26 August 2008

Wooden toys to the rescue!!

Our first baby shower was indeed a hit and I received loads of wonderfully organic gifts from my friends. I will have to post photos as soon as I get them all downloaded. In addition to having a fabulous baby shower, Marcus and I managed to finish up the nursery this past weekend (the results of which will be another blog post soon!). Good thing as I have now been put on bed rest due to high blood pressure....no fun at all!

Due to previous complications with Fiona's birth (overdue, didn't dilate, not coming down the birth canal, you name it), I am having to give birth to our 2nd child via c-section. It's not ideal and conflicts with my "natural" lifestyle; however, the baby's safety and well being is of utmost importance and so, we have scheduled the date - September 12th!! Unfortunately I don't think I will be able to hold off until then especially with the latest complications. So I thought I would get in one blog before I am possibly whisked off to the hospital...

In my quest to raise bring up this baby in the "green way", I have been researching baby toys lately. You can't stroll down a baby aisle these days without seeing "BPA - free" plastered on the sides of baby bottles and sippy cups. Concerned parents and advocates everywhere have been instrumental in demanding the removal of the toxic plastic, Bishphenol A. Fortunately, the battle is being won and even mothers and fathers who wouldn't consider themselves "green" are steering away from bottles which leach toxins into their baby's milk.

But not so "mainstream" or as well known is another toxin lurking around our children -


According to the Enviroblog Phthalates "Cheat Sheet" - Phthalates are a common industrial chemical used in pvc plastic, solvents and fragrances. In children's toys, pvc is most commonly found in the "squishy toys" - those little bath books, chewy toys and teethers. Yes, toys your baby repeatedly puts in their mouth and chews on! When pvc breaks down it releases dioxins, a group of the most potent synthetic chemicals ever tested, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems. Definitely something every concerned parent wants to avoid giving to their child! (To read more about the "poison plastic", check out this very informative website.) Other great resources include Greenpeace's 2003 toy report card which includes a list of safe toys and US PIRG'S report on toy safety.

Kudos for the efforts of leading toy retailers such as Toys 'R Us, Target and even Wal*Mart who recently called for a reduction in the use of phthalates and lead in toys. Toys 'R Us are going even farther by stating that any manufacturer that wants their products to be carried in Toys 'R Us or Babies 'R Us must be produced without the addition of phthalates. (read more here.)

Great strides are being made but what can you do to protect your child now? What are the alternatives? Go back to the basics! Wooden and organic cotton cloth toys are a very good solutions! In my search, I came across some excellent websites that offer natural alternatives:

* The Soft Landing - offers great bpa and pvc toys and teethers including items made with natural rubber

* Nova Natural Toys & Crafts - I love this site! Loads of toys including baby play toys, riding toys, and dolls

* Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care - beautiful natural cherry wood rattles!

* Holgate Toys - This company has been producing high quality wooden toys since 1789

* Oompa Toys - most products are manufactured in Europe where they are more progressive in their safety standards!

These sites offer great products but are often more expensive. I was delighted to come across Sassy's brand of toys that can be found in the Babies 'R Us chain and are much more affordable. Sassy has produced "Sassy Earth Brights" line of toys which are "inspired by nature". The line includes an adorable cherry tree rattle, mushroom rattle, and nice cloth picture album. Sassy has been a leader in eliminating pvc in their toys and their products have been recommended by Greenpeace, Dr. Greene, and other concerned watchdog groups. We have received some of their toys already off our baby registry and I think our little one will just love them!

One last word on the topic, when purchasing wooden toys, remember to choose sustainable wood options and that toys do not have toxic finishes including non-toxic paints. Beeswax, linseed and walnut oils are safest. With cloth toys, choose natural hemp. wool, and organic cotton that has not been dyed with toxic dyes.
Happy, informed, shopping!

18 August 2008

Well chuffed!

I have been a huge fan of the "Lu 'n Am" blog spot for a while now. (As you may remember, Lucie "Lu", is the person who goaded me into starting my own blog.) Their site is full of tips on living an affordable, sustainable, and green lifestyle. It is inspiring to an "old dog" like me to see the "younger generation" take up the banner for the environment. So imagine how honoured I was when they asked me to join their blog as a regular contributor! Well, I was "well chuffed" indeed!

