29 December 2011

Making Applesauce

SO - this post is about two months late.

We're on vacation (hooray for grad school winter break!) at the Davis Enclave and I have a moment to clean up my computer files.  Read:  I'm sick in bed and I'm bored out of my mind.  So I'm tidying up iPhoto and I came across our little photo shoot that the girls and I did when we canned our first batch of applesauce ever.

So, without any more boring introduction, here's what we did:

Washing the Apples

Olivia and her fancy pose.

I have no idea what is happening here.

Cutting up the apples to cook.

Elsie and her table knife. 
Also, I have no idea why she is wearing two shirts.

All the pots a'boiling.

PLUS these apples, too.  Not cooking yet.

Olivia (wo)mans the food mill.

The food mill is amazing. 
I cooked the whole apple and this baby sorted out the nasty bits.

Yum.  I guess I forgot to take a photo of the final product.  I know there must be one somewhere, but I suppose in all the hurry to can those babies quickly for fear of botulism, I forgot to document.  Oh, well.
Needless to say, the girls love it.  They won't eat store made applesauce, which is bad, because we don't have enough to last until the new season.  Come over before its all gone.  Next year, we're making 4 bushels.

16 December 2011


I love eggs.

There's no doubt about it - even if I have two dozen in the refrigerator, if I see an interesting dozen at the grocery (our local Big Girl Chickens sells theirs with green ones!), I'll buy it.  Then I'll sit and think of ways to use them.

The egg spectrum, as manifested in my refrigerator...

My favorite eggs are from happy chickens.  That may be a bit anthropomorphic, but what I mean are chickens who are allowed to be chicken-y.  Scratch around for bugs and seeds.  Run around and squawk at each other.  Go outside in the sun or stay cozy in the shade at their leisure.

My favorite chickens live in Berea, Kentucky.  My friend Jessica tends them as part of her work at college.  When the girls and I went to visit earlier this fall, we got to meet them.  And pet them.  And buy two dozen of their eggs.  The yolks were literally orange, they were that full of vitamin A.  These chickies could eat grass and be in the sun.  And their eggs were that much more nutritious.  Without any sort of human intervention, like adding Omega-3s to their food or whatever.

Aside from the eating part is the fact that eggs hold so much potential.  They, given the proper conditions, could grow into another living thing.

So here's a little photo ode to eggs.  Glory in their perfection, in all its forms!

It's like the Italian flag.  In egg form.
I love speckled ones!

Can you find the tiny feather?

From long and skinny to fat fat fat.
So the next time you scramble, fry, poach, coddle, or whisk your eggs into another wonderful dish, take a moment to appreciate them. 

And the chicken who made them.  

14 December 2011

Holiday Shenanigans

I've seen and heard a lot of talk about "political correctness" and saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" recently.  Of course, much of it stems from the general feeling that "other people" are "taking over" "our country" - rhetoric that any student of history can identify as accompanying a general feeling of unrest in any given culture.  The truth is, our country is - and always has been - a big ol' stew of folks - forget the melting pot.  We aren't melting into one glop of homogeny, we are a tasty mix of potatoes and carrots and meat.  Or beans, if you're a vegetarian.

Anyhow, all of this has come to the surface around Christmastime - which, as it is celebrated here, is itself a big ol' stew of pagan and Celtic and German and Roman (to name a few) traditions.  Those, topped with a lovely helping of consumer frenzy (do you remember when "Black Friday" was a term reserved for those familiar with retail-ese?).  It is also, of course, Solstice-time and Hanukkah-time and Kwanzaa-time (no Eid this year).

And guess what?  We celebrate all four of those holidays.

Primarily because we don't really celebrate any of them.

Confused?  I was.

It started when I was little.  My family (read: mom and dad), bless 'em, were members of the Baha'i Faith.  The Baha'is have an entirely separate set of Holy Days, and none of them happen to fall around the beginning of winter.  However, growing up in the United States, specifically the Midwest, I found myself to be a little Baha'i bobbing around in a sea of mostly Christmas-celebrating peers.  While my friends' families were setting up the delicious-smelling Christmas tree, and baking equally delicious-smelling cookies, decorated in an assortment of brightly-colored frostings (yum!), were were not.  No Christmas lights for us, no wreath...  nothing.  Our house was a dim spot on the corner in an otherwise gaily-lit town.  When people asked me what Santa would bring, I would never really know what to say.  What would Santa bring to a heathen? 

