Friday, May 28, 2010

Beauty and Peace or Academia

For the past five years, my children have been going to a Waldorf methods charter school. The campus is beautiful. There is a large pond with ducks, a barn with goats, a pig and a sheep. There is a chicken coop where Number 2 is raising his own hen to lay eggs for the eventual seed to table program. (Seed to table means that the children grow or raise, harvest, prepare and eat their own food.) The garden is more like a mini farm. Not only is it organic, but it is biodynamic. ("Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a self-nourishing without external inputs, insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food." ~ Wikipedia, Biodynamic agriculture) The classrooms are beautifully painted. The play yard does not have plastic equipment, but rather wooden balance beams, a new set of rings to swing across, mud and sand. The younger grades, 1-4 do not play with balls at recess, but rather jump ropes and imaginations.

The academics are laced with art, music and hand works, such as knitting, crocheting and woodworking. Free thinking and free speech, in a respectful manner are encouraged. Each grade has a specific theme that is set. First grade is uhhh....something, second grade was something else, third grade is The Old Testament, fourth grade is Norse Mythology, fifth is Greek mythology and I suck because even though I have a six grader, I can't remember what he is doing this year. Anyway, The Old Testament sounds scary, like bible study, but it's not. The kids learn the stories, the way things were bought, sold or traded. The teachers all have teaching degrees, plus they go to Steiner School for Waldorf methods training. (Rudolf Steiner was the philosopher that arrived at the ideas of anthroposophy, or Waldorf methods.)

Lately Number 1 has been bullied and Number 2 has been getting sent to the office. (Number 3 was kissing girls, but I fixed that...) The sitch with N1 is worse because he doesn't think there is anything wrong with the other kids stealing food from his lunch box and eating it, even giving it back half eaten. Also, he came home from school asking if I would wash his water bottle, which I do every night anyway, because someone spit in, or so his friend told him. Why would this happen? I have spoken to the teacher who says that each incident was isolated and the other parents have been talked to. N1 is a real sensitive kid who avoids peer conflict at any cost, even his own well being. The food thief has been a bully since Kindergarten, with ZERO intervention.

When N2 was sent out of the classroom for misbehaving, I found out because he told Tris. Not because the school called and said anything. How am I supposed to be a parent and teach my children how to right their wrongs if I have no clue they are screwing up in the first place. The point is that the school has so many wonderful attributes but NO discipline plan. The thing is that I have only voiced my problem with this to a substitute teacher and partially to N1's teacher, but not to the pedagogical director, Waldorf's version of a principle. I am not sure if I am being over sensitive and protective, which is definitely NOT my parenting style, or if I have a good argument.

In a fit, I went to another, more traditional school. There academics are high priority, but they still put a small emphasis on art, PE and other things. Because the school the kids are going to now is charter, they have been exposed to standardized tests, which I do not have the results back for yet. This other school is in a rich district, they have high scores, whereas the current school is passing, but I don't think by much. The new school has a small garden, a cramped campus, block classrooms, connected to each other  in rows. They also have combined classes. (K/1, 1/2, 3/4 and so on.) This would be good for the younger kids as children in Waldorf schools tend to be a bit academically behind in the elementary years. After I left the new school the first time, I had a major panic attack. Couldn't breathe, talk, all I did was cry. I had to pull the car over and Tris had to talk me back to life.

I know this school has a discipline plan. I know that my kids would get a great academic education, but I also know they would miss out on all the beauty that their other school offers on a minutely basis. Kids and parents wait years to get into the Waldorf school. What the fuck am I doing thinking about pulling my kids out? I even told my friend Elise that art, poetry and music historically is what brings about major world change. What the f should I care about education for? Will they grow up to be well rounded people? Yes. Will they take the initiative to learn all the things they want to know about on their own? I can only hope. I just need to either step up and help implement a discipline system and keep the kids there or I need to live with my previous apathy to the lack of system and move them to the other school. It just doesn't feel right.

What would you do?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Biggest Struggles

"Except in mathematics, the shortest distance between point A and point B is seldom a straight line." ~ Unknown

One of my biggest struggles in this life is with patience. When I want something and I think of a logical way to get it, I want it right now. When I envision something, I want it to go the same way that I envisioned it. I don't want bumps and hurdles. 

