Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cloth Diapers- Tax Deductible!

I am thrilled to share that I have recently found out that your cloth diapers (and a diaper service too) can be claimed as a medical expense for reimbursement.  In other words, you can pay for them using your flexible spending account or add it as a medical expense deduction. There is only one minor stipulation to qualify for this.

Your doctor needs to write you a prescription for cloth diapers for the "treatment of a disease".  What exactly this means isn't clear to me at this point but I hope to touch base with the IRS to find out more information.

You can find this information at the IRS' website and here is a direct link to the publication:


You can find the topic under "What's Eligible" on page 14 titled "Diaper Service."  What's more, this document explains the steps you need to take to claim this or be reimbursed.

Sweet, eh?  Share this with all your cloth diapering friends!


Jen Starks, Owner

Monday, July 30, 2012

Top 10 Eco-Friendly Tips to Beat the Heat

Whether you are pregnant, wearing your baby, or just wanting to keep cool during the hot summer months, we hope that some of these suggestions will help you and your entire family beat the heat while also being "green".

Top 10 "Ecological" Ways to Beat the Summer Heat:

1. Drink loads of water. Add mint, lemon, or cucumbers for extra cooling.

2. My go-to solution for most things: Green Smoothies-breakfast, lunch, dinner.  Add coconut water! We also freeze our green smoothies and they make delicious popsicles. I have a great recipe posted here.

3. Skip the oven.  Use either a crockpot or your grill.

4. Eat more fresh fruit and veggies, especially watermelon.

5. Carry a spray bottle around with you.  Better yet, give your kids one too and they can keep themselves cool while having fun! I'm not usually an advocate to go out and purchase a lot of baby accessories but this fan would be a great addition to your stroller or carseat: http://www.leapsandbounds.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=536614&cmSource=Search

6. Skip the blow dryer.  Sure your hair might not be as nice as you want it but who wants to sweat right after showering?  And wet hair = cooler body!

7. In the evening when the temperature breaks, blow warm air out of the house.  Then cool it down with your A/C.

8. Skip using the drying cycle on your dishwasher.  Instead, open up the door and let them air dry. Same with your clothes.  Use that clothesline for clothes and your diapers!

9. Wear loose thin clothing made out of natural fibers.  Letting sweat evaporate off your skin helps keep you cool. Better yet, wear less clothing (especially at home!).  Keep your baby in nothing but their cute cloth diaper!

10. Visit your public pools and local library!

Stay cool,

Jen Starks, Owner

Friday, July 27, 2012

Being a Victim & It's Effects on Me

As a parent have you ever been victimized, harassed, or witnessed a situation full of injustice? If you've read my previous experience with Delta, then you know this has happened to be before. But recently, I was a victim of verbal abuse and I am still affected a week later.  Let me tell you what happened and the insight I have gained from it.  If you've been victimized, I would be interested in hearing how it has affected you to.  Remember, we are all in this together to support each other.

Last Friday, our family was visiting my in-laws in Lafayette, Indiana.  My mother-in-law's birthday was the previous day, so when we arrived, we wanted to take her out to a nice lunch.  We picked Lafayette Brewing Company which is located in Lafayette's cute little downtown area, full of neat artsy shops, bakeries, and a few restaurants.  Well, we had a great time and my only complaint was that it took a surprisingly long time to receive our food.  As a result, my kids had the opportunity to drink an abundance of pink lemonade (sound familiar mamas?).

After lunch was done, we all left the restaurant to head to our cars (gma & gpa in their own).  Brian (s.o.) went ahead with Rita Clare and I walked with Tyler (whose pace is significantly slower than his 4 y.o. sister).  I carried our leftover box and both the pink lemonades (which in hindsight should have been left behind in the restaurant).  I thought about combining the cups for efficiency for carrying them to the car.  But then I remembered previous fits and complaints that occurred when each person didn't have the cup they were given at the restaurant (you know, those plastic kid's cups with the unusual designs). Anyhow in a rush, I ended up grabbing all of these items while walking with Tyler to the car.