Now I am feeling the pressure... I am not sure exactly what else I can contribute to their blog as they are so innovative and creative in their quest to live in a green way. But I will do my best to help "fight the good fight".
On an unrelated note...I will be having my first organic baby shower on Thursday of this week at the fabulous Nature Kids Mercantile. So stay tuned for photos from the fun-filled event!

11 August 2008

"I love ants, Mummy, they are our friends!"**

** Fiona to me this morning as we are walking out the front door

I had always hoped my daughter would love the outdoors as much as her parents did. This morning's conversation was yet another affirmation that we are helping to instill in our 3 1/2 year old an appreciation for nature, the environment and animals. This got me to thinking...

Much has been written lately about the disconnect between today's children and their exposure to the natural world. It has even spawned a new type of disorder "Nature Deficit Disorder". In a recent study, it was determined that exposure to the natural world may be as important to children as adequate sleep and nutrition (from Tim Gill in his article, found here.) The National Wildlife Federation says that the research is showing that children with regular exposure to the natural world benefit by being healthier. They state children who regularly spend unstructured time outside:

* Play more creatively
* Have lower stress levels
* Have more active imaginations
* Become fitter and leaner
* Develop stronger immune systems
* Experience fewer symptoms of ADD and ADHD
* Have greater respect for themselves, for others, and for the environment

Do we really need data and research to tell us what we grew up knowing? Well, apparently because enough of the world's children are not getting outdoors! Let's hope you don't fall into this category, but if you do, it's not too late!

So where do you begin? There are endless possibilities and it can all be a bit overwhelming, but remember, every little bit helps, so start small. If you would like to raise a child to appreciate Mother Earth and its inhabitants, consider these simple tips:

1. go on a nature walk - this could be at a park or in your backyard! turn over stones, examine an ant hill, walk outside after a good rain and talk about earthworms!

2. create a garden with your child - examine the life cycle of plants and vegetables while instilling a sense of responsibility (watering, weeding, etc.)

3. don't be afraid to let your child get dirty! - we are obsessed with anti-bacterial soaps and germs these days. Some of the world's healthiest children grow up on farms, getting "stuck in"; so let your child create mud pies and dig in the dirt!

4. allow your child to collect things from nature - as long as it doesn't disturb the natural habitat! In Fiona's room, you'll find an array of downed pine cones, shells from the beach, an abandoned bird nest and on any given day, a vase full of dandelions.

5. celebrate natural "holidays" and mark special occasions with earth friendly gifts - Attend Earth Day or plant a tree on Arbor Day. Participate in your local events or start one yourself! Rather than buying your child another Power Ranger, why not celebrate a birthday by adopting an animal in their name or having a star named after them?

6. make environmentally friendly reading materials part of your child's library The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is no longer the lone beacon for future treehuggers; there are endless books out there with environmentally friendly themes. Visit your local library or bookstore or search Amazon.com's listmainia for suggestions

7. look to earth friendly/animal friendly organizations and websites to help find activities you can share with your child:
National Wildlife Federation combats nature deficient disorder with their 'green hour' activities
The Humane Education site is one of my favourites!
Children of the Earth is a site I just discovered
The National Resources Defense Council has an excellent site just for kids including an online magazine
National Geographic has a special children's section

8. visit nature centers, museums, and those nearby institutions that foster an understanding and appreciation for the environment - We did our homework and learned that our local nature centre, Ijams, has a wonderful series of classes known as "Nature Preschool". Each month there is a theme, such as amphibians. The class teaches the basic characteristics, incorporates an art project and is accompanied by an animal visit or a nature walk. Pictured below is Fiona learning about opossums (notice her tail!) at Ijams. (She loves Ijams so much that when asked where she wanted to have her 3rd birthday, she exclaimed "IJAMS!" She even had frog cupcakes at her request.)

Fiona learning about opossums at Ijams (notice the tail!)

After this morning's conversation with my daughter, I pondered on my way to work, the age old question...how much of Fiona's personality is nature (genetic) vs. nurture (our child-rearing techniques).

In favour of the genetic argument, you have to take into account that Fi's Daddy is an avid scuba diver and loves to be around any body of water - lake, ocean, stream, swimming pool, etc. As for me, I was raised camping in the Grand Tetons, have stomped around the Great Smoky Mountains almost all my life and embrace the title "Treehugger" whole-heartedly. So it could be said that it is "in her blood".

