Monday, July 8, 2013

Psst. I'm over here!


Hello friends.

I'm have a new blog! Please come say hello: www.quillandcamera.wordpress.com!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Strawberry Weekend

I was born the day after my grandfather. A day and 67 years.

And for a while, these people who loved us tried to cram birthday cake down our birthday throats. There's a picture somewhere of a cake: "Happy Birthday Pop and Kari." That's what they all called us, when they gave us the cake. I suspect we ate it. We were nothing if not polite.

But at some point my grandfather put his giant foot down and said on his birthday, he would prefer strawberry shortcake. He was a Michigan farm boy, and strawberries were his favorite thing, and he was 70, so people gave in.

They still got me a cake. It got incrementally smaller during a period of about 4 years until it vanished completely. Because who really wants grocery store green frosting flowers and artificial raspberry filling when you can have strawberry shortcake?

(Nobody, that's who.)

My grandpa and I had 24 birthdays together, and he died not long after that last one -- he had gotten his shortcake and it was time to go.

But I can't celebrate my birthday each year without thinking of him and our tradition. My mom often makes me biscuits and mashed strawberries for my birthday, and I take them home and try to get really into it, but usually I just eat a bowful standing over the sink because strawberry shortcake requires some pomp, you know? It's a celebration food. It's not buttered noodles. It needs a parade, but the most I can muster on my own is the procession from the bowl to my face.

If you're wondering where this is going, it's headed toward a strawberry field yesterday, where we picked berries with friends. My grandpa would have enjoyed the place. He was a farm-stand kind of guy, and when we would visit his native Michigan each summer, he could barely wait until we passed the border to load up on cherries and peaches. He truly believed they were far superior, and so they were.

But in that field, attached to a little market with signs about returns being available only if you are "over 80 and bring your parents," and a sign that might explain why they don't open until noon on Sundays, "any earlier, and we'll see you in church," we picked four giant baskets of berries, which like all fresh berries raised for flavor instead of transport, started disintegrating the moment we cut their little umbilical cords.
We barely had time to get home before the jam assembly line began, and as I stood there, hulling 9 bar-jillion berries,  I thought of my grandpa again. Man, he would just love this, I was thinking. He would love that I make strawberry jam ... he would just be so proudohwaitmaybethat'swhyIdoit?

I mean really -- you can buy jam in any grocery or farmer's market. There truly isn't any logical reason to stand over a hot stove at the very end of June boiling vats of molten strawberries, is there?

Probably not. And yet ...

I get a little nuts -- everyone knows there are moments when if you walk into the kitchen (which has temporarily become MY kitchen) I will act as if I am performing an emergency appendectomy on the counter-top. I will spread out my arms like the police chief at the scene of a nothing-to-see-here-folks movie moment and I will say, quite impolitely really, "don't touch ANYTHING!"

I suspect if I did this more, I would get more Zen about it, but in order to do it more often, I might need a prescription.
And so, I do the best I can and when I hear the little pings of the jars, I start recognizing that my previous behavior may have been a little ... extreme, and so I start some biscuits.

The biscuits calm me right back down again because they are simple. Anything is simple compared to the science of canning: getting your MBA, discovering electricity, delivering your own triplets ...

(Again, "extreme.")

But biscuits are pretty handy when you have a strawberry surplus. You can both test out some of your jam on them and make the foundation of a shortcake.

I suggest that last one. I think my grandfather would too. If he were still here, he would take a big China bowl and top the biscuits with sweetened mashed berries, whipped cream, another layer of berries and another layer of whipped cream until the tower threatened to slide right out of the bowl, at which time he would gobble it down. He would declare it the best dessert he'd ever eaten and the best birthday of his life (assuming this occurred anywhere near May 6).

I thought of that image last night as I took my first bite of strawberry shortcake, and I realized how lucky I was to be born so close to him, to have been able to enjoy so many birthdays together, to have so many memories to share with my own little family.

And then ... well then I went to get seconds.






Thursday, June 27, 2013

Featherheads.

This hat reminds me of my childhood. 

We used to do annual ice shows (my sister and I were skaters) that involved us wearing what I realize now were mini showgirl costumes -- high cut leotards with extra long skirts and spray-glitter yarmulkes with feathers sticking out of the top. 

Then, because this didn't technically qualify as abuse yet, they would smear the exact same shade of pancake make-up on all of our faces (maybe 60 of us, all the same orange), outline each of our eyeballs in heavy black eye liner, and put fuschia lipstick on us. 

In between shows we would go out to lunch at an Italian place, all dressed up like teensy magician's assistants, wearing billowy show t-shirts over our nude tights, so it appeared to anyone who didn't know better that we were pants-less and had a very specific, widespread skin disease. (Widespread as in it affected all of us, not widespread as in affecting a large area, because only our legs and faces appeared afflicted.)

You might think that once you factored in the lights my friend Heather's dad operated, and the distance from way up in the bleachers that we appeared normal, but that would be discounting the on-ice seating, which meant strangers were approximately 3 feet away from our pivoting kickline.

