Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New Life

Easter is a time of new life- rebirth.  Lately life has felt pretty overwhelming. Nothing traumatic or earth-shattering, just every-day-life busy.  Balancing the ability to be mother, wife, daughter, homemaker/manager, cook, laundress, housecleaner, gardener, healer, knitter, spinner, crafter, reader, writer, volunteer, friend, woman....me. 

I'm not a particularly religious person but I take comfort in ritual.  We attended the solemn mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine on Easter Sunday. If you haven't been there, make a point of going next time you are in DC.  It's a beautiful cathedral, in an old-school European way.  The entire lower level is a collection of dozens of chapels built to honor the Mother (Virgin Mary, but I like to think of her as goddess mother figure.) The mass was celebrated by the cardinal and included a full choir, orchestra, bells, incense, trumpets, holy water, and prayers. It was a sacred space and a perfect time for meditation and connection to spirit.  Easter to me has always been a time to set goals and revisit previous goals.   Along with the solstices and equinoxes, Easter has always seemed the time for me to take stock and recharge.

The boys are back in school and the excitement about the baskets and eggs and chocolate is over, and now I am enjoying the silence in the house. Today I have time to be quiet and still.  I think I'll make another cup of tea and do a little spinning and let my brain wander.

Our Spring nature table

Eggs with leaf prints in boiling in onion skins

Hot cross buns (one-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot cross buns)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring is Coming

spring is coming, spring is coming
birdies build your nest.
weave together straw and feather
doing each your best.

spring is coming, spring is coming
flowers are coming, too.
pansies, lilies, daffodillys
all are coming through.

spring is coming, spring is coming
all around is fair.
shiver, quiver on the river,
joy is everywhere.
This is one of my favorites from our Waldorf nursery years. It's such a catchy tune that simply feels like spring.  Here is a link to a version I found on youtube so you can hear the tune.  As in any oral folkloric tradition, there are lots of variations; these are the words I sing.
I am realizing I haven't been posting my promised "twice-a-week-postings" but it is simply too pretty outside to be sitting at my computer.  I'm ok with that. Life changes, we adapt. I will post when I'm inspired- this blog is not a "should"  The garden is waking and needs a little attention, just like any newborn. We have been busy removing the old leaves, mending fountains and fences, fighting the ever-climbing ivy, and planning for new spring plantings.  The grill has been fired up and the baseball bats and balls have emerged from the basement. Regardless of the date on the calendar- Spring is here!

The onions are getting big and the herbs are returning- chives, parsley, thyme,
marjoram and oregano have all poked their little heads up. 

Lenten Roses were early this year.

The view from our bedroom window
A forgotten autumn fort

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Spirit Week Blahs

Warning- a rant:  Am I the only parent who hates spirit week at school? After a second day of watching a tear-stained little face walk into school, I seriously have to ask why we do this. I'm sure teachers and parents mean well when they organize these events. They sound fun. And maybe they are for some children. But not mine.  Today was "wacky hair day."  I now have sticky hands, a messy bathroom, and a boy who went to school in tears.  I apparently don't have the right gel to make a mohawk and his hair is too long to stay up and where, oh where, is that can of leftover hair-paint-spray from Hallloween? I'm sure I'll find it at Easter when I'm looking for rabbit ears. Sigh.  Perhaps if I had girls I would have the correct hair supplies, but I have boys who pay about as much attention to their hair as they do their toenails- zilch!  When I looked in my own cabinet, I found hair gels that were at least 10 years old and definitely not the type for a punk-do. I'm currently a big fan of the ponytail- no gel required. Yesterday was "twin day" (the day you are supposed to dress exactly like your best friend) which wasn't quite as bad but there was still the drama about which friend to pick. Thank goodness for the octo-mom: now kids can have unlimited "twins" at school.  And then there was the frantic search for the wrist bands that were apparently in the goody bag from a birthday party 6 months ago.  "But I HAVE to have them- we all agreed to wear them"  Maybe if I were a type-A-uber-organized mom I would know where the soccer wrist bands were, but most days I'm lucky to know where the clean underwear and socks are. (Not that anyone cares about those except me.) And to be completely honest, those wrist bands might have ended up in a box that went to the thrift store- I vaguely recall seeing them recently.  Needless to say, he survived the day sans wrist bans.  Pajama day didn't involve any drama this year, but triggers bad flash-backs of previous years "There is absolutely no waaaaaaaaay I'm wearing my pajamas to school- it's weird- but there is absolutely no waaaaaay I'm going to be the only one not wearing them-everyone else will wear them. I'm staying home- you can't make me go."  Well I can, and I did. In a compromise of sweat pants. 
The hodgepodge of hair goop we tried.

Tomorrow is sports jersey day.  Thank goodness for one easy one.  My sports-obsessed boys have plenty of those.  I just have to make sure the laundry gets done so they are all clean.

