Monthly Archives: July 2011

Are You Making the Most of Your Weeds?

I don’t think my garden will ever be that perfect, weed-free space many people picture when they talk about having a vegetable garden. I just don’t care enough about beating back every single weed. Within reason, I like them.

I have some nice zucchini growing, as well as tomatoes, pumpkins, and a few other plants. The heat is driving the basil nuts, as it’s constantly trying to flower out much sooner than I’m ready to let it go. The flowers planted to be flowers look great. And there are weeds everywhere.

I do control a few of them. You have to give the plants you intend to grow some space to do so. I don’t let weeds interfere with that. But beyond that, they don’t bother me.

Weeds are useful, some ways. They’re clearly adapted to the soil and watering conditions. Some of them are rather pretty, if you quit looking at them as pesky weeds. Certain weeds can even improve the soil overall.

I know I’ve said this before, but weeds can also be good for bees. They often have flowers of types that help bees stay healthy. That means more bees for the flowers you want pollinated in your garden.

It may be worth looking into what kinds of weeds you have growing in your yard and garden, as some are edible. If you don’t spray them and don’t remove them, you could have an interesting addition to your kitchen routine.

Is There Such a Thing As “Safe” Plastics? Are We Sure?

I think most parents these days know that there are issues with plastics containing bisphenol-A (BPA). There’s a reason why more and more plastic goods, especially those aimed at children, are being advertised as BPA-free. But is that really enough? Are other types of plastic safer?

The problem with BPA is that it’s estrogenic – that is, it mimics estrogen in the body. You don’t want that, and naturally parents are picky about such things going into the bodies of their children. That’s why there was such a fuss that manufacturers decided to use other plastics which don’t contain BPA.

Does that mean other plastics are safe? Unfortunately, that’s questionable, according to a new study.

It’s a long study, an interesting read if you like that sort of thing, but here’s the basic result: almost all plastics leach chemicals that have estrogenic activity (EA). Some BPA-free products released chemicals with more estrogenic activity than plastics with BPA.

So much for the much-vaunted BPA-free plastics.

Not all of the plastics released chemicals with EA at first, but common uses such as putting them in the microwave or dishwasher increased the release.

What Should Parents Do?

Now of course more study should be done, but heck, folks, you have options other than plastic. Not like we have to serve or save foods in plastic. There are options. Plastic, after all, isn’t that good a deal environmentally speaking anyhow.

You can use glass or stainless steel containers and dishes when possible, for example. You may not be able to avoid plastics in your dishes entirely, but there are options such as Klean Kanteen’s sippy bottle which at least minimizes the use of plastic. It uses some, but they say it’s supposed to be non-leaching and is BPA-free, for what that’s worth. It’s still less plastic than other sippy cups where the drink is held in a plastic cup rather than a stainless steel bottle.

Don’t put any plastic dishes or containers you have in the microwave or dishwasher. It’s the heat that increases the leaching. Use glass or other safe materials in the microwave.

It’s tough to serve young children with breakable dishes, but you do have alternatives. You can buy stainless steel dishes or look for tempered glass dishes, which are significantly stronger than regular glass dishes. Wood is another option, although it may be more difficult to care for.

I get a lot of my glass storage containers from bottles of spaghetti sauce. The shape is a bit awkward, and doesn’t work for everything, but it’s a place to start. There are glass storage containers you can buy if you want more practical shapes.

And on the plus side, if you just can’t give up your plastic yet, leaching does decrease over time. It’s not perfect, and the exposure still happens, but at least the numbers go down.

Plastic toys are good to avoid, but in terms of leaching, the best thing is to not let your kids put plastic toys in their mouth. That won’t stop all exposure, as little hands go in little mouths, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Don’t Panic

Estrogenic compounds may well be worth avoiding, but it’s not something to panic about. Take your time, think about it, and do what’s practical for you. I don’t know if it would work, but if you want to leach out some of the chemicals before exposing your family, you could always expose your plastics to known stressors several times before use. I have no idea how often is enough, so don’t ask. There are sources of BPA exposure beyond the plastics you can choose whether or not to use, so this is mostly a matter of limiting it where you can.

It may also help to remember that there are many risks in life that we can’t control. That’s just the way it is. It’s still a good idea to think about your exposure to chemicals leached from plastic, but it’s not panic-worthy.

How Can You Be Eco Friendly With Your Toddler?

Kids are hard on the environment, there’s no denying it. They have a lot of needs, and many of the things they need they’ll outgrow in fairly short order. That doesn’t mean you can’t do a lot to be more eco friendly while raising a toddler.

Handmedown Clothes and Toys

It’s not always easy to get handmedowns for your kids, but when you can manage it, they’re one of the most environmentally friendly things you can do with your toddler.

Most toddlers don’t need a lot of new things, and when you have a resource for handmedowns, make the most of it. Toddlers won’t care that someone else wore their clothes first or that they aren’t perfectly new. They won’t care that their toys aren’t new in the package. In the meantime, you’ll be saving a ton of money and you won’t be buying newly manufactured products.

If you know someone who needs handmedowns for their toddler, make sure you continue the trend. Keep the things your toddler has outgrown organized so that you can hand them down easily when the time comes.

Thrift and Resale Finds

Thrift and resale stores are great for finding other items your toddler needs. You may have to pay a bit more attention to product safety, and some products, such as car seats, I suggest buying new simply to be certain of product safety.

But other products you can buy quite safely used. You may be able to find a good quality dresser, for example. Beds are a possibility as well, but once again, be picky and careful.