We did this one weekend in May every year of our lives for 12 years. 

The hats were the best part.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Favorite Fourth Tradition -- Tie-Dying T-Shirts

My sweet sister reminded me this morning of last year's tie-dye craze that hit our tribe. We tie-dyed twice, but when you have seven kids taking part, and you're making gifts for nephews and pals, and Mom needs a new bag for library books ... well, it turns into a serious amount of tie-dying.

After my sister's call I was immediately on the phone to my friend asking if she wanted to recreate the fantastic madness before Fourth of July this year.

Want to join us this year in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite summer traditions?

Growing up, tie-dying meant the old-school bucket route complete with soda ash. My fellow Brownies and I would take a break from making macrame bracelets and writing letters home detailing our mosquito bites in order to dunk our camp shirt in Rit Dye. Camp was seriously the greatest. We lived for 12 days in little A-frame wooden huts, and cooked our dinners over a fire. Those T-shirts (later signed by our bunkmates) brought back memories for years, which is probably why they gave gangly 9-year-olds extra larges.

Back then, your tie-dye choices were a bullseye or a spiral. If you got fancy, you could off-set your spiral, but that was pretty much it. A little googling will find you lots more options, plus color charts.

At the risk of sounding old and cranky, we were not given color charts. We weren't even given full-strength Kool-Aid.

My mom approach to tie-dying is to keep it simple with a kit. The kids get just as much enjoyment out of it, and I don't lose my mind cooking beets for three hours. I save that for egg dying.

It would be terrible if I didn't tell you about the absolute greatest part of making tie-dye T-shirts for July 4th -- you can use them for your Frozen T-shirt Contest: Wet down the shirt and fold it carefully, then place it inside a freezer. On July 4th, when it is too hot to breathe and everyone is having visions, pull out the t-shirts and have a contest to see who can get theirs unfolded and put on first.

(Everyone is a winner when no one gets heatstroke!)

Those Brownie leaders had it right in a lot of ways. Extra big T-shirts are good, when they are made of memories. Sam the Lavatory Man holds up. And summers are meant for bug bites and s'mores.

I need to start camping to-do list.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Finding a summer rhythm


I feel like we are finally settling into to our summer rhythm here. It took a while.

It always seems to when "school" ends for us. We need a few weeks to figure it out.

Rhythm has played a big part in our days since Owen was tiny. I was searching for a gentle structure to our days that kept one from running into the other, and helped us to enjoy our years at home and get every minute out of them.

And so, I began reading about rhythm -- a Waldorfy idea that kept me sane. When I had Ellery and then we began homeschooling it was my lifeline: Mondays we baked, Tuesdays we painted ... every day had some little purpose. It felt real and important.

As the kids have grown, there have been times when we've needed to do pretty big rhythm overhauls. But we also often find ourselves needing to tweak things as the seasons change.

I see summer as a really good time to focus on "life skills" stuff, like our morning routine, or this summer, teaching the kids how to do laundry. There isn't an expectation that either one of them is about to take the family's weekly laundry pile down to the creek or anything, but some basic familiarity with the process is good for all of us, I think.

A few weeks back the kids and I created morning lists (Ellery's also has pictures), and I am already feeling like it will make things a bit easier in the fall, when our homeschool group begins again. Those mornings are always really busy, and make me super grateful that I don't have to put people on buses at 7:15 five days a week. We like our slow mornings around here.

We tried to keep the morning chores really simple. They begin after breakfast dishes are cleared:

  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Brush hair
  • Make bed
  • Feed pets
  • Empty dishwasher
  • Check chickens
  • Start a load of laundry
The kids switch off on who feeds the pets and who empties the dishwasher in a very elaborate system which I don't think can be put on paper or otherwise quantified. It might be the most complex thing that happens here before dinner time.


This summer transition means a lot more time outside, but that small change weaves in as naturally as it will weave out again in November. And our big touchstones -- meals, our bedtime routine and "Quiet Time," remain the same.

"Quiet Time" has gone by other names in our family. For a long time it was "Nap Time," but Owen transitioned out of naps at an early age because he despised the very idea of them. We tried "Rest Time," but my oldest saw through that ruse.

At the beginning of summer I again explained my need for quiet time (about an hour when we find our quiet pursuits -- reading, knitting, crochet or beads for Ellery, playing quietly, listening to an audiobook, etc.).

"This is about Mama needing a little downtime," I said. I reminded them of my love of reading after lunch, and everyone was amenable to the idea when they remembered that it was in no way a punishment, but a break and breather.

I think the biggest change has been to our daily rhythm which is still "settling." We like to stick with Wednesdays for our library day, so we can visit our good friends. But Wednesdays are also our favorite farmer's market, and we haven't yet successfully combined the two. Tuesdays are great for meeting up with friends because that is our homeschool co-op day during the traditional school season. There are so many great parks and fun activities during the summer, so Thursdays have been set aside as a travel day, but we also seem to do best with at least one day at home all day. Those days remain our old "baking" day from years ago, and often turns into the day when we tackle some big cooking project. We also do a lot of crafts that day, play more games, and sometimes we'll plan something fun and special, like when we set up our home science lab.

