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


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!

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.


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!


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