Planning a Simple, Low-Waste Party for Your Child's Birthday

By Martha Janick

 Source: Etsy shop  BooBahBlue

Source: Etsy shop BooBahBlue

There is so much to celebrate when your child’s first few birthdays come along. Surviving another year as a parent, children crawling, walking, talking, dancing, and all the million other little things that change each day. The milestones just keep coming and birthday celebrations are a nice chance to reflect, but a child’s birthday party doesn’t need to produce a pile of trash. The thing about toddlers is they are easily impressed, but also easily overwhelmed. They thrive when things are kept simple, expectations low, and they can just enjoy the excitement of having friends and family around. Here are some tips for throwing an eco-friendly birthday party for your little one.

 My son helping make his first birthday cake

My son helping make his first birthday cake

DECORATIONS

Making decorations for a party can be a fun activity to do with your child in the days leading up and may help them to get warmed up to the exciting event. If you don’t have the time or energy to make decorations, choose items made of natural materials like paper streamers and lanterns that can be recycled after the party. I love the idea of creating a tradition of using the same items each birthday. At my son’s school kids take turns wearing a simple fabric birthday crown and cape on their birthday, and they just love it. However you choose to decorate, try to skip the balloons as they will just end up in a landfill or could slip out of little hands and pose danger to wildlife. Some fun alternatives to balloons are flags, banners, streamers, or ribbon sticks. These cloth pennant banners are really beautiful and can be used for everyone in the family. They can be found on Etsy or if you’re crafty you can make your own! 

GIFTS

It’s becoming more and more popular for parents to request no gifts for their children’s birthday parties. I’m am so excited about this trend because, like most parents, I am constantly trying to pare down my son’s toys and I have certain toy preferences (please nothing that makes noise!). So the idea of a whole bunch of random new toys coming into my house on one day kind of makes me start sweating. Removing the gift opening activity from the party is an added bonus of having no gifts, because it can be hard for little ones to understand and sit through. Plus no new toys to find storage for and no wrapping paper to dispose of!  

There are so many other fun ideas to try in place of traditional gift giving:

  • Request cards or drawings.
     
  • Do a book exchange. Each child brings a gently used book and goes home with a different book.

  • Suggest people donate to a charity in lieu of gifts. A fun way to do this is to let people know you will have a piggy bank out for donations. This way kids can enjoy dropping coins in and people don’t feel pressured to spend a certain amount.

  • Ask for second-hand gifts or hand-me-downs.

  • Ask people to contribute food for the party. Food makes the best gifts!

Do yourself and the other parents a favor and skip the goody bags. Most people don’t want more sugary sweets for their kids after just attending a birthday party and those cheap toys will quickly find themselves in the trash. Think of something seasonal and natural you can send home, such as a small potted flower or pine cone birdfeeder kit.

FOOD

Ever make a snack tray for your toddler? Well, use that as your guide for party food. This works especially well for keeping it healthy and easy for kids to avoid foods if they have allergies. Fruit, veggies and dip, popcorn, cheese, crackers and a pitcher of water are all you really need. If you want to keep it super low-waste grab popcorn and other snacks from the bulk bins at the grocery store with some cloth bags. Unpackaged fruits and veggies are easy to find and chopping them up yourself will reduce packaging and save money. You can always add some more sophisticated food for the adults and maybe some alcoholic beverages (it’s a celebration for the adults too!) if you feel inclined. If you’re looking to keep kids busy with an activity have them decorate their own cupcake or put toppings on a quick cooking tortilla pizza. Don’t forget the dessert, you can go for the gold and bake a homemade cake or try something simpler, but still delicious, like cupcakes or brownies. You can also purchase a cake from a local bakery where it will likely be wrapped in cardboard as opposed to a supermarket where it will come in a plastic container. I like to take it back to the 1980s, growing up on an island with 4 siblings: simple cake (ok probably from a mix) with simple decorations, still very exciting.

 Having a lot of fun and not creating a lot of trash (me on the right)

Having a lot of fun and not creating a lot of trash (me on the right)

Stick to real plates, silverware, cups, cloth tablecloths (bedsheets can work too!) and napkins. This can be a challenge depending on how many people you are inviting, but try reaching out to family and friends to see if you can borrow some or even hit up the thrift store to purchase enough to round out what you already own. The money you spend at the thrift store will probably be similar to what you spent on disposables and you’ll be able to reuse them for future parties. Plus, real dishes are classy as heck, only the best for our toddlers! If you keep the food simple you might be able to get away with just napkins and cups. Small canning jars are surprisingly durable and make great cups for kids if you happen to have some lying around.

