Monday, December 28, 2015

Embracing Winter Break With Your Kids (Recipes Included!)

A typical start to my day:

"MAMA!" *crying/screaming/thumping/something crashes/more crying* "MAMA SHE WON'T GET UP!!"

"What? I am up!" *more thudding as oldest child proceeds to get up*

"NO! NO YOU DIDN'T!" *3-year-old whiny voice*

"I didn't do anything!" *9-year-old whiny voice*

"What in the H is going on? Why are you two fighting?" * 31-year-old whiny voice*


Mind you, this is between 6 and 7 in the morning, while the sky is still dark and I'm stumbling around with crusty eyes, looking for something to put on so I don't die of pre-heat frostbite. It is far from the pleasant stretch, yawn, and slow beginnings of my youthful yesteryears. It is insanity, a scramble of getting booties on potties, sheets in the laundry, cereal into mouths, and of course, managing two children who want nothing more than to fight to the death.

So while I look forward to holidays and school breaks with visions of crafts, outings, and baking dancing in my head, I realize my only true break in the morning chaos is when my big girl gets on the bus to school and my little one is left to her own devices. Without that bus, I am toast. My ability to remain calm under pressure - diminished. My lofty visions of bonding time with my children - dashed. My eardrums - exploded. And for those reasons, winter break causes a weird sort of pressure to rise in my stomach....a combination of excitement and dread at what could be.....both exhilarating and terrifying.

So I've made a few adjustments this year.

#1: Relaxed Fun Time

I have a real hard time just sitting down and doing nothing with my kids. I feel the Pinterest pressure to do crafts all day while explaining the history of the lima bean and planning an all-day trip to a museum. Sometimes this pressure is awesome because it motivates me to do real fun stuff with my kids and plan some awesome outings. But sometimes this pressure stresses me to the point of exhaustion and feeling like a failure before I've even gotten out of bed.

Enter the solution: relaxed fun time

Relaxed fun time is simply going with the flow of the day without planning anything at all. If you're tired, you stay in and nap when the kids nap. If you wake up energized or stir-crazy, you head out and take a day trip somewhere. If you feel like staying in your PJ's all day, you stay (home) in your PJs all day.

So you don't go to a museum. So what? Make a fort. Pull out every toy you have in your house. Dig out a stack of old encyclopedias or if you're like me, old college textbooks with anatomy and nutrition info all up in them. Peer over color diagrams of the human brain or the cell structure of a plant leaf. Talk to your kids about the cool things you did in AP biology.

Don't feel like making forts, playing with toys, or looking at books? POP ON A MOVIE. I mean it, mamas and daddies. It is OK to watch movies with your kids. I always feel guilty about this one because I feel like it's so passive, so unhealthy, to just stare at a screen together and not speak or interact but you know what? Some of my greatest childhood memories are of me, my mom, and my sister sharing a bowl of popcorn on the couch while watching the Muppet Christmas Carol or Babe or The Halloween Tree. If you feel like snuggling your babies in front of the TV, do it, because sooner or later they will be grown and gone and you'll have thousands of hours to be alone and productive in all the ways you yearn to be productive today. This is a fact.

And let your kids guide you, too. For example, sometimes our kids have potty training regression and sometimes that makes moms die a little inside and then sometimes that kid needs to stay near a potty all day for the rest of her cancel the playdates without guilt and tend to your baby. That is your job.....tending to your babies, not making other grown-ups happy.

Try asking your kids what they want to do - sometimes they come up with some really innocent, do-able activities. I asked my big girl what she wanted to do for her last week of winter break and she said she really wanted to color in our new coloring books together. How easy is that? I whipped up some homemade hot chocolate, popped on a fake fire (#thanksNetflix) and we had a coloring party.

Homemade hot chocolate recipe:
Equal parts baking cocoa and organic cane sugar (I used 1 cup of each)
A tablespoon or so of arrowroot powder (cornstarch would work well too)
1 teaspoon of sea salt
Mix it all together, store in a mason jar
Add 1-2 tablespoons per 1 cup of hot whole milk
Drink it down and feel the happy!

Now all this fun time is great, but if you're like me, getting stuff done helps balance winter break anxiety. There's gotta be a way to mix fun with function so your reach that optimal anxiety-free level. And I came up with one.