What I need to do is accept that these bumps and hurdles are part of the journey to reach where I need to be and that what I envisioned is part fantasy and part reality. Nothing is ever perfect, but my visions. I know I will eventually end up where I am supposed to be. The heartache, frustration and small disappointments are all part me and my experience. 

I need to find a way to be thankful for everything, even the bumps and especially the hurdles. Today I am grateful for a weekend of love, hope, understanding, tears, frustrations, smiles, wind, campfires, honesty, heartache, passion, beauty and togetherness. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Awesome Agave Sweetened Wheat Free Oatmeal Cookies

Number one is wheat free, which is a pain in the ass for stuff like camping. Everyday it's a small pain, but when space is limited and it's easier to make food that we all can eat, it's a real huge Pain In The Ass! Today, the day before our four day camping trip, I decided to make cookies, but wait, I can't make my regular stand by's because that would suck if Ash watched us eat delicious choco chip cookies, plus I am trying to eat healthier and tone up. So I decided on the titled oatmeal cookies, only that's not a recipe easily obtained, so with the help of a few other recipes and a brave heart, here is what I came up with.

PREHEAT to 350°F

2 1/2 cups quick oats
1 1/2 cups Pamela's Wheat Free/Gluten Free Baking Mix
1 cup almond meal, I ground fresh almonds in my coffee grinder (not too long or you will have nut butter)
3/4 tspn salt
1/2 tspn baking soda
(Mix that stuff together, then add this stuff)
3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup raw dark agave (i don't think it matters if you use light or dark)
1/3 bag trader joes dried blueberries

Mix good. Will be slightly sticky, but you can add more flour if you like. I also wanted to add coconut, but I seem to have misplaced what I had. Hmmm..Maybe Bartley threw it away so I wouldn't poison her...

Bake for 12 minutes on a greased pan (Trader Joes spray olive oil rocks for this). Take off pan immediately and move to cooling rack. Then enjoy. They are soft and chewy and yummy. I am pretty dang happy with them. Now onto Gluten free brownies and my timer is going off!!!!

What Can Vinegar Do For You?

Apparently much more than I originally thought! I took these recipes from a website called Wise Bread: Living Large on a Small Budget. (I found the site when I was looking up how to live without an air conditioner this summer. We are going to experiment with that. Wish me luck!)

In Addition to this, I also  found a vinegar and baking soda shampoo. Mix 1/2 cup of baking soda to 3 cups water. Only use a small amount in your hair, make sure you get it every where, then rinse with 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar. The author said it takes about two weeks for hair to not feel too dry. Also, she said she missed the smell of her shampoo. I don't see why you can't add a few drops of your favorite E.O. to the original mixture. PS Your hair will not smell like vinegar after you rinse it out with water. I will try this when I wash my hair next time. Don't hold your breath, I only wash my hair every 10 days or so. 

All purpose cleaner:
2 parts vinegar, 1 part water
Extra dirty spots:
Scour dirty areas with baking soda, then spray the all purpose cleaner (recipe above) over the area and wipe clean.
Floor cleaner:
Brew a cup of peppermint tea (use 1 tea bag: one cup for you, one for the floor). Squeeze half a lemon in to the floor mix, and add 1 cup of vinegar. Mop away with your solution; the vinegar disinfects, the tea has antibacterial properties and removes marks, and the lemon freshens & disinfects.
Pee stains on carpet (presumably from pets):
Blot up the initial stain, flush it with water, then apply equal parts vinegar and cool water. Blot it all up, rinse, and let dry. This will eliminate odors and stains.
Hard water stains and mineral deposits:
Allow a cloth soaked in vinegar to sit on a hard water stain (for example behind your faucet) or mineral deposit for a few hours. Wipe clean.
Appliance cleaning:
Clean your coffee maker or laundry machine or dishwasher by running vinegar through it, followed by water. This reduces soap buildup and keeps everything in working order.

