Thursday, March 31, 2011

Crackers and More

This week I've made a few more steps to reduce the amount of waste coming into (and going out of) our home.  First, we made crackers.  A few weeks ago I stopped buying crackers because they are not only expensive, but overly packaged.  And it turns out they are a waste of money because they are basically made of flour and water.  Admittedly we have not yet found a recipe we love--but we've eaten almost all of the three batches so far.

We've tried one batch of whole wheat with cheddar--good but cooked a little too long, one gluten free savory cracker that would have been great except for the baking soda--I'll try them again without it.  And one gluten free graham cracker like crackers with vanilla and cinnamon.  I'll post some recipes when we find some we really love.
gluten free granola,     basic granola,       homemade crackers   

I also modified our usual granola recipe (I use the recipe from "Horn of the Moon Cookbook" by Ginny Callan) and used puffed rice in place of the oats.  It was great, and gluten free.

I finally got around to sewing a few bags for bulk and produce, and put them to good use right away.

 I tried making a few other handi-snacks such as the tiny cinnamon rolls (above) made with honey, almonds, and flax.  They were super yummy (according to the kids) the first day, but got too hard afterwards.  I just made these with some extra bread dough--but now that I know crackers are way easy I'll stick with those.

I had to dump my first batch of Kombucha, but the second one worked.  I bottled and drank the first today!  I love the G.T.;s brand from the store, but after seeing the "scoby" from my home brew I was more than a little bit scared to taste the stuff (it really looks terrible).  But it was good--and way cheaper than the nearly $4.00 a bottle I was splurging on once a week.  I got almost 4 bottles from my half gallon jug, which is enough for me right now.  Rob has so far not been willing to even try it--but maybe I'll wear him down.  I bottled some of it in beer bottles from Rob's home brew beer supply and was mid-bottle when I realized we had to leave for Wylie's dulcimer lesson (more on this later).  I was half way to the car, bottle in hand when I realized I shouldn't drive with a beer bottle in my cup holder--even if it didn't contain beer.  Maybe next time I'll just use Ball jars.

Not related:

The chicks are getting big fast and have begun jumping out of their enclosure (this leads to an alarming amount of peeping from all chicks--sufficient for us to rush to the mud room to find the escapee).  We've been trying to contain them by balancing a jacket on a tall boot draped over the top--despite how it sounds this was not a bad solution.  But this afternoon I found an old piece of netting and was able to replace the jacket with this (still held aloft by the boot) and hold it in place with bungee cords.   I realize they will need something else to live in soon.  We've been planning on building them a separate chick enclosure in part of the chicken run as soon as they can move outside.  But with the forecast of snow (arrhhg!) this weekend it sounds like it may be a while.

Also Rob was away for a couple of days for work (bummer) --but came home with an 8 foot steel gate for our garden  (yay!).  This may not be every girl's idea of a great gift, but I am psyched.  It is silver and backed with fencing (to keep out said chickens) and I love it.  Unfortunately it is 2 feet too short--but the fence is not up yet, so we'll just move one of the posts a bit.  I use the term we loosely here, and in most matters of hard physical labor. (ie.  we cut all our own firewood, we cleared the land ourselves, we'll be putting up the fencing any day now...)  My friend Jenny reminded me recently that good management is crucial to any job well done.  I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Homeschool Tuesday: Slimy Worm Project

A few weeks ago, when it seemed like spring might actually be arriving in here in Maine (unlike the past week where temps have barely reached 40 at noon) we transplanted these babies into the cold frame.  This may not have been the best move for them, and the jury is still out as to whether or not they'll make it.  Juniper is optimistic--me a little less so.  

While we were at it the kids found some earthworms.  Its amazing how exciting a worm or bug can be when you haven't seen one (minus the occasional spider or moth) for months.  They kids were thrilled and launched into all kinds of big plans for the worms.

We of course had to table all plans until the next day as we had an appointment to make (isn't that always the way?) but fortunately their enthusiasm carried into the next day and we launched into the:

So far our exploration has consisted of reading a few good books about worms, drawing pictures of our worms, studying their anatomy and doing a few wormy experiments as seen below.  The small worm seemed to prefer the oranges--though may have been hiding under them, the big worm went back and forth between the two and decided on the coffee grounds.  

The two worms also had a race to see who could burrow the fastest.  I'm not sure the big one knew it was a race and he took his time--but the small one was less than 30 sec. Pretty fast for a worm.  

Other questions the kids have that we hope to explore this week (barring any further fevers) are:  
Can worms climb?  
What is a worm's defense mechanism? (This is actually how Wylie phrased it--that kid kills me sometimes)
Do worms ever carry light sabers?  Hmmm....
Can worms swim?
Where does the slimy stuff come from?  

