Monday, March 28, 2016

Items Used and Loved: Donating It Forward

I was outside on the first warm(ish) day of Spring this year, playing with my kids in the yard.  As my 4-year-old walked past the plastic toddler slide, she stopped and looked at it as if she had not noticed it in a long time.  She climbed up the stairs (it only took two steps) and slid down it -- kind of.  Her outstretched legs stopped her slide about 8 inches above the wood chip floor.  She turned around and gave the slide a quizzical look which seemed to say, "Really?  Is that all you've got?"  Then she ran off to play with something else.

"Maya at the top of the slide" by Anathea Utley.

If last year had not meant balancing everything else that all moms juggle -- kids, work, and the day-to-day tasks that are a part of life -- I probably would have thought about the fact that my kids have outgrown the slide, and I would have gotten rid of it a year ago.  But to be honest, there is a little bit of nostalgia that probably played into the situation.  My kids used to love that slide.  They are still my babies.  Why would I give the slide away?

The slide has been well-used and loved at our home.  There have been a lot of fun moments with that slide.  As toddlers, my girls had their very first slide experience on it, smiling from baby cheek to baby cheek.  It also played a part in their obstacle courses.  Their dolls went to the "park" and down the slide with their "mommies."  There were kiddie pool parties in the summer with the kids and their friends sliding joyfully into cool water.

"Boy and Bunny in the Playhouse 2" by Gordon.

But time has passed, and my kids are no longer toddlers.  They are full-fledged children.  My kids still have joy from things that make them smile, but the slide is no longer one of those things.  The slide is just taking up space that could otherwise be used for the rope ladder that my 7-year-old has requested for her upcoming birthday.  What our slide really needs is a new toddler who will love it and use it as it is meant to be used.

Luckily, I live in Needham, where a toddler can be seen strolling down the street with his or her caregiver at any given time.  And luckily, I am a member of Parent Talk and I know just where I can bring the slide.  Parent Talk's next Used Clothing, Toy and Equipment Sale is on May 7, 2016.

When I donate the slide to Parent Talk's bi-annual Sale, another lucky toddler will have a new toy just in time for lots of summer backyard fun.  That child will have just as many smiles using the slide as my girls did.  And the parents of that lucky toddler will get a great toy in very good condition for a fraction of what they would have paid if they bought a brand new slide.  Parent Talk -- the awesome group that does so much to build community for young families in Needham -- will even make some money from my donation.  Everyone wins.

Donated toys, interested kids, and the POD to move it all to Parent Talk's Sale location!

In short, I have discovered that donating forward is the best way to handle my case of mother's nostalgia.  When I am volunteering at the Sale (which I always love doing), I know I am going to smile when I see a chubby cheeked toddler running over to the slide with wise parents who know great deal and a recipe for fun when they see one.  Really, who can resist playing a small part in making a toddler smile?  I know you feel the same.

About the Author
Kara Veley is a member of Parent Talk who has previously volunteered for the Used Clothing, Toy, and Equipment Sale as part of the Sale Committee.  She plans to do so again this year, and wishes you a Happy Parent Talk Sale Spring 2016!

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Donated items to the Sale that remain unsold can still have a second life!  After the Sale, representatives of local charities are given a chance to claim any unsold items (for free!) to pass along to their clients and families in need.   Pay it forward!  Please consider donating your used items to Parent Talk's May 7, 2016 Used Clothing, Toy, and Equipment Sale.  Email for donation drop-off location and guidelines.  PT also needs help from many people to make this happen, and is seeking volunteers.  Sign-up for one 2 hour shift beginning April 7, 2016!  Email to get on the email list for volunteering.  

Monday, March 21, 2016

Gardening with Kids: 5 Foods You Must Try!

The amazing thing about gardening at home is that your kids will shock you with how much produce they will consume, straight off the vine.  Once you get it inside, wash it and put it in a lunch box, all bets are off.  But while they are standing there, half-naked in the garden, harvesting gorgeous little tomatoes, they can't resist devouring half of what they pick.  Watching my kids eat "sooger nap peas" fresh from the garden just about makes my whole summer.

"Soogar nap peas" fresh from the garden.  Photo credit: LJR Images.

We don't have any particularly green thumbs in our house, but the fantasy of what our garden could be is so strong that we have been attempting to garden for years -- in pots, plots, the yard, and window sill.  Through trial and error, we have discovered five super simple things that our kids love to cultivate with us.


