Three months of adventures

If anything, this year of intentionally seeking one family “adventure”/outing a month has proven that a fun family outing does not need to be expensive nor require a lot of travel. I’m putting it up there as one of the best goals of the year and one I will certainly put on the list for next year.

The requirements are that it’s something new, we go together, and something a little beyond what we would normally do (snowshoeing at the state park doesn’t count, but snowshoeing up a mountain we’ve never been to does).

And we’ve done it! Some months it’s been easy, and some have required a lot of thought (March?). We’re outdoor people, and where we live, outdoor activities are what we have. So it’s no surprise that most of our adventures have been just that.

In October, we visited a living history farm in Canada for their end of the season event. It wasn’t somewhere new to us, but we did a few different activities and tried to be intentional about making the day special- we played in a big tug of war, we dressed up in costumes, we bought old-fashioned candy to taste; it was a lovely day.

Our unofficial adventure of October was a hike up a new trail at the state park. Sitting at the top of the mountain as the sun set, we realized that it was getting dark quickly. Oops! We forgot it starts getting dark much faster in the fall. Being the properly prepared hikers that we are (ha!), we didn’t have headlamps. Once we were off the mountaintop and into the woods, it was REALLY dark. Nothing to do but hike down an unfamiliar trail in the dark. And it was truly fun.

November found us at a farming conference and staying in a little cabin for a couple nights. We contra-danced and played and hiked; it fit the bill as something that was not every day.

Unofficial adventure? Oh yes. Coming home from the pool one evening we ran out of gas in the safari van. We knew that the gas gauge was not correct (when it shows a quarter tank it’s actually empty), but we thought we had plenty of gas. There wasn’t a station nearby. In fact, when the car stopped there wasn’t anything nearby. No houses for a few miles. It was cold. It was 8 pm and dark. And we weren’t totally sure that gas was the problem.

Someone stopped soon and took John back to our house while I sat with the kids. He came back with a gas can and our other car, and to our relief, the van only needed gas. Whew! As John says whenever something quirky happens with our thrifty safari van (and this is often!), “every day is a gift”. Cue laughter. Now Sammy tells us, “if your car doesn’t work, just put gas in it and it will go”. Thank you for your wisdom, Sammy!

This month, a friend had asked me to help her hand out candy in a holiday light parade and the kids could ride on the float and sing. We got to the parade a little late (it took a long time to cross the border that night), so we had to run up the parade to find our group. The kids hopped on the float and I started passing out candy- we didn’t miss much. So.much.fun. Both Hannah and BenBen told me that they liked being in a parade much better than watching one.

After the parade, we went skating at the ice rink and then we stayed for a hockey game. I’m going to compare the game to AA baseball- these guys were good but it wasn’t NHL- and it is Canada, so they are serious about hockey. The kids were in absolute awe. As we watched the game, the men behind me speaking French, I felt like I was in a foreign land. Love.it.

Last weekend after ice skating in Canada, John learned about a waterfall that wasn’t too far away. It was almost dark, but why should that stop us? We got donuts and found the trailhead and then snow-hiked to an amazing waterfall. We absolutely have to go back in daylight because it far surpassed our expectations. It was breathtaking. And I thought I had already hiked everything nearby! There is so much to be found if you’re looking for it.

Have you had any family adventures lately? Have you ever run out of gas with your kids in the car?

Posted in Family news | Leave a comment

The information-action gap

A few years ago, we attended a farming conference and overwhelmed with new ideas, I left with pages of notes and the anxious feeling that I needed to implement all of it immediately.

Fast forward three years- if I implemented anything that I learned at that conference, it was chance. I got home, the papers were shuffled around for awhile in my “action” pile, and eventually filed away. I still have them, but I never did follow through on what I learned.

But I did learn something (at least temporarily) from this experience. This year, again, we had the chance to attend the farming conference, and wiser, I decided to only attend one session. My thinking was that if I only listened to one speaker, I might walk away with a manageable amount of information that I could conceivably act on.

All the information in the world doesn’t do me a bit of good if I don’t do anything about it.

I went to one speaker (holistic animal care- it was a good one!). I left with pages of notes and a bunch of excitement. Instead of going to another session and gathering more information, I sat down for 15 minutes and collected my notes into things to research further, while it was all fresh in my mind.

Over the next month, I further researched a portion of what I learned in the speech. I settled on three action steps- this seemed to be working great.

