Friday, May 25, 2012

Rainy Day Activities

We've had a week of rainy days here in the DC area, so we buckled down for some creative indoor fun.

I remember my mom making playdough when we were little.  I found an easy recipe here:

Uncooked Playdough

  • Bowl
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • Tempera paint or food coloring
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  1. In bowl, mix water, salt, oil, and enough tempera paint or food coloring to make a bright color.
  2. Gradually add flour and cornstarch until the mixture reaches the consistency of bread dough.
  3. Store covered.
Ours was a little sticky, so we had to use extra flour.
The boys loved it!  They spent the rest of the afternoon "making cookies."
The next activity we did was a rainbow collage.  Ben got bored pretty fast, and preferred to color his rainbow, but Abraham stayed at it a long time and said over and over, "Isn't this a fun art project, Ben?" 
We also had a fun "music time," where we got out our music instruments (including the parents, which made it more fun for everyone) and played away for a while. 
Here you can see Ben lounging with a recorder in the back and Abe "selling music" from behind his desk.
We also had a friend introduce us to a fun new nature center in our area, equipped with a dugout canoe, cave slide, indoor fish pond, and kid's play room.

I hope a couple of these ideas helps you get to the next sunny day!  What are some of your favorite rainy day activities?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"The Future of Food", A Review

I wasn't going to post, because I'm a little tired, but Nonie's last post got me all fired up! Thanks Nonie!

Having just moved from CA, I had the chance to learn a lot about the initiatives the state is taking to safe guard consumers rights to know what they are taking into their bodies. I applaud them!

To be honest with you, it took me a long time to really understand what was really so bad about GM (genetically modified) foods. It's just food, right? (Hah! Sometimes my former ignorance makes me want to vomit a little...)

The list Nonie put in her last post is very informative as to what really is so dangerous about those food items, and I thought herein I would put a bug in your ear of a good place to look for more information: a fantastic documentary called "The Future of Food".

I liked this documentary because the documentarists, (is that a word?) don't just tell you the foods are bad -- anyone can spout an opinion, right? These people actually take you in depth, very in depth, into the science behind how the concept of GM foods came about, how the idea for GM foods has evolved since that time, and what scientist originally thought of the idea, before it became what it is now. They take you into actual world conferences where scientists discussed these organisms before they were unleashed on the public.

The information I found in this movie was surprising, and, yes, sort of frightening. Martin Luther King said, though, that discomfort is good when it leads to positive change, so I recommend this movie to you.

Have any of you seen it already? What are your thoughts on it?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Millions Against Monsanto

I prefer to write posts about how my family stays well and enjoys life, but this subject is so important to me, I'm putting in a plug for it here.

Earlier this year, volunteers in California busied themselves gathering 800,000 signatures (500,000 required) for a ballot initiative to require the labeling of foods containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act has been submitted to the State Attorney General and Californians will cast their votes later this year. The first section summarizes GMO concerns (if you don't know much about it, please read):