Well, as I've explained in a previous post, my son is potty training. As we are walking on the sidewalk to head to the car (a few shops down from the restaurant), Tyler exclaims, "I need to pee!".  Thinking fast, I usher him into the first open restaurant to see if we can quickly use the facilities for our "emergency".  It's a local place called the Lafayette Dog Cafe.  It's a place I secretly would love to leisurely eat (alone) and enjoy supporting a local business offering local foods while drinking a glass of wine.  I make a mental note that I'd like to come back sometime.

Tyler is holding himself and we quickly walk to the back of the restaurant where the cashier's table is located beside the door to the restroom.  I tell Tyler to wait a minute, so we can ask if we can use their restroom.  But nobody comes out of the kitchen.  Now, I'm thinking fast about what to do and think that they'd probably prefer us to use the restroom instead of having an accident in the middle of their floor.  Looking around the room, which was empty besides 2 people dining together, I set down my leftovers on the side table closest to the restroom door, so the workers know we are in the restroom (I leave my purse too).

If you've gone through potty training, you know it is a process in the restroom.  Setting Tyler up in the right position, having him be able to flush, convincing him the merit of washing his hands and then propping him up to do it himself, having him help open the heavy door, etc.  It's an ordeal.  But we leave the restroom as neat and clean as the little instructions say in the bathroom (please wipe around the sink so no drips are present), and head out to thank them for letting us use their restroom.

As soon as we come back into the restroom, we are greeted by the owner.  He's a tall man about 60 in age with his hands on his hips.  Before he has a chance to say anything, I explain our circumstances and how I tried to wait for someone to come out of the kitchen but couldn't wait any longer....yadda yadda.  He proceeds to ask me if I know what it must be like to be a business owner. Actually I do, I tell him.  Then he asks me how I would feel if someone came into my restaurant and brought in leftovers of a competitor and put them on my table.  Then without being a customer, using my restroom.  As this point, his voice is getting more aggressive and he stance seems to tower over me.  I replied (with my son standing next to me) that I might be frustrated at first but then would understand and empathize with this person because of their situation (i.e. potty training and urgency of the matter).  I apologized and he replied in a hostile tone "GET. OUT!" He swooped us out of the restaurant and closed the door on our backs.

I.was.stunned. Did this really just happen?  Was this my fault?  Shaking, I carried Tyler to the car (which Brian had pulled up because he had been waiting for me).  My body was in fight or flight with my heart pounding. At first I thought to myself, how can someone get SO worked up and act so hostile to a potential customer over something so small?  Do people actually live like this everyday full of anger and aggression?  We are supposed to be working together to understand each other.  After a couple minutes, I told Brian what happened.

As a local business, I expect them to be more understanding and excel more in customer service.  I mean, that is one of my favorite aspects of a local business.  But as my husband has pointed out, not all local businesses are created equal.  It's sad but true.

Well, a few minutes in the car rolled by and I could tell I need a good cry over the situation.  Instead, I reacted to my kids demanding their pink lemonade that I had brought into the car.  I told them that we were saving them for later when we were having cake for grandma's birthday.  No dice.  They whined and complained and my energy bursted out as anger instead of hurt.  I exploded at my daughter and told her that the lemonade was gone now.  I barked at Brian to pull the car over and then threw her cup of lemonade in the trash (I share now with my head down in shame).  Of course, she is crying now and now I'm crying.  And I can tell this is directly related to the trauma I was feeling from being victimized by the owner.  Now I have hurt, anger, and guilt.  Brian told me to take a breather and to let him take care of the kids.  I felt better after a few minutes of calming myself down and then sharing the story again with a few other people.

It's amazing how this experience has still affected me.  With the Chickfila news swirling around, I'm feeling usually hostile (something I haven't felt in a long time) that some company that we had been supporting is supporting organizations that breed more hatred and intolerance with their profits.  I can tell that I'm still needing to work through my experience and heal.  Because getting angry with Chickfila and feeling resentful isn't my style.  And I honestly haven't done all my research on the issue and already want to bust out the bazookas on them.  What's up with that?

