Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Using Plants to Heal

At our place we use plants to heal. Nature is our pharmacy!

The Aloe Vera Plant is well known for soothing burns, even sunburns. But it does SO much more than that! Use it for scrapes, scratches, cuts, and eczema. It works great on diaper rashes, too! And it's not just for using topically- Aloe can be taken internally! In fact, it is so powerful, and being the only known natural vegetarian source of Vitamin B12it is being studied for it's effectiveness as an immune booster and in combating cancers, HIV and diabetes. Google the health benefits of Aloe for yourself. It's an easy plant to grow and only needs to be watered once every three or four weeks, so even if you have a black thumb like me, you'll have a hard time killing it. Because my dogs like to eat my aloe plants, I can't grow enough for taking internally, so I buy the aloe juice from my health food store, and add it to my green smoothies every morning. Fabulous!

Most people grow Basil to use in their kitchen for cooking. But rubbing the crushed leaves on your temples will relieve a headache, and making a hot foot bath with basil (like a big tea!) helps achy feet. But wait! There's more- coughs, colds, fever, and more are remedied with basil. Visit this link or search for yourself to see the many, MANY health benefits of Basil! 

Lemon Balm is one of my favorite plants. I LOVE growing these aromatic herbs. It's part of the mint family, another favorite of mine. Lemon Balm acts as a natural insect repellent when rubbed on the skin, and will treat wounds and insect bites very nicely. Drink it as a tea, it treats sleep disorders like insomnia, anxiety and indigestion. And, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, by reducing agitation and improving cognitive function- aka memory, it is a helpful treatment for Alzheimer's symptoms. 

Peppermint is a must have for any homegrown first-aid and medicinal kit. Those who visit my home often know that I like to use peppermint oil for cleaning. I add it to my wash water to mop my floors, and use it in my homemade all purpose spray cleaner for everything else! When my home is not smelling of fresh cinnamon and cardamon, it usually smells pepperminty. But that's just the wonderful smell! It has fabulous healing properties, too.  

It's a wonderful remedy for an upset tummy, and is safe for infants. I remember making peppermint milk for Alex when he was little to sooth his tummy. Use it to help calm a child, or yourself, when you are feeling anxious or nervous. It's also good for clearing congestion. When feeling nauseous- either due to morning sickness, dizziness, overindulgence or other tummy ailment- take out some peppermint oil and inhale deeply until the nausea passes. Never ingest the oil, though. Peppermint tea is good for mental focus, too. People who are driving can use the tea to help them stay alert and awake on long or sleepy trips, and since it boosts mental performance, too, students can drink it while taking tests or sitting in class. Love garlic or/and onions (I do!)? Chew on a fresh mint leaf or gargle with a strong mint tea to alleviate bad breath! Tip- carry a few fresh leaves in your purse on a date to chew on after your meal for kissable breath! :-) 

Parsley is a very under-appreciated herb in my opinion. Dried parsley from the spice section at your local grocery store is just a garnish, and doesn't contain any real medicinal properties. Grow your own or buy it dried from a quality trusted source, like Mountain Rose Herbs. Parsley is an immune system booster, an antioxidant, a cancer fighter, and an anti-inflammatory (think osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis)! With high levels of Vit C, A and K (think bones!), it's a powerful boost in a very small package. Sprinkle fresh chopped leaves on EVERYTHING and you'll soon be getting the wonderful benefits of this herb. 

Ch-ch-ch CHIA! Chia seeds are the new big thing. Chia seeds have been found to have more Omega 3 Fatty Acids than salmon! Are you not blown away by that? I am. I have been a dedicated Flax Seed user for years for it's Omega 3 properties since I don't eat seafood. It goes in my green smoothies, I sprinkle it in the oatmeal I make for the kiddos every morning, and I add it to any dish I can find. But it seems Chia Seeds have Flax beat! I recently switched to Chia and I am loving it! Chia seeds are easier for the body to absorb than Flax, which I always thought was already pretty darn easy. Chia seeds help with weight loss by blocking some of the calories you eat, and absorb 10X their weight in water so they make you feel full faster by forming a bulky gel in your stomach. Great for athletes or on a hot day because the 'gel' helps hydrate you from the inside out! Chia seeds also help reduce blood pressure and control blood sugar- a happy benefit for diabetics and people with heart concerns. You'll need about 9 teaspoons, or 1.5 ounces, of Chia seeds every day to get all the benefits. Chew them raw as a snack, add them to cereal and oatmeal, sprinkle in your salad and other food, cook with them (mmm, muffins?!) and add them to your smoothies. They don't need to be ground up like flax, either! Love them!

