MommyCon 2016 Review & Ticket Giveaway

Crunchy Parent MommyCon 2016 Chicago natural parenting conference review & ticket giveaway

Yesterday I reviewed MommyCon’s recent Chicago stop, focusing on the overall natural parenting conference experience and speakers. Today I wanted to spend some time highlighting the expo side of MommyCon, and reviewing MommyCon’s great gifts and giveaways.

I’m also excited to jump on the giveaway bandwagon myself. MommyCon has provided me with two free tickets to give away to the upcoming MommyCon event of the winner’s choice. You can enter to win at the end of the post. You can also knock $5.00 off of any MommyCon ticket price with the discount code CRUNCHY16.

MommyCon Vendors

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As much as MommyCon is appreciated as a natural parenting conference, I think that they are equally well known as an expo; bringing together great vendors whose products cater to natural families. Any time that you wanted to pry yourself away from the speakers, and all throughout the lunch hour, the exhibitor area was bustling with activity at all of the wonderful booths. For people who frequently only get to explore natural specialty products online, this was a great opportunity to see, touch, and interact with items, and to make purchases, often at promotional MommyCon discounted prices.

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Over 100 vendors were present at the show, selling baby carriers, cloth diapering supplies, teething jewelry, reusable menstrual products, natural personal care items, organic mattresses, hip advocacy and nursing wear, and more.

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In addition to vendors selling their products, there were also companies promoting their products through product samples, local service providers raising awareness about their businesses, and organizations spreading the word and rallying support for their causes.

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The vendor area also housed the Babywearing School stage toward the back, where babywearing topics were presented. Products were demonstrated to show different wrapping and wearing techniques to accommodate children of various ages.

Sprinkled throughout the vendor area were informational tables helping to educate conference attended about feeding techniques and cloth diapering.

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Cloth Diaper Resource Center

For anyone who has ever tried to figure out the difference between a fitted, AIO, pocket, or prefold, there were displays on-hand allowing parents to touch, see, and consider which products might work best for their families.

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More Cloth Diaper Resource Center

Consultants were also on-hand to help answer questions that parents might have about cloth diapering in general. I thought that these informational displays and consultation areas were great low-pressure ways to promote the use of more natural products and increase awareness.

My one regret was that I walked throughout the vendor area taking it all in without buying any products initially. I planned to wait to make my purchases at the end of the day because I didn’t want to have to carry them with me throughout the show (I was already lugging a bag, snacks, a reusable water bottle, note pad, etc.) My intention had been to take the 20 minutes in between the final big presentation of the day and the end-of-the-day product giveaway announcement to scoot back to the vendors and make my purchases. As I came to learn, that plan was flawed (more on that in a moment). As a result, although I saw many products that I would have loved to have brought home from the show, I ended up not buying anything. Fortunately, several of the vendors included special MommyCon promotion codes for savings off of online purchases in the show materials, so the chance for future orders remains. Still, had I known how the end of the day was going to shape up, I would have planned my purchasing differently.

MommyCon Giveaways & Gift Bag

If there is one thing that has earned MommyCon great word-of-mouth, it is their amazing gift bags and giveaways. Before going to the show, I learned that every attendee to the show would receive a jam-packed gift bag. In addition, MommyCon gives extra gift bags to attendees of their VIP events. All MommyCon attendees are also be entered in the end-of-the-show giveaway to receive any of a number of amazing prizes ranging from car seats and organic crib mattresses, to high chairs and baby carriers. MommyCon had also promoted some mysterious “scavenger hunt” prizes through their Facebook page with small items hidden throughout the MommyCon convention space that could be redeemed for prizes. In all, there is no doubt that MommyCon knows that people really love gifts and free goodies.

The MommyCon conference day ended with 25 minutes of giveaways, for which the winner was required to be present. What that looked like in actuality was every last man, woman, and child at the conference descending upon a central area to hear if their tag number might be called as a winner. As mentioned before, the prizes were fantastic and the giveaway was clearly a huge draw and an incentive for people to stay, learn, and shop the expo up until the very last moment. Unfortunately, this also meant that the room was filled to bursting with overtired babies and toddlers who had been troopers through almost 8 hours of the conference already, and the noise level began to climb with restless, crabby children. It also meant that as everyone filtered into the room, many gathered toward the back near the doors, making exiting and entering the room a bit of an adventure.

MommyCon Chicago 2016 giveaway crowd

The MommyCon crowd awaits the giveaways. Photo Credit: Katie Hovland www.katiehovland.com

I had been seated near the front of the room during Jade Beall’s presentation that ended 20 minutes before the giveaway was scheduled to begin. As mentioned, I had intended to scoot back to the vendor room to make my purchases in those 20 minutes and return for the giveaway, but as I saw the traffic situation in the room shaping up into a major bottleneck by the doors, I gave up that idea, and stayed put in my chair.

The giveaway dragged on a bit, not helped by the restless crowd. I am sure however that the many winners were completely delighted by the items that they received, and found them well worth the wait. Once the last product had been handed out, all of the attendees poured out of the room and headed toward the elevators and parking garage. Despite the large numbers of people, I was surprised by how smoothly the transition went. It wasn’t long before I was back in my car, and ready to make the drive back home.

The gift bag that I received was for members of the Media Team, since I was attending MommyCon as part of their Blogger Collective. I’m not sure how the Media Bag differed from any of the other gift bags, but since it was in a different area than the general gift bags, I can only assume that it is unique in some way, so I wanted to provide that caveat.

I have to be honest and say that I was rather impressed when I went to pick up my gift bag and was handed a giant reusable MommyCon tote filled with goodies plus an adjunct item. I have attended many conferences and expos in my day and never have I received anything like this. I was eager to get back home and look through all of the goods.

MommyCon Media gift bag

MommyCon Media gift bag

The bag contained loads of informational and promotional materials from vendors and sponsors of the event, many of whom had included special codes for MommyCon exclusive discounts off of orders. The bag also held many great products from vendors at the conference.

If I was a mother of very young children, I would have been especially thrilled by all of the useful items, which ranged from disposable breast pads and glow-in-the-dark sippy cups to a cloth diaper wet bag and a breastmilk pumping and feeding system. As a parent of children who are past their infant, toddler, and preschool years, only a fraction of the items included were relevant for our family at our current stage of life. I felt a little guilty for being the recipient of such lovely items that we have no use for. I am sure that I will have no trouble finding a friend who will enjoy the items, but nevertheless I wish that more of the products were useful for families with children beyond the nursing, diaper, and bib stage.

The theme for MommyCon 2016 is “Growing Together” and I know that a lot of emphasis has been placed on including topics relevant to older children, families, and to parents themselves. I loved this step forward to embrace more of the natural parenting community, but the gift bag didn’t seem to hold true to this idea as well as the conference and expo on the whole. I would have been thrilled to find a reusable menstrual product, advocacy wear, un-paper household product, or other items that would have helped the overall balance of the bag to better reflect this year’s theme. I am nevertheless still blown away by the general awesomeness of the gift bag and will savor the yummy foods, household, and personal care items that were included in the bag.

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Evenflo scavenger hunt prize

In addition, my eagle eyes were fortunate to find one of the “scavenger hunt” items hidden in the conference area by Evenflo. As a prize for my good fortune, I received a cute Evenflo coffee mug and a $10 Starbucks gift card, which by far was Rich’s favorite thing that I brought home.

