Monday, January 31, 2011

Living or driving?

Walking is something that people used to do a lot. Before there were cars...

Some people had horses, but before cars, people did a lot of walking. It wouldn't have been uncommon for someone to walk several miles in a day to get to where they needed to go. Three miles one way would be nothing.

The reason I'm talking about this is because I don't have a car. My dear van that we lived and traveled in has become a burden. It has issues, expensive issues, and I just don't want to have them fixed. I had toyed with the idea of giving the van up before this after I bought the house, but I never could have done it had the vehicle not forced my hand.

It's hard not having a car. America is a sea of automobiles. Everything we do revolves around cars. Part of the reason it's so hard to live without a car is because of all the cars! You can't just walk places, because there are all these roads (with no sidewalks and steep ditches on the sides). The cars drive really fast, and it's scary.

But even where there are sidewalks, people still don't like to walk, because we are just lazy. Well, sort of. And unwillingness to use our muscles is just one part of it. The other part is that we are impatient. If I take a car 1.5 miles to the post office, I can be there and back in under 15 minutes (and that includes checkout time). If I walk, I can make it there in about 25 minutes if I'm pulling Caleb in the wagon, or carrying him on my back.

If Caleb and I both walk, it's more like 45 minutes (not because he can't walk faster, he just doesn't, he likes to make snow balls and crush every clump of snow and just generally be about 4 year old). Think of all the things that I could be doing with those 45 minutes!! And then there's the 45 minutes back and the however much time in between trips, because if you are going to walk "all the way" into town, you might as well go to the gym for a swim or hit up the library for some new books or stop at Cathy's Diner for a pancake. All that just to mail out an international package!

But who says those are bad things? Walking, however slow, is better for your body than sitting in a car. Fresh air is good for your lungs. Spending time with your son throwing snowballs and singing on your walk is better than rushing him out the door and in the carseat and out of the carseat into the post office and back in the carseat and home again. Taking the time for a swim or some books or supporting a local pie shop aren't bad things either.

But some people think that children shouldn't be walking. It's too hard. It's too cold. "I really hate to see a child walking." Really? Because children have a right to be shuttled around all day? They should never have to be cold or get tired using their legs?

We have gotten weak and flabby as a species. Instead of using our legs to get places, we go to the gym and run in place staring at the TV. We balk at the idea of walking a couple miles to get to where we need to go. We've gotten so "busy" that we can't take the time to go slower and enjoy ourselves more. The irony is our busy-ness is going to pay for all the things that we don't have time to do.

Too busy to walk or bike-because you are paying for your car (the lowest 20% of income earners spend $2,856 on yearly car costs-probably higher now because gas prices are rising).
Too busy to cook from scratch-because you are paying for someone else to process your food for you.
Too busy to spend time with your kids-because you are spending too much money on your kids.
Too busy to fix up an old house-because you are too busy earning money to pay for your new one.
And so on...

Another irony is that while everyone says that Americans are so busy-busy, busy, busy, rushing around--they spend 2.8 hours a day watching TV (according to the bureau of labor statistics)!

My all-time favorite book, Beat the System by Gary Paulson, put it this way-he was talking about television, but it really could apply to anything:

"When you are living poor and working at improving the quality of your life it takes time; not just time to work at things, but time to enjoy them as well. Perhaps a description of what I mean would be more appropriate.
When I taught at the University of Colorado I would spend hours teaching or preparing to teach for what amounted to so many dollars an hour. When I finished teaching for the day I would go home, stopping at the store on the way to buy prepared food of one kind or another (usually fattening; often fried chicken or some other quick food), and after eating I would sit down and vicariously live by watching somebody do something on television. If I were in the daydreaming mood I would dream of taking a vacation to fish or hunt or go sailing or some such endeavor--quite often something I was watching the people on television doing.
Now I no long teach at the University of Colorado, no longer earn so many dollars for hours of teaching, no long stop at the store and pick up a chicken to eat while I watch somebody else do the living.
Instead I might, typically, hunt dinner, if it's fall. Or fish for dinner if it's summer. The same hunting or fishing I would have done on vacation except now I do it for food instead of stopping at the store. If I'm not hunting I might be taking dinner from our garden system, or working at my food in some other way.
The point is that when you are living and not just watching somebody else live on the tube, it takes time to live that you would have spent watching them do it for you. I might spend hours hunting, hours that I enjoy, to bring home a few grouse or rabbits or a deer; then more hours to process the meat and prepare it for either storage or cooking. Then still more time is spent cooking it and finally, best of all, the time spent eating it. Not during any of this, at no time in this whole process of living, have I got any time to watch some silly idiot jumping around shooting bad guys on the video screen. (emphasis added)

That, more than anything else, describes how I want to live my life...minus all the shooting of animals, of course, since I'm a vegetarian. :)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why handmade?