We grow all kinds, but the kids' clear favorite are the cherry varieties.  Last year, the sungolds were the best.  The year before that, the sweet cherry 100s won the day.  The year before that, it was the yellow pear tomatoes.  Just grab two or three varieties (plants, not seeds) and plant them all.  The kids had a tomato and lemonade sale last summer that was a big hit with the neighbors.

Step right up!  Photo credit: LJR Images.

Sow in spring, just after last frost, and harvest in morning.

These are quick to sprout and early to mature, so you will be eating them long before your tomatoes come along later in the season.  We like to get the climbing kind, not bush beans.  Watching them snake their way up a trellis is half the fun.  These are best grown from seeds.  Sow them deeper than recommended or the bunnies and chipmunks will eat the seeds.  We grow them mainly to eat in the yard, so we almost never cook them.  We do have one pretty fabulous salad suggestion with snaps, radishes, sumac dressing and feta, but let's be honest.  Our kids are more likely to start spontaneously cleaning than eat this salad.  Because it's not all about the kids, try this salad.

Our favorite way to enjoy our tomatoes and basil.  Photo credit: LJR Images.


We usually pick up a few plants on our first run to the green house in the early spring.  We get them in the ground early and try our luck with the frost.  At the same time, we plant a couple of rows of arugula and spinach seeds.  We "thin" these by eating baby sprouts and greens every few days after they get started.  Our kids blow our minds when they eat greens from our garden, because lettuce was on the "never would I touch that in my wildest dreams" list before we started growing our own.  Now, they just nibble a bit here and there, but it's a start.


Who knew growing potatoes was fun???  We buy the spuds at our local garden store and plant them after the last frost.  They grow big, beautiful, full plants relatively early in summer before they become obnoxious, gangly, and start to fall over.  We refuse to stake them, so we ultimately end up mowing them a little bit by accident when we do the lawn.  When the plants start to die (which is normal, it has nothing to do with our mowing habits), we freak out and think all is lost.  Then, we start digging and uncover little golden globes of awesomeness in the dirt.

Finally harvesting the pumpkins in September.  Photo credit: LJR Images.

 Plant late May or seed inside 2-4 weeks before last spring frost.

Last fall was our first success with pumpkins, so don't give up if they fail at first.  We had two gorgeous green (but ripening to orange) pumpkins, a little smaller than soccer balls.  They were even candidates for carving in October!  Pumpkins are tricky because of the declining bee population, so you may have to help with pollination.  What an awesome lesson for the kids, right??? Just google how to pollinate pumpkins, and go for it.  (Of course, this is also a great reminder that you can plant a pollinator garden with your kids as well, which is a story for another post.)  Pumpkins need a lot of space, but if your backyard is miniscule (like ours), don't let this stop you.  Our one plant is in an area about 6'x6' and it gets lots of morning and mid-day sun.

A few other things we do?  We love to grow scallions, herbs of all kinds, and jalapenos.  We attribute a good deal of our success to the compost we work into the garden each year.  We have a bin, and we buy worms.  Freaked out? Then just buy some good dirt at the garden store.

Hard-Bargaining Gardeners.  Photo credit: LJR Images.

Worried about not having enough space to garden?  We have several different areas in our backyard that we use for veggies.  We mix in flowers, especially marigolds, because they are attractive to pollinators while allegedly deterring some garden pests.  As long as you have some good sun, you can plant anywhere.  You don't need to section off a giant rectangle with perfect 90 degree angles.  But, in case you're wondering, we do have a cool planter and we also had a raised bed with paver edges put in a couple of years ago.  Still, much of our garden grows along our back fence without anything fancy.  Okay - maybe a little bit fancy -- we picked up two of these trellises for our sugar snap peas.  And our tomatoes grow so high that we are always on the lookout for new ways to manage/stake them.  Give us your suggestions.

Happy gardening!

About the Authors
Dani & Cindy are two moms in Massachusetts.  They have never blogged before, so give them a cheer and a like.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Parent Talk will be partnering with Needham Community Farm to offer classes in the Spring.  Check the Parent Talk events calendar for updates!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Twisted Corned Beef and Cabbage with Eggs, Naturally

I love crock pot recipes for the ease and convenience they offer in creating a healthy, hearty meal for the family with little time investment.  But my personal experience with crock pot meals is that they typically result in food that is okay to pretty good, rather than delicious to mouthwatering.  There was, however, one exception.  On St. Patrick's Day 2010, my crock pot turned out the most incredible corned beef and cabbage that the world has ever seen!  I brought it to an office party where it was promptly devoured and exclaimed over.

