Last Minute Handmade Gift Idea

December 22nd, 2010 — 6:46pm

If you’d like a quick, simple gift for a teacher, friend or neighbor, I recommend this Italian dressing Mix. There are many ways this mix can be used :

Seasoning Prepgrouping of spicesFinished product!

  • Dry season for pasta salad
  • Seasoning for popcorn
  • Marinade
  • Tomato sauce all-in-one spice
  • 50/50 blend of mayonaise and sour cream to for veggie dip or thin this combination with a little milk for a creamy Italian dressing

This recipe is the perfect size for 3 dressing servings in a cute little 4 ounce Mason Jar.

Prep time 5 minutes. Ready in 5 minutes.

  • 1 tablespoon garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery salt
  • pinch of red pepper flakes for a little zing
  1. In a small bowl, mix together the garlic salt, onion powder, sugar, oregano, pepper, thyme, basil, parsley, celery salt. Store in a tightly sealed container.
  2. To prepare dressing, whisk together 1/4 white vinegar, 2/3 cup canola oil, 2 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons of the dry mix.

Comment » | Food, Home & Garden

Goal: All Natural Cake Pops

December 17th, 2010 — 6:48pm

The last time I made cake pops, I tried to use as many natural ingredients as possible, but I derailed on a few items — like yellow dye #5 in the green chocolate. This time, I’ve gotten closer! I decided to make snowmen and adapt a Bakerella recipe and make the cake pops with more natural ingredients. I only derailed with the Oreos and they aren’t too bad!
Snowman Cake Pops

Below are the ingredients I used:

Trader Joe’s Vanilla Cake Mix (no weird ingredients, an organic cake mix would work well also)
Cherrybrook Farms Icing
Dusting Coconut
White Chocolate Chips
Dried Currants
Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seeds (Trader Joe’s or Natural Candy Store Online)

Comment » | Food

All Natural Candy!

December 17th, 2010 — 1:01am

This year, I ordered some dye-free candy canes and other yummy treats from this natural candy store. They carry an amazing variety of healthier candies made with all-natural ingredients — no artificial flavors, no artificial colors or dyes, no hydrogenated oils, no high fructose corn syrup. Check it out! As you can see from my picture below, the reds aren’t as brilliant as a Red Dye #40, but they taste better and I’m happier knowing that they don’t have any weird artificial ingredients.

natural candy store candy cane

Comment » | Food, Health

5 Money-Saving Tips for the Holiday Season

December 2nd, 2010 — 5:02pm

People (myself included) are aware of their spending habits more now than I have ever seen in my lifetime.  I have found it to be a lot of fun to see how far I can stretch dollars and see what neat and creative things I will do and make as a result. The holidays are really no exception. This year, I don’t want to appear cheap, but I do hope to appear smart and creative. That is a fine line to walk, but the good news is that it seems people are more understanding on this front. You can save, too!Gifts

1. Set expectations with Family and Friends Ahead of Time
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I broached the subject with my family as to what they wanted to do and how much to spend. It can seem a bit strange or uncomfortable puttingprice limits on gift-giving but it’s a lot better than having hurt feelings or stress of not knowing how much (or how little) to spend. We collectively agreed to use Elfster. It’s s an online tool for creating secret gift exchanges event-organization, name pairing, draw restrictions, gift guidance, wishlists, and anonymous questions and answers. Once you can agree to a dollar amount on gifts, Elfster will help to facilitate the whole exchange and it’s a lot of fun to interact with the exchange members online.

2. Handmade Gifts
This past summer, I made several types of homemade jams. I hadn’t realized how personal of a gift this was until now. It takes a lot of time, energy and love.It’s also rewarding to make something that you’d normally purchase at the store loaded with unknown ingredients. I plan to share jams and other homemade baked goods with neighbors and teachers. For the jams, it can be difficult to determine how much to make several months in advance, but once a holiday season passes, you will have a better idea of what you’ll need next time.

3. Newspaper Gift Wrapping
I have been wrapping children’s birthday gifts in comics because I think it is really adorable and I think it is a cute classic look. I was thinking it would be cool to extend to Christmas somehow so I decided that a fancy red ribbon would pair nicely with black and white newsprint. Black & white newsprint would look beautiful with a pale blue ribbon for Hannukah as well! You could also do the literal throwback, “brown paper packages tied up with string” and give your gifts an old-fashioned feel.