I was thinking about why I liked to buy things that are handmade (or make them myself), and it really boiled down to this: I want more people to have the opportunity to live the way that I live (thanks to my loyal customers).

Now before you get up in arms and start shouting that you aren't interested in living in poverty with frozen pipes, and plywood walls, and eating beans every day (we don't do this, by the way), I don't mean live the life that I live. I mean that when people work for themselves, when they can work out of their homes, their lives are enriched.

Speaking for myself only, my life has been enriched since I started working for myself.
+I have more free time (no commute, no preparations, no lunch "break" wasting my time away from home).
+I am able to be pay myself to take care of my son (which is essentially what you are doing when you eschew daycare, preschool, babysitters and nannies).
+My son is spared from being carted around to the caregiver (s), which means less rushed, grumpy transitions times, and more time to play and relax, plus a more secure attachment that I will be there to meet his needs.
+I am able to take care of my home better ("able to" does not always translate into "will" for those of us that are on the messy side).
+Just recently, I have even given up my van (after living in it for 6 months or so). I now rely on the bus, neighbors, and the occasional taxi or rental car. That saves me money in more ways than one, but I'll do a whole post on that later.
+I can work when it's convenient for me. When my son was a toddler, I mostly worked with tools at night, because he didn't want to be left alone. Now I can work with tools at half an hour stretches at various times throughout the day. I also bring my hand sanding with me everywhere so I can work at the playground or the laundromat or outside while Caleb is playing.
+I get the satisfaction of making beautiful, functional toys. After working in an office shuffling paper for 5 years or so, it is immensely satisfying to work and have a finished product.
+I am able to structure my business around my beliefs and ideals. I only use natural products, and I make nice toys that kids will enjoy and will last and finally when they are trashed, they will rot and go back into the earth instead of sitting around in a landfill for however long it takes for plastic to decay.
+Working from home is much less wasteful and more productive, which means you can do more in less time, with less money, which gives you more time for living.
+I never have to come home from work raving about how stupid my bosses are (I just rave about myself!), or how terrible corporate stores are (my brother works at Borders-he does a lot of raving).
+If I'm sick, I take the day off or work in spurts. I recover faster, because I am able to give my body time. I'm also exposed to less sickness not being in an office.
+Working for yourself encourages honesty, excellence, and diligence.

I have so many more options now that I am not losing five full days to work. That 40 hours each week? Well really it ends up being at least 50 with the commute and the prep (and that miserable half an hour stuck on to the front of your day-it used to be 9-5, but now it's 8:30-5) and maybe there is overtime. Plus once you get home, you are so drained, all you really want to do is put something in the microwave and sit in front of the tv. Now that I don't have to deal with that. I've taken to learning new things! I sew dolls, I crochet, I felt, I learn new woodworking techniques, I cook from scratch, I read long, deep books about history and philosophy and economics and science.

By purchasing things that are handmade, I'm contributing to a better life for someone. And yes, it can be more expensive (it can also be cheaper), but that also encourages you to buy less (good thing).

To be honest, I hardly buy anything besides groceries and supplies for my shop and occasionally clothes from the thrift store, but when I do, I try to always think could I get that on etsy? Could I help someone else stay home with her kids? Could I help support quality, REAL customer service, and individuality?

Why do you buy handmade?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Outdoor Saturday + Biscuit Recipe

Every week, I set aside as much time as we want to spend outside. I make a fire (as it's winter) with my wood scraps.

We cook chili in the fire and eat it with biscuits.

Sometimes I do some sanding. This week we made a snowman since it warmed up enough for the snow to be packable.

