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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Every Good Gift

Given that it's Christmas-time, and folks are in a gift-giving mood, I've been thinking about the nature of presents a lot. What makes a good gift?

My husband and I have a long-standing disagreement over whether certain items are appropriate or not. The table below indicates our position on these items.


Gift Item He I
Clothes Only if they bear a Star Trek logo.
Otherwise, no. Not ever.
Yes, especially if they come with shoes and a bag.
Power tools No thanks. Unless your name is Hank Hill, these are simply work requests in disguise. Absolutely. In fact, I want some.
I'll make a list.
Exercise equipment Judging by the fact that he has actually purchased some for me, yes. Heck no, unless you want to see me burst into tears.
Vehicles If it's a practical car for going to work, then no. That's just a necessity.
If it's a gas-guzzling muscle car, then absolutely yes, yes, yes.
If I buy you a car, you'd better show some appreciation. Otherwise, you can just walk.
Fruity soaps Only for teenage girls and pig farmers. Get me the ones that smell like lemons.


The list goes on, but these are the ones that come to mind first. If you'll notice, though, there is a definite pattern in our philosophical differences. With the exception of gifts telling me I'm fat, I really like practical presents. I want things that I will use over and over. On the other hand, he likes gifts that speak to his wants and not his needs. His rationale is that if he needs something, he'll buy it himself. He wants people to give him things that he wouldn't normally purchase on his own.

As I've been thinking about presents, I've realized that over the last few years, I've been blessed in so many ways. In fact, this Christmas marks the end of my second year as a stay-at-home mom. This is something that I always dreamed about since the birth of my first child, but I never thought I'd be able to do.

This realization helped me see that God is, in fact, the ultimate gift-giver. Because we needed a savior, He gave us Baby Jesus at Christmas. He also provides for our physical needs such as food and clothing. But He is not content to give us what we need. He also gives us the superfluous extras, the things that make us happy -- like the ability to stay home with my babies, bear-sightings when I'm feeling blue, a bundle of pussy willows left on my doorstep.  He gives us the desires of our hearts. I think both my husband and I can agree that He's got us both covered.

I may not get to writing another post between now and the 25th, so I wish you and yours the very merriest of Christmases. Peace on Earth & good will to all men.

Love,
Julie

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Making a Birdseed Wreath

One of the things I like about God is that He's a birdwatcher. To my delight, a few years ago I learned that He even has swallows at home (Psalm 84:3). Growing up, I never considered Him the pet-owning type, but I can certainly understand why he might like birds.

I, too, have a certain fondness for feathered friends. I could watch them for hours at our feeders. There are so many little dramas that play out there -- courtships, rivalries, squabbles, kindnesses, intrigues, and even some rather sad, gruesome deaths. 

Certain birds, like the turkeys, return every year, and I enjoy observing changes in the flock. In fact, I quite look forward to seeing how much the babies have grown between spring and summer when I catch glimpses of them in the field and winter when they come scratching in my yard. Because they visit so regularly, I almost view these birds as an extension of our family. Maybe they're not like brothers or sisters, but they could be very distant cousins.

While we keep feeders up all winter, it feels natural to want to provide my avian guests with some more festive fare at Christmas. This year, the boys and I thought we'd try our hand at making a birdseed wreath.

First, we mixed birdseed in a bowl with just enough corn syrup to lightly cover all the seeds. Then we spooned it into a mold lined with wax paper and tamped it down thoroughly to compress any air pockets.

Ready for the oven

Next, I set my oven to its lowest setting (170 degrees F) and popped the wreath in for about 2 hours. The goal was to dehydrate and harden the syrup without cooking the seeds. 

After removing it from the oven, I let it cool completely, then turned it out onto a baking sheet. My mold was pretty deep, so the seeds at the bottom were still rather sticky. Undaunted, I just popped it back into the oven for another hour. This time, I didn't use the mold. I just left it on the baking sheet with the sticky side up.

After the wreath had completely cooled, we peeled off the wax paper and let it sit on the sheet for two days to make sure it was really dry and hard. (I turned it over after the first day so the top and bottom would harden evenly.) 

Finally, we added a pretty ribbon and hung it on a sturdy branch. Now, we just sit back and wait for takers.





Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes

My Happy Meal --
I'm lovin' it!
Beyond the obvious tooth-rotting reasons, my five-year-old doesn't get a lot of sugar because he gets so wound up that the rest of us are either forced to flee or to sit on him. However, it was Halloween recently, so I conceded one mini Kit Kat (his favorite) out of his stash. Ten minutes later, he wanted another.

"Absolutely not," I asserted. "You just had one. You can have one tomorrow."

"Please????" he begged.

"No way. What happens when you eat sugar?" I asked.

He thought for a minute, then grinned. "Right, I get su-u-u-u-per hyper, and then I get in trouble." A brief pause followed, and then he happily added, "Oh, I get it now! You're not giving me candy because this is how you show you love me!"

How could my heart not melt at his sweet and joyful acceptance of discipline and parental authority? Although I'm nearly eight times his age, in this case, I believe he's the one setting the example.

**********

My dear child, don't shrug off God's discipline,
but don't be crushed by it either.
It's the child he loves that he disciplines;
the child he embraces, he also corrects.
Hebrews 12:6 (Message paraphrase)


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Keeping Things Whole

Growing up, my family sometimes seemed like a pack of gypsies picking up and moving every year or so. That's why the following poem by has been a favorite of mine through the years.  It speaks to me at a primal level.

I actually had the good fortune to hear Mark Strand recite it. I realize that most people would probably put a poetry reading on their Top 10 List of Dreary Activities along with writing thank you notes and counting beans. However, at the time, I was an English Lit major in a whole room of other literary nerds. Mr. Strand was practically a rock-star. In a different setting, we would've been waving Bics.

I was most impressed by the way he read this work -- it was the way I have always felt it.  There was nothing in his voice to suggest self-pity, remorse, regret, dissatisfaction, or anger. Instead, he read simply, calmly. Sort of in an "it is what it is" kind of way.

Originally, I had thought to dissect this poem in my post, but I've had a change of mind. I'd rather let you interpret it for yourself. Hopefully, you'll enjoy it (or at least find something interesting in it), too.

Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

-- Mark Strand

A field near my house that I'd like to move through one day

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Setting up a Natural Planted Tank Using the Walstad Method

Let me preface this post by saying that I'm a newbie when it comes to keeping aquariums, so I can't tell you the "right" or "wrong" way to do things. I'm just a dabbler who likes fish and plants, but I'm also mom to three busy kids, and I don't want the extra work of constantly taking care of of a tank. So when I read about the Walstad approach to setting up an aquarium, I was intrigued. It's a low-tech approach that involves creating an ecosystem in which the fish and plants balance each others' needs. As a result, the tank requires very minimal care. We're talking water changes maybe every 6 months or so. Now that sounds right up my alley!

