Friday, December 10, 2010

Make a Fire-It's so fun!

It's been cold. Very cold. I'm not used to it being so cold in early December. Couple that with the fact that we don't have central heat and with how busy I've been working, we haven't been outside much at all.

So today, we made a fire in the back yard. I took my wood scraps, and some paper towels that I had used to wipe the oil and beeswax polish off my toys. And I started a fire. It was wonderful. Even though, I was outside, I was warmer than I had been in weeks (at least at our house). Caleb was thrilled. He kept running to the fire, and then saying, "Okay, I'm going to have some more fun!" And he would run over to the hill beside the house and climb up and run or roll down. He didn't stay by the fire much, but it seemed like the fire's presence warmed him even though he wasn't sitting next to it like I was.

I sat on an overturned bucket and sanded bathtub animals and tended the fire. We were outside for hours. We even cooked our lunch on the fire. We cooked some vegetarian chili right in the can in the fire. When it started bubbling out the holes that I had stabbed in the top, it was done.

I lived my whole life in a house with a woodstove, and I'm glad that I don't have to sacrifice my love of sitting by a warm fire just because my house doesn't have a woodstove.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

[She said she wanted to write 500 words on the United States. He (the teacher) said maybe she should start with the university's town. She came back with nothing to say. So he told her to write just about the main street. She still had nothing to say.]

He was furious. "You're not looking!" he said. ... The more you look the more you see. She wasn't really looking and yet somehow did not understand this.

He told her angrily, "Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The opera house. Start with the upper left hand brick."

[She handed in a 5,000 word essay.]

Schools teach you to imitate. If you don't imitate what the teacher wants, you get a bad grade. Here in college it was much more sophisticated, of course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you A's. Originality on the other hand got you anything from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it.

He discussed this with a professor of psychology, who lived next door to him, an extremely imaginative teacher, who said, "Right. Eliminate the whole degree-and-grading system and then you'll get a real education."


I love this book. I loved it the first time, the second, and now the third time, it has hooked me again. I think I could read it a hundred times, and still get more out of it. And one of my favorite parts is when he talks about eliminating grades and his experiences trying to teach rhetoric/writing to his college students.

Grade eliminating schemes are assumed to be for the benefit of the weaker students. To make them feel better or something. And I do believe that lower grades are harmful too. But as a top student, grades served not to encourage excellence from me, but complacency. I would hand in papers written in no time, with no rewrite, and get A's. I almost never studied or did homework, and I still got A's. At the time, I didn't understand it.

Eliminating grades from schools would ultimately benefit the best and the brightest the most. Because, unfettered by mediocrity, they would be free to excel. They would be free to learn as much as they could instead of as little as they could.

Because that's what grades really encourage: to learn as little as possible. Bullet points, headlines, italicized print, that's what is on the test. But the most interesting stuff is in the middle. Or rather, in between the lines. Textbooks are a function of this [little as possible] mindset. That's why they are so repugnant.

School teaches children to learn as little as possible -- and it is what turned me off from school, though I thoroughly learned the lesson.

And that is why my son will never go to school. I want him to learn as much as possible. I want him to feel free to completely not know anything about a subject, rather then think he knows about something because he took a class on it and passed the test. And if he does desire to go to school one day, he will be prepared to use school, rather than have the school use him.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What I made last week

Apple Juice

Well, first I made apple juice in the food processor, as I don't have a juicer. We cut up a whole bunch of apples, and whirred them around in the food processor for a couple minutes. Then I spooned them into a strainer and drained out some of the juice. Then I scooped them into an old polo shirt rag (that was never used for cleaning), and my son and I took turns squeezing the rag to get every last bit of juice out of the pulp. Caleb found this great fun. The juice was earmarked for making apple butter, but it was so good that we made another batch for drinking.

Apple Butter

To make the apple butter, we used 2 cups of apple juice, and then cut up enough apples into chunks to fill our crockpot 3/4 of the way full. I turned the crockpot on high for about an hour, then turned it down to low and let it cook for 2 days until it was brown and apple buttery. I smooshed it down with a spoon, but I didn't blend it because I wanted it a little chunky and homemade tasting.


