it was. He certainly responded well.

Other acts of service: Plan a picnic. Write a poem for your dad. Deliver breakfast in bed. Clean your mom’s house.

And If All Else Fails…

Okay, I am human, too. And sometimes birthdays sneak up on me, and I simply don’t have time to make a craft for my mother or plan a getaway for my beloved. Therefore, I submit to you… three easy ideas (that cost a little money):

1. Used books. A true book-lover will love a dog-eared copy as much as a pristine one.

2. Fairly traded recycled things. These recycled newspaper hot mats from Ten Thousand Villages are the premade gifts over which I drool the most.

3. A donation to a charity in someone’s name.

Some Final Thoughts
I love my mint plant. My sister hinted that she would love one, too, and this year I just happened to be paying attention. So when November gets closer, I will give her her own mint plant, grown from an offshoot of mine. I will search for a lonely, used planter from my local Freecycle group. I may paint it or scrub it clean, but to my sister, it will be new. The earth will be happier without more boxes to throw into its landfills; my sister will not be burdened with some store-bought trinket that she doesn’t really need. And my heart will be full from the preparation of a gift that I know will be appreciated.

When I began making a list of green gifts, I worried about being thought of as cheap. But as I put effort into my planning, I find so much more thought going into the gifts that I no longer worry. Hey, after a certain age, to be thought of at all on a special day is a great honor. So I make my little gifts, say little prayers over the recipient, and I find the blessing in the giving so much more fulfilling than handing my debit card over to a sales clerk.

c.l.beyer blogs at passage, a compilation of accounts on her journey to becoming a green, life-loving, and creative wife and momma. She includes her thoughts on loving God and the unlovable people of the world, sharing bits of poetry she’s written and the occasional book review.

I’m off to MI, but guest bloggers are standing by

Tomorrow morning is day 1 of our two-week vacation to Michigan. For the most part we’ll be staying with my parents in Oscoda which is very near the Au Sable River and Lake Huron (yes, we’ll be doing plenty of swimming), but we’re also taking a few days to go to Mackinac Island Mackinac Island(pronounced Mack-ih-naw) where we’ll stay at Mission Point Resort. (Those of you who’ve seen the movie “Somewhere in Time” with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour may remember that the movie took place primarily at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.) I spent a week every summer on the Island from sixth to twelfth grade as part of the Mackinac Downtown Mackinac IslandIsland Scout Service Camp (yes, I was a Girl Scout through high school), and have so many fond memories of that place. I took Jody there several years ago and now I hope to share the experience with my children as well. We plan to leave the touristy parts of the island behind for the most part and instead go off on bikes (since no cars are allowed there – only bikes and horses) and explore some of the more hidden, but beautiful and scenic areas. I hope to have the opportunity to take a lot of pictures. If I was independently wealthy, I swear we’d spend a few weeks there every summer in one of the amazing Victorian houses. I’m so looking forward to the trip. 🙂

OK, calm down Amy. Whew! Got a little carried away there for a moment and could almost hear the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves and smell the sweet aroma of fudge in the air.

Ahem. Anyway, although I personally will be blogging very little while I am gone (if you really want to know what’s going on while I’m away, follow me on Twitter), there will still be plenty of great content to read here at Crunchy Domestic Goddess. I have 17 guest bloggers with posts on topics like CSAs, eating healthy on a budget, parenting, , birth, feminism, photography tips, gardening, ‘poo-free hair, breastfeeding, organic food on the road, and MORE lined up to fill the void. Seriously, there are some great posts headed your way by a variety of very talented bloggers. I’m so happy to feature them here and I thank you in advance for extending the same courtesy and respect to them in your comments that you do to me. I hope you may even find some new blogs to read as a result of this (just as long as you don’t stop reading mine /cue nervous laughter/).

And now, after spending two hours today with the kids “killing time” in Target after discovering an unexpected flat tire this afternoon (I’m so thankful it happened today and not tomorrow and that we have 4 new tires on our car now), I need to kick it in gear and pack like mad. Next time you hear from me, I’ll be in Michigan. Ciao!

How to throw an eco-friendly party (with a giveaway)

This giveaway is now closed to new entries.

Felt party hats from GreenPartyGoods.comIs it possible to throw a child’s birthday party (or any party for that matter) without piling up mounds and mounds of trash? The answer is most definitely YES. Throwing an eco-friendly party (or green party or nearly zero-waste party) is actually probably easier than you think. Like any party, it just takes some planning in advance.

Here are some tips and ideas to get you started planning your next eco-friendly bash.

1) Invitations: Consider electronic invitations from Evite, which is what we did for my daughter Ava’s recent 4th birthday party, or EchoAge. Both options save paper and trees. If you have to have paper invitations, check out seed embedded paper (that you can plant) from Green Field Paper or Botanical Paperworks or others, so your invitation is reused and recycled.