However, a few weeks later, I realized that although I had decided on three steps, I still hadn’t done them! Thus is the nature of my highly distracted life. So, even with every intention in the world of doing otherwise, I was on track to not implement what I learned yet again.

But I’m not doing that again. I am going to keep moving it forward, and even if it takes three months until I get to a seemingly simple action, I will do it. Changing what we do and how we do it is never simple, even for all appearances to the contrary!

What am I changing? Three new animal care “tools”: feeding kelp and humates to our animals for nutrition and immune boosting, plus diatomaceous earth to keep down ammonia odors in the barn, thus keeping our critters healthier. I’m working on sourcing them, and then I have to make a plan of exactly how to use them. I told you it wasn’t complicated! Why is it so hard to move it forward?

How do you keep information to a manageable amount? Do you set things up intentionally so you act on what you learn?

Posted in Farm, Learning/Goals | Leave a comment

Why we do Santa (I think)

If you asked my kids, they would tell you that Daddy tells all kinds of ridiculous stories and says silly things, but Mommy always tells us the truth. The kids look to me to know what to think. They trust me.

Except we do Santa.

I’ve always been on the fence about Santa and unsure of his place in our traditions. People have done Santa for a long time- it’s hardly a new tradition- and there have always, I think, been dissenters. When Hannah was 2 and 3, I had lots of debates in my mind and asked lots of people for thoughts about this Christmas tradition; I couldn’t decide what to make of it.

In the end, a good friend shared a beautiful story about Santa with her family that captured the essence of everything magical about Christmas. Her dad had actually dressed as Santa so her nephew was able to see him faintly through a window, and the story was so amazing and wonderful that I grasped the magic of Christmas.

And that’s what Santa is all about. I was convinced.

However, more recently, I have begun to question this tradition again, because my kids do trust me and I want them to trust me. I wouldn’t want my telling them that there is Santa to somehow undermine their trust in what I tell them about something more important. It made me think about it anew.

We do have friends who don’t do Santa and tell their young children that he’s pretend. The funny thing is that these children told my kids, but my kids thought it was ridiculous. Of course there is a Santa!

I don’t remember finding out the truth of Santa and being devastated. I know someone at school told me; I think I was 6. Same for John.

Minus one family with no Santa, all of my kids’ friends believe. Yes, all the 7 and 8 and even 9 year olds. (Homeschoolers!) I don’t go to crazy lengths to make my kids believe, but we do go visit Santa each year and when my kids ask questions in passing, I perpetuate their belief. They haven’t pressed me too hard, and when the moment comes that they ask in a way that I need to tell them the truth, I will.

The reason we do Santa is because Santa is the magic of Christmas. The magic of giving. The magic that we go to bed on Christmas Eve and wake up in the morning and there are presents under the tree. It is magic. Without that magic, Christmas isn’t as fun or as filled with happiness.

It’s like fairy tales and imaginary play, they aren’t true but they make life richer and deepen our enjoyment. There is something magical and wonderful that we can’t see with our own eyes. Life would be pretty dull and the season would have a little less anticipation and joy without it.

And when my kids really ask me, that’s what I’ll tell them. There is Santa, but he isn’t just one man. And then I’ll ask them to play along for the next kid.

Do you do Santa? Why or why not?

Posted in Kids | 2 Comments

Cinnamon rolls!

Before I started cooking much, cinnamon rolls seemed like a mystical land, a secret of good cooks, and surely something incredibly difficult and time-consuming to make. Truly, cinnamon rolls are neither of those things. It does require a bit of work ahead, but you will be the hero of breakfast, which is well worth the effort!

I have played around with dozens of recipes (truly) and this is the one I have settled on for now. I also made a gingerbread adaption last weekend and I’ll share how I tweaked it for a Christmas-y flavor.

Ingredients

1 cup water

1 cup milk

1/4 cup sugar

7 Tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

dash nutmeg

1 teaspoon yeast

1-2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup dough enhancer (optional)

1 egg

5 1/2 cups flour/almond meal (I use 1 cup almond meal, 2-3 cups whole wheat flour, and the rest white flour)

Instructions

The night before mix up your dough. Heat the butter, milk, and sugar in a saucepan until the butter is melted. Let it cool so you don’t kill your yeast. In your mixing bowl, mix everything, adding the flour gradually. If your dough is wet, add more flour until it has a dough consistency. I use my stand mixer with the dough hook for 5 minutes. You could also knead for 5 minutes by hand.

Cover your bowl with a towel and leave out on the counter overnight.