Thrift and resale are great for making up those areas where handmedowns weren’t sufficient. Lots of clothes end up in thrift stores, and if you don’t have someone to hand your toddler’s old clothes down to, they’re a great choice so that the clothes continue to be used by someone.

Cook From Scratch

The more you cook their meals yourself at home, the more likely you are to teach your toddler lifelong healthy eating habits. Skip the convenience foods as much as possible. Sure, hot dogs and boxed mac n’ cheese are easy favorites for many toddlers, but there’s no reason to serve these things often… or at all if you can manage it. Not every family can, but it’s certainly worth the attempt to keep such foods to a minimum.

The younger you can get your kids used to home cooked foods, fresh produce and so forth, the better.

Keep Their Bedrooms Simple

It’s a lot of fun decorating a room for a toddler, but keep it simple. You don’t need to buy lots of wall stickers or borders to give the room some personality.

Most toddlers love to draw, and there’s nothing wrong with displaying their artwork in their bedroom. Their scribbles may not look like much to you, but some toddlers know exactly what they’ve drawn. My two year old insists that one of her pictures is a cat; another is a bird. Get some basic art supplies such as crayons and let your toddler enjoy them.

You can also put up photos that mean something to your child, perhaps pictures from outings and vacations. Much more interesting than princesses, cartoon cars or whatever the latest trend in children’s decor may be.

Don’t forget a bookshelf. This is a great age to encourage a love of books.

Encourage Toddlers to Help Recycle

Toddlers can start to learn what items can go into your recycle bin. Just what that means depends on the recycling program in your area, but toddlers can certainly learn to recognize that most paper gets recycled, as well as any containers that are usually recycled in your area.

Also teach them to reuse things before recycling when possible. It’s nice to save a few old containers to use for crafts and such.

Encourage a Love of Nature

Toddlerhood is a great time to introduce your child to the beauty of nature. This doesn’t mean toddlers get to go exploring the wilds on their own, but you can certainly take a toddler on a hike, carrying him or her as necessary, go to zoos so they can see the amazing range of animals, visit an organic farm, maybe even keep a few backyard chickens along with any other pets you may enjoy.

The point is to show your toddler that there is more to the world than what’s indoors. Keep your kids inside all the time at this age, and why would they appreciate the outdoors? Even playing in your backyard or a walk around the block is a help.

Don’t forget the delights of gardening with your toddler. They aren’t old enough to know a weed from the plants you mean to grow, but you can talk about it and show your toddler the benefits you gain from the garden. It’s a wonderful source of fresh produce for your entire family if you grow some fruits and vegetables.

Besides, toddlers love playing in the dirt. Try setting aside a place where your toddler can dig.

Minimize Use of the Television

Too much television is a bad habit; I think we all know that. It’s worse for toddlers, who are building the habits they’ll use for a lifetime. Keeping television watching to a minimum in early childhood is important for their development.

Commercial television exposes kids to all sorts of commercials, and means they’ll want things they otherwise would never have known existed. Most any television at all, including many otherwise educational shows also have a lot of products kids will want if they see them in the store. A little, carefully chosen television isn’t a bad thing as such, but do think about what your kids are watching. I like my Tivo, as it means my kids get to watch shows I approve of at the times I let them watch TV, not just when the show happens to be on. It’s also helpful for avoiding commercials when the show does have them.

Used DVDs are also a nice choice, and options such as Netflix’s instant queue. You don’t have to buy movies new if you have a bit of patience.

There are plenty of other things you can do to be eco friendly with your toddler, but these are some good places to start. It’s not too soon to teach the basics of respecting the environment.

Yes! My Garden Grows!

So happy to report that my garden is growing well for now. We’re starting to get tomatoes and zucchini. Home grown produce is such a treat.

My one wish is that we could grow more things. It’s the trouble with renting that there are only limited areas we can use as a garden. But at least we have some areas. The landlord never did put much into the perimeter of the back yard, despite the brick border creating a growing space, so we’re taking advantage. The few existing non-weed plants we’ve left alone, but there’s still space for a small garden.

We also have a volunteer sunflower coming up, but that’s still well away from blooming. Loads of pumpkin plants from the pumpkin we allowed to break down in the garden, so those will have to be thinned out. A few family members have expressed interest.

I really hope my zucchini plants produce in line with their reputation. I like giving excess away, especially as I have a few friends who I know are on very, very tight budgets. I also want the cheap excuse to play with the dehydrator I inherited from my grandmother.

We should get a nice excess of tomatoes, although those never seem to end up in excess because the kids snack on them quite a bit, particularly the smaller varieties my husband loves to plant.

I don’t know what it is about us and bell peppers, but those never thrive for us. Our sole surviving pepper is slow to grow, although it does have a few blooms, so we’ll see how things go.

I hope the basil goes well this year. I love making pesto when I have enough basil, and the freezing the excess in cubes, to be used over time. I’d say throughout the year, but that overstates how long my frozen pesto lasts until I use it up.

Just for pretties, we have some nice flowers growing too. It’s fun seeing what comes up, since we mostly bought mixes. Some are even local volunteers that simply appeared last year. We spread seeds from those when they go to seed, so each year we hope to see more local flowers. I’m hoping the bees appreciate the flowers.

It’s not much of a garden, not nearly what I’d like to have, but it’s certainly better than no garden at all. I hope some day we can have our own place with more room for gardening, and especially fruit trees.