So our weekly rhythm now looks like this (in our best weeks!):
  • Mondays: Home day (cooking, baking, crafts and projects)
  • Tuesdays: Visit with friends
  • Wednesdays: Farmers market and library
  • Thursdays: Travel and special activities
  • Fridays: Errands and shopping (I try to factor in a special treat these days because who really enjoys shopping? You do? Really? Even without chocolate croissant?)
The thing about rhythm, I find, is that it's never really exact. What if friends call on a Friday, or we want to sneak to a dollar matinee on Wednesday? We roll with it.

Our rhythm is really a framework. It's something to go back to when we start to feel a little scattered. It's always there waiting for us, and when we need it, it feels like home.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A very hard goodbye.

I promise that this isn't a whole blog about animal death. Really.

In a perfect world, I would never post about such things, but last night, our sweet little cat died after suffering a stroke. It's rotten, and there's not much to say right now except that we are all going to miss her very much.

I'm not sure as a parent there are many things harder than watching your children hurt -- the pain is so deep, and it wells up again and again.

So we're doing the little things we can, like buying a grave marker, and flowers and writing obituaries to help them understand death a little better.

So many of you have been so very supportive during the past four weeks while Riggs was fighting hard to recover from her accident. It has meant a lot to our whole family. She was such a tough little cat, and as recently as Thursday afternoon, the veterinarian was thrilled with her progress.

It's too soon to try to find meaning here -- we are just dealing with the sadness and the overwhelming feeling that has come with something so tiny leaving such a huge empty space in our home and our hearts. But the care and concern so many have shown for us helps, so again, I want to say thank you.

Here is the obituary we wrote for our girl:



June 22, 2013 -- Rigatoni Flame Anderson
died Friday at home after a brief illness. She was 4 years old.

Rigatoni was adopted by the Anderson Family in September of 2009 when Owen found her. She was a stray and had been living on food from a dumpster. She was hospitalized for three days and then came to live with them full-time.

Rigatoni earned the nickname “Therapy Cat” for her calm and loving demeanor. She could often be found on Owen’s bed. He was her special person.

She was always a micro-cat; she never grew to full size because of malnutrition as a kitten, but her small size was in opposition to her huge and powerful spirit. Rigatoni fought hard to survive as a baby, and even harder to survive after a May 24 accident when she was struck by a car.  Riggs showed us all that the smallest can have a quiet strength, or as Ellery put it, “Some people think that girls aren’t tough, but they are when they need to be.”

Riggs will be forever immortalized in the work of Owen Anderson, creator of Crazy Cat, a cartoon that features an adventurous and feisty feline named Riggs, who along with her companion Chris and a large cast of other characters, is always making readers laugh.

Rigatoni is survived by her animal siblings, Travis and Joey, and by her human family, Shawn, Kara, Ellery and Owen.

In lieu of flowers, please hug your pets, and drive very safely in residential neighborhoods.

We will love you forever Riggs. May the force be with you.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mornings.

When I was pregnant with my son, I got into a weird habit of waking at 4 a.m.

I was working quite a bit then, and although I'm sure the early morning waking could have been attributed to hormones or internal kickboxing, I like to think that it was our special time together before the world woke up.

And so, we would sit on the couch and watch MacGyver on TV Land, and sometimes, because my only pregnancy complaint was heartburn, we'd eat a little ice cream.

Later, when he was external, we continued the same routine for a few months. I ditched the ice cream, but we kept the MacGyver. And I remember one episode when Mac was trying to save the occupants of a hijacked train? from drug lords? terrorists? I think it was a train, and as he emerged to the dawn he said something like, "A whole new day, a whole set of fresh possibilities. I'm a sucker for mornings."

I looked down at my nursing baby and thought, yeah -- me too.

What I really am is a sucker for quotes.
Mornings ... mornings can go either way for me. I think I'm a sucker for slow mornings and quiet mornings. I believe there's nothing wrong with reading before breakfast, taking a little walk in the garden, visiting the chickens ... I think cardigans are a perfectly acceptable substitute for robes, and when paired with yoga pants, you can get away with strolling around your own backyard for a bit.

I like big breakfasts -- I think I got that from my grandpa. I like the ceremony of big breakfasts.

I like two cups of strong black tea.

I like to ease into my days with my children, because with children come a pretty good range of possibilities -- like this morning, when that same little boy who I first got to know during so many 4 o'clocks asked me, "What's for breakfast this morning, Mom? I'm hoping something continental."

Or when a little girl declares after a busy weekend that Monday is a "pajama day."

OK, I think. I can work with that.

And so another new day begins, and with it, a whole fresh new set of possibilities. I'm a sucker for those kinds of mornings.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Summer, a rediscovery.

There have been so many moments this past week that reminded me of summer.
Well, it sort of is pretty much summer, you might be say, and that would be true.
But like most grown-ups, I tuned out seasons for a lot of years. And then I had kids, and when I'd open my windows or step outside, I had feelings -- little things, like a particular kind of melty breeze reminded me of Easter time, or snow stinging my cheeks during sledding reminded me of Christmas Eve.
That was what happened at first.
It keeps getting stronger.
And this week ...