In The Kitchen

Remove labels from glass jars:
Saturate the labeled area in vinegar and scrape the stickiness right off.
Dirty pot bottoms and cooking utensils:
Fill the pot with enough water to cover the stain, add 1 cup of vinegar, and boil rapidly for 5 minutes. Let cool, then scrub the stains off. While you’re at it, put your stainless steel cooking utensils in the pot to get them sparkly clean too.
Fruit stains on hands:
Had a little too much fun making that cherry pie or berry salad? Just rub your hands with vinegar to remove the stains.
Coffee stains on china:
Use a mixture of salt and vinegar to clean coffee stains from china.
Wooden cutting boards:
Wooden cutting boards are great, except they can be a hothouse for bacteria (especially if grooves have been cut into the board with use). Disinfect it regularly with vinegar to keep it (and your food) clean.
Veggie maintenance:
Clean and crisp up your veggies by soaking them in a mixture of water and a tablespoon or so of vinegar. Any bugs lingering on your produce will float away, and your soggy celery will come to life again (depending on how far gone it was to begin with).
Smelly onion hands:
Eliminate onion odor off your hands by rinsing them in vinegar. This also apparently works with other stinky parts of your body that soap isn’t cutting through, such as underarms.
Clean sticky scissors:
Sometimes those scissors get so gummy you can’t even make them work. Just wipe them down with vinegar, and they’ll be like new again.


Fabric softener
There are a few fabric softener strategies you can play with:
Add equal parts vinegar and baking soda, OR just ½ a cup of vinegar to your wash when you would add fabric softener (final rinse cycle). Line dried towels will come out softer with a vinegar-based softener.
You can also add 1/2 to 1 cup of vinegar to your wash water, which does the following:
  • Reduces the amount of soap you need to use
  • Reduces lint
  • Brightens colors, and stops them from running
  • Acts as a rinse aid
  • Keeps the washing machine running clean and well
Stain removal:
Use vinegar on stains before washing to remove stubborn ones like perspiration, fruit, mustard, and coffee.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Front Yard Garden Updates

We added a fancy irrigation system to the garden. It's a soaker hose. It rocks! Since we installed it, photosynthesis has increased! Seeds are starting to germinate like crazy and the plants that were already growing are getting big.

I think I am going to have to thin the zucchini. I will probably transplant the babies into a container so I that I get a maximum crop.

The corn and sunflower are popping up all over, which is great for shade for the ground plants and we finally got some melons and cucumbers to grow. Oh my gosh, all this talk of fresh grown food is making me hungry.

I have already started planning the July plantings of more corn and pie and carving pumpkins. I am hoping for a super abundance that I can sell at the market.

Cheap Thrills

I am going to try very hard not to get on my soapbox about consumerism and the state of our throw away nation. I am hoping anyone that is reading my blogs has begun to realize what a crappy cycle most Americans are caught up in. That being said, I like stuff too. I maybe like some different stuff than the average American, but I like it nonetheless. How I get my stuff is where I differ from many. Since the first of the year, I have made a conscious effort to only buy second hand. Everything. There will be some things that I have to buy new, but most things I do not have to.

This saves me money, save the earth and keeps my conscience clear. In the last 10 months, I have purchased four iPods; two nanos, one shuffle and one touch. All four were brand new, in the package still and two of them had extra accessories. I spent $40 on the nanos, $20 on the shuffle and $150 on the touch, which came with a two year warranty and lots of accessories; retailing at over $300. I bought them on craigslist. Now, I did happen to catch a news story, I don't know where I was, where some guy died answering an ad on craigslist. I assure, I have not died yet. I ALWAYS meet in a public place, if I go alone, I give someone all the info I have about the person I am meeting and I check the product before I hand over the money. I use craigslist to buy and sell stuff. I use it for yard equipment too. It's crazy how many people need money and are willing to let something go for super cheap.

I have been trying to only eat from the farmers market or what I grow and make myself. Alli is way better at seeing raw food and envisioning and concocting a whole meal from it. Can you think of a better way to keep the money in Phoenix? Food at the market is usually organic, even without the expensive seal of approval, and it cost the same as conventional food at the grocery store. Everyone profits from this. The local business owner gets a profit, the state gets taxes from the local business and I get nutritious food.

