Friday, May 30, 2008

Homemade Pizza

Mmmmm...quick homemade pizza dough. I used to have a recipe for whole wheat dough that doesn't need to rise, but I lost it! Arrrrgh. Luckily, I found another one that's pretty quick and is definitely tasty (thanks to Andrea's Recipes). Thought I'd pass it along because it's a great staple to rely on when you're short on dinner ingredients and time.

Our pizzas are both green and red because (dreaded foodwaste!) our pizza sauce in the fridge was moldy. We had to go with leftover pasta sauce for the kiddoes and a quickly-whipped-up cilantro-parsley-pesto for the adults. Anything with garlic, salt, and olive oil is edible in my book. With gooey cheese and portobellos from the farmer's market (sauteed in olive oil with a little sea salt), we had num nums in no time.

With deference to Andrea's greater wisdom, I actually used all whole wheat flour, subbed honey for sugar, and mixed by hand since I don't have a stand mixer. The crust still turned out great! I am a huge fan of the pizza stone. My brother got me hooked on them. It's critical to heat up the pizza stone before you use it, leaving you with the unwieldy proposition of moving your unstable pies into the oven, but it's worth navigating those dripping, soft-centered waters for the even cooking. Totally heads off the scorched bottom-top still raw syndrome.

I'm still searching for the no rise whole wheat crust, but this is the best I've seen so far (let me know if you've got my elusive recipe!!).

*photo of actual MamaBird food! originally uploaded to SurelyYouNest
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Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Great Sunflower Project

I know lots of you have already planted sunflowers for your gardens - why not take a bit of time to track the bees visiting your flowers? I can think of worse ways to spend some lazy summer time....

The Great Sunflower Project (thanks, Culinate, for the tip!) aims to track bees in order to help preserve them, first by capturing bee behavior and then by quantifying its economic benefit (their tagline is "Bees: Responsible for Every Third Bite of Food"):

By finding a way to track and value the goods and services provided by natural ecosystems, we will find a future in which conservation is mainstream, economically attractive and commonplace throughout the world. The data you collect from your sunflower will be a start. It will provide an insight into how our green spaces in the urban, suburban and rural landscapes are connected as well as shedding light on how to help pollinators. What we need are innovative strategies to maximize the benefits of our wild and semi-wild habitat remnants. The Great Sunflower Project is the first step.
With honeybee colonies collapsing and bumblebee populations declining, it might behoove us all to pay attention to their wild cousins to figure out what's happening to our winged pollinator friends. I just signed up and hope you will too!

*Photo courtesy of Ginny Stibolt at the Great Sunflower Project.
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Is My Boy Hard Wired for Baseball?

Post up at DC Metro Moms today musing about the hardwired gender stereotypes my kids embody. It's called Is My Boy Hard Wired for Baseball? although it could've been: Humility 101 - Lessons in Eating Crow by MamaBird. Not that EGirl isn't an insect-loving, budding mathematician/scientist... Not that my mother isn't the biggest Red Sox and baseball-pushing grandmother of them all! Let me know what your take is on nature vs nurture.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Greywater Toilet Flushing

I've already written about my greywater lightbulb (using sippy cup dregs to water plants) but haven't shared my adventure down bathtub-water road. Imagine saving gallons of water at a time, and never needing to use clean water to flush nearly ever again! You, too, can achieve this water reuse nirvana. All it takes are a bunch of gallon milk jugs, a wide container for sloshing, a fairly high threshold for bathroom, er, chaos, and good aim.

Imagine my joy when I discovered this video from Going Crunchy in my reader! Right when I was about to give up. Don't tell my mathematician father, ok? But I hadn't realized that the physics of the slosh would be all wrong from a milk jug. You really need the bucket.

So, yeah, you don't ever drain the tub anymore. And when you take a shower? Stick buckets on the floor. That should go over well with the more organized amongst you. You could line them up in a neat pattern? Anyways, now that you have your recycling materials scattered across your bathroom floor, prepare to save all that precious water. Think of it this way: do I need pristine, clean water that's been purified within an inch of its life just to flush my waste? As CBoy would say... naaaaaaaw.

*Photo courtesy of fishmonk at sxc.
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wooden Teether Giveaway

Who needs plastic teethers, huh? After bpa in baby bottles and formula and cans and pacifiers and who knows what else, it's a relief to handle a hunk of wood carved just for my baby's mouth. amy t sharp of doobleh-vay is an inspiring blogger (check out her poetry lessons for chil'ren) and she also creates fine waldorf-y wooden toys for her etsy store, Little Alouette. I just bought a few of her wooden teethers, for CBoy and for our newest baby-girl friend on Earth, so I can vouch that they are solidly beautiful and magically delicious.

In case you have never been on over to etsy, it is a "place to buy and sell all things handmade." In general, I think that we all buy and consume way too much. But supporting independent artists and buying secondhand when we do choose to buy gifts for others or absolutely necessary toys for our tiny ones are practices I can get behind.

All that said, it's lovely to host a giveaway of something that won't be leaching anytime soon. Amy kindly offered to give a teether to a lucky Surely You Nest reader! So leave a comment by Friday 5pm EST and EGirl will play Vanna once again. Also? Please leave some way to contact me in your comment, ie an email address if you're not a blogger, and/or email me with that info at surely you nest at gmail dot com if you'd like to keep it private. And by all means, check out her etsy shop, 'cause she sells wooden blocks and pennants and all sorts of creative items for small people. By the way, I've got no connection to ms sharp other than that of satisfied customer and avid blog readership.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dem Bones: Beef Broth

Turn your heads, gentle vegetarian readers, turn your heads. I just had to share the delightful bubbling mess that's been brewing in our house for, oh, the last three days. We buy much of our meat from Polyface Farms, including some hot-damn hot dogs. In addition to really tasty grass-fed meat and the world's most delectable grub-fed chicken eggs, they helpfully sell giant sacks of beef bones, as well. I've been following Sally Fallon's recipe (well, pretty closely) and thought you might want the lowdown on how you, too, can make your own bone broth without too much trouble.