I've posted our bread recipe on this blog before, so I won't reiterate it here. We finally got our oven hooked up, so we were able to make bread! Our first bread in our new home. It was a momentous occasion. I made cinnamon-raisin bread. You take enough dough for a loaf, and smoosh or roll it out on your countertop the width of your bread pan and about 3/8ths of an inch thick and however long the dough makes. Then dump loads of cinnamon and rub it around. Then sprinkle the top with raisins. Finally roll it up, and pinch the ends and bottom. Place it in the bread pan and push it down so it covers the bottom of the pan. Bake it at 450 for a half an hour.

Well, i also made myself wool mittens and more wool socks. And I made my son long underwear out of a cashmere sweater, but he's had enough of me being on the computer, so I'll save them for another post. Adios!

Toys are for FUN!

Why is it that toys can't just be toys? What's wrong with saying that your toddler is going to enjoy wacking away at this hammer and peg toy so much he'll leave you alone for long enough to check your email and maybe even respond to one or two of them? Is it wrong to play with something that won't make your child the next Einstein?

My toys are for fun. They are just something to play with. They won't promote hand-eye coordination. They are not "design inspired to enhance child development during these years." They won't teach your child how to be a genius or a builder or a cook. You don't need toys for that sort of thing. What you need is time.

You need time, and your child needs time. Your child needs time to play without you trying to teach her things or "stimulate" her imagination or compliment her on how wonderful her block stacking skills are coming along. He needs time without the TV telling him what to do. You need time to just be together so you can answer her questions and be a safety net. You need time so that your child(ren) can have time to play uninterrupted without being dragged around in the car to a hundred different stores, appointments, lessons, games, and everything else.

Toys don't really promote playing. When given time, children will play with anything. That's what they are programmed to do. Don't get me wrong. I love toys, but they aren't particularly important to your child's development. Time and freedom are what is most important.

When I buy toys, I don't buy them in order to enhance my son's development. I only buy toys made of natural materials: wood, cotton, wool, metal, etc. (my brothers and I saved all our Legos, so I never have to buy them). And I buy them according to the multi-use principle. How much play value do they have? How many different uses does this toy have? How many different scenarios could played out with this one toy? If part of it breaks, can I fix it? How is this going to look in 5, 10, 20 years? (That's why I make primarily unpainted toys, because painted toys get chipped, smeared and otherwise look dingy after a few years.)

Anyway, that was my rant about the toymaking industry. My message to every parent, aunt, uncle, and granparent is this: Don't buy toys to "educate" the children. Buy them according to their play value.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Wool Socks from a thrift store sweater

So we've moved into our new (old) house. And it's cold. So I was looking around for some nice thick wool socks. I got some for myself at walmart that were nice, and then I ordered two more pairs from Turkey Creek Wool on etsy. They were very nice, and my feet were pretty warm, especially if I wore two pairs. But I couldn't find any thick wintery socks for kids at the store, and I wasn't really sure about the couple that I found on etsy. So I decided I had to make my own.

First I got a 100% wool sweater, and I measured one of my son's socks against it to see how wide it should be.
Then I cut the sweater so that there would only be one side seam. So the sock is all one piece. After you cut it, there should be two pieces like this.

Then you fold them in half so the wrong side is out, and sew the sides together. When you get to the toe, round it off. This is one finished sock. As you can see, I probably should have rounded off the toe a little bit more, but it doesn't really matter.

This is my child's delighted smile about his new socks.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sticky Buns (the healthier way)

Well, I just finished a post about stovetop bread in the van, now I want to do a post looking forward to an oven in my new house. The last post had the recipe I use for bread. Now I want to tell you how I plan to feed my overnight guests in my "new" home.

First, for dinner, make a batch of bread. Use the recipe from the previous post. Let it rise for 2 hours. Assuming you aren't having a lot of guests, and don't have a big family, take half the dough, and form it into a loaf on a cookie sheet or in a well sprayed loaf pan. Then let it rise for 40ish minutes while the oven heats up to 450 degrees. If you want 2 loaves of bread, double the recipe so you still have leftover dough for breakfast. After 40 minutes (or as long as you can stand if you don't have 40 minutes), bake the bread for roughly 25-30 minutes at 450 degrees.

