Sunday Surf: World AIDS Day, The Farm, Easy Lunches and Wine

Happy Sunday!  Let me say that I am very glad that November is over.  I am so ready to welcome December, even though we’re not exactly having typical Wisconsin December weather right now – we had a thunderstorm tonight.  The snow will be here soon enough, I’m sure.

On to the Sunday Surf.  Lots of great reads this week – some news, some blogs, some just plain fun.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve only heard of “The Farm” in Tennessee in the context of Ina May Gaskin’s renowned midwifery center.  I didn’t realize it was a full blown commune with third-generation residents living and thriving there.   The Daily Mail had a great piece on The Farm on Friday.

Speaking of midwives, of local interest is the Well-Rounded Maternity Center‘s big news:  it opened its new Babies and Bellies Boutique in Bay View (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) this weekend.  I wrote a review of their original location a few years ago and couldn’t say enough positive things about it.  I wish them well in this new venture.

File this under “the crazy stuff you find on Pinterest.”  Apparently someone did some creative sheet-folding at their hotel.  If I had been the maid, I’d have died on the spot, no doubt.

Photo Credit: Kalyn's Kitchen

Photo Credit: Kalyn's Kitchen

Mother Earth News reposted a lovely old article on sourdough bread recipes this week.  Coincidentally, I’m babying a sourdough starter from Cultures for Health this week.  I have high hopes but not a lot of skill when it comes to breadmaking, so we’ll see how it goes.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds‘ 2013 seed catalog arrived in the mail this weekend, so I’ve been busy making my list and planning my garden for next year.  Their catalog is full color, very informative, and even includes some recipes.  Of last year’s seeds, I think the Amish Deer Tongue (a very tender variety of lettuce) was my favorite purchase from Baker’s.  They surely made the cut for this year’s list.  I’m going to need a bigger garden.

I am loving this list of 90 No-Heat Lunches for Taking to Work from Kalyn’s Kitchen. Look at the photo to the right, and then imagine 89 more lunch ideas that are equally awesome.

I enjoyed Buzzfeed’s roundup of 8 Banned Toys of Yesteryear.  Of course Jarts are on the list, but the real winner is the ATOMIC ENERGY LAB.   Incredible.

World AIDS Awareness Day was Saturday, December 1.  Buzzfeed (again, sorry!  They’re on a roll this week) had two great posts – 14 Intimate Portraits of People Living with HIV and AIDS and 31 Years of AIDS and HIV Awareness Posters.

Finally, citrus spiced mulled wine.  Clearly, I can’t top that, so I’m going to conclude the post right here.

Have a wonderful week!

 

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Maintaining Holiday Traditions Through Family Changes

Welcome to the November 2012 Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival: Gratitude and Traditions

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival hosted by Authentic Parenting and Living Peacefully with Children. This month our participants have written about gratitude and traditions by sharing what they are grateful for, how they share gratitude with their children, or about traditions they have with their families. The Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival will be taking a break in December, but we hope you will join us for the great line up of themes we have for 2013!

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With my Mom passing away just a few weeks before Thanksgiving this year I knew that the holiday would not be the same.  When I was growing up, Mom was the person who hosted the big family holiday party.  She’d plan and bake, cook and decorate, and the meal was always amazing.  As she grew older, other relatives began to host Thanksgiving, and for the past two years, I hosted a big Thanksgiving meal at our house as well.  Our family has shrunk considerably since those early days – loved ones have passed on, and family and friends have moved away and started lives in other places.  This year, with Mom gone, we celebrated the smallest Thanksgiving of my life:  my husband, my son, and me.

And we filled it with plenty of new traditions while honoring a few old ones.

Thanksgiving day began with homemade wheat flapjacks and the Macy’s Parade on television – a new family tradition.  Jack, almost three, is old enough to begin appreciating the balloons.  His humorous observations throughout the show made this parade an experience unlike any other for me.  The day started out light, lively, and filled with love.

