Category Archives: Family

3 Essential Items for Enjoying The Outdoors In Less-Than-Perfect Weather

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We’ve always been what I would consider an outdoorsy family, but in the last year or so I’ve been making an effort to be more than fair-weather friends to the great outdoors.

There were so many little hinderances cropping up (choking wildfire smoke, and orchard spray to name two) that we couldn’t really afford to let crummy weather be among the things to keep us from getting our nature fix.  Especially when good weather vs. bad weather is really just a personal distinction.

In our house we’ve adopted the adage that there is no bad weather, only the wrong clothes!

Here are a few items I find make all the difference on those less-than-perfect days.

Thermal Base Layer

That’s code for long underwear, and they’ve come a long way since the trap-door, waffle-weave union suits your grandpa wore.  (Although, deep in my old-fashioned heart, I still love those, too!)

Depending on your climate you can go with light, mid, or heavy weight.  Here in North Central Washington I find that mid-weight is usually a good first layer.

We like these ones

Good Quality Wool Socks

I don’t know about you, but cold feet are the quickest way to ruin an outing for me.  Good quality wool socks are worth every penny.

And I’m not sure why, but I manage to keep track of them better than I do their white cotton multi-pack counterparts.  I’ve had some of my good wool socks for five or six years, which reduces initial sting of spending upwards of $10 for a pair of socks.

I’m a huge fan of Smartwool.  Aside from their overall good quality, they are one of the few outdoor companies that realize babies need warm gear too.

 

Water Proof Outer Layer

We don’t live on the rainy side of the Cascades, but a couple years ago we traveled to the coast in spring, and purchased simple rain gear for the kids.  It has since proven worth the extra purchase of separate rain gear from their usual winter gear.

Another good option if you live where there are four seasons is a three-in-one like this:

And I have to say I love this toddler rain gear we got as hand-me-downs from our great friends who are Alaska Fisher-folk, which means they know rain! (Hazel says thanks for the awesome rain gear,  Sena Sea!)

And as a bonus, here are some things you just realize you don’t want to live without, even on the nicest days! 

Good sturdy hiking boots

The right footwear means the difference between stopping to get yet another rock out of your kids tennis shoes and getting to camp before dark, with minimal whining.

Hi Tech is a good entry level hiking boot, that both of my older girls have worn comfortably.

I also love anything by keen for it’s ability to outlast most anything your kid can throw at it.  I have a pair that I bought used for my oldest kid, handed down to my second kid, and a friends kid, that my youngest kid just outgrew–that’s 5 kids in the course of 11 years–and they still have a ton of wear left in them!

River Shoes

When I was a kid the idea of river shoes seemed weak and pampered to me.  Why not just go bare-footed?  Well, my kids inherited their dad’s tender feet, and the heavier I get the more those river pebbles feel like Legos.   Again, with the Keens.  I run each pair through all three kids.

Sun Protection

I’ve never been able to get my kids to keep hats on, even winter hats when their ears are cold, but my friend’s kids wear some like these and they are adorable in them…and not sunburned!

And since it’s impossible to tame the inner esthetician, of course I have to add sunscreen to the list!

Well!  That post took me a while to write.  Time to get myself outside and away from the computer.  Grab some gear and come on out!

Six Must Read Christmas Books

We schedule the entire month of December as our homeschool Christmas Break, but if we don’t have something planned, I find we get irritable and worn out.  So instead of loafing for an entire month we take a casual approach to school, join our library’s winter reading program, read a few Christmas favorites and don’t worry too much if we miss a day here and there.  This gives us plenty of time to craft, bake and visit neighbors without descending into total chaos.

Here are a few of the Christmas books I find myself recommending over and over!

The Glorious Impossible, by Madeline L’Engle tells the story of Christ as seen in Giotto’s frescoes from the Scrovengi Chapel.  We used it last year because it just happened that we were studying Giotto just when Christmas rolled around.  Easiest artist study ever! And we are re-reading this year as a way of keeping in the true spirit of Christmas.

Apple Tree Christmas, by Trinka Hakes Noble, tells the story of a young girl who has a hard time getting into the spirit of Christmas after losing something special to her.  We loved this one so much that we checked it out from the library for the whole month of December a few years running. Finally I started to feel bad about hoarding it and bought us our own copy.  Now we read it year round.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss.  Do I really need to say more?  We love the book, and the original movie too!  Just try not to recite along when you’re watching the movie.  I find the kids don’t appreciate it.

The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot tells the heart warming story of how a kitten finds a home with an old lady and three hounds.  All of James Herriot’s stories give you a cozy feeling, and especially so when you’re snuggled up next to the fire with a cup of cocoa and your loved ones.