But first I think I'll make a cup of tea and do a little knitting and appreciate the fact that  they are off at school and someone else's problem for a few hours (god bless those teachers.)
I think lintilla  is coming along nicely.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Less stuff

So far, I have been really disciplined with my lenten goal of placing one item a day into a box for charity. Most days I find myself putting a lot more into the box than one item.  Of course I have to fight that little voice in my my head that says "Hold onto it so you have something to put in the box next week."  I recognize that voice as the little demon on my shoulder, the same one that tells me that carrying laundry up two flights of stairs should count as a workout or that leaving the leaves on the garden is just "natural mulch." I'm doing a pretty good job of ignoring the little demon-voice and when I come across an item that I know belongs in that box, I put it in right away- no holding it for a later day.  I've now made two trips to the thrift store with boxes of clothes that don't fit and gadgets I no longer use. I have also delivered some beloved books and children's clothing to friends with younger children. There have also been very full recycling bins every week with papers that I no longer need to keep.   It feels good to slowly but surely clean the closets and cluttered corners of the house.

As I've been going through my things, I've also been going through my children's closets and drawers.  It surprised me a bit to learn that I am, as much if not more, attached to their childhood toys and momentos than they are. A third birthday card reminds me of the gaggle of little boys searching for moon rocks (river rocks painted with glow-in-the-dark-paint.) A never-played-with little boy babydoll tugs at my heartstrings and reminds that my "all-boy" boys never did take to dolls, no matter how sensitive they are.  But these are my memories and my hopes and dreams and not theirs. I don't need dolls and rocks and toys to preserve my memories of my little boys.  They are in my heart forever.  I hope they bring memories and joy to someone else now.

The van loaded up for a trip to the thrift store

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Space for Myself

This past weekend I attended a knitting/yoga/qigong retreat in the Blue Mountains of Maryland. We knit, we stretched, we moved, we knit, we ate amazing food, we knit, and we laughed over bottles of wine. We being 21 knitters whom I had never met before Friday afternoon and who now feel like old friends.  It's fascinating to spend a weekend with a group of people who know nothing about you. They have no pre-conceived notion of who you are. You could be anyone. And I wanted to be myself.  Not the B-boys' mom or so-and-so's wife, but me, just me.  It's not often I get a whole weekend to focus on myself.  Don't get me wrong- I love my family, but every so often it's nice to have a few days that are solely about me. The word for the weekend was "intention" and I did play with acting with intention, but the word that coming up for me was "space." I had space to assess where I am. I had space to rejuvenate. I had space to allow my body to move as it wanted to move. I had space to knit and create. I had space to remember who I am. And that person loves to knit.  That person loves to make new friends. That person loves good food and wine. That person loves to find time for meditation, be it in a class with others, or alone in the pre-dawn hour on the deck, or during a quiet walk along the river. That person is happy. And I'm glad I got to bring her home. 
Blue Mountain Retreat Center

The Potomac River,  just a few miles away.
 And I got a whole heck of a lot of knitting done too!

The sweater is finally starting to look like a sweater.

A new project Lintilla with yarn from one of my favorite dyersdragonflyfibers

The start of a set of rainbow nesting bowls for a school auction. Pattern to come soon.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Too Much Stuff

If your family is like anything like mine, or anything like most Americans, you have too much stuff. We try to clean it out with annual basement and attic purges and by trying to convince the kids to get rid of infrequently-played-with toys, and we do regularly drop off boxes at local charities. But it never seems to end.  More comes in all the time. Birthday parties with their bags of little plastic trinkets, deals too good to pass up at the dollar store, that piece of clothing that only needs a hem or two, that turns into a pile of unworn clothes.  In America this has gotten so out of control that we have stores that are solely dedicated to selling stuff to hold all of our stuff. We have tvs and books about hoarding and have made it a clinical diagnosis. 
Our attic

An overflowing toy bin. One of many.
This is my public confession- I have too much stuff. We live in a big old Victorian home with an unfinished basement and an attic and I have a tendency to keep everything, just throwing it in the attic and saying "well, I might use it someday."  I even admit to having a mild obssesion with jars and boxes and rags- you never know when you might need the perfect size box to ship a package or a jar to hold something small or lots of rags for a project.  It would just make me crazy to pay for boxes or jars or rags! (BTW-I fully blame this one of my farm-raised mother who really did grow up saving and using jars and boxes and rags. My problem is that I have too many and I don't really use them all that often.)

