Friday, January 21, 2011

365: 20

Stephinie of Gypsy Forest is hosting 365: A Year of Good Things. I am sharing mine from time to time.

Day 20:
A field trip. A space and science center. A nature walk in the Redwoods. And what you get when you ask a class of first graders to look at the hill and find a banana slug.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

the art of doing nothing: nine and ten. the end.

These are the final two installments from The Art of Doing Nothing. For the past couple of months, I have occasionally posted excerpts from and my own thoughts on what I have read in this sweet little book by Veronique Vienne.

The photos in this post...I loved the way the light was playing off of things as we took an evening walk.

The art of listening
Our ears are sensitive instruments that can suck in, decipher, and process a huge number of words per minute, whether in whisper or through the drum of white noise. Our brains can comprehend what is being audibly fed to us, even if we can't actually hear everything being said, through sound, tone, pauses, facial expressions, lip movements, and more.

A large part of what we understand is actually our own creation. By unintentionally finishing people's sentences, assuming what will be said, correcting grammar, adding punctuation, and interpreting accents, we "create their speech as they go along." This is called phonemic restoration.

In the same way we create another person's speech, in part by their expressions and physical movements, one does not actually have to talk to speak. Keeping your mouth shut and conveying your responses via physical movements and expressions is communicating, sometimes more effectively than talking.

Talking less and listening more commands respect and approval. Good listeners are often excellent observers. They may learn as much from listening to a speech as observing the speaker while they listen.

When silence is golden
Don't bring up your favorite subject in public. Not talking about your favorite subject will keep it that way. Don't attempt to get recognition, don't flaunt achievements, don't spill secrets, and don't brag. Not doing so will only endear you further to those who know you and gain the interest and respect of those who don't.
And not saying anything when you have nothing to say will always prove wise.

The art of waiting
In our culture, we have forgotten how to enjoy the present. We plan for the future, overschedule, titrate our time too closely, and simply don't know how to take pleasure in the moment. In fact, we have twisted time in such a way that we often believe a future moment is actually the present.

Researchers only believe, but have not been able to prove, that time moves forward in twenty four hour cycles, never repeating. Experts have proven, however, that "our perception of time shrinks dramatically when the waiting period is punctuated with a series of brief stimuli - either auditory or visual - delivered at regular intervals."

Many ways have been developed to mark time. Lunar cycles, sundials, church bells, and clocks. "But by far the most intriguing timekeeping invention was language." The tense of verb we use conveys a message about time. Our misuse of these verbs plays games with our perception of time. For example, "your flight leaves in five hours. " instead of "your flight will leave in five hours." Instead of thinking of this as five hours of waiting, think of it as five hours of free time gifted to you.

"Dawdle in the present tense. Give your future a past to remember."

How to watch a sunset
  • Before dusk, face the sun as it nears the horizon. Notice how you assume it is sinking. Remind yourself this downward motion is an optical illusion.
  • Mentally pin the sun to the sky.
  • Watch the horizon climb up toward the sun. Imagine the ground moving under your feet.
  • As the sun disappears, visualize your side of the planet rolling quietly into the twilight.

In conclusion...this book was a sweet, thoughtful, quick read. (I only drew it out for the sake of these posts.) The little exercises the author gave were pleasant little relaxers. On it being the art of doing guided me in the art of relaxation.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

baby pants

Today, we are welcoming a new family member. Mike's cousin is due with a baby boy, only the second boy in a group of now 9 (soon to be 10) little cousins. (Finn Luca was the first boy.)

For him I made these little pants. I used Rae's Newborn Pants pattern.

I made some for little cousin number 10, as well, the little niece I keep mentioning. She is due in a couple of weeks.

Can I admit that the little boy pants are made from an upcycled men's dress shirt and the little girl pants are made from a sheet?

