Vintage Toys For Christmas

Last Christmas I was determined NOT to fight the crowds of Christmas shoppers in stores like Toys R Us and Walmart.  I have had a growing distaste for the commercialism and consumerism of Christmas for the last 10 years or so, and it is turning into an absolute disgust.  I love giving gifts, but I hate the amount of plastic, made-in-China, play-with-once type toys that are available in most stores. They break shortly after opening, or get shoved to the back of the toy box.  I also hate the extra packaging, the plastic and dyes, and even the smell of chemicals the new toys emit when first opened.  Not only do they add to the landfill, but they support overseas manufacturing, they are made with potenially harmful products, and they don’t last.  I started looking for greener alternatives.  Green toys are great… they are less harmful to the environment, they tend to have less packaging, some are made in North America, and they are generally made with safe dyes and fabrics.  But they still add to the landfill.   

My kids play so well at their grandparents’ houses.  They take out the toys, vintage blocks, Fisher Price, My Little Ponies, Tinker Toys and so on.  They’ll play for hours with those toys, and I sit and reminisce about my own childhood, playing with these same toys.  They have lasted through 4 children, 11 grandchildren and one great grandchild so far, and they appear to be capable of lasting through many more.  So the lightbulb turns on.  Why not buy vintage toys for Christmas?  No more new toys to buy, no packaging, no environmental concerns from production, no more toys in the landfill.  Vintage toys tend to be high quality because they have lasted this long in the first place.  AND (this part is really exciting to me) I get to think about all the toys I played with, and select the ones that I loved best, to give to my children.  Not only is this proof that these toys are good ones, but it also guarantees a certain amount of mommy-play too!  How can I not play with these toys I remember so vividly?!

I selected some Fisher Price toys to start with.  We had a lot of Fisher Price toys growing up, and they are easy to find secondhand because they are so well made they are still around.  I found a great local Etsy store that sold vintage Fisher Price.  She had a huge selection of toys, including the Truck/Camper set, Tent Trailer set, and Farm set I grew up loving.  Since she was local I was able to skip on shipping by driving there to pick them up.  Full sets too!!!




Photo from http://www.ponylandpress.com/



Next I searched on Ebay and found batches of vintage My Little Ponies.  I bid on several and won a few of them.  When they arrived, I wiped them all down and brushed their hair, and my senses sang with remembrance of my childhood.  My first pony, Butterscotch.  She felt the same in my hands all these years later.  Baby Cotton Candy, with her sweet, upturned face.  LOVE!!!!!!! 



 



I wrapped them up in Christmas fabric and ribbons I purchased several years back.  The perfect green gifts!  Pre-owned but in good condition, no packaging, nothing for the landfill, not even wrapping paper.  And I love watching my kids play with these toys!  My 8 year old son loves the Fisher Price toys as much as my 2 and 4 year old daughters do.  They spend hours playing together with the toys and it brings back warm fuzzy memories to see them playing with them. 



Vintage toys tend to be more expensive than regular old secondhand toys, especially if the seller is aware of their value.  You can expect to pay between $30 and $50 for a complete vintage Fisher Price set (and if it’s in unused condition you can pay an awful lot more).  But you may find it on craigslist or if you are lucky, at a thrift store for much less.  I spent about $20 plus shipping for about 20 vintage My Little Ponies, in played with condition.  But considering what you would spend buying a new toy and the carbon footprint you would leave, it is worth it. 



So sit back a moment and think about the toys you used to play with.  Which ones were your favorites?  Which ones lasted?  Which ones did you have a hard time putting away even after you outgrew them?  Check out places like Ebay, Etsy, Craigslist and thrift stores to see if you can find some.  Toys that last and that you remember are likely classics that will be loved by any child.  Have some fun with it!  Greening your Christmas can be as easy as buying vintage, and as eco-friendly as buying local and package-free.  And have fun wrapping and playing with something you loved so much when you were little!

This post has been linked to: The Prairie Homestead: Homestead Revival Barn Hop, Frugally Sustainable’s Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Blog Hop, I Thought I Knew Mama’s Green and Natural Thursday, Common Sense Homesteading’s Living Well Blog Hop and Attainable Sustainable’s Patchwork Living Blogging Bee.



