Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wonderful Winter Book for Kids

Winter's Tale by Robert Sabuda is a magical book that takes the pop-up concept to a whole new level. Simple, poetic text pairs with intricate pop-up scenes complete with shiny, glittery loveliness. This book is really a piece of art I'd recommend to parents of slightly older children who can resist tearing the pages.

"Gingerbread" Houses

Instead of taking the time to bake separate pieces of gingerbread for a house, use graham crackers instead. For a pint size house perfect for a child, take three standard size graham crackers (like HoneyMaid brand) and break them in half to total six squares. "Glue" them together using royal icing (four for the sides and two for the roof) and let it set up on a small piece of cardboard covered in foil. Then take a variety of decorative candy and the remaining frosting and let your child decorate away. You may want to make an extra one for you to decorate as well!

You need:
-3 graham crackers
-foil covered cardboard base

-assorted decorative candy

-Royal icing
Royal Icing:
-2 egg whites (pasteurized, if possible)

-2 teaspoons lemon juice
-3 cups powdered sugar (sifted)

Beat the egg whites and lemon juice together using an electric mixer. Slowly add the powdered sugar at a low speed to mix smoothly. Store in an airtight container when not using (icing dries out quickly). To pipe onto the seams of the house use a plastic bag with the corner cut off or a piping bag.
*Please note that this recipe contains raw egg whites and is not recommended for little munchkins to eat. There are alternative recipes for Royal icing that call for substitutions if preferred.

Alternative Gift Giving

Here's a new idea for gift giving this holiday season. Give a gift that changes lives. MercyCorps has made it easy by providing a variety of Mercy Kits that go to help people and communities all over the world. Mercy Kits range from $16 all the way up to $2500 and outline exactly how your donation will be spent. You get a card (by mail, email, or as a printable PDF) to give to your gift recipient. Go to mercykits.org for more information.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sneak Peak

Whoa. I've really neglected my brand new blog. I had grand dreams to blog about new ideas and inspirations whenever they hit me. Reality check. New business, new products, new baby, and a not so new three year old (not to mention a husband and a dog). So the blog took a back seat for awhile. My apologies.

Some of you have been asking what new products are coming and when will they be here. The first of the cotton top GO blankie line is finished and now online. It's beautiful if I do say so myself! Definitely a sophisticated girly look but some boyish prints and gender neutrals are also on their way and will be online soon. This line has a soft cotton print top and an additional layer of batting inside to keep babies warm. I'm proud to say that the batting in these blankets is made from 100% recycled material as well. It's a soft polyester made from recycled liter bottles. Feels like other batting but has a very light green hue. Check out the Dahlia and Deep Burgundy GO blankie and the sneak peak of other fabrics that will be included in our new line in the near future.

The new Dahlia and Deep Burgundy GO blankie has arrived!

Some of the new prints that are coming soon (not sure if the photos do them justice).

I've also got some classic alphabet blocks that should arrive any day. They are made in Michigan by Uncle Goose Blocks, a company that's been in the block-making business for over 20 years. The blocks themselves are made of sustainable Michigan basswood and non-toxic dyes (so no stressing out over your munchkin chewing on these)! The craftmanship on these blocks is beautiful as well. Two sides of each block are embossed with letters and the set features four complete alphabets, numbers, math symbols, and animals. Each block set comes with a sturdy block bag made with our Plum Tot signature fabrics as well. I love these blocks so much, I'm setting aside a set for my three-year-old for Christmas. Shh! Don't tell.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

NWCG Holiday Trunk Show

Plum Tot will be involved in a number of trunk shows and benefits this holiday season. First up, a multi-vendor trunk show benefiting the Nick Wilson Charitable Group, a non-profit that helps families in the Children's Cancer Center at Doernbecher Hospital here in Portland.

Here's the information below:

Get a jump-start on your holiday shopping and join us:

NWCG Holiday Trunk Show
Saturday, November 8

2753 NE 53rd Avenue, Portland 97213

We will be offering a wide variety of beautiful, high-quality gift items including, fine art, jewelry, cookware, baked goods, cards, candles, maternity skirts, baby and children's items, and more. Many of the products that will be featured at the show are designed and made locally. (Whoo-hoo!)

Vendors will include:
The event is open to the public so please help spread the word so we can raise as much money as possible for this great charity! A portion of every purchase will help support families with the many expenses not covered by health insurance while their child is being treated for cancer including: funding for housing, medication and related co-pays, meal and food assistance, grief support, and many other urgent needs families may encounter during this time of crisis. Please go to www.NickWilsonCG.org for more information about this important organization.

