Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What to Buy the Green Eco-Friendly Person in Your Family (Gift Guide)

I'm slightly obsessed with products that help the environment or promote green living, and I thought I'd throw together a post of some of the items I have tested myself and love dearly.  Just in case you're looking for the perfect gift for your granola cousin your eco-friendly cousin. 

1.  Dryer Balls.  Find them at Target for under $5 for a set of two.  As an added bonus, they are the right size to be used as a stocking stuffer.  And they last for ages.  Mine actually help my clothes get dried about 15 minutes more quickly than if I don't use them - and saving energy makes me happy!
 2.  Envirosax.  These reusable shopping bags roll up into tiny sacs, easy to slip into a purse.  They are incredibly durable, holding up to 40 pounds, and come in such fun, trendy designs.  I have the Animal Planet set of 5, but you can find a design for just about anyone.  I always get comments from the cashiers on how cute they are.  $5.99 and up.

3.  Mesh produce bags by Flip and Tumble.  Yet another way to cut down on the overuse of plastics in our world.  Light and easy to use, just toss them in the wash after shopping.  $10.95 for a set of 5.
 4.  Cloth diapers by Fuzzibunz.  Because babies can be green too!  Fuzzibunz are the best cloth diaper I've ever known and loved - the twins have been in them for almost a year and a half now, and they are still holding strong.  One diaper will run you about $19.99.
 5.  Living with Ed, Seasons 1 and 2, on DVD.  A lighthearted, humorous tv series on living green to the extreme?  Yes please!  Prices range from $7 - $22.50 each.
6.  Drying rack.  You can pick these up at Target for around $13 and skip that energy-sucking clothes dryer all together!  They fold up conveniently - I've got mine stashed to the side of my dresser where no one can see it when it's not in use.

7. A Trader Joe's gift card.  Because you can't go wrong with gift cards and - let's face it - you can't go wrong with Trader Joe's.  (Dear Trader Joe's:  All I want for Christmas is for you to build a store in Roanoke, Virginia).  
8.  Shaklee Basic H2 cleaning product.  A little goes a long way, and a bottle will last for ages!  Plus, you can use it on anything, and it doesn't have a bunch of nasty chemicals.  You'll also be supporting a really awesome business that is running a 'net-zero impact on the environment' company.
9.  Patagonia is another company that works hard to reduce the global environmental footprint.  Not only that, but they make high quality gear for anyone that loves the outdoors - and for all ages too!  The boys were handed down little puffy Patagonia vests as infants and we loved them so dearly!  Retail around $70.

10.  Reusable lunch containers.  There are so many fun choices out there - and anything that cuts down on plastic sandwich baggies is a win-win situation.  One of our current favorites is the Fit & Fresh Kid's Little Dipper.  It has a section to go in the freezer to keep cold before assembly, and then a little compartment to put dips in.  It's also BPA free.  Pierce especially loves to take it to school stuffed with apples and peanut butter for dipping. $10 for a set of 4.
 There you have it!  Some of my favorite green products, just perfect for your environmentally friendly friends and relatives.  You know what would be even better though?  Win some wonderful green products right now, in my Eco Natural Soaps giveaway!  You can go enter here!

Disclaimer - I wasn't provided anything for this gift guide - it's just a list of things around the house that we know and love.  Also, the images were snagged from Google.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Eco Natural Soap Review and GIVEAWAY!! (Perfect Stocking Stuffers!)

I've been following the Eco Friendly Homemaking blog for a while now, and I love her simple and interesting posts about living green and being thrifty.  For a long time, I've been interested in trying some of the products from the Eco Natural Soap store.  So when Alicia contacted me about doing a review and giveaway, I was so thrilled!

The products I chose to review were a Joint Pain Relief balm (I'm a runner, of course I need that!), the Foot Relief balm (again, runner, hello!) and the Wrinkle and Age Spot Relief Chlorella Soap.  I also got an extra sweet surprise - some of the lip balm.