A Canadian in the USA on Black Friday

We are spending American Thanksgiving in the USA this year while on holidays.  We even have a turkey to cook!  I see Americans who are truly thankful for what they have.  They are friendly and happy.  Then I see Black Friday commercials and ads everywhere.  In Canada we don’t have Black Friday so I was pretty much unaware of what it was all about until this last week.  We looked it up on the Internet. 
Black Friday means the beginning of the Christmas rush.  Americans are busy with Thanksgiving but once Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas shopping begins.   As early as 1966 the Philadelphia Police Force were calling the first Friday after Thanksgiving Black Friday since it traditionally has been the start of Christmas shopping and more unruly behavior.  
On October 19, 1987, the Dow Jones fell by 22%.  This was called Black Monday.  On October 24th, 1929, Black Thursday marked the beginning of the Great Depression.   So Black Days have not been seen as a good thing in recent history.  Businesses wanted to change this negative connotation so they have coined the phrase Black Friday to refer to a “good thing”… starting off Christmas shopping with a bang.  Incomparable deals, and stores opening as early as 12:00am the morning of Black Friday. 
Walmarts have had some black marks on them due to their Black Friday sales.  Stores have had to evacuate because of unruly crowds, and a Walmart employee, despite his 6’5″ 270lb frame, was asphyxiated by a trampling crowd.  !!!  Happy Black Friday everyone!

So on the heels of a happy Thanksgiving, (this year, a minute after Thanksgiving ends) where people have shared with loved ones what they have to be thankful for, the ugly storm of consumerism begins.  Forget being thankful for plenty of food to eat and a safe country to live in.  Lets get a big screen TV!  Want, want, want, seconds after Thanksgiving ends. 
This is very similar to Canada’s Boxing Day sales.  Again, coming after a peaceful, happy holiday, turn on the consumerism and hit the sales!  Didn’t get what you want for Christmas? Better go shopping again! 
Black Friday demonstrates all too well that we live in a society where our needs are well met so we start confusing our wants with our needs.  What do you need?  Really? 

There has been a backlash to Black Friday.  Occupy Black Friday is a movement urging people to avoid the top 100 retail stores who participate in Black Friday.  Small Business Saturday takes place the day after Black Friday and encourages people to shop local, small businesses to support our own economy.  You can also show your disdain for Black Friday by not shopping at all that day. 

Small business Saturday Logo

I am relieved to see there are Americans as horrified by this event as I am.  The event itself is disgusting, but when you really think about it, what difference is there during the rest of the pre-Christmas shopping period?  Will you take a stand on Black Friday?  Will you take a stand for the rest of your shopping time?  Shop local, small businesses this Saturday AND until Christmas Day.  Keep your money in your community. Support people you know, and people who will be supporting you.  This Christmas, buy your gifts from small, independently owned and operated businesses within your community.  Happy Thanksgiving Americans!  You have a beautiful country. 

What’s Wrong With This Picture? School lunches stripped down.

I found this picture at stockxchng, a free photo source for internet use.  It was called “healthy school lunch” or something to that effect.  Take a close look at it.  A whole wheat sandwich.  Some fruit slices.  A granola bar.  A juice box.  A bag of cheetos.  Ok, well we all agree the cheetos aren’t healthy.  But the rest?  Do they or do they not make up a healthy lunch?

Today’s society would promote this as a healthy lunch.  We are told that whole grains, fruit and vegetables, dairy products and so on are good sources of nutrition.  And they can be.  The problem is, not all products are created equal.  Just because it is labelled whole grain doesn’t mean all the other ingredients are good.  And just because it has fruit in it doesn’t mean that it is healthy.  We need to go beyond that and read more labels.  Generally the rule of thumb is: the less ingredients the better and the easier to pronounce the better the ingredients are.  The exception being the Latin names for herbs etc. which I can’t pronounce for the life of me.  So let’s check out this lunch.  What exactly is wrong with it?

Whole wheat bread 

Check the label on your bread.  Does it contain High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS?)  if it does, your whole wheat bread has been demoralised.  HFCS is, among many other health problems, a leading cause of obesity.  Many breads, even ones labelled 100% whole wheat, contain HFCS.  Alternative: look for a loaf that contains a natural sweetener such as sugar or honey, which should be far down the list of ingredients, meaning that sugar is NOT a main ingredient in your bread. 