Define "trouble" it a recipe you can make in one day or in three, depending on what suits your schedule? Not in my book. That's what I love about this broth. It just gets better the longer you ignore it and let it simmer undisturbed. Let it cook for as little as 12 hours or as long as you like (if you keep adding water, all will be well...obviously, you don't want to cook off all of your broth and let the bones char to the bottom of the pot, not that I have done that, and to be honest, Fallon gives you a three day window which I have blatantly overshot in the past with no injury).

Here's the basics: take your knuckle bones and almost-meatless bones and throw them in big stockpots with enough water to cover them and 1/2 cup vinegar per pot. You're going to add some vegetables so don't fill the pots to the brim. Let the vinegar-water-bones mixture sit for an hour. While that's sitting, take the meaty bones and brown them in a 350 degree (F) oven for awhile so you get nice brown bits. Scrape as many of those bits off the pan and put the whole mess in your pots on top of the stove. Chop up a big onion, a couple carrots, and some celery for each pot.
Grind some green peppercorns and throw some thyme sprigs into each pot. Bring each giant vat to a boil. During this first boil, spoon off the bubbly goo that rises to the top of the water and discard it. Then, bring the heat down as low as you can go and let your bones simmer. Make sure you throw in a bunch of parsley and let it simmer for 10 minutes before you're ready to finish your broth.

Whenever is convenient to be handling giant pots of lava-temperature bones, fish them out with a slotted spoon. Use a colander to contain the mess. It's pretty revolting-looking stuff. If you want, you can take a knife and dig the marrow out of the bones to eat on a piece of toast; it's tasty and quite good for you, too, if Fallon's to be believed. I like to think of it as showing some reverence for the animal, too, to be eating up every last scrap. Anyhoo, get rid of the overcooked veggies and bones (trash 'em, or feed the super-soft veggies to a baby and let a deserving canine gnaw on a bone or two) and let your broth cool in the fridge.

When it's got a rock solid layer of congealed fat (beef tallow? anyone making soap? no? just old-school McDonald's fries?) on top, take it out and save the fat to feed to the birds (perhaps in a suet holder, I gotta ask my dad). I used to chuck the tallow! See how blogging helps me grow? Now I know I can feed that fat to the birds! Ahem. Then strain your broth through cheesecloth, store it in glass mason jars (leave at least 1 1/2 inches at the top for expansion or they'll explode) and put your broth in the freezer.

Use your broth for a delicious stew or soup base, or the foundation for rockin' gravy. I don't use beef stock to cook rice or couscous, but if you do the chicken bones version, it's delightful cooked into grains.

Hope you all are getting to hang with the people you love and tackle interesting, high maintenance projects yourself this weekend as we remember those who have given so much so that we can putter in peace.

P.S. If you live in NoVa, apparently you can buy Polyface meat at the Arlington farmer's market; I dunno about honkin' bags of bones, but it's worth asking....
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Wednesday, May 21, 2008


via Good Magazine.

I love this. Carrotmob works on the premise that rewarding businesses for going green may be more motivating than boycotting them. Hilarious and inspiring video. I'm hoping it's not something that could only happen in San Francisco.... Read more!

Better Drainage for Container Gardens and Beds

In case you're planting up a storm these days, I thought I would pass along a tip a kindly, more experienced gardener shared with me. Most pots and containers have lousy drainage. And many people overwater when they're starting out. If you have soggy plants, they may rot. So grab a drill like I did this morning (CBoy was so thrilled! Trucks, heavy equipment, mud puddles, and power tools in one morning?!) and get started.

If you're smart, you will do this before you fill up your planter, but if you're like me and can only get to things when a certain tiny person will allow them to happen, don't worry, you can still do it. Plastic pots take a regular drill bit. Ceramic pots need a special drill bit, so don't head outside unless you've got one. Aim for about 6-8 holes, evenly spaced around the bottom of your pot. If you've already planted, this one is too late, but next time throw a bunch of gravel or rocks at the bottom of the planter as well to improve drainage.

If you have a garden bed that's flooded (like our sad, sad, formerly hoped-for peas-broccoli-and-arugula lake), a guy in the community garden this morning suggested the following: separate those perfectly-joined boards at the edge of the plot to allow for better drainage. Sometimes, you just need a stranger to point out the obvious! Nice guy that he was, he tactfully suggested this path when I inquired about which plants might thrive in rice-paddy conditions.

For water retention, a tip on the package of my new upside-down tomato planter (cool, huh? for our deck) made me smile: water it with soapy water to help the soil and roots retain water. Sounds like a case for graywatering if I've ever heard one!

Hope you're having lots of rain as well for your gardens, and that your plants are sprouting! And any and all gardening advice is welcome here.

Works for Me Wednesday
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Monday, May 19, 2008

Make It From Scratch Carnival

Welcome to the Make It From Scratch Carnival! What great fun it was hosting this week. The English major in me had to go read every last post. So I can say with authority that there are some helpful, creative, and delicious-looking entries in today's roundup of frugal, eco-friendly, do-it-yourself ideas.

Putting some seeds or seedlings in the ground and wondering how to keep costs down in your garden plot? Melanie Rimmer presents Recycled Plant Markers posted at Bean-Sprouts.

Laura Williams presents Plantin' Season around the Ol' Homestead posted at Laura Williams' Musings. It's a snapshot into the garden tasks of an established vegetable gardener as spring emerges.

Silvia presents Gourd Basket from Mother Daughter Weekend posted at Po Moyemu--In My Opinion. It's a step-by-step description of how she uses her home-grown gourds to make baskets from them with pine needles. Sylvia says, "This can be a fun and easy first basket project for kids and adults!"