Enter: Gramma.  An important principle in the Baha'i teachings is that of unity - especially among the family - and so my parents would celebrate Christmas with our extended families.  We would go over to my dad's mother's house for a brief stint, but the real fun was at my mom's mother and father's house.  My grandmother was (and is) a teacher, and so she really knew how to relate to little children.  We could decorate the tree there and help gather greens for a wreath and my grandpa would build a fire and we would leave cookies for Santa and stay up late to see a) if we could hear Santa on the roof or b) if we could figure out exactly HOW our Gramma got those presents under the tree.

My cousin and I always contrived to catch/disprove Santa.  One year, my cousin and I stayed up (we took shifts) to wait for Santa, and, late in the night, we actually heard some rustling in the direction of the living room AFTER we had SEEN our Grandma and Grandpa go to bed.  Excitedly (and frankly, a little trepidatiously), we tiptoed to the living room, only to find my uncles putting up a computer in the study.  Our presents from SANTA (for some reason, Santa always wrote his name in capital letters, like he was trying to disguise his handwriting or something) were already under the tree.  Foiled again!

Anyhow, for a little Baha'i kid, I didn't really miss out all that much on the Christmas action, although it always rankled a bit to know that my cousins got more presents than I did.  I knew that if we had celebrated Christmas at home, we would have double the presents, and so I was always a little bitter that my parents had chosen to shift their beliefs.  Not only that, but no one else in our family was a Baha'i, and so we were really the odd ones out.  I don't think anyone approved, either, except maybe my grandmother, and only because she wanted to preserve the family unity.  We were definitely weirdos, and no one wants that, especially a little kid.

Needless to say, it always felt a little off to be celebrating a holiday that we didn't actually celebrate.  The Baha'i time of gift-giving (Ayyam-i-Ha) is in February, before the Baha'i New Year (yeah, we've got a different one of those, too), and it was always a little anti-climactic, since we were the only ones in our family celebrating it.  My parents did their very best to make it seems really special - we had an Ayyam-i-Ha Camel who would leave presents.  Sometimes it would leave presents in laundry baskets.  One year, when I asked for some Honey Nut Cheerios (my mom never bought us sugar cereal, either.  Man - we were lepers!), I was excited and then disappointed to find that it had brought me what looked like a box of the cereal but was in fact some "Get in Shape, Girl" weighted exercise bangles.  What was that all about?  My wrists were weak?  My hands were fat?  Gee whiz!  Santa would have never brought me that - maybe these gift-giving folk need to have a convention or something, and share pointers.

Fast-forward to the present.  I have two children, and ever since the first one was born, I have been acutely aware of the way that we present this Holiday Season.  First of all, there is a huge deluge of Christmas-themed things everywhere.  Walk into Target the day after Thanksgiving, and you'll think you missed a whole month or something, with all the decorations for Christmas.  The television is rife with mentions of Christmas (have you ever seen a Hanukkah special?  I think that there is one, and it stars Adam Sandler.), and kind people ask us at the library or the bank or the grocery store or wherever we go what Santa is bringing the girls for Christmas.  There's no escape!

I needed a strategem, and quick.  Help came in the form of some dear friends - Baha'is, whose family is Jewish - who invited us to celebrate Hanukkah with them.  Slowly, an idea began to form.  We would celebrate and recognize every holiday, but with a twist - we wouldn't celebrate them at home, but we would celebrate them with other people.  That way, the association wouldn't be about the presents (at least, we hope not), but with friends and togetherness.  This association has become even more acute after our recent move.  My girls are Chicago girls, and their friends mostly live there.  We have yet to build those friendships with children here, and so it is a special treat to see our friends.

By now, my girls have it down.  We celebrate Hanukkah with Ma'ani and his family, we celebrate Christmas with Go Go Betty ("great grandma Betty," in two year-old speak), and we celebrate Kwanzaa with the cousins.  We have a good old school friend who is Muslim, and we know that she celebrates Eid at the end of Ramadan (only that won't be in the winter here for a few years), and we celebrate the Solstice as the first day of Winter, Olivia's favorite season.  We know that we have many friends who celebrate Christmas, but we also know that we have many friends who don't, and that takes the burden of isolation off of my little girls.