  1. California consumers have the right to know whether the foods they purchase were produced using genetic engineering. Genetic engineering of plants and animals often causes unintended consequences. Manipulating genes and inserting them into organisms is an imprecise process. The results are not always predictable or controllable, and they can lead to adverse health or environmental consequences.
  2. Government scientists have stated that the artificial insertion of DNA into plants, a technique unique to genetic engineering, can cause a variety of significant problems with plant foods. Such genetic engineering can increase the levels of known toxicants in foods and introduce new toxicants and health concerns.
  3. Mandatory identification of foods produced through genetic engineering can provide a critical method for tracking the potential health effects of eating genetically engineered foods.
  4. No federal or California law requires that food producers identify whether foods were produced using genetic engineering. At the same time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require safety studies of such foods. Unless these foods contain a known allergen, the FDA does not even require developers of genetically engineered crops to consult with the agency.
  5. Polls consistently show that more than 90 percent of the public want to know if their food was produced using genetic engineering.
  6. Fifty countries—including the European Union member states, Japan and other key U.S. trading partners—have laws mandating disclosure of genetically engineered foods. No international agreements prohibit the mandatory identification of foods produced through genetic engineering.
  7. Without disclosure, consumers of genetically engineered food can unknowingly violate their own dietary and religious restrictions.
  8. The cultivation of genetically engineered crops can also cause serious impacts to the environment. For example, most genetically engineered crops are designed to withstand weed-killing pesticides known as herbicides. As a result, hundreds of millions of pounds of additional herbicides have been used on U.S. farms. Because of the massive use of such products, herbicide-resistant weeds have flourished—a problem that has resulted, in turn, in the use of increasingly toxic herbicides. These toxic herbicides damage our agricultural areas, impair our drinking water, and pose health risks to farm workers and consumers. California consumers should have the choice to avoid purchasing foods production of which can lead to such environmental harm.
  9. Organic farming is a significant and increasingly important part of California agriculture. California has more organic cropland than any other state and has almost one out of every four certified organic operations in the nation. California’s organic agriculture is growing faster than 20 percent a year.
  10. Organic farmers are prohibited from using genetically engineered seeds. Nonetheless, these farmers’ crops are regularly threatened with accidental contamination from neighboring lands where genetically engineered crops abound. This risk of contamination can erode public confidence in California’s organic products, significantly undermining this industry. Californians should have the choice to avoid purchasing foods whose production could harm the state’s organic farmers and its organic foods industry.
  11. The labeling, advertising and marketing of genetically engineered foods using terms such as “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” or “all natural” is misleading to California consumers.
The purpose of this measure is to create and enforce the fundamental right of the people of California to be fully informed about whether the food they purchase and eat is genetically engineered and not misbranded as natural so that they can choose for themselves whether to purchase and eat such foods. It shall be liberally construed to fulfill this purpose.

Sounds fair, right? All we want is the labeling so we can make an informed choice as to what we eat. The biotech industry does not want to label GMOs because they assume less people will purchase their products (they're probably right). So now comes the campaign fight. Wealthy companies such as Monsanto will likely outspend their opposers by 100 to 1 to persuade people to vote no. The public really needs to understand the health and environmental dangers of GMOs before voting.

From May 1-26, there is a huge push to raise funds for the cause. The Organic Consumers Association is hoping to raise $1,000,000 toward the campaign. If they can do it, a coalition of public interest groups and organic companies have promised to match with an additional million. As of today, they have raised around $750,000.

Even if you live elsewhere, you can help! If this initiative is passed, its effects will reach beyond California. It will pave the way for other states to enact similar laws, and I imagine that many of the positively-labeled foods will be distributed in other states/countries as well. Perhaps we will eventually see a labeling requirement for the whole United States.

I'm donating today. Will you join me?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spring Surprises

I can see the benefit of buying a house in the spring, but in our experience it's really fun to buy a house in the fall, and see all the surprises spring brings!  The first spring surprise was our amazing azalea bushes.
Next I found that what I had thought were weeds growing all through our grass were, in large part, wild strawberries!  None of them have ripened yet, but they're getting close.  I'm looking forward to trying those, as long as our rabbit friends don't get to them first!

Our most recent surprise were that two big trees in our yard are actually mulberry trees! 
They boys and I had so much fun going out and picking the berries and eating them. 
Usually we ration berries because we're all berry lovers and berries are so expensive.  I love have two full trees of berries that they can eat the berries by the handful. . .

 And they did! 
Apparently Ben was trying to make mulberry juice.
Anyone know any good mulberry recipes?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

EASY Smooth Applesauce (with peels)

Have you made your own applesauce? I doubt we'd ever eat it if I didn't make it. And I bet I might not make it if it were too complicated. But happily, it's no trouble at all! No strainers, fancy food processors, upright blenders, or mixing bowl attachments necessary. Just the ever-handy hand blender. (If you don't have one yet, fit it into next month's budget. It's one of the most useful gadgets in my kitchen.)