In case the suspense is killing you I'll try to remember to post the answers as we find them.  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Put Some Pants on That Kid

I try not to post too many nakey baby shots, for obvious reasons, but you may have noticed that most of the time Kale is sans pants.  Since he was born we've been practicing elimination communication (E.C.) part time, and really its much easier to do this when baby is not wearing pants.  I don't typically talk about this unless asked-- lest I be labeled as that iconic stay-at-home-mom who cannot have a conversation without bringing up her children's sleeping and voiding patterns--but, we've had such a nice experience with this I figured it warrants a post.

If you don't know about E.C., there's tons of information on the web and on forums, and in progressive parenting magazines.  I don't claim to be any kind of E.C. expert, and actually cringe a bit at the label involved.  I'm really bothered by how being in tune with your baby can suddenly become a market for labels and all kinds of gear you "need".  While really I'm all for mainstreaming anything that will improve the parent child attachment, I am taken aback by the commercialism attached to E.C., babywearing, co-sleeping, and extended breast feeding.  Basically E.C. is watching your baby and becoming aware of when he/she is going to pee or poop, and putting him in an appropriate place to do it.  It is not early potty training as it puts no demands or expectations on the infant/toddler.

When I first heard of some parents in our area doing this I will be honest and say I thought, "sure, as if we need anything else to worry about as parents."  It was as if they were upping the good parent ante and I was sure I would not be playing along.  But, by the time I was pregnant with Kale I had met several other parents who were also doing it and I got to see their kids playing happily, without diapers.
Now, I'll just mention here, that some cloth diapers are sleek and trim (we actually bought some GroBaby Diapers during this 3rd pregnancy that are just that--and we love them) but, the diapers we used for the first two kids were definitely not.  This seems to be the norm for cloth.  In their diapers, both Juniper and Wylie  looked like they were 5 lbs larger than they really were until they were out of diapers at between 2 and 3 yrs. old.  I actually think their diapers made it hard for them to move.  It may be easier to sit up in a big puffy cloth diaper, but it must certainly inhibit rolling and climbing.  Disposable diapers do not have this drawback, but have other obvious drawbacks such as tons of waste (I won't go into details).  So anyway, when I saw those tiny kids and babies playing without diapers I thought wow, how nice that must feel to them--and really there's not much cuter than a tiny little baby bum in baby pants, without the big diaper in the way.

So, when I was pregnant with Kale I read a couple of books on the subject, and found out that my sister was also doing some part time E.C. with my niece in WA State.  I decided to give it a try.  When he was 2 days old I held him over our old Baby Bjorn potty shortly after nursing and he pooped.  I was sold.  From then on whenever it seemed like he needed to poop I'd hold him over the potty or preferably the toilet and he'd go.  Now I won't go into all kinds of nasty detail here (because really I've typed more about poop so far than I ever thought I would) but let me say it is way easier to do this than to clean up a poopy diaper--particularly for a girl (wish I'd tried this with Juniper).

Some people practice E.C. all the time and never use diapers.  Kale was in diapers all the time except when he needed to poop, until he was about 5-6 months old.  Then we started giving him opportunities to pee as well.   He is typically diaper-less for about half the day, and only at home.  Any time I am feeling to distracted we just put a diaper on him and don't worry about it.  Night times he always wears a diaper. While some babies will reliably signal that they need to pee, Kale does not usually tell us when he needs to go unless asked.  He loves to pee outside.

Why am I sharing this?  It is certainly not in order to up the parenting ante as was my first impression. None of us need that. I'm sharing because I actually think it is easier!  We wash a lot fewer diapers, and even cleaning up pee on the floor (which does happen) is quicker than doing a load of diapers.  Also, we seldom have to pin him down to put a diaper on him.  I remember this being one of the most challenging (physically and emotionally) times throughout the day with my first two children.  From the time they could crawl they would shriek and roll and yell while I tried to hold them down with one hand and diaper them with the other.  We've all been there (right?).

Another thing is that this experience has really changed my point of view about diapers.  I never considered diapers before this-- they were just what babies wore.  But people don't use diapers for their puppies.  They watch their behavior and offer them an appropriate place when it looks like its time.  Babies are not puppies, I know, but really when you think of it shouldn't we offer our babies as much respect as our dogs (and not make them sit in waste half the day).  And many places in the world don't use diapers and never have.  Now that it is no longer intimidating, the idea of not needing a diaper is so freeing to me.  I used to panic if all the diapers were dirty, or if we were out and about and I suddenly realized we had no extra diaper.  Having an understanding of Kale's rhythms allows me to be more relaxed and see diapers as a very handy convenience, but not an absolute necessity.

I'm honestly not trying to sell elimination communication.  Everyone needs to do what works best for their family.  But I did want to share that this is something that we tried, tentatively at first, and now on a regular basis, that has become a very natural, normal part of our lives.  And in hind sight I can say I wish I had done it with my first two.  Kale seems pretty happy with it too.  