So, I apologize if I upset people by posting on our wall about Chickfila. As a business owner, I try to make political issues neutral to Ecological Babies.  We can all believe different things and my goal isn't to persuade you a certain way.  In fact, I love dialog and understanding all perspectives.  I believe we can all learn from each other and can benefit from having differing opinions. At my core, I believe in respecting everyone no matter who they are or their life choices.  Even if I disagree or have been victimized by them, I still believe it's necessary.   Embrace diversity!  As moms, we all parent differently. I think we are just trying to do the best we can for our children in a way that works for us.  

Peace with sincerity,


Jen Starks, Owner

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Prepping Your Cloth Diapers

So, you now have your cloth diapers (hopefully from Ecological Babies!) and you are ready to get them ready to be used on your baby. The purpose of prewashing is to quilt up the natural fibers and to remove any loose materials or residue on the diapers. Pre-washing instructions are different from regular care, so here's our recommendations to get you started.

Cotton, Hemp, Bamboo materials- (prefolds, pocket inserts, all-in-ones, doublers)

  • These materials need to be washed AND dried a minimum of 3 times.  
  • Detergent is only necessary one time.  
  • They can be combined with other laundry.  
  • Temperature of the water does not matter.  
  • You will need to collect all the lint out of your dryer before drying them again. 

Polyester materials (diaper covers, microfiber inserts, pocket shells), cotton wipes, wet bags
  • You only need to wash these once with detergent.
  • Temperature of the water does not matter.
  • Covers and pocket shells are best flat or line dried.  Otherwise, tumble dry low is next recommendation.

After that, you are all set!  Now comes the exciting part of putting that on your cute baby. :)


Jen Starks, Owner

Monday, July 23, 2012

How to Make Pickles!

Well, for the first time, I've entered the process of making pickles.  I must be upfront that my fermenting process has only begun and therefore cannot vouch for how great these pickles taste...yet.  I will come back into this blog when it's time and add how it turned out then.

Added later- These pickles turned out delicious and had the perfect crunch. Once we started eating them, they didn't last long!

Just like all the new things I've tried at home for the first time this year (making detergent, etc), this is another EASY thing to do from home and much healthier for you.  The recipe I am sharing came from a local CSA member who has been using this recipe to make pickles.  I was excited that she passed this along because we received a ton of pickling cucumbers in our basket this week.

Ingredients & Directions:
        1/8 cup fresh dill
        8 garlic cloves, whole or sliced
        1/2 cup white wine vinegar
        1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
        2 cups water
        1/4 cup salt (necessary to preserve)
        1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
        1/2 Tbs. turmeric (optional for color)
        3 cucumbers, sliced into 1/3-inch rounds (add last)

Stir all ingredients except the cucumber together in a large bowl.  Add
the cucumber slices and place something heavy (like a plate) on top in the
bowl so that the cucumbers stay submerged under the surface of the liquid.
Cover the bowl with a cloth to keep out bugs.  Let the cucumbers marinate
at room temperature for 3 days.  Refrigerate when ready.

This is what mine looks like right now!   



Jen Starks, Owner 


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dirtiest/Cleanest Produce-Summer

Usually every year, an updated list is released for the "Dirty Dozen/Clean 15" for fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, they don't list it by season, so there are a lot of ones to remember.  And to be honest with you, I still get some confused trying to remember it.

Today, I decided to put together a good list for veggies and fruit that would be specifically for summer.  Of course, I'd advocate trying to purchass as much organic as possible.  But shopping this way can ease the pressure on your wallet until you can afford to buy all organic.


Sweet bell peppers
Summer Squash

Sweet Corn

I was surprised to find that tomatoes were in the middle of the list.  I would have expected them to be higher under the dirty list. 

Note:  This came from a list at: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list/

Any surprises for you?

