Have a Very Eco Christmas!: Part Two

I hope you are all enjoying your Holidays! Hubby is now home with us and we always love that. When our whole family is together it feels so much more relaxed and happy around here :)

We are also *really* looking forward to having our extended family come to visit. My parents, younger brother, his girlfriend and their new baby will be staying with us for about a week and we are seriously counting down the hours days! Especially because we haven't met the little new edition yet and I am a little baby crazy. I can't wait to hold the little bugger!

Okay, getting down to the eco-decorating post I promised. Kaden and I had so. much. fun making ornaments for the tree and house this year! We've never really done it before but Kaden has been creating stuff almost every single day. He's made copious amounts of wrapping paper since the last post as well.

A while back I ordered some plain wood and mache ornaments to paint with Kaden. We're also currently working on some Christmas craft kits we got from an Oriental Trading Company craft swap. The wood ornaments were very fun to decorate. We just painted them in red or green and dusted with sprinkles. We kept to a red/green palette this year because our whole tree was decorated in those colours.

We had both traditional ball-shapes as well as stars. The hexagonal ornaments we wanted were backordered so, we had to do without :(

Kaden also made a waldorf-syle gnome house as a centerpiece. He used scraps gathered from nature herself as well as a little star cut out of felt. We tried moulding the pieces together with plasticine, but after a frustrating attempt, we used hot glue. These gnome houses are so easy and fun to make! Notice the birch bark wrapped gnome in the corner? He has a little sea shell hat, but it's hard to see in this picture. Too cute! Kaden also made a hand-dipped beeswax candle, but I have no picture of that at the moment.

The last tree decoration we made was the classic paper chain. We used scraps from various construction paper projects and crafts we'd already done instead of throwing them out or chucking them in the recycling bin.

For the door, I wanted something less traditional then a wreath, which I had no time to make. I thought of a really simple project to do with some pinecones and ribbon. Check it out below:

I threaded some eye hooks into the pinecones (which hurt like a b*tch!--did you know pinecones have spikey things?! Ouch!) and then looped some pretty red ribbon through them. I used thumb tacks to secure them to the top of the door.  I recommend using tape first until you like the arrangement of your pinecones. I left mine in their natural state to match my front door, but you could always paint them or glitter them up (using low VOC paint of course!)

Enjoy decorating!

Have a Very Eco Christmas!: Part One

It is probably fairly obvious to anyone even remotely green-mined that the Holiday Season puts a toll on the environment. What with all of the plastic toys with their unhealthy off-gasses chemicals and petroleum based materials, the wrapping paper made of virgin fibres and chemical coatings and dyes. Not to mention that many gifts and all the wrapping end up in the dump, further polluting our environment. In this post I am going to focus on gift wrapping the eco-friendly way! I will provide you with some ideas that I've actually thought of and tested so that you know they really can work. My next post in this subject (Part Two) will center around eco-friendly gifts for all ages (using my actual gift list!), and third, I'll talk about green decorating.

This year, I decided that our family would not be buying any Christmas wrapping. It is so incredibly wasteful and in my opinion, makes every gift look the same--boring and commercialized. Since I was not buying many (if any) commercial presents, then I was certainly not going to wrap them in conventional gift wrap!

First, let me say that this took some months of planning. We saved all of the materials that we could from packaging and papers that we already had comming into the house or already laying around. For example, we saved coffee canisters and bags, paper wrapping from mail packages, ribbon and tissue paper from packages we received, paper bags, and other items. Along with all of this, I saved drawings, small crafts, and colouring pages (Christmas ones in particular) that my children created. This resulted in a big box filled with materials to re-use!

Putting the materials to use was quite easy. All that was needed was a little vision and creativity. I used used but clean paper bags, salvaged raffia, and paper scraps to create gift bags for my family's smaller presents. I was aiming for a simple look, but you could easily add more to your gift bags.

 My children's Christmas artwork also made wonderful Christmas wrap that adds a unique personal touch to giving gifts. All of this paper was rescued from postal packages that held my children's Christmas presents. Doesn't this look so much better than store-bought wrapping? Just add some ribbon and you're all set :-)  Even toddlers can get in on the action with scribbled paper in Christmas colours!

