Educational Market Trips

by Erika-Marie Geiss

April 18th, 2008

Every trip the the market can be fun and educational for the little ones. Even tiny babies (assuming they are awake) can benefit from the learning possibilities while you get your grocery shopping done. Here are some tips for making your next trip to the market (or any store for that matter) fun and educational.

Babies

  • Show them their world
  • Introduce them to different shapes and colors: Red apples, round oranges, square boxes for example.
  • Keep wipes/hand sanitizer on you or within easy reach, and if your baby is old enough, let him touch different things and feel the different textures: smooth cucumbers, bumpy squash. (Make sure baby keeps things out of her mouth.)
  • Toddlers

  • Have them him and count.
  • Let her count the pears as you put them in the bag for example.
  • Continue talking with him about colors, shapes and sizes. Ask: which is bigger: a grape or a grapefruit?
  • Have her find letters on signs, boxes and wrappings.
  • Play the “I Spy” game, with older toddlers.
  • If your toddler is a walker, opposed to one who sits in the cart, let them pick some things out themselves (or go with an older sibling to do so.)
  • Now is a good time too (for older toddlers), to introduce the concept of money and that you have to pay for the things in the store before you leave with them.
  • School-aged

  • Combine what she’s learning in school with the trip to the market. If she’s studying geography for example, talk about where some things come from…bananas from Chile, oranges from Florida for example.
  • Talk about cooking with him and what the ingredients are for a ________.
  • Have her try to figure out how much the groceries will cost.
  • Have him pay, accept and count the change. (This means of course, that you’re using cash instead of a credit/debit card.)
  • Use coupons/store bonus card and have her figure out what the savings will be.
  • If he’s taking a foreign language (or you speak one at home) practice vocabulary in the foreign language about things in the store.
  • Have her guess how many bags it will take to pack all of the groceries (for a large shopping trip).
  • Discuss with him why you’re making the choices that you do as a shopper. (For example: Less expensive? Brand loyalty? Eco-friendly? You have a coupon for it?
  • Talk about why some things are taxed and others are not?
  • These are just some ways that you can turn a trip to the market into an engaging, fun and educational experience, foster communication and teach your child about their world. Come up with your own to add that work for your family.

    Posted in Parenting, Lifestyles, Activities, School and Learning, Smart Buying, Child Education, Guest Blogger | No Comments »

    Beyond the Sandwhich part3

    by Erika-Marie Geiss

    April 13th, 2008

    In this third installment of Beyond the Sandwich, we’re looking at lamb.

    This meal is ideal for the day after your holiday lamb leftovers and when you might want something lighter.

    Mediterranean Lamb Salad

    Ingredients:
    Romaine lettuce
    Field greens
    Greek olives
    Spanish Olives (with or without pimientos)
    Fresh garlic
    Fresh basil (not the dried flakes)
    Tomatoes
    Burpless cucumbers
    Feta cheese
    Greek vinaigrette (or other vinaigrette of choice)
    Leftover lamb sliced thin
    Cracked pepper (optional)

    Instructions
    Wash the tomatoes and cucumbers
    Slice tomatoes in eighths and the cucumbers into thin slices and then in half
    Cover the tomatoes and cucumbers with the dressing, add 1/2 t of fresh garlic, cover and chill during remaining steps

    Wash and drain all of the greens
    Slice about 4 long leaves romaine in small bite-sized pieces
    Add the field greens to the romaine and toss together gently
    Add the olives–about 1/4 of each (or more to your desire)
    Add the feta and chilled marinating cucumbers and tomatoes (include liquid)
    Toss all of the above together to cover all leaves and olives lightly (add more dressing if necessary)

    Lay the above into a bed on plates.
    Wash and pat dry the basil.
    Gently lay the fresh basil in the center of the plated mixture. (Have fun with it and make a design with the basil leaves.)
    Lay the sliced lamb on top of the basil and serve.

