Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Consoling Concoctions

Recently I have been delighting in learning to make some more of my own things; ranging from shampoo and deodorant to hair wax and candles and vegan desserts.

This morning upon waking at a very monastic hour (pre-five) I laid in bed and mused about how I might make my own hair wax to help tame my new do. (A friend gave me a free haircut at a fabulous Aveda salon in downtown Princeton and my sweet stylist, Jennifer Grey, cut about eight inches off the bottom of my hair and took out at least half of its "interior weight." Basically I have a very layered but not too short hair style. Its fun but a bit unruly.) So, I grabbed the last bar of organic beeswax (the family that sells them are very sweet and put out a fun handwritten newsletter) I had in my closet left over from Ben and I's Valentine's Day candle making party. I made a make shift double boiler in the kitchen pulled together some essential oils, my organic coconut oil, olive oil, and jojoba oil and melted them all together. Result? I love it. It makes my hair piecey and a bit shapeable without being gunky. Success.

That inspired me to continue on to mix up the shampoo suggested on Old Recipe for A New World to alternate with my baking soda and ACV routine. That blog further inspired me to make my own deodorant.  I didn't have all on hand they required so I subbed coconut oil for cocoa butter and shea butter, and jojoba for vitamin E.

Last night I mixed up this recipe for Coconut Chocolate Pudding I found at Progressive Pioneer. I subbed raw honey for sugar in decreased quantities and upped the cocoa content then topped it all with sliced bananas. very dark very YUM.
Last week I made this recipe for vegan chocolate cake, double yum. As we are more and more avoiding white sugar in our house I subbed agave nectar for the sugar in the cake, and maple syrup for the sugar in the frosting. I topped it all with sweet blue flowers and raspberries. I am not a pro when it comes to dessert but this was easy, beautiful, and delicious. I highly recommend it.

All this concocting is leaving me hungry to make more and buy less. Perhaps soap will be next. We'll see! Anyways its satisfying me as I am in my winter homebody season and can't play quite as much outside. (Isn't this gorgeous? This is one of the places where Ben and I stayed three and a half years ago when we backpacked Western Europe!)

What have you been enjoying making recently?

Sunday, February 21, 2010


"People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of rivers. AND THEY PASS BY THEMSELVES WITHOUT WONDERING." - Augustine

"If we don't offer ourselves to the unknown our senses dull. Our world becomes small and we lose our sense of WONDER. Our eyes don't lift to the horizon; our ears don't hear the sounds around us. The edge is off our experience, and we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable and limiting. We wake up one day and find that we have lost our dreams to protect our days. Don't let yourself become one of those people." Kent Nerburn

As you enter into this last week of February remember to wonder and remember to dream. Expand your horizons through a book that reminds you of your creativity. Stop and sketch small and exciting things; like bugs, babies, balls of yarn, and give thanks. Read through old journals and recapture those dreams from college; figure out ways to live into them where you are.

Look at your reflection in a nearby pond and take a moment to WONDER at the amazing Creation you are.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Motherhood and the thrill of new discoveries

This morning I spent some time reading an interview at Progressive Pioneer. The artist/ mama she was interviewing shared her experiences of world travel but then said that she was learning to see her journey of motherhood as a similar thing. I have tried to express that emotion to my husband who although loves our kids, would sometimes rather be trekking Tibet than tickling little tummies. I see motherhood as a miraculous gift. What an excitement to have a new LIFE grow within you and to wait to watch it unfold,to have the privilege of observing as it first encounters every aspect of our world, and comes into the fullness of its own unique identity. Although I too have wanderlust, and can miss our footloose days when it was easier to pick up and spend a month or two floating, my cup overflows with the rich(and challenging) joy that is Motherhood. My life will never again lack the thrill of new discovery. Every new child born is like sighting and landing on a previously undiscovered world. absolutely amazing

