Archive | February, 2013

Blessing Bags – Random Acts of Kindness

While working on an article about random acts of kindness, I stumbled upon the idea of Blessing Bags. Have you heard of them? They are a sealed bag filled with basic necessities that can be kept on hand (probably in your car) for that moment when a homeless person approaches you for spare change. Having a blessing bag stashed in your vehicle, ready to be handed out, is a wonderful opportunity for your entire family to give back. One of the things I like most about this project is young children can help select items they think will bring comfort to someone less fortunate; including a favorite pack of playing cards, themed band-aids, favourite packaged family snack, etc. You might even include a card of note explaining that they’ve been selected for a random act of kindness and they are in your thoughts.

We’ve been dealing with the gimmies lately and feeling that our kids are not being appreciative of everything they have. Random Acts of Kindness are a great way to include children with understanding the ripple connection of giving back. You can select random acts that interest the child or work with organizations close to their heart. My children always have many questions when they see homeless people and coordinating blessing bags would help them connect basic needs for someone less fortunate. My hope is they make the connection between not having the bare necessities and having more than your share of necessities in life.  At this point I think my kids are too young for helping in a soup kitchen so this is the perfect step to assisting those in need with the kids actively participating.

I first read about blessing bags from Kids With A Vision and I thank them for sharing this wonderful idea. The start of my bag includes:

– deck of cards
– all natural hand wipes
– organic lollipops
– band-aids
– bar soap and body wash
– polysporin
– sewing mending kit

Other items listed suggested by Kids With A Vision are:

– chap stick
– packages of tissues
– toothbrush and toothpaste
– comb
– trail mix
– granola bars
– crackers
– pack of gum
– coins (could be used to make a phone call, or purchase a food item)
– warm pair of socks
– coffee gift card

I’ll be posting a link to the article about a local mom and her inspiring journey to complete 26 Random Acts of Kindness via my Facebook Fan Page later this week. Stay connect and join the wonderful conversations on greener living.

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Chocolate Beet Cupcakes

I have been surprised by the ingredients that have made our family favorite baking recipes successful..and strangely enough they are all healthy and ingredients you assume moms add to recipes to boost health, not taste. I love sharing recipes that kids actually like, plus are healthy with only clean ingredients. With our homemade granola bar recipe the secret is apple sauce. With chocolate muffins it’s zucchini and with the cupcakes I’ve prepared for my twins birthday celebration the secret ingredient is beets. Nothing surprises me anymore. =) And I’d like to point out nobody in my family knows there are beets inside the cupcakes – when they saw the beets roasting I told them they were only for the icing colour. Even my husband wasn’t told the truth with this recipe because he is worse than the kids with trying new things. They got the thumbs up from everyone and it’s going to be our little secret until, like all the recipes I’ve listed, they no longer care what is hidden inside because they love eating it so much!

The recipe is modified from Joy The Baker with my little changes.

Cupcake Ingredients:

2 medium beets
1 teaspoon olive oil
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup whole brown sugar
3/4 cup golden cane sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash clean beets in a piece of foil. Drizzle with just a bit of olive oil. Seal up foil. Place on a baking sheet in the oven. Roast until beets are tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. ** Save the beet juice at the bottom of the foil to use for icing dye ** Remove the beets from the oven. Open the foil and allow beets to cool completely. Beets will be easy to peel (just using a paring knife) once completely cooled. Grate the peeled beets using the finest side of a box grater. Measure 3/4 cup of grated beets for the cake. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or hand mixer, cream together butter and sugars. Beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, for one minute after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Once eggs are incorporated, beat in beets and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture. Beating on low speed , slowly add the milk. Once just incorporated, add the other half of the dry ingredients. Beat on medium speed until milk and dry ingredients are just incorporated. Try not to overmix the batter. Bowl can be removed from the mixer and mixture folded with a spatula to finish incorporating ingredients.

Spoon the batter into the cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake for 20-22 minutes (for mini-cupcakes) or 22-24 minutes (for regular-sized cupcakes). Test when a skewer is inserted in the center and comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Place on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before frosting the cupcakes.

Icing Ingredients:

450 grams of cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
3 cups confectioners sugar

Icing Directions:

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or handheld, beat cream cheese for 30 seconds and butter until well combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl as necessary. Add the powdered sugar about 1 cup at a time and mix on low until completely combined. Add your beet juice for coloring. Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cupcakes.

I lost the beet juice when I unwrapped the foil so save that juice – it’s precious, organic dye for your icing! I tried the method of add larger chunks of cooked beet to the icing but the color is light using this method.

 

 Related Articles:

Limit Food Packaging – Make Your Own Granola Bars

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Rink Rats Unplugged!