To good health,


Jen Starks, Owner

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Our Go-To Green Smoothie Recipe

Photo Taken from The Kitchen Goddess
I was first introduced to green smoothies by my good friend, Jill Welch, also known as The Kitchen Goddess. I came to her after I had my second child, Tyler, and I was exhausted needing a good morning solution.  It probably took her suggesting it like 5 times before I eventually asked her to come over and show me how she makes them.  It really is simple though and I'm grateful for her suggestions and expertise.  Thanks Jill!  :)

The hardest part for those who are new to green smoothies is that they look rather unappealing to the eye.  On the occasions when I add more strawberries than usual and omit the spirulina, the smoothie has a nice little hint of pink.  But usually it is green or a muddy brown.  This was a tricky situation to overcome while introducing this to the family, especially to my daughter.  I admit, I was also worried about its taste after I made my first one.  Fortunately, the taste won over the appearance and my daughter usually happily drinks her green smoothie.

The best part of making a green smoothie for me and the kids (and occasionally Brian if he is around), is that I know they are getting a good dose of greens in their system.  I especially try to make it first thing in the morning.  I know I feel much better on the days I've have it at breakfast. I feel more mentally alert, energetic, less moody, and more satiated.

Rita Clare drinking her smoothie

The original recipe Jill actually gave me is listed on her website right now and offers a great variety of things to add to your smoothie to make them even more nutrient rich.  

Lately, I've kept it more simple (aka lazy!) just so I will keep up with it consistently.

Jen's Green Smoothie:
1 Cup of spinach, kale, or chard (I choose whatever comes in my CSA basket.  Baby spinach is the easiest to start with because it is the mildest in flavor and blends well.)
1 Frozen banana (I stick the overly ripe ones straight in the freezer)
1 Cup of Juice (not from concentrate.  Lately the large containers of the Naked brand has been on sale and has been a great addition)
1 Cup water
4-5 Berries or a peach or an apple (peeled) or other whole fruit on hand
1 Tbs of Spirulina

This is pretty much it.  I try to work with what I have on hand.  Sometimes I add some yogurt, an avocado (if I don't have any bananas), a little honey, bee pollen, flax meal, flax oil, wheat germ. I like to make it in a large batch and drink it throughout the day.

I'd love to hear what you've been putting in your green smoothies lately!


Jen Starks, Owner

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In-Season Recipes: Summer

As promised from my last post on our CSA seasonal produce, I am including a few recipes I have done these last few days.  They are soooo delicious too!

Kale Chips 
(from weelicious.com)

I can't get enough of these and neither can my 2 y.o.! They taste slightly bitter, much like an old-fashioned potato chip but delicate and crispy! I love how simple it is to make.

1 Bunch of Kale ( I usually do about 2-3 leaves full for each batch and prefer dinosaur kale)
1 Tbs. of olive oil (I use organic, first cold-pressed)
Spike Seasoning Salt or Sea Salt (to taste but I usually use about 1 tsp)

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  Wash and dry kale.
3.  Cut out stems and then break kale into bite-size pieces.
4.  Toss the pieces around in the olive oil to make sure it's coated.
5.  Lay out the piece on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
6.  Sprinkle the salt over the leaves.
7.  Bake for around 15 minutes.  (Note: You definitely have to stay close and keep an eye on these after 10 minutes as cooking time varies from oven to oven.  You want it to look almost burned but not brown.)

Zucchini Cookies (Yields 2.5-3 dozen)
(from Simply In Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert)

Zucchini is one of those vegetables you can easily add and hide in most dishes (especially desserts!). This recipe surprised me because it tasted more like a soft scone, then a "cookie".  This has been a perfect pair with my green tea. My 2 y.o. enjoyed making this with me too!

Ingredients & Directions:
3/4 C butter (softened)
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
Cream together.
1 egg
Add and beat until fluffy.
1.5 C whole wheat flour
1 C flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 tsp ground cloves
Sift together in a separate bowl.
1.5 C zucchini (shredded)
Add to creamed mixture altermatively with dry ingredients.
3/4 C raisins
3/4 cup walnuts (chopped; optional)
Stir In.
Drop onto greased baking sheets.  Bake in preheated oven at 375 F. (Bake cookies as soon as they are mixed.  If the batter stands too long, it will ge a bit watery.)

I forgot to take a good picture of those zucchini cookies.  I think I have 2 left and will try to remember to capture them before they are eaten (no guarantees!).   If you'd like me to share some more of my in-season recipes I've been up to this past week, let me know. I'd be happy to share!