Processed meat
Processed meat contain nitrites, often contains HFCS, preservatives, and is high in sodium.  Is processed meat a good choice for a school lunch?  Absolutely not.  Alternatives: cooked meat, not processed meat.  Nut or seed butters (when allergies aren’t present).  Cheese.  Vegetables.  Cream cheese.  Low sugar jam.  Honey.  Butter.

Canned fruit slices.  These fruit slices are in plastic or metal containers that more than likely are lined with Bisphenol A  (BPA).    BPA, among other things, is a known endocrine disruptor and a potential carcinogen.  As well, cooked fruit contains less vitamins than raw fruit.   Alternatives: fresh fruit and/or vegetables. 

Fruit juice.  Fruit juice is fruit stripped of peels and pulp.  Peels and pulp are high in nutrients and fibre.  Therefore fruit juice, even 100% pure, is practically empty calories, high in sugar, and can cause dramatic blood sugar level spikes and crashes that interfere with learning and behaviour.  Alternative: tap water in a stainless steel container.

Granola bars
Most commercial granola bars are high in sugar.  If you consider that 4 grams of sugar equals 1 tsp of sugar, and you offer your child a granola bar with a sugar content of 16 grams of sugar, you are feeding her 4 tsp. of sugar in the bar alone, for a snack.  Add a fruit juice to that and you can expect her blood sugar to sky rocket and later, crash.  Alternatives: crackers and cheese, a cookie or granola bar (homemade is best) that is low in sugar. (Think 8 grams or less per serving).  Fruit. Dried fruit bars.  Nuts and/or seeds. 

Yogurt

Most people consider yogurt to be healthy.  The probiotics contained in active cultured yogurt are very beneficial to digestion and overall body health.  Ever checked the sugar content in a small container of flavoured yogurt?  The vanilla fruit ones can be between 20 and 30 g of sugar per serving!!!  That is the equivalent of 5-7 tsp of sugar in one little package of yogurt.  Also, the yogurt is in a plastic container which is likely made of bpa.  Alternative: plain yogurt sweetened with a drop of vanilla and a little bit of honey or jam.  Homemade yogurt is best: you can easily make homemade yogurt using simple ingredients such as milk, cream, and a tbsp of yogurt as a starter.  No additives, no colour, no artificial flavour, no preservatives or artificial thickeners.  Store in glass or stainless steel containers when possible.   

Now that I have stripped down that lunch box, what is left?  If you look at the alternatives, most of these will fit nicely into non-disposable containers to make for a litterless lunch.  Another favourite around our house is left-overs.  That healthy chili you made for supper?  The pancakes you made for breakfast?  Perfect for a lunchbox, and can be kept warm in a stainless steel insulated thermos.  So it all comes down to the ease of grabbing pre-packaged lunch and snack items versus the health and eco-friendliness of packing a low sugar, low salt, preservative-free, non-disposable lunch.  It’s more work, you betcha.  But it’s worth it.  Which will you choose?

Waste Not, Want Not. 5 things you can do to reduce your household food waste.