"Faces from the St. Patrick's Day Parade" by Jeffrey

Unfortunately, those were the days before I had any interest in cooking, so that recipe has pretty much disappeared.  But with St. Patrick's Day 2016 coming up, I did an online search for that corned beef and cabbage recipe.  I only remembered that it called for the somewhat surprising additions of orange juice and brown sugar.  A lot of recipes came up, but not the one I wanted. 

I took a stab at melding the recipes that I found with memory.  The result was a sweet and sour take on traditional corned beef.  For those with traditional tastes and like a strictly salty corned beef, this is a recipe to skip.  If you like sweet and sour and don't mind mixing it with salty, it could be worth your walk on the wilder side.  This was not a repeat of St. Paddy's Day 2010, but added to white rice, I thought this version of corned beef tasted pretty good.  And since pretty good is the hallmark of a decent crock pot recipe, why not share?



3 lb corned beef (with seasoning packet or already seasoned -- I used one from Trader Joe's)

1/2 head of cabbage, coarsely chopped

 12 large red potatoes, quartered

1 onion, chopped

1 lb carrots, peeled and chopped (I used ready-to-eat carrots)

1 can frozen orange juice concentrate

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 cups water

Place potatoes, onion, carrots and cabbage in crock pot.  Place seasoned corned beef on top of vegetables.  (Tip: if veggies are a bit too bulky for the crock pot, place half of the cabbage in the pot and let it cook down first before adding the rest of the cabbage.  Or, just wait until last hour of cooking to add cabbage, since otherwise it tends to disintegrate and disappear).  Mix orange juice concentrate and brown sugar with water and pour over the beef.  Cook in slow cooker on high for 3 hours, then switch to low for 5 hours or until done.  Serve over fresh white rice.


After St. Paddy's Day, I'm looking forward to trying out some naturally dyed Easter eggs.  Last year, I dyed some eggs with natural food coloring with this result:

The naturally dyed eggs are resting on a used Paas dyed eggs carton for drying.  They are darker in color when I used brown eggs.  Yellow on a white egg became orange to brown on a brown egg. I also attempted some two-tone striping that turned out a bit uneven.

Last year's experiment was a lesson.  This year, I will try to remember a few things.  First, I will buy white eggs instead of the brown that I normally get to achieve brighter colors.  Second, I will add extra-plenty of the natural dye ingredients (spinach for green, turmeric for orange/yellow, beets for pink, and blueberries for blue) with vinegar to get a more vibrant color.  Third, I'll leave time to do a second or even third dip for stronger colors and clearer striping, since the natural dyes tend to be lighter than synthetic dyes.

What to do in the down time between cooking a St. Paddy's Day meal and dying Easter eggs?  I'm tempted to find a good recipe for making a glazed ham, because then I can change the color of egg yolks by injecting some food color . . . and voila, Green Eggs and Ham!  Instant fun for my child's breakfast, when accompanied by the well-loved Dr. Seuss story!

About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom, and most recently, blog coordinator for Parent Talk.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Peace Workshop to Help Kids Cope in a Stressful World

As parents, we try to shield our children from violence and turmoil in the news, but inevitably, whether they see it on television or feel it when our lives get hectic, kids seem to be affected by stress on some level from an early age.  It feels impossible to avoid the feeling of being rushed and certainly not all days can be spent quietly in the house.  However, just as we find ways as adults to insulate ourselves, we can teach our children ways to cope in what can sometimes be an overwhelming world.

"Peaceful Brooke" by Amy McCartney

Parent Talk is planning a Peace Workshop designed for this purpose.  Together with early childhood specialist, Ingrid Dahlin-Doherty from Wellesley Tree House, we will use yoga, music and art to inspire little ones to feel and understand a sense of peace.  Children will listen to music, sing songs and learn a few yoga poses.  They will make an art project to take home and will participate in a collaborative mural that will be used to decorate the Parent Talk Playspace.

"Sam's first downward-facing dog" by Quinn Dombroski
The Parent Talk Peace Workshop takes place Saturday, March 12, 2016 from 3:30-5:00.  It will be held in Room 215 at the Caryl Community Center in Dover.  Come join us and reserve your space by signing up at Eventbrite

About the Author
Liza D'Hemecourt is the Community Relations Chair for Parent Talk, following her previous role as Blog Coordinator.  She taught kindergarten and first grade before becoming a stay-at-home mom in Needham to her two children. 

Printer Friendly