Cinnamon is one of my favorite spices. I buy mine whole from Mountain Rose Herbs, where they are Fair Trade and Certified Organic, so I know they weren't grown or harvested unethically and they weren't doused with chemicals or genetically modified. I grind them fresh in my grinder every few days, and add it to my morning apple-cider vinegar & honey drink every morning. Cinnamon lowers bad cholesterol and fights Type 2 Diabetes by lowering blood sugar, which also will aid in weight loss. 

It also helps fight yeast overgrowth (candida) with it's anti fungal properties. Many studies have shown a connection to yeast overgrowth in the gut to behavioral and learning problems in children, including links to autism, as well as a host of other health problems in children and adults alike- like chronic fatigue, food allergies and digestive problems, to name a few. Candida can explode in your system after a round of antibiotic drugs, or be the result of a diet too rich in sugars, and refined and processed foods, among other reasons. In fact, it is said that candida can not live in a cinnamon environment! 

When added to food, it inhibits bacterial growth and spoilage, acting as a natural food preservative. It's a powerful cancer fighter, especially for leukemia and lymphoma cells. Cinnamon also has an anti-clotting effect on the blood, which is great if you have a heart condition. It relieves arthritis symptoms when combined with honey! And just SMELLING cinnamon helps improve cognitive function and memory! If you suffer from headaches and migraines, eliminate them with all natural cinnamon!

Cardamom seeds are one of my favorite smelling seeds ever! Above is pictured the whole pods, and below just the seeds. I add the freshly ground seeds to my smoothies every morning, and boil it in water to make my whole house smell wonderful! Cardamon can be used in cooking as well as medicinally. It is has been proven to be antimicrobial, inhibiting growth and spread of a variety of microorganisms, including E-Coli, Staph, Candidas, and a host of others. Cardamon is also a proven blood clot inhibitor, and may one day be used to help treat heart attacks, strokes and peripheral artery disease. Traditional Indian medicine has been using cardamom to treat digestive ailments forever. As food, we sprinkle it onto our oatmeal, and my good friend Sharon makes a cardamom desert using the whole pod (she discards the shell after getting all it's flavor!). 

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is the result of fermenting apple cider, and is an age-old remedy for just about everything. My dad drinks it everyday to stay young and strong. Which he is :-). I drink it everyday with honey and cinnamon as a sort-of vitamin. It's actually quite delicious, even Alex asks for it. I also use it for cleaning- it is a strong disinfectant! I love that it is totally natural and safe for children, pets and the environment. I buy the Bragg's brand of ACV, which has the 'mother'. It is unfiltered, unpasteurized, unheated and has all the medicinal properties intended- unlike store-bought apple cider vinegar that you might use in the kitchen for cooking, which has practically no health benefits. The Bragg's brand is also Certified Organic, and you can find their products here, or in your local store. I get mine from the local Fred Meyer. The uses seem to be endless- hair rinse, blemishes, soother for tired hands and feet, sunburn treatment, teeth whitener, aftershave, weight loss, detox, house cleaner, fleas, strep throat, hiccups, acid reflux, asthma, high blood pressure and the list goes on and one and on! No household should ever be without apple cider vinegar!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Playing in the Rain

Being a dessert climate, it stays pretty dry through the year here and doesn't rain a whole lot. Last week we had a fantastic thunder and rain storm. I understand for most sane people this usually means staying inside and curling up with a book. But a Summer rain storm just calls to me! So just when the daycare kids (and Alex) started getting mopey faces, thinking they wouldn't get to play outside once the heavy rain started, I had everyone take off their socks and head for the door!!

The air was cooler, maybe in the 80's, instead of the 90's, for a change, and it was quite comfy outside. The rain was so heavy our road was like a little river in places. Nothing to cause danger to the wee ones, but enough to really get wet in.

I have to say- I needed to do a little coaxing for a couple of the kids because apparently playing in the rain was NOT something they felt was officially grown-up approved. The mixed looks of uncertainty and confusion, excitement, glee, 'my dream come true!', disbelief and those knowing 'Ms. Wendy's gone crazy!' looks on our way out the door were priceless. 