We visited the springs near out house. It's a short drive, but somehow a complete exit from city -- it's close to where I grew up and where my grandparents lived, and my life tied to them -- that's where the memories seem to rest. (Christmas Eve meant their fireplace crackling and Oyster stew on the stove. Easter meant church we all went to church, and when we arrived at their house for dinner, I'd receive a little basket that contained a Fanny May chocolate bunny.)

And summers -- they were packed with the kind of days that seemed like nothing special, really, until the memories started slowly coming back, and I realized they defined a growing-up.

At the springs, it was the smell of grass. Not cut grass, even, but just the green thereness of grass, and it evoked Saturdays spent on a front porch with my sister. (We'd drink Country Time lemonade made from powder and eat Schwann's ice cream bars. We'd ride bikes in the circle drive-way.)

After a dip in the springs we hiked, and when we met the river I told my kids about fishing with my dad and grandpa. We walked past familiar weeds and wildflowers; the white sycamores and the tall grasses brought me back to the backyard woods where a native American chief was supposedly buried (a college group came out once to dig around). I both wanted them to find something, and I wanted them to leave the chief alone. He was ours, whether he was really there or not, because my grandpa believed.

The springs visit was proceeded by the discovery of a mulberry tree in our yard this week -- something that took me by surprise in the best way -- something I felt so excited to share with my own kids.
The taste of that first mulberry was like a little bite of skinned knees and long braids, as I remembered stuffing handfuls of berries in my terrycloth pockets.

And then today at lunch with my mom, there was the recollection of the laundry hamper -- and my reading nook in the closet, where I would tuck in after lunch and stay until someone came to get me, or until I finished my daily book.

I still love reading after lunch. I still love little spaces. I don't think there's anything that makes me feel safer than the combination of the two. It feels like home.

And so this week brings with it the overwhelming feeling that summer is near, and that it will be gone soon too -- in a blink the leaves will turn crispy, and with them, a whole other set of memories may come rushing forward.

For now there's this moment, this opportunity for grass and mud and cheap mysteries, bike rides and ice cream bars and dreams -- sweaty, middle-of-the-day, in front of the fan dreams.

I know it can never be again, except when it momentarily is. 

And then, it's oh so fleeting; but all the sweeter when concentrated down to its essence -- everything that mattered, and everything that remains.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Perfect.


Some days, perfect is homemade, homegrown, or handsewn.
It's the soup made from bone broth, or the quiche with eggs fresh from the farm, or the bread kneaded by hand.
It's the wreath woven from vines found on a nature walk, or the table set with mismatched yet perfectly  coordinating serving bowls.
I feel a lot of "perfect" pressure around special occasions. I feel a lot of "perfect" pressure when I see photos online, or read Facebook updates. Is everyone else doing it better? Doesn't anyone else kill the yeast or melt the chick brooder? Doesn't anyone else deal with weather, or technical malfunctions or just run out of money?
Everyone else must have more money, right? That's how they afford the stainless steel popsicle molds, or the $300 handspun yarn or the home that looks like a charming little cabin, but is somehow big enough to accommodate a home music studio and 6 bedrooms, right?
Doesn't anyone else ever find themselves in a mall, four days before Father's Day, so overwhelmed, determined to get the one (perfect) thing they came for so they can boycott the place for six more months?
Did everyone else start their heartfelt father's day gifts months ago? Is that where I went wrong? Is that how I ended up in this hell-pit, trying to explain to my kids that the puppies kept in cribs at a store called "Furry Babies," are very sweet, and that someday we will get a puppy, but that we don't have $600 right now, and well, even if we did ...

I feel like there are moms out there who don't deal with this. They just don't. They don't deal with Barbies in the supermarket or neighbor kids who think their house is boring because there's no cable or gaming system. They have their bubble -- or at least it looks like that from here. They shop at a co-op, and their kids play with pinecones. No one argues in their house and no one questions their parenting.

Do they ever even have a moment of standing in a giant book store and wondering why half of it is filled with stuffed animals?

We don't know. But from a distance, it all seems very perfect -- it seems unattainably perfect.
So some days, what becomes perfect is a giant hot pretzel, split three ways. It's a train ride around the mall, creeping slowly past a Hollister, praying to God that your daughter continues to want to wear her brother's old clothes to the park until she's 32.
It's this quote, from a happy girl: "Mama, thank you for letting us ride the escalators and the elevator and the train."
Or this one: "This pretzel is unbelievable, Mom. We have GOT to learn how to make these."
Sometimes perfect is embracing what is there, drinking that too-sweet lemonade and listening to your kids giggle when a train takes off and a little computerized conductor creaks: "All Aboard!"
I often forget that what brings my kids happiness is really all the perfect we need.
And that seeing the world through their eyes can be a reminder that today, well ... today, I think was at least good enough.

Summer Science

I remember the day I finally graduated.

