Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Eco-Friendly Toys & Games from Tree Hopper Toys

For awhile now, the hubby and I have been pretty good about decluttering our home. We have been setting aside clothes, books, knick knacks, toys, kitchen stuff, etc. for a garage sale that we're hoping to have in the very near future. We've also been telling family and friends that if they want to get anything for the kids' birthdays, which have all been during the summer, to either get them craft activities, books, or handmade wooden or recycled toys that do not, I repeat DO NOT, require batteries. Okay, some people didn't take us seriously or could care less about our requests, and others will always be hailed as our favorites, because they actually made our lives easier by adhering to what we asked for. Thank you!!!

So, whenever I get a chance to review toys that are not only sustainable, but also made in the USA and do not require any batteries, I'm all for it! When Eric Siegel from Tree Hopper Toys contacted me to review his wooden games and toys, I quickly jumped at the opportunity. I just wasn't prepared to receive so many items at once. Eric sent the kids a jalopy, 2 yo-yos, a Match Stacks game, and a Hopper Horse. Talk about hitting the jackpot!

Tree Hopper Toys offers 7 different jalopies, including the "Coach" jalopy that we received. Don't you just love how that sounds? Jalopy. So vintage, so cute. Although this toy can be enjoyed by anyone of any age, Little Peanut has pretty much claimed it as his own. Lightweight and comfortably sized for little hands, these all-natural wooden fun-shaped toys can easily become your child's favorite rattles and teethers. Durable and beautifully constructed with simple pieces sans metal, plastic, or glue connectors, our jalopy has been thrown and dropped, and it is still runnin'. Priced at $15.99 each, plus free shipping, or $80 for a set of 6, you'll find yourself wanting to buy these toys for every child in your life.

Growing up, I recall playing with plastic yo-yos but remembering never really achieving the art of wowing people, let alone myself. Wooden and unadorned with lights or brightly colored graphics, Eric sent the family 2 yo-yos, styled with the company name on one side and an adorable design on the other side. For less than $10 a yo-yo, these classic gems will keep young kids mesmerized and entertained for hours while giving adults a chance to relive their childhood memories, because let's face it, in a generation of technology, yo-yos are not exactly at the top of anyone's "want list." But they should be! And when they are not being played with or thrown around, they can add a little extra to your decor. I just love how the natural aspect of all these toys work so well with my organic, natural, and vintage motif that I'm going for in my home. Usually, I'm trying to hide all of the kids' toys, but with Tree Hopper Toys, I can't help but display them - which, of course, don't stay put for very long as they are always in the hands of my children.

Are you familiar with the game where you lay out paper or plastic pieces, then flip them over to find the correct matching pictures? These days, there are tons of phone apps that offer that kind of game. Well, Tree Hopper Toys' version is called Match Stacks. 16 wooden pieces with 8 attractive and colorful designs on long-wearing discs that fit neatly in a small cylinder case that sits perfectly in a child's backpack or, in my case, a diaper bag. Our "Transportation" Match Stacks have quickly become a "must have" item whenever we make it out of the house to actually sit down somewhere and eat. I love how even though the kids are given crayons and coloring pages to keep them occupied while waiting for our food, we are all playing our game instead. I have caught people staring over at our table with the "where did they get that?" look or even the "why didn't I think of that?" face when their child has lost interest in scribbling on their menu. Each Match Stacks set is priced at $19.99 each, and with 5 different design themes, including "The Garden" and "Monster Match," you are sure to find one that is perfect for any kid.

From the moment I opened our box of goodies, I had already decided that these toys will always be in our family and hopefully be passed down from my children to their children and so on.
Tree Hopper Toys is a tiny company based outside of Chicago, Illinois. Using sustainable Midwestern hardwoods, we handcraft our line of distinctive toys that curious kids love. All of our toys are 100% kid and earth friendly, safe, and most importantly, fun!  As a family owned and operated business, we are proud to say that our products are lovingly made in a small shop on the outskirts of Chicago.
Eric surprised the kids with the Tree Hopper Toys version of a hobby horse and even had our last name engraved on the horse's head. Billy, as the kids have decided to call their Hopper Horse, is measured at about 23.5 inches long from the tips of the ears to to the end of the stick and can be moved from room to room, indoors to outdoors, and all over any open area, easily and quickly. I do wish the stick was just a tad bit longer, as both of my older kids are always wanting to ride the horse at the same time ALL THE TIME! Made with wood from cherry and poplar trees and fringed with green felt for the mane, this handsome toy has become a front-runner among the kids' pretend and outdoor play toys. I absolutely love the quality and attention to detail that was put into Billy. I never had a hobby horse growing up, but I sure am glad we now have one that I think the kids will still love to play with years from now. At $65 a horse, it is the most expensive product in the Tree Hopper Toys line, but the price is nothing compared to the durability and endless fun your kids will have. By the time your kids "think" they are over their horse, all of the other battery-powered toys they have now will have been long forgotten, broken, and have already lost their oohs and aahs.

Source:  Tree Hopper Toys
Our horse has our last name on it, but since I don't share real names on this blog,
I decided to use the photo from the Tree Hopper Toys website instead.
The engraving looks as clean and smooth as seen in the picture.

Tree Hopper Toys is one of those companies that I can't talk enough about. I admire the fact that all the toys are made sustainably and without any toxic materials and that none of them had to be made for mere pennies at sweatshops, or imported from other countries. I love that they don't need to be plugged in or require batteries to make my kids smile and laugh. I am ecstatic that the only noises made are from my children playing with them. Thank you, Eric and fam, for saving my sanity and my hearing!

With Tree Hopper Toys, there is no guessing as to what the products are made from. If you look at the "About Us" section of the website, you'll see a very short explanation as to what they do and why they decided to go the eco route. They wanted to give children fun toys to enjoy and appreciate without having parents worried for their safety. Simple designs, clean lines, and uncomplicated constructions make for effortless and instruction-less play. What more can a parent ask for?

Another product that Tree Hopper Toys offers that I hope to get for my kiddos very soon are the Hopper Blocks. Sold in sets of 38 pieces for $40 and 49 pieces for $55, boredom will soon be cured when children are given a chance to let their imaginations and creativities run wild.

Source:  Tree Hopper Toys

We are definitely taking our Tree Hopper Toys with us on our eco vacation to California next month. Eric and his fam are sponsoring their "Camping Trip" Match Stacks game, so I'm excited to have the kids entertained during the long plane ride. These sustainable toys are definitely on our "must bring" list!

BUY:  You can purchase any of the Earth-friendly, non-toxic Tree Hopper Toys on their website and bring them on your next vacation or trip to your favorite restaurant. Use the promo code THEGREENHOUSE to receive 25% off and free shipping! Think birthday gifts or early holiday shopping. Your kids will love you for it!

WIN:  Tree Hopper Toys is giving one (1) lucky The Green House follower one (1) Match Stacks game, one (1) jalopy, and one (1) Yo! The Yo-Yo!

This giveaway is open to all residents WORLDWIDE!  Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win! You must complete the mandatory task first, then complete the other tasks to get as many entries as you'd like.  Good luck!  **If the Rafflecopter form does not show up, please refresh your screen, or click on the post title!

The Green House Disclosure:  I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.  The products(s) in this review was provided to me free of cost for the purpose of conducting this review.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own and are not influenced by monetary compensation.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Green #Giveaways Galore

Every week, Bri from Eco Baby Mama Drama and April from Mama on a Green Mission host the Green Giveaways Galore event where other eco-friendly giveaways are linked and shared until next Monday. Head on over to their websites to enter to win one or all of the awesome sustainable prizes.

Source: Eco Baby Mama Drama &
Mama on a Green Mission

Friday, August 24, 2012

Frugal Living Friday: Free Write Away Labels with $100+ Purchase at Mabel's Labels

It's almost time for back to school and both parents and children are counting down the days! Help the little scholars in your life stay organized this school year with Mabel's Labels. Identify clothes, footwear, books, backpacks and more. Best of all, spend $100 and receive a free package of Write Away labels now through August 31, 2012! 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Allens Naturally Laundry Detergent

Something that you may or may not know about me is that I am a cloth-diapering Mommy. I don't talk about it much or have a lot of posts about cloth diapering, because in all honesty, I'm not an expert in that subject. Not yet anyway. I have 3 young children, but I've only started cloth diapering my 3rd child who is now 1-year-old. I went into this whole new world of cloth diapers with lots of research in tow, but at the same time, I was still a bit apprehensive and nervous that I didn't know what I was doing. It didn't take long to learn the ropes and although washing them occurs more often than my regular laundry, it didn't become a problem...not until the diapers started to have the ammonia smell that every cloth diapering parent dreads. At the time this first started, I was using another laundry detergent that is very popular in the cloth diapering world. After researching what parents did to remove this offensive smell, I found myself hunched over our master bath tub, stripping the diapers, trying my hardest to "scrub off" the top layer of any residue that could have been on the diapers. Those were hours of what felt like endless torture only to have the smell return a few weeks later. In the meantime, I continued to research different ways to rid of the smell, reading articles, browsing through testimonies, and watching videos. Many parents who tried detergent after detergent and stripped the diapers more often than I have finally just gave up and went back to disposables.

I came close to being one of them. When I was first starting to research cloth diapers, I had come across several cloth manufacturers that mentioned Allens Naturally as a detergent they would highly recommend for their diapers, and in general, for their laundry. Sadly, when I was looking for personal reviews from the many blogs I read everyday, most of their props went to the detergents that were synonymous to nappies. I went ahead and added Allens to my baby registry, but unfortunately, I didn't receive it at my baby shower. I did received another detergent, and although it may work flawlessly for many other crunchy mamas, this newbie wasn't impressed. I had won another popular detergent from an online giveaway, and even though it has been praised for working remarkably for hard-water areas, I still found myself with leakin' and stinkin' issues. I was just about to throw in the towel when help was delivered at my doorstep.

For review, I received a ginormous gallon of Allens Naturally liquid laundry detergent and a dispensing pump for easy measurement. Honestly, when this product arrived, I was literally jumping up and down to try it. I was praying that it was going to be the miracle I have been looking for to relieve me of the misery of stripping the diapers. You know what? IT IS!!!

I have been using this detergent with no bleach or softner for about 5 months now, and it is probably one of my most favorite cleaning products. EVER. Biodegradable and fully concentrated to give you clean, residue-free clothes that will leave you wondering, "what is in this stuff?" Rather, the question should be - what is NOT in this stuff? NO alcohol or phosphates, NO perfumes or dyes, and NO common allergy inducing ingredients. Perfect for even the most sensitive skins. Containing only 5 ingredients (Water, Alkylarylethoxylate, Triethanolamine, Linear Alkylaryl Sulfonate, Sodium Chloride), it can't get any simpler.
Allens Naturally was born about 30 years ago in cooperation with a Store Front Cooperative named Stone Soup (which has since closed), whose members wanted home care products free of dyes, perfumes, and fragrances. Many of the members were involved in the Feingold diet. Dr. Feingold’s theory was that children were hyperkinetic because of the dyes in food. It was the belief of the co-op members that the dyes in national brands of laundry detergent might leave a residue that could possibly migrate through the skin into the body. Other members had MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities) and believed perfumes or fragrances to be a major culprit. 
In time, Allens Naturally has been commended by animal rights groups such as: Peta, Antivivisection Society, Humane Society, Beauty Without Cruelty, and other animal rights groups for not testing on animals, and not using animal ingredients. Allens Naturally has been certified by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics to use the Leaping Bunny logo on our products.
Each gallon cleans roughly 512 loads of laundry in HE machines and 128 loads in other machines. With the dispensing pump, measuring the correct amount makes it easy enough for even my husband to do the laundry. He can no longer use the line "I never know how much detergent to use" ever again. The pump comes with a restrictor clip that when attached gives you 1/4 ounce of detergent. That is all you will need for cloth diapers in any machine or for the rest of your laundry in an HE. I made the mistake when I first used the detergent, thinking there was a misprint, so I put more than the 1/4 ounce of liquid it said to put. I mean, seriously, can such a small amount really do the job? Especially on stinky cloth diapers? Sure enough, it really was supposed to be no more than 1/4 ounce. Oopsie! When the restrictor clip is removed, it gives you the full 1 ounce for other regular loads in regular washing machines.

Allens Naturally. 5 months into using this gallon (every other day for cloth diapers and every 5-6 days for about 4 loads of the other laundry), and it feels like it still has a few months more to go. It truly is perfect for ALL your laundry (except for military uniforms), and I wholeheartedly 100% recommend it for cloth diapers. And if you are wondering about the ammonia smell, it hasn't come back. No leakin' or stinkin' problems in this hard-water house!

The liquid laundry detergent runs $39.60 for a gallon. That's about 10 cents or less per load. Initially, it costs more than the detergents you will find at your big box or grocery stores, and yes, it does cost more than the popular cloth diaper detergents, but considering you will only need this one bottle to do ALL your laundry, and it'll last for 6 months or more, I'd say this is the better deal! This detergent also comes in powder form and in a 4-pack travel size.

Aside from laundry detergents, Allens Naturally also offers automatic dishwasher detergents, non-toxic glass and surface cleaner, biodegradable fruit and veggie wash, among other safe and Earth-friendly products. And new to the Allens Naturally family is Allens Stink Out. Added to the wash at the same time as the detergent, this additive will help fight odor problems from cloth diapers, sportswear, cleaning rags, work uniforms, gym clothes, etc. It wouldn't surprise me if this product was inspired by Mums who use cloth diapers and can't stand the nasty ammonia residues. I haven't had a problem with just using the detergent alone, but hey, if this helps with more offensive smells, definitely give it a try.

As you have probably figured out from some of my past reviews and posts, I'm a big advocate for local products, or at least produced in the same country you are residing. Finding out that Allens Naturally is made here in the USA, I am even more in love with their products. You can purchase any of their items on their website, or find a retailer near you. I would call the shop or boutique ahead of time though to see if they are still carrying Allens Naturally. I don't think the list online is up to date, as I found out when I emailed one of the retailers here in Texas, and they informed me that they don't sell Allens there anymore. 

If you're a cloth diapering parent and have had bad luck at removing leaking or ammonia issues with your current detergent, give Allens Naturally a try. It's great for the rest of your laundry, too, so you'll need just this one detergent to clean all your loads. Connect with them on Facebook to get updates as well as to read what customers are saying about the products. 

BUY:  You can purchase the Allens Naturally liquid laundry detergent on their website for less than $40.  Check out the rest of their environmentally, non-toxic products for the rest of your household needs.

WIN:  Allens Naturally is giving one (1) lucky The Green House follower one gigantic gallon of Allens Naturally liquid laundry detergent and a dispensing pump.

This giveaway is open to US residents only.  Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win! You must complete the mandatory task first, then complete the other tasks to get as many entries as you'd like.  Good luck!  **If the Rafflecopter form does not show up, please refresh your screen, or click on the post title!

The Green House Disclosure:  I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.  The products(s) in this review was provided to me free of cost for the purpose of conducting this review.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own and are not influenced by monetary compensation.

Monday, August 20, 2012

You Have Become A Vegan? What?!

It started with recycling. Then composting. Carpooling. Using reusable cups, dinnerware, shopping bags, lunch totes, anything that meant not having plastic in our home or having them thrown away. Then came organic foods. No paper towels or napkins in the house. Cloth diapers. Cruelty-free and chemical-free hygiene and beauty products. Recycled toilet paper and cloth wipes for baby's bum. Non-toxic cleaning products. It was only inevitable that we would someday make the leap towards eating less meat. But just how much was a complete shock to us. We didn't realize how ready and able our family was to stop eating meat all together. Or maybe we knew all along that when you go green, you don't go back. When you start to make sustainable choices in your life, you don't stop. Choosing eco-friendly alternatives in any one area of your life eventually spills over to EVERY aspect of your life. It doesn't happen right away...ours has been almost 8 years in the making, the length of our marriage really...and everyday is a constant learning experience and continuous curiosity as to what we can do next to better ourselves, our home, our workplace, our life. And choosing to become vegan is just another choice we made, one that not everyone comprehends or supports. Understandable. Most people don't even know what the means. 

According to Wikipedia:
Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products. Ethical vegans reject the commodity status of sentient animals and the use of animal products for any purpose, while dietary vegans (or strict vegetarians) eliminate them from their diet only. Another form, environmental veganism, rejects the use of animal products on the premise that the industrial practice is environmentally damaging and unsustainable. 
The term "vegan" was coined in England in 1944 by Donald Watson, co-founder of the British Vegan Society, to mean "non-dairy vegetarian"; the society also opposed the consumption of eggs. In 1951, the society extended the definition of "veganism" to mean "the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals," and in 1960 H. Jay Dinshah started the American Vegan Society, linking veganism to the Jain concept of ahimsa, the avoidance of violence against living things.
If you ask our children, what does it mean to be vegan, my 5-year-old daughter will tell you, "We are like the herbivores. We don't eat meat, cow's milk, cheese, or eggs." These days, she and our 4-year-old son compare everyone to dinosaurs. You're either a herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore. Can't get any simpler than that, right?

So I'm sure you're wondering a lot of things about this decision we have made, so I'm going to try to answer some questions that I myself might ask someone who just told me that they have chosen to become vegan:

  • Did you choose to become vegan for health reasons?  Yes and No. We didn't choose to change our diet, because my husband or myself or any of our children received disturbing news from our doctor that made us think that maybe it would be best that we stopped eating meat. BUT, my husband and I did feel that our health would benefit from going this route. We truly believe that our health and well-being would only be improved by eating organic plant-based meals.
  • Did you stop eating meat right away? No. We first started as pescatarians and eating only fish as our meat. That lasted about 2 weeks. Then we decided all together to cut out meat from our diet. We went back and forth with the idea of either being vegetarian or vegan. We would go grocery shopping one day and not buy any dairy products, but then get home and realized we couldn't live without eggs for breakfast or tons of cheese on our pizza. But we kept researching recipes and reading blogs and kept telling ourselves, "We can do this. If they can, so can we." One day, about 3 months ago, we went to the store and came out with only vegan foods. We never turned back.
  • Is it cheaper to not eat meat? Every situation is different. In our case, NO it's not cheaper. Since we have gone vegan, we now spend about $100-$200 more on groceries every 2 weeks or so. But at the same time, there aren't a lot of vegan fast-food choices, so we don't eat out a lot. Not that we did all that much back when we were eating meat, but now, we hardly eat out at all. Just a note though - almost all of our foods (grains, cereal, coffee, breads, etc.) are organic, so that makes a big difference in our grocery bill. Some vegetarians or vegans choose to only buy organic versions of the Dirty Dozen, but I have chosen to do the whole lot. Also, when I say groceries, this also includes toiletries, cleaning products, beauty and personal products, and bath products for the kids, all of which are all-natural, chemical-free, organic, and/or recycled/recyclable. Again, this makes a big difference when you're comparison shopping.
  • Are your children vegans as well? Yes, about 98% of the time. When we are at home, everyone is prepared the same meals. But, when we do eat out and there aren't as many vegan choices to choose from for our kids, the meals that we do order for them are made with organic ingredients and do not have meat.
  • Was it easy for the kids to adjust? Most of the time, the kids are pretty content with what I prepare for our meals. On occasions, they do complain and express their unhappiness, but they are after all, children. And even before we became vegans, they had already started becoming picky eaters. The only difference now is that they are becoming picky with just veggies.
  • What about your 1-year-old son? Is he vegan? Yes, he is. He is now eating "big people" food, and  he eats just about everything we eat but in smaller pieces and portions. He (and our other two children) drink almond milk, which has 50% more calcium than cow's milk, but at the same time, I am still nursing him. He had his 1-year check-up last month and was certified healthy and growing. Can't ask for anything more for our children.
  • What about all the other nutrients that you need? I thought you'd ask. So I have this colorful graph to answer that question.

I hope I have answered some of the questions you may have had when you first read the title of this post and that the infographic has given you a better idea of what is "not" lacking in our diet. Just like anything new in life, my husband and I are continually learning about veganism. We are educating ourselves everyday so that we are getting the most out of this lifestyle change. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email, and I'll try to answer it the best I can.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Healthy Cooking: August Sale on Kindle eBooks

I found some great Kindle eBooks on Amazon that I thought some of you might want to check out. Don't have a Kindle? Install the FREE Kindle App, or buy the Kindle Reader. It's perfect for getting your favorite books without the thought that a bunch of trees were sacrificed for your reading enjoyment and without adding extra stuff to your space.

Frugal Living Friday: Tea Collection's Buy 3 & Get the 4th Free Sale

Fabulous sale alert! Until Sunday, August 19th, Tea Collection is offering you the chance to buy 3 separates and get the 4th free on select back-to-school styles with promo code 3PLUS1. Just look for the 3+1 icon for participating styles. Stock up on comfortable and durable pants for boys. Mix and match adorable girls' tops and bottoms for endless outfit combinations. There are so many cute options like the Laululintu Tee for girls, and the Kalmari Layered Tee for boys. Don't miss your chance to take advantage of this amazing sale from Tea Collection! Happy Shopping!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

We Have Made The List

The Green House has made the Top 100 Sites for Going Green list! I am humbled and honored to have been mentioned along some of the best eco-geeks around. Thanks to all of you for making it happen! Visit the site to find other resources to helping you live more sustainably. Together, we can help keep our planet green and thriving!

Top Green Living Site

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: A Children's Book About Cars, Oil, and What We Can Do To Help Our Planet

Healthy Cooking: Whole Wheat Vegan Zucchini Brownies Muffins

Upon searching online for a healthy dessert recipe, I came across one for zucchini brownies. I tweaked it up a little bit and decided to make them entirely vegan and baked in a muffin pan.

You will need:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups raw unrefined white sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. organic cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 cup organic unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups organic zucchini, finely shredded and drained

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable oil spray. In a mixer, combine the applesauce, sugar, vanilla extract until fully incorporated on medium speed for about 2 minutes. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ground flax seeds. Add flour mixture to the sugar mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Remove bowl from mixer stand and fold in zucchini by hand. Fill the muffin cups about 3/4 full. I used an ice cream scooper, and it made it much easier and cleaner to get an even amount for each cup. Bake for about 25-30 minutes. Enjoy right away with a tall glass of cold almond milk or your favorite hot tea.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Future Gardeners

From this... this, 2 weeks later!

I'm so proud of my little eco kids! They are always curious about what we can do to make our lives more healthy and green. It amazes me how much more they know at this early age than I did just a few years ago. I can only imagine how much more they will understand when they are my age.
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