Monday, April 30, 2012

An Apartment Building

When Evan was around two, he had an incredible experience. One of his small animal figures spoke to him for the first time. It was a little dog, I think. I do not remember what the dog said, but it surely asked Evan a question of some sort. I am not certain why, but Evan's little animals had never spoken to him before this...maybe they were shy, or maybe they did not know that Evan could speak back.

In any case, Evan was completely shocked. He stared at the little dog with an utterly confused expression on his face. He looked back and forth between the dog and me. And then, oh my! the little dog spoke again, repeated the same question. And Evan pulled himself together enough to give an answer.

It was always interesting to hear the very long, very intense conversations that Evan and his animals would have. He always answered all their questions, helped them with things when they asked and was generally polite and forth-coming. So during those times, when Evan was beginning to show his independence toward me and my husband in the way that two-year-olds do, a little animal was always close by, acting as mediator.

Since that first conversation between Evan and his Little Doggie, we have collected many more animals and we play with them all the time. Evan still loves to hold deep conversations with them, but often they just play together, imagining all varieties of possible worlds.

Last week, when Evan suggested we play with the animals, I had an idea. We have a small set of drawers in which we keep little toys, card games, small balls, and the like. The drawers are packed full...but just as often unpacked and spilled all over the floor. As we were playing with our animals, I noticed several drawers laying empty on their sides and I started to imagine using them as blocks. (After I forced myself to stay put and play rather than compulsively going over to pick them up.)

We built an apartment building. Some of the animals lived together by species, such as the bugs and the camels. The bunny mama lived with her baby and their dog. But many of the apartments were filled with inter-species groups. 

The animals went for walks, then they worked together to build a garden, and they had a picnic. 

The animals visited one another at home or met on the street and stopped to talk.

When Clayton woke up from his nap, he did not even need to sit with me for two minutes before he was ready to join in. (Normally, we have a good long snuggle while he wakes up very slowly.)

We were busy playing for the rest of the afternoon and we came back to the animals again and again for the rest of the week. It is always the games that pull on our imaginations that keep me and my boys the happiest. 

How about you? What inspires you and your little ones? What sorts of worlds do you imagine together? 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Simple Things

It is the little things that make me smile. Here is one from this week...

We cleaned out our pantry yesterday and found a really old spaghetti squash pushed behind mounds of food. I think we have had it since our last CSA season, which ended early last summer because of our drought. That means we have had this squash in the pantry for about nine or ten months.

My heart sank a bit when I caught sight of it back there. I assumed it would be completely rotten, moldy and disintegrated all over the back of the shelf.

I was shocked when I picked it up and it was still firm and solid...and incredibly light.

It was turning into a gourd right in the back of our pantry.

Nature continues to defy my expectations, even now after more than three decades. Especially in this dusty, dry climate of West Texas. I do not know if I will ever get used to it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

This Moment

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. Inspired by SouleMama.

If you are inspired to do the same, leave a link to your post at SouleMama for all to find and see.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Make Your Own Nut Butter

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my love for making food from scratch. Sometimes, this might be more complicated or more time-consuming that buying the items in the store, but most of the time that is not the case. Today I thought I would share a recipe for something that is painfully simple to make at home.

Homemade Nut Butter

I like my nut butter simple. Actually, I like most everything this way. Maybe this explains at least in part my motivation for making things myself. From food to clothing to electronics, simple things are rarely sold these days. Everything has that extra boost to help it stand out from the ridiculously large pool of competing items. But some things are best with almost nothing added.

I usually make large batches of nut butter - a quart or more - so I start with about three or four cups of nuts. I like to mix different varieties of nuts for a more complex flavor. This also helps me to make nut butter without a lot of planning since I can add whatever I have on hand.

I like my nuts raw and unsalted and I make my nut butter the same way. However, one could very easily roast the nuts before processing them. (Here is a link to instructions for this.) Anything can be added to the nut butter while it is processing as well, including honey or maple syrup, salt, or spices.

1. Add (roasted or raw) nuts to fill your food processor to near the fill line.

2. Turn on the processor and wait. It will be loud and the food processor might bounce around a bit as it cuts through those hard chunks, so do not be scared by the noise. You will have to wait longer than you think at this step. Just let the nuts begin to release their natural oils. Move to the next step when the nuts are uniformly chopped and have begun to break down a little bit.

We have two different food processors, but I love our smaller KitchenAid the most for making nut butter. It has an extremely powerful motor and can yield a much smoother consistency than our Cuisinart.

3. With the processor running, drizzle a few tablespoons of oil through the feed tube. Neutrally flavored oils such as canola or safflower are best. Walnut or other nut oils are wonderful as well, but a lot more expensive. Watch and wait again. You should begin to see the chopped bits of nuts come together into a ball, almost like bread dough.

4. Stop the processor and check on your butter. Add more oil as needed and continue processing. Stop periodically to check for your desired consistency, but just make sure you leave plenty of wait time in between with the motor running because sometimes it takes a bit of processing before the oil really does its work. I have definitely made incredibly oily nut butter a few times when I did not have enough patience to let the processor do its thing. Also, some nuts are much more oily than others, like walnuts, so the amount of oil you add will change greatly depending on the type of nuts you use.

5. When your nut butter reaches the desired consistency, you can add any extra ingredients to the processor and pulse to combine. At this point, you can also add chopped nuts if you like your nut butter chunky.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Parenting as an Introvert

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? I am the former, although I did not really understand this until I was well into adulthood. Our culture values extroversion and equates introversion with shyness, social awkwardness, bookishness. In fact, being introverted has nothing to do with any of these qualities, but instead with a preference for depth and reflection and a need to recharge in moments alone.

I misunderstood myself for much of my life because I was confused about the difference between being introverted and being shy. I was happily a teacher for almost a decade, I am a confident public speaker, and I never mind making conversation with any random stranger. I am definitely not shy, but I often called myself "sort of weirdly shy" to explain why I wanted to sit in the corner with a few friends at parties, why I was uncomfortable with being at the center of formal ceremonies (such as graduations or my wedding), or why I would feel so guilty when I chose to "hide away" by myself at home on a Friday night.

Quiet time in the car.
I remember well when I started to understand myself as an introvert. When I was a high-school teacher, I participated in an event where the students and faculty took the Myers-Briggs test and a speaker worked with groups to talk about the differences as relates to learning styles, career choices and other things. The speaker took several teachers to the front of the room, myself included, to reveal our results to the students. She asked me and another teacher specifically if we were comfortable with this and I remember wondering why she only asked us and not the others. It turns out that we were the only two introverts in the group and she wanted to be sure that we, in particular, were comfortable being put on display.

I was totally surprised that I tested as an introvert. And no, I was not uncomfortable having my results revealed publicly in front of the large group of students and colleagues. But after the initial surprise, understanding myself as an introvert was a huge relief. I learned to accept myself and my need to turn inward. Like most of our society, I had always misunderstood what an introvert was and had undervalued my own need to be alone.

Babywearing as an albeit cumbersome way to have some time "alone."

Now I am a mom and I see this tendency to misunderstand, undervalue or even harshly criticize introverted behavior all the time, so much more than before. Of course, I see it in the way that we raise our children and push them to exhibit extroverted behavior, in school, on the playground, with other adults and with their peers. But that is fodder for another post.

What my legs look like most of the time.
Today I am thinking about the ways we (unknowingly) misjudge or malign introverted behavior in parents. We are encouraged to be engaged with our children at every moment  - to play with them, to teach them, to share our work with them, even to sleep with them. We are criticized all the time when we admit that we needed to close our ears for a minute, to walk in the other room,  to step outside for some quiet sips of coffee and a few breaths. But introverts desperately need these moment inside of our own heads, not connecting with our children or anyone else around us, but simply being alone with our thoughts. And with small children around who will find you, no matter where you go, and who can pull you out, no matter how you try to focus inward, introverted parents almost never have moments to pull themselves together and regain their equilibrium.

A space away inside the hammock. 
Perhaps I am overly sensitive and admittedly I have never been criticized directly, but I read in other posts and particularly in the comments a harsh judgement of parents who feel the need to occasionally disengage from their children. I hear in the words on the screen and in the spaces between the words, that I am wrong to need to step away, that I am harming my child, causing them to feel abandoned, discouraging attachment or whatever you want to call it.

I remember reading a blog post some time back (not sure where) in which the mother admitted that she occasionally hides behind the bed to get a few moments away from her children. The post was followed by a slew of lively commentary, most of the negative variety. People wrote that she must hate being a parent, must hate her children, that she is a terrible mother. But really, I think, she is probably just an introvert looking for a place to be alone for a moment. And you know what...I hide behind the bed too.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A DIY Hanging File Organizer

I finished my project for the Feather Your Nest contest at Stumbles & Stitches. I have been thinking about making this for a long time and it was perfect to have this contest to push me finally to get it out of my head and into reality.

I saw this mail hanging mail organizer a long time ago on Pinterest and wanted to make one for my office. Cute, right? And pretty simple to make.

I wondered how sturdy it would be once it was loaded up with stacks of papers, though. So, I started to think about how I could reinforce it a little. Of course, this complicated the project a bit and since I am fairly new to sewing it took me quite a long time to figure out how to make it work. Here is what I ended up with.

I did not have to buy anything for this project. Between repurposed materials and leftovers from other projects, I had everything I needed. I used some leftover canvas from the placemats the boys made for their grandmother's birthday and a piece of cardboard cut from an old box. The appliqué fabric came from a couple old shirts and from my scrap fabric basket. The ribbon was leftover from the bag I made for my nephew's second birthday.

So, I made the organizer by folding the canvas in thirds. The top two layers were sewn into pockets and in between the two back layers, I inserted the cardboard before sewing it closed.

It is seriously sturdy and ready to be filled. I threw a few things in there just to see what it would look like, but it has room for quite a bit more. The organizer I found on Pinterest was labeled with card stock cards, but I opted to leave the words off of this project. I wanted to try my hand at appliqué and decided to use different animals as symbols: The bunny pocket is for things I need to get to right away. The turtle pocket contains items that can wait a little longer, that will cycle into the bunny pocket a little bit at a time. The beaver pocket is for things that are ready to be filed or otherwise put away.

Hopefully this little project will help me get some papers off of my desk and will motivate me to take care of them rather than allowing them simply to pile up.

Would you use a file system like this one? What do you do to keep your desk clear and your paperwork completed?

Feather Your Nest with Stumbles & Stitches

Monday, April 23, 2012

Seven O'Clock Science: The Water Cycle

We are quite obsessed with rain in our home. We talk constantly about what rain is, where it comes from, what it does for the earth, the plants, for us. My husband and I field lots and lots of questions about rain. But not because we ever actually see any. I am certain that there is some sort of mathematical equation that would explain how the time we spend talking about the rain is an inverse correlate of the amount of rain that falls in Lubbock.

If you followed my blog last summer, you might remember me mentioning (maybe in every post) that we were in the middle of a severe drought. For those of you in this region of the world, you will know well what I mean. For the rest of you, this might help you to understand it. Clayton was born in September of 2010. By the time he reached he first birthday, he had only seen raindrops one single time. That is right - just once. 

Clayton's first puddle

We spend our time missing the rain and loving the rain and dreaming about the rain. We tell our children stories about the rain like others would tell about unicorns and fairies. And our little guys ask lots of questions...maybe at least in part because they cannot observe the phenomenon themselves.

But of course, little ones ask questions about the natural world anyway, no matter where they live. So, here is a wonderful project to help young children understand a little bit about the rain, even if they see it out their windows every day. (Instructions for this activity can be found at the EPA website here.)

We were fresh out of sand and small rocks. Since we usually take our dog for a walk to the playground most mornings, I just threw a few small containers in the stroller before we headed out. We gathered rocks slowly as we were walking to the park and then filled a second container from the sand area at the playground.

When we were ready to put our water cycle jar together, we layered our rocks on the bottom, poured in the sand we had collected, and added some potting soil. We dug up the smallest weed we could find from the back yard, being careful not to damage the roots. (Years of severe drought chased away any notion we might have had of more thoughtfully selected plants for our yard. In our yard, weeds reign.) We planted this tiny and quite pretty little thing in our jar, popped a milk jug cap filled with water next to it in the soil, and closed the lid tightly.

Being careful not to spill the water, we put the jar in the sunniest window in the house and left the room.

I was surprised at how quickly the water started to evaporate. We had condensation on the inside walls of the jar within twenty minutes of closing the lid. Since then, we have watched the water evaporate and more and more "clouds" form on the inside of the jar. It has been four days and there is still some water left in the cap.

I am not sure what will happen next. Will the water start to bead and roll down the sides of the jar into the soil? How long will it take for all of the water to evaporate? Would the cycle really continue to cycle once the cap is empty? If you have done this experiment before...or just remember your science better than I do, please do not give it away. This is apparently an experiment made to interest the grown-up set as well. Or maybe just me.

Friday, April 20, 2012

This Moment

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. Inspired by SouleMama.

If you are inspired to do the same, leave a link to your moment at SouleMama for all to find and see.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My First Appliqué

I am working on a little project for the Feather Your Nest contest that Jenny and Angel are running at Stumbles & Stitches. Have you heard about it?

Feather Your Nest with Stumbles & Stitches

Now, I am a very novice sewer and definitely have no expectations of winning. Really, I just thought it would be fun to have a little external motivation to create something a little beyond what I normally make. The rules are simple - stitch something for your own home and use some repurposed material in the process.

I think I will not tell you what it is until it is finished. Oh, the suspense. I am sure it is killing you...

Anyway, I took the leap and decided to try my first appliqué. I am happy to say that I finished my first piece, a little appliqué bunny with lots of crooked stitches and a bit of a tuck in this middle of her back. Not horrible for a first try, but definitely no prize winner. 

Two more little animals already cut out and ready for stitching. Maybe tonight if I have the time.

I will call my sewing today a success, since my little bunny is attached and ready for company. 


She did not come without a bit of adversity. Stupidity, really. I just was not thinking when I started to iron my very first bit of fusible webbing. Giant patches of the gluey part were exposed and I ironed right over them. Check out what my iron looks like now. Argh!

 I found this link that recommends a razor blade and vinegar to clean this off. Does anyone else have other suggestions?

Oh, I could just kick myself.

I will just think about that cute little bunny instead. Best to end of a positive note, right?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Raising Good Eaters

Last night's dinner was a resounding success - apple pancake pie, asparagus, and roasted potatoes were devoured all around. Littles and grown-ups alike left the table with very happy bellies. 

Today, not so much. Though we ate a dish that has been greatly enjoyed at other dinner times, the boys just did not want to eat it. A few bites here and there, but that was it.

My husband and I love to eat. We almost never leave the table without eating seconds and we always clear our plates. We love all kinds of foods and we hope that our boys will grow up with adventurous palates and an appreciation for foods with real nutrition. So in our home, we try to expose them to different foods, to help them approach all food with excitement and pleasure, and to teach them about where their food comes from, how it is prepared and what it does for our bodies.

And for the most part, I think we succeed. Evan and Clayton will eat just about anything...that is, if they will eat anything at all. Some days, like tonight, they just will not let more than a bit of food past their lips. Even if couscous makes them giggle when they hear its name, and they can rarely control their excitement when broccoli appears at the table, and the last time we ate sugar snap peas, Clayton screamed for more until the whole bowl was gone. Sometimes we just have days like this... And tomorrow, they will eat again.

I always say if my kids will eat, they will eat anything. Truthfully, people are always amazed at the things my kids love to eat - spinach soup, pickled onions, spicy chili, marinated tofu, smoked salmon. I remember when Evan's preschool class did their healthy foods lesson, his teacher commented that Evan was the only child in the class who could name the foods in the pictures, who did not have to be taught in school what a nut or a tomato was. (That just makes my heart ache to imagine.)

Maybe we are just lucky...but we do have a few rules at the table that represent our conscious efforts to raise good eaters. They look something like this.

1. You must eat at least one bite of everything on your plate before you can leave the table.
Many times, this single bite breaks through their refusal to eat. If they taste one bite, they often happily continue to eat the rest of the meal. Not always, of course. Sometimes, the bite or two of food is all we get.

2. You do not have to eat more than one bite of something if you do not want to.
We do not force our kids to eat their plates. If they choose to refuse food for one meal, they will surely make it up at the next.

3. You can choose what you want for breakfast and lunch (from a few offerings), but at dinner, you will eat what is served. 
This means that we never make special meals for individuals. One dinner per night is hard enough to pull off. I do not understand how people do it when they have to cook multiple meals for different picky eaters. So this rule protects the cooks in the family, but it also helps our kids stretch themselves. Without the option of peanut butter and jelly, their hungry bellies are able to be more adventurous.

4. You might not like it today, but you will probably love it tomorrow. 
Kids have short memories and will not usually remember that they did not like something unless you remind them. So even if they turned their nose up at something one day, we do not strike it off the list. We simply serve it again and see what happens. I have never seen either of them refuse to eat something categorically.

5. If you do not want it, give it here!
As I mentioned, Jason and I love food. So if our boys do not finish their meals, we ask if we might do so. Partially, we are just gluttons, but there is actually something instructive about this as well, for our boys see us adore healthy food every single day.

Yum! I am thinking it is time for a snack.

So, how does your family eat? What rules do you have at the table to encourage healthy eating?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Backyard Dinner

We do not eat outside as often as we should. Sometimes it seems like too much work to clear the dust and dirt from the back porch, clean off our wonderfully ratty old table, and get everything outside in time for dinner. That is not true of course, but I have the bad habit of dragging my feet about way too many simple things.

Anyway, tonight's dinner was easy to make and the weather was perfect, so we decided to eat outside. Jason and the boys cleaned everything up while I finished the last bit of cooking.

We had a family favorite - apple "pancake pie," steamed asparagus and roasted potatoes with turmeric, cumin and sea salt.

In case you are wondering, we did not really have pie for dinner. "Pancake pie" is just our name for a sort of thick, custardy pancake baked in a pie plate, a recipe we found in the Simply in Season cookbook. We usually make it savory, but have indulged in apples the last time or two we have made it. A layer of sliced apples softened in the oven, custard (eggs, flour, milk) poured over top, shredded cheddar added at the very end. It is such a hit in our house that we decided to double the recipe this time so that we would have leftovers. Instead we just overate - three servings for me, three for my husband and two for Evan. Oops!

Clayton was too busy stealing asparagus off of my husband's plate to ask for seconds of anything else.

Being outside meant that dinner ended quickly, as soon as our plates were emptied (for the third time). The boys were eager to get back to playing and rushed off for a little ball throwing and some spinning around the post.

Not too much play time though. We noticed this a few minutes after the kids had left the table. The weather does change quickly on the plains...or maybe not quickly enough. We pulled in the laundry and headed inside to get the kids ready for bed, but maybe we jinxed things because those dark clouds passed by without a drop of fallen rain.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Hawk Pillow for O.

We live very far away from family...from anyone really. In our isolated island out here in West Texas, we try our best to make sure our little ones "know" their family as well as possible - through Skype, phone conversations, the occasional visit, but mostly through pictures and stories. We tell lots and lots of stories about the people we love and we try to repeat those stories as often as we can.

It may seem so small, but it is truly amazing to see how much love my little ones can develop for another person whom they have barely seen in person. 

Their cousin, for instance, who lived a long way away in Burlington, Vermont until very recently (and now lives not much closer in North Carolina). Clayton and Evan have met O. only two or three times, mostly when he (and they) were too young to really even interact. But they love him tremendously. When we even mention O.'s name, their faces light up. They come running from across the house when they hear that he is on the phone. And they eat up any pictures or stories that feature him.

I hope that someday Clayton and Evan can really get to know their cousin (and any others that may come down the road). It is one of my greatest wishes to be closer to the people I love and to raise my kids to know and love my family and my husband's as much as I love them.

Anyway, despite the great distances, Evan loves to dote on his cousin. You may remember the bunting that Evan made him for his second birthday last month. Well, a month or so before that, he decided to make O. a present on a whim, just because he loves him so much. 

We chose to make a little hand-sewn pillow. Evan drew on a piece of canvas with permanent fabric markers. I folded the fabric and cut around the outline of the picture, so that I had two identical pieces. Evan helped me pin the pieces together, wrong sides facing, and we sewed it in tandem using a larger sharp needle and embroidery thread. The canvas was thick, so I helped start the needle through the fabric. Then, Evan pulled the needle the rest of the way through and set it up for the next stitch. He left a few inches open and stuffed it with craft stuffing. Then, we finished up the last few stitches.

Evan called it a "hawk pillow" for O. and was so excited to send it off in the mail. In case you are wondering about the hawk thing, my sister has a pillow in the shape of a hawk that Evan sleeps with when we visit there. Apparently he thought O. should have one of his own.

Not sure O. gets  the whole "hawk" thing, but I have heard that he does find the pillow quite snuggly.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Simple Things

It is the little things that make me smile. Here is one from this week...

When I was little, I always dreamed of becoming a teacher. Mostly it was a dream of office supplies...and colored chalk. Do you remember those awesome chalk holders that the teachers would use to draw circles in math class? Drool! And I would do secret flips inside when I would end up with a teacher who was cool enough to use fat chalk instead of the skinny white sticks that most teachers used.

By the time I became a teacher, however, the world had mostly moved to white boards with horribly smelly markers and cleaner that left me with headaches for days afterwards.

If I had known that I would only need to be at home with my littles instead of in the classroom to finally live my dream of chalk. And rediscovering my love for chalk with my boys has been even better than I could have imagined because our chalk time is often combined with Clayton current favorite game, "wa wa."

Have you ever used wet chalk? If you have not, do

I just cannot get over the way the wet chalk puddles up when you draw with it on a spot of wet concrete, allowing you to blend the colors together, swirling them like paint. And when you draw with it on a dry patch, it starts out wet, but dries immediately, while you watch the color lighten and the texture smooth out.

We have been playing quite a bit of "wa wa" lately, now that the weather is warmer, and I spend the entire time crouched on the concrete with a piece of chalk in my hands. I never imagined that chalk could be this good...

Friday, April 13, 2012

This Moment

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. Inspired by SouleMama.

(Thanks to my mom for capturing this one!)

If you are inspired to do the same, leave a link to your moment at SouleMama for all to find and see.