Serve your hot, steaming fresh bread to your adoring guests for dinner. Put the extra dough in the fridge (covered up, but not air tight-I think you'll kill the yeast if they can't breath).

In the morning, get up before your guests, and get ready to make sticky buns!

You'll need:
1 cup of maple syrup
3 tablespoons of molasses
the leftover bread dough (1/2 of the basic recipe)

1. Mix the maple syrup and the molasses together. I made up some measurements, but basically you can't really have too much of the sticky stuff. You can always add more if it looks scant.
2. Grease a square cake pan, and dump most of the syrup mixture in the bottom of it along with enough raisins and walnuts to cover the bottom of the pan. Your syrup mixture should cover the bottom of the pan so the raisins and walnuts are wading in it.
3. Then spread the dough out on the counter top. It's really too sticky for a rolling pin, just use your hands and keep stretching until it's a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Then liberally coat the dough with cinnamon, again, it's very hard to have too much. Sprinkle raisins over that, and drizzle more syrup mixture on top.
4. Roll the dough up and slice it into cinnamon rolls. Place the rolls into the pan so they are touching each other. Whatever syrup you have left, rub on the top of it (which will be the bottom).
5. Bake at 325 degrees until the dough is not sticky in the middle anymore. It'll be more than a half an hour, but less than an hour. Just keep an eye on it.
6. When it's all cooked, take it out of the oven and invert the pan onto a large dish.
7. Bask in the compliments from your guests when they wake up. Depending on their personalities, you may or may not want to point out how much healthier this is than the supermarket/traditional version.


Cooking in the Van

Well, our adventures in the van are coming to a close. I'm buying a house, an old house, in poor condition in West Virginia. I should close by next week. Parts of vanliving were fun, but on the whole, it was too stressful-what with the very active 3 year old, the old van (though we had almost no car trouble, I was always worried about what might go wrong), the lack of a workshop, space, and places to park. I am thrilled to be settling down. But I always meant to do a post on van meals, and I never got around to it.

One of the problems with the van is that I had no oven to bake bread, and buying good bread is expensive ($4+ for an artisan bread). So we made do with an occasional loaf of good bread, and lots of inferior rolls, baguettes, and loaves. Until I discovered how to make bread with just a stove top.

First my bread recipe:

I found this recipe in the Philadelphia Inquirer when they were reviewing the book Artisan Breads in Five Minutes. I never bought the book (though I still want it, if any of my family are reading this and looking for Christmas ideas...), but I have used this recipe for my yeast bread baking exclusively. So here it is:

3 cups of warm water
mixed with
1.5 tablespoons of active dry yeast
1.5 tablespoons of kosher salt (though I typically only use 1 tablespoon of salt)

Let the yeast dissolve for a minute, then add
6.5 cups of flour (any combination of white and whole wheat you prefer
Then mix it up.

It's a moist dough, because it was designed to last for up to 2 weeks in the fridge. The idea is that you can make a batch, and use just enough to cook bread for each meal. Well, it's never last more than two days for me, but I'll take his word for it.

Anyway, to make fry bread, fill a frying pan with a half an inch or so of oil and heat it up so that it's hot, but not like boiling (I didn't have a thermometer or anything. Then you just take a piece of dough, spread it out with your hands, and drop it in the hot oil. It should cook pretty quickly if the oil is hot enough. Then flip it over and cook the other side. Take it out on to a paper towel. Then eat it. If you just bought butter, you could spread it with butter. If you bought butter two days ago and it's late spring or summer, then you'll be stuck with dipping it in the melted butter. After you've finished your favorite meal of freshly picked organic kale and mashed potatoes (usually instant, because boiling potatoes takes forever and heats up the van something fierce), cook another one to dip in maple syrup for dessert.

Then all you have to do is remember to dump the oil and steaming water before you start driving tomorrow morning, so they don't end up all over the back of the van...

Monday, June 28, 2010


I would like to discuss the idea that mothers with small children "need" television in order to get things done. How can you prepare dinner without a TV? Don't you need sponge Bob to vacuum the carpets? I answer with a resounding, "NO!"

