Monthly Archives: December 2011

My New Vitamix!

It finally happened. My dear, wonderful mother bought us a new Vitamix for Christmas. I’m rather pleased with it.

It was kind of fun getting it. Mom didn’t know that I didn’t discuss it with my husband when she asked if we wanted one. I knew the answer, said yes, and that was it. Then laughed when we came over on Christmas Eve and it was sitting near the door, unwrapped. That led me to telling her that he didn’t know about it. Fortunately, he also didn’t notice it by the door, so at least one of us got to be surprised by the gift.

I really missed our old Vitamix. The plain blender we bought as a budget-friendly replacement made adequate smoothies I suppose, but when you’re used to having really smooth smoothies, uncrushed seeds from berries are really annoying. Our poor little cheap blender really couldn’t compete.

The old Vitamix had lasted really well, although it didn’t quite make it to 20 years before the container cracked. The motor was showing signs of weakening as well, but overall it still worked. Pretty good, even if it didn’t make it to the salesman’s stated 25 year average lifespan. That’s averages for you, I suppose.

This is one Christmas gift that is going to get a lot of use. Thanks, mom.

7 Handmade Gifts You Can Make With Your Kids

As Christmas gets closer, it gets harder to figure out what you’re getting for the rest of the people on your list. It can be harder yet to decide what your kids will give to grandparents and the few other people they give presents too. It’s a good time to start working on some handmade presents, things that show personal effort yet look really nice.

1. Cookies

Kids love to make cookies. Pick some favorite recipes and get started. Use organic, fair trade or local ingredients where possible. You can buy organic or fair trade chocolate chips on Amazon, for example.

2. Candy

A little touch of candy making is always fun. I usually do something with chocolate. Chocolate covered pomegranate seeds are easy, for example. You simply melt the chocolate, stir in the pomegranate seeds, then scoop away a few seeds at a time to a cookie sheet to cool. Just a few seeds together are best, and you may want to warn recipients to eat these quickly, as the pomegranate seeds won’t stay good for long. They’re also very juicy and should be eaten carefully so they don’t squirt.

Truffles are also fun to make. There are all kinds of recipes online. My own favorite is a pomegranate truffle, and yes, you are sensing a theme here. My mother has a pomegranate tree, which should pretty much explain it. The truffles are made from pomegranate juice simmered down to about half, with dark chocolate mixed in, allowed to cool, made into small balls, allowed to cool again, then dipped in dark chocolate to coat. The insides melt very quickly, so I usually keep these cold.

3. Homemade Play Dough

This is a great gift for kids to give their friends. You can mix it up all the way or just give bags of powder and instructions on how to finish it off. The play dough recipe can be as simple as a mix of flour, salt, water and food coloring. A little vegetable oil can help make it a little smoother, but I often skip that part and I’ve never bothered with the cream of tartar many recipes recommend, nor do I cook mine. It comes out well and lasts for weeks anyhow.

4. Homemade Slime

This is another fun project, although the ingredients aren’t all as safe as the ones for play dough. Still not too bad, overall. Slime is basically water, Elmer’s glue, borax and food coloring.

5. Heat Packs

You can make heat packs in a variety of sizes. Buy an attractive, sturdy cotton cloth for the bag. Other fabrics may not fare well in the microwave and should not be used. Decide how large a bag you want. Smaller bags are good as hand warmers, which can be nice for cold weather. Larger ones are nice for heating sore muscles and can be draped on the neck or leaned on for a sore back.

Use your choice of filler. Rice, buckwheat hulls, feed corn, barley and beans are common choices. Only one is really necessary. Don’t fill the bag too full, as it should be fairly flexible.

Add in any scents desired. Dried herbs such as lavender, rose petals, mint or rosemary smell nice. You can also use essential oils. Mix these in before filling the bag. Be careful if you know the intended recipient is sensitive to certain smells.

Fill the bag and stitch it closed. I like to include a removable cover bag. It’s much easier to wash a cover than it is to wash a heat pack bag, and they do get dirty over time.

6. Bath Salts

Bath salts are easy to make. You just need a clean, empty jar, epsom salts and/or sea salts, food coloring and some essential oils. Glycerin is a nice addition, but not absolutely necessary. Mix your ingredients together in a bowl, remembering that it doesn’t take much essential oil at all to make a nice scent through the whole thing.

You can decorate the jars to make them more attractive if you like. I save jars from spaghetti sauce and other things all year, so jars for projects like this really aren’t hard to come by.

7. Time

Not even handmade gifts always have to be from something you purchased. You can give the gift of time instead. You can offer to run errands, clean around the house, whatever the recipient would love for you to do.

This one can be great for grandparents, especially if they’re having trouble doing things themselves as they get older. Odds are they don’t need more stuff, but they certainly love having more time with the people they love.

Of course, you don’t have to limit this one to grandparents. Maybe you have a skill that someone else would love to have you share with them. I often have people asking me about how to set up a website, for example, and helping someone get started could be a great gift.

Eco Friendly Gift Ideas

It’s that time of year again to really get serious about eco friendly gifts. It’s not easy to keep gifts environmentally friendly, as the biggest rule of all is that you shouldn’t be buying unnecessary things. Still, you can find some really great gifts that shouldn’t be all that hard on the environment, and will be appreciated even by the folks on your list who aren’t interested in going green.

Organic Nuts

Nuts can be a very healthy snack, and it’s not that hard to find organic ones. Make sure you know there aren’t any allergy issues to consider, of course. They can even be part of a really nice looking gift basket.