The Family Under The Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson is a story about a family who finds themselves homeless just as winter sets in.  They meet an old man who shows them the ropes of life on the streets, and helps them find a new kind of home.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson is the hilarious tale of the horrors that ensue when “the worst kids in the history of the world” decide they’d like to star in the town Christmas Pageant.

FYI these are NOT affiliate links, they’re just here for your convenience.

Even better, why not see if your local library has these titles in circulation?

Feel free to drop a book suggestion or two of your own in the comments!

Happy Reading!

Five Baby Steps To Getting The Family Outdoors

We all know by now how important time spent in nature is for our health, and especially the health of our growing children. Not only is fresh air and exercise essential for healthy bodies, more and more studies are linking time in nature with mental and emotional health.

Unfortunately getting out is one of those things we often strongly believe in, and yet don’t quite manage to do. I know. The commute is killing your evenings, and soccer is eating up your Saturdays. You don‘t know where to go, and when you get there the kids melt down. Then there’s the mess when you get home.

I had all those same issues keeping us from getting out as often as we knew we should. Finally I had to decide that getting outside was as essential as food and water and build bridges over the hurdles keeping us from making it happen.

1. Clear Time

We are in a over-scheduled season at the moment and it is making outdoor time harder to accomplish. For future planning purposes I intend to keep each kid to one activity at a time, and be very selective about my volunteer time. But for now one thing I’ve done to get us out is to make a morning walk part of our homeschool checklist. That way even if we can’t clear time later in the day, we’ve had some fresh air and a bit of nature first thing after morning chores. It’s not quite enough time for my taste, but it’s better than an hour in front of a screen any day.

2. Gear Up

As the old saying goes, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes”. Last winter I gave up trying to squeeze into my old snow gear and finally bought the right size. Suddenly taking the kids out sledding didn’t seem like such a chore. Having the right gear for whatever Mother Nature throws at you will keep you comfortable and enjoying your outdoor time much longer. At a minimum you’ll want to dress in layers, wear sturdy shoes, and a carry a backpack for snacks, water and a first aid kit.

When it comes to sporting goods, I’d recommend renting gear for your first season so that you can decide whether the new activity is going to stick before you shell out your hard-earned money.

Here is a list of the outdoor gear I wouldn’t want to live without.

3. Pair Up

If you don’t live in an area with easily accessible open spaces it may be that you are uncomfortable getting out because you are unsure where to go, and when you do get out you are on unfamiliar turf. It can be helpful to find an outdoorsy friend to show you the ropes until you get your legs under you. Another option is to join a nature study group or an outdoor education club such as Scouts or Camp Fire. If there is cell coverage where you venture, bringing a phone can also give you a sense of security.

4. Start Small

If you’re new to getting outdoors with the family you won’t want to jump right in with a full-on hike in the woods. Instead find an out-of-the-way corner in a nearby park, and ease into the dirt, bugs, and weather with short initial visits. As you get more comfortable being outdoors you can try a short jaunt to a good picnic spot, and then a day hike before taking on longer treks, or over-nighters.

5. Just Be

When you’re decompressing from a hyper-scheduled lifestyle it can feel like you should be doing something at all times. For that reason it may be good to have a scavenger hunt or a nature journal with you for your first few visits to the woods, especially if you are bringing children who are accustomed to fully regimented days. But part of nature’s wonder is the peace it can bring when you are able to let go and just be. Eventually you’ll find yourself ditching the crutches and letting your senses fully engage with the sights, smells and sounds surrounding you, while the kids get engrossed in watching bugs or clouds.

Getting out isn’t always easy, but I’m more and more convinced its absolutely essential. Taking these baby-steps will get you on the path to more time outdoors and all the good it can do for your mind, body and spirit.

For those who already regularly get out, what baby steps would you add?

The Prayer That Changed My Life

When each of my first two babies (not babies anymore, but my babies still) was new, in those sleepless, bleary-eyed first months I would lay awake at night, listening to my husband snore, and eyeing the baby monitor, suspicious of it’s silence.  Exhausted, barely managing to breastfeed, self-feed, and generally function as a human, I would lay awake and pray the same prayer every night, over and over and over.  Read More at Her View From Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother Culture Monday #5

Finding Time

How about writing the final post in my Mother Culture Monday Series a week late at 7:40 pm?  Sounds like someone has her act together, huh?