Cindy presents Recycled Plastic Hobo Handbag at Cindy comments, "It's a crocheted handbag that is a variation of the knockoff hobo bag from Dao. But this one is done with plastic bag yarn or plarn. This project has a free pattern and I hope crafters out there have as much fun as I did making it. It's a great summer handbag."

Rosemary Rugnetta presents Creative Interior Painting posted at Her Home Blog. She suggests we use varying shades of one color to lead from one room into the next, and to vary the curtains to easily change the look of a room. Since she's got a whole section on her blog called Going Green
I'm betting she wants you to use low-VOC paints. ;)

Kellie presents Patchwork butterfly card with tutorial(ish) posted at Greenhab: The Browns Go Green. It's a thorough look at a DIY craft project to make your own greeting cards from repurposed scrap paper.

Eco 'Burban Mom presents Best. 40th. Birthday. Gift. Ever. right here! She says: "I made from scratch one felt envelope using scrap halloween costume felt and some leftover scrapbook paper. Inside the envelope contained 40 handwritten wishes for my husband from each of my 4 boys and myself. Some were very silly, such as "I wish you a home run at wiffle ball", while others very insightful "I wish you no stress at work". My boys had to think hard about their Dad and he loved reading every one of them. Twice! Homemade and worth every penny!" Check out her blog at Eco 'Burban: Going green in the suburbs, one plastic bag at a time. She's got lots of local food tips and waxes nostalgic about cute glass bottles of organic cream.

MamaBird presents Nature Art Bag at Surely You Nest. An easy sewing project for a beginner, this bag made out of old pants will allow your child to sketch, paint, and collect acorns to his or her heart's content.

Recipes and foodie tips:
Gotta start with the attention-grabber from the minister's wife. christinemoers presents A buttload of hoes posted at welcome to my brain. Now, before you think it's NSFW, head on over to the self-described "ramblings from a pseudo-crunchy woman" 'cause she's right. This (hoecake recipe mmmm) just might be up your alley. Christine comments, "If you have never blessed your home with some hoecakes ... baby, you are really missing something!"

FoodieTots presents At Market: Strawberries posted at FoodieTots...The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree... Mouth-watering-looking recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. My mom used to make the most unbelievable strawberry-rhubarb pies, and all I can say is that the combo of that tart-and-sweet flavor in an easy recipe I have hopes of throwing on the table is a winner in my book. Unless someone wants to come make my pie crusts, that is....

Cathy presents Chocolate & Zucchini Cake posted at Chief Family Officer. You know I love that she modified the recipe to use fair-trade cocoa!

Lynn presents Stinging Nettles Need a New Name at OrganicMania. Says Lynn, "This post includes a simple way to cook stinging nettles. That's the easy part. The hard part is getitng a kindergartner to eat them!"

Sher presents Lefty Treehugger Granola at wrekehavoc and although she's been blogging since Al Gore invented the internet, thought you'd like to read it right here instead of posting it on her own blog. The sweetness. You should still head on over to her blog, though, since you can see her humor shine through - even in a granola recipe.

heheh, well, you know me to be a granola head lefty treehugger. it stands to reason that i make my own granola. and it's E-Z. i borrowed from a recipe i found on the web and do it MYYYYYY WAYYYYYY.

feel free to steal it.

Yummy Granola That Doesn't Cost $5 billion at Whole Foods
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (preferably the old fashioned kind)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup chopped almonds (or whatever nuts you like. i like almonds. sue me.)
1/3 cup real maple syrup (or i suppose some day i'll try it molasses and see whether it works.)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Mix it all up. Spread it on an oiled/sprayed cookie sheet. Bake it at 325 for 20 minutes, stirring it a time or two while it bakes. Let it cool. Voila! Granola with the requisite crunchies that I like. You can probably add things, like coconut or dried fruit or, in my case, chocolate chips. Cos I'm evil like that.

Jane presents Home~Made Pumpkin Soup posted at Kidzarama. Jane comments, "This is a totally scrummy recipe that WonderHubby has developed over years of trial and error, with me as the innocent guinea pig."

Joanna presents Chive Flowers posted at Sunflowers in my Kitchen. Her blog is a welcome find, as is her recipe for chive butter (mmmm!) 'cause you know I've been gobbling those purple lovelies up!

Alison presents The Local Connection Saturday Night Dinner at Green Me. Alison notes, "I didn't think I'd have something to contribute, but then we went to the Farmer's Market!" Love that her post shows how easy it can be to make a "locally-based, gourmet dinner."

vh presents Cheap Eats: Delicious Veggie Spaghetti posted at Funny about Money. Mmmm, a sauce made with sage. I just bought some to plant!

Kate presents Easy, Cheesy Potato Chowder posted at Our Red House. Looks like total comfort food, which is good, since poor Kate's got a cold to kick.

Kathy Hester aka GeekyPoet presents Vegan Heirloom Carrot Salad with Seared Oyster Mushrooms posted at Geek, Poet, Housewife Wannabe. Check out her delicious-looking recipe; she cut out her toast rounds with leaf cookie cutters! I personally have never seen an heirloom carrot. Now I want to track some down.

Lisa K presents Beef Pot Pie posted at Lisa's Cookbook. It's a quick and dirty recipe using canned beef stew and biscuit mix for the topping.

Barbra Sundquist presents Edible Creations: How to Make a Fruit Bouquet posted at Edible Creations. Barbra notes, "Fruit Bouquets can be one of the easiest edible creations to make. The trick is to avoid the fancy cutting required by some edible creations design instructions. This article shows you how to make an attractive Fruit Bouquet using small fruit (plums and strawberries) wrapped in cellophane and wired to look like flowers on stems."

