In Praise of Play Cloths

Playing with silk cloths

Since writing about crafts and DIY projects last week, and reading the posts from two Blog to Inspire entrants—Jill Amery’s ideas for at home activities and Gwen Floyd’s dress-up box—I decided to write about the longest and most used toys in my family.

I write in praise of play cloths.

You know, play silks, squares of cloth, multi-colored canvases that become anything from a cape to a blanket to a wig to wings to the broadest reaches of a child’s imagination.

By far, the most used toys in my family have been the play cloths I made 10 years ago and the play cloths we have acquired since. If I had to recommend one and only one toy to parents of toddlers, it would be play cloths.

Make Your Own Play Cloths

Looking at the price tag of $10-15 each for play silks, I decided to make my own. I bought one yard each of 36″ wide cotton fabric in a dozen colors. I paid about $3/yard for the fabric. I also bought 48 2″ rings.

Because I bought fabric already 36″ wide, I didn’t have cut the fabric or hem the sides. I just hemmed each end, then sewed a ring at each corner.

The idea behind the rings came from watching my children play butterfly. They would wrap the corners around their fingers to be able to flap their hands open and shut. With the rings, they slip them over fingers and don’t have to hang on. The rings also made clean up a lot easier. Just hang them on hooks. We had 12 hooks hidden on the underside of our fireplace mantle, and the play cloths were often put away in rainbow order there, hanging by their rings.

NOTE: To be safe, use rings at least 2″ wide. Don’t use rings at all with children under 3 years old.

A Play Cloth Is Anything You Want It to Be

Costume. For young children, a play cloth is often a costume—a cape, wings, a hat, a skirt.

Blanket. When my daughter is not feeling well, she often covers herself with a play cloth. I think it’s a kind of comfort blanket for her.

Landscaping. In doll world, playcloths are grass, rivers, sky, and anything else.

Holiday Wrapping. We use play cloths to wrap gifts. We’ve become very creative in using multiple colors and knots as bows.

Dog Exercise. My daughter does a lot of research on dogs. Our dog, she tells me, can see red. So, my daughter covers herself with a sparkly, bright red play cloth and run through the house to get the dog to chase her. The dog loves this. When my daughter wears an 8-foot long midnight blue, star-covered play cloth as a cape for more dog exercise, they both romp through the house happily.

As my children enter teen years, I suspect the play cloths will still come in handy. I can’t imagine what they will become, but my children can.

Image © Tatyana Chernyak |

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Coal-power Air Pollution: You Can Help

Coal power air pollution

Air pollution where I live is bad to the point that I often have difficulty speaking during the most polluted times. Eyes water, breathing hurts. Children are kept inside rather than going outside for recess. I was part of a group of local citizens who founded a nonprofit organization to find solutions to the problem of dirty air. When my group met with the governor of our state to ask him what could be done, he summed it up: “It comes down to cars and coal.”

Today, my concern is coal. If we are alarmed and scared for our children, what are we to do?

First, understand the problems.

Problems caused by coal power emissions fall into two broad areas: global warming and health effects. Everyone shares the consequences of coal power as the pollutants spread far beyond the sources.

This doesn’t even address the problems on the other end of the cycle, with coal mining and coal ash, where coal destroys people to create power.

A lot of organizations and campaigns focus on carbon emissions with coal already—the global warming issue.

I don’t discount mining or global warming issues in the least, but I am looking at the reality slap of my own family’s health consequences from air pollution, and that results from the emissions of coal power plants and specific pollutants: ground-level ozone, sulfur dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), and Particulate Matter (PM).

Then, connect the problem to the health consequences.

One of the most common health effects of pollution is asthma, but this is only one of the most visible and acute effects. Long-term health issues from air pollution, not just respiratory but pulmonary and neurological, can claim not only the lives of sensitive populations but the IQs of our children.

We have standards to regulate these emissions, but those standards change. American Lung Association watches clean air standards closely because of the respiratory effects of air pollution. On their Clean Air Standards website, you can find the latest news on National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), an important tool for limiting air pollution. These standards are in the news this week in the U.S.

Finally, join others and get to work.

The details and the difficulties of cutting off the sources of pollution can feel overwhelming. The problem is not new, though, which means that others are already working hard to make change. Join them in their efforts.

