I really love Waldorf nature tables, but I wanted something more like a specimen tray than a free-form nature table. The other day, I saw a photo on Pinterest of a nature table made of sectioned compartments. I remembered that we had found a letterpress drawer in the house when we first moved in and I still had it kicking around somewhere. I dug it out and cleaned it off and put it in a corner on our old coffee table and voila! Instant nature table. The kids filled it with shells, rocks, twigs, flowers, bones and boar teeth and spend a few hours every day playing with it. This is such an awesome toy!
I have been fortunate enough never to have had to buy clothes for my children. Between a wonderful mother-in-law who feels it is her life's duty to provide new clothes for her children and lots of mom friends who know our situation and are happy to unload their kids' old clothes on us unasked, we have always had everything we need.
While our method isn't exactly organized, you could easily organize a children's clothing circle with your friends and family. The easiest way for most would be to create a Facebook group, but group emails would also work for those that don't use social networking sites.
Create your group and get anyone in that wants to join. The more people, the easier it will be. The idea is simple: when your kids outgrow their clothes or toys (and GENTLY used shoes), pass them on for free to the next mom in the group with the child that wears that size. Our mom group just keeps passing the clothes around and around, taking good care of them, fixing small problem spots when they get them, and using them again. I have actually received stuff back for a new baby that I've passed on to another mom after my first child. Clothes that get ruined just become play clothes or painting smocks or pajamas. Really bad ones get thrown away.
New clothes are always coming in to the mix either as gifts from friends and family (like my MIL) or whenever a certain mom needs a certain item that she doesn't have enough of. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on clothes for kids, most of us have had to buy only a couple of items here or there.
These pass-it-round groups can work for all kinds of things including toys, books, cloth diapers and other baby gear such as strollers, high chairs and carriers. Just always be sure not to trade car seats (they are one-time use ONLY and may never be passed on) and always check your item for wear and tear, safety and recalls before handing it off to another mama. If done safely and with respect for the other mamas involved, pass-it-round groups can save each of you hundreds of dollars and is a good example of the "reuse it" mentality so necessary to protect our vital natural resources.
To begin, it's normal for many families, especially poor families, to give their children only a few small toys at Christmas time. The idea for them is that they don't believe in commercialism or materialism, so they don't want their kids getting piles of presents. I can definitely respect that approach to Christmas. I do it very differently, and on the same premise that other parents choose to do fewer presents.
In our family, the children get nothing the rest of the year except a couple of presents from friends at their birthday party and one tiny thing in their Easter basket. They don't get clothes or toys or anything else the rest of the year. For us, the entire year is a lesson in patience and conservation. My children don't ask for anything when we go to the store because they know they won't get it. We have no TV and see no commercials so they don't ask for things they see. We just don't buy and so my children are already taught from their earliest days not to even bother asking. It has never happened so in their mind, it's not a reality in the future either.
So Christmas is a big deal at our house. Christmas is the only time the kids get all of their toys for the rest of the year. It's the only time they'll get clothes for the rest of the year. At our house, Christmas is like the big reward at the end of the year for waiting so long and being so patient and doing so well without complaining.
But it doesn't have to be a big commercial deal, either. During the rest of the year, I get offered old toys from friends. Maybe a set of wooden blocks that have to go because their older son is using them as projectiles. Maybe something their kids have grown out of. I accept donations of pre-loved toys and put them away in boxes in the closet until Christmas time. You could also get a group of friends together to trade an old toy. Each person can bring something and exchange it for something someone else has. Your kids are getting something new and giving away something they don't use anymore. I'm also a member of a little Facebook group of local moms we started so we could sell our used things to each other cheaply. When something pops up that I know my kids will love, I get it and go meet the mom and pay her. A fairy costume for $3 here, a little wooden train set for $9 there. I can afford that and the Christmas present box fills up all year long. My kids don't care one whit that their presents don't come packed in little plastic bags and styrofoam inside of boxes. A used toy is exactly the same to them as a brand new one. It makes no difference.