Monday, February 15, 2010

the fabric of Reality

My husband and I have an ongoing dialogue about faith. I tend to discuss the importance of mindfulness and choosing to see the beauty of life in the midst of seemingly uncomfortable situations. I see a big part of our prayer life and relationship with the Holy Spirit as working toward that end. My husband sees that as dangerous. As a great opportunity for shallow, falsely positive thinking, lying to yourself about an unchanged reality. I have been wondering if what I believe is indeed merely a way of digging my head into the ostriches' sand, but I don't think it is. In life there are obviously un beautiful, painful, and even evil moments. But written into the fabric of reality is BEAUTY. Through prayer and practice we can come to recognize and understand this truth. In the depths there is not darkness but light, because God began and shall end our world. He will be victorious in the eradicating of evil, in the comforting and liberation of His creation from oppression, hatred, pollution, the hell on earth we can craft for ourselves through our broken choices. Our Creator is powerful and He is loving. If we trust these two truths and are patient the Spirit will guide us into joyful living, and we like the martyrs of old will be able to face the worst discomforts with continued faith and a song of thanks on our lips.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Pedagogy of Life for Life

“To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, cakes, and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone and narrow to be everything to someone? No, a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.” G.K. Chesterton taken from “What’s wrong with the World.”

I yearn to claim this “gigantic” function and excel in it. Counter cultural? Yes. For a well educated woman to forgo an out of home career to pursue the passe realm of mothering and educating one’s own children elicits frowns from less enlightened individuals. Yet, doesn’t Chesterton make it sound more than fulfilling? To act as Queen Elizabeth, Whitely, Aristotle? To open the universe to your child and be everything to them? This quickens my heart; brings it to life.
Yet if I do step aside from full time engagement in society to guide those within my home for a decade or so I need to make it count. So the question is, how can I best craft my home into a center for intellectual stimulation for someone in Piaget’s pre-operational stage? From his studies I learn that my three year old is not yet fully able to learn in abstract ways, through reading Shakespeare or working algorithms persay. He must learn concretely. I also learn that he is difficult to teach as he cannot fully see from my perspective and I need to recognize his lens as egocentric. Therefore, I must form his learning environment to cooperate with his perspective. I cannot coerce him to work from mine. I must give him hands on manipulatives to use to usher him further on to the path of development. As Lewis urges in The Last Battle, “Further up and further in.” I am creating the scaffolding on which the building of his mind will occur.
I must turn to the greats to shape my quest. Two educational theorists whom I greatly respect are Maria Montessori and Rudolph Steiner. Their theories cooperate in some areas and contradict each other in others. For example, Montessori believes that children should be kept from imaginative and phantastical play until they are around the age of eight as it would muddy their attempts to understand and order their universe. Steiner on the other hand shapes the majority of his pedagogy around the world of fairy tale. He believes that in order to usher a young person deeper into humanity you must awaken their spirit through their imagination. Only once this understanding of reality, coming through the medium of the imagination, blossoms can people begin to be taught about the rest of creation with proper foundations. Despite these fundamental differences in theory these two teachers both recognize something I see as very important for preschool aged children, especially in light of Piaget’s research. They each recognize the importance of creating the educational environment completely around the needs of the child. (Piaget)
Montessori said that, “From the moment the child enters the classroom, each step in his education is seen as a progressive building block, ultimately forming the whole person, in the emergence from childhood to adult. All focus is on the needs of the child.” This care manifests itself in her formation of the physical classroom. In every detail she adapts the space to that of a child, lowering tables, making tools accessible and orderly, etc. One of her classrooms is even called Lilliput, after those in Gulliver’s Travels. She reduces size of objects but not size of respect of children. Her every move involves the children in important and necessary parts of daily life; teaching them how to mimic and accomplish actual tasks. This approach is far from oppressive despite its mundaneness. The work done is productive, immediate, teaching both fine and gross motor skills through productive activities. It is empowering as it enables children to feel like legitimate and helpful members of their worlds. She doesn’t motivate children extrinsically through grades, but intrinsically through igniting a child’s interest in learning through presenting materials to them that will stimulate their minds and hands. (Montessori)
A difficulty implicit in reproducing these environments within one’s home is that both Steiner and Montessori’s methods focus greatly on the benefit of allowing children to learn together, not from competition, but from modeling. Montessori had children aged 3-7 in the same classroom using the same materials, teaching each other as individuals reached mastery of certain skills. Older children’s knowledge was reinforced through it’s teaching and younger children were able to learn through watching someone extremely accessible and similar to themselves. It inspires in them a desire to also reach mastery so that they can in turn feel proud of themselves as they helpfully teach others. The delight inherent in this method naturally shapes intrinsic motivation for a child.
