Archive | HOME & GARDEN



Posted on 13 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Community of support for parents


Parents gather at a FORM meeting pre-corona virus. Currently communication is online. (Photo submitted)

Infants and toddlers come to this world as whole beings, and they should be afforded the same respect and consideration that another person would have.
That is the basis of respectful parenting, according to Kelly Scott, an associate for Resources for Infant Educators (RIE).
“We don’t mean deference, that the child is in charge,” she explained. “By respect, we meant that children have a point of view, that they can be active participants in their care.”
“What they need for the first three years of their life is for a social and emotional foundation to be built,” she continued. Scott, the parent of a young girl, is formerly from California and now spends her time between Chicago and Minneapolis. She joined Carolyn Paetzel recently to talk about their experiences with the RIE form of parenting.
Paetzel, a licensed educator, parent and RIE associate, is the founder of Friends of RIE Minnesota (FORM), which she started in 2014. “We started with a group of four, and now people in 23 different countries follow us online.”
The group meets monthly for discussion, drawing parents, educators, school administrators and counselors to St. Paul. The group meets at different locations, such as homes or libraries, in St. Paul. There are play groups for children monthly. People also participate on Instagram.
Paetzel explained that RIE focuses on children from infancy to two years old, but said the respectful parenting program can go all the way on the continuum to cover adults and relationships in general. There is usually a presenter at the monthly FORM discussion group. For example, recently a Hamline University developmental psychologist talked about raising boys in today’s society. “We had a full house,” Paetzel said.

Stoplight method
She stated the mission of FORM: “We are an open forum for collaborative inquiry, dialogue and advocacy influenced by Magda Gerber’s ‘Educaring Approach’ in Minnesota.”
Gerber taught respectful parenting in the terms of a stoplight. As described in a recollection of Gerber’s work, “When a child can handle the situation, the light is green and the adult does not need to intervene. If the child’s behavior will put themselves or another person in danger, or is socially inappropriate, (a red light situation) then the adult will intervene to prevent anyone from getting hurt or to explain why something is not okay. This is done in a calm, non-judgmental way. It might also include physically blocking the child from causing harm.
“When there is a situation where the child may not be able to manage on their own, the adult can respond to this as an amber light situation. The adult would come close to observe the situation, and be ready to act.”

Trust without intervention
Scott said a hallmark of the RIE approach is to trust an infant and toddler to know how much to eat and how much to sleep. “They know how much to eat, and then they stop. They know when they are tired,” she said. “They don’t need as much intervention as we sometimes believe. Our job is to observe closely when they are trying to send us a message.”
She said parents can see what young children can do for themselves, and not anticipate their needs before they have a chance to tell what they are.
“Sometimes RIE families can look different from a conventional family. There is a lot of emphasis for children to develop gross motor skills on their own without intervention, so there is not as much modifying what they are doing. They are given a space they can freely explore, where a grownup is very comfortable with the environment and does not really intervene,” noted Scott. “We will let them dress themselves sooner or make choices sooner than in a conventional way.”

‘You fell down’

RIE stresses freedom of movement along with freedom of emotion for children. (Photo submitted)

Paetzel added that along with freedom of movement, there is freedom of emotion. “So we wouldn’t stop a child from crying, but acknowledge their crying and support them,” she said. “You fell down. Acknowledge what happened. That is sometimes all that is needed.”
Scott discussed the number and types of toys that children may need. “If children have a lot of toys that are single-use, such as pressing a button and the toy does one thing, children do not stay in interaction with those toys very long,” Scott said. “And they don’t treat those toys as gently.”
She said if you think of a child on a hike, that child may find a stick and find 15 things to do with it as the walk continues.