I pushed my cart to the check out carrying the BIG jug of vinegar and the BIG box of baking soda.

Because I use those two things for everything.

With enough baking soda and vinegar, I can make my counter spray, and face scrub, my carpet freshener (a.k.a. "fairy dust" -- paired with "sweet dreams spray" it's my super secret trick for clean kids rooms).

With an unlimited supply of those two ingredients I can clean laundry and dishes and drains, sinks, my oven ... oh, and you know, cook and stuff.

Until they disappear ... and I find these two making some kind of concoction.

They do always ask first, but when your kids come to you and say, "Mama -- can we do some science?" it's really hard to say no. It's like if they said, "Mama, can we clean out the car?" or "Mama, can we give you this cupcake?"

Our summer started in earnest last week, and on Friday, a friend gave use some science books from when her sons were growing up.

Flipping through them, we saw lots of fun experiments, and so over the weekend, we pulled out our old play stand. Since its arrival as a bake shop a few Christmases ago, it's been a bank, a post office, a veterinary clinic, a store, a restaurant and a fruit market.

It's now our Outdoor Science Lab.

(Did you notice the outdoor part? Total Mom-trick to limit mess. I'm lazy like that.)

We also bought/found software:

  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar 
  • Glycerin
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Dishsoap
  • Yeast
  • Agar (Looking for agar? We found ours at a natural foods store. You can substitute gelatin too!)
  • Cornstarch
We collected some hardware too:
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Tongs
  • Vials
  • Empty jars
  • A strainer
  • A funnel
  • Tweezers
  • A magnifying glass
  • Cast-offs from a garage sale science kit we bought a couple of summers ago
  • small notebooks for recording results
With those items collected, the kids set about making cornstarch goo (non-Newtonian fluids! Bartholomew and the Oobleck!), elephant toothpaste, paper bag volcanos, shiny pennies, plastic milk and bubble solution. They also figured out ways to alter the typical baking soda/vinegar explosions by adding other ingredients.

I laid out some lab rules, including that they needed to keep their lab in working order and use ingredients with discretion. Although if they really need more vinegar and baking soda, I totally get it. 

Because that stuff is magic.

** Many thanks to our friend Eileen for her generosity and the inspiration to get us started!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The fire and the rain.


I'm wondering if I can borrow a cup of inner peace.
I seem to be all out.
Symptoms include walking around in a daze, not realizing that you were actually speaking to me just now, and general frustration, irritability and restlessness.
I could blame the animals.
(That's terrible, though, to blame a chick who died or a cat that got hit by a car.)
It might be more fair to just sort of generally blame the two-plus weeks of chaos that landed atop our house -- everything happening in threes and all that.
It was a lot.
And it shook us, all of us.
I can tell every day that we're still just a bit off.
It's the little things that make a life -- it's bedtime stories and snacks, and French toast breakfasts and getting the library books back on time.
And those things aren't happening with the regularity of normal yet.

It's the fire pit.
My family brought home a fire pit for Mother's Day, along with marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars. We planned a Mother's Day cook-out followed by s'mores-making, but then our chick got hurt and died, and we had a funeral instead for a bird we had known just six short weeks. Three of us spent Mother's Day night crying and drinking tea while my husband got stitches from trying to save a baby bird named Cinnamon.
It was sad, and it rocked our whole family, and it seemed to start something, some dark cloud that hung out a little too close to our house for a few weeks. We fought infections and pneumonia and allergic reactions, and then our sweet cat snuck out, just when things felt kind of normal again, and she was hit by a car.
She is doing well -- incredibly well. People say things like, "I feel like I got hit by a car," and let me tell you, getting hit by a car shows, but she was lucky enough to survive, and we are lucky enough to get to care for her, even if that means a little extra time these days.
And so, there's been stuff, and we never did get around to those marshmallows (we cooked some on the stove, but come on -- who you fooling?)
And then finally -- tonight was the night -- the kids helped build a fire as I finished dinner, and just as we sat down to eat the rain started.
Owen's face fell, and I tried, as I've been trying for weeks now to muster the right words to encourage a kid who has been dealing with some junk.
"Well, maybe we can make stove-top s'mores tonight, and we'll save the fire for tomorrow," I said, trying to be reassuring. "It can't rain forever, right?"
And that's when it hit me.
It can't rain forever.
There's just no way. At some point, things always shift. The sun comes out again, and everything dries up and gets green, and you get a break, you know? A breather. Even if the rain starts up again, you get a glimpse of something good and sometimes, that's all it really takes to start rebuilding your spirit; to find some peace again.

The rain stopped tonight for just a few minutes. We made s'mores, and Owen danced, he was so happy.
"We never could have done this at our old house," he said, and suddenly, a day spent doing some hard work came into perspective.
We've taken some big steps in the past year -- in many ways they have been leaps of faith. Maybe we knew all along that the rain had to stop sometime, and that that's when you get to lift your face up to the sky, and remember to be grateful.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Ms. Patmore stole my toilet paper

My soul-sister Kari and I joke sometimes about how pets sort of require that you keep a roll of paper towels in the house.