The Blog is Officially Up...

I've been meaning to start a blog for awhile. What a great way to share ideas, inspirations, and a bit of the inner workings of the biz'. I also wanted a place where I could archive the articles from Plum Tot's monthly newsletter (in case you were looking for that elusive flubber recipe....) But life happens--specifically raising two little boys, so the blog idea was put on the back shelf. Until now. So here it is in all it's glory... sort of. Check back often to see what's new!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Yogurt Dip for Fruit

In a snack rut? Here's a quick, easy, and healthy snack that's great for adults and kids alike. This recipe is simple and perfect for little ones to help make.

-1 cup plain lowfat yogurt
-1/4 cup applesauce
-1 Tbsp. cinnamon and sugar mixture (I use about a 1/4 Tbsp. cinnamon to 3/4 Tbsp. sugar)
-Fruit (You can use whatever fruit you like. We like bananas, apples, strawberries, peaches, or nectarines best.)

Mix first 3 ingredients in a bowl and serve with slices of fruit cut for dipping.

Begin Smart Series--Books for Babies

The Begin Smart Series is a new developmental book series for babies and toddlers. These books are grouped by age (0 to 6 months, 6 to 12 months and so on) and feature bright, contrasting colors, different textures, and simple shapes and concepts to help stimulate baby's mind and start the reading process early. Check out What Does Baby See? and Faces--a couple of my personal favorites!

Pack a "Zero Waste" Lunch

The average American school-age child throws away 67 pounds of packaging a year, including plastic water bottles, sandwich baggies, molded food containers, and juice boxes. Cut down on your kids' lunchtime impact by packing sandwiches, fruits, veggies and treats in reusable lunch containers, and pack those in a reusable lunch bag or tote. Plastic baggies can also be washed and reused. (Think about this when you pack your own lunch as well.)

-Tip from iGoGreen on iVillage

If You Have a Newborn....

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp

This book was a lifesaver with our firstborn! The theory and practical advice in this book helped us cope with four months of colicky crying and gave us some useful tools to help sooth our newborn son.

Frozen Yogurt Pops

Beat the heat this summer by making yogurt pops that you and your little one can enjoy. If you have a toddler or an older child, include them in the process--they will enjoy the popsicles even more.

-2 cups plain lowfat yogurt
-2 cups frozen berries
-1/2 to 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar (raspberries should get 3/4 cups sugar because of their tartness)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze.

Recipe from the Deceptively Delicious cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld

Keeping Your Baby Safe

I'm making this month's Go Green entry short, sweet, and safer for your little one. While pregnant, I found a great website called Safe Mama that is a fabulous resource for safe baby products, resources, and product recall information.

They even have "cheat sheets" on a variety of baby products including BPA-free bottles and sippy cups, baby bath products, and sunscreen.

Go to www.safemama.com to find out more.

Fabulous Kid Book

Pie in the Sky by Lois Ehlert

This book is about both the seasonal development of a cherry tree and the actual making of a pie. The unique paper collage illustrations are absolutely beautiful. Although it's essentially a story book, it also encompasses many non-fiction elements, including labels, and a recipe for cherry pie. As an added bonus, the cover's punched out pie holes are the perfect size for little fingers!

Making Freezer Jam

Freezer Jam is a great way to use lots of ripe fruit and save it for later. It's also super easy to make and a fun activity for your child to help with as well. Many freezer jam recipes require no cooking and will keep for up to a year in the freezer. You can enjoy that fresh fruit flavor until next season (if the jam lasts that long!)

You will need:
-Ripe fruit
-Pectin (look on the pectin box for the freezer jam recipe)
-containers for freezing

*Use perfectly ripe fruit
*Make sure your containers are meant for the freezer. Plastic or special freezer safe glass jars work well.
*Use pint-size containers or less as the jam will not set up as well.
*Follow the specific freezer jam recipe on the pectin you purchase for the best results.

Local U-Pick Produce

Tis' the season for fresh fruit and veggies. This year, try doing some of your shopping at a local farm. And if you're up for it, try picking the produce yourself. It's a fun outing for the whole family and it's often much cheaper to pick your own fruits and vegetables. Many farms also sell already picked produce at cheaper than grocery prices so you can pick what's in the fields and still buy a wide variety of produce. Some local farms in your area may also be organic. If you're not sure, ask the farmer about their farming practices. Often, small farms have not gone through the arduous process of having their farm certified as organic but practice sustainable farming nonetheless.
Go to www.pickyourown.org to find local farms in your area. This website also has picking tips, canning recipes, and lots of extra information to help you find resources wherever you live.

