Thursday, October 27, 2011


When did I lose my eagerness for the simple things? As I watch my children, I'm always amazed by their energy & zest for life. They race to the cabinet to get the oatmeal for breakfast, they skip to the mailbox to meet the mail carrier, they fight over who gets to bring up the next gallon of milk from the basement fridge and my son was just belting out Do Re Mi while sitting on the toilet. Their little souls are constantly forming fun out of function.

Somewhere deep inside, I remember that.

So what would that look like in my present life if I were to reclaim that eagerness? Let's imagine, for a moment.......

At 7am I roll over & realize it's morning. MORNING! I jump out of bed & head downstairs. Tea, tea, I must have tea! As I boil water & fill the French press with a variety of scrumptious herbs I can't help but inhale deeply & take in the aroma. Ahhhh. I saunter over to my iPhone & plug in some of my favorite music. The kids are all awake & begging for food so I sing them a song while tossing fruits & greens into the blender for our morning smoothie.

After I clean the kitchen with a radiant smile, I head upstairs to get ready for the day. "C'mon kiddos. Let's race!" At the top, we roll around on the landing laughing before I head into my room to get dressed & brush my teeth. I hum a few bars of Do Re Mi as I floss and stick my tongue out at myself in the mirror. Time to pack a lunch & head out!

Ok, I could continue, but I think we all get the gist. And to be honest, what I just wrote doesn't sound half bad. I could actually do that! Some of it I do.....sometimes, but definitely not often enough. Life's mundane tasks usually bore me to tears & I grumble through them, thinking the after-moment will be filled with joy. But guess what? It's usually not. More quotidian tasks, little laughter & continued expectation of coming joy. This won't do.

As a commitment to myself & my family, I embrace the moment, the beauty of the stainless steel bowls on the counter, leftover from lunch in need of cleaning. I treasure the time sitting on the living room floor, sorting & folding laundry. I inhale the smell of dirty children after a long day, knowing they all need showers & I willingly postpone my glass of wine & race upstairs to scrub their little scalps while we sing & sing & sing.

I welcome the eagerness back into my life.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pumpkin Bird Feeder

A few weeks ago I came across a blog with this fun-looking Pumpkin Bird Feeder project (taken from Martha Stewart which makes me laugh because I've been doing quite a few of her creations lately).

Because we had the luxury of a lazy Saturday morning (aside from the 8am soccer game), I decided to gather the children & try it out. Our oldest daughter was at a sleepover but the younger two were eager to get the pumpkin play on the way!

Here's the pumpkin I've had sitting around, anxiously awaiting 
this very project. She's pretty, no?

After admiring her beauty, I grabbed the butcher knife.

Kai & Z then tackled the task of scooping out the pumpkin goo. 
We prepped both halves but we ended up using the half with the stem because, well, it looked cool.

Next, they headed outside to gather sticks to create perches for the little birdies.

While they were foraging for sticks, I sliced a rim around the inside edge of the pumpkin to insert the seeds for decoration. The slippery seeds made this tricky! I even rinsed & dried them but they kept popping out, sliding onto the floor & creating quite the frustration in my kitchen. It was fun for about 2 minutes.

Next, I created holes to insert the perch sticks. After trying various kitchen utensils, I settled on a screwdriver which worked perfectly.

I wasn't too keen on the idea of tacking the string onto the pumpkin for hanging, like Martha suggested, so this is what I did instead. I cut 2 equally long pieces of jute, folded them in half & tied a knot that could slip around the stem.

I then asked my trusty assistant to hold the pumpkin while I slipped 
the loop around the stem & tediously adjusted the four strings so the 
feeder would hang evenly. 

Daddio awoke up from his nap just in time to help tie the top knot 
and we excitedly headed outside to fill the feeder and hang it on the 
shepard's hook outside our kitchen window.

And here it hangs, in all its glory........
until the squirrels figure out how to get at it!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In defense of the 'burbs

I can't believe I just wrote that title because I often feel unsettled out here in the 'burbs but after reading this article on Grist, I'm inspired to explain my suburban life....and let you all know it's not Zombie Cookie-Cutter Land, out here.

