Friday, December 30, 2011

Overnight Oatmeal

I got a new slow cooker for Christmas. It was time. I was using my mom's old hand-me-down and the small crack in the crock was getting bigger... and wiggly... and soon would not be so watertight. I'm thrilled with my new one. It programs to turn to warm after a set time, so whenever I cook it, the food stays warm, but doesn't over cook. I love it.

With my delivery of beans and grains from Lonesome Whistle there was a bag of Scottish Oats. The instructions call for giving them 30 minutes to cook stove top, and it's rare that I get a full 30 minutes to cook for my hungry tigers in the morning. But with the slow cooker...

Put 1 cup of Scottish Oats and a pinch of salt into a slow cooker with 5 cups of water (yes, this is a cup more than Kasey's instructions call for) at bed time. Set to Low for 8 hours. If you have a timed cooker it will switch to warm in the night, or still be slowly cooking when you get up. Regardless, when you get up, there will be warm oatmeal, ready to go.

The only disclaimer I feel I should add is that because of the long, low cooking time the oatmeal ends up more gooey than some people might like. We didn't mind at all. 

This is the perfect thing to do the night before a busy morning. Add some raisins, cashews, maple syrup...

I'm going to try it with barley next. I love barley cereal.

Daily Haiku: December 30th

Small hand grips marker,
words form laboriously.
A writer of thoughts!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mindful Monday: Get Back on Track

Okay. I know it's Tuesday. But that's part of what we're doing this week. Trying to the best of our ability to re-establish our daily routine.

For the last two weeks there have been family in town, mad holiday preparations and celebrations and Papa home from work. It's been fun. Bedtimes have been erratic (almost to the point of non-existance most nights. Yawn.) Eating has been haphazard and involving more sweets than usual. I'm glad it's time to get back to our dull, fairly predictable, life.

Who: All the family
What: Re-establish our habits and routines. Get ready for a new school month that starts next week.
Why: We intentionally let most our routines disappear for the month of December. It's that time of year. But we also know that our housekeeping schedule, bedtimes, circle times, and so on, keep us sane. It's time to call back a little bit of that sanity.
How: Papa is back at work, and though we miss him, that helps re-create our habits. We will keep on with our morning circle (the only thing that didn't fall apart in the Holidays, thank goodness!). I will try to get the housekeeping back to the established schedule. The kids will go to bed at bedtime, movies will happen on movie nights, and so on. I anticipate this taking two weeks to really get back, but that's okay. I have to work extra this week and next at our food co-op, so I'm giving myself a little leeway to re-establish our days over the two weeks. This will also get us ready to delve back into our school work in January.

Here's to sanity!

Daily Haiku: December 27th

Wrappings all cleaned up,
Candy canes licked to naught.
Christmas come and gone.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy, Merry, and Bright

A Holiday with two little ones leaves very little time for writing. Multiple holidays and family birthdays with two little ones leave even less time.

Somewhere there are pictures of carefully crafted gifts...and someday I will post them, possibly along with instructions. Somewhere there are Simple Saturday drafts, about simplifying these family holidays. But we were just too busy for simplicity.

All that said, I hope you had a Happy Solstice, a Merry Christmas, Bright Hannukah, and Joyous anything else you celebrate at this time of year.

We did.

Blessings and Peace to All.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

CSA pick up number one and a quick dinner

I was so excited as I opened my bucket of goodies from Lonesome Whistle Farm; the kind of anticipation my kids are feeling about the impending holidays. Flour! Barley! Beans! Oats!

Thursday after delivery was an unusually busy Thursday, with us rolling in late from errands due to a birthday party. I knew we would be snacking and enjoying cake and coconut ice cream, so something simple for dinner was key.

Bread.
Beans.
Greens.

Brother-Bug chose the Vermont Cranberry beans and I set them in some warm water for a quick soak. Because the beans were so fresh they started to plump up right away.

Personal Disclaimer: I never remember to overnight soak my beans. I have, therefore, become adept at cooking dry beans fairly quickly without a pressure cooker. More about that in a future post.

A fuzzy picture of soaking beans.
After a couple of hours soaking, I rinsed the beans, added fresh water, and set them to boil, then simmer. They smelled divine and wonderfully bean-y while they cooked. I turned them off after about a half hour and left them. We ran errands and went to the birthday party. When we got home, while the bread was baking, I turned the stove back on and reheated the beans. Strained, mixed with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, they were ready to eat.

Onto the bread.

I like yeast breads better than quick breads, but I didn't have time for a long rise, punch down, and rise again. I was on a major time line. I adapted the Master Recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day as follows:

Measure 1 1/2 cups warm water, 1/4 cup honey, and about a tablespoon of yeast into a bowl and let sit till the yeast is going. If you've made bread before you will know what I mean.

In a large mixing bowl combine:
3 cups flour (I did one of the Rye flour, one and a half of the Whole Wheat, and a half cup of organic white flour to lighten the texture a bit)
1/2 tbl. salt

Add the water/yeast/honey, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough will be very sticky. Don't knead it. Don't add more flour. I swear. Cover the bowl with a towel.

Let it sit until you are ready to preheat the over (to 400 degrees). At least an hour, longer is okay too. Once you set the oven to heat, flour your hands and form a quick round loaf. Don't try for anything super artistic, just make a basic loaf shape. Cut a couple of slashes in the top with a sharp knife. Let it rest while the oven finishes heating.

I bake my bread on a pizza stone, but a cookie sheet will work too. Make sure you set your resting loaf on coarse corn meal so you can move it around easily.

When the oven is hot, put the bread in and bake for... I forgot to look at the time. Darn it. I baked it till the crust was turning a little golden and the bread made a hollow thump when I tapped the bottom.