    Posted in Uncategorized, Cooking, Holidays, Healthy Eating, Guest Blogger | No Comments »

    The Family Computer: Cleaning

    by Julie Fletcher

    April 13th, 2008

    You can clean your computer. No, don’t break out the sponges! Vacuuming is a great way to make sure you get the most dust out of your computer, resulting in better connections.

    A hose and brush attachment are the best tools for the vacuuming. The soft brush end will loosen dust, allowing the vacuum to remove more. If your machine has a high and low setting, use the high setting for all of the open air holes around the computer tower. If you are familiar with your computer, you can remove the tower cover and carefully vacuum inside of the case, being cautious to not disturb wire connections.

    If you live in an area with a lot of dust, such as on a dirt road or you have a gravel driveway, do this once a week at least.

    For cleaning the keyboard, alcohol and a cotton swab work well. Turn off the computer, then dip the swab into a small amount of alcohol (normal rubbing alcohol). Clean each key with the swab. You can also use the vaccum and brush attqachment to remove any dust and debris. Turn the keyboard upside down, vacuum, then lie down and vacuum again.

    You can use wipes on the monitor that are safe for electronics. The same wipes can be used on the entrie computer, just avoid power connections and make sure the computer is not connected to a power supply during cleaning.

    Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

    Computer Games:Virtual Lives

    by Julie Fletcher

    April 10th, 2008

    If you have not heard of Second Life, it is not surprising. Most of the popular video games that people are very familiar with are on gaming consoles such as Xbox, Playstation, and Wii. Even if someone does not have a computer, these gaming systems are known.

    But virtual reality games such as WarCraft and Second Life are very popular online. These are not virtual reality in the sense that you need special goggles or headphones, but virtual worlds. With Second Life you can build what is called an avatar and it can look like virtually anything you can imagine. The most popular avatars are human and human-like.

    Second Life has received a lot of bad press due to the availability of sex in cyber form. The game is open to people 18 years or older and yes, you can find quite a bit of sex if you look for it. Sometimes if you are not looking for it. For those who wish to avoid the sexual overtones, there are a lot of PG rated sections open.

    People often go to Second Life to escape from their ‘First Life’ or RL (real life) as it is known on Second Life. They build friendships, romances, and even commercial empires. The systems uses cash, much like real life, but there the dollar (or euro, or pound,) is the Second Life Linden. Lindens can be purchased through the game’s main site, on the game at exchanges, or you can get a virtual job and make lindens.

    I have visited Second Life and found it to be very interesting. You can meet people from all walks of life, all over the world. Unlike chat rooms and instant messaging, your avatars speak ‘face to face’. It gives the meetings and conversations a new life and depth.

    There are pros and cons to any online virtual world which include finding yourself addicted to the ‘life’ you build. In moderation the game is fun, offering new ways to express yourself and meet others. In a recent discussion with another Second Life Member, ‘Brett‘, he pointed out that the virtual world and romances built are a wonderful outlet for people who may not have a way to leave their homes. People with phobias, those who are handicapped, or those who just have very bad social skills can become ‘new’ people in this world.

    I agree with ‘Brett’. Though I have the opinion that all issues can be overcome to allow most people to incorporate themselves into the real world, Second Life can be a learning experience for those who need help interacting.

    Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

    Take the 4-point plastics pledge

    by Erika-Marie Geiss

    April 10th, 2008

    Probably everyone has seen that one scene from The Graduate where during the Benjamin’s party, one of his parent’s friends says something to the effect of: “I’m going to tell you one word about the future. Plastics.” Many of us even remember the old commercial sponsored by the American Chemistry Council that stated: “Plastics Make It Possible.” For years we’ve come to rely on the convenience, portability and “safety” of plastics.

    Then, we got a collective environmental conscience and realized that plastics were filling our landfills and destroying the planet.

    Now, we know that certain plastics contain Bisphenol-A a possible endocrine disruptor and hormonal disruptor as it mimics the female hormone estrogen.