Steiner agreed with both Piaget and Montessori in believing that early childhood education should be sensory, imitative, and experiential. The education emphasizes learning through practical activities. Large chunks of time are provided for “guided free play.” Natural materials are used and examples of productive work are provided and children are invited to join in. Children are pushed outside every day to learn through nature, and understanding the basic human need for tradition and rhythm Steiner strongly focused on drawing children into the rhythms of a year through seasonal activities, and observance of annual religious festivals. A love for language is fostered within a child through exposure to poetry, oral storytelling, and songs before there is any focus on grammar and writing. Steiner discouraged young children’s exposure to recorded music, computers, and television as he believed them to be harmful to a child’s development. (Steiner)
What can I take away from these treasure houses of learning? I will try to make a room for my sons where tables and items are to their scale so that they are unimpaired in their learning. I will make the items they need daily accessible to them instead of keeping them out of reach to reduce mess, and will provide them in a very orderly manner with a consistent and rational place for each item to be kept. As Montessori did I will focus on their personal responsibility in mimicking tidiness and care of their space, providing all they need for such tasks such as brooms, sponges, and simple and straight forward organizational systems. As Steiner suggested I’ll greatly diminish the amount of exposure they have to movies, although I think I will continue to play Mozart and Wagner in our home. I believe that the hearing of masterpieces like Tristan and Isulde is essential and since I am not proficient in any instrument I will not stunt my children’s minds by removing music from their lives. I will study their personalities and anticipate the projects that will draw them in particular into learning and gently turn their gaze in those directions.
Understanding children’s learning styles, I will be more intentional about increasing their shared play time with other children of varied ages so that they can grow together both in mastery of skills and knowledge and in social skills. Knowing the proclivity of those in my family toward unhealthy competitiveness, I will seek to encourage play that engages in cooperation for shared victory.
Instead of hammering into my boys the mechanics of the English language I will try to invite them into an ongoing love affair where they pursue literature because it excites them. We will create and illustrate our own stories. We will continue to gather every evening to read before bed, and ensure that each book is rich and worth absorbing. We will have scheduled stops in the mornings to listen to a bit of poetry.
I will try to wrap their lives in rhythm, providing them that safe structure of routine within which children thrive. This will be my greatest challenge as I am an unstructured (although not unprincipled) person. But, I will try to overcome that weakness within myself for the sake of my sons and craft a daily “liturgy” filled with “hard stops” as Anne Voskamp describes in her blog A Holy Experience. (Voskamp)
Daily we shall pile on the coats and adventure into the great outdoors peeking under leaves and behind trees to discover the world we live in. We will bring nature in to our home and give it a place of honor where we can study it under magnifying glasses, look it up in field guides, and label it to keep. And in all and through all I shall weave an introduction to Immanuel, God with us, teaching them to follow the advice of the great Scottish theologian George MacDonald. “Let us in all the troubles of life remember that our one lack is life- that what we need is more life- more of the Life making presence in us, making us more and more largely, alive. When most oppressed, when most weary of “life” as our unbelief would phrase it, let us remember that it is in fact the inroad and presence of death we are weary of. When most inclined to sleep, let us rouse ourselves to live. Of all things let us avoid the false refuge of a weary collapse, a hopeless yielding to things as they are... He has the victory who in the midst of pain and weakness, cries out, not for the repose of forgetfulness, but for strength to fight, for more power, more consciousness of being, more God in him. ... Saying, “I am weary, but not so weary that I would not see the sun rise.” (MacDonald)
As Confucius said, “To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” (Confucius) I hope that through this Pedagogy of Life I will help my boys to set their hearts right, and in so doing might help “put the world right in order.” If I succeed in doing this I will believe that my time in my home is quite well spent. Won’t you?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Small February Changes

One day later it is February and time for me to commit to a new change. I feel compelled to make two. Recently as my son has been asking me if the animals we are eating wanted to be eaten, and if it's mama is ok with it being eaten, I have felt mega twinges of conscience. THUS, back to my vegetarian college roots. Wooh, I've been eating meat on and off since getting pregnant with my three year old, but its time to stop, and now that its in writing I can be held accountable. NO more non fish meat for me.

#2 We have been half- hearted cloth diaperers. I now commit to not buying any more paper diapers except for perhaps travel.

All right, you can check on me. Call me out if you see me slipping!

Here goes -

so - still no commercial hair products, no meat, no paper diapers.