4. Experience Gifts
Giving someone your time is a very valuable thing and memories last a long time. You could give a sibling or friend in need of a babysitter the gift of a night of worry-free night out or you could pack a picnic for mom to have an afternoon together chatting and sipping wine. At your own risk, you could give your husband a massage coupon — although, I don’t recommend this because they seem to want to cash in at the most inopportune times or may not realize what is within scope of “a massage.” Think about what people on your list might need and you can create a perfect gift scenario. Just don’t forget to make good on your promise!

5. Pack Light
Think like the airlines and pack gifts light because extra weight will cost you extra money. If you are shipping items, pick lighter smaller things so you don’t get dinged on shipping.

Whatever you decide, remember that health, happiness and being loved throughout the year is the best gift of all!

Comment » | Finances, Home & Garden

12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas

November 18th, 2010 — 8:30pm

I’ve added many new items to my store and wanted to find a way to share several unique items for the holidays. I decided on a dozen items for the 12 days of Christmas (pick 8 for hanukkah)!
6 under $25  – 4 under $50 – and 2 under $100!

under $25
Bird Juicer $24

Salsabol $13

Silverware Pens $20

Polaroid Wall Decals $18

Pasta Cooker $16

Vintage Key Plates $25

under $50
Sea Life Plates $42

Silver Fortune Necklace $35

Solar Wind Chime $50

Sterling Silver Peacock Feather Earrings $38

Under $100
Tegu Blocks $55

Plank Yoga Mat $95

Happy Holidays!

Comment » | Home & Garden

5 Tips for Holiday Card Preparation and Archiving

November 13th, 2010 — 12:44pm

Printed Correspondence
Every time I send out a birthday invitation for a party or a Christmas card, I am inevitably asked where I got the printing done. To be totally truthful, I feel that it’s not just the printing that is awesome. A lot of thought and work goes into a single printed piece and it starts with an amazing photo. Some photos I’ve used in cards or invitations have been snapshots I’ve taken myself, which have captured a simple moment and have taken zero planning and others have been taken by professional photographers and took a lot of planning, poking, prodding and lollipops. Either way, they are both necessary!

For those of you who are new to this process, I wanted to offer some advice on how to create an awesome piece that people will rave about:

Get started early
In previous years, I have started the process a bit late and have been rushing to get the finished product. Once you place an order, it does take some time to print and ship, so leave yourself ample time to create, proof, order, ship, address and mail in time for the holidays. This year, I’ve decided I’m going to be ahead of the curve (and take advantage of the early bird sales). I received my printed cards on the other day and the box is sitting right here on my desk!

Use your best photo from the entire year
Don’t feel like you need to use a seasonal holiday photo, fresh summer photos are welcome during cold winter months!

Keep it simple
Select natural (human) poses that are crisp and clear. I particularly enjoy photos that catch a special moment and everyone doesn’t have to be looking at the camera smiling like plastic. I also seem drawn to the photo-centric card designs because they showcase my family more than the card design.

Pick a design and photo that reflects your family’s style — don’t try to recreate someone else’s card
The  best photos are those that make people say, “wow, that is so you.” You’ll know which photo that is when you see it. Ultimately, the design you choose will depend on the style and composition of the photo.

It’s never too late to start archiving
I always order a couple extras. One for my pin board next to my desk to enjoy year-round and for one for my correspondence archive book. The archive is a 5×7 photo sleeved photo album. As soon as I receive my printed pieces, I add them to my archive so I don’t forget and it so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Years from now, I imagine the book will tell a story in photos year by year. To me, that is the greatest part of all because it’ll be a life of photos, clothing styles and design styles in one flip through a book.

Printed Correspondence Archive

I do owe a huge chunk of kudos to Tiny Prints and for the above designs. As a designer-type and lover of aestetically beautifully printed design pieces and photographs, I have to say both their products are among the best in the consumer business and they make it very easy to ‘design’ your own with a template.

Good luck with your holiday endeavors and best of luck to you in checking this one off your list so you can get on with your other holiday preparations, whether it’s hosting family, shipping gifts to far away relatives or preparing to travel yourself.

Happy holidays!

Comment » | Home & Garden

Ferritin and Restless Leg Syndrome: Natural Remedies

November 11th, 2010 — 2:26am

After about 3 weeks of regular iron supplementation, I started to notice a difference in my son’s sleep patterns. He wasn’t waking nearly as much, he had stopped kicking/bucking his legs, stopped traveling all over the bed, and didn’t want to nurse all night long as he had before. He also started to fall asleep in about 15 -20 minutes versus two hours of running around the house. He was still waking once or twice, but this was a huge improvement from every other hour. Now, at a little over two years old, he is for the most part sleeping through the night and I am so relieved (and well-rested!). He can now tell me when his legs hurt — which is only every once in a while. I have found that times like, after eating chocolate or going to bed later than usual (overtired) brings out the symptoms, so I am aware and try to mitigate that risk.