Final Thoughts about MommyCon Chicago

I was a bit dubious about attending MommyCon as a mom of children in elementary and middle school. I wasn’t sure if there would be much for me to learn after parenting from a natural/attachment parenting perspective for over thirteen years; and with the birthing, nursing, diapering, and babywearing years behind me. I was encouraged by the “Growing Together” theme, and figured that even if I didn’t find the topics to be directly relevant to my family, the conference would still be a great chance to meet other like-minded parents in the area.

I was really pleased to find the conference experience to be completely satisfying and enriching. There was not a moment of my time that I did not feel was being spent productively; learning or discovering something new that was relevant to me and to my family. I came away from the day feeling more empowered and prepared to take on approaching milestones for my children at their current ages, and for enhancing my relationship with my husband at this point in our marriage. I reflected on myself as a woman beyond my role as either wife or mother, which I know is far too easy to loose touch with, especially when one is oriented toward a very hands-on approach to parenting.

Overall, I was very impressed with the extent to which MommyCon attempted to cater to the needs of parents and children attending the conference. From diapering, feeding, snuggling, napping, playing, and more MommyCon had given thought to what their guests would need to comfortably enjoy the day. This alone is such a juxtaposition to so many conferences and expos, where children and their needs must be “managed” by parents so that adults can attend, rather than woven into the fabric of the event as it was at MommyCon.

For any parent of young children navigating the waters of natural, gentle, crunchy, or attachment parenting, I would assert that MommyCon is a safe place to find your tribe; to learn, to discover, and to grow. For experienced crunchy parents of older children like myself, I am pleased to report that I found MommyCon to move the conversation of natural parenting forward into later phases of parenting as well. In addition, MommyCon shed light on the too-often neglected topic of parents themselves, and their needs as individuals and partners. I am already looking forward to MommyCon returning to Chicago next year.

MommyCon Ticket Giveaway

If you are still waiting for MommyCon 2016 to arrive at a location near you, you’re in luck. In addition to offering the CRUNCHY16 code for $5 off tickets, I have two tickets to give away to one of the upcoming MommyCon 2016 events*. I will select one winner who will receive 2 free ticket to the 2016 MommyCon event of their choice*, or two passes for a 1-day attendance to MommyCon’s Milk or Wear conferences.

Fine Print: The winner is responsible for any transportation or accommodations as needed. Contest will remain open through Tuesday March 29, 11:59 PM Central time. Winner will be notified by me within 24 hours via email, so please enter with an email address that you check regularly. If I do not hear back from the winner with their city of choice within 72 hours of being contacted, prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected. Crunchy Parent will make every effort to arrange and support prize distribution, however ticket giveaway and distribution are ultimately the responsibility of MommyCon. Good luck!

*The April 2nd Seattle Conference is not eligible as a prize option due to the timing parameters of the giveaway.

Win 2 tickets to MommyCon! (Please click the link to enter)

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MommyCon Chicago 2016 Review

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It’s such a great experience when you find yourself among like-minded people, discussing topics from a shared perspective. It was a big moment for me in my earlier parenting years when I attended the La Leche League 50th anniversary conference, and for the first time found myself surrounded on a large scale by experts, vendors, and parents who shared and supported many of my parenting values.

I was so excited to attend the MommyCon Conference in Chicago earlier this month to see if I could capture some of that same magic, and to consider if such events were still relevant to me as a parent of older children. I am happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

MommyCon gives a lot of focus and attention to topics of interest to parents of young children, such as breastfeeding, babywearing, and cloth diapering. It was evident that they also emphasize issues pertaining to older children, in addition to the well-being of parents themselves.

Before I dig in to all of the nitty gritty, here is a breakdown of the MommyCon basics

MommyCon is a conference and expo aimed at “forward thinking parents with a natural flair.” The conferences are held on multiple dates throughout the year at different venues around the country. Tickets for upcoming MommyCon events can still be purchased, and the code CRUNCHY16 will knock $5.00 off of the ticket price. ***BONUS Spoiler*** Tomorrow I will be posting Part 2 of the MommyCon Review, which will include a giveaway for 2 free tickets to an upcoming MommyCon 2016 event of the winner’s choosing.

Chicago was the second stop of the 2016 schedule. Parents from near and far converged upon the convention center, many wearing their babies with them at the one-day event. Tremendous effort was put forth to make sure that babies and young children were comfortable throughout the day.

Caring for the Big and Little MommyCon Conference-Goers

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MommyCon had play areas set up in the back of many of the large lecture spaces so that children could remain entertained while the adults listened to speakers.

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There were also craft stations in the hallways for older children to flex their artistic muscles when they were in need of a creative outlet. New this year, MommyCon offered a drop-off care option at the Chicago location for children ages three and up, although this is not available at all of the conference locations this year.

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In addition to keeping children active, MommyCon catered to their other needs as well. The conference provided fully-stocked changing stations where babies could be diapered in complementary (healthier) sposies. Wipes were also provided free for all the mini conference attendees.

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Stonyfield sponsored an eating area where babies and children (and parents) could enjoy a snack of yogurt. MommyCon also had water stations in the hallways where reusable water bottles could be refilled, and where cups and cold water were available as needed.

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Mystery bags hanging out in the hallway

MommyCon provided snack bags on several tables in various hallways, free to anyone who had the munchies. These bags were not labeled in any way though and they went quickly, so you needed to be made aware of their presence and act fast if you wanted one.

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Revealed! Snacks for those in the know.

Nurslings could of course snack wherever and whenever they wanted. For those benefiting from a quieter, less stimulating environment, MommyCon had a “ladies & babies only” nursing lounge for some private snuggle time, as well as a Quiet Room for a good long nap.

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MommyCon Talks & Topics

MommyCon had packed the day’s schedule with presentations covering topics of interest to parents with children of all ages. They had four larger conference rooms in addition to three smaller, topic-specific rooms exclusively targeting sleeping, feeding, and woman-centered issues. At any given moment, conference attendees could select from among 3-6 different presentations on topics ranging from cloth diapering 101, breastfeeding for the working mom, infant massage, car seat safety, toddler wearing, picky eaters, body positive images, baby led weaning, and more. It was sometimes difficult to choose between subject areas, but I tended to stick with parent, older-child, and family-oriented discussions since they were most relevant to me.

Vagina Village at MommyCon 2016

Vagina Village draws a crowd

The talks held in the larger conference rooms had plenty of seating available, as well as the aforementioned child play areas in the back. New to 2016, MommyCon introduced “Vagina Village,” a smaller room hosting presentations specific to women, such as intimacy post-children, talking to young girls about their periods, and supporting care of mothers postpartum and beyond. Many of the talks here were standing room only as listeners sat on the floor and spilled out into the adjacent hallway. With such an enthusiastic response, I hope that MommyCon will give some of these topics more premium space at other venues, and in future years. It was clear to me that in addition to learning about their babies and children, MommyCon visitors really want to learn about mommy too.

As a parent of older children (ages almost six through thirteen,) a standout session was “The Period Talk Unraveled” by Meg Eldridge from generationMe. Meg gave parents thoughtful tools for helping their daughters feel comfortable, prepared, and knowledgeable enough about their periods to respond to their cycles from an empowered position; without fear or embarrassment. She encouraged ways to normalize and acknowledge this milestone, and to create a positive culture around this aspect of womanhood that is often complained and joked about in our society, rather than honored or respected. Meg spoke about the many reusable menstrual products available today.