Yes, I'm an urban girl at heart. I lived & worked in Chicago for 10 years of my adult life and thought I'd never leave. But then, Mr. Right came along and escorted me out to Oak Park which I grew to love....urban-ish and only a quick drive or train ride into the city. Alas, however, Mr. Right's commute to Naperville was too much and we made the very difficult yet conscious decision to uproot our family and head west.

Have I found my time here numbed by shopping malls and shiny happy people? Do I feel our family has joined a cult of one-mindedness, droning around the suburbs in our minivans? Absolutely not. I came out here, a bit hesitant, but determined to find "my people." I searched for women and families who have their babies at home, grow their own food, strive for sustainability, go out of their way to support independent businesses, respect diversity and live fulfilling lives. And guess what? They're here! Suburbanites have large gardens. They're small business owners. They buy cooperatively to save resources & money. They're thoughtful parents. They ride their bikes to work. They frequent local farmer's markets. They're independent thinking, conscientious beings who strive to live purposeful lives. Duh.

There is a shopping mall but in my 5 years here I've probably been inside the doors 6 times. And we have big box stores but don't let any city dweller convince you they don't. In this era, we all have to look carefully for independently owned businesses because they're sadly scarce. The public transportation system consists of a Pace bus running to & from the train station which isn't helpful to my family but worthy, nonetheless. And no, I can't walk to a corner store which I often miss but then I think, what would I buy there anyway? I'm quite sure I wouldn't find the unprocessed foods that I feed my family or a roll of recycled toilet paper....but maybe some tape, every now & again. One mile from my suburban dwelling is a family owned business founded in 1875 that consists of a pharmacy, post office and general store. Yes, we support them often. And 3 miles down the road is a huge organic farm. We participated in their CSA for a few years before expanding our own garden. It's not a wasteland, out here, trust me.

Do I feel stranded? Not at all. I am very blessed to have a life that warrants me choice and this suburban life is what we opted for so that Daddio can ride his bike to work, coach & still be home in time to see the kids before bed. We've developed meaningful relationships, found our little unique niche and learned what it means to create a home rather than let a locale create you.

I often dream of living somewhere else, as the polls say 50% of us do, but that's because I'm human, apparently. My dreams range from selling the minivan, buying a CTA pass & finding a nice condo on the northside to moving further west, buying some chickens & working my way towards homesteading. The reality, however, is that I choose to be right here....and it's not as bad as the media makes it out to be.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Calendar woes

Do you ever look at your calendar and hear the theme music to The Twilight Zone? I flip open my laptop & click on the calendar icon, fearing the vision before my eyes. The cluttered, colorful, chaotic vision of appointments and commitments and fun times for our humble tribe of five......

 October Mania
I have a tendency to over-schedule because everything seems so worthy of my time and if you know me, you know that I love being with people. I also have 3 homeschooled kids who keep me running with their individual social lives and activities. There is rarely a day when I don't enjoy our shenanigans but there must be a middle point, a balance, to the everyday time we spend away from this place we call Home.

These past few weeks I've been pruning our calendar, getting rid of all that's not absolutely necessary. I even bowed out of classes we already paid for & stopped piano lessons which my children loved, loved, loved. Apparently I haven't pruned enough, though, because we still don't have one full day at home on any given week! We have blocks of time at home but no days to live spontaneously and free....and it's getting to me. (Not to mention, when do I do housework??) Soccer, vision therapy, Bible study, homeschooling group, theater class & church are our weekly commitments intermingled with birthday parties, meetings, book club, get togethers with friends and nights out with the family.

So what's a girl to do? Stop going to church? Skip vision therapy because she won't die without it? Drop out of homeschooling activities because the kids don't need life experiences or friends? Only one child can participate in sports at any given time? None of those seem realistic.

I fully understand that I'm not the only one living this dilemma but I also know that many families are not burdened by calendar woes. Is it just my perception? Should I keep a log of how many hours we're home vs. hours away? Am I too pessimistic & choose to see the worst in every situation? our calendar really out of control?

If you have any words of wisdom, I'll gladly listen........