The Joint Relief balm was the first thing I sampled.  I opened up the jar, took a whiff, and was flooded by horse show memories.  It smells just like the Vetrolin liniment I used to use on my horse's legs after a horse show.  The wintergreen scent is delicious.  I've had a spot on the bottom of my heel that has felt like a stone bruise for a few weeks, and I've tried different ointments but nothing had been able to penetrate. So I put some Joint Relief balm on, and I liked how it wasn't greasy and how it didn't burn.  I didn't pay much attention, but 10 minutes later I realized as I walked across the hard tile floor that my heel was no longer hurting!  I was fascinated that it worked so well.  So a day later, when a very sore throat and swollen eustachian tubes were making it difficult to swallow, I turned to the Joint Relief balm again.  I know it isn't supposed to be for that sort of thing, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try, and I was desperate.  I put it on, and once again returned to what I was doing and forgot about it.  And once again, about 10 minutes later, I realized that I was swallowing with ease.  No pain, whatsoever.  You all, this stuff is the bomb.  I have just never experienced something that so gently but effectively relieved pain.  

The next thing I tried was the Wrinkle and Age Spot Relief Chlorella Soap.  I have some age spots I've been fighting on my left cheek for the past 2 years or so.  I love the smooth lather this soap gives, and after rinsing, my skin feels not only clean but well moisturized.  It does have seaweed and cucumber, so while the smell is not offensive in any way, if you like sweet or floral scents you won't find it in this bar.  You will enjoy how soft your skin feels afterwards.  Age spots don't disappear overnight, of course, so it'll be a few weeks before I can tell a difference there, but I do love how this soap makes my skin feel!

The last thing I wanted to try was the Foot Relief balm.  I have a tendency to lose toenails from all the running I do.  I'd love to find a preventative for that, and was thinking maybe this would help, as it does cool things like fight fungus and ease pain in tired feet.  Certainly, the two middle toes will be losing their nails from the half marathon I just ran, but it won't happen until January or February.  I would love to prevent it if I can!  The balm is also non-greasy and smooth, and while it smells different than the Joint Relief balm, it has a pleasing smell as well.  I like the way my feet feel pampered after using it.

And of course, I enjoyed the lip balm too - perfect for this time of year, when cold and winds can cause so many chapped lips.

So by now you've got to be wondering how you can try some of these items for yourself!  You can go purchase these and many other eco-friendly products at Eco Natural Soap.  While you're there, decide what one item you want to try most, and come back and leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway for 3 items from Eco Natural Soap!  The winner gets to choose one body balm, one bath soap, and one lip balm!  these would make the best stocking stuffers ever (if you could bare to share, of course).  For a second entry, let me know that you are a follower of this blog in a separate comment.

This giveaway is open to residents of the United States.  Winner will be chosen by on Monday, December 5 at noon.  Winner has 48 hours to respond by email (so don't forget to include it if it's not in your profile when you enter) or another winner will be chosen.  Good luck!

Disclaimer:  I received 3 products of my choice to review from Eco Natural Soap.  The opinions expressed above are entirely my own.

This giveaway is now closed.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pizza Pizza! Muffin Tin Monday

I've mentioned before that we live too far out for pizza delivery to be an option, but honestly, that's a good thing.  Because I can make my own pizza which is so much cheaper and healthier.
This was the first time I've made pizza with a white sauce.  We usually do the typical red sauce, or sometimes pesto sauce.  I made the alfredo sauce from scratch, because there is nothing nastier than alfredo sauce from a jar (it's just awful!).  Toppings were mozzarella cheese, fresh mushrooms, and turkey bacon.  Not the healthiest pizza I've ever made (still healthier than Pizza Hut I'm sure!), but it was delicious.  Sides were a salad (once again, rejected by Pierce) and apple slices.  The pizza and apples were devoured.

