Let summer begin

The last day school. The last day of Kindergarten for this not-so-little one. The summer is already full and already not what I was expecting. But here I am and there’s no place I’d rather be.

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Five things to make at home

Brown Thumb Mama recently posted on the five things she thinks folks should make at home rather than buy. Completely inspired by her list, I thought I’d add my two cents and list five things I find easy and worth making.

Granola. So many store bought granolas are full of too much stuff and expensive. Granola is a simple dish and open to all sorts of interpretation. Oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, coconut, maple syrup, honey. I could go on. When you make granola yourself, you know exactly what you’re making and what  you’re putting into your body. My current favorite–that I make a couple of times a month–takes all of 1/2 an hour to make.

Salad dressing. Another refrigerator staple for many of us. Like granola, it’s pricey and often made with unnecessary ingredients. All you need is a jar with a lid (mason/canning jars work great for this), some olive oil, balsamic or red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic. You could also add mustard, herbs, flavored vinegars, lemon juice. Like the granola, totally adjustable to your tastes.

Scratch pads. I don’t do this all the time but it’s super simple and I really should do it more often. My kids love notebooks, scratch pads, journals, and the like. And they use them, which makes buying them really add up. When we have an empty cereal box, I cut it up, saving the two main sections of the box. These become the outside for two new scratch pads.  I fold the cardboard in two and cut some recycled or computer paper to size, inserting it into the folded cardboard. Once the paper is in place, sew down the middle of the book and paper. I have a sewing machine and generally use it, but a needle and thread would work just as well. And voila, a new notebook.

Play-dough. Easy to make and a fun thing to do with your kid, especially if you’re adding some food coloring. One of my favorite reasons for making play-dough, however, is that it doesn’t require me to buy the little plastic containers that commercial play-dough comes in.  There are lots of  recipes out there, but this is one of my favorites.

Toilet bowl cleaner. Baking soda and vinegar. Seriously. You don’t even need to pre-mix it. I generally pore some baking soda in the toilet and then enough vinegar to make the toilet fizz. Let it sit for a few minutes and then scrub away. Cheap. Easy. And no plastic bottle to throw away or recycle when a bottle of commercial brand has been emptied.

I do realize–believe me–that easy doesn’t always mean less time. A lot of time, doing things the old-fashioned way is the more time consuming way (hence the modern and convenient options). But…if you’re trying to save a little money (which was the initial impetus for my decision to start making most of these things), find joy in making things yourself, or are trying to find ways to reduce waste in your house, starting from scratch is a good way to go.

Grief

One of the teachers at my son’s school died unexpectedly yesterday. She taught my son and his classmates movement once a week for a short amount of time. She was 32.

I grieve for a life so short.

I grieve for her family and friends and co-workers that knew her best. They’ll certainly be feeling the loss of her presence.

And I grieve for the kids that were told this morning. That they will know grief.

This song came to mind this morning.

Maitri Mama

Loving one’s self–maitri–in Buddhist lingo. Easier said than done, right? There’s always that little voice in the back of the head trying to sabotage confidence, love, and compassion (and a myriad of other things). And if you’re a mama, there’s a whole ‘nother layer of things to beat ourselves over: breast feeding or not, co-sleeping or not, raising your voice at your kids, working or not (…and a myriad of other things…).

Whew…it’s exhausting. And hard. And it takes practice. After the birth of my second child, I started meditating. I don’t meditate every day and never for very long, but I do it. And when I’m not meditating I try (key word: try) to be mindful of what I’m doing. It helps. A lot. Most of the time time.

A couple of years ago my friend Christine and I met. Christine’s the real deal when it comes to mediating and mindfulness. She struggles like the rest of us, of course, but she looks at everything through the lens of mindfulness due to her years of Buddhist study (she use to live at the San Francisco Zen Center and even met her husband there). A month or so ago, Christine–who also writes the blog Mamasattva–asked me if I’d help her start a mama’s sitting group. Yes, yes, and yes!

I excitedly introduce Maitri Mamas. The group will provide a safe, non-judgmental place for mothers to come together to meditate, offer support, and share about living/parenting as mindfully as possible. Mothers of children of any age are welcome as are mothers of any religious affiliation and meditation experience. Beginning April 12th, we’ll meet the 2nd Thursday of every month from 7pm-8pm at RiverSong Mediation in the Sierra2Center complex in Curtis Park. Here’s a flier with more specific info:

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If you’re mama. If you’re interested in mediation. If you’re looking for a bit more space and breathing room in your life. Please join us.

(A big thank you to Beth Johnson of RiverSong Meditation for letting us use her space. And to Marijke Melman for helping us with the flyer.)

Summer, part II

One of the things I didn’t mention in my post about summer last week, was that I’d be single parenting it much of the time. Margie’s job requires her to travel a great deal during the summer months. Much of that travel had to be delayed because of California’s oddly cold and wet spring. With hot, dry weather finally here, delayed work trips and current ones can finally begin.

Part of the need for my summer schedule is born out of trying to stay sane during these weeks and months. Of course all of this is happening despite my new resolve to carve out more creative time for myself. But duty calls. And my job—while Margie is doing her’s—is to be with the kids.