Then the turkey prep began, and the differences between this Thanksgiving and previous years really hit me.  What time should I put in the turkey?  How long does Jello take to set?  My mom would have fielded questions like those.  She had all of the answers.  Without her this year, I took to Google, and I busted out a notebook to make notes.  It worked, sure, but it felt like an empty solution.

I took some time for my own tradition this year – in the middle of the day I took an hour to go for a run.  The time alone allowed me to collect my thoughts, and my mind wandered.  I thought about Mom.  I thought about our meal.  I thought about all of the things we had to be thankful for.  It was somber, yet refreshing.

Back home, it was go-time.  The turkey was looking great, so I had mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and dressing to attend to.   I called for all hands on deck.  Mom’s presence was again greatly missed – even the parts where she critiques my turkey or the consistency of my potatoes.  My husband masterfully carved the turkey, and soon the meal was ready.

And then, time for an old tradition:  the family china.

My grandmother’s Royal Doulton china only made an appearance on special occasions, typically Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The lively (er, loud) pattern is so familiar to me, yet I always delight in its details:  the yellow, purple, and red fruits.  The bird in flight.  There’s always a certain air of reverence when these dishes come out, and this Thanksgiving was no different.

Even Jack got to use the good china this year – a new first!  Previously, the good china was an “adults only” affair.

Then, after dinner was cleared and the dishes clean, we took part in a new tradition:  the post-meal scavenger hunt.  We dressed for the mild weather, grabbed our scavenger hunt list (a family playing football, a house with more than six cars in front of it, early Christmas decorations, a pet waiting to be let in, etc.) and crossed off the items one by one as we found them.  It was a great excuse to walk after such a large meal.

We closed the day with some quiet family time.  A cable network was playing the always-pleasant Shrek movies, so we sat and watched, relaxed and unwound.

I certainly miss some of the old traditions.  Without Mom around, the piano is quiet.  The house isn’t filled with guests and voices.  We are filling the voids left by the changes in our family by creating new traditions.
 

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APBC - Authentic ParentingVisit Living Peacefully with Children and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in next year’s Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

 

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon November 30 with all the carnival links.)

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Wordless Wednesday: The Toddler’s Chapeau

We are a family that wears hats.  We have hats for every occasion – formal or casual, hot or cold, wet or dry.  We love our hats.

This week we decided that it was time for Jack to have his first “nice” hat.  One trip to a local men’s hat store (the good, old-fashioned kind, where you can take in a fine hat for a cleaning and be sure that it will be well cared for) and Jack had his own fedora.

I think he wears it well.



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Resources for the Big Homeschooling “IFs”

Hip Homeschool Hop ButtonIF we decide to homeschool…

There’s a sentence I’ve started so many times, over and over again in my head.

IF we decide to homeschool, how do we teach things we aren’t experts on?

IF we decide to homeschool, how is our son going to make friends?

IF we decide to homeschool, how do I know my child won’t be missing out on the “school experience?”

IF we decide to homeschool, is my son going to be better off, or worse off for it?

That’s the ultimate question.

I’ve posted again and again and again about the ongoing debate that rages in my head on homeschooling.  As it stands, we’re “undecided” with a healthy dose of “not sure how it could possibly work out with our schedules.”  The will is there, but the logistics are not.  Which gives me plenty of time to think about those homeschooling IFs.

And plenty of time to assemble some great links that have helped me with my soul-searching.  The following is a collection of resources that I have collected during this time of reflection.

Is Homeschool Right for Our Family?

One of the first articles I ever read on homeschooling, this piece from Women of Spirit talked to five homeschooling families to find out what they do and why they do it.  I enjoyed how this piece showed that different families take different approaches to homeschooling.

Hodgepodge tackles the ultimate homeschool family’s question:  Are Your Children Socialized?

In Being the Homeschool Oddball, Jimmie’s Collage talks about how her varied approach to homeschool and why it works for her family.

Bright Ideas Press makes a convincing argument that even the less disorganized among us can effectively homeschool.

Curriculum Considerations, and Getting Started Without Getting Overwhelmed 

Under the Golden Apple Tree offers a great list of Six Things to Consider when Choosing Homeschool Curriculum.

Upside Down Homeschooling tackles the same topic with its list of Ten Things to Consider When Choosing Curriculum.