But the best part is that we also know that we have our very own special Holy Days - ones that we celebrate at home AND with friends - and I have tried to fight the tide of images by bringing out some of our own - making our own family traditions (there's a lot of leeway in the Baha'i Faith for commemorating Holy Days, it being a relatively new religion and all, plus that world-embracing vision thing means that celebrations can be culturally-specific).  We go all out - special tablecloths, special foods, special themes and flowers and decorations.  All of this to help build a strong identity as a world citizen.

And I think that is what is called for today - a sense of appreciation.  We know that we aren't the only people on this earth, and we know that God has lovingly created every single person on this earth, and endowed each person with unique capacities and faculties.  This is our role, then, as citizens of a tiny planet, itself bobbing in a sea of space.  We must learn to celebrate and appreciate our differences, because we know that - underlying them all - is a similarity, a oneness, of the human experience.

So, I say to you:

Merry Christmas
Happy Hanukkah
Joyous Kwanzaa
and Hooray for Solstice!

13 December 2011

Making Cheese

I once read that a real woman makes her own cheese.

I don't know about the validity of that statement, but I am happy to say that I have entered the cheese-making arena.

I ordered a little kit from the amazing Ricki the Cheese Queen this past summer and the girls and I tried our hands at the creation of some soft cheeses.  We made cow mozarella and goat chevre.  Yum!  We knew what went into it, and it all tasted so good!

We are going to make some mozarella today, and in that spirit, here are a few photos from our first foray into cheese-land this past summer, at Ganni and Poppa's house:

Heating the milk

After we add the culture, the curds begin to form

Our cheesecloth, ready and waiting!

Ladling the cheese curds into the colander

Kutuh comes to help!

Gathering the cheesecloth

Ready to hang!

Olivia helps to "milk" it


Elsie wants to poke it, too...

Our chevre, hanging over the sink.

Getting ready for batch #2

It's Kutuh's turn


Olivia takes a break for a jump.

Draining the whey from the curd

More draining.

Olivia sneaks some dripping whey.

Jessica doesn't even try to sneak.
Notice the whey dripping from the bottom.

You are going to be so good!
Whey to go...

09 December 2011

Mama Love

Recently, my girls and I drove to LouHelen Baha'i School in Davison, Michigan, for a weekend course on Environmental Stewardship.

We met up with some dear friends, and we had a little photo shoot prior to our departure.

This is my favorite of me and the girls from that roll:

Sweet, right?  But, notice all the outtakes needed to get a (semi)sweet shot:

Elsie seemed determined to eat my face.  Oh, well.  I think I have actually bitten both of my children (accidentally), trying to nibble those cheeks.  I suppose it's only fair that they have a turn.

07 December 2011

A Little Bit of Sacrifice

I've started doing yoga again!  By which I mean that I woke up this morning and practiced for two whole sun salutations (with variations!). 

Well, everyone has to start (again) somewhere, right?

I suppose I'm used to myself by now, after 31 years, but every now and then I get a little disappointed with my erratic habits.

For instance (don't be grossed out), but sometimes I forget to brush my teeth.  When I remember (and if I'm not in bed under the comforter where it's warm or busy typing a blog entry), I'll do it, but I'm not the kind of person who can't sleep knowing that she's forgotten something like that.

Don't judge.

I think that adding first a child and then children to the mix didn't help much, either.  What with the needs of little ones added to the needs of everyone else (read: husband), my daily maintenance got pushed to the back burner.

Fortunately, I don't think I'm the only one.  Well, that's fortunate only for my own ego, I guess.  It's no good when a bunch of mothers (or fathers) neglect personal needs in lieu of the needs of others.  Right?

But there must be something to this - I'm sure that you have heard the story of the single mother who, for the sake of the education and benefit of her child ended up working two jobs to make sure that her son made it through college.  That son is aware of this and is ever-grateful.

You may also have heard the joke about mamas and black stretch pants.  No?  Maybe that's a city thing - where the uniform for mothers is a baggy top and comfortable pants - in stark contrast to the helled boots, skinny jeans, and for.  (At least these days they're called yoga pants, which make them seem a little more respectable than the sweat pants my mother used to have to wear.)  The jeering came from those women (mostly, and sadly) who either didn't have any children OR re-entered the working for pay world very soon after baby's birth, leaving the post-partum comfortable (and happily cuter than ever these days) clothes behind in favor of a smart two-piece blouse and skirt ensemble.