I also burned myself trying to take the biscuits out of the oven with just my gloves on and so I dropped the pan and made a mess of my oven.

I modified my biscuit recipe to turn them into cornmeal biscuits, and they were wonderful.

Cornmeal Biscuits

1 3/4 cup of flour (I use a combination of white flour and whole wheat)
1/4 cup of coarsely ground cornmeal
(basically you want 2 cups of flour/meal, you can play with the ratio, for my regular biscuits, just use all flour)
1 tablespoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of sale
--whisk the dry ingedients
2/3 cup of milk (I use soy milk)
1/3 cup of oil
--pour the oil and milk into the flour and mix it up
--then roll it out to about 3/4 of an inch and cut out biscuit rounds (I use a glass, but you can also use cookie cutters if you are feeling creative.)
--bake them in the oven at 450 for about 15 minutes until they are golden brown on the bottoms

Enjoy! Try to set aside sometime for outside living, it's a lot of fun.

Forget the Menus!

Because we're having Pineapple this week! The grocery store within walking distance of us, Kroger, had a 10 for $10 sale on PINEAPPLE! So obviously we bought ten.

We'll probably be back later in the week to buy another ten. I bought them last night, and we've already consumed three of them. Last night Caleb had pineapples and bananas for dinner, and I had a pineapple, banana, spinach smoothie. This morning we had this big bowl of pineapple with our granola.

Let this be a lesson to you. When you are poor and you can get fresh food cheap, stock up! If you score some good fruit or vegetables, eat them every day for a week! Variety is had over the course of the year. We are feasting on pineapple now, and when strawberries come into season, we will feast on them. When we harvest lettuce from our garden, we'll eat salad every day. When you are poor, or just trying to save money, you have to take what you can get. Another example of why there can be no picky eaters!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Your marriage comes first?

I was just reading at one of my favorite sites:, and I had to post this part of an article that questions baby training. I am not married, never have been, but plan to be sometime in the not-so-distant future, and this really spoke to me.

"My baby needs to learn that our marriage comes first."

Interestingly enough, there isn't a strong Biblical case for placing the marriage relationship first. The epistles, for example, in their discussion of the roles within the family, never make any statements about the supremacy of the marriage relationship over all other relationships within the family. While it is clear that our marriage is to reflect the relationship between Christ and His Church, it is not clear that we are to give our marriage relationship some sort of exalted status over the rest of the family. In fact, one might argue that, just as the Church is to focus her efforts on making disciples, our marriages are to be focused on making disciples of our children and raising them to the glory of God.

My husband and I are growing more and more disenchanted with some of the fruit we see of the "our marriage comes first" mentality. Often, all sorts of selfish behavior is excused. Infants and babies are left with virtual strangers so that parents can attempt to recapture some sort of fantasy dating relationship. Grandparents are imposed upon to watch children for "weekend getaways" and even entire vacations. (Some grandparents have been emotionally manipulated: "You want our marriage to survive, don't you? Well, it won't if we have the children under foot every day.") The children are seen as hindrances to maintaining a good marriage relationship, rather than the fruit of the relationship and a natural part of that relationship.

Worst of all is that too many of those who put their marriage first are willing, when troubles come, to abandon the marriage. The idea of maintaining a healthy marriage for the sake of the children is horribly old-fashioned. Why, it's far too child-centered for today.

However, we are gratified and encouraged to discover that there are many parents who are unashamedly family-centered. One father wrote online that he and his wife had decided to include their children in their anniversary celebration because, "after all, our children are an important part of our marriage". This inspired us, on our last anniversary, to celebrate in a different way. We decided it was one of our most enjoyable anniversaries yet! We sat at a lovely table for two and were served by a bevy of small waiters and one cute little waitress. They had a wonderful time and we were continually reminded of the fact that our marriage and our children are all wrapped up together, just as God intended.

Having a good, strong marriage does not require us to act, periodically, as if our children don't exist. We don't need to get away from them once a week for date nights. We don't need to view our children as potential marriage-wreckers but rather should view them as marriage-enhancers. Our babies will grow to learn how important our marriage is to us by observing whether our husbands love us as Christ loves the Church and whether we submit to our husbands with respect. Dumping young children with babysitters or refusing to talk to them for the first twenty minutes that Daddy is home from work won't teach them much of anything, other than that we are rather selfish and rude.