I'm a Dan Zanes Groupie

Or at least I feel like it. Our family attended the Dan Zanes and Friends concert in Portland last weekend and had so much fun. My son Alex even got to meet the band and have them sign his concert T-shirt. Rock on!

For those of you who aren't familiar with Dan Zanes and Friends, here's the scoop. Although their music has got a definite kid focus, it really appeals to people of all ages. The music is a variety of folk (both American and World music), combined with some original songs and a touch of Rock and Roll. It's music that kids love and parents will actually enjoy as well. They even won the Grammy for Best Children's Album last year. Alex is an even bigger fan than we are and has most of the Dan Zanes' albums including "Catch that Train", "House Party", and the mellower "Night Time". The band is set to launch their newest album "Nueva York" this month. We can't wait! Check them out on their website at the Dan Zanes and Friends Homepage where you can read all about them, listen to music, and order their albums, if you're interested.

Bubbles for All Ages

Blowing bubbles is an activity that children of all ages can learn from and enjoy. Infants learn to track moving objects while older children can participate in making the bubble solution and blowing the bubbles themselves. Here's an easy bubble recipe for you to try at home. Double it if you want to make really BIG BUBBLES!

Bubble Solution

4 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup hand dishwashing detergent (Dawn is recommended)
4 oz. glycerin or corn syrup
Stir ingredients together gently and let stand for at least a few hours for the solution to come together.

Scheduling and Energy Audit

Our family recently scheduled an energy audit to see how we could improve our energy efficiency and cut energy costs. We had an inspector from Energy Trust of Oregon walk through our house and give us the energy low-down. She came armed with free CFLs (compact florescent lightbulbs), low-flow shower heads (which she installed), and some vital information about energy rebates and how to improve our energy efficiency without spending a fortune. And the best part of this whole experience? It was all free!

I know many of our customers don't live in Oregon but energy audits should be available in most areas. Many utility companies and service providers also perform energy audits at little or no cost to you. Here are a few resources for those of you interested in learning more about energy audits and household energy consumption:

*To schedule an energy audit with Energy Trust of Oregon, or to learn more, go to:

* Spend 20 to 30 minutes using this online tool to analyze your home's energy efficiency and receive four free compact fluorescent light bulbs.

*If you're outside Oregon, try Googling "Free energy audit (your location) to find specifics for where you live.

TP Roll Fun!

Here are some fun and easy activities using toilet paper rolls (and other household items):

*Create art.
Have your child dip the ends of tp rolls into different colored paints and press them onto construction paper or recycled newspaper, creating "circle" art.

*Make a bird feeder.
With your child, take a tp roll, roll it in peanut butter and bird seed, then hang it in a tree in your yard. You and your child can watch the birds come to feed.

*Make a musical instrument.
Tape one end of the tube with masking tape, fill the tube about 1/3 full of dry rice, lentils, or beans. Tape the other end shut, then decorate and rock out!

*Set up a creation station.
Give your child an assortment of household items (tp rolls, cardboard boxes, empty yogurt containers, string, etc.), tape, and markers or crayons. Give them free reign to create whatever they want.

Earth Day Books for Kids

There are many kid books that focus on recycling and Earth Day. Here are a few recommendations for younger children.

On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier
A peaceful book about the joyful greeting of a newborn child.

I Love Our Earth by Bill Martin Jr.and Michael R. Sampson
A stunning non-fiction book with beautiful photos and lyrical text.

Clifford's Spring Cleanup
By Norman Bridwell
Part of the popular Clifford series, this book focuses on Earth Day.

Your Eco-Friendly Kitchen

I'm always looking for ways to make greener choices. Here are some tips for reducing waste in the kitchen:
  • Use a wet-erase marker (like Vis'a'vis brand) or a permanent marker to mark the opened or made date on containers stored in your refrigerator (like applesauce and leftovers). This way, you can keep track of what's good and what's got to go. For me, writing down the date keeps me more mindful of what's in my refrigerator and helps me to waste less.
  • Cloth napkins aren't just for fancy dinners. Replace paper napkins with an assortment of cloth napkins that can generally be used for multiple meals before washing (barring a three year old's spaghetti disaster!). Give each family member their own unique napkin holder to store their napkin for the next meal. With my young son, I also use a thin washcloth I can rinse and air dry between meals.
  • Use cold water for most kitchen tasks. Keep your faucet handle in the "cold" position (or reach for the cold handle) when using your kitchen sink. Turning on the hot water uses substantially more energy even before hot water actually begins to flow.
  • Buy and prep in bulk. Eliminate unnecessary packaging and pack left overs in reusable containers.