Just putting it out there.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Maine Maple Syrup Sunday

Don't forget this weekend is Maine Maple Syrup Sunday.  Here's a link to some sap houses in Maine that will be participating:


The View from Here

This is a moment for sharing , inspired by SouleMama's "This Moment".
In her words,  "A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It Must Be Spring

10 Signs that it really is spring:  

1.  Swinging in the rain.

2.  Puddles!

3.  A wooded path, almost free of snow.

4.  Light-weight, short-sleeve knits. This was done in a silk-cotton blend whose label I lost a while ago.  It is a top down, cap sleeved tee that came out a bit smaller than planned (I just used the one skein I had).  Fortunately there's a new niece to arrive any day now, who I'm sure can use it when it no longer fits Kale (which looks like soon).

5.  Laundry on the line.  In an earlier post I mentioned my dislike of laundry.  I will admit to a certain joy in hanging it out on the line (though taking it in is not nearly as rewarding).

6.  Planting in the cold frame.

7.  The deck becomes a part of the house again.

8. Bikes.  Kale got a seat for my bike, so we can all ride together now.  More on this later---I'll just say we're loving it!

9.  Chickens outside.  (We offer to let them out in the winter--but usually they don't want to come.)

10. Eggs in our nest:  On the first day of spring each year the little birds about our house lay candy eggs in the nest for the kids to find.

One more sign of spring arrived today:

Happy Spring!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Waste Not

If you read Wylie's News (my son's newspaper) you already know about the Johnson family and their Zero Waste Home policy.  I've been reading their blog and am inspired to make some changes around here as well.  Nothing as drastic as zero waste, but certainly less waste seems do-able.

I typically do shop in bulk for a lot of our grains, chocolate chips, oils, and maple syrup. Our local Coop is great for this.  But I hardly ever  bring my own containers (out of shear laziness and disorganization).  So, I'm making an effort to bring my own (re-used) plastic bags and canning jars to refill each week, as well as sewing a few cloth bags for grains.  My mom recently gave me a cloth grocery bag with slots intended for wine bottles; this works great to transport jars for refilling, and keeps them from clanking around and breaking.  I read that mesh laundry bags are great for veggies, so I may pick up a few of those next time I see them.

Another change I'm making is to buy fewer "snacks".  I always try to feed my kids what I consider, real, whole foods. Sometimes this includes all natural or organic crackers and granola bars.  These are not only expensive, but are excessively packaged.  I am trying to buy less of these things and instead offer more fruit and nuts for snacks.  We've been enjoying what I call "super snacks", a kind of homemade Lara Bar of dates, almonds, coconut, flax, sometimes some chocolate chips, and a dash of maple syrup all food processed and rolled into bite size balls.  I keep them in the freezer and try to pack a few for the car if I know we'll be out and about for the day.  These are really yummy, and they fill us up so we don't need to keep snacking on empty calories.

I've been making our own yogurt and granola for a couple of years (cheaper and much less packaging), and am now brewing my first batch of Kombucha (so far its too early to tell if its working out--I'll keep you posted.)

In addition Rob and I have been clearing out anything we don't use or need.  He has always been very good at this, me not so much.  But so far progress has been made.  I've got three large bags full of clothes for Good Will and we've already made 3 different trips to drop off extra kitchen stuff, toys and games, and outer wear that doesn't fit anyone in the house.  I suppose this is really just spring cleaning, but it feels good.  I'd like to give away a lot more before my attitude changes and I start waxing nostalgic about that dress that I haven't worn since high school (really, even if I could fit into it would look ridiculous on a 30 something mom of three).

I also just watched the documentary "No Impact Man" available to watch instantly on Netflix.  Having lived rurally all my life I was astounded at how little connection this guy, Collin had with the environment--even being a self proclaimed environmentalist.  I mean I know lots of people don't appreciate the connection between humans and the rest of nature, but I didn't realize how little connection some people understood.  There's a part at the end when he realizes that the changing of seasons is marked by changes in the Earth and food--not just in turning the page on a calendar, aha!  I can't even remove myself enough from my experiences to realize that people live that way--without noticing the seasons I mean.  It makes N.Y. City sound like a different planet.  I feel so blessed to have had the opportunities to live surrounded by nature, and to raise my children with that knowledge and experience.

That aside, the documentary was very good.  It was cool to see a family who had, before their experiment, been living a highly consumptive life, change so drastically.  And, even though they went back to a lot of their old ways at the end of the year they chose to keep some things.  I thought there was a real turning point somewhere in the middle when Collin realizes that there are alternatives to seeking comfort and luxury in sustainable ways (ie. solar power) and its not all about giving up what you love.  I do feel like he could have done some more research ahead of time and made his entire project much more enjoyable--but maybe less notable as well.  Impact aside, I also appreciated the honesty shown between Collin and his wife.  There were a few scenes where they had some pretty weighty discussions and I loved that they kept these in the film.

