UPDATE: As of 6/14/10, we have VERY much changed our habits and are eating sooo much better! I also enjoy Alexandra’s Facebook updates- like her page, here

You know, it is not often that you can change your entire life in a month. However, around here, we have basically done just that. This all began with a simple giveaway kit from Seventh Generation and a book called The Conscious Kitchen from Alexandra Zissu…

Going green is easier than ever!

Yes, I have another kit to giveaway, but stick with me a little bit.

First off, I have to admit, while I always felt guilty about it, I was not very environmentally conscious. When my youngest was born almost 5 years ago, I realized her birthday coincided with some cool Earth Day festivities in our town. So, I paid a bit more attention. You know how once you “see” something, you see it everywhere? Well, I had that going on. So, I visited health food stores and began attempting to recycle.

Sadly, I have to admit, my feeble attempts to get “greener” never lasted. I have 5 kids and making drastic grocery changes seemed so hard…so maybe that played a role? Is it because I am ADD? Oh, and we are not rich or really hippie, so maybe that was it? In my mind, I rationalized all kinds of reasons why I could not be more environmentally concerned.

Then I read Alexandra Zissu’s book, The Conscious Kitchen. And I changed. Because…well, I could. I suddenly got it. Now, I am just sorry I did not understand some of the concepts earlier. I feel bad that I was not one of the pioneers. Because this is worth doing and it is not hard anymore.

I was lucky enough to get to interview Alexandra! I totally recommend reading her book (You can buy it on Amazon, here). The clear writing with specific examples about how to have great tasting food and maintain a green and healthy kitchen made going green the most natural thing in the world for us!

This interview will give you some great ideas about how to get started. As you will see in the interview, Zissu is very smart, down to earth and kind:

1) Alexandra, I am a busy mom of 5 children. I am also a lousy cook. I try to buy organic food and I download articles about cleaning with vinegar (but I have not done that)…I have begun to buy Seventh Generation products often. But, I have to admit that is about all I have done to “green my kitchen” What would you consider the main steps for “going green” in feeding your family?

First of all I’m sure you’re not that lousy of a cook! If you’re buying local food in season, you’re off to a great start — stand back and let the ingredients shine. Secondly, no need to download another article on vinegar. Just do it. Stick some in a spray bottle and use it the next time you want to wipe a counter down. Simple as can be.

Here are some other thoughts: Steal away from the five kids and peek through The Conscious Kitchen. It’s a friendly and accessible guide (I hope!) to methodically working through the kitchen. Anyone can turn their kitchen into a safe, non-toxic environment for the whole family. Source the best, purest, most local produce, meat, seafood, and dairy products you can find. Cook in and store food in tried and true materials (cast iron, enamel coated cast iron, stainless steel, glass) that aren’t known to leach harmful chemical components into your food. Keep the kitchen well ventilated. Clean only with natural products. Filter your tap water if needed. Avoid plastic whenever you can. Repair, reduce, reuse, recycle, compost.

If you can’t do all of this at once – and who can? — choose what you’re willing to do and add more steps as it makes sense. It’s a process, but a very worthwhile one.

2) What would you consider a number one, first step for “going green” in choosing cleaning products for your kitchen? Does your answer change if there are toddlers involved?

I like to say that if I won’t eat it, I won’t clean with it. Chemical residues for cleaners can and do remain on surfaces for a long time after you clean. I don’t want these getting on my food. I spend time and money making sure my food doesn’t have pesticides on it, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to then prep my food on surfaces that have been disinfected with pesticides.

This approach doesn’t change for me if there are toddlers or infants or puppies or grandparents: natural cleaning products are better for the whole family. But certainly the smallest among us are the most vulnerable. Pound for pound their exposure to toxic chemicals is higher than for us adults. Of course you always want to make sure you have a lock on the cabinet you’re storing cleaning products in, especially if there is a toddler around.

3) I have a large family–I feed 7 people each day. I worry about costs–for cooking and cleaning. What two products–one for cleaning, one for cooking would you consider essential? (ie, like skillet?)

There are cost-effective ways of getting organic local foods. Have you ever heard of buying a share in a farm through a system called Community Supported Agriculture? I talk about it in The Conscious Kitchen. It’s also a great thing to get the kids involved in. Or, if you have the space, time, and desire to plant a vegetable garden, that’s another great way to bring costs down.

