I don't really associate myself with the whole "green" movement.  I try my best to be eco-conscious, but frankly, I'm probably not very earth friendly.  When it comes to my kids, however, I am a stickler about chemicals.  I hate them.  I don't want to fill my kids with unnecessary junk for their little bodies to have to flush out.  I cloth diaper (most of the time) and use 'natural diapers' (most of the time) and even use cloth wipes sometimes.  My kids all drink from those stainless steel Kleen Kanteens (even the baby's sippy).  They eat their lunches out of stainless steel Lunchbots.  And I clean my house with vinegar.  Yes, all of it.  And no, we don't catch the flu or any other diseases any more often than most families.   So I thought I'd highlight some of my favorite "green" brands for you. 

1) Seventh Generation - from diapers to laundry soap to dishwashing detergent, I have loved almost everything I've bought from 7thgen.  The only product of theirs I haven't loved is their carpet spray.  Frankly, it doesn't work.  The stain doesn't come out at all.  And it's a little smelly.  However, the only carpet removers that have worked for us are Resolve (icky) and vinegar + baking soda + a TON of elbow grease.  The laundry detergent works wonders (and gets out smells even without perfumes) and the diapers are super heavy duty.  Overall one of my favorite eco-conscious companies.

2) Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day - The products smell yummy and work wonders.  Counters are sparkly, bathrooms are clean. Again, the carpet spray didn't work, but I don't think they even offer it anymore.  If I decided I were tired of my house smelling like pickles (hello vinegar), I might stock up on these cleaning products.  You know, if I weren't so darn cheap.

3) Bon Ami - ok, so this is a little more harsh, but still supposedly pretty non-toxic as far as scouring powder is concerned.  It's the only thing that gets my bathtubs clean.  I've tried baking powder.  I've tried vinegar soaks.  I've tried it all.  I'll stick with Bon Ami and a good long rinse.   And then lock it away in a high cupboard.  Even so, I do like that it's less harsh than, say, Comet and other scrubbers. 

4) Lunchbots and Kleen Kanteen - No, they aren't cheap, but I feel so much better about these BPA free, stainless steel cups and food containers.  They're portable, fair kid resistant (my kids have dropped their bottles all over and we've had no breakage yet) and dishwasher safe (let the Lunchbots air dry before putting them away to avoid rust).  I don't have to wonder "is this plastic really BPA free?"  or "what if they drop that glass bottle?"  Easy use, clean construction. 

5) Burt's Bees, Avalon Organics and Organic Wear - Organic face cleansers and makeup that actually work.  Unlike some organic makeup, Organic Wear shows up with just a thin layer and doesn't soak into my skin immediately.  And Burt's Bees and Avalon Organics keep my skin nice and clean and moisturized without exposing me to unnecessary chemicals.  Win win win.  If you don't like citrus scents, a lot of Burt's Bees items aren't for you.  But their product line is rapidly expanding and they are including other scents. 

Those are just a
My favorite thing this week:  Sandra Boynton's Mom's Family Calendar.  If you're a busy mom like me (and what mom isn't?) then this calendar is perfect for keeping your life in order.  Not only does it come with a drop-down pocket for storing notes, papers, pens, spare change - whatever - but it also has slots for recording appointments for up to 5 family members!  No more cramming a very full day's worth of appointments into one tiny square.  As a bonus you even get a magnetic phone-number chart so you can keep all those important emergency numbers on your fridge.  AND the calendar includes over 500 special stickers to decorate your pages and mark birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, etc.  Every month is decorated with colorful scenes full of Sandra Boynton characters taking part in seasonal activities.   And with 15 months of calendars, you can be sure not to forget any upcoming appointments for a long time to come.  I love my calendar - it keeps me sane and on time.  I've even given them as gifts to great acclaim.  The only thing it doesn't do is synch with my iphone.  But seeing as I don't have an iphone (have I mentioned that I'm technologically in the stone age these days?), that's a-ok with me :)
When our oldest child was born, we didn't really give much thought to which diapers we would use.  We were given several bags at our shower and discovered that, on our skinny baby, Huggies leaked out the sides like crazy, Luvs exploded if we tried an all-nighter, and Pampers were just right.  However, not long after our second was born (and our first was still in diapers) Pampers changed their formula.  Whatever new chemicals they added started to irritate our babies' bottoms like crazy.  At that point I sat down and thought very hard about what I wanted to do with my diapering dilema.  Here are the diapers that I finally chose:

1) Bumgenius 3.0 - For baby #2 and #3 I ordered a bunch of Bumgenius 3.0 cloth diapers.  I decided that cloth diapering was not only more eco-friendly, but most importantly, the soft cotton interiors are gentle on my babies and are chemical-free.  There is a considerable amount more work involved with cloth diapers.  They need to be rinsed out after poops (please please buy a diaper sprayer if you're planning to cloth diaper - it makes a world of difference) and then the liner must be pulled out and all pieces must be pre-washed, washed, double rinsed, dried, folded and stuffed.   *Whew*  Also, there's a hefty up-front cost.  Not only did I have to buy the diapers themselves, but also a diaper pail (I use a plain pedal-lid trash can), diaper pail liner, diaper sprayer, wetbags (so I can cloth diaper while I'm out) and pail deodorizers (because I'm notorious for putting off laundry till I'm on my last diaper).  I saved a little money by buying my diapers and accessories at Cotton Babies while they were having a sale.  Even so, my 30 diapers cost almost $400.  However, if you Google "inexpensive cloth diapers" you'll be on the road to discovering myriad sites that offer deals on diapers.  Keep your eyes peeled and you'll find something great.  I chose the Bumgenius 3.0 because there was a good sale, they are easy to assemble and are applied just like a disposable diaper, and the velcro (rather than snaps) were a better fit for my skinny kids.  However, after a little more than a year, some of the velcro is starting to get weak or pull away from the diaper.  If you're a decent seamstress, though, it's not a big deal to mend or replace.  Overall, I've been very happy with our cloth diapering experience and in the long run, it's saved us a LOT of money.  We figured that we'd recoup our cost in 10 months by not buying disposables (or nearly as many anyway) and with two babies in cloth diapers, we'll get much more than 10 months worth of wear out of them.

2) Seventh Generation disposables - Because our children can't wear cloth diapers in the nursery at church, and we don't use cloth when we're using diaper cream, we also keep on hand a supply of disposable diapers.  Seventh Generation so far has been the sturdiest and mildest of all the 'natural' diapers we've used.  The Kroger brand and Earth's Best diapers are so stiff that they rub sores on our kids' skin.  Seventh generation is soft and flexible, but also super absorbent.  They've even survived a brief stint in the pool.  However, these diapers are also very expensive. 

3) Huggies Pure & Natural - so to compromise our stinginess with our desire to protect our babies' skin, we've been using Huggies natural diapers lately.  These diapers are super soft and super absorbent and while I'm still dubious as to how 'natural' they really are, they certainly don't bother the kids' bottoms like most 'name brand' diapers do.  They fit both my skinny toddler and my chubby baby without leaking and they even have the convenient "yellow turns blue when wet" strip so I know when baby needs a change.  And as a plus, they all come with codes for the Huggies Enjoy the Ride program so we can ear 'free stuff' w

These are my top 3 diaper recommendations.  If you're interested in cloth diapering, you can search for cloth diaper 'trial packs' that will send you 1 of up to 7 different types of cloth diapers to try out until you find just the right style for your little one.  Many even offer a refund if you return the trial diapers to purchase a new set of your choice.  So if you're looking to be gentle on baby's bottom without a huge mess to clean up, give these diapers a try!
Before we had kids - ok, before we had our third kid, I swore that I would never drive a minivan.  It's not that I find them 'so uncool' - frankly I was just terrified that I'd fail miserably at driving something that big.  I'd never driven anything but smallish sedans and minivans all seemed like cruiseliners in comparison.  But when baby #3 came along, we realized that we couldn't safely fit 3 car seats in my old Volvo (besides it had a nasty habit of stalling out in the middle of intersections), so we began the search for a more 'family friendly' vehicle.   After extensively polling our family and friends and spending a little time on the lots, we decided to buy a Honda Odyssey. 

I didn't realize just how much I love my minivan, however, until it went out of commission (van + black cow at night = 2 weeks in the shop).  I got the knack of driving a longer car in just a couple of days (in fact, it's zippier than my old sedan was by far) and most of the time I forget that I'm driving a Mom-mobile.  In my opinion, here are some of the van's best features:

1) It fits a TON of car seats.  We had no problem installing all 3 seats in our car, despite the fact that two of them are big, bulky convertible seats.  There are 3 seats with LATCH capability and 5 total seats that support the back harness strap.  (I've heard that some nicer models of the Odyssey also have an optional 8th seat which also accommodates car seats).
2) Drink holders everywhere.  I didn't count, but I'm estimating that our car has slots for 10-12 bottles or cups.  Which is great because we take drinks with us everywhere and were always running out of places to set them in my old car.  Then the passenger seat would get covered in spilled milk and the car would start to stink - what a mess.  No problem with that in the Odyssey! 
3) Tons of storage compartments.  There are 4 glove-box/storage cubbies in the front of the van and one on each side in the back. Plus two large storage slots in the floor (great for holding seldom used jumper cables and jacks).  The doors also have lots of slots for keeping maps, umbrellas, loose change and the like.  No more loose items rolling around while we're driving!
4) Giant trunk.  Of all the vans we looked at, the Odyssey had the most room in the back.  We can easily fit a double stroller, diaper bag, toys for the park, several bags of groceries, some blankets AND all our luggage for a weekend away.  And somewhere in there we've got a spare tire as well. 
5) Safety.  The Odyssey has a stellar safety rating in its class.  We tested this out a bit when my husband ran into that cow I mentioned.  Sure, the van was damaged, but my husband barely felt the impact (and don't worry, the cow walked away stunned, but unharmed).  I feel a lot better now about any other fender benders we might find ourselves in - this little van can take a beating!

