autumn days

Friday, December 28, 2012

Chore Day

Life seems to always be a balance for us, a constant teetering between rest and activity, quiet time and social time, free play and schedules.  With my beloved partner working to provide for us each day of the week, it is nice for my two children and I to have a routine within our days.  The three of us have turned Saturday into Chore Day (a carryover from my childhood).  My children now spend Chore Day playing their way through dusting, shaking rugs and blankets, sweeping, and mopping.  While they tackle those tasks, I take on dishes, laundry, putting away endless piles, cutting nails, cleaning ears, washing hair, watering plants, and organizing.  (Each time the kids help with laundry or dishes, they drop a bead into their Family Date jar.)  After we complete our chores, we head outside to ride bikes and splash in puddles.  To balance out Chore Day, Sunday has now become our Play Day.  Along with Movie Night, Game Night, Library Day, Playgroup Day, and Nature Garden Day, we are enjoying the balance these two new rituals provide within our week. 

What are your sacred weekly rituals?  How do you make chores fun?

splashing and laughing and riding

Thursday, December 20, 2012

First Sewing Project

Hannah has been asking for her own sewing project for a while now.  For years, actually.  Santa even brought her a little sewing kit last year that went unused.  I am full of excuses for why this project took so long: a sewing machine that needs professional help, a small boy at my side day and night, and easier tasks to accomplish first.  Hannah's wish finally came true with the help of my mom.  She listened to my daughter's desires and helped her come up with a project plan.

On this special day, Grandma arrived for a visit, brought her sewing machine, we pulled out various supplies, and I put Liam down for a nap.  At the end of their sacred time together, Grandma followed Hannah's lead to make a detailed little purse for her cousin's upcoming birthday.  What a sweet generous daughter I have.  I am also thankful for my mother making this very first sewing project possible.  It really does take a community to raise a child and I am thankful to have the extra helpful hands.  This holiday season I hope my mother gives us nothing other than her time, her love, and her beautiful seamstress hands.  That is more than enough to fill our hearts.

a gift from the heart

Game Night

At this particular time in our society, when our safety feels quite violated and our hearts are ripped open, it soothes our souls to hunker down for a good old fashioned game night!  We plan game night each week, though it happens once or twice a month around here.  Life is busy, so it is nice to take the time to sit down together for some quality time.

After dinner on our appointed night, each child chooses a game for us to play and we jump right in.  Two year old Liam likes to organize small pieces while five year old Hannah likes to follow her own rules for intricate games.  Between these two, we flexibly bend to play games and enjoy quality time together.  For a twist, we enjoy movie night each month (or three).  We cook up some popcorn and sit down for a half hour of Mr. Rogers (my choice, Elmo (Liam's choice), or Dora (Hannah's choice).  On this cold rainy day, we three are soothing souls by sitting down this afternoon for our own little game day.  Twister, anyone?

How do you make family time sacred?

all tied up in knots with Twister on game night

We love puzzles!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

fresh grains & oils

As I work through my pile of articles to read, I finally made my way to an Oregonian article from March 20 on food rancidity.  This food storage information led me into deeper conversations within my community about the storage and use of oils.

This is what I got out of the article.

  • Rancid foods are "carcinogenic, pro-inflammatory and very toxic... [and] widespread in the food chain."
  • Rancid foods can be past their expiration dates or have a grassy paint-like odor.
  • Keep whole grains and oils fresh in the freezer or refrigerator.
  • Buy grains and oils in smaller quantities and consume them within a few months.
  • Buy products that contain oils and fats in smaller quantities.
  • Store most cooking oils in a cool, dark cabinet away from the stove.
  • Refrigerate polyunsaturated oils, especially fish, nut, and flax seed oils.
  • Keep all flax in the freezer or refrigerator (learned at Bob's Red Mill).

Advice from my Bob's Red Mill friend:
"We always recommend to keep our products in air tight containers in the fridge or freezer (either works) as that way you can use them about 7-8 months past the sell by date.  The sell by date is the expiration date and should be stamped on the side of the bag near the top of the bag.  There are also some large storage containers at our store and you can buy oxygen absorber packets that let you store the grains for years and years.  Most grains and flours have a shelf life of two years, with products that have natural oils like the Flaxseed Meal having a shelf life of one year.  I just keep them in the fridge at home and they seem to do well.  If baking with them, it is best to let them come to room temperature before baking."

Advice from my naturopathic doctor:

  • Oils that are safely heated are coconut and olive.
  • Butter should be served by melting it atop warm foods, such as toast or steamed vegetables.
  • Butter becomes carcinogenic when microwaved.
  • The structure of oil changes when heated. (healthiest to least healthy: room temperature, oven, stove top, microwave)
  • She also provides her children with a blend of coconut and almond milks instead of cow's milk.