Jenny B (aka Mother Hen) presents Squash Eatin' Squid posted at Ship Full O' Pirates. It's a whole wheat-summer squash muffin recipe her 8 year old son loves. He even keeps tabs on the size of the squash in the garden, he loves them so.

Linda presents Cooking : Sébastien's first pizza posted at Mes crazy expériences. Linda notes that this "recipe of home made pizza" is her son "Sebastien's first time at it. Delicious!" Never seen a pizza with eggs on top!

Stephanie presents Keeping Guacamole Fresh & a Recipe posted at Stop the Ride!. She's the creator of the Make It From Scratch Carnival. Thanks, Stephanie! I'm with you, there can never be too much guac in the world.

Mama Bear presents Speedy Triple Decker Clubs posted at I've Got a Little Space to Fill. Quick and dirty club sandwiches, with a side of financial freedom (MamaBear paid off her credit card debt today - congrats).

Meta of food:
valereee presents Time, Money, Recipes: Experience is the answer posted at Cincinnati Locavore. Valeree encourages all of us," Don't be daunted by the challenges of eating locally!"

Health and Beauty:
Stacy presents Non-Petroleum Jelly posted at Teaching Diligently - Homeschool Blogger.

Auto Repair:
Money Blue Book: Personal Finance Blog presents Repair Your Car With Used Auto Parts which brought me back to the halcyon days of driving my older brother's rolled Honda Civic. He gave it to me for free! All I had to do was use a bungee cord and get a driver's side rear view mirror from the junkyard (and my find was easier than Money Blue Book's 'cause the junkyards I called looked for the parts for me). It really horrifiedimpressed the high school kids (do you really drive that?!) Anyhoo, if you want to read about how to repair your car via used parts aka junkyard scavenging, just jump on down to the 4th paragraph of the hotlink.

Check out next week's Make It From Scratch Carnival over at The Miller Way....

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Make It From Scratch: Nature Art Bag

Check out the Nature Bag I made for EGirl's 5th birthday. She's forever tucking leaves and rocks and flowers into my hand as we walk, so the nature bag should come in handy! I think she's got her grandfather's interest in and love of plants and insects (he's been birdwatching since he was a child and kept a detailed sketchbook of animal drawings as a young boy...later on this morphed into notes on bird sightings which he keeps to this day). EGirl also loves to draw and paint, so much so that when CBoy was born, the way we kept her occupied while I nursed was to set out 2-3 projects every time he napped. They'd consume her interest and keep her rapt for hours. So when I saw the idea for a bag designed to take art supplies outdoors, I knew it was perfect for her.

You know how excited I was about my freecycled sewing machine? This was totally the right project to tackle after the beanbags. Had I actually followed Lori Pickert's instructions (sigh) and measured my existing art supplies before cutting the jeans and whipping the bag out, it's possible that I would not have had to buy anything. 'Cause I had a pair of old pants and a bunch of ribbons hanging around. But I sure do have a weak spot for quality art supplies for kids, as I think it inspires them and makes them feel you're taking their work seriously (in other words, I'm not sorry I got her two spiral bound notebooks just like my dad used, a set of crayons, and a set of colored pencils, all to fit her nature bag!).

Here's a link to the Camp Creek instructions on Making a Field Bag from Recycled Clothing (in our case, a pair of her dad's jeans). They are explicit, step-by-step, and I followed them to the letter. Just in a girlier format, of course. EGirl had shredded one of her favorite butterfly shirts during an ill-fated,
scissors-wielding, pushing of the envelope so it was nice to reclaim it on her bag. The ribbons are upcycled from giftwrap. The woven fabric handles I just had lying around (pack ratta!). Now I can't wait to head outdoors and tackle some of Lori's outdoor art lessons.

*Actual photo by MamaBird! Read more!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Stonyfield Yogurts In #6 Plastic?!

Many of you have commented on the Stonyfield Yogurt giveaway post that you agree with me about the #6 plastic used to package the little individual YoMomma and YoBaby yogurts: it's bad news. I'm going to repost the info I received (from a Stonyfield PR person) on the #6 polystyrene used in the containers for the smaller YoBaby products here just in case some readers missed the discussion. The lowdown is that #6 may leach styrene and you're going to want to avoid it:

"First, none of our packaging contains BPA, the chemical currently in the news and which is used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins.

As for our use of polystyrene #6, we hope you'll be reassured to learn that #6 containers are considered safe for food use by the both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Union (EU). The FDA requires the styrene content of the packaging be less than 5,000 parts per million (ppm). The styrene content in Stonyfield Farm's polystyrene packaging does not exceed 400 ppm.

Because the use of any plastic can have an adverse effect on the environment, we continuously search for packaging materials with lower environmental impacts. For now, we believe the best option for our small cups is polystyrene since it allows us to reduce the overall amount of packaging material we use - less packaging means less consumption of resources, less pollution and less solid waste."
I'm (re)posting this here in case someone read only the original post, not subsequent updates.

The mention of BPA is puzzling, since it's not at issue here. But most health info I've seen (Green Guide, Breast Cancer Fund) says to avoid #6 plastic -- even if it's safe to eat out of (which is debatable - see below), it's not recyclable and I'll bet the manufacturing process is no great shakes. I've posted about plastic health concerns before if you want more info about BPA and general guides to safer plastic. Here's the Green Guide info on #6:
"Extruded polystyrene (#6 PS; commonly known as Styrofoam) is used in take-out containers and cups, and non-extruded PS is used in clear disposable takeout containers, disposable plastic cutlery and cups. Both forms of PS can leach styrene into food; styrene is considered a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It may also disrupt hormones or affect reproduction."