Honestly, that is exactly the point.  It’s EASY to let little demands and big demands, (even joyful demands on time are demands) get in the way of taking time to grow our own bodies, minds, and souls.  As I’m writing this, I’ve already stopped twice to read to my two year old.  If we are deliberate about taking time when we can, all the little times we can’t take a break won’t stack up and weigh us down.

I know there are a LOT of those little things waiting in line, and it can be hard to put them on the back burner, indeed some things simply CAN’T be set aside for later.  (insert 20 minute break to put the kiddos to bed) 

Here are a few suggestions for finding time to read, think, pray, exercise or whatever it is you need to be your healthiest, and incidentally most effective, self:

CAUTION: You will be tempted to use the time you carve out to catch up on chores.  Unless the chores being undone causes you physical distress, DO NOT use this time for laundry, dishes, or cleaning out the closets, or at least do so extremely sparingly, and only in preparation for actually being able to relax next time.  

  • Set a bedtime for your kiddos.  Make it one to two hours before you are ready to drop dead, and guard it fiercely.
  • Enforce a daily quiet hour/nap.  (My big kids read, sleep, daydream, or pray, the baby naps)
  • Instead of raptly watching your little athlete at practice, either take a walk, a class of your own, or just read in the waiting room.  (Honestly I’d feel bad about this one except that the waiting area in my kid’s gym has a terrible view of the gym floor, so even if I watched I’d only be catching glimpses of my budding gymnast.)
  • Swap half an hour a day (or two hours a week—whatever you can manage) with a neighbor mom.
  • Send big kids out to play.  My Bigs were shocked last summer when I told them to explore the neighborhood for half an hour while the baby napped.
  • Send the kiddos out for a walk with Dad.
  • Take Grandma up on the offer of an afternoon off.
  • Set up a safe play area where you can let the kids play while you are nearby, but not necessarily “watching”.
  • Hire a teenage Mother’s Helper to entertain the kids for an hour while you read or soak in a bubble bath (or both!)
  • Get your family on a routine, so that they aren’t shocked by your daily “Mother Culture Minute”, but stay flexible and willing to snatch a minute when the opportunity arises.

Thanks for taking time to read and ponder Mother Culture with me.  I hope this series has got you on the path to taking better care of yourself, as a soul, as a human, as a woman, and as a mother.

What would you add?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, or catch up with me on Facebook.

 

 

 

Mother Culture Monday #4

Can I be honest for a minute? I’m having a hard time replacing “time wasting” with Mother Culture. But that is exactly WHY I need to be more deliberate. The nature of my time wasting habits (internet/facebook) is definitely making my brain dull. I don’t want a dull brain. Today I took the proactive step of removing email and facebook from my tablet, so that when I’m using it for a legitimate reason (homeschool math, reading kindle books to the kids, playing music) I don’t get distracted by the time-wasters. This way I’m not bringing the distractions with me when I step away from my desk, and into my role as a human and mother.

Now, onto our final definition for (Mother) culture from Merriam-Webster.

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a : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations
b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time popular culture
c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization
d : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic

That is a lot to chew on.  There are so many ways to be a mother, and more yet, to be a “good” mother.  I suppose for the purpose of our discussion we can default to those things which all mothers have in common; The Culture of Motherhood.

Get a group of mothers together, no matter what religion, socioeconomic status, or nationality and you’ll find that we all desire that our children be healthy, well adjusted, and smart.  We all hope our children know how much we love them.  We all hope our children will grow into respectable adults.  We are all trying hard, and we all worry we’re falling short.

We may speak different languages but we’re saying the same things:

Quit pulling your sister’s hair!

Brush your teeth!

Eat your veggies!

I love you!

Isn’t that idea kind of edifying?  You are not alone, and that “pinterest perfect” mom at story hour, is probably just as tired and insecure as you are.  Perhaps you could strike up a conversation.

Having a good group of Mothers to fellowship with does MUCH for the mother’s soul.  Whether its your own mother, your sisters or a local mom’s group, I can’t say enough good things for spending time with other mothers, hearing their stories and sharing yours.  I know that I always walk away from visits with other mothers with a full cup.  I hope that I can fill theirs in return.

The one caveat to all this motherly fellowship is that you need to be sure not to compare, and critique yourself too harshly against mothers who appear to be doing it better.  In truth they may be have it all together today, but maybe yesterday their kids had frosting sandwiches for lunch, (points to self).  Do borrow the good ideas other moms share with you, but don’t use another mother’s public persona as a checklist for your failings.

You are the mother your children need.

 

Well, I’m all out of Mother Culture definitions for you, and I think by now we’ve all had a good chance to mull over what it means and how it can help in each of our homes.  Next week I’ll move on to some nuts and bolts of how I get a few minutes to grow myself each day, even with a busy toddler in the house.