This past summer, the last of our goldfish died, so my kids and I decided to give this method a go. This post chronicles our experiences setting up a natural planted tank.

July 21, 2011

Cover of Diana's book
Last week, I ordered a copy of Diana Walstad's book Ecology of the Planted Aquarium: A Practical Manual and Scientific Treatise for the Home Aquarist, Second Edition. 

I started reading it today, and it's every bit as tedious as the title would suggest. In the end, I glossed over most of it and just read the parts on how to select plants, soil, and how to set up the tank. Then I googled for info on other people's experiences setting up this kind of tank.

Do I feel like a cheater? A little, but I just don't feel like reading all the line graphs and mathematical symbols. Plus, all those people on-line had pretty color photos of their tanks.

I probably could've skipped ordering the book, but I'm hanging onto it in case I need to troubleshoot problems in the tank down the road. Maybe all those elemental symbols and charts will come in handy then.

July 22, 2011

Before setting up the tank, Walstad recommends testing one's soil to see whether it will cause any turbidity issues. This morning, we put a small amount of Miracle Gro organic garden soil in a glass with some water.  Now we wait 24 hours to see if it clears.

Walstad's choice
Walstad recommends Miracle Gro organic potting soil, so maybe we could've skipped this step if I'd used that. In any case, this will be a good way to teach the boys patience and some new vocab.


July 23, 2011

Most of the particles in the water settled, but the water has turned a very brown. I guess I'll get some of the potting soil. 

July 25, 2011

We don't have a local fish store with a good variety of plants, so I headed to my favorite shopping site -- The Internet. This morning, I ordered a variety of plants from That Fish Place - That Pet Place, including:

  • Cabomba pulcherrima, "Purple Cabomba" 
  • Ceratopteris thalictroides, "Watersprite"
  • Echinodorus bleheri, "Amazon Sword" 
  • Echinodorus cordifolius var. 'marble queen', "Marble Queen Radican Sword"
  • Echinodorus parviflorus, "Rosette Sword"
  • Hygrophila difformis, "Water Wisteria" 
  • Ludwigia repens, "Broad Leaf Ludwigia" 
  • Nymphaea, sp. "Aquarium Lily" 
  • Vallisneria americana, "Jungle Val"
Because I don't know much about aquatic plants, I took a shotgun approach to selecting them. I'm just going to stick them in the dirt and see what takes off.


July 26, 2011

While waiting for my plants, I added about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of soil to the bottom of my fish tank. Apparently, soil can release a lot of ammonia during the first two months, so some tank owners recommend a 24-hour airing out period (though it's not necessary).

I also tested my tap water. Everything seems ok, except that my water is too soft as a result of our reverse osmosis filter. After doing some research on various ways to increase the hardness, I decided to follow a recommendation on Aquatic Plant Central and got Seachem Equilibrium. It just seemed to offer the most control over my water hardness, and I'm a control freak.

July 27, 2011

We have plants! The vallisneria is looking a little rough, but the others look pretty good to me. This evening:

  • I put some gravel all around the edges of the tank.  (Sorry, forgot to take a photo.)
  • Then we added plants, and put more gravel all around them. 
  • Next, we added water. I poured the water into a bowl so that I wouldn't disturb the plants or their bed.
Plants in a 10-gal tank, with gravel. I poured the water into
the red bowl to avoid creating too much sediment.

Turning on the lights! (Walstad recommends about 1 to 2 W per gallon. I don't know how that works with fluorescent lights, but my hood takes regular incandescent bulbs.)

Tank with plants

July 28, 2011

The water looks slightly like apple juice this morning, but I was prepared for that. Apparently, this is quite normal in a Walstad tank. Water tests were elevated for ammonia (between 0.5 and 3.0 ppm), which I expected, but normal for nitrate, nitrite, alkalinity, and pH.

You can see that the water is a bit yellower (and it's not
just the yellow paint on my wall) today.

Walstad says that she sets up her tanks in the morning and adds fish in the evening. Then she does frequent water changes until the tank cycles.

While I'm tempted to add some red cherry shrimp, I had a bad experience several years ago adding fish to a tank that hadn't cycled yet. So I'm chickening out. However, wanting to speed up the process, I cheated again and added the pump and filter from my goldfish tank (the last one died a few days ago). I'm shooting from the hip here, but I'm hoping to introduce lots of nice bacteria. (I'm going to remove the filter after 24 hours, though, because I don't want to filter out chemicals that the plants use for fertilizer. I plan to continue using the pump.The agitation prevents the formation of biofilm on the water's surface.)

I'll continue to test the water every couple of days until everything tests normal.


July 29, 2011

The water was even darker this morning, so I did a partial water change (approx. 15-20%) to clear it up a little.

August 1, 2011

It's been about 5 days since I set up the tank. The water has continued to darken, but with pool parties and various summer activities, I haven't bothered to change it anymore. However, readings for nitrate, nitrite, alkalinity, and pH have all stayed the same (within normal limits). Water hardness is about 75 ppm, so maybe I'll try to increase that a little. The ammonia reading, though, has dropped to 0.25 ppm. Hooray! Things are happening!

How are the plants? The val never looked great to begin with, and it doesn't look any better now. The marble sword is losing a leaf, and two leaf tips on the Amazon sword have turned brown. Otherwise, the plants don't seem noticeably different. At least, they're all still alive!

August 3, 2011

The ammonia reading has dropped again. This morning, it was between 0 and 0.25 ppm. 

The rosette sword is losing a leaf, but otherwise, the plants don't seems any worse off than they did a few days ago. In fact, the aquarium lily is really starting to take off. Its leaves are much larger, and I think it's even put out a couple new ones.

As you can see below, the water is positively tea-colored (sorry about the glare, water spots and fingerprints.).
Day 7


August 5, 2011

Teeny weeny pond snail
The ammonia reading is 0. Hooray! Readings for nitrate, nitrite, etc. are still all normal, though the pH is inching slightly toward being alkaline. (We just love performing these color-changing tests!)

The kids are very excited to discover that we have lots of snails in our tank, even though we didn't add them. They must have hitchhiked in on the plants somehow. Now my son wants a fish that will eat snails. (That's a boy for you.)

Some of the plants (especially the ludwigia) look less than fabulous, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a comeback. The val looks terrible, but I noticed new leaves coming up. Maybe that's because it's getting more shade now. The water sprite is also looking ragged. However, it appears to be putting out suckers. (I don't know if that's what they're called on water plants, but that's what I'd call them if I saw them on tomatoes.) 