Conversely, there is the nurture side of things... we have worked really hard at exposing Fiona to all things natural. We have a strict "no television" policy during the week and she watches only 1 hour on Saturday and Sunday. As a result, she fills many of her free hours playing outside, going to the park, the mountains, aquariums, visits to the beach, etc. So could it be that simple exposure to the natural world has made Fiona a "treehugger in training"?

In the end, I determined it didn't matter one way or another how our daughter came to love the environment and animals. I am just so fortunate that she did! I will leave you with some of my favourite photos of my daughter out in nature...

Fi giving the butterfly a "drink of water" - Grand Cayman butterfly sanctuary

Visiting a farm in England

    Fi splashing in the stream - Great Smoky Mountains - and offering me some acorns

    And finally...relaxing on a tree with her walking stick

    06 August 2008

    "Strawberry's" field, erm, nursery

    Why is it that you have 9 months to plan and yet you still find yourself at the end of a pregnancy running up against deadlines?

    Perhaps it is just me but I sailed through the first 8 months of my pregnancy blissfully aware that I needed to create and decorate a nursery. One would think that having done this before I would be sitting back, enjoying the last 6 weeks of pregnancy. But no, as I type this blog, I sit in what will become our little girl's room. The nursery is a sparse room with a computer desk.

    Well, in our defense, at least the nursery is no longer Fiona's playroom. We have made SOME progress. We had to relocate the toys, kitchen set and art center. What was sacrificed to create a play room for our eldest and her sibling-to-be? Marcus's "man cave" - his pride and joy - an authentic English pub. No longer does the Guinness Draught neon sign adorn the walls. No, Todd Parr framed prints have taken its place. It was a sad day as many happy British parties were hosted there and many memories made. Perfect pints and glasses of Rioja are replaced with chocolate milk in sippy cups and Honest Kids juice pouches.

    With a clean slate, I have had no excuses not to get the nursery all prepared. (This phenomenon of preparing for the arrival is commonly known as "nesting" for those of you who haven't had a baby). I am delighted to announce that things are finally coming along..thanks to IKEA and a little ole website known as Etsy.
    For "Strawberry's" nursery, I knew I wanted something "earthy" - birds, trees, nature theme - and yet, "girly" - in pink and green.

    I didn't want to go to Babies R Us or one of those other stores that have prepackaged ideas and the standard crib bedding sets. I knew that I could find something I would like more on my own. I boiled down the necessities and figured out all I really wanted for bedding was a decorative crib skirt and bumper pad. I could provide a cheaper organic cotton option by just purchasing organic crib sheets. On a recent trip to IKEA, I found the perfect cotton canvas fabric. The fabric is bright kelly green and reminds me of grass. (Believe me, the picture doesn't do it justice).

    With the crib bedding down, I could focus on the walls and decor. Marcus suggested that we paint two walls pink and two walls green. I loved the idea! So off to find paint.

    We had been on a search for environmentally-friendly, low VOC paint for a while. (VOCs are solvents that are found in most paints that contribute to indoor air pollution, allergies and asthma in children, and the destruction of the ozone layer). Most of what we could find online was expensive. But thanks to Treehugger, we found out Lowe's had a great option! Luckily Lowe's carries the Olympic line of paint which have no VOCs, is affordable, come in a variety of colors and is Green Seal certified! Read more about Olympic paint here.

    Now for the decor... For this element, I turned to one of my favourite sites, Etsy. com. For those of you that haven't visited the "place to buy and sell all things handmade", you are missing out!

    Etsy is great because it allows you to support up and coming artists by purchasing one of a kind items at an affordable price. I knew I could find what I was looking for to decorate the nursery. Etsy didn't disappoint! After a short search for "bird nursery print", I found these two prints. The little bird to the left is in a strawberry patch (how appropriate)!!

    I also had a Land of Nod gift card that I hadn't used so I surfed over there to find another fabulous piece - their kids tree removable tree wall decal. This would serve as a perfect mural for behind the crib. Voila!

    I love how everything is finally coming together! All I need to do now is to host the French paint and champagne party (are you still up for it, Lu?). I would also love to have Lucie create a personalized art piece for the baby (hint, hint) and then I think the nursery will be complete. Though I have dragged my feet a bit this time, in the end, I think we are all going to love our little one's nest.