Check out more fun food ideas at Muffin Tin Mom.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Danville Science Center

One of the big selling points for running the half marathon in Danville was that their science center is right by the finish line of the race.  And as an added bonus, we got free entry because of our membership to our local science museum.  It was wonderful for Paul to have a way to entertain the boys while I was running, and after I finished the race we went back for some more, because I wanted to see it myself.
 It was such a fantastic facility - everything was hands on interactive and the museum itself was so spacious and sparkling clean.  

The boys really loved this floating beach ball, and they were determined to try to figure out how to get it down.

A cute little pillow nest at the top of the stairs.

I liked this giant ball, which played movies in a cool dark room.  Exhausted and still dehydrated from my race, I zoned out watching this ball and hoping that Paul was mostly supervising the boys.

It was quite the show.

Turns out Paul was giving the boys some flying lessons.

We're in trouble now...

And speaking of did he get that beach ball down?!?

Paul said that I need to start running the Danville half marathon every year, just so the boys can enjoy the museum.  I figure I'm game - it was a great race and a fun day!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing all my readers a very happy Thanksgiving today.  May it be peaceful and full of tasty foods and quality time with the people you love.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Gift I Never Asked For

Once in a while it happens.  You get a gift you never dreamed anyone would pick out for you.  The gift that, were you in the store, would be just about the last thing you'd ever buy for yourself.

That gift, for me, was the Chia Pet.  First of all, I don't even do house plants, because my cats just eat them.  And secondly, what are you supposed to DO with a Chia Pet?  It serves no real purpose - it doesn't even look all that cute, particularly the one I received.  Maybe it would've been better if I'd gotten the little rabbit or not-quite-endearing dog.  But instead, I got the Chia Head.

Gosh, have you ever seen an uglier, more ridiculous Chia Head?  (Actually, I was enlightened by google, when I was searching for this image, to find that you can now purchase Brittany Spears and Barack Obama Chia Heads.  Wow.  Just wow.)

I was young - maybe 22 - when I received this gift.  I think I might find it more humorous now than I did then but don't even think about buying me another Mr. Two Bears Farm.  And at least if I didn't, I could pawn it off on Pierce who would find it amusing.  But, for now, I'm happy to declare my home a Chia-Free Zone.

So inquiring minds want to know - if you were to get a celebrity Chia Head, who would you want?   Personally, I've always been a huge fan of Natalie Wood, and seeing as how they've reopened her case, maybe they should make a Natalie Wood Chia Head. 

If you have a bad gift story you'd like to relate, or if you'd like to read about others' bad gift stories, check out Hooked and Happy.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mediterranean Chicken - My New Favorite Chicken Recipe

This recipe is from the April 2010 issue of Fitness Magazine (yes, I saved it and just now got around to making it).
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
8-10 skinless chicken thighs, bone in (I used breasts, cut into sections)
1/4 cup white wine
2 garlic cloves, sliced into thin rounds
3-4 springs of fresh thyme
1/2 cup pitted olives such as Kalamata
1 lemon, sliced into thin rounds

Preheat oven to 450*.  Heat olive oil in large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper; add to pan, meaty side down.  Cook for 5 minutes.  Turn and cook 2 minutes more.  Pour out any excess fat.  Return pan to burner, stir in broth and wine, scraping up any brown bits.  Scatter garlic, thyme, and olives on chicken.  Lay one lemon round on each piece of chicken.

Place skillet in oven (I don't have an oven proof skillet, so I transferred to a casserole dish).  Roast for 17-20 minutes, or until juices run clear.

This chicken is fantastic!  Tender and juicy, and so much flavor.  I'll certainly be making it again.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Turkey in the Straw Muffin Tin Monday

How do you have Thanksgiving for breakfast?  I decided to adapt a toad-in-the-hole for this one.  So rather it's a turkey-in-the-hole.  Only I added hash browns.  And then I thought it was a turkey in the straw.  And then I had that silly square dancing folk song in my head.  Not that I square dance.  Or dance at all.  But I know the song. 

