A Sleepover Bag

So, this past summer the older critter was invited to a few sleepover birthday parties. She was excited, but nervous...partly because prior to this she'd mostly only had sleepovers with her cousins, but also, it turns out, because she didn't have a cool sleeping bag.

Insert conversation about how all the other girls would have cool sleeping bags and cool sleeping bag carriers, and the 20 year old hunter green Coleman sleeping sack I offered her apparently ain't cool, and she'd rather not go than be seen with that thing, etc etc.

So, I surfed the internets and found this very cool colorful retro bag, which I scored for only $7 on ebay. I know, right? I can't believe it either - I mean, you'd think there'd be a showdown over this thing. Well, their loss, my gain, as my little gal loved it. Only problem was I needed something for her to carry it in. The only sleepover bag she had was...Dora themed. Gasp. Insert conversation about how she's not four anymore and can't be seen carrying a Dora suitcase to a 3rd grade sleepover, etc etc


So I surfed the internets again and found nothing cool enough to carry the retro sleeping bag. Sigh. I decided maybe a trip to Hobby Lobby would provide some inspiration. And that's where I found this plain ol canvas drawstring nap-sack duffle-bag thingy...and it was 50% off (what isn't half off at that place?). And there was only one left. I snatched it up, along with some tie dye spray paint (yes, you can now spray on the tie dyed look), a peace inspired bandana, some felt pieces in various colors and a few iron-on patches. With the girl's 9th birthday approaching, I decided to wrap it all up and give the whole project to her for a birthday present, with the option that, if she wanted, we would do it together. She's a crafty girl and loved it so off we went a-decorating. Here's what we did:

1) Sprayed on the tie dye colors. She picked yellow and pink, which of course, gave us orange as well

2) stamped peace sign images onto the bag and covered it up with glue and glitter

3) Cut flowers out of the various colors of felt, in various sizes and pinned them on

4) Cut up the peace signs and smiley faces and other various images out of the $1 bandana we picked up from Hobby Lobby (the rest of which we used for the second critters' bag)

5) Once we determined where everything would go, I/we (painstakingly lovingly) hand stitched each patch/flower onto the canvas bag. I used broad stitches to give it a quilted look; OK fine, because it was easier; but it still looks quilted...kinda sorta

6) Ironed on the remaining patches...and off she went!


I was told all her friends loved her bag, noone had one like it, and she had a super awesome time!

And now I had to help the littler critter make one.

She, of course, wanted a different style handbag (which of course, was 50% off at Hobby Lobby), and she was very stubborn adamant about where each piece would go, and what would be glittered, etc so this design is all her.

I'm at the point where I don't care as long as they're happy and I haven't had to spend a fortune getting there. I see these bags soaking up the memories of sleepovers, campouts, and vacations over the next few years. And I'm sure they'll add more patches and glitter to prove it. The more the merrier. 

Life is Better Outdoors

So we spent this weekend camping at Garner State Park out near Leakey, TX. It was a bit chilly at nite (OK, alot chilly - at least by Texas standards, and because I'm a big ol weenie) but we survived and have lots of memories to show for it. A couple of things that struck me while we were there was how many others were camping the week of Thanksgiving (and appeared to be staying thru Thanksgiving), how beautiful the park is off-season, especially in the Fall, and how much the kids enjoyed exploring outside (despite the elements and a serious lack of sleep) for a few days.

Life is so different around a campsite, compared to life at home. You hear noises you don't normally hear. You have to do more than just walk inside when it starts raining or gets cold. You don't worry about getting the floor dirty. You make fires in order to eat. You walk across the street to the bathroom (for those of us who camp the old fashioned way). You are continuously in nature. And you are continuously in public. You can hear your neighbors talking and whispering, their fire crackling, their tent windows being zipped up or down, their shelter or RV doors slamming, you get to watch families play games around the picnic table...you can even watch them brush their teeth (and vice versa) in the morning, every little noise is exaggerated in the woods...especially those crying babies! Sweet nibblets. Who is bringing infants camping in the winter? Seriously, people. Now, the guitar player who moved in after the screaming baby left, who lulled us to sleep with his singing and guitar pickin'...that I can handle!

It's an interesting mix of people who camp off-season. Except for the occasional screaming baby, it's more quiet and calm. Peaceful. You're there to fish or hike or canoe, instead of swim. The river almost seems to be resting (well, until our pup fell in). I did miss the music coming form the jutebox, and the silliness and laughter that comes from the nightly dances (a beloved Garner summertime activity), but you could still play your own songs and have your own private dance if you wanted to. And the TShirts at the camp store are all on sale for $5. I mean c'mon!

And you can't beat the drive from Leakey to Medina. Seriously. Google scenic drives in Texas. That drive is the #1 most scenic drive in the state. And most especially in the Fall. It's just stunning. It will make you a little queasy with all the turns and dips and hills and hillside cliffs, but it will take your breath away how beautiful this part of Texas can be. There just isn't a more peaceful way to spend a lazy weekend in the Hill Country. (Just look how happy Hula Dude is).

While we were waiting in line to get our campsite (yes, there was a line to get in, there was also a line at Lost Maples the next day for hiking - these are popular destinations in the Fall so if you plan to go, book in advance), I noticed a sign on the wall that echoes a bumper sticker I have on the back of our Patridge Family van (AKA Scooby van, Hippie van, Yellow Bus, etc). I picked up this bumper sticker at the state park on Mustang Island, in Port Aransas. It says, "Life's better outside." This is apparently the motto of the Texas Parks & Wildlife organization. The poster hanging in the waiting room at Garner state park has this to say about life outside:

The Top 10 Reasons Why Life is Better Outside for Children
Children who spend time in nature:
1. Are healthier physically and mentally
2. Do better in school
3. Have higher self-esteem
4. Have good discipline
5. Feel more capable and confident
6. Are good problem solvers
7. Are more cooperative with other children
8. Are more creative
9. Feel more connected to nature
10. Will be tomorrow's conservation leaders

I couldn't agree more. I highly value the outdoor education I received as a child, and am so thankful to have the opportunity to share the great outdoors with my own critters. It's sad to me that experts say kids today suffer from "nature deficit disorder" when that seems like the easiest and cheapest thing we can offer to our kids. Take them outside. Let them explore. So much can be learned by navigating over rockbeds or learning to map your way thru a woodsy trail - or sleeping outdoors on a cool Fall evening. I'll take that over watching TV anytime.