Cool and slice. Eat!

That was the bread.

As I stated, I re-warmed the beans and baked the bread when we got home. I sauteed some kale. That was it. And it was good. It was eaten up by all family members, even those who had recently gorged on cake.

The Vermont Cranberry beans are almost aromatic in flavor - the same way the nuttiness of an almond is aromatic and still nutty. They don't taste like almonds...it just struck me as the same kind of rich and subtle flavor, if not the actual same flavor. Their texture is smooth and starchy-creamy. Satisfying. Filling. And they are so rich in both flavor and texture that they didn't need more than the oil, thyme, salt, and pepper I tossed them in. Even that could have been too much. I am excited to try them in a recipe and see how they stand up to other flavors.

Papa-Bug expressed it best: 
"If beans were like this people would eat them."
Such a pretty, simple, satisfying meal...
And he's right. These beans are much more than just a burrito filler, to be covered over with other flavors. If I could always eat beans like these I would eat beans far more often. Thank goodness for the CSA!

The bread, the flavors of the flour... Wow. I wanted to keep eating it even after I was full. It was a dense bread due partly to the whole-ness of the flour and the short rise time, which was what I wanted for our dinner. It was a little sour and a little savory and rich of that nutty flavor that is an essential part of fresh wheat. Warm with butter... YUM!



===

A couple of nights later I threw together this recipe which was a hit with the whole family. I made this up out of a moment of indecision - wanting to cook with all the lovely things from Kasey and not knowing what to choose!

1 cup Arikara beans
1 cup Vt. Cranberry beans
1 cup purple barley
1/2 cup dried mushrooms (I used chantrelles - and if you soak them separately you can use the soaking water in your broth)

1 tbl. olive oil
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
3-4 cups broth (I used a mixture of water and chantrelle broth)
1- tsp. dried thyme or marjoram
1-2 cups frozen corn
Salt & Pepper

Soak the beans, barley and mushrooms for about an hour. In a soup pot, Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil. Strain the beans and barley, add to the pot with the mushrooms, broth, bay, & thyme/marjoram. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer till the beans and barley are done. Add the frozen corn and continue to cook till the corn is warm through. Salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!






Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mindful Monday: Ride the Crazy Wave

It's the holidays. It's festive. It's crazy. There are little people in my world who are so excited they simply cannot contain themselves.

Family comes into town this weekend. We go with my family (all 12 or so of us) to the beach for four days of solid merriment. We get home from that and get ready for Christmas. We don't start coming down until after New Years.

Everything is upset; my housekeeping schedule, my blogging schedule, the kids routine.

My Mindful Monday this week is to do what needs to be done, enjoy the madness, release the blog schedule, but try to keep (somewhat) to the housekeeping schedule. I'll keep posting through the next few weeks, sharing the holiday madness with you all, but I'll do it on my schedule, as I want to or have time to.

Because my real Mindful Monday is to enjoy the Holidays and all the chaotic, glittering, exuberant madness.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Simple Saturday - Holiday Edition: Make It Ourselves

One of the things I deeply enjoy about the holidays is Creation. Baking cookies, making gifts, crafting decorations... Always the gifts we give involve some homemade elements. We buy a few things new (or "newly used" at the thrift), but I love the feeling of ingenuity I get when I create something special out of something we already have.

*

This year I knitted these darling cherries as a Tree Ornament. One tradition is that the Little Bugs always find a new ornament in their Christmas stocking. Often I find nice ones at the thrift store. This year I saw this pattern online and knitted up two little cherry bunches for their Ornaments. They were fun and easy to knit, very quick, and I made them out of yarn ends that were just gathering dust at my mom's house.

Tasty tree trims - made of old scraps.
I would post some of our other creations, but I don't know who reads this and don't want to spoil any surprises. After the Holidays, when the gifts are all given, I will post more extensive pictures and descriptions of some of our creating. I've been having fun, in a financially tight year, finding what I can make with what we have or can find. I often do this, but this year I am focusing on it more than usual and having great success!

The other thing I delight in creating each year is our holiday card. Some years I draw a picture, we color copy it, and make that design into a card. The year I was 6 months pregnant with Sister-Bug we sent a standard photo card. But since then I have been getting into minimizing our card footprint. What can I use to make a fun card?

We are blessed to have the Materials Exchange Center for Community Art (MECCA) here, which is an art supply thrift store. Bins of old fabric, stacks of paper, odd bottle caps, you name it. And more than fairly priced. MECCA is a blessing when it comes to making holiday cards. Last year I scored a stack of odd shaped white card stock, 55 envelopes, and a pile of used holiday cards for $4.00. A little work with paper cutter and glue stick and I had glued the old cards to the card stock, creating new cards!
Kid writing, fabric scraps, reused card stock. Voila!

This year I made these cards - again a stack of old card stock and assorted envelopes from MECCA. I added fabric scraps from my scrap bin, and had Brother-Bug write assorted festive words on a paper, which I color copied and cut out to finish the front. I used some other old card to print out our own greeting which I glued to the inside. I like writing this - what I want and not settling for an approximation of what I want in someone elses' words. Very home made. Very us.

Making my own cards is not simple. It is, in fact, far more complicated than buying cards at the dollar store, or getting a photo card printed. But there is a blessing here. The card says "I took time to make this for you. I thought about you." At least, that's what is says to me. It also champions recycling and reusing (the genesis of the card is printed on the inside, letting recipients know it is a reused item) which is so important to think about in this season of trash.