In fact, I think this idea is more harmful than the actual time spent watching television. When you place a child in front of the TV, because you need to get stuff done, you are depriving a child from learning how to entertain herself. Learning how to play is a process; it takes time. Every year a child can sustain independent play a little bit longer.

Obviously a one or two year old is not going to be able to amuse themselves alone for two hours while you clean the house from top to bottom or while you work from home on your computer. But as they age, children learn more and more ways to have fun and play. But they need time to develop that skill. And it is a skill. Time to be bored. Time to be a little frustrated.

Children get frustrated, because they are so used to having our undivided attention. Jean Leidoff the author of the book The Continuum Concept explains this (modern) phenomenon :

What, then, is causing this unhappiness? What have we misunderstood about our human nature? And what can we do to approach the harmony the Yequana enjoy with their children?

It appears that many parents of toddlers, in their anxiety to be neither negligent nor disrespectful, have gone overboard in what may seem to be the other direction. Like the thankless martyrs of the in-arms stage, they have become centered upon their children instead of being occupied by adult activities that the children can watch, follow, imitate, and assist in as is their natural tendency. In other words, because a toddler wants to learn what his people do, he expects to be able to center his attention on an adult who is centered on her own business. An adult who stops whatever she is doing and tries to ascertain what her child wants her to do is short-circuiting this expectation. Just as significantly, she appears to the tot not to know how to behave, to be lacking in confidence and, even more alarmingly, looking for guidance from him, a two or three year old who is relying on her to be calm, competent, and sure of herself.

So on the one hand we have much parental attention, and on the other hand, we want to do other things besides make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and dig holes in the sand. Enter the television. It seems like the answer to all our problems, but what it is really doing is compounding the problem.

The problem was children that can't entertain themselves, the solution: turn on the tv. New problem: these kids that can't entertain themselves are getting older, but they are not getting any better at playing than a two year old (in fact, my 2 year old generally was better at playing than the school-aged kids that I babysat for).

If you use TV to replace your attention, you are teaching your child that they are not capable of entertaining themselves, that they need some outside force (parent, teacher, television, movie, video game) to amuse them. And that is how you end of with 6,7,8 year-olds that don't know how to play independently of adults, who can only be entertained by television and video games.

I'm not suggesting that you throw out your TV (good idea though). What I'm saying is we have to be aware of the underlying message implied by our actions (to say nothing of leaving our children to soak up the messages of a consumerist culture all alone-come on, I'm only half kidding).

TV hasn't been around for that long. Lately, when I find myself drawn toward the television (I've been staying at my parent's TV in the van:)), I ask myself what would I do if TV weren't an option. It is always something more interesting, creative, productive, or social. I think the reason I never got into the trap of sitting my son in front of the TV is because I never saw TV as an option. I grew up without a television, and so it never entered my consciousness as a child-rearing tool. What would you do without a TV? What would your children do?

If anyone has any good tips for getting things done with children without a TV, post them here. That is going to be my next blog post. Thanks!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Home and Play

Right now, I'm staying at my parent's house a little while, restocking toys, visiting with my beloved family, discussing politics with my brothers, cashing in on a Nana deprived of her grandson for a few months. There is just something about home.

I grew up on 18 acres, mixed woods and field (weeds, scrubby trees) and lawn, one pond, one damned up little river to make another big pond. It's just heaven to me. Outdoors it is so beautiful. Inside there can be trouble and drama, but outside, I could always escape to wander around for hours by myself. In my head, I herded cattle for hundreds of miles with a willow branch whip. I created whole other worlds to live in. And when I felt the need for company, all I had to do was go inside.

Inside, my brothers could usually be persuaded to play with legos or clay. Each of which was a full scale production in creating miniature worlds. Out of our gray clay, highlighted with whatever colors were still un-homogenized, we fashioned houses, cars, people, money, food, guns, televisions, radios, computers, couches, bridges (to my little brothers high chair island), and whatever else we could think of. When we play legos, each of us would have an island on the carpet housing our personal legos. Each island was it's own country, complete with fortifications (cannons, patrolling gun boats, etc.), and each play time almost always ended in full scale world war, which usually ended with us all mad at each other, because really, you can't tell who got shot (if anyone) by a tiny plastic gun.