I also buy presents for the kids. I try to get handmade and natural which is usually expensive unless you know how to look. You don't have to buy the expensive toys. There are all kinds of natural toys out there, new and used, that are affordable and lovely. To afford these toys, I make new toys from old, worn-out clothing and sell them on Etsy. The money that I make from that is saved up all year long and used to buy my children nice things at Christmas time. It's like my Christmas fund. This year is extra special because a local mom asked me to babysit her daughter during the weekdays, so I have a lot of extra Christmas income this time around.
The toys that I don't buy or get used, I make. It isn't hard to learn to sew. Old clothes become new doll clothes or beautiful rag dolls. They can get turned into little stuffed animals, drawstring pouches to hold treasures and play cloths like playsilks.
I like Christmas to be extra magical, so we don't put presents under the tree until Christmas eve when the children go to sleep. All month long, the tree sits empty as the stockings. On Christmas morning, they wake up and there's a wonderland of presents that seem to have appeared by magic. This is "Santa" at our house. The kids know Santa isn't real, but we call it "Santa" when they wake up and there is magically a room full of gifts out of nowhere. It's way more exciting than having the presents wrapped under the tree for weeks beforehand and seeing them all of the time. It's also a lot of fun the way we do Santa. "Santa" is when gifts appear under the tree as if by magic. So the kids get to be Santa, too. On Christmas morning, before the parents wake up, they have time to sneak their gifts to others under the tree without anyone seeing. Then they get the joy of explaining "I don't know where it came from! It must have been Santa!"
At our home, the kids can open their stockings as soon as they wake up, but they have to wait quietly for the adults to wake up before they can open any presents under the tree. There are plenty of inexpensive stocking stuffers. For kids, some of my favorites are: homemade playdough in baby food jars, new toothbrush, toothpaste, Spry xylitol gel, crayons, used Matchbox cars, apples, oranges, nuts, little bags of natural candies such as yogurt-covered raisins, dried fruit or little boxes of raisins, candy cane, money (especially coins for non-little kids), bracelet kits with a little string and some beads from my bead box, homemade wooden peg people, seashells, pencils, watercolor paint sets, stickers, tape (they LOVE this for some reason), trading cards, card games, gum, board books and a new Christmas tree ornament. Most of these things can be easily handmade or can be used. Some, like the crayons, are new but inexpensive. I like to include as many things as I can that are necessities that I have to buy them anyway such as the toothbrush and toothpaste. For older kids, batteries are also good if their toys require them. Socks, underwear and house slippers are also a favorite that make nice fillers.
For family, I did great this year. I put lots of photos of the kids in a photo book on Snapfish.com and waited until they had one of their amazing sales. If you order photos from them during the year, you can sign up at certain times for their $10 photo books for life deals. With that deal, I can order a 25 page photo book (holds about 100 photos) for each set of grandparents (4 in our family) for only $10 each. The books come hardbound and they are very good quality. Grandparents love them! I also include a folder of each child's artwork for the grandparents.
The other way I'm able to afford family gifts is also through our Facebook mom group which is spread by word of mouth from friend to friend locally. In November each year, we set up our "Fair Trade Group." All of the moms that make things get together with the things they make and we trade them. To make it fair, we put "prices" on our items to show their value and we can trade among ourselves based on what we want and for how much. So, for example, if I make toys that someone wants and I like the soap that she makes by hand, she will trade me $30 in soap for the $30 rag doll I made that she wants. It's simple and seems to work out really well. Last year's haul was great. I got handmade soap, jars of jelly and preserves, some homemade bottles of apple cider, handmade artisan bread, candied ginger and some tie-dyed kids' socks and baby clothes. I was able to get gifts essentially for free for everyone in our family and they loved that it was all handmade. We also have moms come that don't make anything but want to buy, so we each leave with a little bit of cash as well which is super nice!