    It is in many items that we use daily and consider safe: from baby bottles to sports bottles, the linings of metal food cans, and in nearly any take-out container that isn’t foil or a paper product. The least safe plastic items are those labeled 3, 6 and 7 and their unsafe properties increase with heating from the dishwasher and microwave. A recent report by Catherine Zandonella, M.P.H. in the Green Guide states that “the plastics industry says it is harmless, … a growing number of scientists are concluding, from some animal tests, that exposure to BPA in the womb raises the risk of certain cancers, hampers fertility and could contribute to childhood behavioral problems such as hyperactivity. …[And] ninety-five percent of Americans were found to have the chemical in their urine in a 2004 biomonitoring study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” The company bisphenol-a.org asserts that the levels of BPA found in the items we use daily are safe, and are only unsafe at high doses. Zandonella’s report continues that according to Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D., a developmental biologist at the University of Missouri, “low doses that are now proving to cause a myriad of harmful effects in animals, including chromosomal damage in female egg cells and an increase in embryonic death in mice. A follow-up to this is a study indicating a relationship of BPA blood levels to miscarriages in Japanese women.” While the FDA sees no reason to change its 2003 opinion on the safety of BPA in conjunction with food use, they have been wrong before. In contrast, in December 2007, the Center to the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction issued a detailed report about BPA and its implications in humans, concluding that more study on the effect of BPA in humans is needed.

    Hmmm. Some experts say BPA is perfectly okay; others, not so much.
    So what are we to do?

    After a thorough check of my cabinets for anything labeled 3, 6 or 7, I was happy to find that all of my son’s sippy cups were labeled 2. But that was just the cups themselves. What about the lid–the part that he actually sucks on? What about the ones that have been saved by relatives with toddlers before us and passed down to us and clearly show the wear and tear of little toddler nibbles? Are the ones that are a decade old (and clearly flaking) still safe? There was no way to know…as neither the contemporary lids nor the older sippy cups had any numbers on them. Am I to assume that because the newer cups have a “2″ imprinted on them that the lids are also twos?

    You see. More questions.

    I checked my son’s bowls and other plastic that we use for food regularly as well. No numbers there either. Luckily, I never heat food in plastic, but what about transferring hot food to a plastic bowl?

    As you can see, the new information only leads to more questions, concerns and decisions about food container choices.

    While on one hand I don’t want to give my toddler a glass bowl…it is much easier to take care of a cut than potential future problems that could affect his internal functions.

    I put my mind at ease with the intent to make some behavioral changes and wiser shopping choices. Luckily, I didn’t have to grapple with how to dispose of any threes, sixes or sevens properly.

    But later in the day, the question arose again. I was at my favorite local cafe, where as I sipped my steaming coffee from its cardboard-lined cardboard cup, I stared down at the number six on the lid. How many times have I sucked on a hot liquid in one of these lids in my lifetime? How many times have I consumed hot food from a number 6 container? Sure, my exposure has been minimal according to the FDA and some scientists, but the questions still lurk.

    What about you and your family? It makes you too, wonder now, doesn’t it?

    Armed with this new information, I am willing to take a four-point pledge for myself and for my family and make a behavioral change to reduce my (our) exposure to BPA.

  • A pledge to shop smarter and avoid purchasing plastic products labeled with the numbers 3, 6 or 7.
  • A pledge to avoid take-out and establishments that use plastic containers labeled with 3, 6 or 7.
  • A pledge that when point two is absolutely unavoidable, to avoid personal exposure to such plastics that have come into contact with heat.
  • A pledge to use sustainable and safe reusable products.
  • Will you too take the pledge?

    Feel free to make it public and claim the pledge in the comments field.

    Posted in Health, Daily Living, Health Care, Healthy Living, Poison, Smart Buying, Guest Blogger, News Items | 1 Comment »

    Ten Gas Saving Tips

    by Julie Fletcher

    April 6th, 2008

    If you live in the US, then you are feeling the bite from rising gas prices. Nearly everything purchased has seen a hike in cost due to the rising cost of gas. Since prices are not going to come down any time soon, why don’t we discuss how to save gas, which in turn saves you money.