Talk to your very young child
The RIE approach also puts an emphasis on conversing with a child, even at a very young age. “A six-week-old won’t understand what you’re saying, but will understand your intent,” Scott explained. “The infant will understand what you feel.” She said that when parents talk to their baby, they are slowing themselves down, reminiscent of the way Fred Rogers addressed children.
“The child can participate with what’s happening,” she said. “When we speed up, the child can’t come along. Respectful care is considering children in the choices we are making, considering them in what we are doing to them, telling them what we are going to be doing so they can participate.” Scott noted that a small infant can move its legs up to get a diaper off, for example. “We will talk with them, there is nothing to rush through; we are looking at bonding and attachment that warm, responsive care brings.”
Paetzel said Gerber had described the relationship between the child and his or her caregiver as two teenagers doing an awkward dance. Eventually the caregiver and child, like the teenagers, learn to be in rhythm together.
Scott added that speaking to the child in proper cadence and tone and full sentences helps him or her with language development and becoming highly verbal.

Parents who understand
“We are all looking for community,” Scott said. “Everyone wants to do their best and be around people who are championing them and making them feel secure in their choices. FORM is a great place to come and find empathetic parents who understand what you’re going through. Everyone is trying to find this more peaceful way of being with each other. There is a lot of wonderful information online, but there is still something wonderful about being together, and that is what FORM provides.”
Paetzel added, “So often friendships form that remain until the kids go away to college. Someone is there to hold your hand when you need one.
“FORM is not a group that is exclusive,” she continued. “One of our mottos is ‘Come as you are whenever you can.’ We never charge for anything so it’s open and accessible for everyone. Everybody’s welcome.”


Reflections from parents and educators
Annie Pezalla is a parent of twin six-year-old boys, Jackson and Owen. “I have been greatly helped in my parenting through FORM. I have been plugged in to this organization almost since the boys’ first birthday. Jackson and Owen were born here in Minnesota, but when they were just a few months old, we moved to Seattle for my husband’s job. We were completely uprooted, and I felt lonely and overwhelmed with the challenge of parenting twin babies without the support network I had back in Minnesota.”
Pezalla started to read newsletters from FORM forwarded to her by her older sister and quickly became a member in her own right, reading anything she could get her hands on. “FORM has helped me to be a better parent. It combines evidence-based practice on early childhood development with a down-to-earth, compassionate, curious, playful approach to learning about kids.”
“In the midst of some really challenging parenting moments for me – one of my boys had a ‘biting phase’ which was pretty alarming; another one of my boys had some digestive issues which had me completely perplexed – FORM has been a savior. I’ve learned great lessons about how to care for my kids and myself through FORM.”
Pezalla is also a professor of human development and family studies who earned her doctorate at Penn State. “I am so grateful for my education there, which has given me a strong foundation upon which to understand development. Yet FORM has brought about a new layer of color and light to my education. It’s given me a more humanistic understanding of the wonders of child development.”
Pezalla has presented twice at FORM, once on the importance of nature-based free play in early childhood, and another time on healthy emotional expressions in young boys. “Both sessions were a joy for me.”
Nicollete DeVall is a long-time member of FORM and early childhood and family education instructor.
“I absolutely love FORM. It has meant so much to me to be a part of such an amazing group of people who are dedicated to providing the best care for infants and toddlers. FORM has changed a lot since I first started attending, and it has been great to see so many people take an interest in the group over the last few years.
“I first heard about FORM in the fall of 2015 soon after I received my B.S. in early childhood education. Although I can’t always attend the monthly meetings, I always look forward to reading the FORM newsletter and connecting with my friends.
“FORM has introduced me to many like-minded people, as well as RIE resources that have been of great value to me personally and professionally. I am so grateful to have this group as a support to me in my work with children and families. Being a part of FORM offers many opportunities for sharing ideas and resources and for making new friends.”




Posted on 13 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Home & Garden

Grow and assemble your own edible salad. (Photo by Jennifer Porwit)

By Jennifer Porwit, master gardener

Many of us live where our yards are small or we don’t even have a yard of our own at all. How can we grow our own food under those conditions? That situation requires thinking out of the box (or the garden). There are many tactics that can be used.