As I wrap up my series on food waste, I have finally come to the good stuff: things you can do in your own home to make a difference.  It is estimated that American households throw away 14% of the food they buy, which makes 470 lbs a year or $600 a year.  What!  You just threw $600 in the garbage.
My children are food wasters.  Babies are notorious for throwing food.  Toddlers are notorious for playing with food.  Preschoolers are notorious for not eating the food placed in front of them.  My 8 year old son is now finally a good, tidy eater.  (hooray!)  My daughters are still great food wasters.   Bread crusts, meat, half-eaten apples, corn cobs… in other words, VERY GOOD FOOD.  But, unfortunately, not worthy of re-serving.  (My husband and I do a lot of that kind of left-over eating though… who doesn’t love a slice of bread slick with… not butter or honey, anymore…)  
But what to do with this food waste?  Sadly, many people pitch it in the trash.  We used to.  Things have changed now.  We grow a lot of our own food and can’t stand the sight of seeing it in the garbage bag.  The thought of this wasted food ending up in a landfill and turning to methane, a nasty greenhouse gas, is also disturbing.  Not to mention the money wasted in growing or buying this food.  There are alternatives, though.   Here are 5 options to help decrease household food waste.  They may not all work for you, but if you practice even a few of them, you will be decreasing your carbon footprint, saving money, and providing other living creatures with food. 
  1. Make a grocery list based on meal plans.  This will cut back on unnecessary food purchases that usually end up rotting in your fridge. 
  2. Grow your own food.  After labouring for hours in your garden you will find that you waste MUCH LESS of your own food.  “You eat those carrots!  I GREW those!” 
  3. Think: What do I have to eat rather than what do I want to eat?  Chances are you won’t feel like eating leftovers.  But are we really rich enough to throw out that food and buy more?  There are lots articles dedicated to meal planning with leftovers.  Here’s one to get you started: BBC Good Food: Leftovers 
  4. Compost your fruit and vegetable waste.  The garbage can is not the place for compostable food items.  These items will make fantastic soil someday if you use a composter or add them to a friend’s composter.  An extra step, yes, but worth the effort.   
  5. Raise your own chickens or save your food waste for your neighbour’s chickens.  The addition of chickens to our yard has singlehandedly cut our food waste down by about 95%.  Our chickens eat almost everything we eat.  Any food scraps we have, even smaller bones, we give to our chickens and they turn them into tasty, healthy, organic free range eggs.  They even eat egg shells which give them calcium lost in the original production of the egg.    Much less food waste heading to the garbage!  They also provide us with a wonderful, rich garden manure.   A good friend of mine, and a co-blogger on this site,  gave me her food scraps for my chickens all last summer.  She stuck them in a fridge until we connected, sometimes up to a week later.   She went out of her way to make a difference, and we valued the extra food for our chickens.  Urban chickens are legal in our city and this is becoming a norm across North America.  If you can’t have your own, maybe you know someone who does and can donate food to them. 
For the sake of your children, your health, the environment and your budget, make a change.  This change today will, in a small way, make a change for the next generation.  If enough people make these changes, it may also help stores and producers get a better grasp on how much food is really needed to provide for our country.  And if there is excess food, perhaps our government will find a way to help those in other countries who really and truly do not have enough to eat.  A small step, yes.  A huge difference.
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Is Wholesome Home Cooking A Dying Art?

First off, if you are a mom of a baby under one, don’t read this.  It isn’t meant for you.  This is the one time in your life that all you should be doing is whatever it takes to survive the first year.  Come back to this article when your youngest is over a year old!

I read an article the other day called “Home Cooking a Dying Art”.  A study polled 16500 women and found that over half of them found putting together a nutritious, balanced meal a challenge.  Hundreds said their children wouldn’t eat healthy food, and many said they were concerned that their children weren’t getting enough exercise.  This article intrigued me.  Why is it hard for women to make healthy meals?  Sure, time plays a huge role.  But this isn’t just about time.  There’s something more here.

The article went on to say that these mothers haven’t been taught how to cook.  This intrigued me even further.  I was raised by a mother who made all her meals from scratch.  I spent much of my childhood watching my mother bake bread, grow fruit and vegetables, and preserve them.  I didn’t necessarily learn how to cook, but it was always going on around me, and so when I left home, married and began to raise a family, I naturally turned to these activities as a normal part of mothering.  Even though my mother lives hours away from me, I still phone her to ask her what the ratio of sugar to water is when canning peaches, for my grandmother’s wonderful chocolate cake recipe, or what vegetables to start first in the greenhouse.  I didn’t really have to learn how to do it: it was already ingrained in me.  So to read about women not knowing HOW to make good meals from scratch was a bit startling to me.
I spent a fair bit of time watching my mother hen take care of her chicks.  She literally taught them EVERYTHING.  Everything she did, was done for her chicks.  She protected them from the other hens.  She kept them warm.  She taught them how to eat, scratch, find water, and preen.  She taught them what to do when danger was present.  She taught them how to roost.  Everything a chicken does, she taught them, and she did it 24 hours of the day.  I was so impressed and touched by her care, even though she was doing only what instinct taught her to do. 
After reading this article I was broadsided by the realization that it is up to me to pass on my knowledge that I gleaned from my mother to my children.  If I expect the next generation to be able to cook whole, healthy meals for their families, then it is up to me to teach them by example and experience. 
There is one other thing that I can do, too.  I can help other women who have not had my life experience, learn how to cook healthy food for their families.  What could be more fun than teaching a friend how to preserve peaches?  Bake bread?  Plant a garden?  These chores that sometimes seem tedious would suddenly come to life if I could have a friend doing it with me. 
No, we don’t have to perserve food right now, or cook nutritious meals from scratch.  Our culture has developed into such a one that we can buy anything we like.  But that isn’t necessarily a good thing.  With a poor economy we can save money using the skills our ancestors required to survive.  We can protect the health of ourselves, our family and future generations by learning and passing on these skills.  And if you have ever made a batch of jam or homemade bread, you will know there is nothing much more satisfying than to know that you made something delicious and healthy, while saving money. 