Here's the Breast Cancer Fund on #6: "PLASTIC #6: Polystyrene (PS)
• Common uses: packaging pellets or Styrofoam peanuts, cups, plastic tableware, meat trays, to-go clam shell containers, egg cartons, shipping blocks
• Many shipping/packaging stores will accept polystyrene peanuts and other packaging materials for reuse. Cups, meat trays and other containers used for food are rarely accepted for recycling. Look for alternatives whenever possible."
Guess we all need to get on that making-our-own-yogurt kick. I already called my dad and got his recipe for making my own in the closet (I will post an update to let you know how it goes!). At the very least, we should get yogurt in the big tubs (they're in #5, which is a supposedly safer plastic).

Another takeaway? Most eco-swag is, in fact, junk. And there may be no such thing as a (safe) free lunch.

Yours in toxin fatigue,

*Plastic fruit photo courtesy of Morgan Noguellou at sxc.
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Friday, May 16, 2008

Join the Make It From Scratch Blog Carnival

I'll be hosting the Make It From Scratch blog carnival next week (Tuesday), so if you'd like to submit an entry (note that you don't have to cook! it could be anything you make from the basics, my frugal, environmentally conscious, creative friends), shoot it my way before the weekend's over. Heck, for you readers, I'll take 'em on Monday, too, but you'd have to email it to me directly for me to get them. Here's the carnival guidelines:

Share the things you make from scratch. No strict definition of scratch here, use your own judgment. (Only one post per blog per week please!)
I can't tell what I'm posting yet (it's a secret) but the entries already have my mouth watering.

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Show and Tell: Planting Edible Flowers

I was struck recently by the thought that blogging is a lot like show and tell when my 5 year old lovingly brought her empty seed packet to school. We got an assortment of edible flower seeds in the mail last weekend from my mom (who candied some violas for EGirl's birthday, as you may recall, and in whose honor we've all been crunching down yellow and purple violas and chive flowers over the last few weeks). Let's just say we're enjoying the edible nature of our lovely blooms, adults and children alike.

Chive flowers rock, by the way. They are so spicy! EGirl feeds them to me until my eyes water. They'd be great in a spring salad for those of us who like a little loosening of the tear ducts. The kids (not such big fans of the 'picy) love eating the violas (it makes CBoy giggle at the naughtiness of it). We had a blast planting the edible fleurs (and some non-edible cosmos, marigolds, and sunflowers). Actually, we had a blast planting them once we wrestled the wawa (hose) out of CBoy's viselike grasp. But I digress.

We also released ladybugs into the community garden together at dusk one night, a pretty satisfying way to reduce the number of pests, I'd say.

For our front stoop, we transplanted the birthday cake violas into planters with some shade plants I had languishing inside (Boston ferns and asparagus ferns) a great tip from Scribbit guest poster Like Merchant Ships. The idea being that you should repot your indoor plants and throw them outside for a bit to rejuvenate rather than buying a new annuals.

Of course, I had those specific plants in my kids' rooms because they are supposed to be effective at improving indoor air quality and removing toxins. (Don't forget to check to see if plants you use for this purpose are safe around pets and kids.) Sounds like opening your windows and ventilating may be more effective than keeping plants for this purpose, though, so I think we can go a season without them indoors.

Next up, we want to plant another round of lettuce since we've been so enjoying picking greens for our salads the past couple weeks. Even though it's a cool-weather crop, I am hoping I can sneak in another wave of salad greens. Plus, I really want to grow some pepperoncini and pickle them. Anyone know where I can get seedlings? Or a fresh pepper from which to save the seeds?

Happy Gardening! I'd love to hear the ways in which you've been getting muddy....

*photo courtesy of Woodsy at SXC
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Monday, May 12, 2008

DC Cares Servathon

Greater DC Cares, a local coordinator of volunteers and corporate philanthropic efforts, held its annual Servathon last Saturday (May 3rd). This year, all 3,200 volunteers descended on DC Public Schools to help spruce up the classrooms and playgrounds for local kids. As a former teacher, I can tell you that children feel empowered when they are given a clean, bright, beautiful learning environment. I helped organize the background logistics for my child's elementary school and then stood back in awe as our Servathon team leaders swarmed our school grounds with at least 50 volunteers!

The picture above is of our school's larval veggie garden site above a US blacktop map that got colorfully repainted. Volunteers also: catalogued books (ie got new books in the hands of kids!); replaced gnarly sandbox sand; painted hoops court lines, foursquare, and hopscotch; stabilized stairs to kindergarten lofts; fixed falling-apart cabinet hinges; raked, weeded, and planted flowers; turned over soil for new vegetable gardens; brought all their green waste to compost in the children's garden; and painted railings. I'm probably leaving something out, since there was literally a swarm of activity during the roughly 4-hour event.

The Servathon volunteers truly bolstered my faith in humanity. They worked tirelessly and with enthusiasm. Among the volunteers I worked with were: a twenty-something whippersnapper from U Street who's lived in DC for two years who spent backbreaking hours with a shovel making sure the kids can plant veggies; a public school teacher from Alexandria who wished her school system had similar efforts so she joined in across the river; a neighbor who doesn't have kids at the school any more but knows everything about the plantings around the school (helping volunteers not to 'weed' established plantings); current parents and teachers; and two young businesswomen who tirelessly and efficiently weeded in a team (they're in the garden plot at the top) and kept my five year old entranced.