Christmas crafts that my little unschooler created also were put to good use in creating wrapping for our presents. Both colouring pages and cardboard gingermen were put to use below. Again, the paper is recycled from packaging we already recieved. I just cut off or hid the addresses printed on the paper. The gingerbreadman hides an address in this example.

Other fantastic ideas that many of you have probably already heard of are to use old maps, newspaper comics, and stamped art paper. If you are not crafty or creative in the least, or if you are short on time, you can also always purchase eco-friendly wrapping paper from stores such as Grass Roots Store

Please share your eco wrapping ideas and pictures!
Happy Wrapping!

Unschooling--not so "un"

Well, the first couple of weeks of unschooling have been very sucessful. Magic School Bus only ruled my den for two full days! I expected a much longer binge than that. And besides a few scattered sessions on Beatles Rock Band, Kaden has mostly stayed away from the Wii as well. Very suprising considering he used to play Wii as soon as he woke up (before going to school) and as soon as he got home. Now it seems that having it be available all the time as created less of a desire to play. Instead Kaden's been building sofa cushion forts, crazy creatures out of pipe cleaners, toilet paper rolls, empty containers, and cardboard (complete with moving parts!). Besides all the free-play, we've been reading a lot more around here. We're still working on The Magician's Nephew from the Narnia series, but we've also been reading a lot of non-fiction (the library is great, no?) We've read about Japan, about Castles & Forts, a great book about Sea Creatures (fictional and real), a Prehistoric Monsters book, about Lasers (followed by a long explanitory discussion by dad, of course, since he works with lasers every day!), and more I can't even think of right now. Other things we've done have been to make cookies and bread, he has learned how to cook scrambled eggs on his own (with us turning on the stove).  We're growing sprouts and plan to start growing more things to plant in the garden come Spring. So far, everyday has been full except for a mid-week slump this week while I was in a stressed out mood (can anyone say Blowing-the-Budget-on-Christmas much?)... Thank goodness for Karate and Swimming Lessons on those days!

Currently Jeff is building a skating rink with Kaden in the back yard. They've got the wooden structure nailed down and half of it covered in plastic sheeting, but funds have run out and leaves are piling up on the plastic as we wait to splurge on another roll of plastic. I think it hasn't happened yet because we thought there was enough in that (expensive!) roll and it looks like we'll need another couple of rolls instead... However, we plan to repurpose the wood and plastic in our Square Foot Gardens this Spring. I think it's so great that the boys can do stuff like that together. One because it's great bonding/learning time for them both and two--I get some time off (bubble bath, wine, book---ahhhh).

So, what I've learned so far is that Unschooling is not a lot of Un, it's mostly active, hands on, and fun!

Asthma? WTF?

So, our family has been through a lot in the past few days. On Monday, our 15 month old became extremely lethargic, he was struggling to breath and not able to nurse. We took him to the hospital's H1N1 clinic and were rushed through. His oxygen levels were extremely low and his neck was pulsing and nostrils were flaring. His abdomen was contracting with every breath along with a 2 inch concaving in his chest when he tried to breath in. He couldn't even open his eyes and was gray around the mouth. The doctors thought he had H1N1 and contracted pneumonia. They were very worried and he was rushed away by ambulance. It was so incredibly scary to see paramedics, about 5 or 6 doctors, and 2 to 3 nurses looking down at his chart and then looking at each other with fearful eyes. I tried to stay calm,but I was afraid he wasn't going to make it. He almost suffocated to death.

In Emergency, they gave him masks and x-rays. No pneumonia was found, or H1N1 virus (although he could still have had it). Instead, they found enlarged lungs. Apparently my sweet little happy go lucky boy has asthma. So much for breastfeeding all this time, so much for eliminating toxic chemicals from his environment. None of the effort I went through to protect my child prevented him from getting asthma. I felt like a failure and I felt like I was losing my son.