As parents we convey the excitement and the meaning of each birthday and holiday. It can be easy to feel like bigger is better when it comes to celebrating our children. Really nothing could be further from the reality. The beauty of toddlers is that while they definitely have preferences they don’t have expectations of how parties should be. So while you may be worried that your child is missing out on something if you skip some of the traditional disposable party items like goody bags or balloons, don’t! A low waste party doesn’t mean it has to be any less fun, in fact, I think it refocuses the attention on what is important, the birthday child and the people that surround them.

Something Old, Something New: an Environmental Approach to Nesting

By Emily Little

 3 babies, 1 pair of thrift store overalls.

3 babies, 1 pair of thrift store overalls.

In the last two years, between babies two and three, I have worked hard at shifting my family’s ecological impact by living a zero waste lifestyle. (To clarify for new-to-zero-waste-readers: for most people, living a “zero waste” lifestyle doesn’t mean you actually create zero waste. You try your best to reduce your waste as much as possible and accept your successes and failures in the process.) When I learned I was pregnant with our third child I was so happy, but I was also really stressed out about our family’s environmental impact. By making the choice to have a third child I knew I was going to be burdened by the feeling that we would be using more resources than other families simply because there were more of us. In order to lessen, but not eliminate, this feeling I made a full effort to be less wasteful.

In daydreams I wish that I had started this zero waste journey before I had kids, but there is no rewind. If I could start my journey of motherhood again from the beginning, using a zero waste mindset, I would apply the old wedding tradition of “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue” to baby stuff. I think that by adopting the old, enlisting the borrowed, choosing the blue and then backing up with the new you can bring simplicity to the necessary material items one accumulates with babies and children. Let’s start with my favorite: something old.

SOMETHING OLD

When I got married I pinned my grandparents’ wedding rings to the inside of my wedding dress. The “something old” represents continuity, and I felt as if I was carrying a piece of their marriage and family with me into my future, as well as maybe the luck of having children (my grandmother had six!) The “something olds” that I use with my children bring me so much joy. Almost all of our clothing would fit into the category of old. We have been the lucky recipients of hand-me-downs from several families and I have been able to fill in a few pieces from consignment sales in my area of Virginia. Certainly some kids clothing gets worn to shreds, but most of it makes it through one kid easily, especially the little baby stuff. Several friends have sent me curated boxes of hand-me-downs that I have loved so much: Patriots gear, stripes, corduroys, overalls… these are a few of my favorite things. Reach out to friends, family, your online community, or any other community you belong to, and see if there is anyone looking to send on baby gear or clothes. This will save you money, time, and it will bring continuity from the past to your baby’s future. Now that we are done having children nothing thrills me more than seeing pictures of my friends little ones wearing things my kids wore.

SOMETHING BORROWED

When I was pregnant with my first child, I polled people about what they couldn’t imagine living without and I also read more than one list of “Things You Wish You Had Never Bought for Baby." I thought that by gathering all this information I’d come up with a neat and tidy list of things I needed. The problem was that while some people found a certain item essential, others found that same baby item useless. My list wasn’t neat or tidy.

What I realized is that we all have certain things that we feel we can’t live without for baby. Then you have a second baby who despises things the first one liked and you realize there is no perfect list. Sometimes you don’t need something until you NEED IT! (In the middle of the night on day 7 of no sleep.) This is where something borrowed comes in. Now, I will admit that situations like these have made me impulse buy a couple of things on Amazon. I’m not proud of how many bottle nipples I possess. I will also admit that those impulse purchases haven’t always panned out. Every child is different and every stage is different. Borrowing items from friends or family or community (instead of buying them new) means that you have less stuff in your space, that you can trial something without a commitment, and you can connect with someone else who has kid stuff all over their house.

I have borrowed a lot of things but there is one borrow that I would describe as life changing. My first baby was the dream sleeper; from the beginning she had sleeping skills. Skills you don’t mention to other parents unless you want to be shunned. My second baby, who came when my first was 13.5 months old (I told you she was a good sleeper), was an okay sleeper with challenges and regressions, but always manageable. My third baby has required, how do I say this nicely, his parents to become baby-sleep wizards. My first two babies had happily gone to sleep on their backs on the firm, flat co-sleeper. They easily followed all the early safety rules and slept. Third baby, not so much. He hated being flat. In my sleep deprived haze a voice reminded me about the Rock-n-Play. People swore by those things. I hadn’t needed one the first two times around but I had to try something new.