As someone who doesn’t like to medicate my myself or my child unless it is absolutely necessary, I have searched for ways to help my son with his restless leg syndrome without the use of drugs. Since I don’t have restless leg syndrome myself and he can’t tell me exactly what might help him, I rely on my own research. I hope that passing some of my successes with natural remedies on, I might be able to help others. I plan to update this list as necessary so I’m keeping it to a list format.

While reading through some of my recommendations, please keep in mind that RLS Symptoms are more prevalent at night so many of my recommendations are night-time ritual changes.

Weighted blankets
Weighted blankets can help people with restless leg symptoms. Although they can be expensive, I’ve found a great etsy store that offers these blankets at a reasonable price called hugsbythepound.

Baby Legs
I’ve also read that wearing socks can help. This is just one small adjustment that helped him at night. He also loves what most people think they are just cute little leg warmers, BabyLegs. In summer months he wears them alone and in winter months I put them right over his PJ pants.

Nightly Bath Routine
We shifted from every other night baths to a warm bath every single night before bed, warm water can help the effects of RLS.

Sacrum Massage
Once he is in bed, I sometimes massage his sacrum with my forefinger and middle finger in circular motion. I also apply even pressure to his sacrum for 5 second intervals and sometimes it puts him right to sleep. The sacrum is the large, triangular-shaped bone at the base of your spine.

Hot Water Bottle
Sometimes before bed especially on cold winter nights, I prepare a hot water bottle to place near his feet and legs. 

Hydration seems to help a lot. His drink of choice during the day is water, so I am be sure to offer him often. I now remind him that it helps his legs feel better so he wants to drink more and says, “fix it, legs.” 

I tried Melatonin and Acupuncture but didn’t continue long-term. I think are worth mentioning because every person is different.

Although acupuncture is arguably the most well-respected non-western medicine and I believe it probably works, I wasn’t sold that it was going to help us in this situation. My insurance wouldn’t cover the appointments and I couldn’t use my flexible spending account to pay for any of the $90 visits.  A large part of my decision to discontinue was that the acupuncturist was was recommending a host of behavioral changes such as; limiting dairy intake to improve iron absorption and massaging his legs before bed-time.  I felt I could try the acupuncturist’s behavioral recommendations without appointmnets and couple with less costly alternatives. 

His previous pediatrician also told me that the use of Melatonin as a sleep aid was ‘completely safe’  in children. I did try it and it did work to get him to sleep faster, although I am not convinced that it is ‘completely safe’ because of limited research on the subject and because I did read in one article that it can cause testosterone disruption. I opted for reigning melatonin levels naturally at bed-time by dimming lights which reportedly helps the body’s own melatonin to kick in. The body’s natural level of melatonin are highest at bedtime so it’s a matter of trying to add to it naturally. Without conclusive research on the side effects of melatonin supplements in toddlers, I’ve decided to discontinue giving it to him.

Helpful Articles:
Discovery Health “12 Home Remedies for Restless Legs Syndrome.”

Part 4 of my series article will focus on Women & Ferritin deficiency and it’s Hereditary Nature.

Comment » | Health

The Skies are Wide Open!

November 8th, 2010 — 12:36am

I am excited to announce that my OpenSky store is now OPEN for business! There are so many nuts and bolts that go into organizing a blog and this is just another one that’s in place. I’m very excited about it because OpenSky has a lot of unique items. I’ll be adding products regularly as I find products that reflect me and my blog readers.

Get ready! I’m about to make my first OpenSky product recommendation! (drumroll please!)…….

Hint: It is ecofriendly, disposable and can teach children table manners.


Answer: The Perfect Setting Placemat!

The Perfect Placesetting

At any point while you are visiting my blog, you can click on the “shop” link in my menu and reach my OpenSky store. I will be adding items periodically so please check back often and shop away!

Comment » | Finances, Food, Health, Home & Garden, Travel

Halloween Cake Pops: A More Organic Spin.

November 1st, 2010 — 2:43am
witch cake pops

witch cake pops

I stumbled upon Bakerella’s Cake Pops book a few weeks ago on Amazon, then I found her blog. I have a habit of selecting the most intricate and advanced versions of projects I get myself into, and this project was no different. In typical form, I was cursing myself while I was making these, but they did turn out well and more importantly, I was able to make my own organic adjustments to the recipe. Most cake pops don’t have the bits and pieces that these ones did and mainly all you will need is an organic cake mix (or your own scratch mix), all-natural icing, organic dipping chocolate and dye-free sprinkles.