    1. Keep your car tuned. A tune up can reduce the amount of gas used.

    2. Have your air filter checked and changed if needed during oil changes.

    3. Keep your tires inflated properly.

    4. Clean out your trunk. Extra weight = more gas used.

    5. Slow down. Wind resistance increases as you go faster, using more gas.

    6. Don’t idle. If you aren’t moving, you’re wasting gas. So don’t idle at the curb, store, or friend’s house!

    7. Combine errands, get to know your area. Try to shop and do other errands in the closest proximity possible. Saving a few cents on groceries by driving 20 miles out of your way (even 10) still causes you to spend more on gas.

    8. Do not drive all over a parking lot looking for the closest spot to the store. It wastes gas, just take the first one open. You save time, gas, and get a little exercise.

    9. If possible, combine shopping trips with your neighbors. Take turns driving each week (or your preferred schedule) and chip in on gas.

    10. Walk when possible. Again, get to know your area. A 30 minute walk is free no matter how you look at it.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

    Read Labels When Shopping–Always

    by Erika-Marie Geiss

    April 4th, 2008

    You’re thinking: I don’t have time to read the labels, grocery shopping is chaotic enough. You’re envisioning what that trip to the market will be like if you stop to read every label: The six-year-old will decide to ride the cart backwards, the three-year-old will start screaming that he must have Cocoa Puffs now (when you don’t even normally buy them) and the darling baby three aisles over who is wailing has caused you to let down, which is making your sweetheart in the sling wake up. So maybe that’s not what your trip to the market is like, but in some way, we can all relate; so stopping to check every label before tossing an item into the cart is probably the last thing on your mind. But wait, the cost of not reading the labels could be dangerous to your family.

    In July 2007 the FDA issued a warning about and recall of counterfeit toothpaste being sold in Canada and the United States. The toothpaste was recalled because it contains diethylene glycol (DEG), a poisonous chemical used in antifreeze and as a solvent. DEG is a central nervous system depressant and potent kidney and liver toxin and as a solvent. The toothpaste was made by Chinese manufacturers and was sold primarily to bargain retail outlets, the report said. The Among the brands counterfeited was Colgate, a name we know and trust. Since the initial warning, the toothpaste has not been removed from all shelves and has been found on the shelves of smaller stores and pharmacies as recently as this month–eight months later.

    The differences in the real and counterfeit products are not easy to spot, especially at first glance and when you’re in the middle of either a quick run to pick something up or under the gun of making it through the market before the kids completely meltdown.

    The labels of the counterfeit toothpaste read that they are Made in South Africa, sanctioned by the South African Dental Association, or have typographical errors on them.

    So, despite the chaos that a trip to the market can bring, be vigilant and read the labels carefully, even of the products that you think are ones that you know and trust.

    Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

    Beyond the Sandwich: Making Use of Holiday Left-overs (part two)

    by Erika-Marie Geiss

    March 31st, 2008

    In this installment of Beyond the Sandwich, we’re looking at turkey. There always seem to be leftovers when you make a turkey, and after a while, turkey sandwiches can get a little boring. Here are two easy recipes to breathe new life into those turkey leftovers: turkey tortellini soup and warm turkey burritos/wraps.

    First, set aside some turkey breast for the burritos/wraps.

    Turkey Tortellini Soup

    Ingredients

    Turkey (still on the bone)
    Stewed tomatoes
    While the turkey is boiling, wash spinach and remove the spines from the leaves. Set aside.
    Carefully remove bones from the liquid and discard them. You may need to use the slotted spoon to help gather the smaller bones. Use a pair of tongs to return any meat collected in the spoon back to the soup.

    Add the tomato sauce and stewed tomatoes to the mixture.

    Add a handful of basil (Note: other spices are not necessary as the soup will have the flavoring of whatever spices were used to season the turkey initially before cooking.)

    Bring mixture to a low boil, stirring intermittently. If the mixture is too thick, gradually add cupfuls of water until it is at your desired consistency.

    Simmer for 20 minutes

    Bring mixture back up to a boil and add the tortellini. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions.

    When tortellini is al dente (or near it) gently add the spinach to the soup by the handful and stir it into the soup. As each handful of spinach wilts down, add another of fresh spinach.
    Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until all spinach is wilted.