I messaged ALL the groups. My Buy Nothing group, my 2013 mom group, my 2014 mom group, a general parenting group, Facebook marketplace. (I resisted the one click Amazon option that I might not have resisted a couple of years ago.) “Anyone have a rock-n-play that needs use?” A mom I knew a little bit had one. She asked for my address and by that night she had delivered it to my house, freshly washed. She told me how she used it for her two babies and that she was hoping to use it for a third someday, but had just had a miscarriage and so wasn’t sure now. I felt so honored that she shared that with me, her story and her freshly-washed-saving-my-sleep rock-n-play. In the wedding adage, the borrowed item represents borrowed happiness. In borrowing this item I had borrowed happiness from that mom and she had given it freely. It made me feel more connected to my mom community here in Virginia. A feeling of connection between mothers is not something you can register for, but is invaluable as you navigate motherhood.

SOMETHING BLUE

The “something blue” that brings you luck on your wedding represents purity, love, and fidelity. Applying this to babies, for us, meant that we pretended it was 1970 and didn’t find out the genders of our babies until they were born. I needed the added surprise during the pushing phase of labor. The unforeseen bonus is that when people don’t know the gender of your baby they often give you “something blue” or something that can be used for both a boy or a girl (AKA all future babies.) Whether you find out the gender or not, consider making choices, especially larger more permanent purchases, on ones that could work for all genders. I also love having a diaper bag that is a backpack and a black baby carrier so that when my husband grabs them and puts them on he can feel comfortable and like a dad who does it all.  

SOMETHING NEW

By the time you gather your old, borrow from friends, and ask for people to think about your future babies’ colors, I think there is not much left that you need. However, there are times when you have to choose new. You can’t use 10 year old amoxicillin to treat your baby’s first ear infection. The Nose Frida feels pretty personal. Car seats are really important and can’t have a history of an accident, so new is usually needed to ensure safety. Diapers and wipes, food and health items are usually new, but sometimes investing in making your own reusable wipes, or cloth diapering, can be a way to invest in something new that you can reuse again and again.

I bought my white (and a couple blue and orange) cloth diapers new for my first baby. Then I took a break and let my best friend borrow them when I was overwhelmed by two-under-two in diapers and then took them back, a little old-er, to help potty train both kids and to use for our third baby. I anticipate the day I will close the diaper portion of motherhood and can send them back to my best friend for her to use on a future little. New is part of the adventure too, and new represents the future in the old wedding tradition. The most important new thing will be the new baby. There is nothing as new as a new baby.

6 Ways to Create an Eco-friendly Maternity Wardrobe

By Martha Janick

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Coming up with a new wardrobe that will work with your changing shape can be daunting. Add to that finding clothes that are comfortable for your growing belly and appropriate for your lifestyle, and it can be a big challenge. If you live in a rural area you likely don’t have access to a brick-and-mortar store where you can try on and purchase maternity wear, which can add to the difficulty of finding clothes that fit. Here are 6 ways to curate a perfect eco-friendly and minimalist wardrobe.

1. Comb Through Your Own Closet

The best place to start is to look through your own closet. Not having to purchase any new items is the most environmentally-friendly of all! Especially in the early days, a lot of your clothes might work to get you through a few weeks or even months. Put those flowy tops, stretchy leggings, and loose dresses and skirts to the front of the closet. Button down shirts and cardigans are great as well and can be worn open as the baby bump grows. Fitted pants are usually the first to go, but some people find using a belly band can make them last a bit longer. Box up clothes as they no longer fit and tuck them away, so you have a uncluttered view of the options each day.

2. Check with Friends

When I became pregnant with my first baby I didn’t have anyone I knew locally who had a baby. A college friend offered to send me her maternity clothes and they’ve since gone back and forth between us four times! If you can, offer to store the clothes or send them back when you are finished. I find people are much more likely to loan out items when there’s a plan to get them back.

 Clothes arrive ready for their fourth round of wear!

Clothes arrive ready for their fourth round of wear!

3. Raid Your Partner’s Closet

Chances are there will be times where you don’t need to dress up during your pregnancy. So for those times that you’re lounging around the house, you can raid your partner’s closet for some over-sized t-shirts, baggy pants, button downs and cozy sweatshirts. I’m not ashamed to admit I even borrowed my husband’s boxers in the 3rd trimester as I suffered through the heat of summer and I plan to do the same with baby #2! Maybe they have a sweater or winter jacket that you can use to layer up in the cold months.