But though it is not a simple thing, it makes me plan ahead a bit. It makes me slow down and think about people outside my immediate family and those I make or buy gifts for. It makes me stretch my creativity each year as I find something new, something fun, something that will be special when opened.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Simple Saturday - Holiday Edition: The Great Toy Give away

One thing I try to teach, model, and live at this time of year is giving. It is a season of giving, not of getting. So while we do make lists for Santa, we try to focus more on what we are giving to others - talking about who we are gifting as we are making gifts and baking cookies, and how much those recipients will enjoy our gift.

We also have a yearly tradition that we call "The Great Toy Give-Away". It happens today, the first Saturday of December. We've done it every year since Brother-Bug was one (that first Christmas he was 3 months old, so didn't have much to giveaway).

The idea is simple. We look through our toys and find some nice ones that we no longer use. We pick them out and take them to a local family homeless shelter. While we are doing it, we talk about what it might be like to have Christmas morning without a house, how we are helping other kids have presents, maybe some kids won't have a present unless we share some of our excess.

Every year it is a little hard. Every year I am warmed to my core when Brother-Bug gets into it and truly gives from his heart. My favorite was when he gave up a Tonka dump truck, so shocked was he (at three) that some kid might not have even one toy truck!

I've sweetened the deal a little. As we go through the toys, we find a present from Santa. It comes with a note thanking our family for being so generous. The present is usually a Christmas DVD. It doesn't add to our toy load and helps us look forward to this exercise in generosity.

Also, we've linked this with the getting of the tree. Take the toys, pick out a tree, come home and decorate, watch a new Christmas movie. It ends up being a really nice day.

My hope is that we make some space in our toy storage for some of the new toys arriving in a few weeks.  My hope is that the kids learn that giving is an essential part of this season. My hope is that they take the needs of others into consideration when approaching this most festive of seasons.

They might hate it now, or tolerate their Mother's insistence. But maybe the lesson will stick. I hope.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Meet Our Farmers: Lonesome Whistle Farm

We are getting ready and excited for the first delivery from our Lonesome Whistle Farm Grain & Bean CSA. While we wait, I thought I would bring you a post highlighting Kasey & Jeff, and some of what they are doing. My earlier post about Black & White Popcorn balls was also graced by Lonesome Whistle harvest.

Growing fields of beans.
This post is an interview with Kasey White. She and Jeff are the ones growing us such good beans and grains. One of my favorite things about shopping at my Farmer's Market is developing relationships and deepening my understanding about food and where it comes from. Getting to know Kasey, hear her passion for garlic, and see her wonderful bean jewelery has been a delight.  

An heirloom bean from the Mega-Whole-Nutrition-Style store might be tasty, but one that my friend and community member grew will always taste just a little better to me. I know that it is mostly in my mind, but that's okay. I love the warm feeling I get eating foods that came from friends. 

That said, let's meet Kasey, Jeff, and their lovely 

Tell us a little about your farm...how big is it? What do you grow? 

We grow beans, grains, corn, and vegetable crops on 20 acres.  We are located 9 miles north of downtown Eugene on River Road.  

When did you start farming?

We started farming in 2003 on 2 acres and have been on 3 different farms in our 9 years.  We just secured land with the help of some investors and will be putting roots down on this farm, very exciting.

 Why did you start farming?

We have a food justice and social activism goal with our farming.  We wanted to do something meaningful and direct with our lives and provide healthy food for us and our community with the goal of becoming less dependent on corporations to meet our needs. 

Some of that hard work...Brother-Bug loves this!
What is the hardest thing about being a farmer?
The work never stops.  You are always thinking about what the next step is and problem-solving.  Often, we are using equipment we have no experience with and old equipment at that.  Like a combine from the 1970's and cultivating tractor from the 50's.  You have to be on your toes and a jack of all trades to do it well.  It's hard being "on" all the time. 

What is your favorite thing about being a farmer?
Making my own schedule and the quiet time in the field to have my thoughts to myself.  Not punching a time clock, and being creative.  We see farming as an art form.   

Why grow heirloom beans and grains? Why should we buy them?
We grow heirloom seeds because they are open pollinated, old varieties that are interesting and resilient.  They are not available through the industrial food system, and many of the varieties have outstanding taste and characteristics.  We keep discovering new and beautiful beans and corns that we can't resist to grow out each year.   

What is your favorite thing to grow?
Jeff's favorite is corn.  We grow Dakota Black popcorn and other dent corns.  I love the beans personally.  I love them so much that I am making jewelry out of them.   

Of the things you grow, what is your favorite thing to eat?
Bean burritos are Jeff's favorite food of all time.  He eats two large ones a day, in fact.  I love to eat beans too, but love making my own bread with our grains and using our vegetables too.   

Share a favorite recipe?

The beautiful booth at the Lane County Farmers Market in downtown Eugene.
My basic pot of beans is seasoned with rosemary, thyme, olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Really simple. 
 
Besides signing up for a CSA share, what can community members do to help local farmers?
The best thing to do is come to farmers market or become a CSA member and offer support to farmers through your consistent buying, eating, and enjoying of their foods.  Small gestures go along way in the middle of a stressful farm season.  

If we wanted to come visit the farm, how would we go about it?

We would love to show you the farm! Because of our schedules, please call or email in advance of your visit to make sure we are able to show you around. 
You can contact the farm here. 

Who wouldn't want to eat beans and grains grown by such loving and beautiful people?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Simple Saturday - The Holiday Edition: Adjustments

Over the next month or so I want to share Holiday plans and preparations with you. Of all the things I do as a parent, the hardest to simplify is the Holiday season. There's Christmas, which is a simplicity nightmare in itself. But there is also both mine and Papas birthdays. And my side of the family does a four day beach trip for Winter Solstice. Starting with Thanksgiving, it feels like a tinsel-festooned roller coaster that I cant stop.