Don't tell me that you don't like an iced latte or tea in the summer. Why are you stopping at Starbucks, the Walmart of coffee? Or any coffee shop for that matter. Make extra coffee in the morning and set it in the fridge for your afternoon pick me up. I just add ice and flavored creamer to a glass, then pour the coffee on top. It even makes that pretty layer effect if that's what you are into. And you can use whatever milk you drink, no $.50 extra for a sensitive stomach. For tea, I brew a big jug of chamomile/peppermint and pour it over ice in a large camping beverage jug, you know the ones with the button to pour. I leave it on the counter for however many days it lasts. No opening the fridge, the kids can drink it without stunting their growth with caffeine and it's quite refreshing! Guess what you still have? Your six bucks, your dignity and my respect. Guess what you don't have? A cup that may or may not be recyclable, a straw that is definitely ONLY garbage and a light wallet.

I love free things! That's why I love "Bulk Trash Shopping". Some call it bulk trash pick up, but you know what they say, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." What can you get from bulk trash? Over the years, I have fixed my fences with slightly used fencing material, I have refurbished three Adirondack chairs, found interesting things to plant in and the kids have found stuff to build clubhouses with. When it's my turn to put out another man's treasures, I always separate real trash from the good stuff people might use. There's never anything left. It's perfect!

This last money/earth saver is not for the faint of heart. I don not turn on the air conditioner until June, later if I can help it. This year, we are going to try and go all summer without the air on. the kiddos will have to move downstairs because it gets really hot up there, but I think we can do it. I don't think many of you can imagine what a triumph that would be for me. Two summers in a row, I lost my air in July, so I am not totally unaccustomed to sweating all day. When my house was built 100 years ago, there was no AC. Granted it was 2-3°F cooler back then. The house was built to catch breezes from all directions. Going all summer will motivate me to fix all the windows, a project I have been putting off for a long time. Wish me luck and invite me over every once in a while!

These are just a few ways to ease your recession. Feel free to leave comments on how you do it. I would love to add more things to this list of awesomeness. In the meantime, I will sip my delicious homemade latte and blog some more!

Sunday Nights With the Family

A couple of weekends ago, we ate our dinner in the side yard. It was a beautiful day and a nice evening. We bbq'd some veggie burgers and corn, made baked beans and drank homemade strawberry lemonade, courtesy of the champion juicer.

I look forward to eating as a family every night. We have rituals. The boys say a blessing from school. Usually it's, "Blessings on the blossoms, blessing on the fruits, blessings on the leaves and trees, blessings on the roots." There are hand movements that go with the blessing. Then Tris and I say "Blessings on our meal." Then we begin to tell our day. One day several months ago, A1 asked me if he was cool. The kid is going on twelve, a touchy time. From that day forward, after our day is relayed, we look at each person at the table and tell them why we think they are cool, awesome or why we like them. It's the best affirmation at the end of a long day.

I am looking forward to more Sunday meals in "The Cafe". That's what we call the side yard. We did have LED Christmas lights wrapped around the Chinaberry tree, but they were torn when we got the new roof out on. That's okay though because we are working to reduce our electricity dependence, so candlelit dinners are becoming the norm. Isn't our family beautiful? I am so lucky.

This Weekends Bounty

The girls were busy this weekend. Gia laid twice in one day! Twins!!! This picture shows you how blue the eggs that Zoe Nightshade lays are. This is just beautiful. All this from two chickens in an 8 X 8 pen with a nesting box. So far I have only had to buy layer food (what chickens eat) once. It was $18 for the bag and the bag lasts me now going on three months. Not a bad investment for such beauty and simplicity. We also feed them all the kitchen scraps. The girls especially love when we juice and they get all the pulp! Makes them lay better too!!

Tris and I are reinforcing the picket fence in the back to the girls can wander the backyard during the day. We will corral them in at night. We are also talking about adopting at least two more. Tris says no for now, I say heck yes! The new ones are chicks. They would grow up with our boys instead of having to get used to them. Oh, a new thing that Zoe Nightshade does: she bows down and spreads her wings a bit, like a curtsey, and waits to be pet! It's so rad. I have really grown to love them. I sometimes wonder what Rosie would have been like. She was so proud, but I bet she would have grown to love us.