There are clean air alliances and other clean air organizations across North America. Search for “clean air” and your city/state/province to find local organizations. Their missions will vary based on local needs and volunteers skills and experience, but their overall goal is the same: clean the air.

As one example:

“The Ontario Clean Air Alliance is a coalition of health and environmental organizations, faith communities, unions, utilities, municipalities, corporations and individuals working for cleaner air through a coal phase-out and the shift to a renewable electricity future.”

Clean air organizations work with governments, nonprofits, health professionals, citizen groups, and others to find answers to the all-too prevalent problems of air pollution. The real answers, of course, are to use less power from coal sources and reduce power use overall.

Another thing the governor told me and my clean air colleagues when we met with him was that we need to start by picking the low-hanging fruit. It may not be hanging all that low, but coal is one of the biggest and most obvious polluters, which makes it a clear place to start.

Find out who is working on clean air issues near you and help them.

This post is for the Green Moms Carnival on Coal hosted in February by Retro Housewife Goes Green.

Image © Vicki France |

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Save Green: Is It a Habit?

Green Checklist

Today is day #21 of my new Save Green Habit: run the stairs every day.

For me, is running up and down stairs a habit? Well, yes, but I’m going to put this one into the second round again. I thought I would be running 30 minutes a day by now. HA! Habit and strength are not the same thing. The habit is well in place but I want to push harder. Maybe I will keep this one as my focus until I reach my 30-minute goal.

For my husband, is turning off the computer a habit? Not yet. He thinks about it and talks about it, but he’s not doing it every day yet. He has said that he would like to put this one in for the second round again. He wants to make it work.

For my daughter, is knitting a habit? Definitely. She isn’t obsessing about amount of time spent, but she’s spending well over 30 minutes a day knitting. She has been knitting squares that she will sew into a pillow. I asked if she wants to add another habit for the second round. No, she’s happy and just wants to keep knitting.

For my son, is studying Chinese a habit? 
No. He hasn’t been as interested in the language lessons as he has in practicing Kung Fu forms. THAT seems to be a habit now. He does it every weekday, and he always remembers to mark our calendar. For the second round, he has said he would like to focus on just Mandarin Chinese language lessons. I think that if I help him a bit in the beginning, that will help him to get in the groove.

Does 21 Days Make a Habit?

Habits Checklist

Whether 21 days makes a habit seems to depend on whether the person is really ready to make the habit. Having cheerleaders to check in on us and help us stay accountable only creates an external habit. We have to flip an internal switch to make a lasting change.

Isn’t that true of all change?

My family has enjoyed checking in with one another about our progress, so we are going to make checking in about habits, goals, and changes our new family habit.

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Save Green: DIY Projects & Crafts

Creative Winter Projects

Yesterday, I read Blog to Inspire entrant Jill Amery’s great ideas for low-cost or no-cost not-quite-structured play. It takes such a light parenting touch like this to balance the child’s desire for guidance with their need to explore their own ideas.

During the summer, my kids spend a lot of time outside. There is really very little need for me to be involved to nudge them toward activity at all because they have created their own elaborate structure (a media empire with various programs and activities—definitely worth describing in detail). Now that we have our months-long blanket of snow, they still go outside, but they are spending more time indoors because it’s so cold.

Inside we have a lot of board games and puzzle games. My son likes to work through the projects with his electronic snap board (a kids’ intro to DIY electronics), and he’s been inventing a lot of Rube Goldberg machines on paper. My daughter is knitting, and she does clay sculpting. They have a lot of unstructured space to create. Sometimes, though, I see them itching to find something to get their hands on, but they aren’t sure what to do.

Rather than organize the activities myself, I like to scatter interesting possibilities around and see what they pick up for themselves.

After we had checked them out of the library several times, I finally bought The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls. Both books have a lot of different kinds of activities, ideas, and projects. These have been the I’m-bored go-to books for a while.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve picked up the magazine ReadyMade several times and found myself reading every word. So, it’s one of the few magazines I subscribe to now. I share some of the projects with my kids, but they are less interested in home improvement than I might hope. I also read Artigianati online and sometimes find projects to share with the family, but these both are more my speed than the rest of the family’s. I particularly like Artigianati because it isn’t just about crafts and filling shelves with the stuff of some restless creativity. It is about how people apply their skills through creativity. They cheer a kind of creativity I can feel good about.

So, I looked around for kid-friendly project ideas. I like I’ve been following them since the site went live a couple of months ago. It is based on the Look, Learn & Do books. They have crafts and science projects that are appropriate for younger children.

I have a couple of older explorer children, though. So, my big plan has been a subscription to Make. This is backyard engineering that is part hacker, part Radio Shacker, part steam punk, usually useful, and mostly crazy. We first met Make through Make TV. Anything that can move kids away from just “that’s cool” to “how can I do that” or, better yet, “how can I make my own ideas work in the real world” is fine by me. We still watch those cool shows about DIY engineering, like Planet Mechanics, but now that I’m building up a stack of Make zines that I can leave in strategic places, I see more of the active spark. Since a new issue arrived this week, my son has been contemplating how to get the materials to make a traditional cigar box guitar to play in his neighborhood garage band. Next step: go to Maker Faire.

I’ve invested in some of these ideas, but most of them can be accessed online. Projects that get finished in our house tend to be internally driven, so I would suggest that you perhaps help children gain skills in a structured way but step back often enough that they can explore their questions and ideas through those skills.

Winter has always been the time when people sit down to fix, repair, write, tell stories, and pull it all together before the year and the door open up again.

Today is day #18 of my new Save Green Habit: run the stairs every day.

I keep wondering how much there is to say about running up and down stairs. Answer: not much. But, the point was to ask whether I could integrate this easy, low-tech, low-cost fitness routine into every day. Yes, it works. It takes more discipline than I want to have, but I just do it.

Image © David Hughes |

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Save Green: Saving Light

Winter morning sun

It’s a month after solstice and the days are getting longer, but there is less distraction of holiday twinkle lights. The darkness of winter becomes more apparent.

Long before winter blues becomes clinically diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), you can take steps to keep yourself and your children healthy—and it doesn’t take a $200 light box to do it.

What is the most important remedy for lack of sunlight? Sunlight.

Active, Beautiful Nature Is the Answer

Without enough sunlight, your body has to work much harder to regulate your body clock, your circadian rhythms. And, your body needs sunlight in order to make Vitamin D. You skin doesn’t need so much sun that it burns. You just need regular, direct exposure to the sun. Light boxes that simulate bright sunlight are used as therapy for SAD. They work a lot like that big light outside, except that they plug in, so they run on ancient sunlight and other forms of electricity.

For some people, exposure to even slightly higher levels of light can be a mood lifter. It helps if the light exposure happens early in the day. An expensive mood-altering gadget that addresses this need is a dawn simulator (about $100-150). Think of it as an alarm clock that wakes you by gradually turning on the lights. It works a lot like sleeping on the east side of the house, leaving the blinds open at night, and letting the sunrise wake you.

Natural concentrations of negative ions, pounding surf at the beach or a wild rainstorm, can also help you feel better. There is another therapeutic toy available for $25-100 dollars, a negative ion generator, but doesn’t a storm sound more refreshing? We associate it with feeling refreshed because it works. A trip to the beach helps your mood because of the negative ions, the sunlight, and stirring up the general emotional stagnancy of a long winter indoors.

In all of these cases, long before winter blues escalates to full-blown depression, I’m wondering why people aren’t opting for the cheap, natural way.

  • Walk out to winter and greet the sun.
  • Open your blinds at night and let the actual dawn wake you.
  • Go for an early morning walk.
  • For breakfast, eat eggs and milk (both with tryptophan) in a sunny room.
  • Expose yourself to negative ions by going to the beach or opening your door to a storm.

It all seems so obvious, but there is no money to be made in encouraging you to open your windows and doors and get outside. The profit margin is in the light box and the dawn simulator, in the drugs and even in the bottle of St. John’s Wort.

Avoid the Stagnant

Stagnant—stagnant air, stagnant water, stagnant emotion— is not good for your health.

Have a laugh. Exercise. Run up and down the stairs. Shake things up and walk out to winter.

Today is day #16 of my new Save Green Habit: run the stairs every day.

And, suddenly it isn’t difficult. I find myself running upstairs (just once, just for the practical purpose of getting there) without even taking a deep breath. I can make it a dozen times before I notice that my legs hurt so much that I want to fall. It’s an incline of 35%, which is an awful lot more than the 10% incline on the treadmill I’m avoiding, so I feel good about my progress.

Image © Ladoxa |

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