All compostable tablewareZero-waste party table sign2) Tableware: One of the biggest waste creators at a party is the tableware – the plates, cups, napkins, bowls, and eating utensils, and even the table cloths. All of this plastic stuff (made from oil) gets used once, then ends up in the landfills where it doesn’t degrade. You can avoid the waste and plastic altogether by using reusable tableware, which may be cost-effectively purchased from a restaurant supply store. If you enjoy throwing parties and do so often, this might be the best way to go. Another option is to use compostable* tableware which is often made from corn, potatoes or sugarcane. Thanks to Green Party Goods we had compostable plates, cups and utensils in pink (for all of the kids) and I bought additional compostable tableware from EcoCycle, where Amy is so proud of the compostablesthey offer up a zero-waste event kit. Unfortunately the kits are only available locally; they do not ship them. EcoCycle provided me with table signs and boxes/bags to collect the compostables. After the party, I dropped them off at the EcoCycle facility to be composted. We collected recyclable items separately and took them back to my house to put in our recycle bin.
*It’s worth noting that many of the compostable tableware requires the very high heat of an industrial composter (not a home composter) to effectively decompose.
If you need table cloths, consider using an old sheet (check out Freecycle or thrift stores) or a piece of fabric in the color or theme of your choice. My mom whipped up a couple farm-themed tablecloths in no time for Ava’s party.

3) Decorations: Children’s birthday parties often mean lots and lots of balloons which are not good for the environment. Most are not biodegradable, are bad for sewage treatment plants, and are bad news for marine wildlife as well. As an alternative to balloons, one could decorate with Chinese lanterns or felt banners (both of which are reusable). Recycle Your Day has a tutorial on how to make a paper bag pinata. Or you could have your party at an outside location (at least during the warmer months) and let the natural scenery be the “decorations” and avoid artificial decorations all together. We held Ava’s 4th birthday party at a local farm where the kids had the option to feed and pet animals, have a pony ride, play in a giant tree house, and more. They loved it! Parks make a great setting for children’s parties too. We’ve had two of Ava’s previous birthday parties there. Outdoor parties are a great way to get kids connecting with nature.

Ava’s 4th birthday party - 6/21/08Kids at Ava’s outdoor farm party, eating with compostable plates, cups and utensils4) Food and Cake: When planning your menu, try to keep foods as healthy, organic and whole as possible. Avoiding prepackaged, preservative-laden foods is healthier for your guests and better for the earth since there’s less packaging involved. For Ava’s party I went with a fruit salad, a carrot salad, my version of confetti salad, a green salad and crackers. Instead of a cake, I made cupcakes using a healthier recipe sweetened with applesauce and honey, but my frosting (which my mom and I used to try to make the cupcakes look like pigs) included a lot of powdered sugar. I know, tsk, tsk, but ya can’t win ’em all. The good news is that the food coloring I used to dye the cream cheese frosting was plant-based (from beets). You can buy natural food coloring (and avoid artificial colors) at most health food stores.

5) Gifts and Wrapping Paper: When it comes time to wrap presents, think recycled or reusable materials first. Encourage your party attendees (as I did) to wrap their presents using newspaper or cloth. My friend Julie took the cloth suggestion one step further and made her own zero-waste wrapping “paper” by naturally-dyeing play silks a lovely shade of pink. The play silks are like a bonus present and provide unlimited imaginative play.
You also always have the option of politely declining presents. Kids often have so many toys that it won’t bother them to make presents optional, suggest books only (used books are even better) or request no presents at all. Another idea is to ask for donations to a charity in lieu of gifts. Let your child choose the charitable organization.

Party favor bagsFelt birthday crown6) Party favors/hat: I wanted to stay away from cheap and/or disposable party favors/hats and bags for the kids. Thanks to Green Party Goods, we received a felt queen’s crown for Ava’s big day (and you’ll have a chance to win one below). They also carry felt party hats.
Since I wanted to avoid plastic for our goody bags, I picked up some mini canvas bags from Hobby Lobby as well as some craft paint. I painted a pig and each child’s name on the bags. You could also buy a yard of fabric, cut it into squares and make your own bags tied up with a ribbon.

Party favor recycled crayonsThen for filling the bags, I bought some groovy recycled rainbow crayons* from Art 2 The Extreme, an Etsy store. In keeping with our farm theme, I printed up Party favor mini coloring booksmini coloring books of farm animals on recycled paper. I also wanted to include some sort of treat, but I wanted to avoid sugar and artificial colors, so I included a box of organic raisins for each child. That was it. Simple, but fun and no junky little plastic toys to end up in the landfill.

Party favor raisins

Another neat eco-friendly party favor idea is to give polished stones or geodes. They are natural and great for imaginative play. Check out Etsy for other unique and/or recycled/eco-friendly favor ideas.

*Other Etsy stores that sell recycled crayons include: IvyLane Designs, Butterfly Brain and Ferret Bento.

 

7) Thank you notes: Again, these can easily be done without trees by sending electronic thank yous. If you feel the need to send them in the mail though as I did (what can I say, I’m old-fashioned), use recycled paper/cards. We made our thank you notes and Ava stamped them with a new stamping set she received for her birthday. I think it’s important for children to be involved in the thanking process and she really enjoyed creating cards for all of her friends.

Looking for more green party ideas? Check out Nature Moms Blog’s Eco Friendly Birthday Party post.

Now on to the giveaway…

Win It!

Felt Queen Crown Felt King Crown

Collapsible baseball girlCollapsible baseball boyThanks to Green Party Goods, I’m giving away one felt queen or king crown (your choice) and 10 collapsible baseball figure party favors. To be eligible to win, simply visit Green Party Goods, take a look around, come back here and leave a comment letting me know what your favorite thing is. That’s it! (If you want to link to it, Twitter it, or Stumble it, especially if you found this post helpful, I certainly won’t object, but that’s not required to enter to win.) The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7. The winner will be selected by Random.org and emailed, so be sure to include a valid email address or link to your blog so I know how to reach you. Good luck!

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