Green cleaning products don’t cost more than conventional cleaners, and many of them are multi-taskers – you can use an all purpose product for just about anything, even mopping (dilute in water). And there’s pretty much nothing in a kitchen that cannot be cleaned with warm water and natural dish soap.

I have a few pots and pans that really never leave my stove top I use them so much, including an enamel coated cast iron dutch oven. There’s nothing I can’t make in there, and they’re great for stews and soups that can feed large families. These can be expensive to buy new, but might be something you could find second hand. Cast iron versions are less expensive and also very safe to cook in. I also really like a stainless steel pressure cooker for when I need to feed a lot of people well and quickly.

4) And, what one or two things would you consider important to teach your children about being green in the kitchen? My teen son, who loves to cook, asked me to ask you–“what oil do you use?”

That’s too sweet about your son! The number one thing I always say is to involve kids in the discussion so that they will be interested in being green, and identify themselves as green. Teaching by example is key. Getting children involved with cooking is among my favorite things to do, hands down. There are many important lessons in understanding what food is and where it comes from – that it’s not just something that appears on your plate or comes out of a package. And it’s a great way to introduce many flavors. Please tell him that I use many oils but my favorite is organic olive oil. I try to eat mainly local food and sadly we don’t live near any olive groves. But I love it and it’s good for you. I use other oils, too, to flavor various dishes, and some of these are more local than others: pumpkin, sunflower seed, sesame. If you’re using canola, it’s always a good idea to buy organic. It’s made from a crop that tends to be genetically modified (GM). USDA organic regulations do not permit GM foods.

5) I hardly ever cook fish. My husband does not like it and I am not a great cook–and need to have 7 servings of everything. What would you recommend as an organic and easy way to add fish into our diet?

Seafood can be very contaminated with things like mercury and PCBs so whatever you choose, choose wisely. Fish is one of those things – some people just really don’t like it. If you’d like to add it to your diet, I’d suggest looking up a handful of species on an environmental website that lists safe fish (like OceansAlive.org – I list many others in The Conscious Kitchen), and then tasting through them to see what you like. If you live near waterways, and they’re not contaminated, always buy local wild fish that has been caught in a sustainable fashion. It’s really hard to go wrong if you bake a piece with olive oil, fresh herbs, and sea salt in a glass dish. Just don’t overcook! That’s the main mistake that happens with fish.

For more information, visit Alexandra’s website and Seventh Generation.

Thanks to Alexandra, and also to Seventh Generation. I loved the “Disinfecting Cleaning Kit” that included the new Botanical Disinfectants–disinfecting multi-surface cleaner, bathroom cleaner, wipes, my copy of The Conscious Kitchen, a cleaning caddy made from recycled plastic, and two rolls of 100% recycled, unbleached paper towels…the cleaners worked so well and I prefer the lavender scent.

You can sign up and get coupons from Seventh Generation on their site, here

I get to giveaway this Great Earth Day gift pack!

For your main entry, leave me a comment telling me what is the best thing you have done for the environment this year–or something you plan to do!

Additional Entries: (please leave a separate entry for each)

My trial products, the gift pack and information were provided by Seventh Generation through MyBlogSpark.

Time4Learning Review

Heather —  April 14, 2010


Summary & Rating: 3.5 This is an online curriculum which is available for ages pre-k through 8th grade. Today, I am reviewing the newly added preschool section on Time4Learning. It is pretty amazing how many educational programs are now available through the internet. My kids seem to engage pretty easily with a colorful screen and catchy characters giving them lessons and Time4Learning does just that.

The preschool curriculum seems like a great idea to me. However, we do have so many sites that we like, such as Starfall and PBS, that are free. So, I  have to admit I was a little skeptical of what Time4Learning could do that we do not already get elsewhere online.

The preschool option has two levels, with over 40 topics for children to explore. In watching my daughter play, I noticed that they do have a lot of the things I like to have when my daughter plays or works online.

For example, the lessons, or topics are designed so that she can move easily from topic to topic, game to game without extra help from Mom. The information is read to her, so pre-readers can also participate and work independently.

While she can click around and make many choices, the parameters are also well defined, so that no matter where she goes, she is learning something. Some of the topics did seem pretty elementary to me, but my child is almost five, so I probably could have looked at moving up a level or two. I do see that the curriculum, overall, is correlated with state standards.

I liked that Time4Learning has a “playground” section–so that when children do their “work” (which is also pretty fun) they can earn some free play time with straight up games and links to some good preschool sites.

Time4Learning can be used as a complete or supplementary curriculum. Based on how I teach, I would use this as a supplementary curriculum.