What have I changed since learning this?
I've tossed expired goods, such as old oils, sauerkraut, mustard, ketchup, horseradish, and maple syrup.  I also put flax and quinoa into my refrigerator and make sure I consume my grains without the specific time.  Now when I need to make a meal, I try to use supplies I know are pushing the limits of freshness, such as that wilting lettuce or that last shake of turmeric.  I look through my cupboards to make sure I am using my entire inventory before I make another bulk grocery trip.  And when I begin making a recipe and realize I am missing something, it is in my nature to throw in something similar that I have on hand.  A little creativity makes a dish unique and flavorful.

I also plan ahead and pull out butter to warm up on the counter before baking projects.  Then I don't have to microwave butter (thus changing its composition) for baking.  A small pat of butter sits out awaiting my breakfast toast.  Instead of frying my vegetables in butter, now I put a pat of butter atop my lightly steamed vegetables.  It is so simple and delicious.

It is intimidating to learn about the health of food preparation and storage, though with each thing I learn (and those things I choose to keep in my pocket of knowledge), I feeling more confident and thoughtful and grateful in regards to the fresh foods I feed my family.

What would you like to share about food storage and use in your home?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Entertaining A Homeschool Toddler

We've had some challenges finding time to focus on kindergarten studies while keeping a two-year old entertained.  Talking with friends about their ideas, we've found some creative ways to keep the little one entertained while the older child enjoys themed studies as well as daily learning tasks.  We now have a cupboard for little Liam's homeschool activities.  I have another cupboard full of his activities that I rotate when he needs something new.  Now when we have homeschool time, he heads for his cupboards, just like his big sister, pulls out an activity, and takes a seat at our kitchen table.  His favorites are poof balls in egg cartons, scrabble tiles, legos, and tinker toys.  It is so much easier to homeschool my two children when the smallest is included in his own special way.

How do simply entertain your toddler?

pipe cleaners in a sieve

writing in her daily journal

gluing artwork and string onto a CD

play dough

singing while cutting with Mama's scissors

sounding out words for her Santa letter

daily math work in Math-U-See curriculum

cutting strips on a tray

embracing mealtimes

The last couple months many of my unhealthy patterns and feelings have been coming to the surface and asking to be set free.  One example is when I noticed I didn't enjoy mealtimes with my family; they noticed as well.  I spent mealtimes focused on all the work I put into each meal, how I wasn't being thanked, and how the four of us were only eating together for a few minutes before my husband got up to wash dishes.  

After journaling and meditating on this topic, I found I was holding onto my patterns from childhood.  It turns out my childhood memories include many dark areas.  My childhood dinners were a time for me to be corrected, disciplined, to sit straight and quiet, to eat two portions of the things I said I didn't like, to say I liked what I didn't, to be awoken in the middle of the night to finish my meal.  Things got a lot easier once my family began sitting in front of the television to eat, the focus was off each other and onto some boxing match, kung fu, or western.

Now in my current home with my charming husband and beautiful children, we have made some changes and created our own rituals to embrace each other at mealtimes.  We now sit down all together and say a blessing (borrowed from Mindy and her Seven Times the Sun book), light a candle, and talk about our days.  We each talk about two things that we enjoyed, one thing we didn't enjoy, one thing we learned, and one thing we hope for in the coming day.  When we are done with this, my husband is free to wash all the dishes he likes.  Sometimes we even bring meeting ideas to the table, such as last night's focus on which charities to donate to this year.  I am so thankful now for this sacred time together to share our thoughts and feelings and ideas and reflections with one another. 

How do you make your shared meals special?

Earth who gives to us this food,
Sun who makes it ripe and good,
Dearest Earth and dearest Sun,
We give thanks for all you've done.

Thank you, world, for happy hearts,
For rain and sunny weather.
Thank you for the food we eat
And that we are together.

Blessings on this meal and peace upon the earth.

our own place mats decorated with magazine clippings

Liam's place mat

Hannah's choices

my place mat

the place mat Liam made for Papa (no manly sports in our kids' magazines)

Albeke Farms

My dear friend Holly picked the most delicious Concord grapes last year from Albeke Farms, so we headed out to pick our own this year.  We three had such a fun morning picking grapes, basking in the sunlight, and picking out our favorite pumpkins.  We ate all we could and then passed the rest on to friends.  Our freezer has enough of our own homegrown grapes from last year, and Concords have seeds, so we didn't freeze any.  Perhaps next year we'll get to Albeke Farms before the end of the season and will have enough for homemade grape juice!  It's on the calendar, so we're planning for just that.  