Flannel Sheets

Flannel sheets are a great way to keep the nights warm. They’re a nice bit of practical luxury, especially for cold winter nights.

Fair Trade Handbags

Know someone who’s ready for a new purse? A fair trade handbag may be the perfect gift. Not only are they practical, they can make a great style statement.

Men’s Clothing

Green T-shirt MenYou don’t have to feel as though all the eco friendly clothes are for women. There are some great designs out there for the men in your life.

Grow Mushrooms Kit

For the person in your life who just loves to cook with mushrooms. It’s a very simple kit to start growing mushrooms inside your home. You can find a variety of kits, such as pearl oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushroom kit and others.

Yoga Gear

Some yoga gear manufacturers make the effort to keep their products kind to the environment. Yoga itself is a good form of exercise, and only requires a little gear. A yoga mat or other helpful gear is a nice present for someone thinking of taking it up.

Bamboo Toys

The great thing about bamboo is that it grows quickly. It can make some cute toys too. There can of course still be some question about how the bamboo is grown and processed, but there are some pretty great toys which can be made from cut up bamboo that has been dyed or painted.

Are Cardboard Playhouses a Good Gift For Your Preschooler?

Cardboard playhouses are getting to be pretty easy to find these days. I’ve seen a few different styles at different stores. I like that they aren’t plastic and that they encourage creativity by being a surface that kids can color on, but are they overall a good gift for your preschooler?

This depends on what you’re looking for. If you want something that will last as long as your kids care to use it, one of those plastic playhouses will do better in that sense. Ecologically speaking, see if you can find one at a thrift store, garage sale or that has otherwise been used by kids before. Makes more sense than spending a ton of money on a brand new one. Then make sure you make it available to other children when your kids are done, whether at your own garage sale or by sending it on to a thrift store. No point to putting it in the trash unless it’s really breaking. That said, we’re still talking plastic here, which is problematic.

The great part about cardboard is that it’s recyclable or compostable. When your kids are done with a cardboard playhouse, you can tear it into your compost pile or fold it into your recycle bin.

My own favorite cardboard playhouse is still the one we made years ago for my kids. It was a box my husband brought home when he worked for Home Depot. Double thick, strong enough the kids could climb on top without the box collapsing. Cut a door and a few windows and let the kids color it. It was perfect and lasted a couple years.

Make Do kits look like an interesting addition to this sort of playhouse. They allow you to create all kinds of things from found materials. They aren’t limited to playhouses, the limit is your imagination and the supplies you can find.

The cardboard playhouses you can buy at the store or online are awfully cute, though. You can buy some that are made of 100% recycled materials, although it’s not always clear if that’s post consumer waste or what. The shapes available are great, not just houses. There’s a shuttle design, for example. Skip the part about recycled cardboard, and you get many more design options.

The disadvantage is that they aren’t as sturdy as the ones you can cut out of a good quality box. Depending on how your kids play and the particular model, it may last for only a few weeks. That’s not my ideal for any toy, recyclable or not. I like my stuff to last.

Either way, a cardboard playhouse is a lot of fun for children and really encourages imaginative and creative play. For once you don’t have to worry about the kids coloring on the walls – that’s what they’re there for. You never know what they’ll pretend with the playhouse no matter the shape – a plain rectangular house can become a rocketship, a castle, a bedroom or any other place. It’s a wonderful sort of play away from the television.

5 Easy and Natural Skin Care Tips for Winter

Winter hasn’t officially started yet, but plenty of places have cold weather now. The cold air outside and the dry, heated air inside can be really tough on your skin. There are plenty of products out there to moisturize your skin, but if you want to avoid long chemical names, you may be better off making your own products. Fortunately, that’s pretty easy.

1. Dry brush exfoliate

Dry brush exfoliation can help to get all that dead skin off. It feels pretty nice too. You need a soft, natural bristle skin brush for this and a gentle touch. It’s not about scrubbing yourself red, after all. Use circular strokes as you work up your legs and arms. This method isn’t for your face or other places where your skin is more sensitive or thinner, and avoid any injuries you may have at the time.

2. Jojoba oil

I like the way jojoba oil feels on my skin. It absorbs very nicely and leaves it feeling soft, and a little goes a long way.

If you want a pretty scent, add just a couple drops of your favorite essential oil. Make sure it’s safe for skin first. Lavender, chamomile and rose are good choices. Mix it in with your jojoba and it’s ready to go.

Other oils can work well, depending on your skin type. Coconut oil is another popular choice. It may take a bit more work to rub in when the house is cooler, as it solidifies when the temperature goes below 76 degrees F, but scrape a little off the top and rub it between your hands to take care of that issue.

3. Shea butter

Shea butter is another excellent moisturizer. You can mix in a little jojoba or other oil that’s good for your skin plus some essential oils to make a very nice moisturizer. Many sources recommend unrefined shea butter as the most effective. Some find shea butter to be on the greasy side, but that’s true for many oils. Give homemade moisturizers a little leeway while you wait for your skin to absorb them.

4. Drink lots of water

Drinking plenty of water throughout the year helps keep your skin healthier. Well hydrated skin starts from inside your body.

5. Avocado face mask

Mash one avocado until smooth. Add in one teaspoon of olive oil. Mix, then spread over your face. Relax for 20 or so minutes before cleaning off, then moisturize as usual.