    Serve and enjoy.

    Warm Savory Turkey Burritos/Wraps
    (Note: these can be served cold as well, just omit the melting directions)

    Ingredients
    Large, round flat bread/tortillas (either wheat or corn)
    Field greens/lettuce (optional)
    1 T olive oil
    1 medium Red onions (chopped)
    Chopped tomatoes
    Scallion /green onion (chopped)
    Block of sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)

    Optional Sauce:
    Mayonnaise
    Chipotle powder
    Black pepper

    Utensils/Gear
    Knives
    Cutting board
    Small whisk (or fork)
    Small bowl (for the sauce)
    Spatula
    Cheese grater
    Oven

    Directions
    Prepare sauce and refrigerate
    In a small bowl, add about ¼ tsp of chipotle powder to mayonnaise and whisk, blending well. (Add more or less of each to taste.) Dash with a sprinkle of ground black pepper to taste.

    Prepare wrap
    Preheat oven to 350° F.

    Shred the cheddar cheese and set aside

    Wash the lettuce/field greens and set aside (if using for the cold wrap)

    Cut the turkey breast into long, thin strips (about ¼ to ½ inch wide)

    Chop the scallions, red onion and tomatoes and mix together. Set aside.

    Gently warm the tortillas/flatbread in the oven. (You can also steam them if you have a large steamer.)

    When warmed, remove from oven and layer the turkey and cheese, lengthwise in the center.

    Return to oven to melt cheese/heat turkey. Watch carefully as cheese melts. When cheese starts to melt, remove from oven and layer on the onion/tomato mixture.

    Top with the sauce and roll up or fold into thirds. (This last part has to be done fairly quickly.)

    For a cold wrap, still warm the bread but skip heating the turkey and cheese. Instead layer on the lettuce/greens, turkey, cheese, onion/tomato mixture and sauce. Roll up and enjoy.

    Next up…Left-over Lamb

    Posted in Cooking, Home and Garden, Healthy Eating, Guest Blogger | No Comments »

    Home Safety: Home Invasion

    by Julie Fletcher

    March 27th, 2008

    Last night my husband told me about something that is possibly an Urban Legend, but is still disturbing no matter where you live. It seems that, according to the reports, a new gang has moved into our area. They are supposedly ‘bumping’ cars with theirs, then when the people in the car that was hit stop, they execute them, gangland style. Not only this, but their activities have stepped up to home invasions.

    Even if this is not true, I felt that I should address home safety. A home invasion is terrifying. Your home is your private area, a place to be relaxed and with the ones you love. Even if you are single, your home is your sanctuary.

    So what can you do to protect yourself and your family against a home invasion?

    1. Install real or ‘dummy’ cameras at your home. Key areas to place them are the corners of your home, facing the entire yard and entrance areas. Home invaders are less likely to attack a home with cameras in view, real or fake. They have no idea if the cameras are real, especially if the cameras come with a battery operated ‘on’ light.

    2. Alarms for your windows and doors. You can purchase alarms that make a very loud, high pitched noise that are activated by magnets. These can be put on nearly any surface which make them very handy. These are often advertised on television and are much lower in cost that traditional alarm systems which can be too costly for the average family. Another plus is that even if you rent, you can use these alarms and take them with you if you move.

    3. Motion lights can be purchased and installed in the darker areas of your property. Motion lights can be low cost if found on sale at your local hardware store. You can also purchase night lights that are activated by motion or sound and place them in each room of your home. This can completely un-nerve a would be home invader who does not want to be seen!

    4. Keep all entrances to your home locked. Deadbolts may not stop a home invader, but it can slow them down. Entrances that are rarely, if ever used by your family can even have two deadbolts, especially if you live in a high crime area.

    5. Most of the time, any home invader will not try for a home with a dog. This does not mean that a dog will completely deter someone who is determined. It has been proven that a burglar who steals from homes for a living will befriend a dog while casing a home. Even the most well trained dog can be enticed by treats or stopped by a weapon. In the case of home invasion that is on the spur of the moment, a dog can be invaluable in stopping your home from being a target.