I might try pruning the water sprite today to see if that will stimulate some new growth. Aquatic plants are completely new to me, but I know their terrestrial cousins can sometimes die off before readjusting to new growing conditions. Maybe these watery types work the same way.

On the other hand, the aquarium lily is thriving. Its leaves have doubled in size, at least. The cabomba looks great. Even the amazon sword looks pretty good to me.

August 7, 2011

I put the tank lights on a timer. Walstad recommends putting the tank in front of a window that gets a lot of light, then setting the lights for 5 hours on, 4 hours off (during the day when the tank is getting natural light), and then 5 hours on again.

I don't have any windows with a lot of light, so I'm setting it for 14 hours per day.

August 8, 2011

I wonder what their teenie fishie brains are thinking.
If I were a tetra, I'd be thinking "Jackpot!"
Self-indulgence has won out over self-control. We're going on vacation next week, so this is probably a terrible time to add fish. However, neither the boys nor I can wait any longer. Today, we added 6 neon tetras to our tank.

I had wanted to start the tank with red cherry shrimp, but I'll have to special order those, and they wouldn't have gotten here in time. (Although I don't anticipate any big problems, I'd like to monitor the tank with fauna for at least a week before we leave.)

Also this morning, I decided that the ludwigia was officially a goner, so I replaced it with a moss ball. However, the val seems to have stopped "melting," which makes me happy. The aquarium lily has 4 times the number of leaves than when we planted it.

12 days ago, this plant was a bulb
with three itty-bitty barely leaf thingies.  

August 14, 2011

Back from vacation and all the fish are alive and thriving! The amazon sword is really tall and the water lily has put out tons of leaves. Checked the water, and there is no ammonia, no nitrates, no nitrites.

The only weird thing was that the water was hard but also very acidic. I think the organic matter in the soil might have something to do with that. I added a little baking soda, and that seems to have sorted things out.

Also, I noticed a baby ramshorn snail in the tank. Fun! I love surprises!


October 16, 2011
It's mid-October, and my tank is thriving. Right now, in addition to to the neon tetras, I also have about 12 Endler's livebearers and at least half a dozen red cherry shrimp. (Yes, that's quite a lot of fish for a little tank, but the plants are doing a fantastic job of cleaning the water.)

For a brief couple of weeks, I had a betta fish in there to eat the baby snails. She got along brilliantly with the other fish, but then she started to eat my shrimp and I moved her to her own time-out tank.

The tank has become a real project. I'm constantly moving things, adding things, taking things out. In fact, I have big plans to change the planting arrangement  because a couple of the plants have gotten too big. In fact, I now have plans to move the fish (including bringing the betta out of solitary confinement) and some plants into my new 45 gallon(!) tank (an early birthday gift from my DH). The small aquarium will be my shrimp tank.

As a result of the impending changes, I'm not going to post a current picture now. Instead, I think I'll wait for a year and then post an update.

In the meantime, I'm curious. Have you ever tried growing aquatic plants? What was your experience?

    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    Let Me Tell You about the Birds and the Bees

    Awhile back, my husband and I were comparing notes on the respective sex talks we had received during adolescence. I wish I could share the one he got from his grandfather because we couldn't breathe from laughing. I'm trying to keep this site PG-rated, though.

    As for me, my mother claims to have given me a clinical explanation when I was about 4, though I've forgotten. I do remember asking after a church sermon, at the age of 8 or 9, what circumcision was. She provided a very thorough explanation -- replete with illustrations. After that, I never asked about any new words from church again.

    In 7th grade, my mom called me downstairs one night because my dad had something to say. At first, I thought I was in trouble because I noticed two dining chairs placed opposite each other. My dad was in one, and I was ushered into the other. A nearby lamp completed what at first glance appeared to be an interrogation scene. However, my fears were allayed as my mom sat to the side, smiling and nodding encouragingly. Then my dad flushed as he haltingly delivered what appeared to be a speech he'd considered for quite awhile.

    "Uh...um...uh...Well, uh..." he fumbled for words. Then I guess determination gripped him, and the words kind of rushed out. "Well, I know your mom's talked to you, but she wants me to give you a guy's perspective...you're getting to be a young lady now, and you're body is changing, and boys are going to notice you...."

    The whole time, my dad just got redder and redder as he stumbled through his speech. To this day, I'm not even quite sure what he said after that because I was distracted by the beads of sweat forming on his brow and my mother's supportive gesticulations.

    Finally, he asked, "Do you have any questions?"

    I had only one -- "Can I fall through the floor now?" But I didn't ask it. Instead, I think I just shook my head before being allowed run far, far away.

    So anyway, those are the major explanations I got. My mom is very frank, so I imagine her explanation when I was little was quite good. Therefore, it's a pity I don't remember it, especially since my kids are at an age when they should probably start getting some talks of their own.

    In talking to other moms, I'm finding that most people want to postpone The Talk as long as possible. A lot of parents seem uncomfortable talking about it because (consciously or subconsciously) they feel it's a dirty, secret subject. Some moms have even implied to me that kids lose their innocence by knowing about it. However, in the discomforting event that questions should arise, most moms recommend two major strategies:

    Strategy 1: Deflect. Provide an excuse like "Oh, we'll talk about that later" or "You're too young for that." Then pray like the dickens the subject never comes up again
    Strategy 2: Answer questions truthfully, but provide as little information as possible.
    To be honest, I tried both of these methods this past summer when I got my first sex question. My middle child asked how he was born. I'm not particularly prudish, but I froze because I had no idea what to say. At first, I tried Strategy 1. That didn't work. He really wanted to know. So then I tried Strategy 2. I told him about the hospital and the birthing tub and midwife and so on. He didn't come back after that, so I thought that was the end of it. Afterwards, though, I felt I'd really botched the job, and I realized that I didn't know how to explain the birds and the bees comfortably.

    My background is in instructional design, so I fell back on what I know. The first thing I did was set some goals and objectives for The Talk. What did I want to achieve? I decided on these things:

    • Open communications -- for Pete's sake, I definitely do not want their best source of info to be the pervs in the backseat of the bus!
    • Accurate understanding
    • The preservation of innocence and purity
    • A healthy attitude about enjoying sex one day, God's way

    Next, I read a bunch of books on how to do it properly. Well, not It, It. I already have three kids, so I've got that part down. I mean The Talk. How to do The Talk.

    Focus on the Family recommended a book that I found particularly helpful. It's called How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex: A Lifelong Approach to Shaping Your Child's Sexual Character. The authors Stan and Brenna Jones approach sex education from a Christian perspective, so you may or may not agree with everything in it, but it provided some bits of advice that I thought were excellent.