I also made a pair of fleece pajama bottoms for Bella. It is really hard to find two piece fleece PJs in her size, so I thought...why not make some. She has several fleece PJ tops, but only one bottom. I added to her collection using the last of the beloved polka dot fleece.

It has felt nice to be sewing again. What have you been making?

Oh, I have a question of all you crafters. I got an Amazon gift card for Christmas (I know, not local) and I am thinking to buy myself a new crafting book. Another good sewing book maybe? Any recommendations? Or a beginner knitting book (other than Stitch n' Bitch)?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

hotel california

Our coop, sporting one of the signs I made for Mike as a Christmas gift, which I forgot to include in our Merry Giftmas post. Yep, our coop is called Hotel California. Our play on the song's lyrics "you can chicken but you can never leave."

Kyndale recently asked me how our chickens were doing. It had been on my mind for awhile to post about them, but I just hadn't gotten around to it.

They are doing wonderfully! They love the coop Mike built them (really, they told me!), they obviously love the West Wing addition he added to it for them. And they are producing eggs really well. On the day these photos were taken, I was cleaning and mucking out their coop and giving them fresh straw (which is a new addition for us. Until now, we've only used wood shavings. Wow, the straw is a mess!). I collected eggs as I did, bringing in 3. The next day, however, I went out to give them some greens and collect eggs and there were 9. Yes, 9!
On average, we are getting 4 a day, though. I occasionally have to purchase store eggs because all of us enjoy eating eggs and gluten-free baking uses a lot of eggs.

All that said, though, to be honest, if we were starting over right here, right now, I would not get chickens. The coop and addition were costly, using time and money resources. Yes, they provide most of our eggs, but with feed, housing, and bedding, I now understand why free range organic eggs cost $4/dozen at our farmer's markets. Although urban chickens are wonderful, I think having more space would be better.

Ella, with Tea and Cappuccino behind her.

I do like our girls, though. We have three varieties of chickens. White Leghorns (the white ones), Barred Rocks (the black and white ones), and Amerecaunas (the brown ones). The Leghorns produce the most (white eggs) and are the smallest, but they are also the loudest and the sneakiest. Daisy (pictured below, trying to peck at my camera), has been known to escape from the yard, even when she started out in the coop! (She flew up and over. We have fixed this problem.) The Barred Rocks are docile and friendly, but produce fewer eggs (brown). The Amerecaunas produce well also (although less than both other breeds) but are friendly and their eggs are green. I had heard good things about this breed and so far, all it seems to be true.

Anything fun going on in your yard?

Monday, January 17, 2011

making it mean something

Sushi boards, chopsticks, and chopstick rests that Mike made.

Family rolling and eating sushi.

This weekend was one of those lovely pair of days filled with family, spirit, and good food. We hosted an early birthday party (to avoid conflicting with the birth of our new niece) in the form of a family sushi making party. It was such messy fun.

We also enjoyed some time just the four of us and the kids got plenty of time playing at the park. The weather has taken a turn towards beautiful.

The weekend did remind me, though, how incredibly important it is for our little family to make progress on our steps toward balance this year. How critical it is to us to make those steps mean something. How greatly each of us needs nourishing. I am not sure where to start, or, if we have already started (and I do believe we have), how to proceed. But I felt so strongly this weekend the urgency of it.

I hope your weekend was as insightful.

Friday, January 14, 2011

365: 10

Stephinie of Gypsy Forest is hosting 365: A Year of Good Things. I am sharing mine from time to time.

Day 10: A family dinner picnic in front of a fire, followed by my two littles climbing into one chair together, to watch a sing-along video (a rare screen time treat). The sight was adorable, as was the singing coming from the two of them!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

art as therapy

The past few days, the tension around here has ramped up a bit, with the back-to-school, back-to-work, back-to-routine stresses mounting, fatigue sinking in, 6 year old quirks, 3 year old fussies, etc. This mamma has remained surprisingly calm, but my empathy has been lacking.