    Posted in Uncategorized, Personal Safety | 4 Comments »

    Beyond the Sandwich: Making Use of Holiday Left-overs

    by Erika-Marie Geiss

    March 24th, 2008

    We’re hosting Easter dinner this year for the extended family of 15, which means that despite the gazillion-pound ham that I bought at the market yesterday, there will be left overs. There always are. And of course, with left overs comes the lingering question of what to do with them to make them interesting for the next couple of days, and maybe even for a not-too-distant lunch, snack or dinner. Sure, I could send some home with the family as they each depart for their own homes, but that still leaves whatever is left for us to contend with. Whether you’re having ham, turkey or lamb for Easter (or any other holiday), these recipes may help make greater use of your leftovers too.

    Disclaimer: Please forgive any missing quantities or measurements. I cook like my mom and grandma: part alchemy, part inspiration, part magic and a whole lot of love.

    What to do with left-over ham: Savory Split-Pea Soup

    You’re probably thinking “ick.” But this split pea soup will delight even the biggest naysayer. (I know, because my husband loves it.) If you have a ham with the bone in, save it, wrap it well in parchment paper or a freezer bag and refrigerate overnight or freeze if it will be longer than a day or two before using. (Don’t forget to put the date on it.) Do the same with some of the meat.

    Ingredients:
    Ham bone (optional)
    Left over ham—diced (about 1 cup)
    1 16 oz package of split peas
    vegetable or chicken stock/broth (about 6 cups)
    Sea salt
    1 T. Ground black pepper
    1 T. Yellow curry powder
    2 T. Cilantro or recaito
    One onion peeled and diced
    Several cloves of garlic diced or pressed
    One to two whole carrots, peeled and sliced into disks
    Olive oil
    fresh parsley or cilantro
    sour cream or half-and-half
    optional: sherry or sauterne

    Equipment:
    Stock pot
    Wooden spoon
    Rubber spatula
    Ladle
    Blender or food processor

    Directions:
    1 Wash and drain peas. Set aside. (You can soak them in warm water while they are set aside.)
    2 In the stock pot, place 2 T olive oil
    3 On medium heat sautee the onion, garlic and 1 T cilantro until the onion is clear
    4 Reduce heat slightly and add the ham, sautee for about five minutes
    5 Reduce heat again and add 1 cup of stock/broth
    6 Add in the ham bone and add more broth gradually until the bone is covered (if not using the ham bone skip to #10 )
    7 Increase heat again to medium-high and bring to a low rolling boil
    8 After mixture boils, reduce heat and simmer until the meat falls off of the bone
    9 Carefully remove the bone from the liquid and discard
    10 Add the remaining broth (you can substitute one of the cups of broth with water or dry white wine)
    11 Add the peas, carrots, 1 T of recaito or cilantro, 1 t of curry and the salt and pepper
    12 Increase heat again and bring to a rolling boil
    13 Reduce heat, cover and let simmer until the peas are tender (use a the back of a spoon and see if you can smush the peas against the side of the pot)
    14 Remove from heat and let cool about 10 minutes
    15 Carefully ladle the mixture into the blender or food processor
    16 Add remaining curry (or more to taste) and blend until a velvety smooth texture and a uniform color
    17 Remove from blender/food processor with a rubber spatula and serve in bowls
    18 Sprinkle a bit more curry over the top and add a dollop of sour cream or swirl half-and-half in gently to the soup in small measures.
    19 Garnish with a sprig of parsley or fresh cilantro and serve.

    This soup can be served warm or cold. It also can be served in bread bowls for a fun touch. And, as a vegetarian option, skip the meat steps use vegetable stock. For added texture, use diced potatoes instead of meat, and add when adding the carrots and peas. Use the potatoes as the gauge for when to remove the mixture from the heat and blend.

    Next on beyond the sandwich, ideas for left over turkey.

    Posted in Uncategorized, Cooking, Holidays, Healthy Eating, Guest Blogger | No Comments »

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