Christmas decorations have been one of the easiest. We don't have tons. In our home, we have a set of stockings which we have had since before I can remember. We always reuse them every year. When I was a kid, we had one year with no Christmas decorations, ornaments or stockings. We used my father's long sports socks which were skinny and kind of ugly, but very funny and they were so long that they fit plenty of presents.
Our tree is fake so we never have to buy a new one. It may not smell pretty, but it doesn't shed on the floor and it doesn't cost us anything. I used to work at a department store and they were donating their old trees to Goodwill. I asked if I could have one of them and they were happy to let me take it home. It's very pretty and 8 feet tall, so the kids think it's pretty impressive.
Lights for the tree are the only thing we have ever had to buy. A couple of sets of $3 lights to cover the tree isn't a huge chunk of cash and they last for years. We even have one string of lights we found in our house when we moved into it. It's still going after all these years. Because it uses a lot of electricity to run Christmas lights, we wait until December 1st to put up the tree and the lights can only be on at night, never during the day except on Christmas day when they can be on all of the time.
All of the ornaments on the tree that were not sent by family are handmade by us. Every year I make at least one new ornament. I always put the date on the back, a habit my great-grandmother had that I very much appreciate today. We make ornaments out of trash and recycled items. One of the prettiest ornaments we make by using juice can lids. I save the metal tops and wash and dry them. Then I set them down over an old Christmas card and trace a circle around it. I cut out the picture from the card and press it into the center of the metal lid with some glue. I glue some ribbon to the back to hang it. They can be very pretty depending on the design of the card. My favorites are the metallic and glittery ones. You can also hot glue old plastic Mardi Gras bead necklaces around the edge to dress it up a bit. Lace edging from old clothes also looks nice. Pinterest has tons of incredible recycled ornament ideas that you can make from things you already have at home. And if you can sew, there's no end to the number of little patchwork ornaments you can make, stuffed with the stuffing from old pillows.
Christmas candy this year was handled by a Christmas parade we went to in town. They threw so much candy and candy canes for the kids that my purse was completely full. I won't have to buy any and crumbled candy canes on top of a pan of brownies makes a nice treat to bring when you are attending a Christmas party.
Image by gokoroko
Am I posting an article about a vinegar bottle? Yes. Yes, I am. That is the depth of my love for this thing. For years, I have had a heavy duty spray bottle of vinegar sitting on or under my kitchen counter. It is filled with about 2/3 white vinegar and 1/3 water and I use it for pretty much everything. It replaces most household cleaners in our home. (Though I do prefer Ecover tub and shower scrub and their toilet bowl cleaner for their assigned jobs).
Veggie wash - just spray it on fruits and vegetables, wipe and rinse clean. It's a great way to wash organic kale. I spray it on both sides of the leaf thoroughly and then rinse it off. For fruits and veggies with skin, I just soak them in a sinkful or tub full of vinegar water for a few minutes and then rinse clean, but for individual fruits and veggies, this is ideal. It's easy to spray a handful of lettuce or green onions and get them thoroughly clean.
Glass cleaner - I use it like Windex to clean windows and mirrors. It will leave a foggy residue that dries in about a minute to a crystal clear shine. Some people use newspaper to wipe glass, but I can't afford newspapers, so we clean with cotton rags.
Floor cleaner - I got the idea after watching an Amish woman in a documentary cleaning her floor. I have a mop with a terry cloth covering over the end. I quickly spray the area I need to mop with my spray bottle, let it sit for one minute, then dry mop it up with my terry cloth mop. Sparkling clean and I didn't have to break out a bucket of nasty water or make the floor slippery. It's quick and easy and my kids can come into the room immediately when I'm done. It's also much safer than using detergents.
Spot disinfection - Occasionally, my cat will bring in a dead mouse or a friend's toddler will pee on the floor during a playdate. I've even dropped raw meat. I just break out my vinegar spray bottle and spray the area before wiping it up. Vinegar is an excellent disinfectant and I have even heard rumors that it works better than bleach. (Though for full disinfectant properties, I would suggest using your vinegar full-strength without the water added.) I can also use it to spray our baby toys after a LLL meeting or playgroup just in case any of the children mouthing them were sick. We had an incidence once with hand, foot and mouth disease and the vinegar was a lifesaver. I just pulled out my bottle and sprayed everything down once we found out. Luckily, no one got sick.