Some of the above tips come from a handy book called It's Easy Being Green--A Handbook for Earth-Friendly Living by Crissy Trask. Some tips are from yours truly....

Planting a Child's Garden

The first summer my son Alex was walking, we planted a small garden with some herbs, flowers, and quite a few tomato plants. It was a hot summer and the garden went crazy. The tomato plants became the focus of endless fascination for Alex. He loved to help me pick the tomatoes and would definitely eat more than his share. He now has his own little plot where he gets to choose what to plant each year. He really loves having some ownership in his garden and definitely enjoys the fruits of his labor!

Plant a garden with your child!

Here are some tips and suggestions for getting started:

*Choose plants that are colorful and edible (flowers can also be a nice addition--just make sure they're nontoxic)

*If you don't have space for a garden, us a pot and start small.

*Include your child in the planning, tending, and harvesting. Even very little ones will enjoy helping with the, digging, watering, and eating.

*Make sure to use organic fertilizers and avoid pesticides!

*Give your child their own trowel and watering can so they can feel some ownership and responsibility in the garden.

*Plant suggestions- cherry tomatoes, snap peas, strawberries, chives, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers (if you have the room), pansies, nasturtiums

A Fabulous (and Hilarious) Kid Book

Knuffle Bunny

by Mo Willems

This months book pick is on our son's current list of favorites. It's a picture book that tells the story of a young toddler named Trixie and her favorite toy, Knuffle Bunny. Trixie and her dad walk to the laundromat with a basket of dirty clothes and accidentally leave Knuffle Bunny which, as you may guess, becomes a BIG problem for the whole family. The illustrations are actually a combination of black and white photography with cartoonish illustrations that do a supurb job of helping to tell the story. It's a humorous tale that both parents and children will relate to and enjoy.

Reducing Catalog Waste

A friend of mine sent me this info. about stopping unwanted catalogs from landing in your mailbox. The website www.catalogchoice.org is a free service that will contact the companies for you and have you removed from their mailing list. It takes just a minute to login, find the catalogs, and process your request. So much easier that trying to contact individual companies, and much better for the environment. Check out the environmental impacts of catalogs below (taken from the Catalog Choice website).

Each year, 19 billion catalogs are mailed to American consumers.

What's the impact?

  • Number of trees used - 53 million trees
  • Pounds of paper used - 3.6 million tons of paper
  • Energy used to produce this volume of paper - 38 trillion BTUs, enough to power 1.2 million homes per year
  • Contribution to global warming - 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to the annual emissions of two million cars
  • Waste water discharges from this volume of paper - 53 billion gallons of water, enough to fill 81,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools

Environmental impact estimates were made using the Environmental Defense paper calculator.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Chemical Reaction

For hours of entertainment....for you (and your kid).


Mixture A:

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 cups white school glue
a few drops of food coloring (or glitter)

Mixture B:
1 1/3 cups of warm water
3 tsp. borax

1. In one container, combine Mixture A.
2. In a second container, combine Mixture B.
3. Combine Mixture A and B together with your hands until Flubber is formed. (There may be some liquid over).
4. Remove Flubber from the bowl and have fun! (Store in an air tight container).

My New Favorite (Kid) Book

Yummy YUCKY by Leslie Patricelli (Patricelli has also written BIG Little and Quiet LOUD).

Put simply, I LOVE THIS BOOK! We got this for my son when he was teeny tiny and it's been a favorite since the get-go. It is an opposites book that focuses on the yummy and yucky things in everyday life. Leslie Patricelli adds a twist with adorable illustrations and a sense of humor both kids and parents appreciate. It's published as a board book so it's sturdy (and yummy) enough for little ones who like to chew on everything!

Green Cleaning Guide

Everyone wants a clean and safe home. But many cleaning products actually contain chemicals that are harmful to you and your family's health. The Oregon Environmental Council (one of my new favorite resources) has put out a cleaning guide with recipes for household cleaners that are non-toxic, inexpensive, and biodegradable. Below is the recipe for their all-purpose cleaner. If you're interested in other cleaning recipes, go to the green cleaning guide on the Oregon Environmental Council site where you can download various cleaning recipes or request a hard copy to have on hand.


1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tsp. borax
3 1/2 cups hot water
20 drops of antibacterial essential oil (such as lemon or lavender essential oil)
1/4 cup liquid dish soap

Mix ingredients in a 32-oz. spray bottle. Add dish soap last, and wash surfaces. The smell of vinegar will dissipate.