 

 

Mother Culture Monday #3

Welcome to Mother Culture Monday #3

How did you do carving out a few minutes for yourself this past week?

I did some time wasting, but for future reference, I’d like to be more intentional about my “Mother Culture Minute” and do something that really feeds me. The goal here is to do something to grow on, not just to take a break and space out, or worse yet, put energy into something that isn’t a benefit to some aspect of your being. (ahem…I will be the first to admit I have a little Facebook problem, which does have some benefits, but is mostly just a drain on time and energy)

Let’s take a peek at Merriam-Webster’s third and fourth definitions of “Culture”.

3. expert care and training (beauty culture)

4. enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training :  acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills (a person of culture)

The word “training” comes up more than once.  I take that to mean that culture can refer to education.  In this case it can be self-education via reading, listening to lectures, practicing new skills, or for those of us who are really good at carving out time, taking a class.

What specifically should we be reading, listening to and practicing?  Well that depends on your lifestyle, and values, but here are some thoughts.

“The mother cannot devote herself too much to this kind of reading, not only that she may read tit-bits to her children about matters they have come across, but that she may be able to answer their queries and direct their observations. ”  Charlotte Mason

The above quote is in reference to Nature Studies, (which I highly recommend even if you are not pursuing a strictly CM education for your children) but I think it can be applied across the spectrum of your family’s interests.  To paraphrase Miss Mason, your children will adore you for knowing what they want to know.

“The wisest woman I ever knew–the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend–told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, “I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!” That is the secret; always have something “going” to grow by. If we mothers were all “growing” there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls.”     The Parents Review Vol, 3 no. 2

I think it’s important to not only read and practice things that fill our “Mothering Toolbox”, but also things that fill our own cups.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Read scripture
  • Read inspirational fiction
  • Read inspirational non-fiction or biographies
  • Take up a handicraft in which you make something beautiful
  • Write in a journal
  • Write REAL letters to friends
  • Garden
  • Exercise
  • Prayer and meditation

As to reading, one note for myself is that I want to lean back toward hard copies rather than Kindle versions.  The feel and smell of a real book adds to the experience for me, aside from the dubious effect of too much screen time.

What will you do to fill your cup this week?

 

 

 

Super Simple Chocolate Wacky Cake

Oh my. We have been on a bit of a wacky cake kick. We love the classic cake, but we’ve been playing with the recipe, and have some variations that are to die for!

Actually “we” is a misnomer. I hardly get involved at all anymore. This cake is so simple that my daughters (8 and 10 yrs) are able to make it with zero help from me.

No need to prep the pan or dirty a mixing bowl!

No need to prep the pan or dirty a mixing bowl!

It’s about a 35 minute process which makes it perfect for short notice company, sudden cravings on a busy weeknight, or when your kid tells you about the bake sale the morning of the bake sale. And it doesn’t need to have any fancy ingredients. You likely have everything you need for the basic recipe in the cupboard right now.

Let’s get started!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Grab a cake pan.  I use 9×13 Pyrex, which yields a thinner slice.
You’re going to mix your dry ingredients right in the pan, no need to grease it first.

In the pan whisk together:

1 1/2 C All Purpose Flour
1/3 C Cocoa Powder (mileage may vary by brand-I use toll house)
1 C sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Make a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients, and add:

1 tsp vinegar (I use ACV)
1 tsp vanilla
5 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 C water

Mix wet and dry ingredients well and spread evenly in the pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Variations:

Substitute melted coconut oil for the vegetable oil, and add 1 C shredded coconut for a tropical twist.

Substitute orange extract in place of vanilla for orange truffle cake.

Substitute cold coffee on place of the water for a mocha cake.

Use your imagination.

YUMMY!

Mother Culture Monday

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So, today I was feeding my sourdough starter, and I made a seriously Charlotte Mason quality connection.

Mother Culture;  you have to feed it, or you run out.

If you’re not a hardcore CMer you’re probably wondering what on earth I’m talking about and how it applies to you.

What the heck is “Mother Culture”?

First let’s talk about what it is NOT. It is not a formula to be the perfect mom. It’s not even a clear path, or a collection of tips to being a good mom. The “perfect mom” doesn’t exist, and there are many, many excellent moms who never gave Mother Culture a second thought.