What do you do with your grapes? 

picking some, eating some

a glorious pumpkin

my babes with their babes

the picture that says it all

"You're grape!" baskets for a couple friends

Sunday, November 11, 2012

raving about rosemary

My mother has been routinely drinking rosemary tea and raves about the flavor.  Personally, I haven't yet tried it, as rosemary is a hardy herb and will wait for me to get to it after harvesting more fragile autumn delights. While my mother raved on about rosemary, a friend suggested making rosemary wreaths for a centerpiece and gifts.  I shall be doing both at our next craft night, most likely while drinking rosemary tea.  I thank my mother for this herbal inspiration!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

the child-driven list

I am blessed with a one-hour bath each weekend, one which I look forward to all week.  This is my sacred one hour to use the bathroom alone, to journal, and to get into the hot water and attempt to shed layers of emotional crud so I can once again do my best to be kind, patient, and loving.  That's a lot to fit into one hour, but that is what I attempt to squeeze in before my dear partner races off to work again.  Last weekend, I followed my thoughts to minimize one source of my stress: running late.

Even as a full-time mom without an outside job, my life sometimes feels like an endless relay race.  Parenting is an incredible juggling challenge regardless of circumstance.  There is such a rush rush rush element in our culture and in our lives.  My point of stress has recently been running out of patience and grace as we leave the house late again.  Noticing this consistent time of stress had me looking for solutions.

Settling into the hot water, I remembered a story my mom tells of my childhood.  The morning after a parenting workshop, my mother sat down the next morning to relax and drink her cup of coffee without her usual nagging and prodding.  My adolescent brother and I quickly realized it was our responsibility to get ourselves out the door and onto the bus on time.  That was an incredibly simple lesson for my mother and me.  Now a mother and in my hot bath, I recalled another lesson I never mastered as a teacher: let the children do more work than the adult.  Kids learn by pitching in and taking responsibility.  Our family's newest solution: child-centered lists.

My daughter Hannah now helps me write up a list of what she needs to accomplish before she can leave the house with us.  Instead of her depending on my nagging to get her ready for her day, she focuses on checking things off her own list.  She also enjoys making and checking off lists for her brother and me.  This simple list has increased Hannah's independence and responsibility and seriously decreased my frantic stress.

Hannah's List
Clear table
Brush teeth
Change clothes
Brush hair
Pack snack and jacket
Put away toys and clothes

Now I can settle into my sacred one hour alone to relax and contemplate my many blessings.  Blessing number one: I am grateful for these beautiful strong children who keep me learning and growing each moment of the day.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Raise a Kid Who Loves the Earth

Leafing through my homesteading notebook, I came upon an old article encouraging natural time for your child.  I had saved this article, Raise a Kid Who Loves the Earth, in hopes that I would get my children more actively engaged with Mother Nature.  Since it was read and filed away, this simple list of manageable adventures have become part of our outdoor routines.  When reviewing the list, I found we've done everything suggested, aside from the camping part.

The very night I uncovered the article, we set up tents and slept under the stars (and a bit of rain) for three joyous nights.  How much fun it is to cuddle up and look at the stars at night with my babes.  At one point, at a bit past midnight, I found myself outside attempting to put a cover on the tent as the rain started.  I looked down at my husband who was grinning and chuckling inside the tent and thinking to himself, "Why won't the cover stay up?  I should probably be out there helping her."  The quiet and fresh air helped us to lighten up and enjoy the moment together.

And now we already have two camping trips (out of the yard) scheduled for this summer.  Yes, we are slowly evolving and moving in the right direction.  I am so thankful for my children and I sharing a love for the great outdoors and know they will help me to fall even more in love with Mother Nature as they grow.

Author's List:
  • Play in the yard
  • Frolic in the rain
  • Take a hike
  • Visit a nature center
  • Plant something
  • Climb a tree
  • Go camping

Nature on the 'Net (Parents Magazine Resources):
  • Get tips for reducing your impact on nature at the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics,
  • Resarch endangered resources at the Nature Conservancy,
  • Find kid-friendly outings through the Sierra Club,
  • Play with the educational tools at the National Wildlife Federation's children's site,
  • Buy gear for your next adventure at Recreational Equipment Inc.,
one warm and cozy camper

Two of our favorite things: books and tents

Sunday, July 22, 2012

balancing on a roller coaster

Life is really like a roller coaster in so many ways, from marriage, parenthood, my inner creatures, spirituality, to the choices within each moment and the whole shebang.  Sometimes I feel like I'm in the front seat of the ride, sometimes with my hands up, at times screaming from pure joy, and then other times it is all just the opposite.  There is never a dull moment on this ride with beloved family and friends.  I am thankful for every moment.  Sometimes I am impatient in wanting to grow/learn/move/think/process faster.  Patience is not easy, nor is it constant.  I routinely pray for more patience.

