Monthly Archives: January 2012

Start Planning Your Garden Now

It may be winter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be planning your garden already. It takes time to figure out what you want to grow this year, get the seeds and get things moving. A little extra time means you’ll be ready when it’s the right time to start planting in your area.

In our garden, for example, we already know that we’re switching where the vegetables grow and where the wildflowers will be. It will be a bit of a pain switching them, but it seems to me that where we had the vegetables last year got too much direct sun combined with reflected heat for the health of the plants. Our yard is small, and we rent, so we’re limited in what we can do. The fence there is cinderblock, and reflected quite a bit of heat onto the plants. The soil there dries out much more quickly than the rest of the yard.

I already have the kids taking some of the seeds from last year’s wildflowers and shaking them over the area where we had the vegetables. With any luck, a few of them will sprout when the time is right. We’ll add more seeds and actually plant them when it’s spring. More planning is of course necessary for the vegetable garden.

Decide What You Want to Grow

You probably have some favorites you grow each year. Tomatoes are the one my husband insists upon, with several varieties grown each year. Sweet basil is another favorite. I want to include string beans this year, as when we’ve grown them other times the kids have eaten them like candy. By that I mean begging to eat more, willing to do chores to get extra. They really love fresh, raw string beans.

I recommend looking for heirloom and/or organic seed sources. You can also buy young plants if you prefer, but seeds cost less.

Lay Out Your Garden on Paper

Figure out what space you have for your garden and how much room you need for each kind of plant. There are plenty of gardening books out there to help you figure this part out if you aren’t comfortable doing it on your own.

Know When to Start Planting

When it’s safe to start planting your garden depends on where you live and what you want to grow. Some plants are more frost resistant than others, some need warmer weather than others to grow well. There are plenty of garden zone maps available online, and seed packets often tell you where and when they’re most likely to do well.

Decide How to Prepare Your Soil

You may not be able to do any actual soil prep in the winter, depending on where you live, but you can consider what you’re going to do with it. If you have a compost pile, for example, you may want to mix in some of that compost.

Decide How to Start Your Seeds

Many people start their seeds indoors. You don’t have to worry about frost or critters getting your seeds or very young plants that way. You can get a bit of a head start this way.

Others prefer to start their seeds in the ground. It’s simpler to not worry about transplanting things later on. Either way can work.

Talk Rewards With Your Kids

One thing that helped our garden last year was setting a reward for spotting tomato hornworms.  The kids loved getting paid to spot those pests, which were doing some serious damage to our tomatoes. They’re learning to pull weeds too, although that requires more supervision as they usually have questions. Kids can be a wonderful, natural way to control weeds.

4 Ways to Cut Back on Your Meat Consumption

Most Americans eat too much meat. It’s a big part of the standard American diet, bigger than it needs to be. There are a lot of good reasons to cut back on meat, including consuming less saturated fat, health concerns, decreasing your environmental impact, and cost. The hard part is actually doing so. Today I’d like to share some ways to cut back on your meat consumption.

1. Participate in Meatless Mondays

Just skipping meat one day a week isn’t too big a change. Meatless Mondays have gained some popularity, and there’s even a website with all kinds of ideas to help you do it.

I do know how hard it can be to get some families to accept any vegetarian meals at all. My husband used to comment with every vegetarian meal on which meat he thought would improve it. Then I told him one day how much that pissed me off and pointed out how it really wasn’t so different from our daughter’s habit of announcing that she disliked unfamiliar meals before trying them. That was a habit of hers we’d been trying to break, so pointing out the similarity really made him think.

2. Eat Smaller Portions of Meat

If you have trouble giving up meat completely with your meals, you can always go for smaller portions. The portion size many people eat is too big anyhow when it comes to meat.

You can also think of meat as flavor, rather than a major component of the meal. Use a small amount of ground beef or ground sausage in pasta sauce, for example. If you’re making stir fry, add more vegetables and less meat.

3. Buy Grass Fed Beef

Grass fed beef costs a lot more than other beef, and that will encourage you to eat less of it. Many say it’s healthier for you and of course better for the cattle.

You can do similar things for other types of meat you eat. Pay attention to the conditions in which the animals were raised. You’ll pay more for the meat, but it will probably have done less environmental damage and may be better for you. You can find sources at I don’t get results very close to me, but you may do better.

4. Eat Meat Only One Meal a Day

You don’t have to have meat at every meal. Pick one meal a day and make it vegetarian. You may have to experiment to figure out the recipes you enjoy most, but that can be the fun part. It’s an excuse to try new food combinations. I have a fondness for black bean and artichoke burritos, for example. I usually keep some beans in the freezer and assemble the rest fresh, although I suspect you could make a bunch and freeze them if you prefer.

Remember that there are many other places to get your protein, and they’re often cheaper than meat. Get used to making meals with other protein sources, and you may find that they can taste great too. Do a lot of experimenting to find recipes that work for you and your family.