I'll claim responsibility for a fair part of the chaos. I love decorating and baking cookies. I love making thoughtful gifts. I want to have traditions sprinkled throughout the month and those traditions take time and thought and energy. But I love it.

What we are slowly learning to do as a family is adjust our expectations - and to help those around us adjust theirs.

After the first Christmas with Brother, Papa-Bug and I realized we wanted some holiday time quiet at home. We stopped going to his parents house for the whole day of presents and movies and dinner and what not. It was always kind of exhausting and meant a day out and social. We want the Little-Bugs to enjoy the mellow pace of the holidays, as well as the familial gaiety. Now we have Christmas morning at home - slow, unscheduled, mellow, and growing our own traditions. We go to Grandma and Grandpa's for a dinner and presents.

This was disappointing for the grandparents, and for that I feel bad. But... These are the holidays and I don't want us to go through them feeling like I have to meet others holiday standards and expectations. It's important that we all feel comfortable and festive. It's important to me that my kids have traditions linked to home.

This year, just this past week, we broke with tradition and spent Thanksgiving with Brother-Bug's God Patents instead of at a grandparent house. It was so relaxing. It was the Thanksgiving I have been wishing for. Close, quiet, no expectations, no historical familial drama... Good food and lots to be thankful for. Added benefit was watching Brother-Bug ground and center the way he does only with those beloved God Parents.

Again, grandparents were sorry not to have our presence and for that I am sorry.

I'm not sorry for taking my family's traditions into my mind and hands, making them into holidays that meet the needs and dreams of me, Papa-Bug, and the Little-Bugs. Those dreams will certainly involve biological and extended family. We are truly blessed that we have so many loving people who want to celebrate with us. I keep in mind that I am responsible for the Little-Bugs in this house having a fabulous time, and for building traditions that are comfortable and sustainable for many years. I am not responsible for how other people feel when I adjust our family's traditions and Holiday commitments. We will continue to search for balance between obligation, expectation, dreams, desires, and realities. My focus is on having fun, all of us looking forward to each new holiday delight, sharing with family sometimes, with friends sometimes, and staying quietly at home reading "A Child's Christmas in Wales" sometimes.

Every year I find a place or two that I can make a change and adjust my expectations. When I am looking forward to the holidays and looking for ways to simplify those holidays, a good place to start, in my experience, is with how much we do and with whom we do it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

"When you are washing up, pray. Be thankful that there are plates to be washed; That means there was food, that you fed someone, that you lavished care on one or more people, that you cooked and laid table. Imagine all the people at this moment who have absolutely nothing to wash up and no one for whom to lay the table."

- Paulo Coelho

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pie Crust Tricks

It's time.

Pie Time!!

I love, love, love to make pie, especially the crusts. And, all humility aside, my pie crusts rock. They are buttery, flakey, and oh-so-tasty. They stand up to freezing for later use and they don't get gooey when uneaten pie (or quiche) sits in the fridge.


I have assembled a couple of tricks that make pie crust a breeze in our house, and for a Thanksgiving present, I thought I would share them with you.

Trick One: Put the butter in the freezer while you get ready. This drops the tempeture of the butter so your crust will get less sticky and maintain a better butter/flour crumb.

Trick One-A: I have a food processer, but before I got it I always froze the butter, and then grated it with a cheese grater. (You might have to put it back in the freezer briefly to get it to re-solidify.) Then it is relatively easy to combine it with the flour to get the right consistency. No hacking large hunks of butter down to the right consistency.


Trick Two: Use half water and half vodka to moisten the flour. Add ice cubes to drop the tempeture some more. I don't remember where we learned this, but my husband started this years ago and we've never looked back. The vodka moistens and binds the flour, but doesn't develop the gluten and evaporates away when baked. This is a secret of the super flakey.

Trick Three: Leave enough time to refrigerate twice! Once your dough is mixed, break it into individual crust amounts, wrap in plastic, and put it in the fridge for about 30 mintues to allow the butter to re-solidify. After you roll it out and it's in your pie dish, pop it back into the fridge for at least another 20 minutes before it hits the oven.

Trick Four: ALWAYS par-bake, even if the recipe doesn't call for it! This allows the bottom crust to get a little crispy so it soaks up less pie juice. 5-10 minutes in a 400-degree oven will do it.

Trick Five: This is my favorite. While we are on the subject of par-baking, ditch your pie weights or beans or rice. Poke holes in the crust with a fork to release excess air, then line your pie crust with parchement paper and use pennies as weights! I have a bottle of pennies on my baking shelf that are specifically for pies. Why? The metal heats up in the oven, causing the crust to get crisped bottom and top. Pennies work better than mixed change.

The last thing I have to say about pie crusts...

People think they are tricky. And it's true that they can be. A good crust must be mixed exactly enough and not too much. But I've heard a lot of worry about mixing and pie crust and tricks of the trade. I believe that it is just as easy to over-think a pie crust as it is to over-mix it. Relax. Enjoy. It's magical alchemy and it won't work if you worry about it too much. Just let it flow.

Daily Haiku: November 21st

Incongruity

The people of Egypt stand,
lives on the line for freedom.
We cook lavish feasts...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Simple Saturday: Learning Gratitude

One of the best ways to keep life simple is to focus on being great full for what you have - the material and not-so-material. If I am grateful for my color pencils, I am less inclined to go sigh over additional art supplies. I am grateful that the kids are healthy and healing - that is so much more important than any new thing I need want.