And Harrington Harmonies thinks you should consider these three things before choosing curriculum.

(And that, friends, was my own “homeschool” course on how to spell curriculum.  I never get that word write, but now that I’ve typed it out this many times, I think it is going to stick).

The general teaching resources at I Can Teach My Child are a wonderful place to start as well.  Organized by age as well as theme, they offer ideas for teaching tools, projects and more.

The Homeschool Classroom offers its own take, also organized by age and theme.

I loved this huge collection of homeschool curriculum links on Curriculum Choice.

General Advice, in Handy List Form

Cornerstone Confessions has a nice list of Top Ten Books for Homeschooling Moms.  The list features some nice overviews and “big picture” topics.

The Pelsers features a printable with ten little tidbits of advice on homeschooling.  Even for those who have been homeschooling for awhile, these are great reminders.

Hodgepodge features a list of ten “I wish I knew” items that have the big picture of homeschooling in mind.  A good read.

I enjoyed this list on These Temporary Tents featuring ten questions which that homeschooling mom continually asks herself.

Ten Ways to Ruin Your Homeschool features a big list of what NOT to do.

Homeschool Themed Pinterest Boards

Pinterest and homeschooling are like peanut butter and chocolate.  I follow quite a few great homeschool boards and homeschooling pinners on Pinterest, and among my favorites are Homeschool Awesomeness, 30 Must-Follow Homeschoolers, Homeschool Diva, The Unlikely Homeschool, and Carrots are Orange are all treasure troves of pins of interest to homeschoolers.

So, where does that leave us?

We have so many resources, and so few answers.  I can’t say that we’re any closer to a resolution than we were earlier in the year when we started talking homeschooling.  But, the more we read, the more we know, and the better we can go into making schooling choices – be it public school, private school, or homeschool.

 

 

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Ten Reasons To Love Raising Chickens (plus one thing I hate about it)

Last spring we embarked on our urban chicken journey.  We purchased six day-old chicks from the local mill and raised them from fluffy little cutie-pies through their ugly chicken adolescence (chicks get pretty un-cute around 2 months old) and into their maturity.  Now we have six happy, healthy Buff Orpington hens.

If you are thinking about raising chickens, if you are on the fence about chickens, or if you just wonder why on earth anyone would want to raise chickens, I present ten reasons I love raising chickens.

1.  They provide food security.  The main reason we invested so much time and effort into our chickens is because we want to be sure that, in the event of an emergency, be it a natural disaster or some other interruption in the food supply, we can still eat.  Our chickens produce plenty of eggs that will get us through lean times, if need be.

2.  They ensure food integrity.  We know what our chickens eat.  We know how they spend their days, how they behave and how they are treated.  We know that our eggs aren’t treated, injected, or otherwise influenced and impacted by stuff we don’t intend to eat.  

3.  They let me revisit my roots.  I grew up around chickens.  Lots of chickens.  We raised them for eggs, I showed them at the county fair.  It is nice to get back to that.  Even if you never raised chickens before, there’s something to be said about raising and maintaining your own source of food.

4.  They help me teach compassion to my toddler.  A pet is a wonderful way to teach compassion to a young child.  While chickens don’t have the needs that more traditional pets do, they are a great way to introduce a child to the concept of another being that needs their care and attention.  Jack understands that we feed the chickens, we water them, we speak to them and we treat them gently.

5.  They are a key part of our recycling plan.  Our table scraps go to the chickens, which means less kitchen trash for us.  When I clean the chicken coop, I shovel the dirty bedding into the composter.  The compost goes to the garden next spring and will help the garden grow.  So simple, so wonderful.

6.  They trim the yard.  Our backyard is functional, not beautiful, but the chickens do a very fine job of keeping the grass trimmed.  That’s one less job for us to do.

7.  They have prompted me to learn a lot more about cooking.  Six chickens provides a LOT of eggs, and at times I’ve had to get creative to ensure that the eggs don’t go to waste.  I’ve learned a lot in the process.  I now make our own mayo, I can make egg bread, I make pancakes from scratch, and I make the most amazing dutch apple pancakes.  I never would have learned how to make any of those things if not for me asking Google “what can I do with all of these eggs?”.