Turkey in the straw is crafted from bread, an egg, carrots, olives, and (oh so appropriately) turkey bacon.  The 'turkey feet' muffin cups contain roasted pumpkin (to make it all Thanksgivingy, only the pumpkin didn't have much flavor - not sure if it's because it was a small pumpkin or if it's because it had been sitting out on our porch for 2 weeks) and the toast from the hole.

For more fun playing with food ideas, go visit Muffin Tin Mom.

Pick 'em up, shake 'em up, any way at all and hit up a tune called 'Turkey in the Straw'!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Oh dear. Asthma?

Recently the twins had a cold, and while Reid recovered from his, Cort developed a nagging cough that hung around.  One day, he woke up and the cough was persistent, not giving him a break.  He didn't have a fever, so I scheduled a doctor appointment for the late afternoon, as I had a presentation to do that day for a part time marketing job I do.  Cort went downhill over the course of the day, and quickly.  By late afternoon, when we got to the appointment, he had spiked a fever of 101* and much more disturbing, he was wheezing, little lungs struggling to draw breath.  As we walked into the patient room, the doctor and the nurse both commented over Cort's constant coughing, "That doesn't sound good!".

Indeed, after listening to his lungs, the pediatrician decided to do a breathing treatment right then and there.  Being asthmatic myself, I've had my share of nebulizer treatments, and previously have always associated them with relief.  But previously I have never had to administer one to a two year old.  A two year old who hasn't slept in two nights, hadn't napped, and was infinitely cranky.  At first, he was fascinated by the steam coming out of the holes, and he cooperated with having the mask held over his face.  But 15 minutes is a long time to wait, and that novelty quickly wore off.  What followed was very loooooong minutes of screaming and thrashing while I continued to attempt to hold the mask over his face as he attempted (successfully several times) to destroy this apparatus piece by piece and throw it across the room.  I was glad that at least he didn't permanently destruct the machine itself. 

Cort came home with 3 different prescriptions (he also had an ear infection).  More medication than I am comfortable with, but necessary in this case.  I thought that being so sleep deprived he would crash out.  But he cried.  And he coughed.  And finally, after numerous trips downstairs to ineffectively soothe him, I broke a rule.  I asked if he wanted to come sleep in mommy's bed, and he answered weakly, "yes".  So I carried him upstairs and tucked him in beside me.  He tossed and turned and coughed, but he didn't cry anymore.  And then, as I lay there beside him, I caught the sweet-sticky smell of animal cracker fingers before feeling them brush gently across my face, followed by the satisfied, comforted word in a small hoarse voice, "Mama".  And then, finally, reassured that I was there, he rolled onto his tummy and finally....finally slept.

Sometimes, when your kids are sick, you think that there is nothing you can do.  As it turns out, that is when just being there, and being present, is exactly enough.  It may not feel like much to you, but as Cort showed me, it turns out that it's everything.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Seven American Wonders I've Seen So Far

So this week's writing prompt at Mama Kat's is to write about the seven wonders of your life.  I've been to a handful of other countries, but I really feel like some of the sights I've seen traveling my own country have been just as marvelous as anywhere else (course, I haven't been to Europe...yet!).  So I decided I would focus on sights from America only when I picked my seven.  One of my personal goals is to one day visit all 50 states.  I've hit the majority of them, but I still need to visit Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Minnesota, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota. 

Here are my 7 wonders -

Florida Keys - in January!
Nothing beats the mild weather, sunny skies, and blue waters of the Florida Keys in the middle of the winter.  This is me with my youngest brother John.  Quite obviously, the pre-kids body.  Sigh.