Because there is just something about cleaning up a handful of regurgitated garbage that makes you super grateful that you can just throw it all back in the trash and never see it again.

Hopefully.

So the truth is, I use paper. I try to be conservative. I recycle like Ed Begley Jr's slightly obsessive Midwestern niece.

But there is an area of my life where I have recently tried cutting back even more.

And that would be in the potty.

(I know. Let's just do our best to get through this together.)
The first time I heard about the idea of using cloth toilet ... um, cloths? was when I interviewed Tara Wagner of The Organic Sister for a web site I used to edit. At the time, she had just started her project Sustainable Baby Steps, and was traveling around the country with her family in an RV fueled by recycled vegetable oil.

She mentioned her family of three also used reusable toilet paper, and I thought, what I often think when I hear a new idea -- that will be the one that makes my husband finally divorce me.

I mean, I come up with plenty of weird stuff on my own, and he is a patient man, but there are times when I think he would have really liked to have found a nice, average girl -- someone who buys him Tombstone pizzas for dinner, and who doesn't fill his basement bathroom with baby chicks and kitties on the mend, and possibly a foster dog, even though he was totally all for that, don't let him fool you.

So I put the idea on a shelf for a bit. Until I started watching Downton Abbey and needed something easy to sew. So I blame Downton Abbey, really. It's so hard not to.

In the course of watching three seasons, I sewed about 4 dozen wipes and a wet bag. The wipes were easy -- the wet bag was a little harder, but I needed a distraction in Season 3, and that's all I am saying.

(Except a car crash? Really? Seemed so tacked-on, didn't it?)
The actual process I learned from my friend Danielle, who has a very down-to-earth approach about the whole thing which I have adopted: you can just use them when you're onesie-ing, and maybe working your way up to twosie-ing at some point, but no pressure. Husbands can use them or not, and you want to keep a roll in there of the paper stuff anyway for guests. Basically, it's worth a shot. It's not Spanish Influenza. Just relax. Everything will be OK.

The whole thing really starts to make sense if you sew anyway, and you have scrap fabric laying around. I gathered up a bunch of flannel and made a bunch of mixy-matchy wipes. I will say that coincidentally, a lot of them feature umbrellas? Weird, right? I choose to not over-think it.

I spent some time on Etsy looking at really cute, color-coordinated wipe sets, and I based my sizing on that. I would cut two pieces of flannel into 8-inch by 6-inch rectangles, and put right sides together (no pinning, I've got a show to watch.)
I'd then sew around, curving the corners (you don't have to -- I thought it looked cute), and leaving a little hole between corners for turning.

I'd then turn them right-side-out, fold in the little edges of the hole, and sew them up. Then I would top stitch around the outside.

I don't have a serger, which in this case probably saved me a finger.

To make things quicker, I used a rainbow variegated thread, which goes with everything and nothing.

They were super simple and easy to make, and frankly, they are really easy to use. I throw them in the laundry when the bag gets full, right along with the bag.

Some of us use them, and some don't. That's OK. We're saving a few trees, a bit of money, and we'll never technically run out of toilet paper again.

Frankly, I can't wait until Season 4. Maybe I'll start building a compost toilet ...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Sweet Moments


This holiday weekend, we kept very busy. There was lots to plant, and lots of work to do in our backyard.

The kids played with the neighbor, and we baked cinnamon rolls - a process perfect for holidays, when you have a little extra time together, and don't mind packing on 6 to 8 pounds.

These cinnamon rolls will always remind me of two Christmases ago, when our family spent "the week between" just hanging out -- just the four of us. We would wake up late, eat cinnamon rolls for breakfast, watch The Price is Right, and then, while the kids played with new toys and art supplies, my husband and I would plan an activity for the day -- bowling? sushi dinner? more lounging and cinnamon roll consumption?

We did a lot less lounging the past few days because we'd been given the wonderful advice by our veterinary technician and lifelong friend Lynne to stay busy while our cat was recovering from being hit by a car. And so, we dug in the dirt while waiting for daily updates from our sweet veterinarian, who would greet me with, "calling for Kara Anderson, relative of Rig-a-twany ..."

He would then convey the news: Rigatoni was still with us, she was taking a little food, a little water. Her jaw was broken, and there was a lot of head trauma, but none of the really scary stuff. We found out Sunday that she could see, which had been a concern. By Monday he was sure that there really wasn't extensive damage to her brain, and that she just needed a lot of nursing and rest.

I hate to say that we were just filling time until the phone rang each day, but when it did ring, three sets of eyes would look at me expectantly, while I carefully responded, "OK. That's good news. We are still hopeful."

On the other end of the phone, I would hear this wonderful man, who has been practicing for probably 60 years tell me things like, "I've been doing this for a long time, and I've learned that family is about pets and pets are about family. I sense that your children are quite attached, and I want you to know that we are doing everything we can."

Doing all they could included him visiting her twice a day on a holiday weekend, carefully administering food, water, and medication, and giving our family buckets of hope.



We decided that that kind of care really required pay-back in cinnamon rolls. It was just a must.