During a rough morning earlier this week, Isabella sat down, grabbed some crayons, and mentally checked out for a few minutes. She had recently showed me a scribble picture and told me the messy pictures are often the ones where she is getting her madness out. I understood. Art therapy. So on this morning, when she sat down to draw, I left her alone.

On her way out the door, she gave me her first smile of the morning and presented me with the picture. A colorful mitten with a heart surrounding the words "I love you, Nicola." I gave her a kiss and told her how much that meant to me. She replied saying "you don't give me these enough." I told her I showed and told her how much I love her in other ways, but I understood what she was saying. I quickly cut out a paper heart, wrote an "I love you message" and tucked it into her lunch box.

It happened to be early dismissal day from school. On early dismissal days, Finnian is in preschool, so it is Isabella's and my time weekly to spend just the two of us. We came home, loaded the table with crayons, paper, and carrots, pickles, and hummus to snack on, and got down to some mamma-daughter art therapy together.

Our children teach us so much. On this day, my daughter reminded me how cathartic it is to draw, even if one cannot technically draw. And she reminded me how important the use of written words are for expressing our love for one another. You can be certain she will be receiving more frequent lunch box love notes from her mamma.

Oh, and for anyone still 2011 calendar shopping, take a peek at the one I put together, which is now 30% off using the code SEASON305.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


We've had colds here, so we have enjoyed cup after cup of my grandma's cold soothing honey lemon 'tea.' Squeeze the juice of one lemon wedge into a cup. Add 1 teaspoon of honey. Fill to the rim with boiling water.

More than anything, I ended 2010 with a longing to feel organized again. To feel as if each action I made was nourishing me and our family in some way. By choosing a word and an attitude to live by, rather than a list of goals and resolutions, I already feel successful. Yes, I realize that we are only one week into the year, but resolutions have been dropped earlier, I can tell you that from experience.

But, in self-nourishing, I have been successful. I am sharing here, not to boast, but because I am so proud of myself. This sort of self-care and organization has been so difficult to come by for a long time. Since December 3oth, I have:

~Exercised every single morning, barring one, which also means I have gotten up early for "me" time.

~Established a simple chore chart and positive rewards plan for the kids, which is working so so well, so far. It isn't that we haven't done positive rewarding before, but I am trying to focus less on the bad behaviors. And I think it helps that we are all just so in sync right now, in part due to having just had needed time together and consistency in parenting.

~Completed and crossed off a huge number of tasks on my to-do list, which seemed to be ever-growing over the winter break, and some of which had been sitting on the list for a long time. This has been as simple as making some important telephone calls to the tedious sorting and filing of paperwork, which I had ignored far too long.

~Purged and re-organized several areas in our house and I have already gotten most of these items donated or to the clothing swap I was invited to. (Which netted me free, needed clothing items, too!)

~Made a meal plan and succeeded at trying some new recipes. In addition to the dinners below, I have made almond butter, hummus, granola, and a new kind of gluten-free sandwich bread. (Delicious! From Gluten Free Baking Classics, which my best friend gifted to me for Christmas.)
  • Sunday: Daal and rice (I love this recipe, but if you use it, ignore the water directions and use twice as much water as lentils.)
  • Monday: Black bean soup and quesadillas
  • Tuesday: Spinach salad with seasonal veggies and salmon. With cheesy noodles.
  • Wednesday: Liz's chard pasta
  • Thursday: Quinoa salad (from Feeding the Whole Family. Delicious!) with prawns and bok choy.
  • Friday: leftovers (as were lunches...I tend to cook in bulk.)
I hope you are feeling good about your week and yourself. If not, try some of those recipes...easy winners!

Friday, January 7, 2011

365: 4

Stephinie of Gypsy Forest is hosting 365: A Year of Good Things. I am going to share mine from time to time, starting today.

Day 4: Napping with my little brown mouse.

Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

the art of doing nothing: seven and eight

The holidays pushed me out of sync with my weekly posting on the art of doing nothing. Here are the next two installments, with two final ones to follow soon.

The art of bathing

We are, ourselves, made of water. It is part of our core. And returning to it, immersing ourselves in it, relaxes us and brings balance. (Do any of you remember my post "just add water?") We began in a liquid substance, so perhaps it is only natural that it brings comfort. We feel lighter in water. Sounds echo differently in the water. Cares go down the drain.

Hydrotherapy, soaking in water, takes advantage of "the physical and mechanical properties of water to promote mental health and relaxation." Water supports your entire being.

Aromatherapy is hydrotherapy enhanced with pleasurable scent. Scent plays a powerful role in our memory and adding it to the soothing quality of water can bring on a powerful therapy session in the comfort of your own bath tub.

Balneotherapy is healing therapy from times long ago, which pairs water with soaking rituals, body wraps, herbal soaks, mud soaks, and steaming sessions. Balneotherapy usually smells terrible.

A Forgotten Home Remedy
A European remedy, dipping arms into hot water and steaming the face, short term fevers rid the body of toxins and colds were cured.
  • Get into your PJs, tie up your hair, roll up your sleeves, and plan to sit for no more than 20 minutes.
  • Sit yourself comfortably in front of the sink.
  • Fill the basin with hot water. Add scented oils if you like.
  • Cover your head and face with a towel.
  • Cross your bare arms in front of you and submerge them in the water.
  • Every five minutes, raise the temperature of the water by adding hot water from the tap.
  • Your 20 minutes are over. Dry your arms and face, get up, and go to bed. Your sleep should be wonderful and you should wake feeling energized.

The art of tasting
"We eat to nourish our bodies, but we taste to satiate our minds."
It takes less than a second for our nose and tongue to communicate to our brain the flavor of what we have just placed in our mouth.

People who eat slowly are generally more contemplative. Tasting food stimulates thinking. When eating, take a moment to explore your food with your eyes and nose, before placing it in your mouth. Examine its texture and color, sound and resiliency.

In some cultures, certain food or beverage must only be consumed as part of a ceremony or traditional rituals.

In a similar way that submersion into water does, delicious food can loosen our tongues and make us talk more or be more social. A noisy, crowded restaurant seems more likely to deliver good food than an empty one.

In humans, only the tip of the tongue tastes sweetness, so a lick of chocolate may be all it takes to lure you into the entire piece of cake.

How to Drink and Stay Sober
  • Raise your glass to eye level, sit straight, relax.
  • Don't cling to your glass, keep distance. When you are not drinking, the glass should be eight inches from the tip of your nose.
  • Look through the glass at the room when you are drinking, not at the ceiling.
  • Occasionally bring the glass to your lips, inhale, but don't drink.
  • Never take a thoughtless swig. Taste as you swallow. Appreciate what you drink.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

merry giftmas

The kids doing yoga on Boxing Day to the Gaiam Kids Yoga DVD I got on Freecycle and tucked in Lala's stocking.

This year, I have gone back and forth about whether or not to post about gifts given and received. I wanted to share just about everything, for my own little record, but know only some will be of interest to others. I am so very grateful when others share gifts given and received, because I always glean such great ideas for gift making and giving for the future. So I am going to, too.

I will start by offering a free download of the fill-in-the-blank thank you letter I created for Isabella to send this year. You can have fun with fonts and colors if you like!

Our goal was to give homemade gifts whenever possible. If we couldn't make it, we wanted it to be made by others. If it couldn't be homemade, we wanted to buy it used or buy it local. We did fairly well with this goal, although we re-learned that homemade isn't always frugal.

This was a musical Christmas. On the homemade front, Mike made Isabella some rhythm sticks and Finnian some drum sticks. (Both can be seen in action in this post.)

Isabella is working in her creative arts binder in this photo.