Last week my family spent a delightful week at the Oregon coast.  It was a busy week full of many delights: library puppet shows, antique malls, salted caramel taffies, walks to town, and dinner in a favorite restaurant.  What I missed were the daily quiet times where I could rest and recharge, the zumba class, time with my friends, reading after the kids went to bed (light woke Liam up), dipping my feet into the ocean, walking along the beach.

Finally getting home and into my long awaited weekly bath this morning, I followed my thoughts as usual.  I first thought about a moment when a healing friend passed inattentively over my observation as he focused on his own thoughts.  It's a small thing, but my awareness of that moment brought me to understand that we are all wonderfully imperfect, despite our best attempts.  This universal truth is one I often try to change.  I want to parent my children without raising my voice in frustration (or other less desirable activities), but my imperfection continues to shine through.  In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter if life gets out of hand without a professional cleaner/carpenter/gardener/chef, but I am able to communicate my ideas here while my daughter homeschools at my side and my son clings to me as if his life depends upon it.  And it somehow works, as we hold on for the ride together.  We are together, moving forward and sideways together, enjoying our moments... always together.  It works.  At least until the little one pulls the plug on the computer.  Then we pause and take another blessedly imperfect step... together.



Hannah and I are working our way through A Kids' Herb Book together a bit before each day's quiet time.  We also take notes in our nature journals as we listen to an audio herbal course together.  It is called Kids & Herbs: A Naturally Simple Course for Parents.  With these lessons, my four year old is so excited about identifying and using healing edibles.  Now we are seeing herbs (healing plants) everywhere!  On a recent walk, we found a street lined with gingko biloba trees!  Last night we ran out to the garden to grab sprigs of rosemary for our roast.  Every few days we put a bit of cooling aloe vera on our skin.

A few days ago, we brewed up for our cousins our usual rose hip mint tea from last fall's foraging adventures.  We then realized the rose hips and mint both came from their yard (with permission)!  Now their kids couldn't get enough of these teas.  It was an awesome realization to find we can give our cousins the gift of their own herbs.

This morning my husband proclaimed, "That's funny you have nature days.  Nature days for you all are like a priest having prayer days!"  Now you'll find us dreaming up herbal popsicles and making lists of herbs we'd love to plant, such as licorice and marshmallow.  With so many uses for herbs, it's hard not to be excited about salves, compresses, lozenges, steams, baths, and teas.  Yup, we're hooked and we're loving it!

What are your favorite herbs and how do you use them?


chives and calendula


Friday, July 13, 2012

Oaks Park & Portland Zoo days

My friends know I try to hide from the hot sun at all times.  In the sun, it is either sunburn city or expensive sunscreen sneaks into our sweaty eyes again.  So it is of no surprise that we waited for cloudy days before heading to Oaks Park and the Portland Zoo.  Those are my favorite days to get out without the crowds and sunburn/sunscreen.  We spend a lot of time on the city train and at the zoo regardless of weather.  We love rollerskating at Oaks Park during the rainy months and love to head to Oaks Park Preschool Days with friends for summer rides.  The crowds are usually fairly small and the price is unbeatable. My little Liam, only 20 months old, went on all the big kid rides with me while grinning and holding his hands above his head while four year old Hannah watched with her feet safely planted on the ground.  She had a blast on her share of rides as well and felt more brave with friends at her side.  Going with friends also allowed me to get on rides with one child while leaving the other on the ground with an adult.  There was even a bit of conversation about ride velocities and speed and dizziness.  Dancing with Chipper (the ASL signing park mascot) was great.  We all had so much fun that the kids will most likely talk me into getting out there into the sun for one more morning of thrilling rides this summer.  If we have a rainy day anytime soon, I'll be the one racing them out the door!

The grins can't get any bigger on the Frog Hopper.
happy times in the boat
zoo caverns
We really cannot get enough of the zoo's sandpit!

trying to get wet at the zoo's tide pools before getting back on the city train

Saturday, June 9, 2012

homemade chalk

A teacher friend gave us some old powdered tempera paints and told us we could make chalk.  Months later we have finally found a simple recipe and assembled all the ingredients.  A little box of plaster of Paris cost us $7 at Home Depot, so I don't know how cost effective this all is, though we are making use of our paints and learning how to make something for ourselves that we'd otherwise buy, usually made far away and shipped to us.  If this works, we will be able to supply ourselves with brilliant chalk, but also to gift it to our friends.