8.  There’s something peaceful about a yard full of chickens.  This is something that I have written about before:  there’s beauty in the simplicity of the chickens.  It is a joy to watch them interact.  Sometimes they scuffle with one another, other times they imitate each other.  Some will go off and explore on their own, others always stick with a friend.  They have distinct personalities, and it has really been a pleasure to watch them grow.

9.  They give me something to barter.  I always have extra fresh eggs, and I love to trade.  Too much zucchini in your garden?  I’ll trade for some eggs.  Oh, you made some homemade jam?  Let’s trade for some eggs.  The chickens do all the work – we reap the benefits.

10.  My son loves them.  At the toddler/preschool age, children naturally want to be involved in whatever the parents are doing, and my son always wants to help with the chickens.  He loves to run out to greet them.  He talks to them, pets them, hugs them.  He chases them around the yard.  I don’t know if the feeling is mutual – I imagine a boisterous toddler is pretty terrifying to a chicken –  but his love for them is abundant.

So what don’t I like about raising chickens?  They poop on my damn sidewalk.  They have a whole yard to poop in.  During the fall and winter, they are welcome to poop in the garden.  They can even go in their coop to poop.  Yet, without fail, I see them waddling on up to my sidewalk to do their business at every opportunity.

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Advent Adventure Calendar

When I was my son’s age, my advent calendar was one of my favorite parts of the holiday season.  Each year, my mom bought me my favorite:  it was a cardboard calendar with little windows and doors for each day that tear open to reveal a festive picture and – get this – a different holiday scent.  It was a scratch and sniff advent calendar.  The 1980s really were awesome.  I can still smell the gingerbread when I reminisce about it.

I wanted to keep the advent calendar tradition for my son, and initially I thought the Lego advent calendar looked fun.  However, we’ve been trying to move away from associating the holidays with a big commercial gift grab – particularly because his birthday is Christmas Eve –  and 24 days of new Legos seems like a poor way to set an example.

As an alternative, we created an advent adventure calendar.

The Pelsers inspired me with their simple but sweet take on the advent calendar.  Each card is a large index card with colored paper and stickers on it.  What makes this an “advent adventure” calendar is that each date has a short list of things to do, including the title of a book to read (some new, some old), a song to sing or joke to share, and an “adventure.”  Some adventures are simple:  play with Play-Doh, make and use a car wash for the Hot Wheels, or paint some suncatchers.  Other adventures are a little more involved, like baking cookies together, or going for a drive to look at the Christmas lights.  I’m hoping that this style of advent calendar will not only be a lot of fun for Jack, but that it will help him grasp concepts like the passing of days and appreciate the importance of even the little things that we do together.

Everything I needed to make the advent calendar came from the dollar store, and I paid less than $6.00: glue stick, 2 pieces of tagboard, one pack of Christmas stickers, a pack of index cards, a box of paperclips, and a classroom calendar for the numbers.  It took about an hour to cut and assemble everything.

I initially planned on writing the activity list on the back of each individual card, but instead I listed them separately in a notebook.  That way, if the advent calendar ends up being a hit for Jack I can reuse the cards over a period of years and simply update the books and activities listed in the notebook to ensure that they are more age appropriate as he grows up.

This year’s list of adventures include:  a scavenger hunt, playing a board game, baking chocolate chip cookies, a game of hide and go seek, setting up a couch cushion fort, making a trip to the half price bookstore, and more.  Simple, fun things.  ”Together” things.

Happy Holidays!

 

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Happy Holidays!

I wanted to share something that I wrote for the holidays back in 2005.  Enjoy!

First they took my father. I remember the day well. I was still very small, enjoying the cool autumn air. The leaves had long since turned from green to blaze orange and blood red. Most were now brown, crisp and dry. I loved to hear them crunch under my feet when I ran and played. We had not yet had our first snowfall of the season, but with the passing of each day we knew there would soon be ice on the water and snow in the fields.