In the morning, heat the oven to 350. Roll out the dough into a huge rectangle on a floured surface. I try to roll it fairly thin. Meanwhile, melt 6-7 Tablespoon of butter. Pour this butter over the dough and spread to coat. Sprinkle 1/4 – 1/3 cup sugar over the dough, then cinnamon. You can also sprinkle pecans and/or raisins. Now roll it up to make a long log. Slice this into 1 – 1 1/2 inch rolls and place them in a 9 x 13 baking pan. Cook them in the oven 16 – 20 minutes.

I don’t think they need frosting, but you could make a simple one if you want them more sweet. We eat them plain.

For a gingerbread adaption, swap the sugar in the dough for molasses and add 1/2 teaspoon of ginger and cinnamon to the dough. Do everything else the same. Yummy!

That’s it! You’ll have to let me know if you try them and what you think, or if you have ideas to improve it further, I want to know your secret. :) 

Posted in Recipes | 1 Comment

A hard place to live?

Over the weekend, I ran across a NY Times headline saying something to the effect of “the hardest places in America to live”. My mind instantly rushed with ideas. New Jersey. Los Angeles. Most of Florida.

No offense if you are from those places, but I think it would be extremely hard to live there. My interest was piqued, so I had to find out if I was right.

You can probably guess: I was absolutely wrong. According to this article, I live in a place that is “hard”. Most places I would consider living are also considered “hard”. I started laughing. Where we live is an absolute gem.

And New Jersey, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and most suburban locales, were considered high on list of easy places to live. To me, the whole idea of this graphic was mind-boggling. If traffic, home security systems, and having to keep your kids at your side at all times makes a good place to live, I guess I’m a little confused.

This article considered median income, unemployment, and college education among a few other factors in determining these rankings. And these factors do not a happy life make. Completing college is great for some people, but it does not make you a happier person. A large income also won’t do it.

It is good to have a job and income, but what this didn’t consider is that in places where incomes are lower, it doesn’t cost as much to live. Houses are cheaper. Activities are cheaper. As a family that lives on a less than median income (with 4 children, no less), we live really well because things (minus food- food in New England is expensive) don’t cost all that much.

Most the activities we love to do here are free: hiking, ice skating, swimming, cross country skiing. And other activities we choose to do don’t cost very much. We’d have to make 4 times as much (at least!) to live like we do in a suburban area.

And what makes a good place to live? A variety of activities to enjoy. Access to open space. A feeling of safety. No traffic. Friendly people. Community. Good neighbors. Good friends. The things that can’t be bought.

Sorry, NY Times. You got this one wrong!

Agree/disagree? What do you think makes a good place to live?

Posted in Rural living | 2 Comments

In November…

P1110436Our humble Christmas tree. The theme is hardly pinterest-worthy. Keywords: nothing breakable and totally kid decorated.

November goals…

  • dates with kids
  • date with John
  • November family adventure
  • add math to our homeschool
  • finish three quilt tops (got 2 done)
  • do a long run
  • play tennis once (impossible in snow!)
  • take the kids to a concert (we went to a play instead)
  • ice skate once a week
  • take the kids swimming and to the indoor rec center
  • visit the nursing home and pack food again at the food pantry
  • upload photos to shutterfly for kids’ scrapbooks
  • drink 2 kleen kanteens of water each day
  • get rid of 100 items around our house (I actually only made 95…so close, but I’ll finish!)
  • do a fun celebration for 3 years (!) in our house

I love this time of year! I love the long weekend of Thanksgiving and then the fun of Christmas; I forget how much I love it each year until it’s here and then I’m just as excited as the kids. :)

I have to laugh that my definition of a “long run” is constantly changing. Now, I decided that 7 miles is a long run….that used to be a normal day!

What is working…

Our homeschool routine. We still have math to add in, but we really are getting there.

I’m attempting to get up early again. And once I’m up, I’m fine. When Micah was born I let my early routine go. He’s still up at night, but getting up is worth it!

What is not working…

I should probably be more bothered by the mess in my house. Kind of like my definition of a long run keeps shifting, my definition of clean keeps shifting too. I do dishes and have a laundry routine, but the piles of things to deal with keep getting higher. I think it’s okay. Actually, one day it will bother me a whole bunch, and then I’ll get it all dealt with.

I’m thinking about…

Starting advent today. I think I’m using Truth in the Tinsel for the 3rd year running- my kids are young enough they don’t mind repetition.