Have you heard the term ‘rink rat’ before? At our local hockey rink it refers to the younger siblings that are always scurrying around the bleachers, outer rink, and concession stands while waiting for older brothers and sisters to finish hockey games. Since my daughters have two older brothers that play hockey, they are probably at the rink more than they want to be. Learning to exert patience with waiting for siblings to finish activities can be difficult but after observing the behavior of my own little ‘rink rats’ over the years, I have insight to share on avoiding the electronics trap to keep kids entertained.

My girls are naturally shy. They do not have the personalities to introduce themselves when other children are already playing. I watch them gaze wistfully at groups of children that are playing and my natural reaction is to distract them from the possible discomfort they feel watching from the outside. But lately, they have started to inch towards the kids and will leave the bleachers to interact and I’m so glad I didn’t give them electronics to distract them from boredom. I see it time and time again…you’ve got the child sitting alone, probably shy, getting bored and they reach for mom or dad’s iphone to keep themselves entertained. It’s easy and sometimes we as parents, don’t stop and think why we shouldn’t just hand over the electronics. As a mom of many kids that would love my iphone – here are the reasons they don’t get it:

Shy or quiet kids sometimes need some encouragement with socializing. I am completely happy with having my girls sit on my lap to watch the game but I’ll keep asking them “are you sure you don’t want to go play with the kids?” And it’s almost taken the entire hockey season, but they are starting to join the group of girls and I can tell they are thrilled to be close to the action. But like most things with my daughters, it’s on their own terms and they just need time to feel comfortable.

I really think not letting kids sit idle occasionally is a mistake. My kids are all very busy…some might call it over scheduled but with four we are constantly on the go. And most children these days are busy with sports, music, or art after school, so play dates are non-existent. If kids are left to their own devices while older siblings or parents are busy, they re-discover the fine art of playing. And without toys or ‘stuff’ surrounding them, sometimes they get back to the purest form of play like hide-and-go-seek or climbing to escape burning hot lava or sharks on the floor.

My personal biggie with removing my iphone from the kids is not knowing radiation levels. It’s something I haven’t researched so I’m not comfortable handing it over without knowing acceptable levels. Green Child Magazine wrote a great article about radiation –  the link is here. Another trigger for me with telling my kids they would no longer be allowed to touch or hold my phone was after reading the article about phones being used as ‘shut up toys’. I wrote about this topic and still think a lot of times we are rolling over with excessive electronics just to keep our kids quiet or babysat.

If you want to keep kids close to you and entertained without electronics there are 3 great tools to have in your purse: notepad, deck of cards, all natural nail polish. I realize the nail polish might not work for all boys, but I use it when I’m desperate to keep my girls happy. They only get to apply Piggy Paint occasionally so it’s a treat and they can apply it perfectly by the age of 6. Using the nail polish is a great way for the girls to make friends because usually if another child sees the nail polish appear, they come over and ask if they can use it too. And since the ingredient list is pretty clean on this brand, parents always seem happy with it.

I mentioned keeping cards in my basket. If I know there will be longer periods of boredom I try to keep a deck of Gamewright cards on me. I’ve written about this brand of cards before and can’t say enough about our favourites Sleeping Queens, Too Many Monkey, Rat-A-Tat-Cat, and Zip Zap. Any of these will keep my girls happy for long stretches of time! If you are local to Vancouver, Dilly Dally Kids carries this line of card games or they are available online via Gamewright.

 

And isn’t there just magic with a new pad of paper and pen? My kids all love a new sketchpad or writing journal and look so cute sitting concentrated with their pen to paper. Kids can doodle, draw, play XOs, or Hangman. It sounds so simple but veteran parents know it’s the basics that kids love – and a notepad is no exception. All of the pictures in this post have been taken on different days at the hockey rink and you can see in the below picture, one of my girls was practicing her ‘handwriting’.

We’ve been lucky this year that most of the siblings that bounce around the rink have left electronics at home. All it takes is one kid to pull out an ipod and you’ve got 10 kids all hanging over their shoulder trying to get a peek at the app they are playing. We’ve seen this before and it makes the free play aspect more challenging.  But they are mimicking adults and if you look around, you’ll find people of all ages no longer able to just sit. If they have a quiet moment (and I’m guilty of this) the phone comes out and we get plugged in. We are building a society that just can’t be or focus. This isn’t to sound preachy because with using my phone for a camera I have it with me constantly and I know the kids see that. But limiting their technology is important because although parents swear by learning apps on ipads/ipods,  face-to-face social skills are also important for children’s self confidence and growth.