Working with these conditions—solo parenting and the need for creative time—I’ve identified some ways to try to keep myself fulfilled over the coming months:

  • Ask for help. Mama-friends, you’ve been warned.
  • Create throughout the day. I already try to do this. It will be imperative that I actually do it now. The kids are generally good at keeping themselves occupied when I sit down to knit or sew. I need to take advantage of this.
  • Eat well. I’ve largely kicked my sugar habit. In an attempt to maintain this, chocolate generally won’t be invited in.
  • Sleep.
  • Wake early and well before the kids wake-up. I already do this, as well. Unfortunately, I tend to stay up later when Margie is out of town which makes getting up early harder. If I heed the bullet point above, however, I should be able to maintain my early mornings.
  • Drink little. Alcohol that is. I’m not a huge drinker, but with summer comes pool parties and more social engagements. Drinking makes me cranky and groggy and not a very happy person.  And well, I’ll be driving children around. Enough said.
  • Time to myself on the weekends. It’s time to implement this. In fact, we started last weekend. Margie took the kids for the morning. I got time—at home—to myself.
  • Mandatory quiet or nap times. Again, something we already do. But with Bennett home again during the nap/quiet time and Adelaide fazing her nap out, we’ll be re-assessing and finding the right type of quiet time for the summer months.
  • Lots of yoga. Lots and lots of yoga. I plan to re-connect with my home practice.
  • Daily meditation.
  • Flexibility. My kids are young. Things come up. Moods changes. Flexibility is key.

And there’s my game plan. Things to remember to keep me somewhat happy, somewhat connected to my children (and my spouse), and somewhat sane.

Summer

It’s almost here. The solstice is next week. School is almost out. The weather is finally warm. And I’m looking forward to the next  two and a half months.

For some time, I was really worried about how I was going to deal being with the kids so much. But then I realized that it’s not that much more time and it’s really no different from previous summers. It’s also going to be really nice not having a school schedule to follow. Our days are wide open.

I have, however, planned things for the summer. I need a plan and a rhythm and so do the kids. It’s full of lots of free time and some regular activities. Here’s our general schedule:

Mondays – Park mornings. Bennett went to the park every Monday during the school year with his Kindergarten class. I want to continue this. We’ll pick a different park every Monday. And some weeks we may substitute berry picking at a local u-pick farm.

Tuesdays – Kindergarten art group. I’m super excited about this. I organized this with some other moms from Bennett’s Kindergarten (Adelaide and other siblings will also participate). We’re all going to take turns hosting and organizing an art activity. It’ll be a good way to keep the kids–and moms–in touch through the summer.

Wednesdays – Wee Wednesdays at the Crocker Art Museum. I use to take Bennett to these regularly (before school conflicted with the dates). He really enjoyed the activities. Adelaide is now old enough as well.

Thursdays – Story time at the library and free library time. Both of my kids love the library but we’ve been unable to attend story times all year. Now’s the time. Adelaide may also be taking a dance class (she’s chomping at the bit to take ballet).

Fridays – Nothing planned.

Most of these activities occur in the morning. I like having free afternoons–given the heat here in Sacramento and our energy levels–giving the kids lots of time do do whatever they want. We also hope to be invited over for lots of pool play dates (I won’t name, names).

I’ve also started a list of art and other activities for the kids to do during some of these free times. Some of these activities include:

  • summer journal
  • block printing
  • flower and petal collages
  • murals on large pieces of paper

I’d love to have more ideas. What are you doing this summer?

The Castle of Coffee

This is the name of the coffee shop Bennett and I created this morning. Bennett and I have a few hours to ourselves each week and we had gotten into the habit of stopping at a local coffee house for hot chocolate or juice (Bennett), chai (me), and a pastry (to share). We both really like doing this. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to do this on a weekly basis. Monthly maybe, but not weekly.

So…when Bennett mentioned visiting the coffee house this week, I informed him that we really couldn’t be doing this so often. He was disappointed until I suggested that we make our own coffee house. His eyes lit up, he started flapping his arms (he looks like a little bird trying to take off), and he said okay.

We bought some frozen berries to make muffins, I brewed a batch of chai, and Bennett made a nifty sign for our hangout:

Yes, the muffins are $6. We're a swanky joint.

 

Bennett declared the hot chocolate to be better than the coffee house’s, but he wasn’t as sure about the muffins. Not nearly enough berries, and well, I played with the flours a bit which always makes the muffins more of a surprise than anything (I, however, think they’re just fine).

All in all a success. Maybe not as fancy as a coffee house, but definitely less expensive. And most importantly, we were able to spend time together doing something we both enjoy.

T-11 days until spring

Because I live in Sacramento, counting down to spring isn’t a huge deal. It’s been spring–on and off–for the last few weeks. Margie–who’s from the Midwest insists that there are only 2 seasons in Sacramento–summer and spring.

Nonetheless, the official start of spring is approaching. Spring-inspired picture books (for the kids…ahem) have been requested from the library and more time is being spent outside prepping for spring planting and growth.