How do we best convey this practice to our children? There is such a pervasive attitude of entitlement among American children, and I see it already in Brother-Bug. Our family does a couple of consistent things to try and focus our days on gratitude.

*We always say a blessing at dinner, sometime something as short as "May Peace on Earth begin in this family." to take a moment to focus on our good food and sitting together.

*During the meal we each say one or two things we are thankful for from the day. This is a great way for us all to check in about the day with a focus on the positive.

*Frequently (though not as consistently as I'd like) Brother-Bug and I tell each other our Three Best Things from the day as we cuddle at bedtime. While this isn't specifically "thankfuls", a focus on the good and positive from the day gets us pretty close. And it always reminds me of how lucky I am.

It's a blessing, a project, AND a decoration!
*For November we are making a long paper chain. We keep pre-cut strips of fall-colored construction paper in a jar on the table, for anyone to grab in the moment. On each link we write things we ate thankful for, whenever we think of them. At Thanksgiving dinner we will disassemble the chain and read each link. Some of the items on there are wonderfully idiosyncratic and bizarre. In the meantime, it's making a lovely Thanksgiving decoration. I have visions of digging the used and enjoyed paper strips into the Earth of our garden, to let the gratitude bless the dirt that grows our food. We will see about that.

*For myself, I find that saying Thanks to the Universe is an effective way of settling down an overactive imagination. I'm trying to convey this to Brother-Bug by asking him what he loves when he's feeling low. It's hard to remember to do this, but we're trying.

In this culture of excess and gimme-gimme, it's an uphill battle. I want to instill my children with the ability to see how blessed they are, even when things seem really bad. My hope is that this will build these pathways in our brains, making us look to gratitude even if times get truly tough. I want thankfulness and joy to sustain us.

I wonder how other families learn gratitude throughout their days?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Black & White Popcorn Balls

Over at Lonesome Whistle Farm, Jeff & Kasey grow Dakota Black Popcorn. It's beautiful. If you find your way down to the Holiday Market, Kasey might just have her black popcorn maker out, popping black popcorn, and you can try a bag of fresh popcorn with her fantastic seasoning.  I recommend it.

On Halloween, Brother-Bug had a friend over for the day and I wanted something fun to do, special for Halloween to divert some of their not-so-pent-up excitement about tricks and treats and costumes. It occurred to me that black popcorn is really just the right thing for a Halloween project, and we were lucky enough to still have some from last year!

Popcorn balls are easy to make. We looked online and found this recipe that didn't call for any corn syrup. The rest we can show in pictures...

Look at that gorgeous corn! Doesn't it look so Halloween-ish!?

As they watched the popping, they were egging the corns on; "JUMP! Jump you corns!"

All popped up and ready to ball - I love the color contrast of this corn. So fun.

I don't have pictures of us making the popcorn balls - it was a little sticky to be using phone or camera. But we all know that sticky projects are the funnest projects. Plenty of popcorn was eaten in the process, molasses dripped and hardened on the floor. The black and white popcorn was announced very tasty.

Okay - the dark molasses I used killed the black-and-white scheme. But they were really tasty AND fun to make!
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As partial payment toward the Bean and Grain CSA, I write about Lonesome Whistle Farm, their products, and what I do with them in my kitchen. Hope you enjoy! I know I do!

Daily Haiku: November 16th

History is now.
Your choice today changes time.
Lift your voice. Stand up.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

October Kindergarten Review: Weather & Seasons

With the weather changes and fall leaves that blow about, October seemed like the perfect month to think about weather and the change of the seasons.

We got a bunch of library book, pulled out some of the science books, and jumped right in.

Brother-Bug was already good on the seasonal differences, knows what season we all have our birthdays in, and some of the things that are traditionally done in each season, so much of the focus was on weather.

The first thing we did was make a calendar of October and start charting the weather each day. We marked if it was sunny, rainy, or cloudy, and if we thought is wag hot or cold. This was excellent practice for handwriting skills and observation (especially the observation skills for my book-bound little boy who would rather read than do anything else). On November first we counted up how many of each kind of day we had had - how many hot, how many sunny, etc. and made a list. We had a little discussion of what there was the most of, the least of, and how (looking at our list) we would describe the October weather. Was it consistent with our memories?

The detailing of the day's weather.

We did two awesome hands on science projects to learn about pressure in the atmosphere. The first was making clouds in a bottle! Papa-Bug found the instructions on this site and what fun we had. It was great for us to see exactly how pressure changes the cloud state. I think I learned as much in the project as Brother-Bug did.

Changing the pressure, creating a  cloud.
Once we knew about pressure, we made our own barometer, using these instructions. We watched the pressure everyday - here again I think it was just as fun and edifying for the grown-ups. We've decided not to disassemble the barometer because it's so fun to check everyday, as well as being useful for biking and hiking and planing other outdoor activities. Brother-Bug wrote a short report about what a barometer is and how it works. The way we write reports right now is that I ask leading questions and write down his answers, helping him find the answer if he gets confused.

We did seasonal activities, like a visit to the pumpkin patch, and hunting mushrooms - with discussion about what things are specific to each season, what comes ripe and what is happening in the garden, and similar.


Papa-Bug put a Weather App on his iPhone that Brother-Bug could easily navigate. Then they put location pins in familiar places - where friends live, where favorite books are located (James and the Giant Peach, for example, is in New York City). Bother-Bug would take the phone and Papa-Bug would quiz him to find out what the weather was in... North Carolina? Is it hotter or colder there than in NYC? What will the weather be like in three days where your Aunt lives? And so on. We learned all kinds of geography (a great carry over from last month's study of maps), comparisons, research, and sorting skills - and it was on the iPhone... which always makes it a special project.