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

All-for-one and Vegetarian-for-all?

When I was a single adult, my refrigerator consisted of yogurt, nut butter, apples & beer (with red wine in the cabinet). I had no flippin' idea how to prepare a steak or chicken or fish & never ever bought meat from the supermarket let alone from a farmer. But alas, I met a carnivore who became my partner in life and inspiration to learn what the hockey stick to do with meat.

For 9 years I struggled with those slabs of animal muscles, struggling with the ability to think ahead and defrost in enough time to marinate so the meal would be somewhat palatable. I can't remember a time when I was thrilled with this routine. I hadn't considered eliminating meat products from my diet because I was too conditioned to think there was any other way but I definitely knew I didn't have a craving for the taste or passion for the preparation. Funny side story....the very first time I prepared a turkey for Thanksgiving was a fiasco. I awoke early to get the bird in the oven but completely freaked out by its resemblance to a baby when I grabbed in under the wings to rinse it off. I dropped it like fire in the sink & proceeded to wake my partner to do the dirty deed. Ew. But I digress.

I've had an underlying interest in nutrition for as long as I can remember. My family of origin wasn't overly obsessed but I remember my mom denying water during meals because she'd read it was better for digestion. I also remember being fascinated with a neighbor who made her own peanut butter. And, my best childhood friend was from Vietnam & her house was always filled with the most delicious home cooked meals!  Needless to say, I was attuned to these nutritional "oddities." My inclination towards health lead me to nursing school but my nutritional passion wasn't fed in that arena.  Shortly after graduating, I enrolled in a correspondence program towards a degree in holistic nutrition and there began my life-long journey with food. (I never finished that program, by the way. Boo me.)

Intermingled with an awareness of my body's relationship with food was a desire to live responsibly, caring for Creation with my actions. About 10 years ago we started composting & gardening & looking for ways to sustain this world we were given. My partner is more of a farmer than I so we made a good team in this regard. He tilled the soil & I learned to preserve the harvest.  I found local farmers to provide grass-fed, free-range meat, eggs & raw dairy for our growing family & was convinced that "local" was the answer!

Jump ahead a few years and I started having some minor yet chronic & annoying health issues. Is this age? Is it environmental? Perhaps nutrition based? I tried every conventional & alternative therapy I could muster before having an epiphany that animal products were the culprit! So I became a vegan overnight.....literally.

Being a proud veganista only lasted a month before I started craving dairy & mourning the fact that my chronic issues weren't resolving. Meat wasn't a temptation....cheese was. It didn't take long for me to incorporate a bit of this and a bit of that into my diet and honestly, I was ok with it. Food wasn't curing my ailments. I couldn't add meat back into the regime, though, because of two reasons. For one, I didn't crave it and #2,  I'm convinced our Earth can't sustain the amount of meat we humans consume.

Along this journey, my oldest daughter has joined me in a vegetarian lifestyle but the rest have happily continued their carnivorous ways. Is this ok with me? Heck yeah!

I suppose I'm finally getting to the initial question. Should we all be vegetarians? From my perspective, it's a two part question. Is a low animal product diet better for our Earth? Yes! The amount of resources needed to farm, process & transport meat is excessive. (Sorry, no direct stats but feel free to look that up if you doubt my claims). Is it better for our health? It depends. Years ago I read a book, The Metabolic Typing Diet, and I'm a strong proponent of this philosophy. Basically, we're all individuals and have unique genetic make-ups that require varied dominant food sources to sustain us & keep us healthy. For some, more animal products may be our need. For others, a more plant-based diet is required for optimal well-being. Sounds tricky but all it takes is some self-evaluation and observation. Unfortunately, not enough of us realize that our bodies don't require so many animal products to survive and be content.

I've been meat-free for over 6 months and physically I feel, well, no different. I haven't lost weight, my minor chronic issues haven't resolved & I'm not ready to conquer the world. Otherwise, though, I feel FREE! It's hard to explain but it's as if I'm living the life I was intended. (Corny, sorry). I still prepare locally raised meat for my family (on a much more limited basis) and I surely don't judge others for consuming a piece of meat....unless it's a 20oz steak. I'm not even sure a meat-free diet is best for my vegetarian daughter but so far she's healthy & happy so I leave the decision to her. The verdict is out regarding my other two children but only time will tell.