Our sheet mulching project seems to be doing well. The 3 piles of manure, newspaper, and leaves are smaller and flatter than they were a few months ago when we created them, telling me that some amount of decomposition is happening. We plan to build 3 raised beds around the mulched areas. We’re hoping to find some less expensive wood at the local Habitat for Humanity store to keep the cost of these beds down.

I’m feeling a renewed commitment to creating a cut flower section to our garden. The kids enjoy making bouquets and I love having fresh flowers in the house. This project has moved up on garden checklist and I hope to prep the area in March, as well.

I also want to plant a thorough herb and tea garden. I don’t like to spend money on herbs and loose leaf tea, especially when it’s so easy to grow your own. If I can figure out the watering system (or…rather, if Margie can), we’ll be good to go.

One thing that didn’t happen this winter, which we had planned to do, was the planting of many fruit trees. We did plant a blood orange tree, which seems to have survived the few frosty nights we experienced. We had hoped to plant a couple of kiwis and a satsuma mandarin as well, but they never quite made it into our budget. There’s always next winter.

And now…off to order seeds. Garden prep days have been scheduled for the last two weekends in March. We’ll build our raised beds and shovel in lots of top soil. The kids (and Margie and I) will be eager to plant as soon as the infrastructure is in place.

Confidence in my values

To keep me company last weekend while driving to and from Mendocino alone, I picked up a book on tape at my local library. I wasn’t terrible excited about it but had heard of the book and decided to take the risk.

The book, No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process, follows one man’s (and his wife and child’s) efforts to live without a negative biological footprint for one year.  I’ve largely stopped reading books like this. I’ve become tired of the whole one-year experiment, get a book-deal thing. But…it’s what was available at the library.

The book turned out to be really well researched and thought out. It was a bit sappy at times, but it took an honest look the planet and the actions we take for granted on a daily basis. What struck me the most, however, was how hard it is to live this way. And not how you think. It’s not difficult to stop using plastic, to compost, to ride your bicycle everywhere. No. That can be managed. What’s difficult is living outside of society’s norm. This is something that I’ve been struggling with and listening to this book helped me put a finger on it.

You see…for the last couple of months I’ve been researching opening a fabric shop. I love fabric.  I’ve always wanted to run a business. And I’ve been wanting to find a role for myself besides mom and wife (see previous post).

So…fabric store. Our favorite, local store just closed, and I thought, “Hmmm…I could do this.” The thing is, opening a store totally doesn’t mesh with how we want to live right now. Margie I and value locally and seasonally-based home cooked meals eaten together; spending time out of doors; being with our children; fostering creativity; living without too much waste.  We also try to limit our spending. We have to think before we make our purchases and decide what else we won’t be buying.

It would be one thing if both of my kids were in school full-time and I had a bit more time to spend at a store, as well as cooking meals, cleaning the house, and being home with the kids when they weren’t in school.  Or if Margie was no longer on furlough pay. But my kids aren’t in school full-time and they won’t be for another 3-4 years…and we can’t afford to be mass consumers.

This fabric store idea followed closely on the heels of my last great idea, which was to turn our backyard into a little homestead (see this post). Yeah…a store doesn’t really jive with running a homestead, either. So, why this store? Why now? Why not be content with my previous, awesome, value-supporting plan?

A fabric store—a business—is mainstream. I’m putting money in the bank (well…after a few years, hopefully). It’s not granola. It’s not counter-culture. It’s economy-enriching. It’s material based (literally and figuratively).

Turning my yard into a homestead with a flourishing and productive garden, chickens, fruit trees, composting, water saving, and the like isn’t mainstream. It’s doesn’t pump money into the economy. It doesn’t support industry. It places me more in the fringe.

Listening to this book made me realize that I have some unresolved issues with this. I don’t know why. But now that I’ve identified the real motivation behind the store—not to be different—I’m at peace with not opening the store and focusing on my homestead. I’m okay (at least tonight…sigh…I won’t always be) with being granola. With living frugally and sustainably.

I grew up at a time when our society didn’t understand the ramifications of waste and over-consumption. That was also a time of economic growth and relative wealth. Things are different now. We know that there’s too much plastic in the world and that way too much petroleum and coal is being pulled from the earth—from both resource depletion and climate change perspectives.  We also know that middle class families like ours can’t spend money with abandon. Not if we want to keep roof over our heads and send our kids to college. And my kids need to know and understand these things.

My actions and my families’ economic decisions may be only one drop in a very large bucket. But…I don’t care. I feel better about myself for living this way. And that’s all that matters.

For now, I’m going to try to be content with not being a consumer. And with not encouraging other people to be consumers (by opening a shop). Some days this will be easy. Other days—when I really want some new fabric or a great pair of shoes (which, umm…is right now…I have a couple of dress-up functions coming up)—it won’t be. And one day this may all change, and I’ll open the store. But, for now, homestead, here I come!

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I could go on in this post to discuss the negative impacts of commercialism, media, and industry. At some point I might. But for now, this is enough.