Monthly Archives: November 2009

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Root Viewer Garden

I recently saw this wonderful toy and immediately got very excited about it. The Root Viewer Garden, from Toysmith, allows you to see what’s happening underground when you grow root vegetables like carrots, onions, radishes, and beets. And, best, it contains everything you need to grow your own root veggies and watch the show: a wooden tube holder; three 5 1/2” plastic tubes; growing medium; carrots, onion and radish seeds; instructions; and a journal for recording their progress from sprouting to harvest.

I’ve forced flower bulbs before, by growing bulbs in a water-filled bulb-forcing vase, but I think growing root vegetables in the Root Viewer’s tubes is far more visual, and therefore rewarding, for kids. With root vegetables, all the action is normally underground! Plus, there’s something about growing a food and learning about that process that is educational and stays with one for life.

I happened to see the Root Viewer Garden at a store called Farmer’s Friend in Columbia State Park, in California’s Gold Rush Country, which I highly recommend as a fun, colorful place where a lively chapter of California’s history comes to life.

If you’re not planning a visit to Columbia, the Root Viewer Garden can be found online at Kiddly Winks, Toy Blaster, and Amazon.

I plan to feature 12 green holiday gifts, be they toys, objects, activities, or contributions to others. If you have any ideas, send them my way!

Let Nature Decorate your Holiday Table

Nature often makes the best decoration. Especially in Fall, leaves, fruits and nuts are readily available in public spaces, in addition to being eye-catching, pretty, and free or nearly so.

Of course, the hunt is a highlight of the pre-planning. It provides a fun family tradition, and a way to enjoy nature together in the beautiful Fall, before bringing some of it inside for lovely — and free — table decor. My favorite tabletop finds include buckeyes, chestnuts, multi-colored leaves, ivy, pine boughs, pine cones, branches with berries and, from the store, mini pumpkins, persimmons, apples, mandarin oranges, and pears.

Above are fall tables from two different years. Both feature collected items from nature and inexpensive store-bought fall flowers that my family and I arranged in a shallow bowl, using a “frog” to hold the stems in place. All of our glassware and china has been handed down, including the festive red glasses. I layered inexpensive tablecloths and fabric runners.

One Thanksgiving morning, our cousins gathered branches and boughs for their table and made cute homemade placecards for each guest.

Another guest provided this very festive and yummy cake. I made the Cranberry Crunch squares from Susan Simon’s The Nantucket Holiday Table. They’re very good, and a great use for cranberries.

If you’re fortunate to be able to collect buckeyes, chestnuts or acorns in your area, they can make an inexpensive, natural, interesting filler for a large vase of flowers.

Friend Mary Mauro cleverly filled a very tall vase with mini pumpkins for a gathering. (She is also a gifted flower arranger.)

I hope you have an inspired, happy Thanksgiving.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Time Magazine Cover Story: Can These Parents be Saved?

Just out today, it’s already making the rounds as Time magazine’s most e-mailed story, its new cover piece: Can These Parents be Saved?

” … We just wanted what was best for our kids”, Nancy Gibbs’ piece begins, before detailing the ways in which extreme, fear-based safety practices, and efficiency models best left at the corporation door began infecting childhood. She writes:

We were so obsessed with our kids’ success that parenting turned into a form of product development.

The backlash against overparenting has come, she says, in part driven by changes in the economy:

…  a third of parents have cut their kids’ extracurricular activities. They downsized, downshifted and simplified because they had to — and often found, much to their surprise, that they liked it.

The article is a fascinating snapshot of the conundrums many parents face. We want to protect our children and give them opportunities, yet for some this has come with the dawning realization that many children are overcoddled, over-directed, and robbed of down time, free play, exploration, and the confidence and mastery that can come with making ones own discoveries and mistakes. In short, it’s the realization that, for all the attention, we are not doing our kids any favors.