    1. First things first. Parents have to address their own inadequacies in terms of understanding the clinical aspects of sex as well as misunderstandings regarding what the Bible actually says about it.
    2. For me, the most helpful advice was to tie every instance of sex ed to the attitudes and behaviors you want to foster. The physical mechanics are easy to grasp, but molding a healthy attitude toward sex takes constant work. As a Christian, this means explaining how God intends sex to be enjoyed. 
    3. Start sex education as early as possible. This doesn't mean teaching them what sex is necessarily, but commonsense stuff like: 
      • The parts of their body (the right names!) 
      • How wonderful and special every single body part is because God made it
      • Which body parts can be touched by other people and which are private. 
    4. Welcome questions and use them as teaching opportunities to not just teach facts, but to shape their attitudes and morals as well. This made a lot of sense to me. Deflection (Strategy 1) teaches children not to ask questions. They may even learn that sex is bad or wrong or shameful somehow. 
    5. If your child asks a question, provide 30% more information than he/she is asking. The idea is to explain sex accurately so that the child doesn't fill in gaps by himself. This can lead to the kid having some really weird misconceptions.

    About a week after finishing all my books, my son (thankfully) returned to ask yet again how he was born. Curious, I asked him if he remembered about the hospital and so on. He exclaimed, "Yes, but I want to know HOW I was born."

    Clearly, The Strategies weren't working, so I decided to trust Stan and Brenna. I explained about my uterus and the birthing canal and the whole nine yards. We talked about how wonderful God is to make mommies in such a way that they can give birth, and so on. That did the trick. He had some wacky ideas I had to clear up (like a trapdoor in the back of my belly), but surprisingly, it was much easier than I thought it would be. At least, he went away satisfied with that explanation. Even better, it's been months and I haven't heard that question since!

    How about you parents out there? How do you treat your children's curiosity about the birds and the bees? Has anything worked really well for you in terms of educating your children?

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    Observations on Light

    When Hurricane Irene blew through a few weeks ago, we lost power for about 36 hours. I'm not complaining. It was sort of like camping, which I generally enjoy. However, the experience made me appreciate light in a new way. Now, I'm no Newton or Huygens, but I thought I'd share a couple of observations I made during that time.

    Observation 1: "I must work...while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work." [John 9:4] 
    I have long maintained that the electric lightbulb is one of the worst inventions ever. Instead of resting at sunset, we keep working, working, working until fatigue forces us to bed. During our power outage, though, I discovered how much I rely on electric light to extend the day and buy me some extra time -- because I want to keep working, working, working.

    BTW, in case you're interested in what a marble track
    from hell looks like, here is an image of it & all
    its 400+ pieces. It was a Christmas gift last year.
    Still trying to decide if the person who gave it to us
    really likes us or not.
    On our first day without power, I spent most of the daytime assembling a marble track from hell. Normally, this wouldn't be an issue, but I wasted so much of the day, that I found myself trying to mop and clean up late at night by candlelight. It was eye-straining, painful, and even counterproductive as hot wax dripped all over the place.

    The next morning, I rose at the break of day in order to fold laundry, clean up, organize piles, etc. I couldn't help but feel a great sense of urgency to take full advantage of the light while it lasted because nighttime was advancing all too quickly.

    Fortunately, the power came on again about mid-day, but I hope not to lose that pressure to get things done -- in all areas of my life. I frequently forget that my life is just a breath of wind, here and gone, so that 36-hour blackout was an excellent reminder to redeem the time.

    Observation 2: "A lamp...gives light to all who are in the house" [Matthew 5:15]
    During the blackout, I ushered the kids upstairs to bed, put them to sleep, blew out all the candles, and laid down myself. Then I remembered that I had, as I invariably do, left something downstairs. Not having any matches or a flashlight with me, I stumbled downstairs in total darkness until I found a candle and matches. Then with my candle, I easily retrieved my object and went back to bed.

    Once upstairs, I set the candle down and realized, "Arrgh, I forgot something else." This time, I didn't feel like getting any drippy wax on my hand, so I left the candle burning in my room while fetching whatever it was I'd forgotten. On the return trip upstairs, it hit me. I noticed that I didn't have nearly the same difficulty managing the steps as I'd when I stumbled down them on the previous trip in total darkness.

    I thought this curious since I couldn't see the candle at all. But the light was unmistakable. It traveled from my bedroom and down the turns of the staircase just enough for me to make out the shadowy steps I had to take. Even though the source of light was so slight and tenuous, it was enough to pierce the complete and utter darkness that had existed before. It amazed me that the all the darkness in a two-story colonial couldn't stand up to a flicker from a single taper. A tiny scrap of light may look insignificant, but it has real penetrating power.

    ***

    So these are my two "great" insights from the storm (though as you can see from the quotes, Jesus thought of them a long time ago. Ah well, I suppose I could do worse than to come up with the same conclusions as God. ;-)

    Ok, one last thought about light -- I want to share this video on creating water bottle lights. Someone sent it to me after the storm had already passed, but I thought it was brilliant. It shows how to create cheap lighting for the underprivileged living in slums. Why do I love this video so much? I don't know. I like the ingenuity of design and the cool recycle. Mostly, though, I love how this invention makes light so freely and easily accessible to everyone --because everyone should have the opportunity to live in light.


    Saturday, September 10, 2011

    Finding the Silver Lining

    School commenced this past week, and my Pocket Rocket started kindergarten.

    I love him to pieces, but I'm also a little relieved he's out of the house for three and a half hours a day. In a way, he reminds me of a border collie that has to be kept constantly busy, or else it starts eating shoes and furniture. When my puppy starts devising ways to amuse himself, nothing good ever comes of it.

    For instance, several weeks ago, I was lying in bed, trying to get the baby to sleep when I heard my husband yelling at the top of his lungs. I raced downstairs, and then I freaked out, too.

    The entire family room was caked with greasy, white, melty globs of coconut oil. It covered the floor, the couch, the air conditioner, the media center, clothes I had just ironed, pillows, tables, toys... The place looked like a snow globe that had settled. Indeed, that was just what our Whirling Dervish had planned. With its solid, snowy appearance and moldable texture, coconut oil seemed like the perfect medium for starting "a snowball fight." And from all appearances, he flung it with much gusto at his elder sibling. (At least my older son had the good sense not to participate.)

    The kicker is that the little stinker didn't seem at all abashed -- not even while my husband and I were chastising him. Quite the opposite, rather. He was so pleased with his new game that he was still trying to demonstrate to us exactly how it worked.

    He's the complete opposite of my oldest child who maintains a healthy appreciation for law and order. No, from the very beginning, my second child has been Shiva, the destroyer of worlds. The first clue came when he was just a little over six months old and he removed all the knobs from a dresser in a hotel in under four minutes. This marked the start of a career in demolition and destruction.

    So now my mischief-maker is in kindergarten, and I've been concerned for months that he might not do well in a more regulated setting.