The Kelso Sand Dunes in the Mojave Desert, California.  They make a boom sound when you slide down them, and they are surreal with their towers of white.
Read more here

Big Bend, Texas.  Because where else can you find ghost towns, western towns, have dinner with a felon, and fjord the Rio Grande?  Read the full post, if you want, here.
Zion, Utah.  Gorgeous red rock and incredible hiking.
Read more here

The Appalachian Trail - I have to be partial to my own backyard of course.  
You can read more here.

The Grand Canyon
I have tons of pictures.  And I could put up a picture.
But let's face it.
It wouldn't do it justice.
You can't invoke that kind of awe with photos or words.  You just have to go.

And the seventh wonder?  My three boys, new to the world.  The biggest wonder of all.

What's the biggest wonder you've set eyes on?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I am NOT a Torke! And Other Terms from the Word Verification Dictionary

If you visit many blogs, you eventually grow to hate the little thing known as word verification, where you have to type in a jumble of letters before leaving a comment.  Blogger has a very nice spam catcher that will weed out the spam, at least, although not necessarily the crazies.  So I get why some people leave it on, but it still bugs me.  So I figured I might as well have fun with it, instead of being irritated.  The brain always wants to put meaning to words, even if they are nonsense words.  I've compiled a list of a few doozies I've encountered during word verification over the past few months, and my translation of the term.

Chemic - a kid who blows up your basement with a chemistry set
Aloni - an antisocial blogger
Hydruini - an unusual flower hybrid
Ovention - this is when dinner is pulled out of the oven, and it's a mystery as to what it might be
Corgi - A SIGN I SHOULD GET A CORGI PUPPY!!!  I've always wanted a corgi puppy!  It's meant to be!  It showed up in word verification and everything!
Torke- Okay, I take offense to this.  I am NOT a torke!
Greast - a great feast - like the one I'll be eating next week.
Xapyris - the future product that will eventually replace paper and make us all more green.
Finsib - Ghetto slang for 'offensive'.  Obviously.  As in "I find your use of the word torke to be finsib."
Noakery - A little cupboard for hiding your candy stash from your kids.  You know you have one.
Wingstr - Someone (like myself) who tends to wing it, instead of planning.
Shlort - When you're drinking a soda, and someone makes you laugh, and you end up with soda in your nose.
Illen - to make sick.  Like all this word verification business is illen me.  How about you?

Google Images

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Racing in Compression Socks - Danville Half Marathon Report

Two weeks ago I went out for a trial 11 mile run to see if I could pull off running a half marathon in November.  It went okay, so I mulled over my two choices and decided to register for the Danville Half marathon, which was this past weekend.  Unfortunately, on Friday, I came down with a stomach bug.  I woke up Saturday morning 3 pounds dehydrated and feeling pretty weak, but I'd already paid for the race so I decided to just give it a shot.  If nothing else, it'd be a pretty day for a run.

Since I hadn't done a lot of long runs prior to the race, I decided to try racing in the Zensah compression socks that my parents got me for my birthday last summer.  I wasn't sure if this was the best idea, since the furthest I'd run in them was 6 miles, but with the odds already against me due to that stomach flu, what did I have to lose?

Here I am at the start of the race with the boys, who were distracted by the geese.  The first 5 miles or so ran along this river, with gorgeous waterfalls at one point.  It was the most perfect day to be out running - temps in the low 60s and sunny with just a mild breeze.
 I forgot to do my asthma inhaler before the race, which bothered me a bit in the early miles but then I adjusted.  At mile 4, a guy running past that was doing the 8K told me I was 11th female, and I decided to try to hold that spot through to the end.  At around mile 6, I started feeling the effects of the dehydration, and was really getting thirsty.  At this point I took some water, as I ran through a check point pavilion.  The race then went off into the woods, onto a gravel path, and began to hit some hills.  Miles 6-9 were hilly, with the largest and longest hill being right at around mile 8.  Normally I wouldn't take Gu until mile 10, but since I was coming into the race calorie-deficient, I took my first Gu at mile 7.  And then at mile 8 my stomach went GRRRRRRRRR.  And my mind went Uh oh.  And then I'M SO THIRSTY. 