That's all I have to say, and I'm not even the one that said it!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Spinach Curry and Pita Bread

Everybody likes this one. Even people that don't like chick peas or tomatoes or spinach. My son gobbles this up, and always makes sure he has spinach with each spoonful.

The recipe is adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance to fit the needs of my small family, limited spice collection, and ease of preparation.

Spinach Curry (adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance)

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can of diced tomatoes

  • 1 large onion, sliced

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 tsp of ginger powder (or a tablespoon of fresh grated ginger)

  • 2 teaspoons curry powder

  • 1 teaspoons ground cumin

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 5 cups fresh spinach, chopped (I use about a half a bag of baby spinach-whatever I have left

  • 2 cups chickpeas, cooked and drained, or 1 (15-ounce) can, drained and rinsed

  1. Saute the onion for a little while..

  2. Add the garlic and ginger to the mixture, and saute for a few minutes.

  3. Add the spices and tomatoes; and saute for another minute.

  4. I tend to add more water at some point. You want the final product to have a little bit of “sauce” to it, but not to be watery. I like to add water at some point and then let it boil off.

  5. Add the spinach, I stuff as much in as I can, and put a lid on it and wait for it to wilt, then add more if there is more to add.

  6. After you’ve added all of the spinach, add the chickpeas. Lower the heat and stir occasionally for about 15-20 minutes. This is what the original recipe says, but I usually don't want to wait that long. Let the water boil off so it's a good consistancy, not to watery, and eat!

The pita bread is basically just your bread dough (see my bread recipe), rolled into balls, and rolled to an even quarter inch thick. Let them rest for 30 minutes while you heat your oven to 500 degrees. Then bake them until they are golden and puffy. We like to dip ours in butter.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Food, Children's Menus, and picky eaters

Have you ever tried to order healthy food from a children's menu? Generally speaking, it can't be done. And if you want vegan food, forget about. And vegetables??? Not likely. Rather than having smaller versions of adult meals, just about every restaurant that I've been to features the same things: chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese, hamburger, hot dog, grilled cheese, cheese quesadillas (no vegetables with the cheese of course). Kids all over the world eat real food, why can't ours?

My solution has been to never order off the children's menu. Restaurant food isn't healthy to begin with, but the children's menu has a dispiriting lack of variety and a high percentage of junk food. I generally order him a side dish, a soup, or just have him share my portion (which is usually too much anyway).

Where does this idea that children can only eat bland and unhealthy food come from? I'm not sure, but the idea that children need "special" food is sold from the first bite that they eat. That rice cereal for babies has got to be the most processed and blandest food ever. Nothing like the human milk they have been used to eating. Human milk is sweet and rich and it carries a taste of what mama has been eating too. Then there is baby food. The thrice-cooked (or more), pureed, strained vegetables, fruits, and meats. I tried feeding Caleb some green beans one time (and only one time!) from one of these jars, and I understand why hatred of vegetables begins very early. They were terrible! Then there is "toddler" food. Which, judging from the aisle at the grocery store, consists mostly of cracker type things, chewy "fruit" things, and other processed junk food.

Children should be eating real food, what the adults are eating, just less of it. This brings up the idea of the picky eater. I loved what I read at The Common Room blog about picky eaters:

I consider being a picky eater a character issue. I am totally sincere about that. Being a picky eater displays a certain self centeredness, a focus on self and bodily comforts that I think hampers maturity as well as the ability to be content. Being a picky eater demonstrates a certain sort of ingratitude toward those who cook and provide food for the table.

She wrote in her post about feeding a big family on a limited budget. She allows each child to have one thing that they won't eat, and aside from that they have to try everything that is served.

I hear about children that will only eat cookies and white bread and hotdogs and macaroni and cheese, or rather I hear their parents say this. My neighbor was just commenting that she had to get macaroni and cheese because her grand children were going to be there for lunch and they wouldn't eat cornbread and beans with her and her husband. I would never allow them that choice. From an early age, Caleb was fed whatever we were eating. I don't mind fixing him something different on occasion, but just like there is no kids television in our house, I don't believe in kid's food.