4. Check Out Used Items

There are so many online sites to buy secondhand clothing. Ebay, Poshmark and ThredUP are a few that I have looked at specifically. Secondhand maternity clothing is usually in great shape, because it hasn’t been worn very long. If you know you have a fancy event to go to with your bump, check out the used sites as formal maternity dresses are usually in great condition at great prices. Children’s consignment stores often have a maternity section as well, and offer the benefit of being able to try the clothes on in-person.

5. Purchase Some New Items

You might need to purchase a few staples to round out your wardrobe. When considering new items, try to stick to things that will be useful during pregnancy and the postpartum time. My go-to new items are maternity leggings, bras, and tank tops, as these items are usually pretty tired after going through one momma, especially a nursing one. When buying new I like to try to buy from ethical brands, which can be a challenge to find for regular clothing let alone maternity wear. It may seem silly to spend a lot of money on maternity wear, but if you are planning on having more than one child it really is worth it. I bought some fast fashion items for my first baby and they are a bit tired looking and pilled and the styles are kind of weird now. Fashion is one of the  most polluting industries in the world. Some ethical maternity brands I support are Storq, which is committed to ethical manufacturing in the US and China and has a clothes recycling program, and Boob Design which is a great company that has a transparent manufacturing process and textile sourcing process that they share on their website. They use organic cotton and recycled materials to make 97% of their clothing.

6. Keep It Simple

It’s okay to have just a few outfits in rotation, this isn’t forever, just nine(ish) months. Use jewelry, scarves and other accessories to switch it up. A small wardrobe will work for most seasons. So, what do you really need? That will vary, depending on your lifestyle. I’m a stay at home mom, but I’ve also worked in a business casual workplace, and as a handyman while pregnant. The following are some items that I used for each lifestyle setting, but depending on your access to a washing machine and the types of fabrics you choose, your must-haves could vary. So here is a list you can start with and build upon:  

Tops - 2 long sleeve shirts, 3 longer or maternity tank tops, 3 t-shirts

You can stick with maternity specific styles such as ones that have the ruching on the side or use regular tops that are just a bit longer.

Bottoms - 1 pair of maternity jeans, 2 pairs of leggings

Maternity leggings are amazing and can work after baby arrives too. There’s a reason the stereotypical mom uniform includes leggings. They are comfortable and can be dressed up or used as loungewear. You may want to include a pair of shorts or skirt for summer.

Layering items - Button downs, cardigans, blazers

I found these items to typically be things I used from my existing closet as the maternity specific styles didn’t really appeal to me. Another option is to purchase quality used items online in a larger size than you normally wear to help get you through this period.

Dresses - 2-3 dresses and/or skirts

Maxi dresses are a favorite, because they look great and knits work well for an expanding belly. Also check out wrap dressings or dresses that button down in the front if you are planning on breastfeeding.

Undergarments - 1-2 bras and comfy undies

Bras for your changing bust and expanding rib cage. This will continue to change postpartum, so I suggest just get something that works for the now.

If you work in an office setting you may want to add in some blouses or dress pants with a maternity panel to the list. I found overalls to be great for pregnancy while working at a manual labor job. A maternity bathing suit might fit into your wardrobe. It feels great to be weightless in water to take the stress off your joints!

Above all, be sure you feel comfortable and good about your clothing. It can be kind of unsettling watching your body go through such an enormous change. Be gentle with yourself and dress so that you feel the most confident and comfortable that you can!

Martha Janick lives in Maine with her husband, son Percy, and baby #2 due this summer. She is currently a stay at home mom, and she is "doing [her] best to be a radical change maker by living a low waste lifestyle." You can see what she's up to on Instagram @livinglightlymaine

8 Things to Do When You Visit a Family with a New Baby

Newborn babies are magical, mystical, amazing things. The birth of a baby often brings extended family together, and gives old friends an excuse to visit. However, tone deaf visitors can create stress and discomfort for new parents, so here are some ways you can make the postpartum experience easier on everybody:

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1. Leave your judgment at home

Having a new baby is really, really, really hard. Chances are you will be walking into a messy home, and visiting with adults who are exhausted, un-showered, and wearing pajamas. They might be distracted, hungry, and maybe even weepy. Maybe their dog pooped on the floor and they haven't cleaned it up yet. If they have older children, they might be acting wild and leaving their stuff everywhere. This is normal. Smile at your friends and tell them they're doing great.