On the musical purchased front, Uncle Stian bought Bella some drum sticks. My parents gifted us with a beautiful piano keyboard. We have been looking for a gently used piano, but given our space constraints and that we (Isabella and I) are beginners, the piano keyboard was a fabulous gift to receive. (See here.) And Mike had been asking for a 6-string acoustic guitar for some time. So I bought him one.

I think my favorite gift received was the pop-up card Isabella made. She made one for all of us. She got a little help from Mike and a little from me, so each of us knew we were receiving one, but the idea and most of the execution was hers. So special.

The kids received some goodies from us. Isabella received her very first camera. She has been asking for one for a long time, so we finally got her one. A real one, since she is such a responsible little soul and she watches me with my camera so carefully. She also loved her creative arts binder. Finnian loves Russian stacking dolls, so we wanted to get him some. I had no idea how pricey they were for nice ones, so I was thrilled when I found these sweet, plain wooden ones on Etsy. I bought them with the thought of painting them in the likeness of Mike, me, Isabella, Finnian, and a chicken, but it turns out I can't paint! (Anyone who can paint interested in a barter or "sell" your skill?) He loves them regardless. Both kids received walking blocks from us.

The kids received a plethora of jammies, slippers, art supplies, books, models, and puzzles from their grandma, nonno, grannie, uncles, and aunt. So perfect for these shorties.

To our families, we gave a 2011 calendar of the kids and gifts of our time. Both our moms need help with a couple things, so we creatively packaged some tangibles related to the help they need or the activities we planned to do. My dad received a local espresso and a photography book. My brother got one of the few new gifts we purchased; a cordless drill. A tool every homeowner needs. And we forgot to gift the homemade vanilla extract!

I received Feeding the Whole Family and a vegetarian gluten free cookbook, as well as Silpat nonstick baking mats (brilliant for gluten free baking). My brother long term loaned me one of his tripods. And Mike's gift to me was allowing me to custom order stacking rings with the kids' initials on them, from the talented Amy. We also got a few vintage goodies, which our parents know well we love. They were right on, again.

And we do stockings, which are one of my favorite parts of Christmas morning. Some goodies I made to include were snack sacks, a book mark, little woolly sheep, a recycled wool iPod cover, and homemade toothpaste.

I cannot wait to see what the rest of you have been clever enough to gift and will be making the rounds slowly this month to check it all out! (A special thanks to those of you who purchased some of my creations to gift to others!)

Monday, January 3, 2011

steps toward balance. a year in review.

This past year, I set myself the goal of changing one thing, each month, in an effort to find better balance in my life. A group of you set out to take steps in your own life, as well. Here is what I learned.

(The photos I have included in this post were all taken the week of December 5th. Autumn color came late to us, but was a show stopper, in some cases with color so vibrant, it hurt to look at the trees. Within a few days of taking these photos, most of these trees were bare.)

Here we are , with 2010 over already. The year in which I attempted to take steps toward balance each month. Some months contained great strides forward and some just felt as though I took huge leaps backwards. I had several months where nothing changed and I had to repeat my goal the following month.

This year, I have learned that trying to find balance is a constant dance. Sometimes I am graceful and sometimes I step on toes. I still love that word: balance. For some reason, I find it peaceful, but if I allow that balance to be formed from flexibility and compassion (and passion!), I find my days are happier.

As I wrap up a year of stepping toward balance, it is only now that my body is catching up with my head. All year long, I have known each month what I have needed to do and wanted to do to find my way into a more balanced life, but it wasn’t until November that I honestly felt as though I was actually propelling myself toward balance as a reality. That may be because I finally let go.

I have learned that, almost always, it has been the simplest actions that have been the biggest steps forward for me. Shutting the computer during the day, laying down next to one of my children at nap time or bedtime, and writing down my thoughts (just to get them out of my head), have all been hugely positive for me. These have been tiny ways of refocusing inward, resting my body while connecting with my children, and letting off steam while expressing myself creatively.