When we are at our own house (as opposed to my parents' house), he eats even more variety, because he has limited options. Our house is not full of everything under the sun. We only have so much, and so, he is content and eats whatever there is. I have never forced him to eat anything he didn't want to either. If he doesn't want something (currently he is boycotting white bean and roasted garlic soup-which is way to good to strike off the menu!), he can eat leftovers, toast, or fruit.

We never fight about food. As a kid, I remember sitting at the table long after dinner was over, because I didn't want to eat something. I don't think that's very productive. He wants to eat what he sees me (and my parents and brothers when we are at their house) eating. This goes back to the Continuum Concept idea that children are inately social. They want to fit in with adults. Forcing children to eat vegetables implies that vegetables are not something people want to eat. I love eating broccoli and asparagus and beans and tomatoes. If he doesn't want to eat something, I just shrug and say, "more for me." I tell him that adults don't want kids to have the good food, that's why they always give them the junk, because they think that kids can't appreciate real food. I don't think that's stretching the truth much either, judging from the way kids are fed.

Just say no to kid's food.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coupon codes for Everyone!

Since I don't want to go hungry this January, I'm offering 20% off of much of my stock. Excluded are the Little Kitchen, Sun House, Oak Bus, Hammer and Nails, Tools and Toolbox.

Everything else is 20% off! Take this chance to plan ahead for birthdays, baby showers, or even to start your Christmas shopping for next year.

The coupon code is JANUARY.

Visit my shop.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Caleb's Christmas Presents

My last minute manger scene. Mary and Joseph and the donkey were made a while ago. They traveled down from our bedroom over a period of about 3 weeks to arrive in Bethlehem. Every morning when Caleb woke up, he would be so excited to see, "HOW FAR MARY and JOSPEPH GOT!!!"

Caleb's stocking made (by me) from a wool sweater, with rabbit fur edging the top.

The adorable child sleeping before our Christmas at our house (December 23rd).

I made him a wooden clip, because he likes to play woodworking use the clamps like I do, but he's not strong enough to open the spring clamps. It is clipping a rabbit fur, another one of his presents.

He is playing with a wooden bead lacing set from etsy's Busy Being Me. I acquired it by barter.

This is the coolest sailboat ever. The pond at my parent's house was frozen, so it was relegated to the bathtub while we were there. I traded with Willowbaus on etsy for it.

I got this awesome wooden chain from someone on etsy too, Mountain River Images. I even paid real money for it! Caleb liked it a lot. I think it's so cool.

I made Caleb a Busy Town (his terminology), modeled after our town, with our favorite little eatery: Cathy's Diner featured in it. He also got an Oak Bus, which he has been asking for.

We had a very nice Christmas at our new home, and then more Christmas at our old home in NJ.

I must say the biggest hit was a giant blow up baseball bat that my brother gave him. Caleb ran around all weekend bopping people. It was the most short-lived as well since it got a hole in it after a few days.

My mom also gave him a wooden forklift and dump truck. Caleb loves forklifts (we go to Lowes a lot), so he plays with that a lot too.

Look for new stuff in my etsy shop. That Busy Town will show up soon...along with play clips.

Meal Planning is for Everyone!

So I'm trying to be more organized. I try to do that often. It never really sticks, but I just found something that makes a huge difference in my day. Planning our meals out ahead of time really works. I thought that meal planning was just for people with big families, but I was wrong. Meal planning is for Everyone!

I plan on keeping our meals generally the same from week to week, just changing the occasional dinner. Lunch is often dinner from the night before. This eliminates all the thinking involved with cooking/preparing and eating meals, which is most of the work. Before, I would think about the meal generally around the time I got hungry. Now I can check the menu around 10am for lunch and see if there is something that I need to prepare before I get to work (in the basement) or whether I can make it at 11:30am.