  1. Mix 1.5 cups plaster of Paris in a disposable bowl (we use our cement mixing containers).
  2. Slowly add 3/4 cup of water.
  3. Add 2-3 tablespoons of tempera paint.
  4. Pour it into your molds (such as toilet paper tube with end sealed with strong tape).
  5. Let it dry.
  6. Use as awesome homemade chalk!
This is what happened.

Our ingredients list: containers with taped bottoms, plaster of Paris, tempera paint, water

adding and stirring (the water)

trying to make Hannah's favorite color (violet) with lots of powdered tempera paint

scraping the bowl clean after our first batch
Well, this was a great project to try together.  We made three batches and have enough plaster for a fourth.  Our first batch was as hard as a rock, though it works a bit after soaking in water.  The second batch was stirred too slowly and came out in fragile little pellets.  And our third batch works just right.  All the chalks came out in beautiful colors, though they all draw in white.  We will put together our fourth and final batch soon, this time adding more tempera paint, leaving Liam on my back in a carrier the entire time, and I will be the one to mix and stir quickly.  Once our plaster is used, I doubt we'll be making chalk again this year.  The kids loved making this at home and sharing it with neighbors.  Perhaps someday we will find a book involving chalk and throw a book club party with this project.

Have you made chalk?  Do you have any pointers for us?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Blue Lake Regional Park

Last week we headed to Blue Lake Regional Park to explore their natural playground.  We had expected something grand and worth the trek.  It was a pretty cool park, though the plastic-free portion was much smaller than what we'd anticipated.  And we paid $5 to enjoy it all too.  It was worth the trip for us, as the littlest ones spent their time in the sandbox (with our two Flat Stanleys) and the bigger kids hung out all over the place.  We built a fort out of logs, hopped along on the stumps, and watched the kids perform their personal play that was a mix of birds hatching and Little House adventures.  It felt good to go explore a new place, though we don't often frequent the same places outside our neighborhood.  And we were inspired to try to create more natural areas in our own yards.  An arborist friend may be able to share some stumps with us and I am angling to get some ropes strewn through our one stable climbing tree.  Oh the adventures we have yet to create.

hanging around with friends on log steps

two Stanleys playing in the sandbox

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Flat Stanley goes to Ag Fest & Discovery Village

Once Hannah heard about the Ag Fest in our state capitol Salem and all its splendiferous activities, she talked us all into going with her.  Several of our friends raved about this event and Hannah's determination was just icing on our Ag Fest cake.  After hanging out with pigs and goats and rabbits and chickens, waiting 45 minutes for a balloon dragonfly, digging for potatoes, blowing thousands of bubbles, stamping blueberries onto a postcard, and eating an ice cream bar, Hannah finally got to see a lamb sheered.  That made the drive and fatigue entirely worthwhile.

Hannah had recently filled her chore jar with beads and had requested to go to Discovery Village, also in Salem.  Since we were there for the Ag Fest, we spent our last few hours at this village.  We highly recommend stopped here when you are in the area.  We got in for free with our OMSI membership card.  There are three buildings and an amazing outdoor play area.  Next time we'll dedicate a whole day to the Discovery Village.

the Stanleys eating Ag Fest corndogs

sweet sleeping pigs

bubbles and bubbles and more bubbles

potato digging

arranging Arthur's calendar at Discovery Village

virtual quilting as a story extension

A rocking chair for giants!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Zenger Farm

Zenger Farm is so awesome!  We already knew this from previous visits (Friday tour, honeybee festival, etc.), so we couldn't wait to spend another morning there with friends for a guided tour.  The kids were on a hunt for insects, of which we found a few.  We learned about bees, orchards, wetlands, a variety of snails, organic standards for raising chickens, and so much more.  We also learned that chickens prefer cauliflower to kale and some of those hens are quite loud.  After the tour, my two children and I hung out with our friend Flat Ellie (in photos below) around the roving chicken coop, the Children's Garden, consumed the rainbow chard with our eyes, and revisited the compost pile.  Hannah has asked repeatedly to join the chicken co-op and collect eggs once a week.  Until she has thoroughly convinced me to take on this responsibility (and all the joys that come with it), we are planning another carefree return visit to Zenger Farm.

more dandelion bouquets

going on a bug hunt, gonna catch a big one

Flat Ellie in a forest of rainbow chard

cherry trees are in full bloom

gotta love the Children's Garden

wormin' around in the compost heap 

Liam discussing the upcoming election with his new rooster friend