Time 4 Learning offers access to their pre-K to 8th grade programs on a month-to-month basis. The first child is $19.95 per month and each additional child is $14.95 per month.

You can check out a demonstration of the program, here.

To see what my TOS crewmates have to say, click here!

A 30 day subscription to Time4Learning was provided to me for my review and I have given my unbiased opinion.


Enter to Win a Swiffer Sweeper Vac!

As y’all know, I have a bunch of kids. A dog. A cat…a lot of messes. I would hire a cleaning service, but I …um, do not work and some of this is supposed to be my job!

I really love a clean house, but it is an ongoing battle to get the clean house.

When I heard about the Swiffer SweeperVac, I was curious. There are a lot of products out there now. I had used a Swiffer wet thing before. I liked that. But what did this one do? Would it be complicated? Weak? I really wanted to try it—because IF it worked, it sounded useful.

SweeperPkgShotWell, when mine came, I got the the NEW and improved Swiffer SweeperVac with Double-Action Clean. The vacuum picks up the big stuff while the electrostatic pad traps and locks in dust and smaller grit. Mine came in a fancy case with…stuff to do a double action challenge.

I was laughing and trying to figure it out. My two teen boys thought the little containers full of trash and debris for the challenge were great and proceeded to dump them all over my floor.

To be honest, I yelled at them and said there was no way the SweeperVac would pick it all up, and they were going to ruin the SweeperVac trying. I told them to figure it out since they dumped the stuff. And I went to bed.

About 30 minutes later they came in to show me the video they made of my new SwifferSweeperVac getting all the junk up. It totally worked! See it below:)

The next day, I used the SweeperVac throughout the house. Yeah. I actually did it for fun! I got a big kick using the SweeperVac in my room, under the kids dressers and under the couches (places I usually only do for major cleaning)

I like this SweeperVac– it is simple to use and refill the swiffer cloths. You do not need a vacuum bag. It is so light and much easier than messing with a broom and dustpan or trying to lug the heavy vacuum around. This really works for our family with our wood floors and in the kitchen and bathroom. It does need to be charged and the filter kept clean, etc to get the best result.

I have a $40 Walmart gift card to give away so that you can buy a SweeperVac for your house!

For your main entry, leave me a comment telling me which rooms you’d like to tackle first with your SweeperVac! I will draw a winner on 4/23.

Additional Entries: (please leave a separate entry for each)

My Swiffer SweeperVac, refills, information and the Walmart gift card to give away were all provided to me by P&G through MyBlogSpark.

Great Book for teaching about God

Enter to win a copy of This Little Prayer of Mine!

Are you looking for ways to increase your child’s understanding and knowledge of who God is? A way to reinforce your child’s desire to pray? This sweet hardback book shows children that God loves them and wants them to trust in him no matter what the situation–and that any moment is a good moment for a little prayer!

The words are simple and easy to read for little ones…but the content is very profound. I enjoyed listening to my youngest read the book to me and we  liked the bold, realistic illustrations that have a bit of a three dimensional feel to them.

The Official Word: Anthony DeStefano’s adult books, The Prayers God Always Says Yes To and A Travel Guide to Heaven, have sold a quarter-million copies. Illustrator Mark Elliott’s cherished artwork has appeared in popular picture books and novels for young readers, including Gail Carson Levine’s ever-popular Princess Tales series.

Now, these acclaimed inspirational experts have come together to create This Little Prayer of Mine, a beautiful and alluring book designed to guide children into a very simple, real and expressive relationship with God.

Through engaging rhymes and alluring illustrations, This Little Prayer of Mine shows children—and their parents and grandparents—that complete dependence on God is what brings peace and fulfillment. It invites children to know and believe that God is always just a simple prayer away and that He longs to respond to them with a resounding, “Yes!”

Easy-reader format allows children to read alone, or with someone older, and encourages them to openly express their fears, thanks, and needs directly to God.

This Little Prayer of Mine is available on the Random House Website.

Or, you can win a Copy from Faith, Family and Fun!

To enter, please leave a comment. I will choose a winner 4/19.

Thanks to the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for providing this book for my review. I have given my unbiased opinion.

Big Helps for Little Readers

Heather —  April 12, 2010

All About Spelling

Summary & Rating: 5 I am really impressed and intrigued by the products used with the All About Spelling (AAS) and the All About Reading (AAR) curriculum. While I have not used the entire program we are enjoying the two readers we have and many of my crewmates have a very high regard for the whole All About Spelling program.