Ideas for next year. My goals each month have become essentially what I do each month and how I focus my time; I want to be purposeful, so I need to think it all out now. I love (oh, I love!) dreaming up ideas.

From the bookshelf…

  • Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
  • One Crow, Two Crow by Virginia Chase

December goals…

  • date with John
  • dates with kids
  • family adventure
  • make (yes, I’m crazy!) Christmas gifts for the kids
  • finish one quilt top
  • crochet a hat
  • take the kids swimming and to the indoor rec center
  • skate once a week
  • watch a hockey game in Canada
  • take the kids to a basketball game
  • go to the Nutcracker (yesterday!)
  • take in a holiday concert
  • volunteer at the food pantry and go to the nursing home
  • drink 2 kleen kanteens of water each day
  • eat something fermented or cultured each day (sauerkraut, yogurt, kombucha, kefir)

Any of you making gifts for your kids? Run across any fun ideas? For you runners, how long is “long run” in your mind?

Posted in Learning/Goals | Leave a comment

Floor sitting, our Christmas tree, and a cinnamon roll improvement

I am blessed to have a husband who is patient with all my wacky ideas. Of course, to me they seem perfectly sensible, but sometimes they are beyond what many people would tolerate.

Example: Recently, I was pondering that in the time of Jesus, people sat on the floor to eat, and I wondered if it was a function of not having chairs or if there was an actual reason for floor sitting. I read about the benefits of floor sitting and floor sitting while eating (they are numerous), and I was convinced that it needed to be a part of our lives.

I recognize that our couch has value and even our kitchen table and chairs, but we can floor sit more. The most compelling evidence to me was that in Asian cultures where floor sitting is the norm, people even into their 80’s can get up and down from the floor with ease! I want to be able to get up and down from the floor when I’m old, so I need to start practicing now. It’s a fun family experience- picnics every day- and the kids love it.

About a year ago, I read about the benefits of squatting and for the last year, I’ve focused on doing that more, just whenever an opportunity arises. I squat when I change diapers or to do things low to the ground. A year later, I can tell some differences from practicing it, and I am only convinced that I need to squat more. Floor sitting could be the same. Sitting in a chair, especially when using the chair for back support as well, doesn’t do anything for our bodies, but when we have to support ourselves a little, we are using our core and all kinds of muscles that would otherwise atrophy.

You can engage muscles and tone them simply by using them in a normal way. If you pull your shoulders back and have good posture, you are using your back muscles. No crazy exercises required. All those years I wasted doing sit-ups, when all I needed to do was hold in my stomach!

_________________________________

We decorated for Christmas last week and it was so satisfying. The kids were begging to decorate, and I thought- why not! I love our Christmas decorations and I’m never anxious to put them away. Let’s enjoy them!

And I love our tree! I kept the clearanced Norfolk Island Pine alive from last year…be proud. I have hated this tree all year, because it’s so much work to keep it alive in the dry heat from the woodstove. I wanted to keep it for this Christmas, and then I was going to happily part with it, my duty done. However, once we got decorations on the tree, I fell in love with it. It cost me $3 last year, and of course it’s bigger now. I told John that was like spending $1.50 for each year. He said that my actual savings was what I’d have to pay to buy another, and there is no guarantee I’d find another on clearance. Is he trying to convince me to keep it?

____________________________________

Hannah started clogging lessons, something I’ve always wanted to do. Instead of watching the kids clog, I decided (with encouragement) to do the class with them. I feel so excited to be learning, and who cares if I look silly! We practice together every night while I’m cooking dinner. Our teacher is so good that it’s very inspirational.

______________________________________

Homemade cinnamon rolls are a staple breakfast in our house. I’ve tried dozens of recipes, and a year ago, I landed on the perfect (to me) recipe, somewhat healthy but still delicious.

However, I wondered a couple weeks ago if I could improve them by baking them differently. I have always baked them on a cookie sheet, but I pondered if they would bake better in a casserole dish. I tried it last weekend, and oh my goodness, they are amazing! It took me 200 times of making cinnamon rolls to come up with a seemingly obvious improvement…I’m not quick…but I am super excited about the results. Maybe after another 200 batches, I’ll come up with something else to improve them!

What are your thoughts about floor sitting? Anyone kept a Christmas tree alive for a year or more? Should I keep ours or ditch it? Have you ever joined one of your kids at a lesson? It feels silly, doesn’t it?!

Posted in Home, Uncategorized | 3 Comments