*If you need some tips on how to get the kids outside more, here's a list of 50 from the Texas Parks & Wildlife

*and here's a list of 10 more from the "Life is Better Outside" website

*and if you're ever in Leakey, TX be sure and grab some grub at the Leakey Feed Lot...they're family friendly, pup-friendly, the place is funky and charming and the food exactly what you need after a nite of freezing your tatas off or hiking all day at Lost Maples - it doesn't get more small town Texas than the Feed Lot. Texas Monthly calls it one of the 40 best small town cafes in Texas. And yes, you get to sit outside!

Wheeeeeee!

Library Day

So now that we're officially homeschooling at our tiny little 1-room 2-desk Gypsy Meadows Academy, our library days are, well, a bit more intense. We've decided (for now, and until my head explodes or my threats to teach from the closet actually start to materialize) to follow The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home for our curriculum. The style of teaching recommended in TWTM is a form of self-study that I think my girls will enjoy keeping up with, and I love the progression thru time and how it relates and ties in with literature, geography, history and science. With the girls being just barely into 1st and 4th grade, I've decided to start them both at the beginning with the Ancients (5000 BC - 400 AD). Susan and Jessie (the mother/daughter author team) suggest starting the Ancients in 1st grade, repeating again in 5th and 9th. Since the 4th grader has had very little ancient history studies, it'll be easiest just to teach them the same history, geography, and literature together, though the older one will be required to read more challenging books and offer more narration and reflection on level with her grade.

So, Ancients it is! Exciting! I love me some 'real' mythology. Now, where's that Mythology for Dummies book I had back in college...

So, our library trip this week resulted in (childrens versions of): The Odyssey, Favorite Greek Myths, Hercules, King Midas, Theseus, The Trojan Horse, and The Iliad.

And a couple of books on bee keeping and chickens (hey, it's not all about the monkeys)

And in case you're curious, the history/geography book we're using to supplement the literature is the one suggested in TWTM, which was also written by the same author, Susan Bauer, and suggested for grades 1-4 (and as a supplement to grades 5-6): The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume I: Ancient Times

So that covers literature, history, and geography...now we just need to line up math, grammar and science! Gah!

Blooming

My roses are still in pots...patiently waiting to be set free...but, for now, content to bloom where they're planted

Biscuits and Eggs

So this is Eggs. He's a big old dude. When we adopted him his name was Derrick. We were also adopting an older cat the same day named Bacon. At some point while we were hanging out in the meet-n-greet room getting to know the cats we decided Derrick and Bacon just didn't work. So we changed his name. And brought home Bacon and Eggs, instead. He also goes by Eggy, Eggy-poo, Eggy-Beggy, Dude, Bubby, Bubby Wubby, Big Fat Lazy Cat...

Speaking of Big Fat Lazy Cat.. It worries me when I see him lying on the floor in this position. I usually tip toe over and poke him in the belly to make sure he's still breathing. I mean, really, legs straight up? How can that be comfortable?

Oh, yea, he's fine. Ahhhhhh, sunshine.

And this is Buttons. AKA Biscuit, Pup, Pup-a-doo, Bubbles, Puppy Wuppy, Lil Man, Bud.

He's a happy protective sweet pup. We adopted him from an older lady who was in an assisted living apartment. She fell and broke her hip and shoulder one day and had to be moved to a nursing home indefinitely. The nursing home didn't allow pets so her beloved pup had to go. She loved the little guy. She made homemade clothes for him and rocked him to sleep. You could tell he missed her.

We happily took the lil man in and couldn't love him more. His biggest problem now is deciding who to sleep with at night. Some nites he spends a few hours in each room...he snuggles on your pillow and gives goodnite kisses. He watches over everyone, including the cats and the bunnies. (And sometimes takes the best spot on the couch - move over will ya!) He'll be a great protector on the farm...even if he is a bit on the short side.

Naughty Bunnies

So last nite I'm, ahem, working at my desk, and I hear what sounds like a baby bird squealing in the backyard. I dismiss it thinking it's a bird thing and nothing to be concerned over. But then I hear it again. And again. I tell the girls I think a baby bird must have fallen from a tree, or is being mauled by one of our, ahem, sweet cats - maybe we should go see. Well, they were busy playing and clearly not interested in dying baby birds. But I heard the sound again and decided maybe it was a bunny and not a baby bird. I didn't think bunnies could make those kinds of noises, but then again, what do I know about bunnies?

I had a bunny when I was little. My dad made it a nice cage out in the yard. It chewed thru the wire and escaped into the nite. Much like our recent last two outdoor bunnies did. That's the extent of my bunny knowledge.

So, this baby-bird bunny noise was something all-together new for me. Thumping I get, but squealing?

The girls were finally convinced and grabbed their flashlights and went into the dark back yard to investigate. Well, it was all of 30 seconds later when the older gal came running in bawling her eyes out saying, "The raccoon got my bunny! The raccoon got my bunny! Peanut Butter is gone -  he's been eaten!"

Oh my. That's not what I was expecting to hear. I suddenly had this image of a raccoon, with his bandit mask, tip-toeing out the back fence with a rabbit under his coat. I was both horrified and fascinated. Horrified mostly that my daughter saw this happen...oh, the nightmares this poor child would forever have of her beloved bunny being carried off by the boogie-coon.