2. Check your intentions

Before you contact your friend to arrange a visit, ask yourself WHY you want to visit. If the answer is that you want to support your friend through one of the most difficult transitions of her life, awesome! If not, think about what you can do to get there. This visit shouldn't be about you holding the baby, or seeing how crazy their life has gotten. No matter what she's posting on Instagram, she needs your support more than ever right now.

3. Bring food

They will love you forever! This offering does NOT need to be fancy. You don’t even have to cook anything! You can bring take out or pre-made food from a grocery store. You could bring a bag of fruit. You could even bring a box of protein bars! This is a practical, but also at a certain level, symbolic gesture. It is an easy, thoughtful way to acknowledge that with a new baby it is difficult to accomplish even the most basic functions necessary for survival.

4. Wash your hands

No one wants to be the new parent that asks visitors to wash their hands soon as they walk in the door, so don’t make them, ok? Walk in quietly and say, “I’m just going to go wash my hands before I hug you!” and then join them on the couch. It will put them at ease and, when you see how delicate and new the baby is, it will make you feel better too.

5. Don't ask, but do offer, to hold the baby

What I mean is: the mother might not want anyone else to hold the baby. I know I didn’t when my first child was born. (The second one was a different story!) The first days and weeks after a baby is born are very important for bonding and establishing a nursing relationship. If you ask to hold the baby and she doesn’t want you to, that will make her feel very uncomfortable. Instead you can say, “I am happy to hold the baby if you’d like to shower or something, but I absolutely do not need to! S/he looks so cozy right now!”

6. Do the dishes in the sink

If there are dishes in the sink, wash ‘em! Don’t offer, just do it.

7. Be prepared to see boobs

If the mother is breastfeeding, you’re gonna see boobs. Follow her cues. Some women feel very self-conscious about nursing in front of people, others couldn’t care less. You will probably know based on your relationship and how she’s acting which category she falls into.

8. Ask the new mother how she's doing, and listen when she tells you

This can be a really hard time for new parents. A lot of people fawn over the baby and new mothers can feel like they don’t exist anymore. Like their previous identity has been erased now that they have a baby. Make eye contact with the mother and ask how she’s doing. Listen. You don’t have to say much other than, “I know. It sounds so hard. You’re doing so great. Your baby is so lucky you’re his/her mama.”

No go forth and visit that new family and make them feel awesome about themselves!

5 Truck Books for Adults Who are Sick of Reading Truck Books

My younger son is currently obsessed with trucks. He will sit and read books about them on repeat as long the adult-in-question will humor him. You know what I'm not obsessed with? Trucks. I mean, I appreciate their existence in our world, and I know that our society needs them to keep everything happening, but... I like a book with a plot! Maybe a rhyme or two. Or some pretty pictures! Here is a list of 5 truck books that will (hopefully) help you retain your sanity and appease your youngin.

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Roadwork by Sally Sutton

Roadwork has incredible illustrations and a wonderful rhythm with sounds like "clang, crunch, crack!"

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Digger Dozer Dumper by Hope Vestergaard

This book has sweet, clever poems, and features trucks using both male and female pronouns.

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Trucks by Byron Barton

There is something so comforting about the earnest simplicity of this book. "Trucks on the road. They work hard."

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Road Builders by B.G. Hennessy

With bright, vintage-style illustrations and a diverse cast of characters and trucks, Road Builders will entertain you and the kid!

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Dig! by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha

Mr. Rally and his dog LOVE to dig. You may even find yourself smiling by the end of this book!

What are some of your favorites? 

Standing At The Window

Standing At The Window
by Kate Macko

My daughter wakes up from dreams
Telling me to slow down, telling me

I’m going too fast and she can’t keep up.
She has dreams that I’m leaving her behind.

I’m right here, I tell her, I’m not going anywhere,
Straightening her blankets, kissing her forehead.

In truth, I am partly longing to get away, to leave
Her needs and find time for myself; distracted, I search

Calendars and moments and parts of our house
For a place to be alone. Heading for school in the morning,

My husband and daughter drive away while I get ready for work.
Standing at the window, I watch them go and feel myself      

Unfurling inside, free and unmonitored – my deep need
For privacy in the midst of a family finally met momentarily.

Am I different when they are gone, more myself, substantial?
I miss them before they even leave the driveway.

 Kate Macko

Kate Macko