Use Blackout Curtains to Cut Your Power Bill

Whether it’s the cold of winter or the heat of summer, your windows are a major energy leak for your home. Having double paned windows can help quite a bit, but good quality blackout curtains can help you save energy as well.

Quality matters with blackout curtains. If you check the reviews on Amazon, you can see that some curtains are far better than others at blocking light. There’s not much point in putting up blackout curtains if they don’t do the job well.

Cost of Blackout Curtains

Blackout curtains have a wide range of prices, depending on brand and size. Pick yours based on reviews showing that they do a good job and by how you want your windows to look. They don’t have to be unattractive.

You can also make your own for a reasonable cost, and it doesn’t have to be complex. Dark colored fleece can do pretty well, for example. The main thing you want to look for is a material that will block a lot of light. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a dark color, so long as it doesn’t let much light through. Layering the fabric can work as well. If you don’t sew, fabric glue may also work, although I don’t trust it to be as strong.

If you don’t want to spend money on all your windows, just get blackout curtains for the ones that gain or lose the most heat. You can pull the curtains back on warmer winter days to let sunlight in, and close the curtains when the day cools down to keep the heat in.


If you don’t want to put up curtains, there are other ways to block heat in your home. I use flattened cardboard boxes in some of my windows. We have a number of them from when we moved a few years ago. We’re a little discreet about where these go, as we have a picky homeowner’s association to deal with and I don’t want to hear anything from them.

You can also use Mylar in your windows. You can buy some that is designed for use in windows, but you can also get it in the form of emergency blankets such as you might keep in an emergency kit, and cut that to size. It blocks quite a bit of energy, yet it’s thin enough you can open the window over it. That’s nice if you’re happy with your window coverings aside from how they keep the heat in or out.

Are Neti Pots Still Safe to Use?

I’m rather fond of nasal irrigation, although I don’t use an actual Neti Pot to do so. But in 2011, two people died due to an infection of Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba which enters through the nose and causes primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, resulting in death. The infections came from misusing their Neti pots.

The mistake was simple enough, and that’s what I want to mention. They didn’t use distilled, filtered or boiled water. They used plain tap water, which should usually be safe, but clearly is not always.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. Keep your nasal irrigation practices safe. I’m not a doctor or anything like it, so check on this yourself, but if you do nasal irrigation, make sure you stick with boiled, sterile or distilled water, and keep your Neti pot clean and dry when not in use.  That’s what the official warning says, anyhow.

Boiled water from your tap is probably the cheapest option, but considering how long it takes to cool, it may not be the most convenient. Not that it’s terribly inconvenient, but when your nose is congested and you’re miserable, waiting for water to boil, then cooling it is not always going to be welcome.

These deaths won’t impact my use of nasal irrigation at all. It has been far more effective for me than taking a decongestant, not to mention I avoid the misery of swallowing a pill. I know that’s not a big deal for most, but that’s one skill I’ve never mastered, and trying tends to lead to vomiting for me, so I’m not exactly interested in learning how.

Is Acetaminophen Safe to Give to Your Children?

I came across an article on Care2 about a possible link between acetaminophen use and asthma in children.  Considering how commonly used acetaminophen is, and how medications such as aspirin are no longer considered safe for children, do parents have something to worry about there?

It’s hard to say. As the article notes, the evidence isn’t perfectly clear yet.

I consider this a good reminder to think before giving your any over the counter medication. Sometimes it’s too easy to grab for the acetaminophen when your child has an ache, rather than try other, simpler remedies. For some, this leads to overuse. The harm in this case is unclear as of yet, but it’s something to think about.

That said, there’s also a place for medication. It’s a good idea to talk to your child’s pediatrician about when it’s appropriate to use any medication. I don’t mean you have to call in before every use, but talking about what to give when in general can be helpful information.

With my own kids, I prefer to remember that low fevers are usually safe to allow to run their course, and encouraging a sick child to rest is a good thing.

It pays to consider your options with common situations such as teething. It’s especially hard to avoid using medications at night when other remedies aren’t working. Two of my kids did great on teething tablets, while my youngest wasn’t helped at all by them, for example. Neither acetaminophen nor ibuprofen did much for her either, though. If you read up on your options or talk to your pediatrician, you may come up with ways to cope that don’t involve acetaminophen if you’d prefer to avoid it.

One of the problems with figuring this link out, apparently, is that it’s hard to tell if it’s how often a child gets a viral infection that results in the use of acetaminophen, rather than the use of the medication itself.  It’s often difficult to separate correlation and causation, and that’s the challenge here. That said, a study that randomized whether a child got acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fevers seems to indicate a relationship between acetaminophen and asthma.

If you’ve been using acetaminophen for your child, it may be a good idea to discuss alternatives with your child’s pediatrician. It’s not like it’s the only option out there for treating a fever. Sometimes even a tepid bath is enough to help, although you really shouldn’t do a full on cold bath. Letting the fever be and just resting can also be an option, so long as it’s not too high. Know what the safe range is for your child’s age, versus fevers that need to be treated or that require medical attention.