And so, we spent Monday night and Tuesday morning boiling, mixing, rising, punching, rolling, dusting, and melting enough butter to swim in.

By 10 a.m., our entire house smelled like an Ikea, and by noon, we had news that they thought Riggs was ready to come home.

"Look, Mom! They are living their dream of being old farm cats!"
Yesterday was a day when I saw so much compassion -- from dedicated veterinarians, from the whole crew at our vet's office, from friends and family, who have been texting and emailing since we found Riggs asking for updates, and from my own little family. 

There is something about watching a 6-foot-4-inch man, cramped in a bathroom, cradling a cat and giving her water with an eye-dropper, that makes you flash back to your wedding, and that feeling that you were making the best decision of your life.

There's something about watching your children love a cat who doesn't look how she used to (the photo above is from before the accident) -- a cat who is just struggling to survive -- and hearing them tell her how much she is loved, how special she is, and how proud they are they she is fighting so hard to stay with us.

It makes you realize how incredibly lucky you are, even when just a couple of days ago, life seemed kind of scary.

You suddenly remember that most of the world deserves a pan of cinnamon rolls. That this is a good place, this universe of ours, and that sometimes, amazing, wonderful things can happen.

With love and hope, all things are possible. Add butter and sugar, and every day looks a little brighter than the one before.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Making friends through homeschooling without worrying about "socialization"


Are you visiting today from Simple Homeschool? Thank you for stopping by! This is my relatively new blog all about homeschooling, backyard farming, food, knitting, and the general trouble created by too much vinegar and baking soda in one house. To read more, you can subscribe here, or find me on Facebook or Pinterest!

For those not visiting via Simple Homeschool, I was fortunate enough to contribute a piece about the age-old "socialization" question today:


Whew, I remember thinking -- we were finally part of something. It was so handy to have that answer ready in my back pocket when the grocery clerk or dental assistant asked us how my kids socialized.

"We have a group!" I would say.

Problem solved.

Or was it?

My kids were interacting. They were invited to birthday parties. They had "friends."

"A friend is someone who likes you ..." I would read Joan Walsh Angland's little classic to my children and ask myself, do these people really like us, or are we all just here at the same time?

It was a fair question, I think. Our activities seemed to revolve around parent chit-chat and trying to get a handle on this new homeschooling gig.

We were our own little Ellis Island, brought together by circumstance, some of us not even speaking the same "homeschool" language.


Read more at Simple Homeschool and please let me know what you think!

Thanks for stopping by!!




Sunday, May 26, 2013

What's at Stake


This is a year of big changes for us -- a new house, new chickens and even a new way of gardening.

Ten years ago, at our country farmette, we grew asparagus, rhubarb, a huge vegetable garden and even grapes. My kids can't believe we had grapes just feet from the kitchen door, but that was part of the beauty of country living. That and a garage in our basement. And horse next door that scared our nervous dog.

From that house, we moved into the city. Like the city, across from a hospital and next to an apartment building.

We tried gardening. We wanted very much to make it work, but it never seemed to happen for us. Some years, we'd get a few tomatoes and herbs. Our mint and lemon balm plants produced more and more, while our vegetable plants produced less and less.


I think I knew we were in real trouble the year our neighbor got a Topsy Turvy and brought us his excess tomatoes. The gardening snob in my just couldn't handle his extra upside-down cast-offs.

And so, when we moved into this house, we began planning right away. Our kind friends even made us a garden bed to get us started, and we planted garlic and shallots last fall.

We've never beed raised bed people -- we instead would borrow a roto-tiller and wrestle with it until we had a trapezoid patch of mud chunks. From there, we'd plant and hope for the best.

But our fall garden bed looked great in the yard, and so this spring we built one and a half more. We've filled our beds with organic heirloom seeds and plants, and so far, our boxes are blooming.

I wish we had room for more, but as it is, our 2.5 beds are pretty packed -- so much so that the usual large tomato cages that we employed back when there was room for a grape arbor take up a lot of real estate in our smaller garden patch.


We decided to try staking them this year instead. I used some old long underwear pants from my kiddos to create strips of fabric. One of my favorite manuals for sustainable backyard living, Little House in the Suburbs, warned against using anything that could dig into our tender tomatoes. They suggested pantyhose. I think I had those one time -- they're like yoga pants for businesspeople, right?

I'm not sure this new approach will work. I may find myself still purchasing tomato cages instead of relying on recycled pants and stakes from the garage, but for us, this year is about embracing the change.

Everything we do may not work. But we will learn. And that learning will make every year to come just that much easier.