The Ventolin masks really helped him and he came back to life although he still was vomiting any milk he tried to drink. I hated seeing him being pumped full of steroids and hooked up to machines and IVs, but what choice did I have? No naturopath would be able to help us now! I am grateful for emergency medicine and this is where our medical system is extremely proficient.

After a night in the hospital, a team of doctors came by to ask some questions. The main pediatrician was very happy to hear that Mikhail had been breastfed all this time and is still going strong. Apparently it could be much worse if he was bottle fed formula. Breastmilk is very important in preventing and reducing asthma it seems. This is probably why he has been alright until now and they said it is most definitely why he has not shown any allergies or persistent eczema. At this point I was feeling better about my efforts and about his future.

After another couple of days, we were allowed to go home. The doctors gave me a list of things to do to improve his environment, starting with giving away our brand new Golden Retriever puppy. Ironic that we bought this puppy specifically for Mikhail. He could have been part of the reason the attack occurred. I've always envisioned our home with pets, but apparently this is a no go. Maybe a hairless cat someday? The list of improvements was daunting but also empowering. I was happy to see that we have already done much in the way of helping his environment including not using any toxic cleaners, laundry products, air sprays (like Febreez, etc.), synthetic bedding, etc. The organic mattresses we've bought for Mikhail and ourselves are definitely paying off now! As well, his diet is important. I'm so glad that nutrition has been such a huge focus in our lives since Mikhail is already getting the best food I can afford. Apparently asthma medication can reduce bone mass, so he'll just need extra of my homemade yogurt every day :) Thank God he loves the stuff!

All in all, I am happy that our family's crunchy habits are already in place and have created a buffer against this disease. I'm scared and stressed and do not know how to handle this right now, but at least our lifestyle is set up to be able to deal with this issue. If any of you have experience with asthma, please leave a comment and let me know how you've dealt with it and what I can do to help my little boy.

Unschooling (or Deschooling) Begins!

Halloween was so much fun, as always. Kaden got very much into role playing with his costume--as you can see!
Horray! We are officially de-schooling now :)

Mind you, the proper forms have not been returned to us granting 'permission' for us to make our own educational choices in this matter, BUT I did at least send in the forms last week. I just couldn't stand to send my son Kaden into the school one more day. I can't imagine how degrading it would feel to not be allowed to speak during lunch and snack time while eating at your desk in the class....silently...when you are a SIX YEAR OLD BOY! A couple of weeks ago, Kaden has his lemon cookie taken away for stating during snack "I have a lemon cookie!" What is the benefit to taking away children's food for talking? They certainly aren't going to be able to concentrate on eating...when they have. no. food.! Sometimes I wonder about the thought processes behind some of these decisions....

Teacher: "The student's don't have enough time to eat their lunch!"

Board: "Well, then, do not allow them to speak!"

Teacher: "How should I manage them if they speak during lunch and snack?"

Board: "If they talk, take their food away! That will teach them to eat!"

See the fallacy in this thought process? Anyway that's only the beginning. The little ones, including my active grade oner (is that a word?) are not allowed to play on the play equipment during outdoor lunch recess....Why? Because there are big scary kids on there! They must not interact! In fact, there is a large yellow line separating the big scary kids (10, 11, and 12 year olds--Oh my! 10, 11, and 12 year olds--Oh my!...sorry a little to Oz?!) from the younger ones. This means no field, basketball court or playground for the smaller kids. Wow, way to conquer childhood obesity with your every three day gym period and banishment from the play structure! Such forward thinking!

Ok, well enough sarcasm. Today my son has a "sore throat" and we are "worried about swine flu" so he's staying home. Okay, so I had to teach Kaden about little white lies today while calling the school to say he wasn't coming in! Hey, he learned something! I just don't want to deal with anymore calls from his teacher complaining that "this has never happened to me before! This is a great school! What about socialization? What is your rationale? Why can't you do enrichment on your own time?" Well because I want it to be all our time. No more boring worksheet, which are the same day after day.

Today, Kaden will watch way to much Magic School Bus and then we'll read some Narnia (Magician's Nephew) and paint some of his Knight figurines and then make dinner together and Kaden will learn so much more than how to "sit and listen and memorize this".