We started a simple art project, making a tree showing all four seasons to tie into our conversations. I set Brother-Bug the task of using the hole pinch to meek snowflakes. He was having such fun with that job that I changed my plan mid-stream to let him do a lot more punching. He punched small green leaves and pink flowers for spring, and cherries for summer while I glued things. Then we listed out some on the things we notice or do in each season, leaving plenty of room. Finally (to keep enjoying the hole punch and do some math) we sent out a text to many friends and relations, asking their favorite season. When they responded, he found the season and joke punched it to tally. Of course we followed up with a review of the results - which season has the most/least kind of questions. .

Those were the high points of our October. On to November and learning about emergencies - first responders, what to do, who to call, buying a fire extinguisher, and so on.

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Usually I get these reviews out in the first week of a month. With the Occupation work our family is doing, regular life, my writing projects, and preparing for the holidays, blogging has taken a bit of a back burner. Thanks for your patience. After Christmas we will return to our regularly scheduled blog adventures.

Dissonance in Teaching

For the month of November we are learning about Emergencies - who to call, how to call, what to do. We are packing up our first-aid kits and making sure our fire alarms and extinguishers work. We are talking about the people who help keep us safe - paramedics, fire fighters, and police officers.
This is what we're teaching... isn't it nice?

Not for "school", but just in the course of life, our family is busy with our local Occupy Movement. We aren't camped out, but we march, make signs, donate food, and Papa-Bug works down at the Occupation a couple times each week. We taught the kids that we, the people, are asking the banks to share because they aren't sharing.

For the record: I am very aware that my message is a drastic simplification of a wondrously complex issue, but I wanted 5-year old Brother-Bug to have something he could understand.

But to the real issue. I feel two-faced on my teaching right now, as I watch the Occupy Movement unfold across the country.

I'm teaching that the police are there to protect and serve citizens. That he should call the police if he is in trouble, that they will help him. That police are safe people.
This is not nice at all. But it's not staged like the previous photo...

A hundred miles north of us, one of our dearest friends has been facing lines of riot police, she is armed with her words and her sense of justice. The police are armed with batons and more. Force is used indiscriminately against the citizens that the police said they would protect and serve. Police drag an ASL translator into the street, grievously injuring an already fragile back, ignoring his cries as he pleads for a medic.

I find it hard to teach my son to seek out the police, when it is so clear that they are there to protect and serve as long as you do what they say, regardless of your rights. As long as you keep your head down, follow the rules, and don't speak up, you can trust them to help you.

I feel that last rant does a disservice to the many men and women in uniform who have lovingly assisted a lost hold, or come to the aid of a panicked mother's call. I just... have a hard time feeling truthful as I watch the violence unfold on one source, and read about our friendly police with Brother-Bug on another source.

And I just don't know what to do, or how to go about honestly teaching this. Do you?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mindful Monday: Drink More Water

Something I really don't do enough of us drinking water. The amount I am still nursing Sister-Bug should have me drinking more than I usually do. But I lose track during the business of each day, often slugging a quick glass at bedtime, in hopes of re-hydrating a little bit. This is not good for me.

I aim to change that.


Who: Me
What: Drink 2 quarts of water a day.
Why: For better health!
How: I started working on this last week, and I think I found a system that will help me track what enough water looks like. First thing in the morning, when I am thirsty anyway, I fill up two quart canning jars with my days water. If they are full I can sip at them all day without thinking about it. The two jars also show me how much I have been drinking and how much more I have to go. If I empty both, I fill up another and keep sipping.

Bottoms up!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Daily Haiku: November 6th

I'm saving daylight,
wrapped in an old newspaper,
in case we need it.

National Novel Writing Month (Kind Of)


I have wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo for several years. But while my children are still little, well, 2,000 words is more than I can do. There are many days I feel lucky to write my Daily Haiku. So I have sighed and said "Someday..."

Look! I got started!
And then I wondered why I couldn't make the concept fit into my life, on my terms. I mean, what is more important? That I write a 50,000 word novel because that's what people are doing? Or that I stop wishing for more time and write with the time I have? I know the answer.

So here I am, signing myself up for an abbreviated version of National Novel Writing Month. Instead of a novel, I am committing to finishing the drafts of a picture book series I have had on the back burner for about 4 years. Part of this will include contacting some potential illustrators, and possibly doing research into e-publishing. I anticipate talking with my writer brother about this.

What's the series about? You'll find out.
Keep checking back for more info, as I explore and reveal and revel.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Simple Saturday: Knowing When To Let Go And Flow

I had several ideas of what to write today, and I was going to get started yesterday.

Then Sister-Bug fell off a chair at noon, which in itself is not too unusual. She's an adventurous one-year old. But this time she didn't bounce back. Gentle exploration of her shoulders caused shrieking and attempts to wiggle away. Her normally cherry aspect was replaced by a groggy child who didn't move when laid down, and who didn't want to eat candy corn.

After a couple hours at Urgent Care, they confirmed my suspicion of a broken clavicle. Poor little girl!

 My entire days are going to be different now. She can't climb, swim, or play unsupervised at all.
That's what a fractured toddler clavicle looks like...
She has to be watched with Brother-Bug, lest his adoring ministrations cause pain or re-injury. It takes twice as long to do her maintenance - brushing teeth, getting dressed, and so on. I'm not going to have the same kind of time to write and clean and do the things I do.


We will be devising lots of ways to keep an active, independent toddler fairly calm and entertained for at least two weeks. If anyone has any ideas, let me know!