Here's to happy, healthy eating in season,

Jen Starks, Owner

Monday, July 9, 2012

My Other Life

In my other life, I am an oboe player. I used to say "was," and call it My Former Life. But over the last couple years there has been a shift. When I get to play, it really does feel like an "Other Life," though. I don't get to play very often anymore, and when I do, I get to be wholly "Claire." Not Mama, not Business Woman, not Wife, but Claire. I get to express myself, do something I love, and get totally lost in the present moment.

I went to college to study music. My goal was to become a concert musician. After finishing my bachelor's degree I continued on to graduate school, and received a Master of Music degree. I was pretty proud of myself, but realized, like most music majors eventually do, that it's not something you just go out and do after you finish school. It takes years of auditions, and can be pretty stressful.

So what did I do instead? I worked at a real estate closing office for a year, got laid off, started a pretty dreamy job working at a community theatre, then found out I was pregnant. Whoops.

Fast forward to now. I play with a pretty amazing community group called the Tallahassee Winds. Prior to this year, it was conducted by a former Dean of the College of Music at FSU who is known throughout the state as a stellar musician. He is now retired, but the group will now be led by two other great conductors from FSU. It may be an all volunteer community group, but it is truly great. We meet every Tuesday during the fall and spring semester, and have four concerts per season. I dearly look forward to each Tuesday evening. I'll never forget the first rehearsal I went to after coming back to the group after delivering my son. (I took off for the first concert of the fall.) Getting out my oboe was like seeing an old friend.

These days, my main music outlets are church gigs, especially at Christmas and Easter. I occasionally play with the Albany Symphony Orchestra in southwest Georgia. But my favorite oboe job is playing musicals. I LOVE playing musicals. It's such a fun atmosphere playing in a pit orchestra. You start out as a rag tag group of about a dozen musicians (ranging from advanced high school students to retired folks who still perform), and by the end of the run (which usually includes about five rehearsals and at least six performances) you've become friends. I love the challenge of playing in musicals. The tempo and meter constantly change, and you never know what will happen in each performance. Live music is so exciting!

I'm so thrilled that this month I get to be a part of the orchestra for the musical Les Miserables, a production of the Leon High School Performing Arts. The music is just gorgeous, and I get to play not just oboe but also English horn. The cast is made up of high school students, and they are doing a fantastic job. The orchestra is is all paid professionals, and even though we've only had one rehearsal so far, I can tell it's going to be a great show.

For the next six days, and then for three days next week, I get to leave home for four hours at a time to enjoy My Other Life. It used to be My Former Life, since for a while during that challenging first year of motherhood, I wondered if I'd ever get to play again. But I've found I need to seek it out. I need to MAKE time to play my oboe, because it's not just going to happen on its own. If I want opportunities to feel like I'm still a part of the musicians' life, I must put myself out there, and be on the look out for gigs. Sometimes I'm lucky and they fall in my lap, but that's certainly not the norm.

I think as mothers it is vital that we not lose touch with our Former/Other Selves. I believe that time to develop our own passions or hobbies outside of daily family and work life (even if you find it fulfilling and fabulous) is so important. It allows us to be multi-faceted, and expand our minds to more than they would be if our only focus was on family and work. The tired old anecdote of the "mother's emotional gas tank that needs to be filled" gets thrown around all the time, but I truly believe it to be true. Whatever your extracurricular of choice may be, I believe that we cannot possibly give to our families when we have not first given to ourselves.

When I visit My Other Life, I give myself music, and I am filled.

Claire Williamson,
Oboe/English horn player
Representative for Ecological Babies


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Farm Tales-A Twiny Morning with Tomaters!

Oh my back!  This morning was both hot and tiresome as we focused all our energy on supporting our tomato plants that are growing like crazy.   Last time I was here, the tomatoes were small and we spent most of the time taking out the weeds that were encroaching upon their growing space.  Now look at them!

We did about 6 rows of tying twine alongside the tomatoes and then around the bamboo steaks.  When I start a home garden again, I'm definitely going to be using this approach.  It works for both determinate and indeterminate tomato plants with very little invasion.