Well, after a brief line of questioning while the rest of the family scrambled to put on shoes, she finally admitted she didn't actually see the raccoon but her bunny's cage was broken open at the bottom and her bunny was gone. We grabbed our flashlights and took off to see what we could find. Hoping dearly we weren't going to find a half-eaten pet. We flashed the lights around the fence line a bit and finally found the poor guy nibbling near a clover patch. Off in the distance were the cats and the pup just waiting for the signal - just say the word and we are on it...we'll tear this bunny up! Or not...whatever you want. Well, we scooped poor Peanut Butter up (after a brief chase) and brought him inside along with his housemate, Graham Cracker (just in case it was a raccoon that opened up the cage). Both were fine, just completely terrified.

Now, I should add here that I'm the one who built this secure little bunny coop. Adapted it, actually. I wanted the bunnies to have a two-story townhouse instead of just a small apartment. Apparently the little critters are too smart for me and managed to figure out how to, shall we say, open the back door. And I apparently, should stick to knitting and baking bread and leave the construction to the man. So be it.

A New Dawn

 We live within walking distance from our elementary school so I am able to walk the girls to class most days (assuming we get up in time) And along the walk we pass houses with rose bushes growing in the front yard - many just starting to bloom. Roses, while wonderful in and of themselves, are nostalgic for me - they remind me of my tenure as a stay at home mom. Now, we also pass rosemary bushes and they smell wonderful first thing in the morning too, but they aren't quite as symbolic to me as the rose bushes.

See, when I was home with my girls it was hard for me to adjust at first (okay, it still is somedays). And by the time they were 1 and 3, I struggled to find things to do that didn't require great amounts of effort (like dragging them and their toys and sippies and wipes and diapers and whatnot to the grocery store). Where we lived there wasn't much for moms and kids to do during the day (at least not in our area) and certainly nothing even remotely on the level that San Antonio has to offer. And with very few friends (most worked), I spent my days at home mostly - just me and the girls.

I'd always loved to garden so one spring I set out to plant lots of herbs and veggies in a dedicated area of the yard to give the girls and I something to nurture together. It was great fun and the girls loved digging and planting and watching the seeds turn into cucumbers and carrots. But I decided I needed something just for me as well. So I started planting rose bushes.

Finally I had something to do when I woke up each morning! With excitement and purpose at my side my days were now spent planning the beds, preparing the beds, researching which varieties to plant, scouring the local nurseries to find perfect specimens, ordering them online when necessary, and then when they arrived, planting them and watering them. And falling head over heals for them. At one point I ended up with 12 bushes including 3 climbers - and almost all were antiques and heirlooms. One of my favorites was called Katy Road Pink. It was named after Katy Road in Houston as that's where it was discovered growing. Whoever found it decided any rose bush that can survive growing along Houston's Katy Road deserves to be propagated and enjoyed by all. It was one of my most prolific bloomers.

I tended and loved this rose garden as if it were a dear friend for several years. In fact, it was a retreat for me - a way to escape and think of something besides laundry and dinner and groceries and sheets and floors and naps and potty training. It was something just for me. As the girls got older they learned to love it as well, especially Lyndsey. We would go out together every few days, her carrying a basket and me with my pruning shears, and look for fresh blooms to cut. You see, the more you cut the more they bloom. What a fantastic arrangement!

Every day for those years we had fresh roses on the table and by the window in the kitchen. I usually just cut them short and put them in coffee cups. Lyndsey's job was to help arrange them - and smell them of course! Such a variety of smells from all the different kinds. My Meme was often featured in her local paper for her beautiful roses. She was a master gardener and baker. I guess all the summers I spent at her house, if nothing else, set the tone for what kind of mom I wanted to be - or at least influenced the examples I wanted to set. Though no where near a master, I did thoroughly love and enjoy the time spent doing it - just as she did.

I no longer have my rose bushes. I brought several of them with me to San Antonio and they survived 9 days on the moving trucks and survived replanting after replanting. But life got in the way and after a series of bad luck with jobs, several more moves, and other misc. and time-consuming events, my last one finally died. An heirloom climber called New Dawn - a 'repeat flowerer.' Such a special little rose and tough as nails too - a real fighter. Like many of my roses, it was bare root when I first planted it, and by the time we moved, it had grown up and over a trellis my dad built. Pulling it away from its roots on moving day was an emotional challenge. I knew it wanted to stay but I just couldn't leave my New Dawn behind. And determined to please, it tried to adjust - but it needed vertical space I could no longer offer and had twisted and tangled upon itself. Once the sun vanished (and my dedicated watering) it finally gave up.

So while I was walking Lyndsey to school today, I noticed the rose bushes blooming along the way, wondered what variety they were, noticed they needed pruning (and noted my own desire to prune them). And remembered my time as a young(er) new mom. The days when I had nothing but time in front of me to raise and nurture young kids and young roses.


Now, with a new frontier on the horizon, and all the other time-consuming whatnots that go with having older kids, I wonder how I'll find time to rake the yard, much less tend to heirloom rose bushes. But I do miss having my little coffee cup friends scattered around the kitchen. Lyndsey asked me the other day when we were going to start our garden (after spying a package of loofah seeds given to me from my Grandfather a few years ago - one of the more interesting things we've grown I must say). Soon, I think. Soon. It's time for a Rosy New Dawn.

Coming Soon!

info coming soon!

Behind the Gypsy Meadow

Welcome to my little nook in the blogging world. My passion for writing has brought me here. Along with a need to vent, and occasionally talk about my obsessions with jug wine and chickens. I was once a beautiful fair maiden with long flowing curly red hair, youthful skin, skinny jeans, and excessive amounts of free-range energy. No, really. OK, fine, but I did at least have curly red hair. Then I had kids and it turned into something wiry and unrecognizable. And I haven't seen those skinny jeans since college.

Sigh.