So, I'm letting go of my visions for today's blog feature, and looking at temporary re-simplifying of my life while Sister-Bug heals and we find rhythms that fit with her limitations.
All wrapped up in a clavicle support and ace bandage. She really hates her "big band-aid."
I'm deeply grateful that we have a pretty simple life that can (fairly) easily flex to support her healing - no daycare to deal with, no dual work schedule to shuffle. The worst is that we had to cancel her swim lesson, and I will be staying in a bit more than usual, because getting her in and out of her car seat is very difficult. One more win for simplicity!

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Along inspirational lines, I loved the idea is this blog post by SteadyMom that the ultimate goal of the day is Peace. She suggests putting it first on your to do list.From the post:
"At the top of your to-do list, write it - Peace.
If anything tries to threaten your goal, it gets crossed off immediately. Don't worship at the altar of busyness and allow the very heartbeat of your family to suffer.
Let me spell it out as a reminder for us all:
Laundry isn't more important than peace.
Cleaning isn't more important than peace.
Homeschooling isn't more important than peace.
The family budget isn't more important than peace."
 Isn't that just a lovely thought?

Daily Haiku: November 5th

Her collarbone breaks.
Our days restructure to fit
around her healing.

The Thanksgiving Question

Somehow I don't think it was this idyllic...
Turkeys have started springing up everywhere. The library feature shelf was crowded with books of pilgrims and Indians. We have started thinking about Pie.

This is the first year that Brother-Bug has been aware enough for The Indian Question to come up. He checked out books about Thanksgiving yesterday, and there were the pilgrims and Indians sharing nicely.

I want him to learn the real history of the white occupation of this continent, but most of that information is just not okay for a five-year old. I find the real story to be sickening and disgusting and tragic and scary - and I'm a grown up! But at the same time, I don't want to whitewash over that stuff, painting a picture of sharing and tranquilly companionable pilgrims and their "guests". That feels untrue and more than a little disrespectful to the native people involved. I want to find a balance between the nice and safe, and the true and gritty.

I'm just not sure of where that balance is.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Post Halloween Contemplations

Brother-Bug's breakfast conversation the day after Halloween went something like this:

BB: Mama, did you see that Snow White came trick-or-treating to our house last night?
Me: I did see her. Do you think it was a kid in a costume, or the real Snow White?
BB: Oh, I think it was the real Snow White. (Pensive pause to eat some breakfast...) But Mama, why do you think Snow White didn't dress up?
Our Captain Hook. Arrrrr.

We had a typical (for our family) Halloween. The thing about Halloween that makes me a little crazy is that it is also Samhain for those of us of the Pagan persuasion. This means we try to meaningfully combine a deeply sacred day with the conventional secular mayhem. I finish the day feeling more than a little frazzled...and not just from all the sweeties!

I love Halloween. Costume making and dressing up give me no end of delight.
Me and my Raggedy Ann. That was my Ann dress when I was 2.

I also think that in our quest for simplicity, healthful food, and minimizing consumption, there are times when we let that go. I want the kids to learn that we are mindful of our choices, and occasionally we choose to ignore the corn-syrup and gobble up sweeties after bedtime to our hearts delight.

For me, Halloween is a good example of a favorite quote:

Everything in moderation, including moderation. (Oscar Wilde)

On the other side, I really want this day to have less stress, less craziness, less trying to jam it all in. This is one of my favorite sacred days and I grieve that it is do rushed.

I have no solutions at this time, but want to think about it over the next year, as I thought about the errands and housekeeping schedule. As I think about our simplifying. Here is a place it is deeply needed. I just don't know quite what I want to do...

Daily Haiku: November 3rd

Peace is on my list;
My number one thing to do
As I plan my day.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mindful Monday: Fifteen Minutes Again!

Last week's Mindful Monday post was such a success! I got a lot done in my art room, and restricting myself to the 15 minutes made me really want to get back into it the next day. I got a lot done, but there is still more.

I also tempered my work time by getting to a couple of easy, niggling craft tasks as I came across them. This had a double benefit - it broke up the time nicely, giving me small reminders of why I so badly want this space functional and getting a couple of things done meant having a couple less things to find a home for as I organize.

For this week - I'm having anoutehr go-round of this task, to see how much more I can get done! 

Look! You can almost see the work table!
Who: Me
What: Fifteen minutes of cleaning everyday in my art room.
Why: To get 'er done.
How: First thing after Sister-Bug goes down for her nap, bust in to the space for fifteen minutes no more, no less. Last week I focused on clearing space for the future work of sorting and storing. That meant a lot of just picking messes up and boxing it for later organizing. This week, I want to focus on clearing out some of those boxes of chaos. I also want to make the "work box" drawers that I have for the kids accessible and functional. I think if they are,  I can have a little more time in my room...

I'm gonna get this done, I swear. I probably will have it all nice so I can mess it up well and good in Holiday preparations.

Daily Haiku: October 31st

Last of harvest days.
We gather for feast and fun,
Pumpkins lit a-glow.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Simple Saturday: Independent Snacking

One of the things that can drive me crazy is how the Little Bugs always seem to get hungry the minute I have gotten my hands deep in a project, sat down to nurse, or just opened my book. I know I shouldn't get peeved - they are growing and they get hungry and that's okay.

But really? I just started writing this! Two minutes ago I was in the kitchen, digging through the fridge, and you couldn't want a snack then?

In answer to this, I decided to simplify and empower. To do this I got a smaller selection of snacks, focusing on nutritional and flavor balance as well as things I was okay with both kids eating whenever. Then I got three plastic containers with lids that Brother-Bug can easily open.

I keep these bins in a low cupboards, and/or on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Brother-Bug can help himself anytime he is hungry - and he usually takes on sharing with his sister as well.