The chocolate I used was made with artificial dyes, because I was against the clock, but I was able to purchase Arrowhead Mills Organic Chocolate Cake Mix as well as Cherrybrook Kitchen All Natural Vanilla Frosting for the two main ingredients. I was so pleased to find the All Natural Frosting because both Pillsbury and Duncan Hines vanilla frostings ingredient list look something like this:

Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Soybean and Cottonseed Oil)Water, Corn Syrup, Corn Starch, contains 2% or less of Each of the Following: Salt, Mono- and Diglycerides, Color Added including Yellow 5 and Red 40, Artificial Flavor, Modified Corn Starch, Polysorbate 60, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative)Soy Lecithin, Citric Acid.

Um, yeah. RED DYE 40? WTF? I do not know, because this icing is ‘white.’ But, as I read through the lengthy list of ingredients, I nearly broke a sweat and did not feel that giving kids these ‘things’ would be right. I began rifling through the shelf  at the grocery store for an alternative and I was so happy to find the Cherrybrook Kitchen frosting. It was perfect for this application, however, I cannot imagine using it as frosting on a cake, because the consistency was a bit like Elmers glue. What really matters is that it is made of real food and it worked! In the future, I may just make my own frosting, which I’m sure would work too.

At any rate, as you can see, my two year old son adored these little ‘mans’ as he lovingly referred to them. I plan to make more because they are yummy and a lot of fun. Hope you try them, too! Good luck!

cake pop admirer

cake pop admirer

2 comments » | Food

Ferritin & Restless Leg (a very real) Syndrome: Medications

September 22nd, 2010 — 1:55am

Now that I finally knew my poor 18 month old boy had a low ferritin serum test (15 ng/ml), I was fairly certain that was what had been causing his (and my) sleepless nights. I felt confident that he would soon be on his road to recovery. Not exactly. I tried several different iron products only to find that he hated them or was allergic to their ingredients. It required a great deal of research and I want to be able to pass what I’ve learned on.

Ferrous Gluconate
I began by going to a compounding pharmacy for Ferrous Gluconate. A 30-day supply costs around $40. It’s a liquid elemental iron that wouldn’t cause constipation like other iron supplements might. I immediately encouraged him to try the funky/stinky dark brown mixture with him at the pharmacy. He spit it out — everywhere. I tried at home — same thing. All of his clothes were getting stained and the expensive iron was everywhere but in his belly. I tasted it, and to his credit, it tasted like I was drinking liquified nickels so I couldn’t blame him at all. I tried mixing it with anything and everything to lessen the flavor — the pharmacist even recommended chocolate syrup — but the taste could not be covered. He became so distrustful of me that he wouldn’t eat any food I offered to him.

Next, I decided to go with the chewable Icar tablets, despite their use of red dye #40 to brand the pills. They cost about $15 at the pharmacy for a 30-day supply. I administered 1 of 4 tablets. He merrily chewed it and immediately communicated ‘more’ with his sign language. I was so elated, this was going to solve our problem! “Wow, all four chewables, down the hatch. This was going to be simple!” I thought, he will be on his road to recovery in no time!

That night, my husband had a couple old friends over and I thought once I put the baby down I could head downstairs and relax for a little while. That never happened. The baby didn’t go to sleep until 11pm — about 2 hours past his bed-time. He was fully wired and I had no idea why. I went downstairs and they all commented on my hair it was a disaster, my ponytail was on the side of my head and only had a few straggler hairs left in it. They left shortly after and we went to bed, too — only to be woken up a short time later at midnight by our boy. He wanted to play. This went on until 12 noon the next day. Yes, 12 NOON. For 12 hours straight he was wired and would not go to sleep. The culprit? Red dye #40 in the Icar tablets. My search now needed to continue.

Ferrous Sulfate
Next, I tried Ferrous Sulfate which, like Icar, can be purchased without a prescription at a regular pharmacy desk. Ferrous Sulfate is often used as a nutritional supplement to enrich foods with iron. You will see it in ingredient lists on nutrition labels. It cost a bout $3 and for an additional $2 they offered to flavor it. The flavoring really didn’t mask the taste and the aftertaste was still heinous. So, to me, that just added another questionable, artificial ingredient into the mix, which, at this point, I didn’t need. In short, Ferrous Sulfate was not much better than gluconate and he refused it as well.