So, I'm Stacey. A self-proclaimed writer and vintage mama who loves all things junky, old, weathered and worn. I keep a camera on my desk or in my backpack...always. I love stealing moments. I love remembering stolen moments. I have a thing for chickens...and pigs. I dream of pigs. And since we're being honest here I might as well add I've been told I'm old-fashioned, naive, sentimental, sarcastic (I call it witty, but whatever), rebellious, and annoyingly stubborn - maybe that's why I drink wine by the jug. And maybe that's why I dream of pigs. Some mysteries just can't be solved.

I'm a work-in-progress. And probably silently suffering from some sort of mid-life crisis. But I've also been told I'm a survivor and I appreciate risk taking - sometimes you fail and sometimes you succeed but you'll learn something either way - and that's the part that helps us grow - and that's the wisdom I hope to pass along to my kiddos. I have a passion for people who put themselves out there and take risks - for those who stand up for the little guys, and consistently make unselfish choices when they can. I learn from those people; they inspire and give hope and are vital in our world.

I also like historical memoirs, autobiographies, and anything with the words pasture, harvest, home-steading, beer-garden, solitude, sanctuary, vegetarian, self-reliance, Ireland, adventure, hiking trails, festival, pub, local, do-it-yourself, beach, cottage, vineyard, or Thoreau in it.

I collect books and degrees and have yet to determine what I want to do with my life but I know I'm getting close. And for now, that's good enough. In grad school I dreamed of writing screenplays and books (and still have a few ideas bouncing around in my head, along with a lot of dusty marbles)...now, I dream of getting two paragraphs written without some sort of mental breakdown. Life's funny that way.

These are my ramblings and musings of our life transitioning out to pasture - as we gather hens, bunnies, ducks, geese, turkeys, pigs, sheep, goats, donkeys and maybe a cow or two - as we learn how to homeschool and garden organically and sustainably (those go hand in hand, in case you didn't know) - build barns and coops - and free-range our lives a bit - I'll do my best to share a bit of that gypsy journey with you.

Wheeee, life's an adventure, allright! Enjoy the journey, folks.

Thanks for stopping by.
Happy Trails!
Stacey

Thru the Lens

I recently was the winning blog poster-er over on Peculiar Momma's site. My prize was this really cool old Brownie Hawkeye camera. Before finding Miss Peculiar, I had never heard of TtV photography. But after strolling thru her pics I found myself completely mesmerized - and secretly envious. I studied photography in college for a bit, and for several years I even had my own dark room. I loved the graininess of the pictures and the black outline that framed each scene as they came out of the developer.

So when I saw the pics created by these old cameras...and then one fell into my lap...well, it was just meant to be. TtV means Through the Viewfinder. Basically, you take an old camera and line up thru its viewfinder what image you want to photograph...then hold your digital camera (set on digital zoom) over the image showing in the viewfinder, and take the picture. So, it's a digital picture of what is seen thru the lens of the old camera. Complete with graininess and black sketchy outline! It's just grand, isn't it? And no darkroom chemicals needed!

You'll see these photos pop up from time to time around here on Gypsy Meadows (along with lots of other crazy wild silly random photos); I'm still learning how to manage holding two cameras still while the dogs and kiddos run amuck and the sun spits out glare spots, but photography in general has a continuous learning curve so I'm good with the oops, as well as the ahhhs...and I hope to get my hands on a few more of these old cameras. Peculiar Momma sells them in her Etsy shop. Hmmmmmm....


*top photo credit goes to Peculiar Momma...go visit her site, it's wonderful!

German Rice Pudding

German Milchreis. That's the word for German Rice Pudding. It's sweet rice with milk and cinnamon and dried fruit, and often was served to the kiddos in Germany as a main dish. I grew up with a German Meme who baked non-stop all day long (except for the hour break she took at noon to watch her 'stories'), and this was one of the dishes I remember her making the most. Except we called it that sweet rice dish with raisins...as in, Meme, can you make some of that rice that has the cinnamon and raisins in it? That stuff is gooooooooooood (we stayed summers with my Meme when we were wee little tykes).

She made this rice dish as a way of using up any rice leftovers from the week. The German settler in her wouldn't let her throw anything out. She always topped it with an extra sprinkle of cinnamon. Her cinnamon came from a special ceramic cinnamon jar. I think my love for cinnamon was born in her kitchen, and I still use her cinnamon jar to keep my beloved cinnamon in. It's one of the few keepsakes of hers I have and it holds memories I will forever treasure. I always double the amount of cinnamon called for in any recipe. I'm happy to say my two girls have the same affection for it. They like cinnamon sprinkled on their peaches, topped on blueberry muffins, in their ginger cookies, in their oatmeal, in their pancakes and waffles, and now, on their Milchreis.

One regret we have in our family is noone ever asked my Meme to write down her famous sweet German rice recipe. She always just threw it together from memory; like she was born with the recipe in her head. My father tried for years to reproduce it and could never quite get the consistency right. I've decided it doesn't matter exactly what her recipe was; what matters is the tradition of making it.

So I picked a recipe, altered it a bit and gave it a shot today. I'm sure you can google and finds lots more, but here's the recipe I used. This one is vegan and easy and made the house smell divine. Some traditions are worth passing down, even if changed just a bit.

Slow Cooker Rice Pudding with Raisins
1 T Earth Balance or soy butter
2 1/2 cups cooked brown or white rice
1 1/2 cups soy, almond, hemp or rice milk (I used rice, but any of these will do)
1/2 cup brown sugar (or natural sweetener of choice)
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/3 - 1/2 cup raisins (depending on how much you LOVE raisins)

Combine all in the slow cooker. Stirring to mix. Cover and cook on low for 3 hours. Stir at least once every hour to keep from sticking. I like mine to be like the consistency of oatmeal. Add more milk if you like it creamier. Can serve warm or cold, with toasted almonds or another sprinkle of cinnamon on top. Enjoy!