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Animal Extinction- A Side-Effect of Palm Oil

Sometimes a few different events lead up to an article and the first started with a visit my family took to the Seattle Zoo in November. It was sad to see animals confined within the zoo but my kids had never seen many of the animals up close and they did enjoy the experience. In particular the gorillas and orangutangs because you could really see their human-like behavior and emotions up close. Even the elephants and penguins did not elicit the reaction that my children had with the primates. We spent hours with the orangutangs watching them, making eye contact, apologizing through the glass, my son showed videos on my phone (of the outside world), and we all felt a connection. I didn’t really know what I was apologizing for that day at the zoo until tonight when I started to research Palm Oil. Now I know why I’m apologizing…and after having such a connection I can’t not share what I’ve learned.

Another dot that connected tonight was my confusion with cooking oils and my journey to eat and prepare real food in 2013. All of the different types of sugars and oils have me really confused. I’ve been trying hard to avoid any canola oils because of GMO concerns, and although palm oil is non-GMO I am adding this ingredient to my personal ban list. It is usually listed as vegetable oil (click here to find the top 30 ways it’s listed in ingredient lists) and commonly found in margarine, cereals, packaged, sweets and baked goods, to soaps, washing powders and cosmetics. Similar to when I watched the W5 undercover investigation on large scale factory pig farming in Canada, there are certain things that I can no longer knowingly consume….factory farmed pork is one and now palm oil is the second.  I’m getting to why in a minute…I’m not finished connecting the dots. =)

The next is really a no brainer with trying to eat real food. Tougher than it sounds but really trying to only eat fresh or home prepared meals. It is super rewarding as a mother but is taking a lot of time. You want to immediately improve your family and children’s health? Stop buying any food that is in a package. Really. Think of the granola bars, fake fruit snacks, crackers, cereals, etc. the list goes on and on. It is so hard to get away from but vital if you want to protect your family from long-term health effects from food. I am still at the starting point of my food journey but even I’m at the point if I walk through the isles of a traditional grocery store, I feel like I’m shopping in a plastic waste dump. There is seriously only 10% of a traditional grocery store that I want to put inside the stomach’s of my children. And that is a pretty scary thought. Not eating packaged food will also limit your palm oil consumption.

My last point is bigger is not better. It seems the bigger you are – the less accountable, knowledgeable, and trustworthy you are. I see it all the time in media saying “trust us, protect your family, we are the experts, but because we have P&G as our advertisers – still buy toxic shit.” The mixed messaging has to stop. Either you are pro health or pro making money with big time advertisers.  The perfect example of bigger not being better is Dr. Oz. Is that man having a tough time lately or what?  Read below to find out why.

Okay – let’s join these dots. Everything I have mentioned came to a tipping point for me tonight. Seeing brutal images of tortured orangutangs that left me devastated are the reason for this article. Palm oil is causing an ecological disaster and primate genocide and you can’t help but think consumer demand is the reason it’s happening. Do we seriously want to live in a world without tigers, orangutangs, and rhinos? There are less than 7,000 Sumatran orangutans left and they have now been classified as critically endangered. Their near extinction needs to get consumers (you and I) looking at ingredients before a product goes into our shopping carts.  We need to think for ourselves so when Dr. Oz puts consumers into a buying frenzy when he recommends Red Palm Fruit Oil as his miracle find in 2o13 – the back-end destruction caused to the forest and animals doesn’t happen.

How can we help? Although palm oil is used in the production of biofules, the increase in oil production is because of food demands. Who are the big companies driving this demand? Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Kraft and Burger King to name a few. Here is our way as North Americans to help the deforestation and slaughter of animals – influence the world with your consumer dollars. We have the ability to drive change where we spend our money. There are organizations dedicated to helping buy back parts of the rain forests in Indonesia and Malaysia (they are responsible for 80% of world palm oil production). The website Say No To Palm Oil has a really helpful list of the top 30 names palm oil can be labelled under. It’s important to the remember that these ingredients can be found in natural or organic products because we are talking about how palm oil is produced, rather than it’s contents.

I won’t link to the image that is now searing into my brain of dead orangutangs and the terrible way their lives are being extinguished. However as a mother, I will leave you with a few facts I won’t ever forget after researching orangutangs. Did you know that orangutangs are so close with their children that unlike any other mammal, orangutang babies stay with their parents until they are 7 or 8 years old? I saw proof of this connection when watching how difficult it was for the poachers to pry an infant away from it’s dead mother. With the illegal trade on infant orangutangs it is estimated that for every orangutan orphan sold, six to eight orangutans die in the process of capture and transport. With there only being 1 chromosome difference between orangutans and humans – the similarities between the human/orangutang infant/mother bond left me feeling like I needed to do something to help. I hope this opens a window of awareness for you.

For people that want to buy personal care products I usually recommend Green Beaver because they are certified organic and Canadian made. I just confirmed on their Facebook Page that they do not use palm oil in their products. So if you are looking for a great line that is organic and made without palm oil – Green Beaver can help!

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