What I have learned:

I have learned that balance means flexibility and letting go.

I have learned that it is about attitude.

I have learned that balance comes from organization and simplicity, but that sometimes these beasts work against each other.

I have learned that nature, offline time, exercise, sleep, and crafting time are extremely important to my feeling internally at peace, relaxed, and able to accomplish all the "musts" in my days. But, I have also learned that all but nature are very difficult for me to achieve daily. I am still trying to figure out why...are my days truly too full or am I letting go of the wrong things?

I have learned that progress is slow, but any progress, even if it is just a realization of something positive, is something to celebrate.

I have learned that it takes work to ensure that my “on” days as a mamma outweigh the “off” ones. I need to wrap my head around parenting spunky and spirited children while embracing my own spirited nature.

I have re-learned that food is our foundation. It is essential for keeping us strong and healthy, but not all healthy foods are healthy for every person. It is essential for keeping us balanced and happy. It is a cornerstone to frugality. It is an expression of creativity. It is an expression of love. And it can be the basis of family rituals and celebrations.

I have learned that I am not in competition with anyone else. We all have our own battles and successes.

I have learned that honesty is fundamental and sometimes whining is necessary.

I have learned what this blog means for and to me. I think most bloggers would understand, if not agree, that sometimes it feels as though there is a must-post-daily-or-die rule. This year, I learned to reassess why I was blogging and what I hoped to gain from it. I have explored and begun to make peace with where I fit into this whole blogging world as this little blog of mine went up and down in popularity. Blogging can be a lesson of one's need for validation. This space is my own little outlet and public scrapbook of my life. I love the connection this space has allowed me to make with those of you who visit here. I have learned so much from so many of you, am humbled that you take the time to visit, and value the cyber friendships I have made. Reciprocity in blogging has taught me so much and inspired me to be creative through writing, sewing, cooking, and other crafts. And as I already observed, this creativity is a big step toward my own balance.

Moving forward, I don't plan on trying to make my changes fit a monthly pattern. I hope to change naturally and gradually, and perhaps a little more quickly? Perhaps if I just accept that change will happen! I foresee some big changes for us in the year ahead. Ones that I am both excited and nervous about, but regardless of how life unfolds, I am certain to share bits of it here. I won't be tracking every penny (for now), every item to leave our home, or every used item we acquire anymore. The patterns that that tracking revealed were so informative (at least personally), but the time that went into maintaining those lists was enough that I don't feel the need to continue.

So here I go, continuing to fumble my way along toward balance, inside and out.

And you? What of you and your steps toward balance?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

credo for 2011

I have been thinking a lot about this year ahead. Usually, January feels a bit hollow to me. It is generally cold, often grey, and with my favorite holidays behind us, it is the dull that tags me. I can shake it with thoughts of all that lays ahead. This year feels especially hopeful. We have new family members joining us (including my first niece) and hopes that the steps toward balance we took in 2010 were light on the earth, yet strong enough to propel us closer to our dreams.

I am approaching this year with a word and a credo.

My word this year is nourish.
I hope to nourish my family and myself through food, nature, creativity, love, rest, and activity.

I want to make things more personal in my own life. Compliment more; listen more because I interrupt less; express my love and appreciation more; send more letters; tell people when I am thinking of them; accept myself as I am; complain less (because I let go!); do the things that most give me pleasure; give of myself and my time to others; and take care of myself.
As a family, I hope that we continue to grow together, lean on each other, trust each other, be patient with each other, teach and learn from each other, and love each other.

Now is that too much to hope for?

Happy New Year!
(Oh, the photos are from our family New Year's Eve sushi-making 'party.')

Friday, December 31, 2010


Oh, I had a very difficult time choosing, but below is a photo from each month of 2010, each of which is in some way meaningful to me. From January through December...

Thank you so much for sharing a little bit of your year here with me!
From our family to yours...a very happy and blessed New Year!


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