From Scratch

The past few years were hard for our little family. We survived a divorce and adjusting the kids to living in two separate households. We also survived opening and closing our little family-owned-and-operated children's arts-n-crafts store, after two years of financial struggle. We are now back together and all living in the same house again, and I'm thankful for that. We are also enjoying the man's one year anniversary at his new job and are excited about our soon-to-be move out to the hill country to reboot our lives together. It's a little ying and a little yang. A lot of bad and a lot of good. It's life.

In the seven years before we were separated/divorced I stayed home with my two girls and I spent a good deal of my time doing what many at home moms do, I cooked and baked. I loved being in the kitchen. I, in particular, loved baking. In our first real home in The Woodlands I created a baker's nook in one section of the kitchen. We lowered the counter (better for rolling out dough) and took all the fronts off the cabinets so I could see all my pretty bowls, many of which came from my Meme, who was my mentor-baker during my childhood. I had everything I needed to cook or bake in one area and it was in this area that my girls and I spent many afternoons making pie crusts, pizza dough, scones, waffles, biscuits, bread, muffins, cakes, cupcakes, and oodles of cookies - all from scratch. And that was just the baking part.

Unfortunately, during the three years we were separated/divorced, I lost my kitchen-connection; those days were spent running the store, running errands, or helping the kids settle into new classrooms and new routines. Life was stressful and hectic and confusing and on occasions, heartbreaking. Even more so because I forgot how to cook...I lost my link to food and found I was eating without thinking. I was eating animals I had long ago swore off, I was eating out more than ever, and I no longer baked with the girls...and we no longer sat at the table together for meals. Everything was on the go or whipped up in a flurry. We no longer shared in routines and activities we had once cherised...and apparently took for granted.

Thankfully, I've been given a second chance...both with the marriage, with reestablishing lost connections and routines with my kids...and with my pretty baking bowls. We've been baking from scratch again. We are back to making muffins, cookies, breads, and biscuits together. The girls fight over who gets to 'knead' the pizza dough, and this morning the little one and I made up our own recipe for whole wheat/flax/cornmeal pancakes. We just started adding things to see how it would turn out; trying specifically to use no eggs, no white flour and only a few pinches of something sweet. They came out perfect. The blueberry muffins we experimented with, well, let's just say with some things we're better off sticking with the recipes we've grown to love. But it's fun to experiment. And I hope I'm teaching them it's OK to tweak things a bit every now and then. That's the fun of homemade - we can create what we want. And, as in other areas of our lives, we don't have to always follow the rules. Letting go of rules and myths in fact, can be quite liberating.

The kids are enjoying our trips to the farmers market and they are more engaged now in helping prepare meals and prep the veggies. They ask more questions, are more willing to try new things, and are a part of the kitchen mealtime drama - even if that just means setting the table.

I don't know that I'll ever be into making fancy gourmet meals. I'm not a foodie - whatever that means. I don't watch Food Network, and I no longer keep recipes around that have more than a few basic ingredients (unless it's spices), and certainly nothing that requires cream of 'fill in the blank' soup. Seriously, have you ever wondered what that stuff really is?  In fact, I recently weeded thru my recipe collection and threw out all my casserole-y recipes (is that a rural thing or a southern thing?), all the meat-based recipes I'm not sure I can convert, and I'm seriously considering tossing my Betty Crocker 'Bible'. Gasp!

I'm letting go of some of the myths about food I grew up believing and tried to work with in the early years of our marriage; these myths and ideals no longer fit into my belief system and I have found that the girls (and perhaps kids in general) tend to like their food either raw, or kept simple and uncomplicated. I couldn't agree more. I was the same way as a child. I have also converted most of my baking recipes over to wheat flour, cornmeal, milled flax, brown rice flour, and/or nutritional yeast (which I put on everything, BTW...even in the homemade cat food...if I'm not careful I'll probably just start sprinkling it on the kids heads and call it magic powder fairy dust stuff...or something like that). And the white sugar is off our menu for good now, too. We've replaced it with agave nectar, maple syrup, brown sugar, and I'm using more molasses now than ever. When we allow ourselves to slip too far into unknown or unfamiliar territory, for reasons we don't question or investigate, we risk losing our way. We also risk losing what an actual carrot, pulled straight from a garden, tastes like. We can't taste them mixed in some 10-ingredient casserole topped with cheese and butter. What are we hiding? Carrots are sweet. They make our eyes sparkle (what I tell my girls). Cheese and butter: not so much.

I lost my way. And I blame Betty Crocker (or more specifcially General Mills, since Betty's not real).

And the meat and dairy industry.

And my mother. But that's a whole other story.

In our little family we can't go back and be innocent anymore, we each carry our own scars from the past few years, and have healed in our own way, but we can pick up where we left off and create a new normal, and hope that whatever path we're on now, we won't lose our way again.

And I will no longer feel compelled to make casseroles.

Looking at things from their basic ingredients, whether it's in the form of your family, or your meal - creating it 'from scratch' as they say - or from whatever you have on hand to work with on any given day - as long as it aligns with your values and is done with integrity - is always best. It may not always match our expectations, certainly may not always align with what's considered 'normal', and sometimes it just plain falls apart, but in the end it's worth the effort. At least to me it is.

City Chicks

I just finished reading a book called City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Laying Hens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-recyclers and Local Food Suppliers and feel compelled to share a few things I found interesting. See, recently we have been obtaining our eggs from a friend of a friend who is a vegetarian raising pastured hens and turkeys as egg-layers only. Having eaten store-bought eggs (and having insisted those eggs AT LEAST be cage-free) for many years, I can honestly tell you there is a HUGE difference between the two. I consider these pastured, non-fertilized, huge (some can barely fit in a standard egg carton), pesticide-hormone free, glop-free (ya know that egg glop you get in store bought eggs? None here), bright yellow-orange yolked beauties as gold. Let me just give you a brief difference in their nutritional value as well:

1/3 less cholesterol
1/4 less saturated fat
2/3 more vitamin A
2-4 times more Omega-3
3 times more vitamin E
7 times more Beta Carotene

Is that not worth a few extra dollars a dozen? I think so. That's like popping vitamins. On top of that, you're supporting local farmers (or co-op partners), you're NOT supporting the extremely abusive factory farms (laying hens are the most abused animals in our country), you're supporting a sustainable system from an animal eating a natural diet from a person who loves their biddies (sorry, but the hens laying eggs for the grocery store and that you buy in restaurants are not eating healthy diets, they are in fact, eating antibiotics, hormones, rendered animals and pesticides - and yes, even the 'free range', which are NOT AT ALL 'free range' - look it up - or better yet, watch Food, Inc, - are eating the same diet as the others).