Gibbs quotes Slow Movement pioneers Carl Honore and the Slow Family Living workshop folks, whom I have blogged about at length, as well as Lenore Skenazy, whose book, Free-Range Kids, is a tome of common-sense parenting in an often hysterical age.

Last weekend, I attended a lecture by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, author of A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens, which I highly recommend, as it walks parents through the set of tools children need to grow and prosper. Ginsburg cautioned against the perfectionistic streak in many parents who unwittingly add stress to their children’s lives by trying to professionalize their activities, and by being involved in harmful, rather than fruitful, guiding ways — including attempting to eliminate stress, rather than teach children ways to cope with inevitable stress.

I was struck, too, when Ginsburg said that creativity was a component many young adults now lacked. This was exhibiting itself in an inflexibility in the workplace and in relationships, no matter the field. How to foster creativity in the young? Play with them, encourage them to play on their own or direct the play (if you’re involved). In short, have fun and get out of the way.

For more Slow Family Online pieces about children, slow (joyful) parenting and play, see:

Gopnick: Babies Learn by Playing

Why Can’t She Walk to School?

An End to Overparenting?

Huffington Post Book Club Pick: In Praise of Slowness

About Slow Family Online

Photos: Miika Silfverberg, Susan Sachs Lipman

The Leonid Meteor Shower is Coming

Sky fans: An exciting meteor shower is headed our way. Anyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere may be in for a good old-fashioned sky show, just by looking up.

The Leonids are debris from a wandering comet that appear as shooting stars each November. They often provide one of the best shows of the year, if the skies are clear and the moon is not full.

This year promises a stellar show, if clear skies hold, because the moon is almost new.

Peak Leonid viewing should occur early Tuesday, November 17, around 1 a.m. PST. There are expected to be fine shows for hours, and even days before and after that.

Just before dawn is generally a good time to catch some shooting stars, especially because Leonids generate from the constellation Leo, which is visible in the east before dawn.

You won’t need any special equipment to see the Leonids. The naked eye is actually best. If possible, get to a high spot, away from city lights. A backyard or front porch can work just as well. Just be sure to give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark. So bundle up, get a comfortable chair, and hope for a good show!

For more info: Visit this NASA web site.

Photo: AP File Photo/ Leonids over Joshua Tree National Park.

Make a Fall Leaf Placemat

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This is a fun, easy, rewarding project for those who still have leaves falling, or on the ground. Or perhaps you’ve collected some and you’re not sure what to do with them. Making a placemat will allow you to enjoy them for years to come. Even small children can be involved in this project by gathering leaves and helping with the design. You’ll need:

Iron-on flexible vinyl, available in fabric stores by the roll. It is made by Heat’n Bond or Therm O Web.

Medium-weight white cotton fabric, about 3/4 yard per placemat.

Your favorite Fall leaves.

A phone directory or other heavy book.

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1. Gather some wonderful, colorful leaves that have fallen.

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2. Place them in a phone directory, or other thick book to flatten them. Put them toward the back of the book, so there will be enough pages over them to press them. Make sure you leave space between the leaves, and space between leaves and the book’s fold. Leaves will be flat in a couple of days.

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3. Cut fabric rectangles, 2 inches larger all around than you want your final placemat to be. I cut my fabric into 20″x 13″ pieces, to make 18″ x 11″ placemats. For the exact shape, I traced the outline of an existing placemat, which had rounded edges. Turn the fabric pieces over and make occasional guide marks 2″ around from the outside edges, lightly with a pencil.

4. Turn the fabric right-side-up again and play with the placement of the leaves. When you are happy with the way they look, you will be ready to iron the vinyl down. Don’t forget to leave more than a 2″ space all around your design.

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5. Heat your iron. Peel the backing off the vinyl and place it sticky-side-down onto the leaves. Smooth the vinyl with your hands, then iron it onto the fabric, following package directions.