Scenario #1: All outside space is taken up by flowers or concrete.
Solution – Sneak edibles in amongst the strictly ornamental plants. In the background a shorter vining type of winter squash such as “Ponca” can be tied up onto a sturdy tripod. The diminutive ‘Bush Baby’ and ‘Raven’ zucchini varieties can be grown in the ground or in a large container. All of the squashes have large decorative leaves. Speaking of decoration, four-foot-tall ‘Red Burgundy’ okra has striking burgundy colored fruits and stems, as well as deep red flowers that look like small hibiscus blooms. A smaller red okra is ‘Little Lucy.’
Groups, rather than rows, of ‘Rainbow’ swiss chard can be tucked in here and there for glimpses of red, yellow and orange stems. As the plants grow the outer stems and leaves can be harvested on an on-going basis. Beets, the cousins of swiss chard, have dark green ruffled leaves with burgundy or yellowish stems, as well as the enlarged root. These are best placed where other plants will fill in when the beets are harvested. ‘Golden’ and ‘Detroit Dark Red’ are both varieties where the entire plant is edible. ‘Golden’ has the advantage of not having juice that stains.
Most of the tall varieties of tomatoes are best hidden at the back of a decorative garden and supported by sturdy stakes or enclosed in a large wire cylinder. However, the newer varieties of dwarf indeterminate tomatoes can be placed more centrally. These varieties range in height from 2 feet to 4 feet, and the fruit come in all colors. Some support is best. Varieties sold locally include ‘Rosella Purple, ‘Golden Gypsy,’ and ‘Heartland.’ Very short varieties like ‘Tiny Tim’(cherry) and ‘New Big Dwarf’ (slicer) and can be placed front and center.
Carrots have fine feathery foliage which is ideal as a front edging for a bed. It has the advantage of looking good until late in the season. Individual plants can be harvested on an ongoing basis while maintaining the overall look. Another edging choice is lettuce, which comes in many colors and textures and can be harvested a few leaves at a time from many plants or whole plants can be removed where there is a crowd. In a couple days the remaining plants grow and the harvested one isn’t even missed. When lettuce goes to seed it can be easily pulled as part of regular maintenance.
Herbs such as dill, basil, rosemary, and chives all are small plants that can be tucked in here and there in a decorative garden very easily. Dill and chives are annual plants that need to be replanted each year. Rosemary is a perennial that is not winter-hardy here, but can be potted up and used as a houseplant in the winter. Chives are perennials that slowly multiply in place and can be harvested for many years.
Many flowers are edible and add color to a salad or stir fry. Included are nasturtiums, violets, basil, chamomile, pansy, rose, marigold, and daylily. Remember, do not eat any plant parts that have been sprayed with insecticide.
Unused edges or corners of patios, sidewalks and driveways are good places for large pots. Most all medium and small-sized edible plants can grow in pots as long as they do not have really large root systems.

Scenario #2: Very little of the yard has sun all of the time.
Solutions – Plant edibles that don’t require full sun, but tolerate partial sun (four to eight hours of direct sun per day), such as: arugula, asparagus, beets, bok choi, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, garlic, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, parsnip, potatoes, radish, rhubarb, rutabaga, scallions, spinach, tatsoi, and turnip. Note that these all are leafy or root crops, not fruits.
Chase the sun – a dwarf variety of tomato plant in a large pot can be moved around the yard by means of a small wagon or wheelbarrow.

Scenario #3: There is no ground to plant in where one lives.
Solutions – Rent a plot in a community garden. Help a friend or an elderly person with his/her garden and share the produce. Where potted plants are allowed at multifamily units fill the pots with edibles instead of strictly decorative plants.
When growing vegetables in pot it is advisable to fill the pot with well-draining potting soil that drains well, not soil from a garden that tends to compact and get hard. Growing plants in pots requires regular fertilization. It is important to read the label on the fertilizer packaging and follow the advice given regarding how much fertilizer to use and how often it should be applied. Too much fertilizer is as bad as too little.
Grow sprouts of various kinds in your kitchen. Common seeds to sprout are alfalfa seeds, broccoli seeds, red clover seeds, lentils, mung beans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds. The only equipment needed is a glass jar with a sprouting screen lid. Besides being nutritious, sprouts can be grown year around. Bean sprouts are an essential ingredient in many Asian dishes.