    "How was your day?" I asked, when he came home on his very first day of school.

    Delightedly he enthused, "Awesome!"

    "What did you do today?"

    He happily replied, "Oh, nothing." Then after a few moments, he continued quite proudly, "Guess what?! I got to yellow today! But I didn't get to red! Isn't that great?!" (Note: Yellow is a disciplinary warning for misbehaving kids. Red is real trouble.)

    I sympathize with his teacher. Truly, I do. In a hundred years, I don't think she'll ever meet another child capable of creating as much chaos as mine.

    At the same time, though, I couldn't help but think how nice perspective can be. Only my kid would see the sunny side of being disciplined. I had to smile at his self-confidence. Whereas other kids might be mortified or discouraged, his self-esteem had only been boosted by the event. Being able to find the silver lining is a lovely quality. I hope he never loses it.

    Piracicaba by Tiago Hoisel
    http://tiagohoisel.blogspot.com/2011/01/piracicaba.html

    I know I've linked to this image before, but I really think this is my kid.

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    Bullfrogs and Butterflies

    The first warm day of the first spring in our new house, I bounded outside to work in the garden. Then I promptly contracted Lyme disease and had to swallow antibiotics for nearly a month.

    The second spring in our house, I was pregnant and deathly afraid of ticks bearing dreaded diseases. I knew antibiotics could have terrible effects on the tiny life in my belly. So this time around, my well-meaning husband put some kind of granule-type Ortho insecticide on the lawn. It completely wiped out all the ticks. It also wiped out all the fireflies, bees, butterflies, crickets, ladybugs -- you name it. It killed everything. For three years!

    Worse still, the frogs in our backyard exhibited terrible deformities. Half-formed legs. Weird lumps. Missing eyes. Stumpy feet. They were ghastly.

    Lately, the fireflies have been back and the frogs are looking healthy again. But now we have a toddler, and this year, my husband started worrying about ticks and mosquitoes again for her sake.

    Looking at the frogs, though, I don't think we could ever put that nasty stuff down again. Tacitly, we've reached an understanding. No measure of peace of mind (or trying to avoid dosing a screaming, kicking baby with medicine) is worth missing out on nocturnal light shows or croaking amphibians. We'll just have to exert extra caution outdoors and slather on more bug-repellent.

    Ladybugs, butterflies, lightning bugs, dragonflies, frogs -- they're small and plentiful and often go unnoticed -- until they're gone. Then one realizes how large a hole they leave.

    I never thought I would grow attached to some frogs, but I have. I feel these little ones need me. More importantly, I feel that I need them, too.

    I didn't have to use a zoom.

    They sat so still. I was inches away.

    Doesn't he have an awesome smile?

    Thursday, July 28, 2011

    Sound and Silence

    "Music consists of sound and silence."
    A musician spoke those words to me many years ago. Little did he know how profoundly he'd impact my way of thinking about life in general. The words seem so simple, but they apply to so much.

    The sound part is easy to get. We all hear the melodies, the harmonies. It's kind of hard to miss noise. Silence, though, is a little trickier. It's the full, quiet space that blooms around the notes.

    Silence is what defines sound. It provides those necessary breaks that create rhythm and texture, tension and release. It provides rest, time to breathe. Without it, sound is reduced to relentless, unending droning.

    I share a chatty (and maybe slightly narcissistic) tendency that I find common among writers. (Can I consider myself a writer just because I have a blog?) We seem to love stringing words together. Because everyone wants to read them. Because what we have to say is important. [Obviously. ;-) ]

    Sometimes, though, it makes more sense to take a break. To be quiet and let the voice of another fill the space that we've been taking up. To simply listen and let something grow out of the silence.

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop in My Sink

    I've been antsy all morning, eagerly anticipating my plumber's arrival ever since my pump quit working yesterday morning. Except for camping maybe, I've never been without water for so long.

    I know I sound kind of whiny. There are women in this world who trek for miles, pitchers of water on their heads, to bring water from a well to their homes. Water is a precious and necessary commodity, and they're willing to hazard being raped, beaten, and murdered to get it.

    By comparison, I've been blessed with store-bought gallons, a health club membership (for showers), a year-round stream in my backyard (for toilets), and hospitably generous neighbors. For me, a lack of running water indoors is only an inconvenience.  Still... I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I really, really, really like having indoor plumbing that brings water out of the ground straight to my tap on demand.

    I can't even list all the ways I use water (rather extravagantly) throughout the course of my day. We drink it and cook with it. We use it for brushing our teeth, cleaning scraped knees, showering, flushing. I wipe counters, launder clothes, mop floors, clean dishes. We pour it on our houseplants, fill vases for cut flowers. The kids dash through the sprinkler and splash in pools for fun. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Currently, every time I wash my hands (which is quite a lot), I feel the precious liquid slipping through my fingers down the drain. Silently, I wish for a water-conserving suit like the desert people in Dune wear because at the moment, every activity from eating to playing is structured to save moisture.

    In my obsessive thinking about water today, two passages came to mind -- one from John 4 and the other from John 7
    Jesus answered and said to her [a Samaritan woman], “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.... whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
    Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

    In my arid state of affairs, those verses sound glorious to me. I'm basking in the thought of water that springs up and rushes out, unchecked. Water that I don't have to fetch and carry. Everlasting water that doesn't run dry. Water that can't be seized or stolen. Water for all my needs -- for thirst, for cleansing, for pleasure. Refreshing, satiating water.

    Bushkill Falls, PA

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    The Acid Test

    With the boys home for summer vacation, we've been doing science projects nearly every day. Last night, we had a great time making an acid/base indicator from red cabbage juice. (So technically, this post should be titled "The Ph Test, but...)

    The project I'm going to share with you today is super simple. So if your kids are itching for something to do, you might try it.

    Directions for Making Red Cabbage Juice Indicator

    Take 1/4 head of red cabbage and chop it up. Put the cabbage in a blender and add enough water to cover the cabbage. Puree the cabbage, and then strain it through a sieve. Save the juice. You can toss the pulp into your compost bin if you have one.

    That's it! Now for the fun part!

    What to Do with the Indicator?

    Red cabbage juice contains anthocyanins (that's what gives it its color), which are sensitive to the presence of acids and bases. Acids turn the anthocyanins pink/red. Bases turn them blue/green. The anthocyanins stay purple in neutral solutions.

    Once you have your cabbage juice indicator, your kids can pour about 1/4 cup of it into a number of glasses or jars. Then they can try adding small amounts of various substances to the indicator to see if it changes color. What you test is completely up to you. Some suggestions:
    • Soda pop
    • Vinegar
    • Lemon juice
    • Ammonia (WARNING: This is spectacular, but please, use ammonia in a well-ventilated area with adult supervision.)
    • Various juices
    • Milk
    • Wine
    • Seltzer
    • Antacids (Guess what color that will turn?! ;-)
    • Cream of tartar
    • Dish soap
    • Baking soda
    • Baking powder
    • Washing soda
    If you measure your indicator and additions carefully (instead of dumping them in willy-nilly like we did), you can compare and contrast the color in the different glasses to see which of the additions were more acidic/basic than other.

    Also, once you figure out which substances are acidic and which are basic, you might even try adding an acid to your red cabbage indicator, then a base, and then another acid for a real color-changing show!

    Making Your Own Litmus Paper

    For additional portability, you can make your own litmus paper by soaking a coffee filter in the red cabbage juice until it takes on a nice purple color. Then remove the filter from the juice and set it aside to dry flat. Once it's dry, cut it into strips. Now all your kids have to do it is dunk the strips for a second and then wait a few more seconds to see if the color changes. 

    If you try this, I hope you have a great time! Who knows, your kids may fist pump and exclaim (as my five-year-old did), "Yeeesssss! We have a cabbage for science!"

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Mattel's Nightmare

    Where the kids are concerned, I like the punishment to fit the crime. This is why, as of last week, I've begun tossing their toys into a garbage bag when I find them all over the house. The rationale? If they treat their things like garbage, so will I.

    They got fair warning. Now they know that before going to bed, they need to put their stuff away or else it gets chucked into the bag. If they want to redeem an item, they have to do a chore. Not one of their regular ones -- one of mine. (Naturally, I'm spending my time doing tasks they're supposed to do, so they have to do something I would normally do.)

    So how well is the new system working? I've gotten mixed results. There were a few one-trial items like DS's and wallets that are better cared for now. I've also discovered a few Nerf toys that keep winding up in the bag, but it seems the kids will do anything to get them back. I like these toys because that means my windows are just a little cleaner.

    On the other hand, after 5 days, the bag is fairly crammed with stuff that the boys have no interest in retrieving. They can't even be bothered with watering the plants -- a job they normally volunteer for without any additional incentive.

    Compared to a lot of kids I know, mine have a very moderate number of toys. However, based on their disregard for many of their possessions, it appears that even they have way too much. As for myself, I think this experience has reinforced something that I have suspected all along -- the best and worst types of toys (for us anyway).

    Our Best Toys:
    • Sports equipment and outdoor toys that I don't have to spend a lot of time picking up
    • Games and activities that we do together as a family -- e.g., crafts, paints, science projects, and board games (BTW, this really involves giving the kids time, and what gift could be better, right?!)
    • Toys that the kids have purchased with their own money because they are more inclined to take care of them
    Our Worst Toys:
    • Just about anything that you see an ad for on TV. The kids think they want them, but after a couple of plays, they're just not interested anymore.
    • Almost everything they've gotten from generous and well-intentioned friends at a birthday party or Christmas. The cars, figurines, and gimmicky toys all seem to end up in a closet or toy chest, never to see the light of day.
    Lest anyone should think my kids are getting
    shafted regarding their share of childhood
    presents, this is a photo of all the stuff
    they got from friends and relatives
    last Christmas.
    In the past, I've attempted to convince my husband that Baby Jesus only got three birthday/Christmas presents, and He turned out OK. If that worked for Him, it should be good enough for our kids. Of course, as parents, we enjoy showering our children with nice things, but now that I'm armed with a bag of hard evidence, I think it will be easier to adopt the attititude that less is truly more in the future.

    Instead of lots of gifts that my kids neither truly want nor truly appreciate, I'd like to focus on the thoughtfulness and quality of gifts ('cause even Baby Jesus snagged some gold, frankincense, and myrrh!) Along with constant verbal reinforcement and some other sneaky mommy tactics, this is part of my campaign to teach my young ones gratitude and responsibility. I'm probably Mattel's nightmare, but I'm cool with that.

    Do you have any kids? How do you teach your children to be grateful for what they have and to take care of their things? If you have any tricks or tips, I'd love to hear them!!!

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    The Invisible Garden


    "Is this our garden?"

    My younger son waited sincerely for the answer to his question. I glanced behind me at the leaf and rock filled pit where our swimming pool used to be and then at the mountains of dirt on our driveway. In all honesty, the area wasn't much of anything at the moment. Leaves, rocks, half-broken concrete pylons. Only a fool would look at the spot and call it a garden.

    But my heart told me something different.

    My heart whispers dreams of aromatic herbs and flowers, of red-ripe tomatoes, of nibbling succulent fruit and vegetables straight from the earth. My heart sees canned salsas, jams, and pickles lining the pantry in lovingly packed jars. It's busy planning gifts that can be shared with friends and neighbors. It sees all the things that could be -- even if they aren't there now.

    "Yes, dear," I answered. "This is our garden."

    *****

    And now here is my secret, a very simple secret;
    it is only with the heart that one can see rightly,
    what is essential is invisible to the eye.
    Antoine de Saint-Exupery (from the Little Prince)

    Monday, June 27, 2011

    Recipe for Natural Insect Repellent Cream

    I have this quirk -- if I can't eat it, I don't want to absorb it into my body through my skin. This makes me leery of most insect repellents and well, skin products in general. Maybe that's just me, but I already said it was a quirk. The mosquitoes and ticks this year are truly frightening, though, so I absolutely need something to keep them off.

    My inspiration for today's post
    In the past, I've tried gimmicks like tying a sheet of Bounce fabric softener to my belt loop. That was ineffective to say the least. I've mixed insect-repelling essential oils with a carrier oil or alcohol and sprayed that on. That worked, but the essential oils evaporated too quickly, requiring constant reapplication. I've even tried  Eau de Listerine before leaving the house. That actually worked pretty well, but my kids complained about the menthol stinging.

    As for commercially available natural products, I like Badger Anti-Bug Balm, but I'm not so crazy about paying nearly $10 for 2 oz. In our house, it's gone almost overnight.

    Today, I made up my own insect repellent based on the ingredients in Badger Anti-Bug Balm, which are basically citronella oil (5.0%), cedar oil (2.0%), lemongrass oil (2.0%), rosemary oil (1.0%), & geranium oil (1.0%) suspended in a base of olive oil, castor oil and beeswax.

    Here is my recipe:
    • 6 Tbsp of a carrier oil (e.g., soybean oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil, canola oil... it's up to you)
    • 2 Tbsp castor oil (in addition to being super moisturizing, it repels mosquitoes)
    • Approximately 1/2 oz cosmetic grade beeswax
    • Anywhere from 40 to 100 drops essential oils of your choice.1 I used about 80 drops (total) of the following:
      • Lemongrass (mosquitoes, fleas, ticks)
      • Citronella (mosquitoes, flies)
      • Lemon eucalyptus / eucalyptus (mosquitoes, ticks, lice)
      • Rosemary (fleas, ticks, flies)
      • Cedarwood (fleas, lice)
      • Rose geranium (ticks, lice)
      • Orange (fleas)
    Put the carrier oil, castor oil, and beeswax in a microwave-safe bowl. Nuke it for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until the wax is melted. Add your essential oils to the oil/wax mixture. Whisk the mixture until it's creamy. Transfer cream to a container of your choice.

    Whereas Badger's is a solid, my version is a cream. You could try making it more solid, though -- maybe by not whisking and possibly using a little more beeswax.

    In any case, if you try this, I'd love to hear how it works out for you!

    Notes: 

    What I liked about this cream: I thought I smelled like a citronella candle, but my boys LOVED the fragrance and happily rubbed it all over, including faces. (No stinging!)

    It really kept the bugs off of us. As a test, I wore it for about 4 hours while I was idling around the house and garden this morning. Not a single bite. I reapplied before the kids and I went for a midday mountain hike. In direct sunlight, sweating profusely, and packed like a burro with baby, water, and snacks, (charming image, no?), it lasted about 1 1/2 hours before it began to wear off. Even so, I still got only one or two bites, even though the mosquitoes were swarming.

    An unexpected but welcome benefit was that it worked wonders on my skin. My elbows and knees have never been so soft. I'm thinking of making this again with different essential oils for a hand/foot cream.

    Oh -- and did I mention that it's 100% edible? I wouldn't want to eat it, but I could.


    What I didn't like about this cream: Overall, I thought the cream was a little on the greasy side and took a few minutes to absorb. However, I used olive oil as the carrier, which is kind of heavy. Castor oil is super thick, too. Next time, I'll try a lighter carrier, like grapeseed oil. I might also increase the carrier oil by 1 Tbsp and decrease the castor oil by 1 Tbsp. I wonder what less beeswax might do, too. Ah well, the summer is long yet, so I'm sure I'll have lots of opportunity for experimentation.

    I wish the effectiveness of the repellent lasted longer, but given that I really can't hike much longer than 90 minutes with a toddler on my back, I guess that's long enough. Besides, I can always carry a small bottle for reapplication.

    _________________________________________

    1Essential oils are extremely concentrated. Used in a concentrated form, they can produce adverse reactions, which is why one should always dilute them with a carrier oil or alcohol before use. However, in order to be effective, I would recommend making this cream 5% - 10% essential oil; this is about 10-25 drops EO for every 2 Tbsp carrier oil. (Badger Balm is 11% EO, mine was about 8% EO.) If you're using this cream on an infant (or on someone with certain medical conditions), you might consider sticking to the lower end of the range given for this recipe.

    Also, if you have any medical conditions, I would recommend checking to make sure that an essential oil will not adversely affect your health before you use it. For your convenience, I found a site that contains some warning information; however, you might want to do your own research.

    Finally, if the essential oils I listed don't work for you, you could do some research on other oils that might. For instance, lavender, sage, thyme and others also repel various insects. The list on this page is simply what I used.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Microcosmos: Le peuple de l'herbe

    I'm a nerd, and I love documentaries. There -- I've said it.

    Last week, the boys and I watched one called Microcosmos: Le peuple de l'herbe (1996). For us English speakers, that translates to Microcosmos: the grass people. Basically, it follows insects in a field in France. Doesn't sound like much of a premise, but it is without a doubt one of the most spectacular films I've ever seen.

    The film's opening sequence treats the viewer like some sort of extraterrestrial. Beginning in the clouds, it allows us to descend to the treetops, down to the earth. Finally, we rest on the soil so that we can view the earth from the insects' perspective. Blades of grass appear like towering forests. Raindrops are like hailstones. The earth, from this vantage point, looks completely alien and new.

    Narration is practically non-existent in this film, but it's unnecessary. The images have a drama and poetry all their own, sucking one into various vignettes of insect life. Ants vigilantly guard their herd of aphids, staving off the attacks of ravenous ladybugs. A dung beetle struggles with his monumental load. Caterpillars queue up like a cars in freight train to some unknown destination. A spider captures air bubbles to build his silvery underwater retreat. Snails frill and sway in a tender, passionate embrace.  A Godzilla-like pheasant looms over an ant colony, wreaking havoc and destruction among its inhabitants.

    The close-ups, slow-motion, and time-lapse photography in this film are phenomenal. Everything from the fuzz on a caterpillar to the inverted reflection in a droplet of water is rendered in exquisite detail.

    My boys enjoyed this documentary so much that they actually wanted to replay it as soon as it was over. As for myself, this film has given me a new appreciation for the insect world. Although I still have no qualms about smacking mosquitoes or squashing ticks, I have found myself rescuing spiders out of the bathtub and helping them gently out the door.



    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    Looking Like My Dad

    Certain physical characteristics run true on the paternal side of my family, like ape-ishly long arms. In fact, the last few times I've seen my extended relatives, my Uncle L--- has administered the following test. I must:
    1. Put my right hand over my right shoulder, behind my back.
    2. Put my left hand behind my back (but not over my left shoulder -- the hand has to go from the bottom of my back upwards).
    3. In this position, I must grasp the fingers of each hand with the fingers of the other hand.
    When I easily smoke this test, he always congratulates me saying, "Yeah, you're definitely one of us!" [BTW, for some reason, this test never fails to make me think of the scene from Todd Browning's 1932 movie Freaks when the circus sideshows start chanting "Gooble gobble! We accept her! One of us!" However, that's probably a story for a therapist and not for this blog. ;-) hee hee ]

    Image from one of my favorite scenes from Freaks
    http://youtu.be/44c0MFLYS9M

    There are other classic features, too. For example, my family had returned to the States after spending a number of years abroad. Before heading over to my grandpa's place, we thought to grab a quick dinner at a truck stop/diner not too far from the farm my dad grew up on.

    An elderly gent approached my dad, asking, "Are you related to G----?" When my father replied in the affirmative, the older man said, "I could tell by your ears. You've got his ears alright... So how are you related?"

    This story tickles me. I like how this man who had never met my father before could pick out which family he belonged to just by his ears.

    Now I'm still really rough around the edges, but someday, I think I would like people to be able to do that with me. I'd like to have spiritual characteristics that run true so that folks who've never met me before can just look at my actions, my words, my heart and pick out my Heavenly Father the same way.

    ...let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
    Matthew 5:16
     Happy Father's Day!




    Friday, June 17, 2011

    From Russia, With Love

    My present from Masha
    Generally, I don't like accumulata, but I do keep a few very dear treasures. The napkin that you see pictured here is one of them.

    It was 1994, and I was teaching at a private language school in Moscow. One of my favorite five-year-old students bounced into class. Masha's naturally fiery, intelligent eyes danced with excitement. She looked ready to pop.

    "Yulia! Yulia! I have a present for you," she boasted happily as she pressed a colorful, printed paper napkin into my hands. Her face beamed, anticipating my surprise and pleasure.

    It might not seem like much to an American, but it was a big deal to little Masha. Let me see if I can put the enormity of this gift into perspective for my readers by describing the paper goods available to the average Russian at that time.
    • Paper towels. I never saw them.
    • Paper napkins. McDonald's had them, and I spied some flimsy ones that looked like tissue paper at my favorite gyro "restaurant." (I use the term restaurant loosely for this particular establishment, but that's another day, another post.) However, I can't really think of very many others.
    • Paper bags. Stores didn't carry them. They didn't provide plastic bags either. You either purchased a bag or brought your own. (Not a bad idea in my opinion.)
    • Toilet paper. I observed five kinds. These are detailed below:
      1. Nonexistent. In public toilets, this type was most commonly encountered.
      2. Shreds of newspaper. A really thoughtful public toilet would provide yesterday's news for wiping. As you might have guessed, most people carried their own tissue paper with them.
      3. The Revolting Red Paper. Frequently, homegoods stores carried what my ex-patriot friends referred to at the Revolting Red paper. It was rather stiff, but maybe a little more flexible than sheets from a child's drawing tablet. It was completely serviceable except for the off-putting red color which deepened into an even more unattractive hue after it had been... er, used. Of course, the upside to this TP was its even texture, unlike #4 on this list.
      4. Tree Bark. It wasn't actually tree bark. It was a tannish, brown tissue that looked like ground and pressed tree bark -- complete with splinters. Squeezably soft Charmin it was not. Although our ex-pat group was of mixed opinions on the subject of TP, I still maintain that the "tree bark" was a step up from the red stuff.
      5. Glorious White Paper. In terms of texture, it didn't differ much from Revolting Red, but it was white! This was the elusive, Holy Grail of bath tissue. I rarely saw it in the stores, but now and then I'd find some entrepreneur on a street corner with a whole pyramid of it piled on the sidewalk. Score!
    As you can see, paper goods were of a completely pragmatic nature. Napkins didn't come in a rainbow of colors. They certainly weren't printed with every Disney character under the sun. While this napkin would have been a throwaway for an American child, for Masha, it was an object of wonder.

    The generosity and thoughtfulness of her gift touched me deeply, and I keep it to remember one of my very favorite little people. But it also humbles me. It's a reminder to be grateful for all of my blessings, for all of the little things that are so easy to take for granted. Running water, sunshine on my face, ice cubes in a cold drink on a summer day... I could think of a million small wonders that I've done nothing to deserve but enjoy all the same. I am truly rich.

    Self-portrait of Masha

      Wednesday, June 8, 2011

      The Dentist & the Wildcat

      Took the kids to the dentist today for checkups. While my oldest and youngest children's exams passed uneventfully, my middle child fought like a wildcat the entire time. I'm not using hyperbole. Despite all the preparatory pep talks, he literally fought like a wildcat -- twisting, yowling, kicking, spitting, flailing -- the entire time. I actually had to sit on the feral little beast to keep him in the chair. (No cavities, btw -- Thank you, Jesus, because I don't think we could take a filling!)

      Finally, when his cleaning and exam were over, and his brother was in the chair, my angry young tom furiously glared at the dentist and tech. He hissed, "I hate the dentists! Why can't we sell them?"

      I attempted to explain some of the finer points relating to ownership and property, but I'm not completely sure he understood.

      Later I relayed to my husband the difficult time I'd had and how driving down the road after the appointment, the tech had passed me and gave me the filthiest look imaginable. He positively cracked up. I'm delighted to be so amusing.

      Of course, our small savage and I have been going back and forth all day. He's mad at me for sitting on him. Meanwhile, I've been lecturing him on oral hygiene and the necessity of cooperating with people who are trying to help.

      So we're continuing to work on basics like his being comfortable when people are working in his mouth. We're also working on not being afraid of the instruments and so on. However, when we go back in December, if push comes to shove, I will happily sit on him all over again. Why? Because he needs clean teeth to be healthy. Because I will not let him get away with stuff even though it would make my life much easier. Because I'm his mom. I love him. That's what I do.

      Happier days & a mouth full of chocolate
      It's a miracle he doesn't have a single cavity.


      Wednesday, June 1, 2011

      Dandelion Syrup

      I've decided to discontinue my vegetarian blog because... well, I have a husband, 3 kids, 2 dogs, fish and lots of housework that isn't getting done. I just don't have the time to maintain it. Instead, I plan to share any extra special recipes -- like today's recipe for dandelion syrup -- here.

      My dandelions a couple of weeks ago
      A few weeks ago, I was inspired by all the dandelions in my yard. After a long gloomy winter, their small sunny faces delighted the eye. I wanted to capture that sunshine in a bottle.

      I started Googling recipes for dandelion wine, but I quickly decided that I really didn't want to start another hobby. I could picture myself quickly getting sucked into all kinds of winemaking paraphernalia. However, during the course of my research, I stumbled upon a recipe for dandelion syrup. I knew that's what we had to do.

      We don't treat our yard with any chemicals, so I knew the dandelions were safe for consumption. Altogether, my younger son and I picked over 200 dandelions and then prepared them according to the recipe on FXcuisine.com. (Even if you don't try the recipe, check out the site. It's one of the most gorgeous blogs I've ever seen.)

      At first, I was a bit disappointed in the syrup. Although it had a lovely glow, it really just tasted like a sugar syrup with a very faint herbal undertone. I bottled it anyway and let it sit overnight.

      The next morning, I tried it again, and the flavor had changed remarkably. It was mellower and the dandelion flavor was more pronounced. Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!

      My dandelions now
      A couple of weeks have gone by, and I'm loving my dandelion syrup. Time has made really good things happen in my bottles. The dandelions in the yard are nearly gone, but my syrup tastes green and gold, sweetly herbal. It's flavored with my little boy's hands, the smell of springtime, and the sound of my baby laughing in the yard.

      Since dandelion syrup is basically just a simple syrup infused with dandelion blossoms, you can use it just as you would any simple syrup. Try it as a drink watered down with ice and water, or in other drinks like lemonade or iced tea, in desserts, on pancakes -- the possibilities are endless!

      Also, if you decide to try this recipe, follow the author's directions to pick a special spot. It's true. Every time you use your syrup, you'll think of the place you gathered your flowers. So select a location that fills you with happiness because your memories are exactly what you're going to taste.

      Cheers!
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