I can't express my gratitude enough to the leaders of our project site, who showed up for multiple site visits beforehand, who carefully listened to the school's proposals for work and worked tirelessly to source materials and skilled volunteers to meet our community's needs. I put in a fraction of the hours they did and literally the event would not have happened without their logistical support, organization skills, and inspiration. A hearty thank you to DC Cares! Click through here to read a great profile of the work they do in our nation's capitol. Read more!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Green Your Apartment Guest Post

Hi folks! Go check out my guest post on having Green Summer BBQs at Green Your Apartment and then let me know what else you'd do to keep the festivities eco-friendly. We're having a block party next weekend and I would loooove your advice! Read more!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mama Wolf

As an early Mother's Day present, I got to head over to our plot in the community garden with some precious soil amendments I bought without guilt (organic compost, essentially, and some fish/seaweed juice). I also trucked over a bunch of potting soil from some planters that finished up in the fall 'cause one of my beds was flooded. Since we all went, I got to haul huge wheelbarrow loads without balancing a 16-month old on top of the pile. I got a lot done! Planted some tomato seedlings (including Romas for canning), threw some compost around and weeded (so satisfying 'cause we've had buckets of rain). But the coolest thing? When I turned over some dryish soil to plant my tomatoes? My shovel unearthed a mother Wolf Spider and her egg sac. Heroic Mama Wolf scurried back to her egg sac and carried it out of reach of the sharp shovel's edge.

This mama spider was pretty special for all of us because of an EGirl story from when *she* was about 16 months old. I was attempting (feebly) to get some work done in the garden one plot over (our old slot) and had EGirl plopped in the very same turtle sandbox that fails to occupy her brother to this day while I garden. Without my noticing, she'd slipped out of the box and over to the side of the garden in a patch of weeds. Like her brother these days, she'd mastered a limited vocabulary, so I absentmindedly muttered "bug" when she chirped the word at me.

"Bug!" she said, ever more insistently, so I looked over at her wide, excited Cindy Lou-Who eyes. "Bug"! she crowed, and held out her cupped hands. Still only half-registering, I removed her top, cupped hand, expecting to find, oh, a ladybug. Wolf spider! You can imagine my ambivalence. On the one hand, I was thrilled that my daughter was (and is) so interested in insects, was so not exhibiting culturally-enforced gender stereotypes, was engaging with the garden.... On the other hand, I don't know if you've seen one, but a Wolf spider is a sizeable creature. Hostess Cupcake would be a slight overstatement, but certainly a half-dollar is in range.

I gently removed the spider from EGirl's hands, and, mindful of not scaring her or dampening her interest in arachnids, began a weeks-long discussion of how spiders are delicate so we don't pick them up. Not that a Wolf spider's poisonous, but a woman at the zoo told me she was surprised it didn't bite EGirl when it was trapped in her hands.

EGirl noted today that the mama we saw? Might very well be the (great-great-great) granddaughter of the spider she held in her very gentle toddler hand.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Memes Part II: The Rest Is Still Unwritten

A while back, the marvelous wreke asked me to share a favorite quote and dedicate it to three other hopelessly dreamy inspired bloggers who keep the love going. I finally got to meet Ms. Havoc today for the first time, despite being fed a steady diet of wisdom and craziness (only the good kind) from her for the past five years via DC Urban Moms.

There's a thread up at the DCUM Forums tonight about random acts of kindness and I really think that wreke should be up at the top of it. She's had a looong week and I think dragging out in the rain to meet up with a virtual stranger (heh, heh) probably rated low on the list of things she just had to do today. But as an early pioneer in the world of blogging, much less mommy-blogging, she knows the power of the community she helped to create. We talked about it today; in some ways, finding sympatico peeps via their writings and commentary online is a hell of a lot easier than hitting paydirt on the street. Heck, she's found lifesaving community online.

It was great to meet Ms. Havoc - I will tell you that she is just as dry and hilarious in person as she is online. Maybe even a funnier storyteller if that's humanly possible. Let's just say she and her DH have a good falling-in-love story. And her life? Despite the fact that she's slated for a doozy of a (routine) treatment tomorrow (IVIG - please send her good thoughts), and self-deprecatingly knocks herself for her dark humor? She's a big marshmallow at heart, and one with a deft sense of the marvelous to boot.

That's why I know she will appreciate the fact that when I pulled out of the shopping center where we had coffee over by her house? and got in line right behind a giant Chevy Tahoe with the vanity plate JRZGRL? not that there's anything wrong with that! and also? could I really make that up? I really didn't need to pull up next to the woman driving to realize that it wasn't wreke with that very very blonde 'do. Thanks, wreke, for sending me this song as I drove off in a soft rain:

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else

Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

from Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield

This quote is dedicated to a few people I know who, as far as I can tell, are reinventing and still defining themselves, some of the many women in the blogosphere I read avidly who are still searching for their voices. They are women who reach out to create a conversation and community that transcends their individual blogs: Doodah (who is outside in the beautiful spring and may not blog until winter, which is inspiration enough); FoodieTots (who shares her savoring of life with her young son, delicious recipes, and her thoughtful consideration of the origins of her food); and BeanPaste (who balances feeling weird about blogging given how lucky we all are to even have time to focus with being the funniest tosser-around of the word stigmata and often the most poignant writer I know). Those of you who know me IRL will know that I mean for this tag to be a love tap. As the spirit moves you...

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Composting Commences

So, I finally got my composter put together! Many thanks to the helpful folks at Glover Park Hardware and Achla, who took pity on me after I confessed that the assembly directions, uh, composted, and the bolts and screws that came with the composter? Migrated. Now that I've assembled it (I am woman, hear me roar) I have been gleefully saving our kitchen scraps and tossing them into the tumbler, and I've collected some leaves from the fall (good strategy to leave them around the back patio, eh?) and some dryer lint. We sure have plenty of that. I seem to have an excess of green stuff (nitrogen rich materials) though and not enough brown stuff (leaves). There is some kind of crazy web of white mold or who knows what organism growing in there. But it doesn't smell (good sign! no anaerobic bad organisms pleeease) and it's a huge barrel made of recycled plastic so we won't be nourishing any local rodents.