As a vegetarian hoping to someday be a vegan (fear, someday you will be mine) I probably should be encouraging you to abstain from all eggs. I guess as much as I like to live in a bubble, the realist in me says it ain't gonna happen in my lifetime with 98% of the population consuming eggs. So, what I really want to do is encourage you to find a local source and stop, TODAY, from ever ever ever buying another dozen of store bought factory 'farmed' eggs, and seriously reconsider eating eggs at restaurants. You can't taste the hormones and pesticides, but unfortunately, we are what our food eats.

To save these beauties from disappearing too fast I try not to bake with them, and instead use them for pure egg eating only. And did you know these farm fresh eggs don't need to be refrigerated and can stay in a basket on your counter for several MONTHS? See when you buy store bought eggs they are already several months old so they have a short expiration on them (and also don't taste fresh having been stored in refrigeration for so long). Fresh eggs from your local farmer's market, or your friend of a friend who loves hens, have a long shelf life and don't take up space in your fridge. For baking purposes, there are dozens of alternatives to using eggs and you can't taste them in cookies or breads anyway. Their purpose is as a binding agent and there are so many alternatives you can save these eggs just for the eggiest of egg-eating.

The City Chicks book is a great read (you can skip over the parts about raising hens if it doesn't interest you), but the info on hens (the author rescues and adopts most of her hens) as composters, bug eaters, and garden helpers is fascinating. She also recaps the abuses of factory farming and highlights, again, why it's in our best interest to steer away - very far away - from industrial eggs, milk, and meat. Sometime do a google search and read about what the effects of eating these toxic industrial foods is doing to our (and our children's) endocrine systems. It's a slow poison. It doesn't taste like it, but do a little digging and you'll see it's there.

Also, with the oil spilling in the Gulf as I'm typing this, here is something I found rather interesting:

"Every man, woman, and child in this country requires one gallon of oil per day, just to bring food to their table...the average food item travels more than 1,500 miles...and the total energy output of processing, packaging, transporting, and storing foods is greater than the calories consumed...how sustainable is that?" - Patricia Foreman

"If every US citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meat and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. Small changes in buying habits can make a big difference. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast" - Barbara Kingsolver

Aside: it only takes 3 laying hens (no roosters!) to provide all the unfertilized eggs you need for a family of 4 and you might even have some left over to give to friends, so they too, can stop buying store eggs. We are paying only $2 a dozen for our un-fertilized happy hen eggs. It can be done. Ask around.

I leave you with a few links:

* Free Range Eggs Versus Confined Grain Fed Chicken Eggs

* Pastured Eggs

* Buy Pastured Eggs and Chicken, Not "Free Range"

* How Free is Free-Range

Birthdays, Smirthdays

So I've been thinking about age this week. My birthday is charging at me and will be here in a number of days and with it will be the number 41. And this number has me pondering.

When I was nearing the big 4.0 I heard all the arguments on both sides of the fence. There was the one mindset that insisted I would become depressed and that 40 sucked and I would hate it and how awful it was to get old, and my body was going to start breaking down, etc etc. And there was the other camp who told me I would love the 40's, that it would be the best decade (and that it was, in fact, the 50's that sucked), and that aging was all in our head and numbers didn't matter, etc etc.

As I approach 41 - and granted I'm not even mid-way thru the decade so I'm perhaps not the best person to be giving testimony on the subject - but I have to say, so far, I'm with camp #2. I'm loving the 40's. Now, I could go into a diatribe here as to why I personally am enjoying this age, but I'm not sure that's helpful as we all see the world thru our own lenses and what I'm seeing may not be what you see. And clearly, some of us may have tainted impressions depending on how much alcohol we feel is necessary to get thru the 40's. (Or, hiccup, how much we needed to get thru the 30's). But I will share with you why I think it's important to embrace every age and stage of life - both the positive and the negative.

First, let me just say I don't appreciate at ALL the slowed metabolism and resulting proverbial belly pooch that seems to tag along with the 40's. I mean seriously, WHAM! ya turn 40 and there it is. Suddenly I needed new jeans. Suddenly I could no longer blame that time of the month or suck it in after a few beers. Nope, it lingers. It's just unnerving, to say the least. And an annoying accompaniment to what I otherwise consider the best age Evar. But that aside, (and I'm not saying that lightly because it truly pisses me off on a regular basis and I feel is something the 'young' deserve, not us older wiser folks), but if that's the worst of it, and I think it is, it's really not that bad. I mean, yes, we have to exercise more and watch what we eat and can barely tolerate cheese and hops and sugar and other things we loved when we were younger. And yes, it may mean we need 2 days to recover from a bottle of wine, instead of a few hours, but really, would you want to trade with the 20 or 30 year olds? And, ahem, I mean no disrespect when I say this, but HELL NO.

I went out 'clubbing' recently with some 40-ish, almost 40-ish friends recently and was surrounded by these young, pretty, solid, tanned, well-dressed 20 and 30 year olds. And I did feel older. But not in a bad, negative envious way. I looked at them with appreciation (or compassion, depending on how you look at it) and acknowledged their lack of baby hips and wrinkles and their ability to wear high heels and short dresses, and drink all nite and feel just fine the next day - but did not envy them. I remember the challenges and the rewards of being 20 and 30, and have zero interest in revisiting those ages. Those memories are now my wrinkles and laugh lines and age spots, and my kids are now my gray hairs. I've arrived at the place they will one day arrive. I feel comfortable in skin I never felt comfortable in. I have the self-awareness and confidence I once lacked, my kids are almost fully-functioning little people, and I have finally found the full range of my Bullshit Meter. That, in itself, makes the 40's Super Duper Awesome.

