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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GlobeIn Benefit Basket Subscription Unboxing and Review-August 2015

GlobeIn Benefit Basket August 2015

GlobeIn is a subscription service bringing fairly traded artisan items from around the world. Their Artisan Box subscription packs 4-6 items from a selected theme into one of their signature, handwoven, Mexican baskets for $35.00/month. Their newly introduced Benefit Basket subscription takes one of the items from the monthly Artisan Box and sends it to subscribers in a Mexican basket for $19.99/month (shipping free, and less with multi-month subscriptions). GlobeIn recently ran a promotion offering one month free with a three month Benefit Basket subscription, bringing the cost down to $12.65/basket. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try out this new service.

I purchased this box and all opinions are my own.

Globein Benefit Basket subscription August 2015

If you would like to see the live-action unboxing please enjoy the video unboxing below. I’m still trying to find the right setting in the new house for unboxing so please bear with the boring backgrounds and poor lighting while I try to figure it all out. If you watch the video you might get to see me juggle (or perhaps not). If you prefer to skip right to the product close-ups and details, scroll down past the video.

I really liked the Globe In box. It has great artwork and I really liked the graphic “clue” about this month’s theme and what was inside. It definitely had a unique personality.

GlobeIn benefit basket review August 2015

One of the reasons that I felt confident giving this subscription a try was because I knew that each month’s box would include one of GlobeIn’s beautiful palm leaf baskets (value $12.00). I really appreciate the reusable packaging and the covered basket is such a versatile size. I can seeing us using it in the kids’ bedrooms or playrooms to hold anything from craft supplies, crayons, toys, shells, rocks, and more. I can also see using these as reusable gift wrap. They would add so much to the presentation of a gift. I thought that the vibrant fuschia basket that I received this month was really beautiful. I also thought that the added touch of the beautiful photograph, name, and brief story about the artisan and group who crafted the basket was very nice; it gave a sense of humanity and individuality to the item rather than being just another mass-produced thing.

GlobeIn benefit basket laundry theme-wool dryer balls

I opened the basket to find a tan, organic cotton interlock, drawstring bag. Inside the bag were three natural wool dryer balls (value $17.50). For those who are not familiar with wool dryer balls, they are designed to replace fabric softener sheets. They offer a natural way to soften and scent clothes in the dryer (just add a few drops of essential oil to the dryer balls). They even cut down on drying time, saving electricity. I have been using dryer balls for a long time, and some of you may have even watched my wool ball tutorial on YouTube (to make decorated balls for child or pet play, or plain balls for the dryer). GlobeIn also included beautiful photographs of the dryer balls as well as the artisan who made them. They also featured a story about the cooperative who makes the dryer balls and a map of where they are located.

GlobeIn Benefit Basket Laundry theme August 2015

In total this month’s GlobeIn basket had a retail value of $29.50, which includes the GlobeIn basket. I think this is a very good value for the price that I paid. I really like what a “feel good” box this is. GlobeIn takes such care to connect its customers to the artisans who product the items for the basket. That intention is really shown through the beautiful inserts, text, and photographs. I also plan to sit down with my children and show them the baskets and the products, and teach them about who made the items. I think that it will go a long way towards making somewhat abstract concepts like world populations, economy, geography, and differences more concrete through actual examples. I am looking forward to receiving my next GlobeIn basket, which is going to feature a Wellness theme.

What do you think of GlobeIn’s new Benefit Basket option?

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 that here. It has been newly updated and expanded. If you have any suggestions or requests for future videos or unboxings, please let me know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to CrunchyParent!

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Barganic Alerts: What they are and why I strive to highlight affordable healthy living


PinkMoose / Foter / CC BY

You may have noticed that I post a lot of “Barganic Alerts” and that may have you wondering what they are and why I bother making such a fuss about them. Bargainic Alert is a term that I coined when I started writing this blog in its first iteration back in 2007, before the crash (read more about that here). I developed the term to clarify that I was pointing out a good or even great deal on an organic, eco-friendly, or otherwise crunchy product. The reason that it was, and continues to be especially important for me to broadcast these deals is because making healthy, green, crunchy choices often comes at a higher price point than more conventional ones. As a result, families may shy away from crunchy practices not because they are not interested, but because they get sticker shock, feel financially overwhelmed, and just conclude that crunchy options are too expensive to be available to them.

I really want people to have access to the choices that they wish to make, and that they believe are the best fit for their families. My children and I often have discussions about needing to allocate resources mindfully; to find a balance between time, talent, money, and desire. Everyone, no matter what their station in life will find at times that they want more than they have, or that their resources will allow. They then get to decide where they want to channel their time, talent, and money; and which desires are worth striving for, or living without.