Meg from GenerationMe MommyCon 2016

Meg of generationMe shows some of the reusable products in the exhibitor area. Photo Credit: Katie Hovland www.katiehovland.com

I was rather intrigued by “period panties” that have an absorbent panel to catch any leaks and avoid embarrassing middle school moments or unnecessary laundry challenges. During the Q&A session following Meg’s presentation, moms shared some of their experiences with reusable menstrual cups, and discussed how to talk to their young children about menstruation (since moms never seem to have a moment alone in the bathroom and the topic has a way of coming up). Meg also handed out a mommy-specific tip; informing us that the Soft Cup menstrual cup is even safe and tidy to wear during intercourse (who knew?).

In a session focused on natural products for the whole family, Jenny Duranski of Chicago’s Noktivo natural nail salon spoke about the lack of regulation in the United States with respect to the ingredients in personal care and beauty products. She encouraged parents in attendance to become more aware, and to make simple changes in the products that they use to help maintain safer healthier homes, and safer healthier families. She highlighted two of my favorite resources, the EWG Skin Deep Database and the Think Dirty app as starting points to become more conscious of what is in the products that we buy and put on our bodies.

As many of you know, I am rather passionate about making healthy choices that support wellness. I am likewise always in support of products that are effective, affordable, and allow people to feel nurtured and beautiful. I was delighted to see this topic presented at MommyCon, and I hope to see healthy home products and green beauty explored even more at future MommyCon events.

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I also very much enjoyed the presentation about positive body image by photographer Jade Beall of A Beautiful Body Project. Beall showed dozens of her powerful images, capturing women’s bodies as they really appear in all stages of their adult lives; from pregnancy, nursing, postpartum, and on through to grand-motherhood.

Beall focused on the liberating, educational, and cumulative effects of projecting real images out into our society, rather than accepting mainstream photoshopped “celebreality” pictures as truth. To highlight the assertion that honesty in images can change society’s views of beauty, Beall demonstrated that a Goggle image search for the term “beautiful body” is now peppered with Beall’s “true beauty” images amongst the scantily-clad photos of starlets and swimsuit models (warning: link contains nudity). This concrete example showed that grassroots efforts to promote realistic images of women and beauty, change the definition of beauty over time.

Stay Tuned….

Tomorrow I will continue my review of MommyCon’s Chicago stop, talking about the Vendor Expo, giveaways, and gift bag. I’ll also have a giveaway of my own to share; two free tickets to the MommyCon 2016 event of the winner’s choice (enter here).

If you don’t want to leave anything to chance, you can still get a $5.00 discount off of your ticket purchase for any remaining MommyCon 2016 dates with the code CRUNCHY16. If you are feeling lucky, be sure to check back tomorrow to enter the ticket giveaway. Subscribe to Crunchy Parent and you’ll even receive an email reminder when the giveaway opens so that you won’t forget.

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Tutorial: Needle Felted Wool Sachet or Ornament

Crunchy Parent Tutorial Needle Felted Sachets and Ornaments

I told you all that I was felt like I had come up a bit short in the crunchy department when it came to the kids school valentines this year. I thought that it might be nice to do a more natural Valentine’s Day-related craft with the kids on the actual holiday since we had the luxury of having Valentine’s Day fall on the weekend. Alina is especially drawn to doing handcrafts and Asher has become more excited by them over the past year. Eva was spending Valentine’s Day at a friend’s house so I pulled together a basket of wool batting and the younger kids and I needle felted some fragrant sachets together.

Alina, age 9, has been needle felting for a number of years, but this was Asher’s first time wielding a felting needle at not quite six years old. Felting needles are sharp and hurt if you end up getting poked. I supervised him closely on this project, and tried to teach him some of the basic needle felting safety rules. It is clear to see in the video that Asher was very proud of his developing skill and is excited about future felting projects. He did need help to complete this task, but he was able to participate in a lot of the work.

Alina was more independent in her craft, but she asked me to do most of the embellishing for her. As bad luck would have it, our whole family came down with the norovirus within hours of shooting this video, with Alina leading the pack. I think that she was starting to get worn out, which is why she handed the embellishment job over to me. Under different circumstances, I might have set the sachet aside for her to finish on another day, but she really wanted it to be part of the finished pictures for the tutorial.

It is often suggested in Waldorf circles that it is best for young children (especially prior to age seven) to avoid work on needle felting human or animal figures. There can be something disturbing about repeatedly jabbing a needle into something that looks like a person or animal. This project is a great one for new felters, young and old, because it works mostly in two dimensions and in a confined area. The cookie cutter creates structure for the project, and the whole thing comes together quickly.

For the project you will need:
wool roving or batting (colored or natural)
felting needle
felting pad
cookie cutter(s) in desired shape(s)
optional embellishments such as wool yarn, prefelt scraps, curly wool locks, etc.

The supplies can be gathered from many retail sources online and through craft sites such as etsy.com or ebay.com. You may also be lucky enough to have fiber shops or a Waldorf school local to you who may carry supplies. I purchased my felting needles and some of my colored batting through Peace Fleece. I also love shopping at Esther’s Place Fiber Arts Studio, which was my local fiber shop prior to our move. For those who are not local to them, they do sell products online and through Etsy as well.

I have even noticed that chain-store craft stores like Michael’s and Jo-Ann Fabric carry a limited selection of needle felting tools, kits, and supplies, wool batting, and roving as well if you wish to go that route. If you are a fan of one-stop, click and receive shopping, Amazon has a large selection of wool fiber for felting in endless colors as well as felting needles and multi-needle felting tools and accessories.

As I also mention in the video, I have purchased upholstery foam from Joann Fabrics to use as a felting pad. It is cut and sold by desired length and if you plan ahead, you can bring one of the ubiquitous 40% off Joanne coupons with you to increase your savings.

The video will give you a good overview of how the project comes together, but I wanted to give a closer look at some of the steps.

I showed several types of cookie cutters in the video. Admittedly, a cutter that is open at the top without any bar or handle is easiest to use for this project, but I showed my process using a less open cutter here. In all cases, you want to begin by stacking several thin layers of wool in the cutter, alternating the direction in which you place the wool (horizontally and vertically). Try your best to keep the wool inside the cookie cutter. It’s okay if some of the wool climbs up the edges a bit; it will get felted down in the process. Because I was working with a more involved design shape here, and with a low-profile cutter with a bar, my wool extended outside the cookie cutter (oops). Not a big deal, it will get fixed later; felting is a very forgiving process.

Poke around the shape in the cookie cutter.

Poke around the shape in the cookie cutter.

1. Poke around the inside of the cookie cutter, forming the shape of the cutter. I rotated the flower cutter here to get better access to my work area. Once again, don’t worry too much about the wool that may have extend outside of the cutter. We’ll fix it in a moment.

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2. Lifting up the cookie cutter, you can see the flower shape roughed out on the foam mat. The loose wool that is extending beyond the felted petals can now be folded in and felted to the flower without the cookie cutter getting in the way. For open cutters like Asher and Alina used in the video, there won’t be much overhang, so they pretty much skipped this step. Once I moved the cookie cutter out of the way, I could also felt down that pouffy center section.

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3. The flower shape is clear now, but some of the curves lack definition.

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4. Carefully using the needle parallel to the foam mat, you can work to define the shape.

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5. Add your fragrant filler (dried flower petals, aromatic herbs, etc.). Repeat steps 1-4 to create a second shape using the same color wool or a contrasting color if you prefer.