Lucky for me, it's International Composting Week (thanks, Chewswise!) and local President of DC Urban Gardeners and Slow Cook blogger Ed Bruske has an amazing video series he put together on composting basics. I slapped the first video up below to get you started. I am so thrilled that CBoy is taking a rockin' nap because I just got a whole bunch of ideas about how to help my compost balance (I can compost shredded junk mail/newspapers and cardboard boxes to keep the brown factor up) from watching the whole series. What can I say...Ed's soothing chitter chat about compost was kind of addicting. Ed notes that 25% of the stuff we send to the landfill is food waste from our kitchens. So composting is a great step. Next up? He's convinced me that I may actually have space for worms (my kids are gonna love this). Vermicomposter for Mother's Day, anyone?!

Happy Composting, readers! (And for those of you who are all, this is way too much effort -- first, it's not so much work, and second? If you have indoor space go worms!) I know the soil in *my* community garden needs some black gold...may it not be too late for my languishing peas and arugula! If you have any tips for a neophyte composter (that don't involve any land space - I can't compost in a corner of my yard like my parents used to) or any great worm facts, let me know!

*Photo courtesy of sxc (which, fyi, is a great source for free photos) and Bomania.
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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Victory for All Moms - DC Metro Moms Post

I wrote over at DC Metro Moms today about the communal sense of well-being I get when other moms meet their own needs. Finding the time to do your toes? Eating a salad with ingredients your children loathe? Writing your dissertation? Working out for more than the absolute-minimum cardiofest? It's called A Victory for All Moms. Click this link to read it.

Also? CBoy, the dog and I all managed to find happiness at the community garden today. Two out of the three animals surveyed got to play in the hose. The largest mammal got to plant haricots verts. Wish me no frost! No frost!

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Monday, May 5, 2008

April Perfect Post Award!

Well, color me appreciative! One of my favorite bloggers, a sister DC Metro Mom, awarded me a Perfect Post award for April for my education rant, Why So Much Testing and So Little Love of Learning? I've met this mama live, and I can vouch that she's as hilarious in person as she is online. To introduce my post, Jessica wrote, "Her words stay with me days after she publishes and inspire me to make daily changes towards greener living." Awwwwww! Reason to keep blogging much?!

You h
ave to check out A Parent In Silver Spring even if you don't live in DC much less MoCo. Her acronym (APISS) might give you a hint about her sense of humor. Half of what she writes is just hilarious mommy-blogging, and half is her public service to the DC community (those former teachers!), an attempt to help us all connect and find meaningful activities to do with our families. Check out her post on what to wear this summer, as it contains the worthy sentiment: "So please, join me ladies in loving our lady lumps and bumps, not commiserating about where we'd like a little more and where we need a little taken off the top. Let's just strap on our tennies and move, kiss the mirror, pass the Corona and enjoy our damn summer." Cheers to APISS! Thanks so much for the shout out.

If you're hankering for some other fine blog-reading, check out the other Perfect Post winners. I'm heading on over there now....

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Green Birthday Party

I promised a lowdown about EGirl's party last weekend and I may now be close enough to recovered to actually write about it! We were unbelievably lucky since it was supposed to rain, and I stubbornly refused to have an indoor backup plan (our house isn't big enough for a kid party and I really wanted to be outside!). Fortunately, the 50% showers that were forecast? Pfffft. Not a drop.

My favorite party activity was the singing of Happy Birthday. We have a cherry tree in our front yard, and every year it blooms just before EGirl's birthday. She's long heard the tale of how the tree shook down a pink petal carpet to welcome her to the world. We came home from the hospital, carrying her in our arms in a tiny bundle (to be sniffed by her wagging dog), and the tree rejoiced. She knows it blooms just for her. Well, PapaBird secretly collected a duffel bag of fallen petals, and when the children were singing, spirited the crowd over to him and had EGirl's friends throw giant handfuls of petals in the air like confetti for the last bars. As everyone sang, "Happy Birthday to you," it rained pink petals all over EGirl and her cousin TGirl (they are exactly one year apart and share a birthday).

Most people writing in wanted to know about party favors. I'll go there first. I got all intensely absorbed in figuring out how to work my Freecycled sewing machine in the week before the party and made beanbags (thanks to the Artful Parent for the idea! it was actually supposed to be a great project for a child learning to sew so I figured correctly that it was about my speed).

I used old blue jeans, some lovely rose-patterned canvas fabric I bought about 3 years ago when I was daydreaming about making doll clothes for EGirl's Waldorf mini-me, and some of EGirl's crib sheet fabric from an old ripped one I've been hanging onto. Yes, I am a packrat. And now? Fuel to my fire. Everything can be upcycled! Ahem. Anyways, we used them to play hopscotch (brought sidewalk chalk to the park) and the kids got to pick one beanbag out and bring it home. I am going to go out on a limb and say that the children may not have been as backflippingly excited about the beanbags as I was (I figured out how to make my sewing machine work!!), but they did enjoy the hopscotch.

Other party favors? We used our hoard of baby food jars to house jelly beans (bought in bulk at Costco). We made homemade playdough (with glitter!) in several colors and put it in a huge bowl. The kids ripped hunks off of the mound and stuffed it into wax paper bags, adding more glitter if they felt the urge. We made paper coupons that said, "Ticket To Tickle Town!" And, instead of presents, we had a book swap. Everyone brought a book (some wrapped, some not, some used, some new -- we brought a bunch of backups just in case) and I put them all out in a pile for the kids to choose from en masse. Everyone ended up with a book they liked to take home. (This idea, btw, worked out much better than the "no presents but your presence" tactic that we've used in years past).

Activities? We played with a parachute, hit a thousand innings of T-ball, blew bubbles (pack rat alert: I have saved every wand from every bottle we've ever gotten, plus you can use pipe cleaners if you're running low). We actually tried a bunch of homemade bubbles (glycerine + dish soap) the day before, which was very interesting for CBoy but not so effective on the bubble blowing front. We actually (gasp! siren alert for infraction of Buy-Nothing April) bought a couple giant bottles of bubbles for the party (mea culpa, our only purchase besides food!).