So, if you haven't seen it, do.  Its worth it, and good to knit to.  Then check out Zero Waste Home, and join me in reducing some waste.  I'd love to hear some more ideas on practical ways to do this.  I noticed Crunchy Chicken was asking for recipes for homemade cleaning supplies and toiletries recently.
Hopefully she'll post the results soon.  If you have any favorites I'd like to hear them.

Post script  I do realize that many people in the city appreciate and understand these connections, and that in many ways urban living provides more opportunities for living sustainably as a community.  I honestly am only expressing my shock at his realization--not any criticism of city life.

Early Spring Haiku

Through the ice and mud
does the ever warming light
reach the torpid frog?


Barred owl with owlets
Do the neighbors bring you soup?
Whoo, whoo cooks for you?


Rainbows are special
They are made with rain and sun
I like the purple part best.

                                 - Juniper

MP3 player
It plays music that I love
You will need earphones.

                           - Wylie

I promise we turn the volume very low for his little ears.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Homeschool Tuesday: Toddler Work

While it may not look like work to some it certainly is to him.  Of course he does it when he wants, how he wants, which, more often than not involves throwing.
(I'm too busy ducking to take pictures of the throwing.)

And he works extremely hard.

Off Topic:  Who knew a bunt pan could be so appealing?

Friday, March 11, 2011

The View from Here

This is a moment for sharing , inspired by SouleMama's "This Moment".
In her words,  "A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Homeschool Tuesday: Math and Mud

Over the years we've developed a few math activities that we really enjoy.   The key for us is if they can be used in several different ways, by various abilities.  

1.  Hundred's Chart:  
When the kids were 5 and 3 there was a bumper crop of acorns.  

We started collecting them for fun, and ended up using them on a hundred chart.  We hot glued the acorns and the kids helped me write the numbers.   In hindsight I would make the chart 1-100 instead of 0-99, and may do so on the back.  The acorns have long since fallen off,  but we still use the board for reference, and for homemade board games.

2.  Counting Stones:  A second favorite is this collection of numbered beach stones.  These have been casually collected over the past few summers and numbered with a Sharpie marker-pen.  The kids use them for all kinds of activities (number order, evens and odds, skip counting, patterns, sorting, etc).  They are also smooth and pleasing just to hold.

3. Sorting Animals:  These tiny animals were a gift one year from my sister.  Not sure where they came from, but they are perfect for math and other play. We've used them for sorting, adding, multiplication, visual/mental math, and all kinds of pretend play.

4.  Corners Cards:  One of our new favorites are these cards, which came as a set from "Right Start".  They are officially the "corners game" but Wylie has been having fun making up his own games.  

We also use our Abacus from Right Start all the time, and it has been really helpful (especially to me) in learning visual/mental math.  

Mud:  This has nothing to do with math, but the weather was so nice we opted for playing in the mud instead. We realized Kale has never played in mud before.  Yeah spring!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Goldbug and other crafts

We've really been crazy about Goldbug around here lately.  For Christmas we got Kale Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, because he loves cars, trucks and all things that go.

But, turns out, that while he does love all of the diggers, dumpers, motorcycles, etc. in the book, his favorite part of the book is Goldbug.

He is hidden somewhere on each page, sometimes driving his own little vehicle, other times with just his tiny gold eyes peeking out from somewhere.  And, I kid you not, this baby can find him every time!  It is pretty darn funny to see.

So, the other day I made him this tiny little Goldbug of his own.  It's needle felted, and tiny, so it only took about 15 minutes. Wylie has been hiding it for Kale to find, and we've all enjoyed setting Goldbug up in funny little places.  The kids want me to make Kale a bigger Goldbug to sleep with at night, but I think half of the appeal is his tininess.  We'll see.

Unrelated,  I've also recently finished some long awaited projects:

I've been thinking about how to knit a brimmed hat for a while, and came up with this.  I basically knit a regular hat, folded the ribbing in front, and picked up stitches for the bill.  I knit the bill with two strands of yarn together, on the same size needle, to make it a bit more stiff.  I'm thinking of maybe sewing in a lining on the bottom of the bill to make it even more sturdy.  However, once I start wearing something I hardly ever get back to working on it.  This was knit in Peace Fleece, which I love-- purchased our local yarn shop, Heavenly Socks Yarns.

The sweater is the oatmeal pullover, found here. Knit in Cascade's Ecological Wool.

And, I finally got to these, fully lined pants, made completely from scraps. I cut them out months ago, but got to sew them last weekend.   He's been wearing them everyday.  I'm hoping to make a few more pairs, reversible for spring.  These were made without a pattern, inspired by these.
Thats all for now.