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6. Make a sandwich using your two wool layers and your aromatics. Note that you can see some thinner spots on my top flower here. That’s not a problem, more wool can be added as needed throughout the process. Felt around the edges of the “sandwich” to join the front and back securely. Take care felting around the center of the piece to avoid hitting the aromatics in the center. Hard ones like the star anise that I used could cause your needle to break if jabbed too forcefully.

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Once your front and back pieces have been fairly well joined together, you may find it easier to stand your sachet on its side to firmly felt all around the perimeter. I demonstrate that here with Alina’s pink sachet. Of course, you would want to use two hands when doing this, but taking photos calls for some one-handed maneuvers.

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7. Add your embellishments. I used different-colored wool here to create the flower design. On Asher’s and Alina’s sachets, they both chose to make a second smaller object using a mini cookie cutter, and we also used wool and wool yarn to create designs. Wool yarn can be felted to the sachet with the needle just as you would do with the wool fiber.

Finished sachets

Finished sachets

The project can be easily modified to make holiday ornaments, seasonal window hangings, felted play food, pins, hair clips, and more. If the sachet loses its scent over time or just needs a punch of fragrance, you can add a couple of drops of essential oil to the back of the sachet. If you do this, you may wish to take care about where you place the sachet to avoid transfer of the essential oil to clothing or surfaces.

I hope that you enjoyed the tutorial and look forward to sharing more wool and natural crafting with you. What are some of your felting crafts to do with children? What natural crafting tutorials would you like to see?

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MommyCon 2016 the Conference for Forward-Thinking Parents with a Natural Flair Coming to Chicago! (+ Discount)

MommyCon 2016 conference schedule for naturally-minded parents

As some of you know, I began this blog almost nine years ago. Eva was in preschool at a lovely, nature-based, Waldorf school. Alina was a barely a toddler, spending most of her time snuggled up to me nursing away in a wrap or sling. The blog was my way of processing my parenting journey and connecting with other parents on similar paths. It motivated me to learn more, try new things, and share ideas and thoughts with others.

One of the big things that I did that first year as a natural family blogger was to seek out festivals, expos, and conferences oriented toward “crunchy” families. I was fortunate that it happened to be the 50th anniversary of La Leche League International that year, and they were having a big weekend-long conference in Chicago that summer to celebrate. Rich and I signed up to attend. Eva stayed with my parents and my little nursling Alina came along with us to enjoy the experience.

It has been many years since I attended that first big conference, but I still remember it as a real rallying point for me. The Waldorf school was a small, like-minded community where we found connection, but the conference felt like we were part of a larger movement. Everywhere I looked there were parents with babies, toddlers, and young children in carriers of all shapes and sizes, many of which I oogled and envied (the carriers I mean, although the children were cute too). Babies looked adorable in their little leg warmers and soft-soled shoes, which were still “fringe” choices at the time. We parents smiled with appreciation at the amber teething necklaces and plump, cloth-diapered bottoms all around us. It felt warm and familiar; as though all of the people behind the usernames in the natural parenting forums had leapt forth from the screens and materialized right before me.

Alina crawls around the conference room floor while mommy learns about medication and breastfeeding.

Alina crawls around the conference room floor while mommy learns about medication and breastfeeding.

The sessions that we attended at the conference spoke of topics that resonated strongly with us and our hunger for guidance and validation on our parenting path; gentle child birth, creating a natural family living community, informed health choices, parenting spirited children, breastfeeding with confidence in the face of challenges, co-sleeping, and more. I learned so much about the decisions ahead of me and processed a great deal about the milestones that had already passed; some of which had turned out differently than I had hoped.

Fangirling on Day 1 of the LLLI Conference in 2007. That's Peggy O'Mara and a starstruck me.

Fangirling on Day 1 of the LLLI Conference in 2007. That’s Peggy O’Mara and a starstruck me.

Rich and I walked with wide eyes and broad smiles down the aisles in the exhibitor’s area. All of the beautiful products that I had spent hours admiring online were right in front of me where I could touch them and ask questions about them. I was shown how to use the Moby wrap that I wore on the second day of the conference to back-carry Alina with ease (a maneuver that I had lacked the confidence to try previously). I admired adorable cloth diapers in all shapes, sizes, and configurations. I looked at beautiful nursing jewelry. I felt in my element in a way that was so rare and so needed at the time.

Happy toddler being back carried in my Moby Wrap-I learned something new!

Happy toddler being back carried in my Moby Wrap-I learned something new!

I am at a different point in my parenting journey now. My first baby turns thirteen next week. My littlest one is almost six. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, cloth diapers, and potty learning are all in my rear view mirror. I still continue to be a crunchy parent whose thoughts are often occupied with how to parent mindfully; what is healthy for my family, and where is my supportive tribe. The specific questions evolve, but the driving philosophy remains the same.

When I resurrected my blog a year ago it reignited a spark and a drive to learn more, to try new things, and to share more along my natural parenting journey and my journey as a naturally-minded person. That is why I was so excited to learn about the opportunity to attend the MommyCon Conference, an annual gathering across the nation that brings together, “forward thinking parents with a natural flair.” This, without question, is my tribe. I was so excited by the prospect of what MommyCon had to offer through their conferences that I went through the process to become a member of the MommyCon Media Team, to help other like-minded parents learn about and experience MommyCon.

MommyCon has already kicked off their 2016 schedule with their conference in Atlanta. In just two weeks they will be headed to Chicago. I am so excited that I will be there to connect with other naturally-minded parents, and parents-to-be. The schedule of speakers and list of vendors has been announced. I am already trying to decide how to choose between the amazing sessions topics which range from postpartum care, cloth diapering, treating childhood illness, positive body image, babywearing, creating intimacy among partners, and all things in between.

As a mom of (relatively) older children, I greatly appreciate that MommyCon has remembered that parenting mindfully extends beyond those first few years. The 2016 theme is “Growing Together” and can be seen in the range of topics being presented. MommyCon had the wisdom to clearly indicate which topics are best suited for parenting children in their first year, second year, toddlerhood and beyond; as well as topics focused on moms and those that are great for dads. The schedule layout makes it easy to find topics in your area(s) of greatest interest.

I think that one of the most challenging lessons for me to learn as a naturally-minded, child-focused parent was the importance of self-care (I’m still working on it). I am especially heartened to see the emphasis that MommyCon has placed on this topic and I hope that every mom in attendance makes time to fit in at least one session that focuses on her needs as well.

Of course, as much as I want to learn new things and meet other parents, I cannot wait to check out the exhibitors and see the great products and concepts that they bring to the show. MommyCon has lined up almost 100 exhibitors to help families feed, wear, clothe, diaper, celebrate, and care for their children and for themselves in a natural, mindful way.

MommyCon has also set up rooms to focus on areas of special interests; the Babywearing Lounge showcases over 40 different popular baby carriers that attendees can see, try on, and receive input about from certified BabyWearing Studies instructors. The Cloth Diaper Resource Center demystifies cloth diapering allowing attendees to see the many different types of cloth diapers available and learn about how to choose the ones to best meet their child’s needs and their budget. Experts are on-hand to discuss issues such as cloth diapering, car seat safety, promoting positive sleep habits, and more. MommyCon even offers stocked diaper changing stations, a feeding lounge, and play stations to meet the needs of even the tiniest conference attendees. Of course I saved the best for last, all attendees receive a gift bag from event sponsors and the event will end with over $10,000 in giveaways.

Tickets for the Chicago conference on March 5th had sold out but 400 more tickets were just added and are going fast. The code CRUNCHY16 will take $5.00 off the price of each ticket. If you have young ones who might want to have their own fun while you learn, the Chicago conference is also offering a Littles Make + Play Camp for children ages three and up. Kids can engage in supervised art and craft fun and creative play during individual sessions or for the whole day.

For those who make not be located close to the Chicago conference location, MommyCon will be hosting many other conferences across the country throughout the year in addition to more specifically focused conferences highlighting babywearing and infant feeding. The code CRUNCHY16 will reduce ticket prices by $5.00 for all locations.

I am counting the days until the Chicago event on Saturday March 5th. Can I look forward to meeting you there?

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Our Gluten Free Chinese New Year Hot Pot Celebration

Crunchy Parent Gluten Free Hot Pot for Chinese New Year

This past week seems to have been a holiday extravaganza. People all around have been celebrating the Lunar New Year, Mardi Gras, and preparing for Valentine’s Day. Throw in the Superbowl (a holiday to some, I suppose) and it’s really been quite a festive week.

I’d mentioned the other day that our family had a fun hot pot dinner last weekend to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year. The meal tradition was introduced to us by some close friends several years ago. It was a great way to bring families together, learn about another culture and their traditions, and have some fun (and some delicious food). It also works to our advantage that the hot pot meal is very easily adapted for gluten free eating, since it consists primarily of broth, vegetables, proteins, and rice.

According the Wikipedia the hot pot meal has been around in some form for over 1000 years. For those unfamiliar, hot pot is like an East Asian version of fondue; dishes of raw meats, seafood, noodles, and vegetables await cooking in a communal pot. When enjoying hot pot, the foods are cooked in a boiling broth and fondue forks are replaced with small metal baskets like these. The cooked food is often enjoyed with a bowl of rice and any of a number of dipping sauces. The added beauty of hot pot is that the broth can be a mild or spicy soup base whose flavor is further enhanced by the ingredients as they cook in the broth. At the end of the meal when our bellies are all stuffed full, we add many of the remaining ingredients to the pot to make a rich and hearty soup to enjoy as leftovers in the days ahead.

In past years, we have had hot pot as a large feast with one or two other families, each bringing a portion of the meal components. Since moving, this was my first year doing the dinner on my own. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed taking it all on alone. As a result, I chose to focus my efforts on the broth, raw ingredients, and dessert. I opted to purchase prepared sauces and appetizers. I got lucky. Our local grocery store must have been celebrating the Lunar New Year as well because they had the whole range of San-J gluten-free, non-GMO Asian cooking sauces on sale as well as gluten free dumplings and egg rolls by Feel Good Foods that were also dairy-free, non-gmo, and contained no msg. Experience has taught us that the meal is far more enjoyable if the children have some prepared foods to eat while they wait for their other foods to start cooking in the hot pot, so these egg rolls and dumplings were perfect.

Before we could think of doing any cooking though, I had to purchase a pot. I mention this here because it was a bit of a task to find a pot that I felt comfortable using. Many electric skillets or hot pots (also referred to as Shabu Shabu pots) have a non-stick coating on the inside. For a multitude of health reasons, I do not use non-stick cookware. I am also dubious about ceramic-coated cookware as well after hearing discouraging information about its safety across manufacturers.

I wanted to buy a stainless steel pot that was going to be large and deep enough to work for a hot pot application and be affordable. After spending the better part of a day researching my options, I purchased this pot. It came with a non-stick grill insert, but I won’t be using that, and the pot part is all stainless steel. I worried that it would be too small to use for a group larger than our family, but I reasoned that if it worked well and we wanted to invite others to join us in future years, I could purchase a second pot if need be.

I spent the days leading up to our meal gathering ingredients from local grocery stores, and then Rich made a quick stop at a large Asian specialty grocer to get the remaining ingredients. We had a range of vegetables including scallions, spinach, bok choi, broccoli, carrots, and various mushrooms. I also purchased organic firm tofu, mung bean “glass” noodles, sticky rice cakes, thinly sliced pork belly, small crabs, calamari, and added some thinly sliced boneless chicken breasts and beef sirloin. In addition, we had bowls of minced cilantro, garlic, and ginger to toss into the pot or to spice up our rice bowls as desired.

Children anxiously await the start of the hot pot meal.

Children anxiously await the start of the hot pot meal.

The kids were so excited for the meal to begin. We got the pot going and I added the broth that I had made from simmering homemade chicken bone broth with fresh ginger, garlic, bay leaf, and some star anise. Each child was given a bowl of brown rice and a small dish for dipping sauces. They also were given two cooking baskets a piece.

Broth in and pot on as we prepare to feast.

Broth in and pot on as we prepare to feast.

We had a lot of fun cooking our foods, trying out the different flavors from the sauces and fishing escaped bits of food out of the pot.

The rice bowls begin to fill with the cooked food.

The rice bowls begin to fill with the cooked food.

The chicken dumplings and vegetable egg rolls that we tried received raves, and the Asian barbecue sauce from San-J earned the highest overall votes as the favorite condiment. All things considered, I still wish that I had time to make some steamed Asian meatballs and some sauces of my own, but there will be other years to do that.

Green vegetables for close family ties; noodles and sticky rice cakes for prosperity and longevity.

Green vegetables for close family ties; noodles and sticky rice cakes for prosperity and longevity.

During our meal we talked about the symbolism of the various foods that we were enjoying. We discussed the tradition of the Chinese New Year Celebration and how it has evolved over time. We talked about the Year of the Monkey and the concept of a Zodiac year versus a Zodiac month. The topics prompted a lot of family conversation and cultural appreciation.

All full. Time to make the soup!

All full. Time to make the soup!

We ended the meal by scooping portions of the remaining ingredients into the pot to make soup for the next day.

Red bean butter mochi cake about to be devoured.

Red bean butter mochi cake about to be devoured.

Finally, we wrapped up the evening with delicious, sticky slices of a gluten and dairy-free version of a red bean mochi butter cake. I will share that recipe in a post to follow soon. Alina has already requested it as her birthday cake this year.

Although we very much missed sharing the celebration with friends as we had done in year’s past, I was glad to broaden the kids’ horizons and create some fun family memories around a happy kitchen table. The leftover soup warmed our bellies throughout the week, and as I write this a week later, I do it with a smile on my face.

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Our Not-So-Crunchy Valentines

Crunchy Parent Valentines

So here’s the deal. I wasn’t going to post about making the kids’ classroom valentines this year. The reason, if I’m being completely honest is because they aren’t really crunchy. They’re crafty, but they involve plastic and are devoid of wool or watercolors. They are anything but natural. I feel mildly guilty about this and I wasn’t entirely proud of sharing that bit here, where the focus is the crunchiness of my parenting. The omission nagged at me though, and I felt like I was being disingenuous. I don’t want to project an image of myself that is fake, holier-than-thou, or unattainable. Of course, I don’t Periscope when I’m at my wit’s end and losing it here in the Crunchy Casa, but I can be honest about the valentines at the very least.

Remember back when I said that family life and needs and resources are always changing and sometimes choices that I make or things that I do may seem uber-crunchy, and sometimes they may seem crunchy-light? Well, valentines this year were crunchy-light at best.

I have reasons for this. I have learned that I have limits, and that I am best served by acknowledging and respecting them. I have also spent some time recently reflecting on my own memories from childhood; the moments that felt the best and the experiences that I most strive to replicate with my kids. What I’ve come to realize is that the specific events and outcomes were not important, it was the feeling of joy and fun and care that I associated with each memory. Doing something that felt special was awesome; being pushed too hard to adhere to a specific imposed standard was not. In approaching Valentine’s Day this year I was striving for the former.

Valentine’s Day is being celebrated in the kids’ classrooms tomorrow since the holiday falls over the weekend this year. I knew that I would be flying solo all week because Rich had to be out of town for work. I steel myself for his work travel. My admiration and empathy for single parents and military families grows with every trip. I knew that adding extensive craft projects to the week would be too much for me to take on if I hoped to remain a pleasant person. I wanted the valentines to be mostly done before he left town on the Monday morning red eye.

I suppose that I could have moved the valentine deadline up and still craft something masterful, but last weekend we were celebrating Chinese New Year with a family hot pot meal, we had a special occasion to attend for family friends, and then there was the Superbowl. We also have a big cancer charity event next week and I’m working on planning Eva’s birthday in two weeks. I wanted each event to be a fun experience without homemade valentines feeling like an obligation hanging over our heads. My goal was for the valentines to be fun and manageable. I hoped that the kids would be excited about making them, and that the valentines would reflect each individual child and who they are right now.

I talked with the kids to get an idea about what was important to them. Asher super did not care. Alina is at a school where for the very first time she is allowed to give out candy with her valentines, and her Priority #1 was to give out a valentine that had candy attached to it. Eva wasn’t sure what the kids might be doing for valentines, but she wanted to give out something that was “a thing” and not just a paper card. With these guidelines, I turned to Pinterest. The girls and I looked over the scads of pins together. I took the liberty of finding an idea for Asher that I thought that he would like. He loves space so I took a space-themed valentine and riffed on the idea a bit.

Asher's space valentines

Asher’s space valentines

Alina’s teacher (bless her) had requested that the students make personal valentines for their peers; having every child write at least two lines of genuine compliments for every other child in the class. I knew that I wanted Alina to focus her time on this aspect of the valentines, so I steered her away from anything too time-consuming in the crafty department. Alina also tends to think big and then get overwhelmed by the reality of her vision, which is a meltdown in the making. In the end, she settled on letting me do a photo valentine of her. Her favorite part about it (beside the candy of course) is that she was still wearing her pajama bottoms when we took the picture. I bet in 10 years she’ll look back at those valentines and laugh about wearing her pajama bottoms, which is much better than seeing them and rehashing a bitter memory of her mom nagging her for a week to finish gluing on doilies or sign her name on every card.

Eva’s class has a lot of students who benefit from fidgets to occupy their busy hands. We decided on a “slime” valentine that the kids could squish and play with at school or at home. As I write this, all three of my kids are playing “bakery” with the extra slime at the kitchen table. If their enthusiasm is any indication, I have a feeling that this valentine will be a hit with the kids at school.

Eva's valentines complete with pink glitter slime

Eva’s valentines complete with pink glitter slime

Just in case you are in a last-minute panic and searching for something for your kids, I’m including the links and resources that I used here.

For Asher’s space-themed valentine, I used this great idea. The astronauts mentioned in that link were no longer available through Amazon so I ordered cute glow in the dark aliens instead. I also used a red Sharpie to draw on hearts because that seemed faster and easier than painting them on as mentioned in the original tutorial. I printed the template out onto card stock and then glued some silver glitter around the moon. All design, color, and embellishment choices were made by Asher. I might have made some different ones, but he had a clear vision of what space should look like, so who was I to impose my ideas? Asher eagerly wrote his name on the back of each valentine. He has been talking about the party at school all week.

For Alina’s lollipop photo valentine, I searched for “lollipop valentine” on Pinterest and found a bunch for inspiration. I snapped a few quick pictures of Alina striking a pose against a plain wall in the house.

Raw photo for valentine

Raw photo for valentine

After selecting the one best-suited for the project, I  used the free photo editing software at Picmonkey to create the card. I’ve been using Picmonkey for a while so I knew my way around, but the site is fairly straightforward and they have a lot of video tutorials to help you achieve the look that you want.

Valentine after Picmonkey magic.

Valentine after Picmonkey magic.

Alina gave her opinion about the colors and design and came up with what she wanted the card to say. I then had the pictures printed up at the Walgreen’s one-hour photo (I used code FORTYOFF40 for 40% off and went through ebates for another 4% back). In an hour I had her photo cards for under $8.00. We planned to attach the Yummy Earth organic lollipops, but the wrappers were so large that they covered up her face. I had a bag of mini tootsie pops leftover from Halloween and they were a perfect size. Mind you, Alina can’t eat them due to her food sensitivities, but she isn’t giving a valentine to herself, so we’re okay there. We printed out Alina’s personal messages and taped them to the back of each photo.

When I went to pick up Alina’s pictures at Walgreen’s, I saw the exact heart-shaped containers that I had been looking for to use with Eva’s slime valentines. Walgreen’s had the containers on clearance. Each set of eight cost me 50 cents. I had all of the other supplies on-hand to make the slime and as mentioned, the kids have been having a blast playing with the excess all week. I printed out the little message on card stock and traced around it with a heart-shaped template that I created to match the back of the containers. I taped them on to the back of the containers with a little loop of tape.

IMG_5209

I have a few aliens left to tie onto cards tonight, and I’ll also be making some killer gluten-free, dairy-free brownies for the kids to have at school during their parties tomorrow. I’m not stressed though. I won’t be up until 3:00a.m. trying to embroider heart sachets or needle felt valentine gnomes. In all it is much less crunchy than prior years have been, but I’m okay with that. Making crunchier choices most of the time lets me consciously choose to be un-crunchy on occasion.

Crunchier valentines of yore: wet on wet watercolor with a resist.

Crunchier valentines of yore: wet on wet watercolor with a resist.

I try to remind myself that this parenting thing is a marathon and not a sprint. When the kids reflect back to their childhood memories, they may only remember the year that we made beautiful wet-on-wet watercolor valentines using a resist technique, or they may have forgotten everything except the time that we took PJ-pics and played with slime. I just hope that the memories that stick with them the most are happy ones.

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100% Natural Does Not Mean 100% Safe: A Cautionary Tale

I love natural, green beauty products. I have dabbled in crafting lotions and potions, and have explored products from hundreds of natural beauty brands for decades. Needless to say, seeing words like, “100% natural,” “organic,” and “no artificial ingredients” on products excites me. On occasion, I need to remind myself that while such terms suggest that a product might be gentler and more natural than a conventional counterpart, they are not guarantees that the product is beneficial, effective, healthy, or even safe.

Yesterday I was lamenting my sore back due to some new exercises that I’ve been doing at the gym. I decided that a nice hot bath would be a great way to soothe my aching muscles. I ran the water into the tub and went exploring my shelves for the perfect bath product to enhance my soak. Initially I was thinking that a bath salt might be nice, but then I spied an unopened bottle of a liquid bath soak. I had received it before we had moved into the house (i.e., before we had a bath tub) and thus it had languished in a box of bath goodies, neglected until now.

The bottle had the words “100% natural” and “vegan” splashed across the label, and the ingredients were simple; a naturally fermented liquid base, high grade essential oil, and some natural preservative. The label explained that it was normal for the product to separate in the bottle since it contained no emulsifiers, and the essential oil and the “water” base do not mix. I followed the instructions to shake the bottle to mix well, and to add a tablespoon to the bath. The label also indicated that the product ingredients would relax my muscles and ease tension in addition to uplifting my spirit (perfect!). I was struck by the beautiful vibrant color of the liquid as I poured the directed amount into the bath.

After I finished running the water, I eased myself into the tub, preparing to be uplifted and soothed. The bath smelled beautiful; fresh and citrusy. The water felt warm though, too warm, hot really. I turned on the cool water to adjust the temperature. Something was really hurting on my side. I looked at my left side along my ribcage. I didn’t see anything, just the faint lines from the workout top that I had been wearing moments earlier. It really hurt though. It was distracting. I was not relaxing, I was in pain. I looked again. There appeared to be two very faint scratches on my side, probably made by the tag from my top when I took it off. As I watched, the lines grew redder and angrier. Now the underside of my legs were burning. Really burning. Something was wrong. I looked around the tub and there was a vibrant colorful ring all along the edges at the water line.

My brain clicked, and I immediately stood up and started draining the tub. I grabbed a bath pouffy and some soap and began washing off my skin. This did little to stop the burning sensation that had now consumed my side, back, and legs. I spied a sponge and some tub cleanser, grateful that I use chemical-free cleaning products as I stood cold, wet, and naked in the tub spraying and scrubbing the colorful stripe off the bathtub all around me. The tub had drained now and I used the handheld sprayer to rinse off every inch. I began to refill the tub with fresh water, but my skin was still burning. I knew that I needed oil, but I didn’t have any within arm’s reach. I went for the next best thing; a jar of body scrub made with a host of nut and plant oils. Fortunately, it too separates into layers, so I poured some of the top layer of oil off into my palm, taking care to avoid any of the scrubbing grains which would have likely decimated my tender, burning skin. I started rubbing the oils onto my skin. The burning began to subside. I sat back down into the fresh water, digesting what had just happened.

I wondered if this was a fluke. As is probably natural, I assumed that with a mass-marketed product made by a well-respected company the problem must have been due to user error on my part. They couldn’t possibly be selling a product that was unsafe, right? Especially not one labeled as 100% natural. It was not an inexpensive product either; costing over $25.00 for the small bottle. I must not have shaken it up enough. Maybe I used more than a tablespoon (although I do not think that I did). It had to be me. The problem had to be with me.

When I got out of the tub and dried off, I decided to do a little sleuthing. Some quick online searches led me to the answers. I was able to find product ratings and reviews on two sites; the brand’s own website and Amazon. In total there were over a dozen reviews. Approximately 95% of these reviews were one star and contained words like, “warning,” “worst experience,” “burns like crazy,” “horrible burning sensation,” “hurt for hours,” and “severe prickly burning.” I felt reassured that this was not user error. More importantly, I was pleased to see that the product has recently been discontinued.

In hindsight, I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t know better. The product was attractive due to its simple ingredients, but they were too simple. Something very important was missing. There was no carrier oil in the product to dilute the high percentage of essential oil. Even though the bottle instructed me to shake the product to combine the essential oil with the fluid, this does not dilute the essential oil because the essential oil and “water” never really mix; the essential oil just breaks down into smaller, undiluted droplets. These droplets then drift back together over time, where they can settle onto the skin in these concentrated amounts (and make really vibrant rings around the tub). This is why carrier oils are always needed to dilute the strength and intensity of essential oils before they come in contact with your skin. You can read more about the phenomenon in this article.

When I looked at the bottle (which had once again separated out into two distinct layers,) I could see that the formulation contained a ratio of about one part essential oil to six parts of fluid. I did some quick math to determine that the tablespoon of product had added about a half teaspoon, or approximately 50 drops of undiluted essential oil to my bath. It is no wonder that my skin felt like it was on fire and the superficial abrasion on my skin had quickly become inflamed. In truth, this product really was unsafe as formulated, despite being all-natural, vegan, cruelty-free and from a reputable company.

I have chosen not to name the specific product or company because the product has been discontinued and is no longer on shelves. I have used many other wonderful products from this brand without incident. This was clearly a misstep and a shining example of why natural does not always mean gentle, healthy, or safe. It is still the responsibility of the consumer to determine what is natural, healthy, and safe for them. It is always best to educate one’s self about product ingredients and to read labels. When in doubt, a quick Google search before jumping in the tub might help to prevent a very unpleasant experience.

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Love Yourself First-Now: Teen Esteem Subscription Unboxing & Review-January 2016

CrunchyParent Love Yourself First-Now Jan 2016 unboxing & review

Love Yourself First-Now is a monthly subscription service targeted for young women ages 14 and up. LYF-Now was developed by a school psychologist/mother of two, and is aimed at promoting self-esteem and developing a sense of self through appreciating one’s self rather than looking to others for validation. Each month’s box features a theme and includes 4-6 functional products like jewelry, makeup, accessories, and inspiration to LOVE YOURSELF FIRST-now. Boxes cost $29/month, shipping included. Discounts with multi-month subscriptions. Use code CRUNCHY for 10% off of your subscription purchase.

Love Yourself First-Now graciously sent me this box to review. I received no additional compensation, and all opinions are my own. To see my previous LYF-Now reviews, look here.

Eva, my almost teen helped me with the unboxing. She is always excited when the LYF-Now boxes arrive. Please enjoy the video unboxing, or if you prefer to skip directly to the product close-up photos and details, scroll down past the video.

The box came with cute colorful trim and an LYFN sticker. Everything was received safely and mostly intact. One item had a small chip in it, as noted below.

LYFN included an enclosure card describing the box contents as well as providing valuing information and some usage suggestions. We set the card aside during the unboxing so that we could enjoy opening it all on our own, but did reference it to learn that this month’s theme is “New Year, New You.” Because LYF-Now tends to include non-branded items, all values listed below are those provided by them on the card.

Love Yourself First-Now teen esteem subscription for girls

The first item that Eva grabbed was a small box with a beautiful turquoise damask print and a bright orange bow. It came as no surprise that she was eager to open this adorable gift box. Inside she found a cute turquoise and gold, vegan leather, wrap bracelet/watch (value: $20.00). The bracelet featured three different snap settings to accommodate wrists of different sizes. Eva loved the trendy look of the accessory and was anxious to wear it.

LYF-Now January 2016 watch bracelet

Eva was also intrigued by a little silver-toned, crown-themed photo holder (value: $5.00) that LYF-Now had paired with a cute card that encouraged girls to list and display three of their resolutions or goals for the new year. Our photo stand had a small chip in its clear plastic base (as mentioned in the video). This did not affect the stability or function of the stand.

LYF-Now January 2016 unboxing & review

The final two items focused on room decor. LYF-Now sent cute wall decal with the saying, “A dream is a wish your heart makes” (value: $8.00). Eva really liked this decal and asked immediately if she could put it up in her room. We’re holding off for the moment. We’re still in the process of deciding on wall colors for her new room, and I am not sure how well the decal holds its “stickiness” if we were to put it up now and then take it down to paint. Hopefully I’ll get to that painting before too long and we can add the decal to her cute “teen” room.

For the final bit of bedroom flair, LYF-Now included a blank pillow case that featured a plastic sleeve to hold a favorite photo or saying. Along with the pillow case, they sent a rainbow of permanent markers to use to decorate the pillow case with goals or dreams for the new year (value: $10.00) . I thought that this idea was a very cute one and would make a great craft for a New Year’s party for kids. I wish though that LYF-Now had included some additional crafting and washing instructions for the case. I’m worried that the markers may bleed or fade if washed incorrectly, and I’m not sure the best approach to wash given the plastic sleeve on the case. I also would have appreciated suggestions for where to purchase a pillow to fit the case. I imagine that a craft store might have accent pillow-sized inserts that may fit, but I can’t say for certain since I have not looked yet.

LYF-Now January 2016 unboxing

I thought that this box did a nice job of curating appealing teen-friendly items around the New Year’s theme, and encouraged girls to think about, and set goals for the year ahead. Eva was especially drawn to the cute watch and the wall decal in the box. As an adult, I sometimes find the quality of the items included less than top-notch, but I think that is fairly standard for kid-focused items. To some extent, the value is in the experience more than in the end-product, and cute, trendy fashion or decor items aren’t intended to be heirloom-quality pieces. The total value of the box according to LYF-Now is $43.00. I think that some of the individual item prices seemed a bit generous to me, but overall I think that the value of the box is still strong for the price, and Eva thought that the box was fun and cute.

To see other crunchy subscription box video unboxings, look here on the Crunchy Parent You Tube channel. If you are interested in finding “crunchy-friendly” subscription boxes to enhance the way you live, eat, craft, play, care for you home and body, etc. you can find them on my ULTIMATE list. If you have any suggestions or requests for future videos, please let me know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to CrunchyParent!

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Immune Boosting Spiced Elderberry Syrup-Deliciously Fight Cold & Flu

Crunchy Parent Spiced Elderberry Syrup picture
Photo credit: cobaltfish via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Goodness, I’ve missed being around. In addition to the gremlin infestation, we seem to have gotten caught up in an endless cycle of illness around here. It reminds me of the importance of warm clothing, adequate sleep, and nutritious food even in the midst of holidays, schedule changes, and celebrations. I’ve been searching for other ways to fortify our health. One of my preferred ways at the moment is a delicious spiced elderberry syrup.

**As a reminder I am not a doctor and you should seek advice from your own health practitioner before changing your health regimen.**

Elderberries get a lot of attention for their immune-boosting properties. The elder flowers are also excellent for supporting the immune system, so I use a blend of both in this syrup. However, if you only have the berries on-hand you can use a cup of berries and skip the flowers.

A blend of cardamom, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and ginger all lend a delicious spiced flavor to the syrup. In addition, many of these herbs and spices are warming and drying, which can be helpful if there is an illness that causes chills and runny, congested gunk. Ginger is also beloved for its anti-viral and anti-nausea properties which can come in very handy when fighting a bug. Star anise is anti-viral and anti-bacterial as well as being an antioxidant-packed expectorant.

Echinacea an osha root are both included as optional ingredients. Echinacea is popular as an immune-booster, but there are some differing opinions as to whether echinacea is appropriate for longer-term preventative use, or is if should be reserved for acute illness only. Accordingly, you may want to include the echinacea if you plan to use the syrup during illness only, and skip it if you want to use the syrup preventatively.

Osha has an affiliation for the lungs. It has historically been used for respiratory illness, especially in Native American medicinal tradition. Osha root has suffered losses more recently due to over harvesting and is really not commercially available. If you happen to be fortunate enough to have access to osha root through mindful and sustainable wild harvesting, a small piece of osha root can be a nice addition to this syrup.

The directions for making the syrup are pretty straightforward, and I like the almost instant-gratification of the process. It seems that the first colds of the season always catch me off guard; before I have had the proper time to steep a tincture or elixir. This syrup can be made and used the same day when I sense that it is needed.

Please use my photos as illustrations of the steps in the process. Pay no mind to the quantities shown. I took some of the photos when I was making small, experimental batches and others when I was making large batches of the favorite recipe.

Spiced Elder Syrup (yield approximately 3 cups)
All plant materials used are dried unless otherwise specified. I highly recommend Mountain Rose Herbs or Frontier Co-Op as resources for dried organic herbs (learn more about establishing a Frontier wholesale buying club here).

Herbs and spices awaiting their big moment.

Herbs and spices awaiting their big moment.

Ingredients:
1 qt. water
3/4 c. elderberries
1/4 c. elder flowers
10 cardamom pods
5 whole cloves
4 whole star anise “stars”
2 cinnamon sticks
1” chunk of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
2 T. echinacea (optional)
2” piece of osha root (optional)
1 c. honey, raw and organic preferred

Instructions:

1. Place water and herbs into a sauce pan and bring to boil over medium heat.

Crunchy Parent spiced elder syrup herbs in pot 1-12-2016

2. Lower heat and simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes, until liquid is reduced by approximately half and syrup is slightly thickened.

Crunchy Parent spiced elder syrup simmering 1-12-2015

3. Strain the liquid from the spent herbs into a glass jar, being sure to press the herbs to extract the most liquid. A nut milk bag, jelly bag, or fine mesh sieve can be helpful for this step.

crunchy parent spiced elder syrup strain 1-12-2016

pressing herbs in sieve to extract elderberry syrup

4. Allow the liquid to cool to approximately 105 degrees fahrenheit and add the honey, stirring gently to dissolve. Tip: this is a great way to use raw honey that has become more solid and grainy over time as it will dissolve well in the liquid.

IMG_3541

5. Cover, date, and label syrup. Store in refrigerator.

We enjoy this syrup during times of illness or preventatively. I take a Tablespoon every day when there seems to be some illness brewing in the house, or 2-3 times per day if I am feeling under the weather myself. So far the kids have refused to take it, but if they were willing, I’d say a teaspoon dose for them. It tastes delicious, and I could probably add it to a chai tea without the kids noticing, but I haven’t attempted that yet.

The syrup requires refrigeration. I have found it has lasted for at least a month or so. I usually have used it up by then.

I hope that you enjoy the syrup and lots of good health. What are some ways that you support you health during the cold, dark days of winter?

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Gremlins


Photo credit: Inti via Foter.com / CC BY

I have been missing you all. I want you to know that I have not drifted off to sea. I have however been plagued by what I can only assume to be gremlins. I have always had trouble getting my photos and WordPress to agree. WordPress often wants my photos to appear in a different direction than I would like, but I had figured out a work around for that problem for the most part. Then however WordPress began to reject my photos outright, refusing to upload them with any consistency. I managed to find a few tricks that generally avoided the problem, but required two or three extra steps for every photo upload and tripled the time it took me to complete each post. A pain, but not insurmountable. Not to be outsmarted, WordPress upped the game and began rejecting those too with a flippant “Http Error.”Now I can’t find any way to get photos to upload consistently and keep ending up with only partially completed posts as a result. The word on the street is that my iPhone and WordPress do not see eye to eye right now.

Feeling a bit forgotten, the videos acted up too. The memory storage on my phone maxed out and then on my computer hard drive as well. There was a lot of saving and transferring involved. I kept going through the motions, but couldn’t seem to gain any space back. Fortunately we figured out that problem and I uploaded a truckload of videos to YouTube. When I began editing, some YouTube glitch had started dropping the audio out of the videos at random points even though the audio was fine in the raw files.

This all made my brain hurt. I promise I’m trying to make my way back and have a lot of unboxings, recipes, and thoughts to share. I also have a craft tutorial in the works but want to get the video sorted out before getting in too deep there.

Thank you for your patience, Rich has promised that he will spend some time this weekend trying to troubleshoot the photo piece and I’ll proceed with the video. I will be back soon!

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