I'm definitely rambling now but in all this, I hope to convey the desire for all of us to at least consider what's entering out mouths....what's best for our bodies and ultimately, how are my decisions effecting my fellow earthlings & our blessed planet?

Peace ~

Friday, October 7, 2011

Buckeye madness

The EbyTribe has succumbed to buckeye madness. A few days ago some friends went nut collecting and talked of their kids' love of the buckeye. Because it's such a gorgeous piece of creation, I was inspired to do the same as an addition to our fall decorations so the kids & I headed out with friends to gather nuts of our own!

I knew nothing about the buckeye tree aside from its most lovely deep reddish brown nuts so I was inclined to read up.  Because you're itching to know, here's what I found out....

For identification purposes, the leaves are palmate with 5-7 leaflets.

It flowers in the spring & the subsequent fruit has a spiny casing which holds 1-3 nuts.
Here's a photo of a beautiful Ohio Buckeye.

And our most humble buckeye collection.

So can one eat buckeye nuts, you ask? No, according to most sources. They are poisonous to humans but squirrels enjoy their bounty. Native Americans used to eat buckeye nuts when acorns were scarce but they needed to be roasted, peeled, mashed & leached for hours to remove the tannic acid so the process was quite tedious. Traditionally they have been dried & made into jewelry, especially since they are believed to bring good luck. And some claim that carrying a buckeye in your pocket relieves the pain of rheumatism.

Native Americans also named the nut because of its resemblance to the eye of a buck deer. As my daughter pointed out, though, they didn't actually have the word "buckeye" in their language. Good point.

Now that we're familiar with these fantastic pieces of creation, on to our day.

When we arrived at our foraging location, the pickings were slim. Thankfully the autumn sun was warm on our backs so we enjoyed our time muddling through the red clover finding precious buckeye treasures. The kids climbed trees, made piles of nuts & complained about the tall grass.  After gathering more than our fair share, we had a conversation about the importance of leaving some food for the wildlife so we tossed a few back into the grass & headed out for a hike.

Along the path we came upon a fallen tree which occupied the kiddos for the rest of our time. 

A quick yet eventful foray into buckeye madness.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fruits of the Spirit....Stream of Consciousness (SOC) #2

The wine is stinging my inflamed taste bud as the residue sits on my tongue that is silent as I write as I think as I sit here in the dark with only the glow of my MAC to draw my eyes eyes of Kaiya that don't see straight or at least they don't see in unison because she was born with strabismus...amblyopia...two words I never knew until I bore her loveliness but that shouldn't surprise me because I didn't know quite a bit before having kids kids who rip your heart apart and fill it with ecstasy at the very same moment in time that is quickly passing I am 40 oh my who knew it would go so fast fast faster than the speed of light it seems and soon these little ones will be 10 20 30 with partners of their own & perhaps children who will be my grandchildren sloooooowwww down my dear and take it moment by moment because today we made playdough & yesterday we dipped leaves in beeswax to hang on the hearth so each day is precious within itself and tomorrow will bring joy of its own so stop jumping ahead ahead of the game is where we all believe we should be but ahead of whose game and what game are we playing anyway because I'm quite sure we all march to the beat of different drummers if I may use a cliche and I like my drummer my drummer leads me on new journeys & into dark corners but she never stops beating out the rhythm of my life my personal life that I share with no other no matter how I hard try try to share and want to share but ultimately I live solo and that's ok ok to be who I am amidst the bustle of life around me with each person trying to forge their own path and create their own happiness happiness love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness......

Preparing for the dog days of winter

When do kids outgrow their love of playdough? My three still enjoy the mushy fun of creating with its pliable goodness.

Today we made our winter stash of dough & it's already been loved to the max!

I never use the same recipe twice but it always turns out great. This is what went down in the EbyCafe today......

As always, the first step in any project is gathering supplies. Because playdough isn't meant to be ingested (when Mama isn't looking, at least), I use the cheapest ingredients possible. For playdough you'll need flour, salt, cream of tartar (or alum) and Kool-Aid.