6. When the fabric is cool, turn over and cut according to your guidelines. For further sturdiness, you can iron vinyl onto the back of the placemat as well. Admire and use your placemats for years to come.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Stir up (or Cook Down) some Colonial Apple Butter

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In a world of wonderful jams and butters, apple butter might just be the ultimate slow food. Comprised of just a few natural ingredients, and no white sugar, the best apple butter cooks most of the day over a low flame, so that the resulting mixture is wonderfully dense and has a rich, caramel-y taste. I’d been wanting to get in touch with my inner Colonial cook and make some, when a neighbor happened to bring over a bounty of Fuji apples from her backyard tree.

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Apples were indeed plentiful in Colonial America. Alice Morse Earle’s book, Home Life in Colonial America, lists such dishes as apple-slump (baked apples under a cake topping), apple-crowdy (a turnover-like dessert), and something called apple-mose, along with various types of pies. The book quotes a Swedish parson writing home about the Delaware settlement in 1758:

Apple-pie is used throughout the whole year, and when fresh apples are no longer to be had, dried ones are used. It is the evening meal of children. House-pie .. is made of apples neither peeled nor freed from their cores, and its crust is not broken if a wagon wheel goes over it.

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I washed the Fuji apples, appreciating their pretty shapes and colors. In Colonial country homes, it was not uncommon to hold an apple-paring, in which friends and neighbors came to help peel the crop of apples for winter’s dried apples, applesauce and apple butter. The ingredients for apple butter were put into large brass kettles, which were then hung in big, open fireplaces. The finished apple butter would be stored in barrels in the house’s basement. Quince and pear butters were made as well.

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My apple butter is extremely easy to make, requiring only the ingredients you see above:

8 cups apples (a cup is approx. 2 small apples)

2 1/2 cups apple cider

1 Tbsp. honey

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. cloves

This recipe yields 2 jars of apple butter and can easily be doubled or tripled. I arrived at it through a combination of various vintage, Amish, and canning books, along with some trial and error.

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1. Wash, peel and chop the apples into small pieces.

2. Place the apples into a large pot and cover with the cider.

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3. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.

4. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

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5. Simmer on low heat, uncovered for 6 or more hours, or until the mixture cooks down to a paste. You may opt for occasional periods of slightly higher heat, if you find that your mixture remains too watery or if you want to caramelize some of the apples at the bottom of the pot.

This is the “inner Colonial” part — the long, slow cooking process and the fantastic way your house will smell and feel as you do it.

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6. Using a wide-mouth funnel, ladle the mixture into jars that have been prepared for canning. (I boil them for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.)

7. Seal the jars and boil them again, for 10 minutes. Let them sit for a day. (If you follow strict canning guidelines, you can store your apple butter for the future. If you do not, then you’ll want to eat the apple butter within a couple of weeks and store it in the refrigerator.) Please refer to the USDA canning guidelines, downloadable Guide 1,  for more information on proper home canning.

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Preserves and butters of all kinds make wonderful gifts and spreads, especially one like this, in which there is barely anything to get in the way of the wonderful, fresh, age-old  Fall apple taste. Try apple butter on toast or crackers, with cheese, poultry, or even other fruit.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Consumed by Soap!

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Hi everyone! We got so busy making soap for a big trunk show tomorrow that I’ve been a bit absent from the blog. There are so many craft and recipe ideas, Slow Food trends, and other fun things I am eager to tell you about when I have a moment. The trunk show is in Mill Valley, CA, for those able to swing by. (I can e-mail the address.) We’ve been having a lot of fun with new and favorite designs and scents. See our Bubblehead Soaps web site for pictures, prices and descriptions.

Above: Four Seasons, packaged together or separately, in fresh, seasonal scents and colors.

Below: Freshly poured: Kitty cats in calico, black or brown.

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Another one so new it’s not on our web site yet, Man’s Best Friend:

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We’ve also been making lots of holiday favorites, like Gingerbread folks, which look and smell like the real thing:

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.. and snowflakes, in lots of wintery scents and designs:snowflakesoap1

Hope to be in touch after the trunk show!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman