Saturday, November 30, 2013

And so we wait ...

Christmastime is always a time when the cultures clash - two spouses with vastly different family traditions. The values of the liturgical season, called Advent, at total contradiction with what is going on in the world. Around us is not a time of quiet reflection, spiritual preparation and simplicity - it's a time of acquisition, rush and stress.

“Advent: the time to listen for footsteps — you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.”
— Bill McKibben

In this household, one of the big debates is always 'When will we put up the christmas tree?'. We usually hold out until the middle of advent, as a compromise. For the next two or so weeks, however, we will still have something to look at and be reminded of the season: This year's advent wreath is not a wreath at all, but a set of logs, cut to order by the talented woodworker husband. My middle daughter helped me adorn them with mostly natural materials - we had some ivy, moss, pressed leaves, dried rosehips and some evergreen twigs. And big pine cones! Add just a touch of sparkle and put it all into the lid of a large cookie tin - done. It is the centerpiece at the dining table and the kids like counting down, as we light one more candle every Sunday until Christmas.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The stitching equivalent of comfort food

I just love when a sewing pattern becomes so familiar that sewing it is almost like running, meditating or, really, any one of those repetitive yet calming occupations that put me in 'the zone' to the point that I let the dinner greens burn or the fire go out, or let the kids get into that suspiciously-silent type of trouble.


Two pairs of Anna Maria Horner's Quick-Change Trousers - the advantage of knowing this pattern so well is that I was totally comfortable adjusting them to a size 3T in slim/tall...

The leotard pattern has proven its (small enough) weight in gold by now - this time I made a slim size 8 for the biggest sister. She's particular about how her clothes fit, yet she doesn't size according to the generally accepted industry standards for 7 1/2 year olds... she has a hard life like that. I am always happy if I'm able to help out on that front, easier done for a leotard than for a ski coat...

Now I will get back to my gingerbread eating, sofa sitting self, and I wish the same to you over the long Thanksgiving weekend!

Friday, November 22, 2013

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . . . 
{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.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
. . . . . . . . . .

Monday, November 18, 2013

1000 hours outside

Through the {this moment} series I came across a fairly new blog whose premise I really, really love: little shoutout to '1000 hours outside'! I am in no way acquainted or affiliated with them but they speak from my heart. I didn't think I needed help in the 'spend more time outdoors' department, after all the kids even go to a nature preschool two days a week! But who knows - 4 to 6 hours per day in the winter really is a challenge!

I think I'll play for the first week of December, to see if we can get to 18+ hours. Being so inspired I asked the two younger kids if they wanted to go on a nature walk. Little did I know that the newly minted 5yo had a plan hatched and ready to go. It was most wonderful, she led us through the woods on the trails in our neighborhood, explaining as she went. Cedar wood is great to keep moths away (something that has been on our minds lately...), and what is that skat? Dog? Koyote? Probably not deer (I'll spare you the picture, though I did take one, for further investigation!).

 When I pointed out the 'parachute seeds' and let some of them fly, she replied very serenely 'oh yes, milkweed seeds, they do that'. We found a vine to swing on, and then took 'the long way' home.

I must have been a good student because at the very end she trusted me to show me the secret hideout she, her older sister and some neighborhood kids have built. It felt very special to be let into her world. (Side benefit was finding her little sister's lost raincoat there... oops!)

This picture shows you a (hairy?) woodpecker. Can you see it, right in the center? It really is tiny, I used a zoom that represents the way we saw it from the ground, mostly to make a point: Children never cease to amaze me with their level of observation and attention to detail - I may well have missed that little guy.

We ate our lunch on the patio, watching the bees fly like crazy. Wonder if that was fall's last hurrah?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

All tucked in

It was a day that felt a whole lot like the end of the season. The hardworking husband raked a lot of leaves, and piled some of them onto the garden beds as a sort of sheet mulch. I finally took the top feeders off the bee hives, and checked to see good amounts of stored honey, as much as I could tell without actually pulling frames. I still can't be sure there are functional queens in my hives but at this point it is too late to check or do anything. I saw bees, and honey. Now we hope and wait.

Oh wait! There is one more thing I could do to improve my hives' chances.  Wrapping the hives in tar paper helps to capture the warmth of the winter sun rays, and insulates the hives just a tiny little bit more. Now the story that made the day feel like a beginning, too: A friend told me of a friend of hers who lives in my neighborhood and also keeps bees that she wraps in tar paper. Not wanting to buy a huge roll just for this little job, I am sending out an email to a person I have never met - asking if I could possibly have some tar paper. And the response? "Sure I do. Shall we wrap all our hives together tomorrow?" How wonderful is that? I took some jam (since I have no honey, yet), and after a quick introduction, we wrapped her hives. Then we walked back to my yard where she taught me to place a straw filled shallow super on top of the inner cover, before putting the outer cover on. We stapled a screen bottom to this super and the straw inside will help catch condensation and keep what might be a clump of ice forming away from the brood boxes. The inner cover's edge is covered by the tar paper we installed, with a small hole cut for the top entrance. I feel hopeful for the bees, but even more hopeful for having made this new connection, a friend in my own neighborhood, through doing something meaningful and fun together. I wonder if it was more like that, when the first settlers arrived here, knowing that only through helping each other and learning from each other would they make it through the winters?

We are nowhere near meeting our own heating needs with wood, but what we do burn comes entirely from our own property this year.  All tucked away and ready to go.

Manic Mother

Saturday, November 16, 2013

All is NOT quiet on the Eastern Front

In the past 2 weeks, I have attended two organizing meetings related to Climate Action. Each time, I could barely motivate myself to leave the house, because I was tired, I had a lot to do, and I felt discouraged anyway. Each time, I expected yet another informative evening with friendly people, but little to take home as far as tangible actions. Both times, I instead came away energized by how different the climate movement seems this fall, even compared to just 12 short months ago. There is so much more deliberate action, skill and organizational talent at work. The momentum is building and the energy in the room has changed.

Paraphrased quotes from attendees of both meetings include:

"We're done trying to educate people. We have reached those who want to learn the facts, now we're moving forward in action" ~ "Climate Change is no longer an environmental issue. It is about health, jobs, safety and the economy" ~ "Individual action is admirable but ineffective. Community action is necessary, but there is a systemic problem that has to be addressed, and it has to happen quickly" ~ "Changing lightbulbs is good, changing senators is better" ~ "It has to be a struggle" ~ "Scientific talk and facts don't get people to act. Stories and relationships do" ~ "It always seems impossible, until it is done (Nelson Mandela)"

In my jumbled way, I'm probably not conveying the focus and skillful organizing behind some very specific targets that several groups are pursuing. For my home state, the global warming solutions act not only empowers the governor, but also requires of him, to put in place a plan that will allow MA to meet the targets specified.

To get there, the agenda is simple:
1) Ban the worst. Do not allow any more infrastructure for fossil based energy to be put in place
2) Build the best. Only invest in sustainable solutions.
3) Set us on a path for a price for carbon.

Several groups, among them Mothers Out Front and have converged on these succinct points, which are feasible for Governor Patrick to implement before he steps back in 2014, given current legislation and the executive powers he has.

I am hoping to be able to contribute my bit to make MA the first state to leave fossil fuels in the past, and to move towards a sustainable post-coal, post-oil future.

Friday, November 15, 2013

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . . . 
{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.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A little light

We had a little rainbow themed birthday party here this weekend, and it being November, I wanted an indoor activity for the kids to do. I'm thinking what kid doesn't like to play with sticky glue and light stuff on fire? Plus it's the season of St. Martin, and as Germans, we have a tradition of crafting lanterns right around now. Traditionally, children carry them around the neighborhood while singing songs, and we've done that in the past, too. I dug up some pictures from a couple of years ago to show you: 

But back to the craft at hand: We upcycled jars from tomato sauce and the likes, covered them in diluted Elmer's School Glue and then stuck one layer of tissue paper on it. Smoothing the paper down with more glue will make the parents' OCD happy, but it's optional and the more 'textured' look works fine, too. We dried them upside down, which didn't take long.

It's one of those craft project where different age kids can all produce nice results because even a totally holey pattern of random colors will look nice once the candle inside is lit. We filled the jars about halfway with water, and used unscented floating candles inside.

A little light is just what we needed in this increasingly dark and dreary season... as I'm looking outside right now, I see the first flurries of snow!  Nimm gern mit

Friday, November 8, 2013

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . . . 
{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.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
. . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Everything tastes better fermented!

It was an act of desperation. This family just isn't fond of turnips, or of large radishes. But throwing food away that was lovingly grown by our friendly farmers, right in our town? Not going to happen. Fermentation to the rescue!

I largely followed this blog post - except I used a mix of watermelon radish and a red-skinned salad turnip. It couldn't be much simpler. Prepare the brine (I was in a hurry and didn't let it cool down very much), scrub and slice the root vegetables, and pack alternating with brine, so as not to form air bubbles. All the radish and turnip have to stay submerged, which is key for a safe fermentation. For this, I really liked her way of weighing things down under the brine:

Very crafty! I covered this setup with a clean dish towel, folded into 2 layers, just to keep whatever flies around in my kitchen out of the jar. After 5 days of letting this contraption sit on the kitchen countertop, I went in for a taste test and - WIN! The radishes had turned mild, pleasantly salty and slightly sweet. Now they will definitely get eaten!

Manic Mother The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Plan C is for Carving!


Do you ever plan a day, and you're just so excited for the amazing things you're going to do, the fun everyone's going to have, and how perfect it is going to be? And then your babee wakes up with croup in the middle of the night. You realize that taking the birthday sister out to the place of her dreams (the bee hive climbing structure in the Children's Museum in Boston, in this particular case) would be an exercise in selfishness and germ-spreading? Scratch Plan A. 

Luckily I had a plan B up my sleeve all along. I've been wanting to carve leaf stamps for a while, so today was going to be the day! I collected a pretty maple leaf and set to work. The kids were duly impressed but instantly decided to take matters in their own hands and design their own motifs. 

Plan C was in motion: Turns out, it seems, that negative cuts (making the picture out of the carved away lines, as opposed to the part left standing as I had done) was much more intuitive to them. It also means you don't have to tediously remove the 'outside' part of the stamp, which may well be the most accident-prone part of the carving.

I used a very simple Speedball carving kit and was surprised that even the 3yo could pretty much handle it without a single incident.

The material is like a giant eraser. It wasn't quite like the linoleum I remembered from my childhood but the carving went smoothly and easily. After done carving, I had the kids paint the material with watercolors. It turned out to be useful to have a mister filled with water to get the final stamp to uniform wetness. There was a bit of a learning curve, there.


At this point, the birthday girl insisted on hanging the rubber stamp itself up on the wall in her room. I pretty much had to pry it out of her hands to stamp it - but as soon as I lifted it back up and she saw the result, she was hooked! (The photos show the actual first try.) And you can do it over and over! In fact, I learned that you can re-mist the same stamp once, and reprint it for a slightly fainter but sometimes even more detailed second print.

The project is great for all ages, because the really little ones can just paint a stamp that an older person has cut out for them. That said, my 3yo babee carved the rose on the left here almost all by herself. I was surprised.

I did in the end convince her to paint my leaf stamp a few times :-) If they're in a good mood, they sometimes humor me out of sheer kindness. After her initial flower picture, the birthday girl cut a second picture of a butterfly. Here is a gallery that includes almost all the prints we made. We didn't produce too many rejects (or maybe my standards are not very perfectionist). The key to a good result is uniform paint coverage. If you want to control the outcome even more, you can remove colors from the watercolor set, so as to have them produce a print using only one color family. I tried that out myself with the rose below.

I'm pretty pleased with the fact that I have quite a few cards at the ready for upcoming birthdays! And frankly, plan C was best all along, don't you agree?

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