WEB_Treadle Yard Goods 25sm

Now more than ever, home matters

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

First time home buyer settles into Frogtown

LeAndra Estis is a first time home-buyer through Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. She said, “The one thing I asked for was a front porch. We always had a front porch growing up, and it’s a sentimental thing for me. My strongest memory of childhood was that everybody sat on their front porches in Rondo.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

LeAndra Estis knows something about being first. In her family, she was the first daughter born, the first grand-daughter, and the first niece. She was the first child to go to college, and she is the first person in her extended family to purchase a home. Thanks to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, and her own perseverance – Estis is a proud first time homebuyer.
She now lives in Frogtown with her two children, but their family history in St. Paul goes back four generations. Estis grew up in her grandmother’s home in the Rondo neighborhood, near Victoria and Selby. She said, “I always knew I wanted to buy a house in this area because, to me, it’s home.”
Of her grandmother’s house, Estis said, “We always thought she owned it, but it turned out she was a renter for all those years. She was never able to buy that house, or any other one. When she died, it was like our family lost its center.”
It’s a proven fact that creditworthy, low-income and minority families face significant barriers to sustainable homeownership, a major vehicle for building wealth and economic opportunity. Last June, Estis and her daughters busted that mold and moved into a newly constructed three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a finished basement. It took a lot of hard work to get there.
With a college degree in human resources and 15 years experience in hospitality management, Estis thought she was a good candidate for home ownership through Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. She met with a Homeownership Advisor to review her credit report two years ago. Her work history and income made home ownership look within reach.
Estis said, “I set a savings goal, and I stuck to it. I learned that $6,300 would be needed for closing costs, and as a cushion for unexpected emergencies. I had to be financially straight for anything that might happen. I started saying ‘no’ to going out, and cut way back on unnecessary expenses.”
Habitat requires all prospective homeowners to complete an eight-hour First-time Home Buyer Class. Applicants learn how to connect with city and county services, their city council member, how to settle incidents with their neighbors, and practical things like how to repair a hole in sheetrock, or unplug a toilet. Estis said, “I felt like I really got the facts. They gave me the largest three-ring binder there is, and now it’s completely full.”
Applicants are also required to complete service hours at one of Habitat’s home build sites or at one of two ReStore Home Improvement Outlets. Once matched to a home, applicants begin their service hours.
Estis said, “Every month there’s a different list of available homes to choose from including location, nearby shopping, freeway, public transportation, and schools. You’re not guaranteed your selection, but you throw your name in with other interested applicants. It was about six weeks from the time I made my selection until I learned we had been chosen for this location. And then they still had to build the house!”
Construction began and ended, and moving day came. Then just two months later, Estis lost her full-time job. That cushion she had saved for unexpected emergencies was soon put to use. It took five months of searching, but she was offered a job with the state of Minnesota. Estis said, “I took my time finding the right job. I was consumed with getting settled in the house, and being a first-time homeowner. I was learning so much that the waiting wasn’t unbearable for me.”
In the last 30 years, Twin Cities Habitat has helped more than 1,300 families buy affordable homes across the metro area. They offer mortgages with monthly payments set at 30% of household income, homebuyer education classes that prepare applicants for the responsibilities of owning a home, and post-purchase support on maintenance, upkeep, and ways to connect with new neighbors.
It will soon be the first anniversary of Estis and her family holding the keys to their own home. With her oldest daughter finishing her first year of college soon, the circle of firsts keeps growing.
Add to that list, the current Covid 19 health crisis. Estis said, “This really is a tough time we’re in. I’ve had a few family members reach out to me and say, ‘You’re the one who’s in the safest place right now. You have shelter for your children, and that’s important.’”
For more information on home ownership with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, go to www.tchabitat.org.