The sky was just growing dark, and I heard a wild commotion in the distance. I thought I heard my mother cry out. At that moment I should have sped right home, sprinting as fast as my two legs could carry me. But I was young, innocent and selfish. I was more interested in playing outside and enjoying myself than investigating what was surely a bad situation.

When I finally returned home later that night, mother was alone. She didn’t speak about what happened to father, even when I pressed her about it. From that day forward she was much more quiet, much more withdrawn than she had been before.

Just two years later my mother disappeared. I was a bit older and wiser in the ways of the world, but nothing could have prepared me for that day. I searched for her everywhere. I contacted her closest friends. Millie, from the small farm on Acorn Street told me she was fine and that I “shouldn’t worry my little head about it.” Nannie, whose house abutted the old dry riverbed tried to reassure me. “She can take care of herself,” she promised and I believed her, at least for a time. Now, outfitted with the wisdom of age, I suspect that mother’s friends knew what happened all along. They simply decided it was easier to lie than it was to tell the truth; to tell someone so young that he had lost the last of his family.

Autumn is a beautiful season, but every year my heart grows heavy with the turning of the leaves. The fall reminds me of the family that has left me behind, alone and cold, in this big uncertain world. Once again I begin to ponder my mortality, as I do frequently when the weather turns sharp and the winds grow intense.

It’s rough being a turkey in November.

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Goodbye, Mornings

On August 31, 2012 I wrote about the Hello Mornings Bible study challenge that I was embarking upon.  The gist of the challenge was to wake up early enough to make time to study the Bible before starting the day.  Some participants study at their own pace; I decided that, as a Bible study newb, I needed something more structured and opted for a study on Peter.  I still remember all of the trepidation that I had in sharing that very first post about Hello Mornings – me, Bible study…it was a rough topic for me.  And I was immediately and completely overwhelmed with such love and support from the Hello Mornings group.  Their comments and support lifted me up and made me realize that I was about to do something amazing.

Over the course of the thirteen week study I learned a lot.  I delved into the Bible in a way I had never before contemplated.  I had the opportunity to bounce ideas back and forth with my Hello Mornings Facebook group.  It was really everything I hoped it would be.

Sometimes the challenge really was a challenge.  During September, waking early was no problem for me because the sun was already out when I got up.  As October approached and mornings remained dark, the urge to stay in bed, warm, wonderful bed, was sometimes too much for me to overcome.  But even when I slipped up, I made the time that night or the next morning to stay caught up.

The thirteen week challenge is now over, and I think I’m going to feel an empty spot in my mornings.  My Hello Mornings Facebook group and the Twitter #hellomornings ladies have been amazing,  simply amazing, throughout these weeks.  During these thirteen weeks I also experienced one of the hardest things in my life:  the realization that my mother’s illness was profound, and her eventual passing.  My Hello Mornings friends supported me and prayed for me during those times, and I felt their love pouring in at times that I felt very small and insignificant.  I learned a lot, not just about the Bible and about Peter, but about how much people who you’ve never met can really become a part of your life.

Their presence in my mornings will be missed.

As I move on, I want to choose a new Bible study and follow the same format of daily study.  I may not always choose to get up early to do it – morning just comes way too early around here – but I want something that keeps me reading at least five days a week.  I have a few ideas but no solid suggestions yet (do you have any ideas?  Comment below, please!  I’d love some input!).

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Thanksgiving is Looming

Thanksgiving is a real problem for me this year.   Mom is gone.  I have always spent Thanksgiving with Mom.  We’ve missed a few Christmases, a lot of Easters, and an occasional birthday, but we’ve never missed a Thanksgiving.

Mom and I.

This year it would have been hard.  Her immobility would have prevented her from spending the day at our house.  But part of my justification for making the full multicourse traditional Thanksgiving meal was that we’d be taking a plate up to Mom at the rehab home and spending some time with her.

And now, we’re not.

Stuff like this just keeps on smacking me in the face.

Yesterday I was cleaning up the photos saved on my phone (over 4000 pictures.  I no longer have any room for new apps.  I really need to do something about that).  I found a video of Mom.  She was playing the piano with Jack on…you guessed it…Thanksgiving last year.