The way I see it, I cherish those memories. I had some fun times and did some crazy goofy adventurous things when I was younger, but I don't long to be that age again or long to relive those times, and doing so takes away from my ability to appreciate and enjoy the age and stage I'm in now. I'm grateful for those times, and I'm grateful life is constantly changing. I don't want my body to get old and saggy, but I also don't want my age, or my situation in life to always stay the same. Life is forever changing. And we get to change with it. To fight that is to fight a constantly losing battle that will keep you in a perpetual state of negativity. We can control and change what we wear, who we spend time with, what we eat, how much exercise we get, how we spend our free time, where we travel or don't travel, how many children we raise (or not), what our visions are, how we pursue them (or not), what journeys we take and what spiritual paths we walk...but we cannot control the fact that we age. And we will continue to do so. Yes, the clock is ticking louder at 40, and in many ways that's a good thing because ONLY half our life is behind us. The wisdom we longed for in our youth is now ours. The Bucket List lays before us. The impact and legacy we wanted to leave is still in our grasp and will be for many more years still. In fact, it will lay before us for as long as we choose to see it.

Each age, just as it is with our kids, comes with it's own set of challenges and rewards. There can be no 'yay' without a little 'boo'. We need both. I think it's unrealistic to expect any age to be all bliss or challenge free. Frustrations are a part of life. How we deal with them, how much we choose to whine or complain, how positive or negative we allow ourselves to be, determines the depth of those frustrations. Yes, some ages are harder perhaps than others, but what some see as 'difficult' others see as 'challenging'. It's all in your perception and the choice of words we use. And yes, the challenges can be unpredictable and diverse. Some can be quite painful. But it's the combination of challenges and rewards that make life interesting. The most exciting opportunity of any age is we can always keep reinventing ourselves. The views we have of each and every age and the views we have of aging in general, is misplaced if it's focused on the number. The number means nothing. It's merely a marker of progress.

So I shall embrace this new age. And I will wear my spots and aches proudly. Heck, I may even get maself a new tattoo. Look out world...I am officially, 40-something! Roar!!

An Education of Solitude

I've been reading articles and speeches by John Taylor Gatto recently, which is probably dangerous for someone like me who gets perhaps a little too excited about radical non-mainstream ideas, but I found this passage (amongst many that I thought worthy of quoting) and couldn't resist. He may be radical, he may be a bit too salty for some, but I think we're a society in great need of this kind of shaking up. I'm only sorry there aren't more (teachers or otherwise) like him willing to put themselves on the line for what they believe. Sometimes we need to go to an extreme so we can find middle ground. At least, that seems to be how it works in my head. This excerpt is taken from a article titled: Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why

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Maturity has by now been banished from nearly every aspect of our lives. Easy divorce laws have removed the need to work at relationships; easy credit has removed the need for fiscal self-control; easy entertainment has removed the need to learn to entertain oneself; easy answers have removed the need to ask questions. We have become a nation of children, happy to surrender our judgments and our wills to political exhortations and commercial blandishments that would insult actual adults. We buy televisions, and then we buy the things we see on the television. We buy computers, and then we buy the things we see on the computer. We buy $150 sneakers whether we need them or not, and when they fall apart too soon we buy another pair. We drive SUVs and believe the lie that they constitute a kind of life insurance, even when we're upside-down in them. And, worst of all, we don't bat an eye when Ari Fleischer tells us to "be careful what you say," even if we remember having been told somewhere back in school that America is the land of the free. We simply buy that one too. Our schooling, as intended, has seen to it.

Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they'll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology - all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.

First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don't let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a pre-teen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there's no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.

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I recently had a long conversation with some of my girlfriends who all have kids the same age as mine going to the same school, and as we talked (and complained) about the public school system one response kept popping back up: it's not the same school experience as when we were kids...

No, it's not. It's worse.

FYI, John Gatto is building an 128 acre retreat in upstate NY which will feature a library and will focus on educating (not schooling) children and public school reform...it's called Solitude. Something, I agree, our kids need more of...they don't need more school, they need less, and less after school activities, less homework, less competition, less testing, less grading - and more Solitude.

If you're interested in more of Gatto's views on public schooling, this article, his NYC Teacher of the Year Award acceptance speech from 1990, titled: Why Schools Don't Educate is an excellent place to start. He breaks down the hours our children have each week to develop unique consciousness/individuality...taking away school time, homework, activities, TV time, eating, and time otherwise spent under constant surveillance - it results in 9 hours each week. Fascinating.

Library Day

I love library day. For me that's the day I go pick up all my pre-ordered books. I try to get 8-10 at a time (some for the kiddos, too) so that I have plenty to read during down time. I go thru about 100 pages a day so every few days I'm eyeing the next book in the stack. Some are cookbooks and some are sewing books and some are knitting books - those get to lay around longer than the others as it takes me awhile to work thru recipes and projects. But for the most part library day means new adventures and stories and ideas are stacked up waiting for me. Sigh.

This week's picks are somewhat random: The Well-Adjusted Child, Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, and The First Year of Homeschooling, are, well, homeschooling books. Then there's Babe: The Gallant Pig, which my 4th grader can't seem to put down. She confessed yesterday that she snuck it under her desk to read while the teacher was reading a different book. Atta, girl! I had hoped for us to all read it together, but prying it away from her may be tough. However, as soon as she's done I think it'll go in the family reading pile.

I'm not really sure we have one of those, but we should. So now we do.