Here is our menu (first draft-winter version):

Breakfast: make granola (if I'm on the ball, making it the night before is a good idea)
Lunch: Soup and bread
Dinner: Beans and tomatoes and hot peppers with tortilla chips

Breakfast: hot chunky applesauce (make it the night before while I'm working so I can just heat it up in the morning and make enough for oatmeal Tuesday)
Lunch: roasted potatoes and carrots with rosemary and garlic
Dinner: broccoli and pasta with homemade bread

Breakfast: oatmeal (we like it with applesauce and cinnamon and raisins)
Lunch: carrot soup and bread
Dinner: taco night

Breakfast: granola (leftover from Sunday)
Lunch: leftover carrot soup and bread
Dinner: Spinach curry with fresh made pita bread

Breakfast: French Toast with maple syrup and raisins on top with fresh squeezed OJ
Lunch: Fruit Smoothie
Dinner: Mashed Potatoes and a green vegetable

Breakfast: fresh OJ and toast or bananas
Lunch: white beans and roasted garlic soup
Dinner: Pizza (homemade of course)

Breakfast: Pancakes
Lunch: canned chili cooked in the fire outside with biscuits (made at breakfast time) -when I get a cast iron dutch oven, I'll make chili from scratch to cook over the fire.
Dinner: salad and leftovers

This is what I've got so far. Breakfasts will probably be supplemented with Orange Juice or Fruit Smoothies. Fruit or toast are for snacks. This is actually my first week doing this, but I am totally sold on it. I'm trying to keep our food spending down to $25 a week (or less). We'll see how that goes. I think the planning should help in that respect as well. I tried to plan cheap meals. Once it starts warming up, we'll be eating much more raw foods. I figure our meals will rotate with the seasons (like when it's strawberry season, we'll have strawberries for breakfast lunch and dinner :).

Do you plan your meals? My sister-in-law has all her recipes on her computer and uses that to plan her shopping. Do you have any tips for a novice?

Cashmere Long Underwear

Have I mentioned our house is cold? Well, it is. I drip the faucet every night to make sure our pipes don't freeze up so I can still cook and wash the dishes. When it's cold, you need long underwear. It makes a huge difference in your body temperature. Last year when we were still living at my parent's house, I bought Caleb Ruskovilla Wool Long Underwear. It cost like $90. AND he hardly wore it, because he was already warm. I was happy to see that it still fit this year, but I was going to need more than one pair. And I certainly wasn't going to spend another $90.

I had recently discovered the wondrous fabric that is cashmere for myself. I had a cashmere sweater that was thick and super soft, but not really presentable anymore so I asked my sewing friend to make a pair of long underwear out of it (I gave her some tangrams in return). She made a gorgeous pair for him, and I was hooked. But she now lives 6 hours away, so I had to learn how to make my own. I've since made 3 other pairs, and I love them. I gave a pair to my friend's son, and he wouldn't take them off for days.

Now it's time for you to learn how to make your own and save that ninety dollars for some nice wooden toys. :) (sorry about my pictures, the camera has a droopy shutter)

1. Get a cashmere sweater from the thrift store or your closet (you can also use any soft, non-itchy wool sweater, but cashmere is just heavenly).

2. Cut off the sleeves as close to the seams as you can get. These will be your pant legs.

3. Trim the sleeves to resemble pant legs about to be sewed together. I add a large waistband, so keep that in mind when you are measuring these. It helps to use a pair of pants that your child already has.

4. Lay out a tight fitting shirt of your child's over the sweater to use as a guide. I use the first cashmere long underwear shirt that I made. It was a little short and tight, and I wanted to make this one longer and a little looser (turns out it's a little too loose, but it's still nice, and it will fit next year too!).

5. The sides of the sweater are going to be your shirt's sleeves. You want to get these as long as possible (if you are making them for a 3 year old and up). The picture shows how to cut better than I can explain it.

6. Cut the tops of the sleeves where they joined to the shirt. I cut them a little bit rounded out.

7. Then start sewing it together. I hand sewed the three that I have made. My friend used her serger. I double stitched all the seams.

8. The pants are sewn together, and then I added the turtle neck of the sweater for the waistband. You can also use the unused top portion of the sweater, if yours isn't a turtleneck.

9. The black pair I gave to Caleb's friend, and the blue pair was his. They are made so that you fold the waist down. I'm adding elastic to the blue pair, because the turtleneck wasn't tight enough to hold them up.

They are very easy to make. I'm not a sewer, so if you are, you can make them nicer. But if they don't look quite right, it doesn't really matter because they are supposed to be worn under other clothes anyway, though mostly Caleb just wears them by themselves when we are in the house (at least in the warm room of our house).