She was wearing the shirt that we buried her in.

I feel myself wanting to do something to celebrate Mom on Thanksgiving.  Last week I donated a turkey dinner for the Hunger Task Force in Mom’s memory.  My sister donated two.  It seemed appropriate:  Mom was not just a supporter of food pantries, but on occasion she used their services as well.  Maybe some sort of a service project is in order.  I recently had a piece featured on the Natural Parents Network about volunteering with children, but even my own ideas aren’t helping me right now.  I can’t Plant a Row for the Hungry, and Craft Hope is in between projects right now.  I feel compelled to do something, but frustrated that I cannot think of anything appropriate to do.

Last week I was lamenting to a very smart coworker that I didn’t know how I could face Thanksgiving so soon.  And he very wisely said, you will because you have to.  Thanksgiving is going to happen whether you give it permission or not.  So on Thursday I’m going to get up and start prepping our turkey.  Our home will be quiet – no guests to plan for or party to prepare.  Mom will be on my mind heavily while I remind myself of all that we have to be thankful for.

And life will go on, one day at a time.

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I am the Worst Yogi Ever

I will open today’s post with some haiku:

I can’t touch my toes

My hamstrings are harsh bitches

A yogi I’m not.

My haiku isn’t so hot either.  Clearly.

I look like I’d be great at yoga.  I’m tall.  I’m thin.  I wear a little necklace that says “OM” and keep my hair in a high ponytail.  I wear Lululemon (er, okay, knockoff Lulu, but who can tell?) and One Tooth.  Namaste, baby, that’s me.  You’re surprised I don’t have a yoga mat slung over my shoulder right now.  (And maybe I do have a yoga mat slung over my shoulder right now…yeah.  Picture me with my yoga mat).

Plus, I love yoga and practice daily.  That’s sort of important to this story.

My problem is that I’m not very good at yoga.  Actually, I’m pretty awful.

When you picture yoga, you imagine lithe bodies gracefully bending into downward dog, right?

Well, that’s not me.  I am as flexible as dry tinder.  I don’t bend well.  Touching my toes is out of the question – I can hardly cross my legs.  Even just sitting on the floor is uncomfortable and requires great effort.  My stuff just doesn’t bend that way.  My best downward dog, the kind that leaves me winded and sweating (yes, winded and sweating.  In downward dog.) looks more like a table than a beautiful upside-down “V.”  When I was taking an actual yoga class, the instructor would just walk by me and sort of sigh during downward dog.  Occasionally she’d push on one part or another, hoping to bend it into conformity, but to no avail.  At best I could go from looking like a table to looking like a crooked table.

Totally inflexible.

(Random comment:  I just did a Google Image Search for “inflexible” and the results included pictures of Vladimir Putin.  Okay, then.  I’ll go with it).

I’m a total yoga faker.  I’d say poser, but that would sort of imply that I could hold a pose.  I can’t.

Yet I keep trying.  They say that over time yoga can help increase flexibility.  ”They” don’t really specify how much time is required for this transformation, though.  I’m maybe about a centimeter closer to my toes than I was six months ago.  Er, yay?  I’m all for celebrating small victories, but the time that I’ve put into yoga versus the results seems a little unreasonable.  At this rate, I’ll be in my twelfth decade before my fingers reach my toes.

Even my son gets a kick out of my obvious unbendyness: when he sees me doing yoga, he plops down next to me and swiftly touches his toes to his nose (“you can’t do this mommy?  You can’t touch toes to nose?”).  He’ll gleefully sniff his socks and then finish off his little one-man comedy show by popping into a picture perfect downward dog.  Jerk.

I realize that yoga is about more than just reaching one body part to another in unnatural ways, so maybe that’s why I keep on keepin’ on.  Maybe this whole endeavor is some yogic exercise in itself, and my mind is honing itself into some yogic master trapped in the body of a yogic buffoon, just through this seemingly futile act on my part.  Maybe that’s it.  Or maybe, it’s just one of those things that I’ll always be bad at but I’ll always love.

Namaste.  Ow.  My back.

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