All-purpose cleaner - I use vinegar to clean pretty much everything in my home including floors, counters, glass, toilets, sinks, walls computers and monitors, grime on desks and screens. For things that need scrubbing such as bathtubs and toilets, make a scrubbing paste by sprinkling baking soda on the area and then spraying with the vinegar spray.
Mold killer - Vinegar kills mold and here in Hawaii, we have a lot of it. It shows up on wooden toys, behind furniture, on leather and on bamboo. I break out my vinegar bottle, spray and wipe and it does a great job of removing the mold and killing what's left behind.
Mosquito repellent - sure, it stinks, but it does work, about as well as any natural brand of mosquito repellent. Spray it on your skin and wipe and you can head out to the garden with fewer nasties bothering you. The smell does dissipate once it dries.
So if you are the DIY type and are interested in making this adorable cloth busy book for the toddler in your life, head over to my Etsy shop where you can purchase the pattern with full instructions available for immediate download.
Wooden bowls - These are great for stacking, sorting and pretend play. They can be caves, hills, play dishes, containers, or anything else your kids can dream up. Even Wal-Mart carries lovely, heavy wooden bowls in their kitchen section for around $2 apiece.
River Stones - Where I live, there are no natural, smooth stones to be found anywhere that is legal to take them, so I purchase them from craft stores. $1-2 will buy you a big net bag of large, smoothly polished natural stones that are excellent for sorting, arranging, building and using to create little nature play scenes for toy animals and fairies.
Shells - Seashells, like stones, are easy to find by the bag in craft stores. My kids spend literally hours sorting them into wooden bowls, organizing them and admiring them for their lovely color and feel. They are great for ocean play scenes and you can use them in crafts or to make natural jewelry.
Wooden Peg People - Simple, blank, wooden peg people from the craft section can be purchased by the bag for only a dollar or two and can be painted with soft acrylic washes in rainbow colors, played with natural or you can paint them as creatively as you like. With some simple sewing skills, little costumes can be made for them using felt.
Furniture - Chairs, tables, stools and bunk beds make excellent play structures. Some simple wooden clothespins are all you need for hanging sheets or play cloths for creating structures. You don't need to buy a $300 wooden play structure. Two dining room chairs will serve just as well. A large sheet thrown over a dining table makes a fabulous house to play in. Some thin cotton rope such as laundry line can also be used to create play structures but should be supervised.
Items From Outdoors - We bring the outdoors in often. My children love to play in the yard and when they are finished, they come in with handfuls of little flowers, leaves, sticks and seed pods. These natural toys inspire creativity and a love of nature. When they wilt, I just toss them outside at the end of the day and the children can bring in more. They are great for crafts as well.
Painting Boards - These are wooden boards used under paper for children to paint on. A nice, sturdy bamboo or wooden cutting board works nicely and is much less expensive.
Needle Felted Toys - I learned in about ten minutes how to needle felt. All you need is some wool roving in the colors you prefer, some felting needles, an old cushion to felt on or a large piece of soft foam and your imagination. Felting is very, very easy and takes just a little practice. For a little more than the price of the roving, you can make beautiful toys for your children. You'll also learn a valuable skill which can earn you some cash.
Playsilks - While it is nice to have playsilks made from silk, silk isn't absolutely necessary. I also purchase non-natural fabric scarves from thrift stores and save old sheets which can be made into play structures. If you only want to use silk, you can purchase less expensive blank silk scarves in all sizes from dharmatrading.com. These are easily dyed with Kool-Aid packets or I like to use food coloring and vinegar in a pot of very hot water on the stove.