What to do on a rainy day? Make Peanut Butter Play Dough, of course! Making (and eating) this dough brings back fond memories of childhood. As a kid, I loved to roll it out or make little play dough people (complete with raisin eyes) and then eat my creations when I was finished playing!

Peanut Butter Play Dough


*2 cups creamy peanut butter
*1 cup sifted powdered milk
*1/2 cup honey
*an assortment of raisins, nuts, sunflower seeds, coconut, or chocolate chips for decorating

Mix together peanut butter, powdered milk, and honey. Add more powdered milk if dough is too moist. Knead for 5 minutes and store in a container in the refrigerator until use.

Non-fiction for Munchkins

Did you know that over 85% of what we adults read and write is non-fiction? So it would make sense to expose children at a very young age to lots of non-fiction books. Yet, the vast majority of children's books are fiction. Now, don't get me wrong--most children love fictional stories. But kids need to experience non-fiction as well. And children, even the teeny ones, are so curious about the world around them, so why not?

BabyGenius Series by DK Books (Series includes titles such as Colors, Baby Animals, Shapes, Numbers among others)

My pick for this month is the BabyGenius series of books published by DK books. We have the Baby Animals and the Colors book in our home. This series uses vivid photographs, simple text, and rich vocabulary. These books are geared for the 0-18 month set but my 2 1/2 year old still likes reading them and is now pointing out the letters he's learning in the headings on each page. Very engaging books for your smart cookie!

Plastic Freakout

It seems like so many of today's children's products are made of plastic. Some plastics are considered fairly safe, while others are known to contain carginogens or to leach chemicals that disrupt hormones. How do you know what to avoid? Although there are many non-plastic alternatives, it's difficult to avoid plastics altogether. The Oregon Environmental Council has put out an informative safer plastics guide that outlines the different types of plastics, the products they're used in, and the risks associated with them. Click on the safer plastics link on the Oregon Environmental Council site where you can download the plastics information or request a hard copy that folds up neatly into your wallet.

Yummy Crostini

Here's a great recipe for any holiday party. It is quick, easy to make, and always receives rave reviews. This is my "go to" appetizer for almost any event.

Olive Crostini


*1 cup pitted kalamata olives
*2 med. cloves garlic
*1 cup grated parmesan
*4 Tbsp. butter
*2 Tbsp. olive oil
*1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)
*1 baguette

Preheat oven to broil. Chop olives coarsely in a food processor, then transfer to a bowl. With processor running, drop garlic through tube and mince. Add 1/2 cup parmesan, butter, and olive oil and process into a paste. Add this mixture to a bowl with the olives, parsley, and remaining parmesan. Mix well. Cut baguette into thin slices and spread each slice with the olive mixture. Cook under a broiler until bubbly and lightly browned.

Holiday Book Ideas

Ok, so I'll admit it. I am a children's book junkie. Being a former teacher and a mother of a two year old, it's hard not to notice all the wonderful books that are published for kids. I always have my eyes and ears open for great books and here are a couple that stand out for the holiday season.

Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett
This book is currently one of Alex's favorites. It is the familiar tale of the Gingerbread cookie that escapes the oven and wreaks havoc on an entire town. This version by Brett is beautifully illustrated in her signature style, complete with a detailed gingerbread border on every page. There is also a little gingerbread house on the last page that opens to reveal the surprise ending. We own the board book but this book comes in a standard size as well.

Dream Snow by Eric Carle
As with many Eric Carle books, this one weaves in multiple elements. Dream Snow is perfect for little ones and includes counting, prediction, and a little Christmas magic. Alex loves this book's colorful illustrations, animals, and the button on the last page that plays the beautiful sound of chimes when pushed.

Both these books are currently in print and could be found at your local bookstore.

Go Green for the Holidays

Household waste increases by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. In the United States, trash from wrapping paper and shopping bags totals 4 million tons.
-Fact taken from Real Simple Magazine, December 2007.

Some Ideas to cut down on the holiday waste:
*Use reusable bags or totes for all of your shopping. I like to store my bags in the car so I don't forget to take them with me.
*Wrap with less impact. Use wrapping paper or tissue made from post-consumer waste. Paper or fabric gift bags also look festive and can be used again and again.
*During gift giving, have a few bags set out for sorting ribbons and bows, gift bags, and wrapping paper. The ribbons, bows, and gift bags can be reused and the gift wrap recycled.
*Try giving a few gifts without gift wrap. Certain gifts will look perfect tied with a simple ribbon.