I have only two grievances with this vehicle. 
1) The bucket seats aren't very comfortable for a small woman.  The headrests push on my neck uncomfortably (especially if I'm wearing a ponytail) and make me slouch.  However, I haven't ridden in a new (i.e. made since 1990) car that didn't have that problem and it's easily solved with a nice soft pillow behind my back.
2) The back row can be frustrating for car seat installation.  I'm a big fan of the LATCH system.  Click the seats in and be done.  However, while all 3 spots on the back row will take car seats, on the middle spot is LATCH equipped.  Unfortunately, if you install a seat in the middle of the back row, the back harness of the car seat will bisect the trunk to reach its clip.  Which means all luggage (and enormous double strollers) will have to be maneuvered around the harness strap to get them in and out of the van.  A pain, but certainly not a dealbreaker.

All in all, the Honday Odyssey is an awesome vehicle.  It handles as well as a much smaller vehicle, gets decent gas mileage and has tons of room for kids, gear, bottles, etc.  We love ours and I cannot wait until we can bring it home from the shop. 

Monday: Lunchbots


The Bento trend is a truly brilliant one.  My kids are notoriously picky eaters.  Not so much about what they eat as about how it's presented.  If I give them a plain plate full of fruit and cheese, they'll take two bites and get up from the table.  If I give them a fruit and cheese sculpture they will gobble the whole thing down.  Almost as effective as food art, are divided trays.  Something about portioning each food into its own little slot makes it so much more enticing to my children. 

And now that preschool and mom's day out are about to recommence, I've been wondering what on earth to do about my plastic baggie problem.  School rules insist that all food arrive in tidy and easy-to-open containers.  I had been sending everything doled out into individual plastic baggies.  But even though I'm not the "greenest" mama on the planet, I felt bad about all those baggies we were throwing away.  Not to mention all the money I was spending on baggies.  And the fact that mixing food and (potentially toxic) plastics is just icky to me. 

Along comes Lunchbots - the brilliant stainless steel, compartmentalized lunch and snack containers.  They are sturdy, so sandwiches don't get smashed.  They are stackable, so they fit perfectly in lunchboxes.  And they are super easy to clean in the dishwasher.  They are easy to open and come with one, two or three compartments (I bought one of each per child) making lunch easy to assemble and super fun to eat!  My kids always brought home leftovers from lunch - until I started sending along Lunchbots. 

The containers are very affordable, too (unlike the $60 bento box + carry cover I was originally eyeing) so if one gets left behind at school, it's not the end of the world.    Even better, I found mine on super sale at Pure Citizen

My kids love their Lunchbots and so do I :)
a site that offers deals on eco-friendly items while also making donations to charity.
Picking a car seat can give any parent a headache.  Frankly, our process for choosing The First Years True Fit car seat wasn't terribly precise, but we're sure pleased with the results.  We researched car seats till our eyes crossed.  We made a list of the seats with the highest safety rating.  Then we drove on over to Target to see what was in stock.  The only one in our price range was the True Fit, so we picked it up. 

When our second child was ready to move into a convertible car seat, we bought the cheapest car seat we could find for big brother to use.  Boy did we regret that decision.  After being spoiled with the True Fit, we were disappointed by the new seat in so many ways.  The buckles stick when we try to snap them in, which makes buckling take twice as long.  The cover is very difficult to remove, which makes washing it a nightmare (not a good thing when your toddler is potty training).  And if your car is not LATCH equipped, it's very difficult to install.

The True Fit, on the other hand, is a dream.  Its straps adjust up and down simply by sliding a lever.  Its buckles glide together quickly and smoothly.  It plushy cover has several easily removable layers to make washing a breeze.  And best of all, installing without the LATCH system does not require one of those easily-lost gold seatbelt fasteners.  Instead, the seatbelt threads through the seat itself and clamps hold it in place.  Easy peasy!

The only drawback to the seat that we've found so far is its weight.  It is wider and significantly heavier than the other seat we bought, so hauling it in and out of the van can be tiresome.  However, if you don't often have occasion to move your seats around, it's well worth a little extra bulk to have such an easy seat to install and use.

We loved this True Fit seat so much that when baby #3 was ready for her convertible seat, we ordered her one, too.  Not only does the seat come in neutral greys and tans, but it also comes in two varieties of very girly pink!  I was thrilled.  So if you're in the market for a new car seat, definitely check out The First Years True Fit seat.  You'll be glad you did.

The Fontenot Four
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