At mile 10, I took some Immodium, which I also wouldn't normally do in a race but had brought along just in case, because of the stomach flu.  This seemed to help enough that I was able to take my second Gu.  But nothing could quench the cry for thirst.  They had plenty of aid stations along the course, but it just wasn't enough to ease my desire for fluids.  I switched to Gatorade but still I was so thirsty.  The last few miles I could feel myself losing pace a bit as I struggled.  Still, I enjoyed the crunch of the leaves under my feet and the sun shining through the trees.

At mile 11, I felt a blister on the ball of my right foot.  Luckily, it wasn't so bad it affected my running much.  Would it have happened without the compression socks?  Hard to tell.  But my calves felt good running, even when my quads and hamstrings were getting tired, so I think that in the end running in the compression socks was a good decision.   That said, I'd probably need to run in them more often for longer distances if I was going to attempt something like a marathon in them.

Finally, I saw the bridge in the distance that marked the last bit of my route to get to the finish line.  Here, Pierce demonstrates running across the bridge.  Only he has more energy than I did by the time I crossed it!

As I pulled into the finish line, I waved to the boys, who were cheering for me from behind an iron fence:

I crossed the finish line in 1:56:26.  Because I don't run halfs very often, it turns out that this is a PR for me.  I can't help but wonder how I might've run had I not been so dehydrated. 

Know what makes you feel better when you are super thirsty and have just run 13.1 miles?  This:

In the end, thanks to this being a smaller race, I placed 1st in my age group, and won a very nice beer mug, which Paul promptly declared to be his.  
Bottom line?  I loved this race.  I can't wait to do it again.  This was my second time running it, and they have changed the course and the month, but it's a great race either way and I love the size and the support and the beautiful views along the way. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Asian Vegetable Soup on Muffin Tin Monday

It's Muffin Tin Monday, and we've been eating a lot of soup lately.
Garlic bread with a silly face, salad (Pierce doesn't like salad, but I keep presenting it as an option with different flavored dressings, in hopes that eventually I'll find one he likes) and my Asian vegetable soup.  So although Pierce likes a lot of veggies, he does not like salad!  Yet. As for the soup, I came up with this recipe a couple of winters ago and have been making it off and on since - it comes together quickly and we all really like the flavors.  If you want to try it out, you can find the recipe here.

For more Muffin Tin Monday ideas, visit Muffin Tin Mom

Friday, November 11, 2011

Natural Bridge Zoo

Recently we met up with my brother, sister-in-law and nephew for a day at the Natural Bridge Zoo.  I always have mixed feelings about zoos, even though we belong to the local zoo and visit frequently.  Part of me feels badly for the animals behind bars, but the kids enjoy it and the animals appear to be healthy.  At any rate, aside from my guilt we had a pleasant fall day!

Cousin Grady checked out the goats.  Pierce and Reid enjoyed feeding the goats but Cort wasn't going to go there.

Smack in the middle of the zoo...a statue designed to torment small children and leave them with nightmares for months to come?  Yes folks, right there in the bushes...statues gone wild.

Pierce liked the baby camel.

And the turtle shell was a big hit.

 We discovered with surprise that Cort suffers from ornithophobia.
Ornithophobia - an abnormal, irrational fear of birds.  Particularly large rhea type birds.

Giraffes have got to be one of the prettiest animals in existence.  



Hanging in there:

Look at the nice camel.
 Then look directly up.
Uh oh.  Speaking of ornithophobia - or rather, fear of being pooped on by massive amounts of birds tweeting, "Ready, aim, fire!"
 Just one last picture, then I'll move!

Reid and Grady enjoyed shaking this fence.

And lastly, how many kids can fit in the belly of a snake?
So it turns out four, but no one is fast enough to catch that picture before one takes off!

Do you visit zoos?