Maybe, whole food cooking is becoming a dying art.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Make it your goal to LEARN how to cook from scratch.  Take some courses.  Ask your mother, grandmother or friend.  Borrow books from the library.  Let’s relearn the dying art of cooking with whole, healthy foods.  Lets take that extra time to learn what we need to keep our families healthy. 
So next time my three children drag chairs across the kitchen to watch me make supper, maybe I shouldn’t groan inwardly and bemoan my sudden lack of ability to move or open drawers.  Maybe I should resist the urge to shoo them out of the kitchen.  Instead, I can hand them a spoon and tell them what I am doing so one day they will be able to make a meal from scratch, and provide healthy food for their families.

This post has been linked to The Prairie Homestead Barn Hop,. Frugally Sustainable: Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Hearth and Soul Blog Hop and Real Food Forager: Fat Tuesdays.

Stock photos provided by www.dreamstime.com.

Household Food Waste: Why you should care. Part 3.

It is estimated that American households throw away 14% of the food they buy, which makes 470 lbs a year or $600 a year.  What!  You just threw $600 in the garbage.  The food spoiled, you didn’t feel like finishing the leftovers, or you changed your mind about what you wanted to make.  As simple as that.  It isn’t intentional, but it is a sign of a wealthy nation.  If you didn’t have that extra $600 a year to throw away, you would be much more careful about what you ate and what you disposed of. 

If you think you can afford to throw out food, think again.  You might not need that extra $600, but what you aren’t considering is what happens to that waste once it leaves your home.  When food rots, it quickly turns into methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas and is 21 times the global warming potential than carbon dioxide.  Landfills account for more than 20% of all methane emissions. 

The USA spends $1 billion a year to dispose of food waste.  Can you think of a better way that money could be spent?  I certainly can.  If we cut our food waste in half, think about how much extra money the USA would have to feed her hungry.  Or to donate to less advantaged countries. 

These numbers are mind boggling.  And this is only household waste.  If you personally cut your food waste in half, you could save $300 a year.  Can you think of something you would like to do with $300?  Again, I can.  Are you up for a challenge?

Watch for the next post in this series: what you can do at home about food waste.

This post has been shared on The Real Food Forager: Fat Tuesday and Whole New Mom: Traditional Tuesdays.

It’s hip to repurpose. From bookcase to pantry!

Repurposing simply means taking something and using it for another purpose rather than buying something new.  When I was little repurposing was what you did when you couldn’t afford something new. Think, a patch on your jeans, or a box for a doll bed.  Some people looked down on those who had to repurpose.  Now, repurposing has a whole new meaning.  If you repurpose something, you are saving the world.  You are hip.  You are green.  I love it.
My children repurpose plastic, cardboard or cans destined to be recycled.  They become fabulous cities, scary masks, and fancy kites.  My husband repurposes parts and wood when he builds things.  One of the goat barns was a cedar tool shed.  The floor in it is built from an old cedar fence.   My pottery studio floor is of tile that was pulled up from someone’s house and given away.
My latest repurposed item is a wooden bookcase.  I didn’t have to do anything with it.  We bought it for a fraction of its original price on Craigslist from someone moving across the country.  It is solid, well built, and in great condition.  The doors are glass and they slide for easy opening.  It makes a perfect pantry for holding my canned and dehydrated goods.  We have it in the entry way.  Everyone passes by it when they come into the house and many admire the beautiful home preserves inside.  I glow with pleasure when someone compliments me on my hard work.  More than one person has asked if they could buy some since I sell eggs too.  I smile and tell them that the display case is a repurposed bookcase and the food will be eaten by next spring… by my own family.
Repurposing means that an item isn’t going to go to the landfill.  And that item won’t be replaced by a brand new one, possibly made overseas.  Think of how much energy and natural resources we save by not making, transporting and purchasing a new item.  Think of how much space we save in the landfills.  And think of how much money we save by buying secondhand or even free.  It’s hip to repurpose.  Do you repurpose?