I keep refreshing the snacks as they need it, and I usually put two different things in each bin. One might have fruit leather and nuts, one crackers and nori, and one carrot and green bean pieces. I try to stick to our concept of The Three Gs as my guidelines. If there is something sweet like fruit leather, they have to eat everything in the bin, not just the sweetie) before that bin is replenished.

Some things I have packed in these bins: cheese and meat bites, seaweed, assorted nuts, chips, crackers, freeze dried fruits and veggies, cooked chickpeas, fresh carrots, peas, celery, or green beans, tofu dip, yogurt, dried fruit, carrot & beet chips, trail mix...



I'm having fun finding fun snacks to diversify their bins, and also finding a special surprise snack occasionally. I think they are both learning about meeting their own needs, saving the sweets so they last (delayed gratification), and a little nutrition. When I do go to get a more prepared snack, I find that I am more inspired to make it fun a different because it's something I do once a day instead of three or four times a day.

And when someone comes in the middle of my writing time, I can easily remind them that the snacks ate within their reach.

Daily Haiku: October 30th

Today, dreams of time
that unspools endlessly,
scattered with bright stars.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Housekeeping Week - Friday

After the craziness that is any week input home, I'm ready to slow down and have a not-so-essential chore on Friday. One that I can comfortably miss if we are out of town or there has been too much going on and we need a down day.

Friday is Clean the Bedroom Day.

We use the bedroom for sleeping, movies, and getting dressed, so it doesn't get very messy over the course of a week, but of I don't put it on the schedule it gets pretty darn messy before I prioritize it. And I feel that we all sleep better if we are sleeping in clean space.


To get this room good enough I
*clear the surfaces.
*put the clean laundry away, and the dirty laundry in the laundry room.
*pick up the random stuff.

Ultimately I try to
*dust.
*vacuum.
*wash the sheets.




Because its such a light set of tasks, Friday is also the day I clean the hall.

Like the bedroom, it doesn't need much. I feel it's good enough if I
*do a quick tidy up on our family desk.
*sweep.

Ultimately I try to
*dust the desk and photos hanging in the hall.
*organize the random piles that grow on the desk.
*wash the floor.

Mostly I can get through both these tasks with ease, leaving the rest of the day free for a quick living room pick up.

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Housekeeping schedule benefit! I don't have to worry about messes (smallish, non-sticky messes anyway) when I see them. I know that it will be less than a week - and usually less than four days - until I clean it up. I don't have to do it now, or think about those dust bunnies because I know when I will be thinking about them. My mind is free to pursue more interesting things.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Housekeeping Week - Thursday

Paradoxically, Thursday is also my favorite, and for the opposite reason of Wednesday.

Thursday is Bathroom Day.

Unlike the day-long cleaning evolution that is Wednesday, the bathroom is an easy chore that I get done first thing in the morning. I scrub the tub, pop the kids in their bath, and keep an eye on them while they play and I clean the rest of the bathroom.

I start the day with my chore already done, which is good since Thursday is also when I run errands.

If I am doing a 'good enough' clean I
*scrub the tub.
*clean the toilet.
*wipe down the sink.
*sweep.
*take dirty laundry out.

If the kids are both happily splashing, I ultimately try to
*wash the floor.
*clean the mirror.
*wipe out any storage bins that need it.
*deep clean behind the sink, toilet, etc.

This is really only a twenty minute chore, so that leaves me plenty of time to prep dinner, make the shopping list, and otherwise prepare for errands.

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Housekeeping schedule benefit! Because each room gets cleaned on such a regular schedule, it means that the ultimate things aren't always so pressing. Odds are all of them get done within a couple of weeks, and the basics are always covered.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Housekeeping Week - Wednesday

Wednesday has become a favorite. It is the Kitchen Day.

My habit has become to start first thing in the morning and slowly work through it over the course of the day. This chore has, by far, the longest 'good enough' and 'ultimate' lists.

For a good enough kitchen I need to
*clear and wipe all the counters (including under the counter appliances).
*empty the dish drainer.
*clear out old food & leftovers from the fridge.
*pick up the laundry room (which is small and attached to the kitchen).
*sweep and wash the floors.

Looks like a lot, but ultimately I also try to
*scrub the sink.
*clean the toaster & microwave.
*wipe out the fridge.
*clean the stove and/or oven.
*sort the odd socks in the laundry room.
*wipe down the cupboards.

This happens on Wednesday for a couple of strategical reasons. First, Papa-Bug has the car most Wednesdays, so I can assume I will be at home to work on the kitchen all day. Second, since I get home late on Tuesday, we don't usually get our after dinner kitchen clean up done and the dishes are just piled up after dinner. Lastly, I run errands on Thursday, so cleaning the kitchen the day before means I have a clear fridge to put the new food in, as well as a good idea of what we need at the grocery store. Additionally, having the kitchen sparkling as we head into the last part of the week feels good - up and over the hump.

I find, as I work through the day that other kitchen tasks make their way into my chore - like sorting bones and starting a batch of broth, making fruit leather out of some fruit that must be used, and so on. It's relaxing to be tied to this essential room for the day.

Today I opted not to wash the floor - we are carving pumpkins tomorrow evening and I know it will need a wash after that mess. I ended up with time today to start re-claiming the windowsill, taking off some old hardware that was making it look unkempt. I hope to make a little kitchen altar there in the near future - something to look at while I do the never ending dishes. 

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Housekeeping schedule benefit! Because I know I will have this extended time in the kitchen, I don't stress too much throughout the rest of the week - I just try to keep the mess to a minimal pile. The big things I will tackle today. This has opened up a lot of time the rest of the week for Brother-Bug's school time, my time, folding laundry, and whatnot.