Then there was my room. As the only girl (out of six kids), I always had my own room, after my younger brothers were out of their cribs. My favorite things to play with were legos, barbies, marbles, and a mixture of small plastic and rubber animals. When Caleb, my son, found my marbles last year, I could still remember each marble's (they were people) individual or group identity. There were a few different scenarios for the marbles. In one (my favorite), they were a country, and they had to other throw a wicked king, and all the intrigue and plotting that goes into that. In another, they were in school or camp, and the marble run was a waterslide, and there were intricate social structures that went into that one.

Barbies and legos were my favorite though. Legos had more building potential. You could have more of a scene. Barbies, though, you could dress up. I was heavily into making clothes for them. Gymnastics were a big theme for barbies. I was (still am, for that matter) enamored with gymnasts. With the Barbies and the legos, each character had their own personality. They all had names, and these things never changed. Alec, the former pirate, amazing jockey, (modeled loosely after Alec from the Black Stallion book) was always Alec, and he always loved Christy, another jockey, a tomboy with freckles and red hair. The lego setting was a horse ranch. I had stables, bunkhouses, a mess hall, private rooms for the owner and his family. And the best thing about legos was that I could constantly redesign these things.

I loved playing. I had so much power to amuse myself. We didn't have a TV. My childhood, in regards to play, was amazing.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Inbetween Spaces

In order to have fun, you have to be willing to leave the road sometimes. This is a little place that we discovered yesterday right next to an I-95 bridge going over a lake.
Caleb had been begging to go to the ocean, because he was hot, and unfortunately we were not near the ocean, nor could I spare the gas to get us to the ocean. I had a car repair that ate up any spare cash there might have been. Anyway we passed over this lake, and I inspected the shoreline for sand, saw some, and exited the highway. Then we spent the next half an hour trying to find a place to swim. We asked directions from at least two different people. Apparently all the shore is owned by individuals, campgrounds, and hotels. Except for this little place down an abandoned road that led to the old bridge. We climbed down the embankment to this dirty little beach, and Caleb had a ball swimming and jumping from the fallen tree. He found a beat-up old baseball that floated up every time he threw it to his delight. And someone's old undershirt with which he could whip around and fling water. He gathered up little clam shells and rocks. We stayed for over an hour until the sun started setting.

Last days in Alachua

We went tubing down the Ichetucknee River last Friday for my friend's son's birthday party. He was turning 12. It was a gorgeous float down the river. I don't have any pictures, but it was exactly how I picture non-beachy Florida: huge cypress trees rising up from the river dripping with spanish moss. It's a spring fed river, so it was crystal clear (though my friend said it isn't as clear as it used to be.

On Saturday, Caleb and I went to the Ichetucknee head spring.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I've been thinking about this lately. Particularly in relation to the person that I am relating to the most. The thing is I feel like I am justified in freaking out (mildly freaking out) if he sets his cup of water down on the bed and ( me) it spills. Or if he's trying to annoy me or whatever. But if I am practicing the golden rule, I would never react in a negative manner like that to him. Because I would feel bad if someone reacted like that to me--EVEN if I "deserved" it. Just because I screwed up, doesn't mean I want to be yelled at. Even if it's only a mild "yelling."

I was trying to think how I would like to be treated when I do things like Caleb does (because we all act like three year old's sometimes, in our own way). There was recently a post on the Zen Habits blog that began: There’s something so powerfully simple, profoundly beautiful, about the Dalai Lama’s quote: “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” And that gave me my answer: I would like to be treated with kindness. No matter how annoying, aggravating, careless or clumsy I am I would like to be treated kindly.

Right now, I have an employer who yells at people a lot, and it's really made me aware of when I am harsh and unkind and sarcastic. It really takes an effort (for me at least) to hold back the automatic scolding or impatience when it comes to my son. I'm pretty laidback, but living in a van seems to bring out the worst in me. I've always had my own room in a big house, with plenty of alone time, and I am working hard to adjust to close, cramped living conditions.