Here’s one of the many things Charlotte Mason had to say about Mother Culture:

“There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children’s childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth. When babyhood is over and school begins, how often children take to proving that their mother is wrong. Do you as often see a child proving to its father that he is wrong? I think not. For the father is growing far more often than the mother. He is gaining experience year by year, but she is standing still. Then, when her children come to that most difficult time between childhood and full development she is nonplussed; and, though she may do much for her children, she cannot do all she might, if she, as they, were growing”.

Essentially it’s caring for ourselves as well as we care for our families, intellectually, spiritually and physically, so that we have something left at the end of the day, to come back on tomorrow.  (Just like we feed our sourdough starter–which is literally a mother culture–MIND BLOWN–so that we always have some for the next baking.)

Simple, right?

Uh…hello?  Still with me?

Look, I’m not even sure what I’m talking about here.  I have a LOT to learn, and I’m sooooo tired!

I suspect that’s the whole point!

So I’m inviting you to join me as I study up on what this whole “Mother Culture” thing means for our lives, our families and our communities.

For the next few Mondays I’ll share something CM said, or a link, and chat about how it shakes out in my life.

Who’s in??

My Great-Grandmother’s Commonplace Book

elizasmithwedding

“Our Wedding Day, August 1 1912, Humbold Sask” Henry and Eliza eloped in an ox-drawn carriage in Saskatchewan. She was age 15

I never knew my great grandmother. But looking through her commonplace book, I know I would have admired her. And she probably would have been puzzled by, but tolerant of my my wide-eyed enthusiasm for doing things the hard way. I can almost hear her saying ,”For pity’s sake, just use your microwave”!

What is a commonplace book anyway?

It was your great grandma’s Pinterest; a scrap book of notes, ideas and clippings related to the interests and every day life of it’s keeper.  I was lucky enough to stumble on two of my Great Grandma Eliza’s in my mom’s basement, and Mom was nice enough to let me have them.  They are full of frugal recipes, garden tips, measurements (did you know 15 lbs are in a peck?), home remedies, and housekeeping tips.  You know, mom stuff.  My kind of stuff.

11259348_611568168946949_7970244153906018005_oGrandma Eliza was born in 1897, and she married in 1912.  Her commonplace books appear to have been started in the the early 1900’s.  The earliest date noted in either book is 1915, but entries don’t appear to be chronological.  I suspect she “filled up” the pages, and then came back later to add more in leftover spaces.  It even looks as though her daughter, my Grandma Dolly (given name Hazel, my youngest is her namesake) added a note or two.  One is mostly handwritten in a record book, and the other is mostly cut and pasted into what appears to have been a school notebook.  You can see bits of History and Math peeking out from between the pasted-in articles.  I love that.

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Her recipes and tips reflect the thrift of the day, and the articles she clipped feature women making do and rising above.  One clipped article features a Mrs. HG who found herself widowed and without an income on “the shady side of fifty years”.  But she did have the family home free and clear.  She sold a piece of jewelry and purchased three tables and twelve chairs, which she used to convert her front parlor into a dining room.  She offered a luncheon of baked beans, green salad, bread, and her neighbor’s fruit preserves for fifty cents, and having such a low overhead was able to support herself nicely thereafter.  Such an inspiration!  I love that even so many years ago, my great-grandmother was interested in many of the same things I am today; frugality, good food, and creating a warm home.

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Calves Brains With Potato Balls and Tomatoes. YUMMY!

Aside from giving a glimpse at the sort of things Grandma Eliza was interested in, her commonplace books offer useful information.  Okay, I admit I’m not likely to need directions for maintaining a kerosene cookstove, and honestly, I’m not keen on tasting calves brains with potato balls.  But you can bet I’ve tried her method for cleaning and seasoning cast iron with great success!  And my girls, who have been learning about proper tea etiquette, will be very interested in the article she clipped on Table Service In The Home.11217604_611568282280271_1343129495048705349_o

I’m inspired to start keeping a commonplace book of my own.  Yes, I know my great grandchildren will probably be able to look back on my facebook, pinterest and even this blog if they are interested, but how much more valuable to have a book to hold in their hands, leaf through, and use as a resource for “old timey” wisdom?

Oh and as a side note, as I was putting my girls to bed this evening, the two year old asked “Mom, where’s my notebook?”  Yes, she actually speaks that well, and her notebook was jumbled in her covers.  All three of my daughters adore notebooks and journals. My husband is a serial note-booker, so I always figured they got it from him, but now I realize that they may have come by some of those tendencies on my side as well!

How about you?  Do you keep a “commonplace book”?

Special thanks to my mother and cousins for filling me in in dates and details of Grandma Eliza’s life, and for the wedding photo.  I would love to hear from any of you who have more stories to share!