Now, the All About Reading is a component of the entire reading and spelling program, and the book I am reviewing today is the second book in the AAR library. This What Am I? collection of short stories follows up where the first Beehive Reader (now titled Cobweb the Cat) left off. (You can see my review of Cobweb the Cat, here)

And, thank goodness this second reader came quickly, because my brand new reader, Em, has been waiting expectedly for this next book! She loves these and is very proud of her “readers.”

As with the first reader, I was impressed with the quality of the book. This reader also has a nice, sturdy hardbound cover and is a perfect size for small hands. The paper quality is good and the binding is tight–all things I want for a book my little one will be carrying everywhere.

The stories within the book are delightfully illustrated and the reader contains quite a few short tales that definitely appeal to my child! Many of the same characters appear from the first book, which is nice for continuity for the kids.

Now, with these readers, while they are useful and fun on their own, they are also designed to meet a certain reading level…a reading need. So, for example, What Am I? coordinates with the first 14 steps in All About Spelling Level Two.

You can currently purchase the readers on the All About Spelling website and soon, there will be an entire All About Reading program that will include more decoding skills, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and reading practice. I am hoping to review that!

To see what my TOS crewmates have to say, click here!

The All About Reading, What Am I? Book was provided to me for my review and I have given my unbiased opinion.

Spring Notes…

Heather —  April 12, 2010

So far, April has been a whirlwind of…Spring Breaking and  Easter Celebrating! Sports Starting Up. Spring Cleaning. Getting review products that make me totally change my household…(going organic is on the menu)

I am sitting here watching as my mountains turn green almost overnight. This is my first Spring here in the Blueridge Mountains….and …WOW! I am in a tank top,  sunburned (whoops) wishing I was one of those people who actually can function on lack of sleep–because there are soooo many good things to do!

Well, today I am taking a deep breath and getting some planning and reviewing done…but missing family–thanks, Mom & Dad for a fun Easter!

I have several reviews and giveaways to do…a ballerina birthday coming up…

What good things do y’all have on your agenda?


Congrats to Susan! Susan blogs over at Homeschooling Hearts and Minds. Check out Susan’s blog for some great teaching ideas. I hope you guys enjoy the fruit pouches!

Thank to everyone who commented, and thanks to Peter Rabbit Organics for sponsoring the giveaway!

What a treat! These Peter Rabbit Organic Fruit Pouches are absolutely marvelous–and PERFECT to put into Easter Baskets!

In our family, we are now trying to make the shift to using mainly organic products. I expected this change to be difficult, but instead I am finding there are many great options out there and feeding your children organic food is MUCH easier than I anticipated!

The Peter Rabbit Pouches are 100% organic, 100% fruit snack fruit pouches that can be eaten on the go…or relaxing at home. They are being sold for babies six months and up and children, but…shhhh… I love these also! A quick healthy sweet snack:) My 4 year old says the Strawberry and Banana is the best.

so cute, so healthy!

so cute, so healthy!

Right now they come in three fruit varieties, Strawberry and Banana, Mango, Banana and Orange and Apple and Grape.

To me, they taste like a fruit puree. They have an anti-swallow cap and you can also re-close the cap—if your child needs just a bit, reclose and save for later—I think that is genius…you do not need a spoon or anything and can stick them in your purse or baby bag.

And, using them saves me a lot of worry about sugar and preservatives.

I recently saw some in my local Starbucks. You can also get them at select Whole Foods Markets and independent natural food stores in a number of regions across the country. All three flavors are also on Amazon.com. See their website for lots more information on where to buy.

One lucky reader will win a Sampler Pack of Peter Rabbit Organic Snack Pouches! (10 pouch case of mixed flavors).

How to Enter:

Visit Peter Rabbit Organics and tell me what you think of their site.

Additional Entries: (please leave a separate entry for each)

I will draw a winner on 4/4. Good Luck:)

Thanks to Peter Rabbit Organics for providing the organic fruit pouches for my review. I have received no monetary compensation and have given my unbiased opinion.

More: PR Organics is a small, privately owned company based in London, England. Company employees, inspired by their own families, work to make it easier for parents to give their children healthy, organic food with no added salt, sugar or artificial ingredients. Founded in 2004, PR Organics makes a range of 20 organic products including juice, pasta and pasta sauce in the UK, and introduced its popular, award-winning fruit pouches in the U.S. in 2009.