What are you growing this year? Have you made any changes to your garden?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

For the Love of Rigatoni


One of the good things about residing in the city is that up until recently, my children have been mostly unfamiliar with pet injury and death.
I count this in the "good" column because I seem to be raising sensitive sorts -- children who name bugs and birds and chipmunks -- who create extensive traps, only so they can love the critters to death.
I was this same type of child, chasing the feral barn cats, knowing that with enough time and attention, they would surely want to wear doll clothes and be pushed in a stroller.
I approached this process each and every time with patience until the panic set in. There was panic, of course, because I believed that cats only lived for three years.
I think I thought this true this until at least middle school.
"This is Mr. Tubbs," my hip, new friend, with her Z. Cavaricci jeans would tell me during my first visit to her house. "He'll 18."
"You mean 18 months, right?" I asked puzzled.
Poor thing -- his life already half-way over.
When you live in the country, you become more accustomed to early pet death and destruction. Mother cats shun their young, and push them off of the garage deep-freeze where they were born. Dogs get hit by trucks.
It's the nature of things, your parents tell you.
My grandpa, the country vet, was a very caring animal lover, and yet, he was pragmatic. He could console widows and comfort children, but he didn't sugar-coat anything but his morning grapefruit.
When I got a dwarf flopped eared bunny early in high school, and it peed on my lap repeatedly, I took this as a sign of affection -- he felt comfortable.
"Or he just had to empty his bladder," my grandfather told me.
Still, he loved animals. My whole family loves animals, up until they get eaten by other animals or disappear into the woods.
And so Friday morning, when my husband called me downstairs, and I could hear in his voice that something was wrong, it hit me hard to see our sweet micro-cat Rigatoni tucked into his arms.
"She was outside," he said, and before I could utter the obvious -- that she isn't an outside cat, he added "and she doesn't look good."
She looked terrible, really -- I could see that even without my contacts in. Her face bloody, her eyes gooey, her whole head swollen. She wasn't breathing well.
He rushed her to the vet, and I called to say they were on their way.
The words fell out, and at the end, I choked on, "she's my son's."
Owen rescued Riggs from a dumpster 3 years ago. She was living on coffee ground and green lunch meat. She was so sick that when you lifted her, poo dripped out of her hind end. The vet classified it as a "public health concern," and she had to be hospitalized and given IV antibiotics.
But she bounced back. She never grew from that point, though -- frozen in time as an 3-month-old kitten, with two little teeth missing in the front.
We don't know what happened to Riggs Thursday night. We don't even know how she got out.
As I write this, we know she has head trauma.
Coming on the heels of losing our first chick to a dog, the past few weeks have been filled with a lot of pet crisis.
My poor kids, part of a family of animal-loving city folks, never knew this kind of despair. A few times we've flushed fish.
And so I'm worried about Riggs, of course. But I'm worried more about our children.
I know that either way, our family will be OK. But the more I try to channel my grandfather's pragmatism in the face of what could happen, the more I realize that that type of acceptance comes after seeing death too much.
It's a farmer's perspective, and I wonder if I'll ever get there.
I wonder if I ever want to.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Muffin Jacks.



They're Muffin Jacks. Or Pan Muffins. Or Muffin Cakes.

I'm pretty sure we decided on Muffins Jacks, though, so let's go with that.

They are definitely a combination of muffins and pancakes, and they make some morning magic. You see, we are a pancake people, here. And so many mornings, you will find me drinking a cup of tea, blurrily making up a batch of pancakes one at a time. Some mornings, that's all I can handle.

But on busy mornings, when we have places to be and tummies to fill, we make up a big batch of Muffin Jacks (yes, it's working, right?).


It's super simple -- we make up the usually pancake batter, and fill muffin cups. We add in whatever we have:

*Berries
*Bananas
*Apples
*Cinnamon and Sugar
*Chocolate Chips
*Oats and Honey
* Jam
* Crumbled Bacon

You know -- a reasonable balance between healthy stuff and chocolate -- the way life is supposed to be.

Then we pop them in the oven at until they are bouncy when lightly poked.


Muffin Jacks
1 cup flour (we use whole wheat pastry)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 egg
2 tablespoons oil or melted butter
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients in a batter bowl, whisking to combine fully. Pour into muffin cups and add ingredients. Bake at 350 for 18-22 minutes. 

The Scoop on Our Coop


I've never been a great decision maker.

I respect my little girl, who at 6 years old is able to walk into an ice cream shop and so decisively point at the flavor she wants -- no taste-testing, no self-doubt.

I admire that trait, and I wish I could have channeled it when our generous friends offered to make us a chicken coop.

Instead, I spent weeks flipping through Pinterest photos, wondering how two nearly identical coops could be $250, and $1,400.

I had some basics in mind, that I thought would come in very handy for our backyard mini-flock:

* I wanted a run area included.
* I wanted something mobile.
* I wanted easy access to eggs.

Finally, I sent a stilted, awkward email that said just that.

And somehow, our friends created this:

It's perfect. And beautiful. And greeeeeen!


It was just what I wanted, and it even arrived for my birthday.


Underneath is has a large run area, big enough for 4 to 6 chickens, with a large flip-down door on one end. Inside, it has two next boxes and a roost. One of the sides comes off for easy cleaning. A door on each end opens for easy access to eggs, and handles on each end make it totally mobile.


Maybe the best part is the little ramp, that is connected to a pulley. The ramp closes up at night for safety, and during the day, the girls can waddle up and down.

Except, you know ... sometimes they can't decide which way to go.

Been there, girls. Been there.