The tricky bit about being a mama is finding the right balance, I suppose.  For some women, that means forsaking personal plans (or at least putting them on hold for a time) in favor of raising a child.  For others, that means demonstrating to the child the value of self-worth by continuing to pursue a chosen career.  And for all, it means a little bit of sacrifice.  No doubt the mother returning to work dreams of staying home and being with her sweet baby all day, being present and wholly enraptured with the everyday goings on.  No doubt the mother staying at home dreams of the time when she can be unconstrained by the will of another and make the choices that suit her alone.

For me, this is the point where I feel as though I'm emerging from the cocoon of infant-raising and stepping out, little by little, into the arena of life again.

And I can see what that little bit of sacrifice has paid for - my children are (relatively) well-adjusted.  I haven't missed a single event (although I do wish for some do-overs).  And I'm in a place where I can serve as my children's first teacher in our little home-school.

So I did some yoga today.  Maybe I'll do some tomorrow, too.  The best part of life is that each day is a new chance, with no mistakes in it (yet).

06 December 2011

Dolly Days, part 2

A friend asked for a tutorial on how to make the sweet little dollies that we did.

I must admit it was definitely a learning curve - a.k.a. wonderful puzzle - that I enjoyed trying to figure out how to do.  And, to make it seem more "official," I took photos of the process, and so I'll be making a little tutorial on how we made ours (and how you can make one, too).  Look soon for that.

But there I go putting the cart before the horse.  First, I wanted to give you a little (almost) done peek at the dollies.  Granted, this is before they had faces or clothes, but you get the picture.  (note: Gramma, if you click on the picture, it should open in a new window and be a little easier to see!)

They still don't have clothes, but at least they can see now.  And smell and talk.  And of course, notice the little ears - that was Olivia's request, because everyone should have the opportunity to hear, if at all possible.


More soon, but I've got another post itching at my brain, and I need to type it out before it goes somewhere else and I forget altogether.

05 December 2011

Dolly Days

Today, we decided to make some dollies.

Inspired by a friend's sweet dolly, courtesy of Warm Sugar on Etsy:

You can purchase these gorgeous little handmade dolls here.

We, however, wanted to do it ourselves, and make them just how we want them, and so we went to the fabric store to get some people colors.  Here's what we found:

Beige for mama, Caramel for Olivia, and Cocoa for Elsie
We made up a little pattern:

Head/torso, leg, & arm
We cut out our pieces:

And sewed and stuffed.

We aren't done yet, but my eyes and hands are tired.  Here's a little preview of what we've done so far (in the terrible overhead light):

Don't worry - tomorrow, with some more stuffing, finished faces, and better lighting, they'll look much more glamorous.
But for now, goodnite!

02 December 2011

Sick Days

How anti-climactic can it get when - after months of preparation and planning - the first day of officially-structured "school" is a sick day?  And, in our case, more like a sick week.

After our long trip to Florida this past week over the Thanksgiving Break, I returned with a wonderful complete schedule for the next few weeks for the girls' homeschool.  Olivia returned with a cold.

And, owing to her loving nature, she has shared that cold with the rest of us.

So we have spent the last few days in the "sick bed" - which is really the girls on the couch-bed in the front room, resting, watching shows and drinking fluids, and me cleaning up after our trip.

(On a side note - how is it that, regardless of the spotless state of one's house before a long trip, during which NO ONE is in the house, the place looks a tornado ran through it after you get home?)

Anyhow, the girls are getting a little better, as evidenced by their rampage through the house this morning, and I'm in bed with a nasty headache.

Oh, well.

Today, I will finish the last bit of tidying (I trust), and preparing the house for winter.  Exciting, I know, but these little things make a big difference.

Look again next week to see how our schooling is going.  Today, I think that if I can finish the tidying early, we'll do a little sewing - it's time for warm pajamas and slippers!

Maybe something like this?



01 December 2011

Little House in the Hills

When I was little, I loved to read Laura Ingalls Wilder's books in the Little House series.  I loved hearing about her mother and father and sisters and the goings-on of every day life.  I even recall thinking that the best museums would have little interactive "vignettes," where the patron could see and feel and BE a part of the every day life of different cultures over time.

I suppose that's why I'm am anthropologist.

Anyhow, it wasn't until later that I learned all the rest of the story: that the Ingalls and other settlers weren't moving into uninhabited land; that the U.S. government broke every treaty it signed with the First Nations peoples of this continent; that there was a lot more going on than smoking meat and learning to sew.

However, none of that was suitable for children - which brings me to the present day and my very own children.  And how I'm raising them and teaching them about the world and their role in it.

And how - interestingly - we have moved from a big old city to a little (old) town in southern Indiana, and how I'm going to pretend to be a homesteader with a (real) cultural world-view and grow my own Swiss chard.  And my kids are going to learn about West African dance and Cherokee-style basket weaving and to speak Chinese and Spanish and about the native plants in Southern Indiana and the lives of Indiana farmers.

So from here, on, dear readers, we will begin the journey of a homeschooling mama and her two little kidlets.


It began when Nathan applied for graduate school.  Immediately, I was searching Craigslist for suitable housing in four different localities and had four plans of actions for every contingency.  Well, five, actually, including the possibility that we would stay where we were, but I didn't think that would happen, simply because this change of pace for him just seemed right.

When we found out that we would be moving to Indiana (Indiana?!), I started in on the schools.  Olivia had been in a wonderful Montessori school in Evanston - Chiaravalle - and under the wings of Molly and Kate she had really blossomed into an independent and articulate child.  Well, she may have already been articulate, but the independence espoused in the Montessori philosophy was wonderful.  So there was a high standard to be met by the schools in Bloomington.

I didn't even think that there would be any difficulty transferring her to the Montessori school here - my biggest concern was whether it would be as wonderful as Chiaravalle.  Well, I needn't have worried.  There wasn't even room in the Bloomington Montessori school for my sweet child.  Apparently, one may place his or her child on the waiting list at the moment s/he is born and there must have been a lot of children born in Olivia's year.  We received a package containing a note saying that we were on the waiting list and a copy of a book entitled How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way, which explained how to implement Maria Montessori's methods into the home.

It was at that moment that the idea entered my head that perhaps I could teach my own children at home, using the Montessori curriculum.  The idea was only the size of a tiny seed, but we all know what a seed can do.

I had already explored the other options available to us:  Harmony School (a democratic school), the Project School (a charter school) and of course the local public school.  Both Harmony and the Project School were full, and we didn't know much about Templeton, our local school, except that the building was brick and there weren't many windows.  I decided that I would move forward on the homeschooling idea, and so began to plan.

When I had just started, we moved.  And we moved in with my in-laws for the summer, meaning unlimited Ganni and Poppa time as well as unlimited cousin time (my sister-in-law lives right down the street).  So that was about two months of distractions.

Then I got sick.  Really sick with a nasty virus (read: no medication).

And then we moved again.  This time to Bloomington.  And I was still sick.

Then I had to unpack our house.  In a week and a half.

Then we had to go to IKEA.

Then Nathan started school.

Then - well, as you can see, things were a little distracting.  I was worried because I didn't have the materials set up for Olivia's school yet.  And it was school time.  Ack!

So - after a final plea to each of the schools on our list - and a final denial from each - Nathan and I decided on a whim to try Templeton.  I went in to see how things looked from the inside (my windowless impression had only been an outside one, you see).  There were still few windows, and when I explained to the very nice lady in the office that we had a daughter and asked what the school was like, I learned that it was a Title something-or-other school (Title 1?  I don't remember).  I suppose that was supposed to mean something to me, but it didn't.  I also learned that they had a multi-age classroom, which sounded promising.  Oh, but that was full.  If I enrolled Olivia she would be in a classroom with twenty-four other students and one teacher.  I said I would think about it.

I did, and Olivia was so excited about the possibility of school that I said we would try it.  She could go half-day and see what she thought.  She tried it and liked it enough to go back the second day.  But when the third day rolled around, she voiced her concern:  she couldn't go to recess.  She couldn't play with her classmates because she was a half-day student and left right before recess.  In fact, she got in line to go to recess every day but had to leave the line at the front office and wait for me, watching her could-be friends march outside to the playground.

I marched into that office and asked if she could stay for recess.  Could I pick her up a little later? No.  What if I picked her up and took her to the playground myself?  No.  She wouldn't be permitted on the school grounds if she wasn't in school.

What?  Is she a little criminal?  In jail?

Harumphed, I went home.  Nathan and I didn't want Olivia in school all day long - the school day was seven hours long and there was only one recess - and that was only 20 minutes long.  To add to all the numbers was my little five year-old.  Who really wanted to play.

So, we decided to try it.  The next week, she started as a full day-er.  The nice office lady almost squealed when I say she'd be in full-day.  Like that was some sort of prize.  Conspiracy?  I think so.

Anyhow, my radical thoughts notwithstanding, Olivia trooped out of bed at 7 every morning (against her usual 9ish time), got ready, walked to the bus stop, took the bus, and came home bedragled.  It was only the first day, so we tried again.  Again, a cranky and crotchety five-year-old was my prize at the end of a long day.  I thought that we should give it a week.  If she didn't spruce up, we'd try something else.

At the end of the school day at Chiaravalle, Olivia didn't want to leave.  She'd get in the car and say to me, "Mama!  Did you know that three tens is thirty?"  She would ask to go to school on Saturday.  This in sharp contrast to my Templeton Tiger, who was dragging in the morning, didn't want to talk about school, and brought home worksheets that asked her to sort items by color.  One day, when we were singing a little song about patience (it's hard to be patient when you're 2 or 5 or 31), she said, "Mom, I'm going to sing this song to the kids in my classroom at school, because they don't listen very well in line and are hitting each other."  Excuse me?  My five year-old has to enforce courtesy?  Where is the teacher?

The last straw came when we received a letter from the teacher.  It explained the curriculum for the year and introduced the teacher to us.  And it said that never in her 13 years teaching Kindergarten has she had such a work-based curriculum - she said that she would do her best to "work in" play time and other activities.  Essentially, reading between the lines, we saw that our child's teacher thought that the new standards were crap.

Enough was enough.  I just needed a reason to pull my baby out of that place, and this letter did it.  We left the school supplies of tissues and pencils and crayons and took that little girl home.

It was fun and exhilarating - I got to play my mama card.

But after that excitement wore off, I was left with the plain fact that I didn't know what to do next.  I hadn't done any preparation.  I had a few books and I had seen the Montessori classroom and materials.  None of which I had.  So I began to cast about for some sort of something to help me figure out this dilemma.

It finally came when I met a friend at the farmer's market.  We were waiting in line for bacon and eggs.  I don't know how we did it, but a conversation sprang up.  She was new to the area.  She had three girls (2, 4, and 7).  She was homeschooling.  Too.  For the first time.  Too.

We hung out.  We talked about curriculum.  About how homeschooling is not the same as school-schooling.  How we aren't trying to recreate the classroom, but to make the classroom the world.  How every day experiences are learning opportunities.  Things began to take shape.  My brain started to function again.  Ideas swirled around in my rather cavernous-feeling head and congealed into clouds.  Olivia and I had a little brainstorming session together to figure out what she wanted to learn.  I had begun to water that seed.

So that's where we are now.  My poor little homeschool seed is just beginning to peek its little shoot out of the ground.  But at least it's growing.  We've set up a daily schedule.  Olivia is taking piano lessons and we go to the library and WonderLab once a week.  We've instituted some home "school" rules and home "home" rules.  After the winter break, we will be starting up our official math again.

Looking back on the past three months, this first session was really about determining our assets and needs.  The whole time, I was lamenting not having a structure or a curriculum or a degree.  But my girls were learning about our new home, our environment, our town, and our food.  We took field trips to farms and met our farmers through our CSA shares.  We learned about bees and kettle corn at the farmer's market.  We practiced organization and discipline in setting up our new house and the girls' classroom.  And we discovered the seasons with our leaf collection, yard work, and preparing the house for winter.

Now, with winter coming, it's time to settle in.  We're snuggling down for the snow.  On the horizon are some exciting projects:  embroidery and sewing, knitting, reading and writing, counting and measuring, bread baking and cookie making.

Maybe we're not the Ingalls, but this Little House is ready for what's next!