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NeighborWorks: a home partner

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Customers can apply for mortgage and refinance loans from home

Jason Peterson

NeighborWorks Home Partners (533 N. Dale St.) is offering three new programs to make buying a home or refinancing a mortgage more accessible for Twin Cities residents.
NeighborWorks Mortgage now offers first mortgage financing, and refinance financing, to homebuyers and homeowners throughout the 11-county metropolitan area.
Purchase and refinance products are available to buyers of any income level, with no limit on purchase price.
In addition to mortgages, NeighborWorks has rolled out a new down payment assistance program, NeighborWorks Leap, that pairs with their mortgage products. The Leap program provides up to $15,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance for buyers who are using NeighborWorks Mortgage first mortgage products, and homeowners refinancing with NWHP. Buyers must have an income below 140% of the Area Median Income in order to qualify. Leap DPA is also available to for homes throughout the 11-county metro area.
Community Lending Manager Casey Ware said she’s excited to help more people reach their dreams of homeownership. “I meet a lot of people who want to buy a home, but just don’t believe they can do it, or don’t know where to start,” said Ware. “Give NeighborWorks a call. We have everything you need to get started on that path to homeownership.”
She added, “We shop to find the best loan product for each individual borrower,” said Ware. “We offer a variety of loans, including conventional, FHA, and VA. And we have resources to support homebuyers every step of the way, so they can feel confident as shoppers, and supported as new homeowners.
“NeighborWorks is also a resource for homeowners who have been eager to refinance their existing mortgage to a lower rate to lower their monthly expenses.”
Jason Peterson, Chief Executive Officer of NWHP, noted that customers who choose a mortgage product from NeighborWorks are supporting affordable and accessible homeownership in their communities.

Casey Ware

“Buyers who get their mortgage through NeighborWorks will find competitive rates and excellent customer service, but there’s more to it than that,” said Peterson. “They’ll also be helping another homebuyer access pre-purchase education, or a down payment, or they may be helping a senior neighbor get needed accessibility improvements so they can stay in their home. It’s really a mortgage that pays it forward.”
Peterson said that the new products round out what was already a diverse suite of homeownership services to help homeowners at every stage.
“NeighborWorks is one-stop shop for homebuyers and homeowners,” said Peterson. “You can start with us to improve your credit and learn about the homebuying process, take homebuyer education, get personalized coaching, and find a down payment. You can come to us for home improvement financing, and to remedy hazards in your home. And we hope you never need it, but we also have free and confidential foreclosure intervention counseling if you should be at risk of missing payments.
More information about the programs can be found at https://nwhomepartners.org/mortgage, or by calling 651-292-8710.
NeighborWorks Home Partners is a community based nonprofit organization with offices in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and is a member of the national NeighborWorks America network. Specializing in homebuyer education and preparation, including credit repair, first mortgage loans, refinance loans, home improvement loans, down payment assistance and foreclosure prevention, NWHP serves the eleven-county metro area.
The organization currently provides services in English, Hmong, and Spanish. More information is available at nwhomepartners.org

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WEB_All Energy Solar 05

All Energy Solar celebrates 10-year anniversary

Posted on 20 March 2020 by Tesha Christensen

‘The time is now’ for solar power, according to co-owner Michael Allen

Richard Franco has an exterior Smart Meter that measures his home energy use in 15 minute increments. He also gauges his family’s energy consumption (and availability) using an indoor meter and a smart phone app. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The numbers are in. The U.S. Department of Labor’s statistics predict that over the next decade, solar installer jobs will grow more than any other occupation.
All Energy Solar is a company in the Midway that designs, installs, and monitors solar power systems for homes and businesses – and they’ve been doing it for 10 years. Their new, expanded headquarters in Energy Park made it possible for the company to stay in St. Paul during a time of significant growth.
The solar energy industry is booming, which is good news for the environment and for the economy. The jobs that are produced can’t be outsourced or done by robots – the work has to be done by local people.
President and co-owner Michael Allen said, “Last year, we installed more than 1,000 solar power systems. This year, our goal is 1,250 installations. While our company has a six-state reach, the lion’s share of our business is right here in the Twin Cities.”