Splashing, running, stomping, and laughing. This is what being a kid (and a big kid) is all about! I'm sure my neighbors didn't know what to think of us. In my world, everyone should have been racing out of their homes to play in the puddles and the rain! This was fun!!  

Coming inside to dry off with big towels, the kids, even the ones who had been hesitant at first, had a blast that I hope they'll get to repeat again soon. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Alex is a Hand Model

I needed to show the scale of a few pieces that were going to be listed in my Etsy shop, and Alex had just the hands for the job!

Alex holding the rainbow nesting boxes. Aren't they cute? Have I mentioned before how much I LOVE rainbow colors??

These are the mini-rainbow dolls I made with Alex's input for color bases. I am thinking these will make sweet little charms for my car mirror or maybe a little mobile or part of a wind chime for the front door.

He did good, didn't he? How sweet are his little hands? To me they still look little at least.

Yoga Morning

At our place we like to listen to relaxing music and do yoga after we've had a particularly active event, like a dance party, which is what we had this morning!

Yoga lets the kids wind down and re-center their energy so they are ready to transition to the next activity more easily. 

Yoga is fun and beneficial and I wanted to share some of the poses we played with today!

This is a favorite book at our house, and the daycare kids love to request it. It is a story about yoga with pictured instructions and explanations for poses that kids can understand.

Here the kids are in mid-Tree Pose! Their arms are outstretched to invite the sun and rain on their branches! Their feet are roots reaching down, down, down into the ground. The Tree Pose helps children understand the importance of supporting themselves with strong roots, so they can reach high and remain stable, yet remain flexible all at the same time.

This is the beginning of our Dog Pose. With heads down on the ground, children learn how to be humble, like a dog, and accept their bodies as they are! This pose also helps them learn how to appreciate being supple when they stretch, encouraging practice to make progress.

The Triangle pose is a fun one, and I like it because it assists in learning their right from their left, as we have to point one foot with each turn. This pose teaches children to be strong, to build a foundation of support and to relax under pressure, like the triangle, which is one of the most stable geometric shapes. Just like a triangle has three sides, we have three aspects- mind, body and spirit! 

And if you've never done yoga at home with your kids, or if you are looking for resources for kid-friendly instructions, try the DVD series Yoga Kids. It's fantastic for all ages, even beginning adults! Follow this link to see the videos available-

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fresh Picked Garden Tomatoes

The wonderful Henriikka, who I say is wonderful because she is like superwoman. She has a potty training toddler, a newborn, a job, a husband, two giant bear dogs, goes camping (with newborn!) and finds time to garden!

Henriikka is one of my lovely daycare moms, and she generously shared some of her beautiful garden tomatoes with us this morning! Don't they look just fabulous!!? 

Thank you, Henriikka!

Levi helped me choose just the right color bowl for the tomatoes ('Levi, should we use a blue bowl?' 'Nooo'. 'Should we use the red bowl?' 'NoOoo'. 'Should we use the GREEN bowl?' YEEEES!!'), and went to work unloading the bag of goodies he and his mom brought.

We go through tomatoes like candy at my house. I put them in JUST about every single thing I make. Except maybe oatmeal. Or ice cream. That would be wrong.

Being from the South, I should have been raised with fried green tomatoes. But sadly I was not. The deprivation of experiencing fried tomatoes was an oversight I corrected as an adult this past year when I discovered them for the first time. YUM! does not describe how wonderful these snacks are (are they meant to be a side dish...?). If you've never tried them you should, just to say you have. But if you like fried things (and I do) you might develop a taste for them. We don't do too much frying in my house anymore, but on special occasions I fry my little heart out. Either way, these juicy fruits will be greatly enjoyed!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Process Based Art with Spray Painting

Today the daycare kids and Alex did a fun spray paint project!

I'm a big fan of process-based art, which allows the project to be open-ended with no expectation on the final result. There are lots of times project-based art is fun and creative and even beneficial for skill building, but process-based is really about creativity and expression, not meant to meet anyone's approval or idea of 'pretty', and that's why I love it so much.

So today we set out to have some fun with paint.

I always buy things I think I'll have a good idea for later, and maybe half the time actually use it. But this is one I did get to use! I picked up these spray bottles for less than a dollar each on sale and thought they'd be great for a spray painting activity.

I made blue, lime green, yellow and red.

This isn't my idea, many smarties have done this and if you've been in the early childhood education field for even a second you'll know about this fun art activity.