In the case of my family, Rich and I both worked and put ourselves through graduate and professional school in the earlier years of our marriage and family, leaving us with very little disposable income. In addition, we have always been a single income family. My employment was a condition of my graduate studies, and thus did not pay for much more than the cost of tuition compensation or the expense of daycare to allow me to be there to complete my degree once Eva was born. As with most single income families, my being home with the kids comes with a tradeoff; there is less money in the bank account. Three years ago, when Rich was laid off from his job, we were suddenly a zero income family (save unemployment) with no idea of how long it would be before new employment would be found. Moreover, we were still reeling from the medical expenses of my cancer treatment on the heels of a high risk pregnancy and delivery. We were scrutinizing every expenditure that we made, and trying our hardest to make every purchasing choice a wise one. I say this not to elicit sympathy; we are fine and grateful, and Rich is happily employed once again. My point however, is that there are ways to be crunchy and live frugally at the same time; that living a more natural, attachment-friendly lifestyle can and should be available to those who want it, regardless of wealth. Hence, me shouting from the hilltops when I have a Barganic Alert to share.

The first crunchy bargain that I can remember finding was at a children’s resale event. I did not even have any children yet (I’m always one to plan ahead,) still I could not resist this sweet little soft doll with knotted hands and a gentle face. Not being familiar with Waldorf Education at the time either, I did not know that I was face-to-face with a Waldorf blanket doll, or that the $1 price tag was a steal, but he came home with me nevertheless. About a year later when I was newly pregnant with Eva, a visit to a children’s resale store introduced me to a gorgeous Maya Wrap sling for $10 that I went on to use to wear all three of my children.

Ready to rock the 4th of July in the Maya Wrap

Ready to rock the 4th of July in the Maya Wrap

I continued to keep my eyes out for crunchy bargains as I prepared for Eva’s birth. I knew that I wanted to use cloth diapers, but was overwhelmed by the cost. I poured over diaper sites looking for deals so that I could amass a usable system (daycare would use pocket dipes for her but they weren’t going to be bikini twisting any prefolds). I built up my stash with a dozen precious Kissaluvs size 0s and larger sizes that I got on sale for being second quality, Fuzzibunz seconds where the print was sewn inside out, hemp prefolds that were stitched in slightly the wrong dimensions, and ProRaps diaper cover seconds that had mildly wonky stitching. Everything was new, adorable, and still worked just fine, they were just a little less pretty to the trained eye.

Years later, I stocked the play kitchen with small dishes and wooden bowls found at the thrift store, bought a deeply discounted Moby Wrap in a style being discontinued on Amazon, and snapped up organic cotton sheet sets and blankets for the whole family when a company had a closeout sale (the latter was a Barganic Alert from years ago). I looked for ways to support health and beauty for my family and in our home that resonated with an attachment parenting lifestyle, yet still worked within our minimal budget. I participated in many mama swaps where crunchy goods, crafts, or talents were traded. I have organized and joined co-ops and CSAs. I have filled my gardens and pantry by participating in seed, plant, and food swaps. I treasure every crunchy bargain that I have ever gotten. I see it as the Universe and I being in partnership toward providing my family the crunchy lifestyle that I think fits us. It is my absolute commitment. I honestly believe that where there is a will, there is a way.

Now all of this is not to say that I don’t buy crunchy products at full retail as well. I absolutely do, and I believe that it is important to support companies whose products we value with our dollars when we can. In addition, I try to “pay it forward” when I get a good deal by sharing it with others, but also by advertising the product (and crunchy choices in general). I cannot tell you the number of people who have stopped me over the years and asked me about that $10 Maya Wrap sling or that sale Moby as I wore my babies in them; who chatted with me about cloth diapers after seeing me pull one from the diaper bag and demystify the idea of cloth. I know that there have been many slings, wraps, and cloth diapers purchased by families who saw me using mine, and who let me tell them all about, and show them how to use them.

As I said before, we all have to allocate out time, talents, and money. For some, I hope that Barganic Alerts will make you aware of a great company or resource that was previously unfamiliar to you, whether you take advantage of the deal or not. For others, it may allow you to provide a crunchy treasure for your family that might otherwise have been beyond your reach. If you all lived nearby I’d tell you when organic stone fruit or berries were on sale at the grocery store too, and we could all make jam together. I’d send out an alert when my friends were putting together a group order for raw, organic, local honey. We could start a really great co-op. Since we don’t all share the same neighborhood, broadcasting Barganic Alerts to my online crunchy community is the best that I can do for now.

Barganic Alerts are generally precious and limited. Some are first come, first served. Others may be for a brief period of time. I think that they are usually pretty fantastic, and I often take advantage of them for myself and my family. If you want to make sure that you do not miss out on a Barganic Alert, I encourage you to subscribe to CrunchyParent.com so that you can be emailed directly whenever I post a new alert. If you tend to spend more time on Twitter or Pinterest, you can subscribe to me there too as Crunchy_Parent and I will do my best to tweet and pin the Barganic Alerts as well so that you are sure to see them.

If you see a great bargain on a crunchy product or service that you think is worth sharing, please let us all know. Comment here, send a tweet, or email me directly at crunchyparent@sbcglobal.net.

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