My jar and tin collection.
Tomorrow in the first day of Lent. A time a quiet and refection and self-denial.  We aren't a particularly religious family, but we were raised Christian and are, at a minimum, culturally Christian. We observe major holidays and enjoy both the celebratory and reflective nature of the festivals.  I like the idea of giving up something for lent but always thought it strange that it is so often food, or at least vice, related. I could give up chocolate, but then could just substitute caramels. I could give up wine but could substitute gin and tonics. These never really changed me in any sort of meaningful way. This year I am taking a new approach. Instead of depriving myself of something that is easy substituted, I am going to find items in my home that I don't use, or that could be better used by someone else and I'm going to give them to someone who could really use them.  I have placed a great, big, empty box in my guest room and every single day during lent I am going to place one item in that box. As I choose my item and place it in the box I am going to reflect on all the people in the world whose basic needs are not met. Mothers who don't have the means to feed their children.  Families that are torn apart by war. Children who have to scrounge for food to eat and rags to wear. I am going to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the fact that I and my family are so blessed that not only do we have all of our needs met, we have more than we can manage.  On Fridays I will take that box to a local charity and pass it along so that someone else can share in the bounty. It's a little gesture, but one that I hope will stay with me long beyond lent.  Forty days isn't so very long, but long enough that I imagine I it will get harder to part with items as we approach Easter. I'm sure the first week or two won't be that difficult; collecting all those items that I keep meaning to get rid of anyway, but then I will have to start making harder cuts.  Purging items that have sentimental value or that were purchased with a goal in mine (I'm particularly thinking of all my crafting supplies here) but items I don't really need or use.  It will be an interesting process to watch. 
I am encouraging my family to join my on this journey.  What about you?  What do you do for lent?

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Cheesy" Kale Chips

I love salty, crunchy snacks. I would sooner give up chocolate than french fries or tortilla chips.  (I know that some of you are now thinking I'm bonkers, but it's true.)  I am well aware that most salty, fried snacks aren't particularly good for me, and I've reached an age where I'm conscious of the effects of food on my heart health, so I'm always on the look-out for something a bit healthier that will fill my salty-crunchy cravings. I keep trying new and different snack foods at the local health food stores. Most of them are "ok" but don't really fulfill my cravings. They are too bland or have a texture like cardboard or are dirt-flavored. We tried one snack and my 7 year-old announced that they tasted just like mulch, and I'm pretty sure he knows what mulch tastes like. Not wanting to give up, we keep trying new things. Corn puffs with spinach flavoring, rice crackers with "bbq" sauce, dried flavored seaweed. And finally I found it- "cheesy", vegan, raw kale chips that are divine.  I can munch away on these like I am eating cheesy puffs or nachos, except they are healthy- kale, nuts, red peppers. Perfect!  Except they are expensive. $8 for a little package is not in my food budget.  So I did what any other self-respecting-foodie-mom-on-a-budget would do, I searched the Internet. I found a number of recipes that sounded promising and I tried them all and kept tinkering with them.  After a few failed attempts, I think I've found my perfect recipe. Salty, a hint of spice, and a nutty-cheesy thing happening. Now when I want something to much on, besides popcorn which is a standard in our house, I grab these.

Kale Chips
2 bunches of kale
1 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 sweet red pepper, seeds and core removed
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs nutritional yeast
dash of cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

Place the nuts and seeds in a bowl of warm water for at least 4 hours to soak. No more than 6 hours or the cashews will get slimy. Strain the nuts, discarding the water.

Remove the tough stems from the kale and discard. Rip the kale into big pieces- these will shrink quite a bit so they don't have to be very small.  Wash the kale well and shake off excess water.

Place all ingredients, except the kale, into a food processor and mix until a paste is formed.  Using your hands, rub the mixture into the kale leaves, making sure to get it into all the nooks and crannies of the kale.  Spread the kale onto 3 baking sheets or on dehydrator trays.*

If using an oven, bake at a very low setting (150F is great if your oven goes that low, but 200F is fine) and bake for a few hours, stirring every hour or so, until the kale is crisp and the coating is dry.  Four hours seems to be the norm. If you have a dehydrator and would like to make "raw" chips, dry them at 105F for at least 10 hours, according to your machine's instructions. Allow to cool and store chips in an air-tight container. They will last for several days although they don't tend to stay around my house that long.

These trays were overflowing when I put the them in the dehydrator.

A few notes:
*I'm not an advocate for raw foods, but I have some friends that are. Recently, I was given a dehydrator and have been playing with it. It's nice to be able to free up my oven to make these chips that my raw-foodie friends will eat.
*Nutritional yeast can be found in natural food stores. It gives these chips their "cheesy" flavor and is full of B vitamins and 18 amino acids. This is NOT brewer's yeast. Nutritional yeast is thought by some to be a "superfood",  unfortunately some brands form high levels of naturally formed MSG when heated during processing.  Look for a light yellow color, which indicates low temperature processing. I use the Frontier brand.
*If you want a spicier treat, you can add more cayenne to give it a kick.  I've also been tempted to try to add some garlic. I'll let you know how that goes.
*Feel free to play around with the nut ratio or skip the sunflower seeds altogether. These measurements are a very rough guide.
*I'm a big believer in soaking nuts and grains.  It makes them easier to digest and allows more of the nutrients to be absorbed by our bodies.  Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morrelli is a great resource for information on soaking nuts and grains.