My mantra in the van and on the farm has been to recite the fruits of the spirit to myself.

Galatians 5:22-23 (New International Version)22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Something about just saying the words calms me down and helps me remember how much I love my son, and how I can't treat him poorly just because we are familiar.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Farm Life

We left Venice a few weeks ago and headed to north Florida to work at an organic vegetable farm. We pick kale, collards, lettuce, arugala, rutabagas, and dandelion greens. We pull weeds and wash vegetables. And by "we," I mean, me, of course. Three year olds don't work. Well, he works, but he works at playing and talking and asking why about everything.

This woman who works at the farm just has endless patience with his questions. She's wonderful. I try to keep my ears open to learn from her. I always do that with older people. Even if they aren't quite on the trust-children wave length, I still learn a lot--even if it's only what NOT to do. Listening to other people talking to their kids or my kid can gives me perspective on what I might sound like. I hate it when adults are impatient and hurrying to their kids, but I know I am guilty of that at times. But being aware, I try to remember how awful it is to talk to a little one like that.

I've been pulling grass out of rows of squash all day, and I just noticed that I have a blister on my finger. Who knew that you could get a blister from pulling weeds? Caleb likes to run around and dig in the dirt, talk to everybody and the dog, play in the van and tackle me for milk while I'm working. Sometimes he'll pick some kale or pull some weed, and he's recently become quite proficient at cutting dandelion greens, but his attention span for that sort of adult nonsense is rather short.

Signing off, from north Florida,


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Typical Day

Today after waking, Caleb decided he wanted to spend his Easter money (from my mother) to go to Panera Bread for breakfast. We got two whole grain bagels and one cream cheese. I checked my email and my etsy orders. Then we went to the Goodwill bookstore where Caleb spent the rest of his Easter money on a book with animal pictures.

After buying his book, we went to the beach.

Caleb made a friend and spent the rest of the day playing hilariously with his five year old companion, stopping in for milk periodically.

I read Mothering magazine cover-to-cover, read more of The Stone Diaries, and then sanded some wooden baby keys. Then we went to the grocery store, bought French Country Bread with raisins and nuts, broccoli, strawberries, and lettuce for dinner.
We drove to the park, and I made spagetti, steamed broccoli (though Caleb preferred to eat his raw), and ate bread and lettuce.

Our habit lately has been to eat two meals a day. Not really through any intention to save money, but because when the middle of the day rolls around we are too engrossed in our activities to bother stopping for a meal. Occasionally we'll snack on dates or graham crackers or whatever else we happen to have.

After dinner, we played at the park, then made a quick stop at the library to check in on email and etsy again. Then we drove to Walmart to bed down for the night.

This is typical of our days on the road, though most days we go to the post office to ship something out. Right now, I sent some keys out to my brother to drill holes in them, since I don't have a drill. Some days we spend more time at the library and the park and don't go to the beach. Some times we aren't near the beach at all and spend all our time at the library and park.

We don't always stay at Walmart, but in this Florida town, there are many RV's parked at Walmart, and it's nice to stay where there is company (although we never see each other). And we can use the bathroom and buy fruit every morning as well.

The Master of My Own Time

I will try to write sparingly.

I decided on this mode of living in order to protect the bond between my son and I. I think spending most of our time apart from the ones we love, particularly our children is a bad way to live. I mean "bad" in a personal way. It would be unpleasant for me to work 8 or 9 hours away from my son. It would be unpleasant for my son to only see his mother in the mornings and evenings. Frankly, after three years of not having a "regular" job, it would be unpleasant to give most of my time away for dubious reward. More on this later.

I make toys, wooden toys, though I plan on branching out to soft toys as well. I sell them at I don't make very much money. But so far, I have been able to feed my son, myself, and our van. I have very little money, but I am successful. I am rich, because I am the master of my own time. Whenever things get tough, and I'm starting to feel "disadvantaged" (a ridiculous euphamism), I remember that and relish in it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Welcome to the Journey

My name is Cheryl.

I have a son, Caleb.

We live in our van.

Welcome to our journey.