My mom made us a homemade soccer ball pinata which we filled with Hershey's kisses (food?! should have been fair trade too, alas). Our intent was to a)avoid the interminable whacking we've endured at most every party wherein the poor birthday child wigs out because there is no way a small person can enter Pinata Innard Heaven without turning into a whirling dervish and b)to devise a non-violent, non-competitive pinata. Usually, pinatas are pretty freaking resilient, inspiring tiny person steroid abuse. Oh, how the pendulum swings. Our pinata? Not so sturdy. We'd envisioned swift kicks passing the pinata from child to child. It split on the first kick! Note to self: listen to your mother (she questioned the pinata's structural integrity early on and urged multiple applications of newspaper and flour paste over the course of several days, for those of you trying this at home. 'Awhich we did not do).

Our party took place at a park next to a rockin' playground so we spent a bunch of time on the swings, carousel horses, and climbing giant ladders.

For the final event (drum roll please) we had a treasure hunt. Each kid (parent assistance needed) got a frame made of 2 pieces of glass (Clips from IKEA - 99 cents for a 4-pack but we already - ahem, packrat - randomly had 20 in the art supply closet so HAH! no purchase there). Treasure hunt! Treasure hunt! Squeeaaallll! We handed out construction paper backgrounds in assorted colors cut to fit the frames. Husssh. I explained that the treasure hunt directions were to go find a treasure in the field. A beautiful flower, a leaf they particularly liked, a special piece of grass. They scampered in all directions. Then the children pressed their treasure into their frame and wa-la! Party favor and activity all in one.

Random green birthday tips? We skipped juice boxes in favor of a big cooler of lemonade (used assorted paper cups from old birthday parties, but might supplement our stash of IKEA plastic cups for the future -- we already have enough for the soccer team and wash/reuse them every week). Used up random paper goods (Winnie the Pooh meets rainbows!) but will probably go for a set of easily stored reusable plates in the future. Used old plastic forks/knives -- some IKEA, some takeout, some old birthday party utensils -- and saved them to rewash/reuse.

All in all, the lesson was simple. Kids have fun easily. They don't need much to enjoy one another's company. Building on their curiosity and active play is key. Hope some of these ideas are helpful!

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Take Action, Locals: Mosquito Emergency in DC

Are you concerned about the mosquito problem in DC? By mosquito problem, I mean the bloodthirsty rampaging of insects that sends us screaming back inside during the balmiest of seasons, the kind of insect assault that makes my homeopathy-loving pediatrician comment wryly, "Just keep slathering their (scabbed and bleeding) legs with Neosporin." I've written about my desire for mosquito abatement measures before.

Well, a fellow citizen has taken action and invites us to do so, too. Apparently, DC claims to be abating the mosquito problem with BT dunks in our poorly-designed, water-retaining sewers. Always skittish careful about supposedly benign (DDT ring a bell?) pest control measures, I checked Beyond Pesticide's take on Bacillus Thuringiensis Israelensis and they give it an unreserved thumbs-up. I emailed Carol, mosquito activist and author of the letter below, and she concurred: "BT dunks are completely safe; bacillus thuringiensis is a natural soil-dwelling bacterium that is toxic to mosquito larvae. It is used by organic gardeners worldwide to control crop-eating caterpillars."

So, what can we do? Check out the letter below, cut & paste it and adapt it slightly (or write an equally passionate and informed plea in your spare time) and send it to Mr. Carl Profater, the West Nile Virus Coordinator for the DC Department of Animal Disease Prevention (, Mayor Adrian Fenty (, your Council Member and your ANC rep.

Thanks, Carol! You rock. Death to the skeeters. Hats off to problem-solving neighbors.

Dear Mr. Profater,

Can you please let us know what the city of Washington is doing about the worsening mosquito problem, particularly in our area? In the past six to seven years, the mosquito population has exploded in DC and many residents can no longer use their yards.

The problem is not only the advent of the Asian Tiger; the mosquito population as a whole has exploded. There has been much discussion on neighborhood listservs about the fact that the city's storm drains contain standing water and that vast numbers of mosquitos are breeding there.

City workers say that the city is supposed to place BT dunks in the drains on a weekly basis. However, we have never seen this done, nor has anyone on the neighborhood listservs; we have lived at our current address for (insert length of residency here) years.

(Fascinating, but only Carol has had these specific, blissfully mosquito-free evening barbecues - if you have relevant anecdotes, share 'em here: Two years ago we moved out of our DC house for a year and a half while it was being renovated. During that time we rented two houses in Loudoun and Faquier counties in Virginia -- one on a working cattle farm with ponds, the other on a rural property with three muddy ponds right next to the house. We enjoyed dinner outside all summer at both places -- without having to even think about mosquitos, repellent, torches, or any other mosquito-fighting equipment.)

Here at our home in DC, we literally cannot stand on the sidewalk for thirty seconds to talk to a neighbor -- forget about having dinner or sitting outside! -- even if we slather on mosquito repellent and surround ourselves with mosquito torches and candles.

The mosquito plague of recent years' onset in our neighborhood is not a result of water sitting in a couple of flower pots here and there on various neighbors' properties. There is a much more fundamental reason why this is occurring and we need a fundamental solution.

We are having a mosquito emergency. This is an enormous public health problem and demands immediate, potent, and continuous action. Please let us know what the city will do to help us and the other residents of Washington, DC on the threshold of summer 2008.
PS You'll note I echo Carol Grunewald's sentiments. She expressed perfectly what many DC residents feel about the outrageous number of mosquitoes here in the city -- my neighborhood in (insert your neighborhood name here) is similarly uninhabitable outdoors during mosquito season.

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