Do you notice the rows of twine for each time we go in to support the tomatoes? I did the top row.  I spent about 2 hours bent over doing this and am now paying for it.  Note to self: Yoga poses I must do for the next couple days would be cat/cow pose, child's pose, bow pose, half moon, plow pose, neck rolls, and some spinal twists!

After I finished twining, I helped put cages around some of the other varieties of tomatoes. These were for the shorter, bushier heirloom varieties to keep them off the ground.  It was actually a bit scary, as we had to cut the cages and then form them around the tomatoes with these sharp edges on the outsides.  A few people, me included, had a few gashes midst our dirty hands and arms.

I am always amazed by how quickly the veggies change from 2 weeks of being gone from the farm. This week, I was struck by the eggplants soon to be ready for harvest.  They were just tiny little plants we weeded around 2 weeks ago.  Now look at them!

I also had the privelege of harvesting the radishes.  It's a lot of fun, if you are into digging your fingers into the ground (as I am!). Can you tell how dry it has been???

Again, I felt like my CSA basket was like a Christmas stocking and Theri from the farm was Santa (Ms. Claus rather!).  In our overflowing basket this week were: carrots, cauliflower, radishes, pole beans, dinosaur kale, a ginormous amount of mixed baby greens,  kohlrabi, cucumbers, basil, onions, zucchini, summer squash, and a handful of raspberries.

My next post will be about what I've been doing with all this great produce!  I'll even include a couple great recipes to share.

With dirt still under her fingernails,

Jen Starks, Owner

Monday, July 2, 2012

Potty Training- Tyler's Progress Report

For some reason, there have been a number of my blogger friends who have written a post today about potty training.  I thought I'd build up some camaraderie and fill you in on how potty training (or learning) is going in our household.

Tyler initiated peeing on the potty a little over a month ago.  It all started when our babysitter did a very poor job in wiping his bum from his last diaper change before bed.  As a result, the poor guy had a very severe diaper rash when he woke up. :(  So for the next few days, I'd wait a while before I put on a fresh diaper between changes.  In the morning, I'd take off his diaper and just let him have some fresh air.

During one of these mornings, Tyler went into the bathroom and sat on the "froggy potty".  Instead of telling me he was going, he decided that bringing the little bucket of pee pee with a proud face was the way to go.  This brings such a smile to my face thinking about how he walked in announcing " I PEED, Mommy!"  I couldn't believe it.  That day, he was so into it, he probably peed on it 20 times-lol! Of course, most of the time, it was a little drop.

Ok, so this might be too much visual but check out that proud face!
Since then, he's had days where he had an accident almost every time he had the urge to go.  But overall, he's done great.  Using cloth diapers before potty training has made potty training so much more relaxing for a number of reasons:

1.  Dealing with an "accident" isn't a big deal because I feel more prepared. I've already carried around a change of clothes and a wet bag, since he was born. Instead of diapers, I have trainers. About a year ago,I wrote a blog post on ways to be prepared during potty training here. Of course, we have different trainers to recommend now!

2.  Instead of rushing Tyler into this process, I've let him take the lead.   I've come to understand that he will do this when he is developmentally ready not when other moms brag about their child or when the books say it is time.

3. I don't feel pressured to "save money" on pull-ups by forcing him into this stage. We've already paid for them! :)

4. Because he's been in cloth, I've been following his peeing/pooping record closely.  I pretty much know about when he pees, how much he pees, and how long he stays dry.

4.  Tyler is more prepared too.  He knows when he is about to go pee/poop and has had time to feel "wet" longer than if he weren't using cloth diapers.

5. He's still using his one-size diapers at night and even some of the Flip Trainers.  Unbelievably enough, he has been staying dry through the night too.  

I've learned that potty training is very different for each child.  My daughter was (is still in many regards) motivated by rewards and night time training was extended long after she was in underwear during the day.  Tyler could care less about any reward! 

What has/was potty training like for your kids?  Any stories you'd like to share?

In peace,

Jen Starks, Owner