Ezra was so excited to get started, he skipped the end of a cartoon. Unheard of! They all chose their own colors & Z wanted blue.

Kaiya chose purple....

....and Simone loved the red, red, red!

Step one: Combine dry ingredients.
1 cup flour

1/2 cup salt

2 tsp cream of tartar (for lasting power)

2 packets Kool-Aid

Mix it all together and.... (this is where the photos took a break because of some chaos in the EbyCafe. Only about 5 people read this blog anyway, though, so it really doesn't matter. Haha!).....

Step Two: Put dry ingredients in a pot on the stove. Add 1 cup water & 2 Tbs oil & mix until thick which is only about 2-3 minutes.

Step Three:  Once it's an acceptable consistency, plop it on some wax paper to cool and then knead until smooth. As you can see in the below photo, Z's "blue" playdough turned out red because the flavor was tropical punch. Oops! Thankfully he's ok with it.

Kaiya's purple is a lovely shade of gray but she didn't care either. *phew*

Simone's turned out a shade of pink-ish red which is just what she was hoping for.

And here are the final colors, close up. 

It took about 2 minutes for them to pull out the playdough mats & toys & start creating!

And me? I was left with the dishes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Her mother's daughter

Do you ever look at your kids and see yourself? I don't mean their eye color or shape of their face but a small child seeking identity by modeling you? Their mannerisms? The clothes they choose to wear? How they style their hair? 

This past weekend, my husband took the younger kids out of town for a night and my oldest daughter & I had some special time together. We played SkipBo by the fire, ordered Chinese food & watched a silly movie in bed. (I fell asleep requiring a recap of the last 30 minutes the following morning.)

The next day I needed to run a handful of errands so I decided to make it worth our while, ending the torture with pedicures. My sweet Simone was so excited! This is what she looked like as we headed out the door....

I wasn't sure if I should smile or cry at her grown up appearance and obvious similarities to myself. Long hair tied back, aviator sunglasses, olive green coat carrying her tea in an insulated Kleen Kanteen. I loved it & it disturbed me, at the very same time. It's not that I don't care for my personal style, but I became very aware of my influence on her. She watches me. She hears me. She desires to be like me....and yes, that scares me.

Autumn hearth

Beeswax dipped leaves on jute string.

I love this look so much, we may do this again to create a leaf mobile to hang in the doorway. Or a nature table.  Or a dusting of leaves on the mantle. Or a pile of leaves in a basket on the table. Or....the ideas are endless!

Try it.

Look who's crafty now!

I've admitted over & over again that I don't like crafts. I enjoy creating but crafting in the traditional sense is not my forte. No scrapbooking (the kids are lucky they have some semblance of a baby book), no knitting (tried & failed & bored myself to tears), and I especially don't like "kiddie crafts" that involve googly eyes, popsicle sticks & glue.

Occasionally I surprise myself, though, by finding a kid-friendly craft that I can tolerate and dare I say enjoy. And it's always a bonus if the end result is pleasing to the eyes! So what did I tackle today? Preserving leaves in beeswax!

I followed the instructions on Martha Stewart Crafts *gasp* and the end result is quite lovely. Here's a quick run down of how it flowed in our abode.....

First, the kids & I took a long walk around the "big block" and gathered our favorite leaves. 
We aimed for a variety of colors, shapes & sizes.

Next, we chose our absolute favorites to preserve as fall decoration. 

The hardest part of the entire project was chopping off a chunk of beeswax. I didn't want to waste my whole pound & ultimately discovered that a hammer & flat head screwdriver works beautifully.

The beeswax was then melted in a double boiler.

The fun part was dipping the individual leaves. Kaiya & Ezra lost interest the moment we came home from our walk but Simone stuck with me through the sorting, chopping & dipping.

We then lay the leaves out on a drying rack, where they still rest. It's not that they're not dry but rather that I don't have the time to finish today. The plan is to hang a piece of jute string on the fireplace mantle & clothespin the leaves to the string. 

Photo, compliments of Simone
Final photo to come!