‘They did the heavy lifting’
Richard Franco was an All Energy Solar customer in 2019; he had 12 solar panels installed on his home last spring. He said, “I’d been interested in solar panels for a while. There were tax credits and rebates in place, it seemed like a hedge against energy costs continually rising, and, of course, there are the obvious environmental benefits.”
Franco had seen signs for All Energy Solar in his neighborhood, and appreciated that they were a local company. When one of his neighbors had solar panels installed by All Energy Solar, Franco knocked on his door. The neighbor described his experience as extremely positive, and Franco’s would turn out to be as well.
In Franco’s words, “They came out and evaluated everything, determining that my steeply-pitched, south-facing, relatively unobstructed roof was perfect for solar panels. They did all the heavy lifting, and got the logistical stuff set up with Xcel Energy. While I was making sure my homeowner’s insurance would cover solar panels, All Energy Solar didn’t pressure me in any way.”

“We’re proud to be part of this economic sector based on renewable energy. With Governor Walz calling for statewide carbon-free energy by 2050, awareness of the benefits of solar energy
will continue to grow.”
~ Michael Allen

Individualized assessments set them apart
Michael Allen was working in the solar energy industry for 10 years before he started All Energy Solar with his brother Brian a decade ago. He said, “It’s easy enough to buy a solar energy system over the internet, but it will likely end up costing you more in the long run. We believe that individual attention is essential for having a system work optimally. If it isn’t installed properly, it might not be up to code or pass the insurance inspection.”
He added, “We model every home or business we work on in 3-D imaging, and interpret exactly how the panels will be integrated with smart, efficient design. There are trees and structures that get in the way of the sun. If the south side of a property is shaded, maybe the panels will have to be placed on the east or the west.
“Our consultants are highly skilled at at site design, and every site is different.”
All Energy Solar helps homeowners choose a system that is appropriate not only to their site, but also to their energy needs. Energy use is evaluated on a 12-month cycle, and those numbers inform the design of each solar power system.
Community solar gardens are growing in popularity, and Allen supports the idea – to a point. He explained, “When you look at it carefully, it’s a continuation of the idea of renting electricity. Somebody builds a solar garden in an outlying area, pumps a lot of energy into the grid, and customers get a slight credit on their Xcel bill.”
He believes the motivation for installing a home solar energy system is the same as what gets people to buy, rather than rent, their home. It’s empowering to generate your own electricity — and it’s a sound investment.”

‘The time is now’
According to Allen, the technology of solar panels hasn’t changed much over time. They use the same technology developed by scientists at Bell Laboratories in 1954. What has changed tremendously in the inversion technology that converts DC (direct current electricity collected from the sun) into AC (alternating current electricity that can be used in the home).

Solar panels typically come with a 25-year warranty. Once they’re installed, they are relatively maintenance free. There is no need to keep them clear of snow and ice. The panels are dark colored, and will clear themselves on their own. Allen said, “Don’t go up on your roof to check on them!”
The solar industry is a global industry, with the U.S. being – so far – a very small part of the market. According to Allen, “Not even 2% of the energy used in this country comes from renewable sources. Collecting energy from the sun is a simple, safe technology that we just haven’t adopted in a big way. We have the opportunity to move forward with the Green Economy in this state and in this country, and revolutionize our infrastructure to be truly renewable. All of the technology is ready. The time is now.”
For more information on installing solar panels on your home, or to learn about job opportunities with All Energy Solar, visit www.allenergysolar.com. Company headquarters are located at 1264 Energy Lane, St. Paul.


Benefit this year
If you install a solar panel system in 2020, 26% of your total project costs (including equipment, permitting and installation) can be claimed as a credit on your federal tax return. If you spend $10,000 on your system, you owe $2,600 less in taxes the following year. The solar tax credit will be less in 2021, and will expire in 2022.

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