I would have picked up something for my little critter but she's been clinging to a couple of her own library books pretty much since school started. She's got a bit of a Biscuit obsession going on (they're at my level, mama), which I agree with, and I admire her tenacity to stick with books until she's absolutely mastered every word. She has that kind of stick-with-it-ness about her. It's how she taught herself to snap. Yes, snap. She's actually now a really good snapper. She often walks around the house, in fact, snapping her fingers. She learns these things by shear determination. Teaching herself to read the Biscuit books is apparenlty going to be no different. Mastered them, she has. Every. Nite. But she still won't return them to the library. Maybe I'll pick up some different Biscuit books for her. Gulp. Her tenacity rivals my own, at times. Some days it frightens me and some days I'm in awe. Hopefully she'll choose to use it someday for good rather than evil. And hopefully she'll give up the Biscuit books before 2nd grade.

I also picked up Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as I'm still in homesteading mode. I read some iffy reviews on this one but I'm curious either way. Bend the Rules Sewing, Ani's Raw Food Essentials, and Now Eat This are mostly for the pretty pictures and crafting ideas. Ha. Like I can sew that kind of stuff. Though some of Rocco's recipes aren't too bad and are worth considering...also, he's lost alot of weight and is lookin' good. I'm curious about the raw food movement, and I've heard good things about Ani's book, so we'll see how far I get with that one; especially considering I still have 3 other library cookbooks I refuse to return.

The last few books for this week are: The Gift of Fear, A Briefer History of Time, and the killer, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. That one's going to be painful. It's 600 pages. I normally shut down after about 300 pages which is why I've still not picked up The Fountainhead. I thought I'd read it this summer, but noooooooooo...mama can't stay focused that long. Plus, I think I'm over Ayn Rand. I related in college, but not sure how I feel or where I stand on all that now. I recently had a friend write to me and ask me how I felt about Atlas Shrugged as a 40yo (and given our political climate) as compared to how I felt about it as a 25-30yo. I have to admit, it does look different. I saw a play last summer about Ayn Rand. She didn't come across as all that stable. Not sure if that was their intent or not, but geez, it certainly wasn't a flattering portrayal of her. I still think she was an amazing writer, just not sure I will relate to her work the same now. Maybe next summer. Maybe when I'm 60 I'll have come full circle. For now I'm determined to learn about good ol' maybe not so honest, Abe. I did some reading on Jefferson last year and fell in like with the man. I also read bios on Einstein and Franklin. Both of which I adored. And both of which are shelf-worthy. We'll see how Mr. Lincoln holds up - if I can make it thru. I think I can I think I can.

Snap!

And what are you reading?

My Rainbow Girl

I have a girl who loves Rainbows. I wonder sometimes if she doesn't dream in rainbows. The other day we were sitting on a patio at a restaurant waiting for our food and out of the blue she held her head back, opened her mouth, stuck out her tongue and started lapping up the air. When we asked her what she was doing she smiled and said: "I'm drinking rainbows out of the sky."

Well, duh! Of course you are.

When asked what rainbows taste like she proceeded to explain that rainbows lose their colors separately so she's tasting yellow first (which she decided was lemon), then green (which she decided was pineapple - hey, it's HER rainbow), then blue, etc etc. And so she contentedly sat, lost in her own little world, drinking up the rainbows.

It just sorta makes you marvel at how wonderful having a mind free from discretion and self-awareness must be; for the sky to look that pretty - to be able to express creativity without fear of judgment. I'm envious. I'm sure there's a lesson to learn in there somewhere.

Last year, when she was 5, she told me that we were lucky to have red hair because having red hair means we are part of the rainbow (because red is a color of the rainbow)...and that makes us special.

What a lovely thought.

When I was little all I remember feeling about red hair was that it made me special in a negative way. It made me too different. For some reason in our school there were very very few redheads. I was teased endlessly. I was constantly stared at. I determined it must be because they all thought I belonged in a circus rather than walking around freely in society; and at any moment it would be discovered that I had escaped and back to the Big Top I would go. I always put my head down when I walked in stores and tried not to make eye contact with anyone for this reason. It would be years before I would feel comfortable walking around a mall (something to this day I avoid like the plague).

Oh and the little old ladies. Good grief - the little old ladies at the grocery store always made comments about my hair...about how pretty it was and how they always wished they had a daughter or granddaughter with red hair. Some would try to touch it. That never helped satisfy my fears. I see my own Rainbow Girl's reactions when the little old ladies make comments to her in the grocery store...or try to touch her hair. At first she would lower her head and look away, the same way I did as a child, and I would jump to her defense and remind her it's good to be different and her hair makes her special and unique; and would tell the little old ladies she doesn't like talking about her haircolor (ie: back off old lady!)...but now I see her smiling sometimes during these encounters. I think she's made it thru. I think the rainbows carry her thru. 

One thing I do know for sure, having red hair, with the teasing and the staring and the constant old lady comments, gave me a very healthy sense of humor about myself. Somewhere deep down I think we all try to find some sort of inner rainbow that carries us thru. That positive that comes from what we perceive as a negative. I'm thankful for it now, as it's made me who I am and gave me something to overcome - it forced me to laugh at myself, at the world even, and to choose positive thoughts over negative. It took me a while to get to that point, but I got there. And once I got there, I never looked back. Although I still have days where I look at myself in a picture or catch a glance of myself in a mirror and think, girl, you do belong in a circus...good grief that's some crazy colorful hair!

But my Rainbow Girl is much too clever to be in the circus. She figured it out much sooner than her ol mama did.

Rainbow Girl colors in rainbows:












She wears Rainbows on her hands and in her hair:













And on her shoes:












She parties in rainbows (yes, we've had a Rainbow Birthday):












She paints rainbows:








She's a walking Rainbow celebration.

And no, we don't ever go to the circus.

So this blogpost is dedicated to all our fellow Red-Haired Rainbow friends. Take it from us, you don't belong in a circus...you're a special part of the Rainbow...and that's something to smile about!