The paint I used was water-based poster paint. I have several giant bottles I had picked up for about a $1 for all of them at a yard sale. I hadn't used them yet (they were mostly new so pretty full) and I knew they'd be great for this! I mixed each color with about one cup of water and whisked it to get the lumps out, then poured it into the spray bottle and capped it.

I taped up art paper (thicker for painting) to our vinyl fence- counting on the idea they would wash off easily enough. (I usually do things this way- assuming it will all work out in the end! haha) Then each of the kids chose a color to start with.

And they're off!

Then they swapped colors.

Color #2 going on. I set the nozzles where I thought they'd get a wider spray, like a mist, but it was too far out and they ended up being more of a stream. The kids wouldn't let me change them though because they liked the streaming paint! I think it was kind of like shooting water guns for them, which we ban at my house, so this was fun for them.

Color # 3 after another swap.

Little Levi, just under 3 years old, can do this activity with no problems (though I may have set his paper a teensy bit high).

And this is one of the reasons why for the most part, grown-ups should stay out the way when kids create. After the 3rd and 4th colors, I thought their papers looks about done! Their pictures were lovely and I was getting a little worried that more paint would cover up their other colors and it would all end in a muddy brown mess, which we've all seen happen. But I stepped back to keep myself from jumping in and let them go.

They wanted to cover all the white, so they weren't ready to finish until that had happened. Then they discovered they could flourish the bottle with a 'swish and flick' kind of motion, while they were spraying, to make arches and interesting lines. Aren't kids awesome!!?

Right now is about when I'm starting to give more serious thought to how I might clean my fence...

Now they are done. We just need to let the Sun do his job.

You can see the red lines showing through. I just love these! 

Later, after lunch, I went to take them down and bring them in. I noticed the dried flakes on the art. I think these were paint particles that didn't dissolve all the way when I mixed them up. Total accident but I think it adds a nice texture and interest to their art!


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Making Soap

Today we made soap with the daycare kids! One of my daycare moms had given us some leftover party favors several months ago, and I still had the bouncy balls left. I thought they'd be perfect for using in soap!

Here's how they turned out-

Aren't they super cute??!

Here's what we did...

I used 2 lbs of clear olive oil melt and pour soap (which I got NEW for $2 at a yard sale months ago!!), peppermint essential oil, and the bouncy balls, which were free (thank you Henriikka!). The only soap mold I had that the balls would fully fit in was the  large half round loaf mold I got in a big batch of molds for $1 at a thrift store last Winter, so all in all this project cost about $2.50. We had a small crew today, only 4 kids old enough to do this project, so I dividied the soap into 4 equal parts, which resulted in larger than usual bars, but that was fun, too! Soooo, since most everything I used was free or super cheap, or I already had it on hand, each soap bar ended up costing about 60 cents!!

To keep the round mold level and prevent rolling, I filled a cardboard box with rice and set the mold inside.

I poured the melted soap first, then set in the balls in a way that would let me slice them evenly. I used my finger to gently tap them until they were just barely submerged.

This is what it looked like in the mold after it had mostly set (turned over).

The melt and pour container said it should take 20-40 minutes for the soap to cool, but because this was a deeper mold it was still very warm on the bottom. I placed it over the air conditioning vent to cool it down the rest of the way. It took about an hour and a half total.

When it was all the way cool, I flipped it over and gently pushed. The soap came out easily. This is the loaf out of the mold. It's a little cloudy looking but not very much, and you can still see the details of the bouncy balls, which the kids loved. 

I didn't spray it with alcohol to get rid of bubbles, which is usually a step a professional soap maker would use. I imagine it would have been clearer if I'd done that part, but I had no alcohol on hand today so we skipped that step and it turned out great just the same! 

Here are the bars after they were sliced. I can't believe how great they turned out!

 I thought the balls might sink all the way to the bottom, but they were pretty light, and this particular mix and pour is a special suspension formula, so it probably helped keep these slightly afloat.

Bonus- when the kids use the soap enough to expose the balls, it will act as a natural scrubby when they wash their hands or take a bath. I can't wait to do more of these!

Perseids Meteor Shower

Just two short days away, we'll have a beautiful meteor shower to watch!

This is a meteor captured just yesterday!
Already you can see them, but the night of August 11th will be the best night.

Here are some of our favorite science links if you are
interested in learning more about the meteors: 

Happy Viewing!