INGREDIENTS, somewhat vague (because it really doesn't matter)
Lots of Apples, sliced
Some Lemons, quartered
Plenty of Cinnamon
A Bit of Water

STEP 1: Get a wagonload of apples. I usually get mine in bulk from Azure Standard.

STEP 2: Remove stickers and wash if necessary. Slice around core. I like to see the inside of each apple to ensure freshness.

These are sliced thin, but I have also sliced them much thicker
with no resulting difference except time saved.

STEP 3: Throw slices into stockpot. Add some quartered lemons into the mix and douse with cinnamon. Add just a bit of water to cover the bottom of the pot (apples will also release moisture).

I recently tried using a few cinnamon sticks in place of powder.
There were tiny bits that wouldn't blend smooth at the end,
but I thought the result was tastier. 

STEP 4: Cover and steam until apples are quite soft. Drain as needed. Remove lemon quarters.

I did not drain any liquid from this particular pot and the applesauce was a little soupy.
Still good though.

At times, I have left bits of lemon peel in for the blend. :)

STEP 5: Pull out the trusty mixeur plongeant as we called it in Belgium, and blend until smooth.

You'll smile knowing those peels are in there,
but I bet you won't notice them.

The whole family will enjoy this treat. It's great on its own, but it's also a fun way to flavor plain yogurt or top off waffles or pancakes.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Apple Onesie and Baby Skirt

I made this onesie and skirt for a friend's baby.  I used an iron-on fabric between the apple and the onesie, I ironed, and sewed. 
I looked for a while at different skirt tutorials, because I wanted one where I could use a rectangle of fabric so the stripes would line up.  I finally found a really great skirt tutorial, and it's adaptable to any size!  Here you can see where someone has adapted it for a baby.

I also found this very useful chart for baby and toddler sizes that helped me figure out the dimensions for the skirt.
While making the skirt I felt like I had too much elastic for the waist, so I cut off a couple of inches.  Elastic can be added or taken away without too much trouble, even after the skirt is finished.  It was a really fun project, and I will definitely be making more of these skirts in the future!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Feeling Good in My Skin

After discovering the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep website, and writing this post in which I wildly confessed all my cosmetic sins, I stopped wearing any foundation on my face.  It was a sacrifice at first because I have really red skin tones, and just didn't feel as pretty.  (Though admittedly I care a lot less about how I look these days than ever before, and don't care much who sees me bare-faced).  But I got used to it, and loved the feeling of having nothing on my skin!

Still, the first time I showed up at my mom's house after going bare she said, "Looks like you got a sunburn this weekend!"  I smiled and said, "Actually, this is my natural coloring."  She laughed and said, "No... I know your natural coloring."  I insisted that I hadn't been in the sun at all, and she was just used to me wearing make-up for the last 12 years or so.  I comforted her for her mistake, telling her that on multiple occasions other girls had told me I was "wearing too much blush," when in fact I have never worn any.

So although I'm a convert to natural skin, and most days wear nothing on my face, I wanted to find something that wouldn't be so bad to use on days that I need to be more dolled up.  And I discovered Everyday Minerals.  All of its base products are rated 1-2 on Skin Deep, which means they are "low hazard" products, free of chemical preservatives, etc.  The best part is you can order a package of seven free samples (with $2 shipping) --- I did so and can tell the samples will last me a long time!  Once they run out, the prices on the regular products are much more reasonable than most natural cosmetics.
I love the way it goes on and stays on (guilt-free) all day.  I first rub in a little Dr. Bronner's lotion (rated 1-2 by EWG), and then sponge on the Everyday Minerals.

The way I see it, nothing (and nobody) with which you have a daily relationship should be in the least bit toxic.  But even if you only have irregular contact with a product, you might as well find the safest thing out there.