Pleading for Help
I called his pediatrician’s office and pleaded with the nurses for help. They were useless, which was amazing to me because this office had a strong reputation. This is the first time I truly needed help beyond well-check or a fever. I had found a tablet online that mixed vitamin C in the iron chewable. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron so this was a perfect combination if it was the right thing. The nurses insisted that it was not ‘elemental iron’ so it wouldn’t work to raise his ferritin serum levels, I asked what they meant and they gave me a half-hearted explanation that truly made no sense. They also said that they never had a child that wouldn’t take any of the irons I had tried. Yeah, right. Incidentally, my neighbor learned her son had the same issue after us — and went to the same pediatrician — and had the same problem. I started to doubt his pediatrician and the nureses and considered switching.

I also continued looking for more iron alternatives. I called my local CVS pharmacy, I talked to a pharmacist who just found out that her 14 year old daughter was finally diagnosed with the same issue — after 14 years. Which made me so guilty about figuring it out (myself) after only 18 months.  She faxed me a list of 75 iron products that they carried that I could try. The issue with all of them was that none of them were chewable and trying to get an 18-month old to swallow a tablet was not an easy task — or a good idea. I continued my quest.

Bariatric Advantage
I found a couple potentially promising leads including a product for Bariatric surgery patients called Bariatric Advantage – chewable flavored iron. But in addition to the iron, it included ‘Fructooligosaccharides.’ I had no idea how to say it, letalone what it was. FRUCTO – OGLIO- SACKA – RIDES. I didn’t want to administer something that would hurt him, so I started researching more. The reason that I mention this specific product is because I thought it’s worth mentioning that I found that Fructooligosaccharides is considered a ‘generally safe’ ingredient in the U.S. but has been banned for it’s use in baby formulas in the UK because of questionable safety in infants. I thought it was probably best to stay away from that product because the UK seems to have a leg-up on the U.S. where food safety is concerned — including the regulation of artificial colors.

Midlothian Laboratories Iron Chews
At this point, I called Hawthorn Pharmeceuticals — the makers of Icar, because if it werent for the dye in their product, he could take their chewables with no issue. I asked if they made Icar without red dye. Not only did they not make a dye-free version, they were planning on halting manufacturing of Icar altogether.

I felt defeated. But had some more fight left in me and thought to find a generic version of the Icar tablets might might have red dye #40. I ended up getting in touch with an awesomely helpful chemist at Midlothian Laboratories named Phil Knight who gave me better service than the peditrician’s office. I communicated with him both on the phone and over email. He told me that their generic Icar product also used red dye #40 — so their iron chews were out. But, he said he was happy to help in any way he could. Since that was the case, I decided to ask him about the Nature’s Plus High Potency Iron with Vitamin C Plus Herb that his current pediatrician’s office said wouldn’t work. I emailed him the supplement information and asked him what the difference was with this and ‘elemental iron.’ He said there was none. He added that the tablet that I had found may be even better because it was ‘chelated iron’ which is more easily absorbed by the body and gentler on the system — especially that of a child. This was great news and I started gaining confidence, but I still to wanted to check with a physician because I wanted to be sure I was giving my son the right iron and the right dosage. Iron overdoses are deadly.

I made an appointment with another well-respected pediatrician in my area. She personally researched the iron and told me that it would work well. I was ready to give it a go. He liked the tablets and they didn’t have a strong taste at all. After a few weeks of taking them he got tired of them so I looked for other foods to mix the crusted tablets in. I landed on Blue Sky Ginger Ale and haven’t turned back. I crush the pills with a mini mortar and pestle I found at World Market.

More infants should receive iron supplements and their parents don’t know it. Once your child’s stored iron is down, the only way to get it up again is by using supplements, but it’s a good idea to aggressively integrate iron-rich foods in your  child’s diet.

There are a couple different kinds of iron in foods; one is ‘heme’ and the other ‘non-heme.’ Non heme iron is found in vegetables like broccoli and spinach and heme iron found in meats such as steak and liver. Heme irons are more quickly absorbed by the body than non-heme irons. But, non-heme irons encourage the absorption of heme irons. So eating a balanced diet truly is the way to go. Read more about heme and non-heme irons.

In addition to eating foods high in iron, I learned an interesting tidbit; I never knew that if you cooked in a cast iron skillet, it infuses iron into your food. Read more about the Journal of the American Dietetic Association study Cast Iron Pans, Iron and Carcinogens in Cast Iron, Techniques for Restoring an old Cast-Iron Skillet. Here’s a great cookbook for that: The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook: Recipes for the Best Pan in Your Kitchen

My account of the supplements I’ve tried with my son is just one account of my own, personal experience. There are many more different types of irons out there, although I’m not sure how many of them are in a chewable, non-offensive form. You may be reading my articles because you are having the same troubles as I did, I hope I can help and wish you the best of luck! Part 3 of my series article will focus on natural ways to deal with restless leg syndrome.

3 comments » | Health

Back to top