The wrap itself is made from 5 yards of osnaburg fabric which is very inexpensive and not too heavy and makes for a great carrier that doesn't stretch. It is sturdy and comfortable. It can be dyed and washed in a washing machine. The fabric itself is too wide, so I cut one side down shorter and folded the edge over and sewed a simple straight-line hem with a sewing machine down the top rail. I left the ends unhemmed and let them fray to see how it would look. It frayed perfectly only about 1/2 inch in and I don't end up with any strings hanging off.
I purchased a vintage cotton doily on Etsy for about $2. Using inexpensive craft paints and a paintbrush, I created a wash for each color by mixing the acrylic craft paint with water. The result is a soft, Waldorf-y dyed look which is permanent. I simply dampened the doily and wrung it out to get it to lay flat, then centered it on a piece of cardboard to soak up the extra color and keep it from running. Then, using the paintbrush, I painted the doily with the colors I wanted to use. With needle and thread, I carefully hand-sewed the doily onto the center of the wrap.
If you plan to sew a doily onto your carrier, wash them both first! Your fabric may shrink a little with washing and you don't want this to occur after you have put the design on.
I'm very proud of the carrier and love the design so much. It's was time consuming, but very easy to make and very affordable.
If you don't have the time to sew on your own doily, you can dye or hand-paint your carrier to give it some color. Check out the link below to get you started:
Head on over to Life on the Balcony to learn how to create one of these awesome gardens on your own apartment balcony or small-space patio.
Mama hen and her three babies: two little hens and a cockerel there on the far back right who, since I still
Here's one of those articles I write on how I managed some poor skill which will likely not be useful to everyone. Or maybe even anyone. Still, it might help someone to see how I manage certain things on a daily basis.
I recently became the owner of a small flock of free chickens! Yes, free, as in I didn't pay a thing for them. No money, no coop, no feed, nada.
I live in Hawaii where it is normal to see wild chickens free-ranging around the neighborhoods. Even in the city, chickens can be seen roaming the streets now and then. I decided I wanted hens, but without all of the fuss and work and money involved. I just wanted free eggs and I was pretty sure that my pioneer ancestors didn't have to buy things like chicken feed and expensive coop supplies.
My first problem was the chickens themselves. How to get them? There they are, just waltzing up and down the street. These wild birds manage to do just fine on their own with no one to feed them. They free range and lay eggs and have their babies just like any wild bird does. Since they can take care of themselves, I worked on trying to figure out how to enjoy those eggs myself while letting the birds continue doing all of the work.
I quickly learned that the hens liked to come into our yard looking for a place to nest. Their search for a quiet, dark place led them to our shed where they would set and lay an egg a day if the spot was right. Not only that, a chicken will lay an egg where she sees another egg has been laid, so I was able to devise a scheme to get free eggs for a while. I set up a nice little nest area in the shed and put a golf ball in it. Sure as eggs is eggs, those ladies would come inside and see that golf ball and start laying their daily egg there. During certain times, I could go out in the morning and collect my nice, warm, fresh-from-the-chicken-butt egg to make my breakfast.
I then learned that the chickens wouldn't stay and lay in my nest box forever. They would move on when they decided that the bugs at the other end of the neighborhood looked juicier. So I set out to get them to stay. I began feeding them.
I couldn't afford to buy chicken feed to give out as a bulk diet, so I just saved kitchen scraps. I keep them in a container in the kitchen or in the fridge and toss them out to the birds twice a day while calling them. The chickens quickly learned they would be fed two or three times a day depending on how many scraps I had and it doesn't take more than a small handful to keep them hanging around the house full-time.
So there you have it. I have my own flock of free chickens. They care for themselves, roost in the tree outside and because it's Hawaii, I don't even have to worry about what I'll do with them in winter. Our dogs and two cats do a great job of keeping mongooses - the only predators - away, and even if I lose a bird here or there, it's no skin off my back as they don't cost me a dime and do their own thing. I pay nothing for them and in exchange for a handful of scraps and breadcrumbs, they hang around the house and give me fresh eggs whenever I want them.