#2: Cooperative Cleaning
Kids are messy, abusive little craps with nothing better to do than to ruin your clean carpet and dried-crust-free-surfaces. Trying to keep up with them, I've realized, is pointless. Real dumb. Like washing a car in the rain.

So instead of sticking with my regular cleaning schedule, during break this year I am "flowing" with it. I am doing laundry when we're down to our last few pairs of socks. I'm vacuuming before company comes over and that's basically it. Same with the dusting. I'm kinda letting it all slide.

And I've also implemented one important element of winter break behavior - an all-hands-on-deck approach to cleaning up. If we're going to drink hot chocolate and color, we need to clean up our play cooking area. If we want to veg out and watch movies, we need to make our beds and fold laundry. If we are interested in leaving for the day, we need to tidy up so we have a clean house to come home to.

And guess kids DO it. My 9-year old is a master cleaner. She can clean the entire bathroom, she washes dishes every night, she can do laundry from start to finish, she can dust the whole house, and she knows how to run a vacuum. My 3-year old wants to be a master cleaner, but she's just not that powerful yet. She is awesome at putting things away, picking up little pieces of debris the vacuum left behind, matching socks, and carrying things for me to put away.

Kids are hands, and more hands means getting things done, faster. If you make cleaning a non-negotiable item...if you tell your kids cleaning is what needs to get done to enjoy the fun parts of the day, they will do it. They might grumble, they might not do it well at first, but it helps mom, it gets the crap done quicker, it teaches life skills, and it gives the kids a sense of pride in their abilities. One last tip - my trick for coercing a well-done job? I make my kid do the chore until it's up to standard. This rule makes my 9-year old real motivated to do the job well the first time!!

#3: Cook it Out

No, I'm not kidding. Look, I get it. Some people just aren't into cooking. I myself was a Carrie Bradshaw up until a few years ago. Now, though, I am quite thrilled to find new recipes, especially if they are easy and only contain a few ingredients. Because I promise, once you try, cooking can be one of the greatest sources of pride and accomplishment in your life. Plus, cooking = food. Who doesn't love food?

And lemmie tell ya. Kids LOVE to cook almost as much as they love playing in dirt, splashing in the tub, or jumping on your pristine bedspread. Flour and sugar and then yummy stuff to eat once it's all done cooking? For a kid, what's not to love?

Some of my favorite kid-recipes include:

Mashed Potatoes
2-3 russet potatoes
5-6 lil' red potatoes
milk, butter, salt, and pepper to taste
Roughly peel your taters (leaving some skin on is OK!)
Chunk into quarters and put into a pot
Cover in water, then boil until the taters are soft (your fork should go through like buttah)
Drain water, add milk and butter (I typically add about 1/2 cup whole milk and 4 tablespoons of butter, but it depends on the consistency I'm going for)
Add your seasonings (I use salt, pepper, and sometimes seasoned salt, but you do you!)
Mash it all up and then EAT! Also does great when reheated. 
Let the kids: Pick up the peels, add the milk and butter, and smash everything together!

Granola Cereal
Super easy version: buy bagged organic granola from the store
Little more ingredients version: get some oats, almonds, butter, syrup, and brown sugar, mix it all up, bake it in the oven at 250 degrees, turn it over and mix it up, and wah-lah, homemade granola
Any nuts your kids love (hell-ooo cashews!)
Dried cranberries, raisins, apricots, whatever you like
Mix it all up and store in a mason jar
Let the kids: Do everything except the oven stuff!

Any Cookie Recipe, Ever
Cookies are the easiest things ever for kids to help with. Check out my blogging buddy Kristen's post on letting the kids make a mess with cookies - it's awesome! 

Bonus points for having the kids help with dishes afterwards. They've got hands - make them use 'em!

#4: Love on Yourself

You know what I did the other day during break? I took a freaking bath. That's right. I drew myself a giant bath. I had the oldest make some lunch, and while my kids ate, I sat in the bathtub. Now granted, the door was open and my youngest kept poppin in every now and then to laugh at my "naked booty" (true story), and at one point I needed to get out and reach over to wipe her butt after a particularly stinky poo, but I took a bath. In the middle of the day. With both my kids home.

And you know what? Nothing burned down. Nobody broke in and tried to kill us. No one fell down the stairs. Nothing terrible happened aside from the poop stink and frankly, that's a small price to pay for sitting in a bathtub in the middle of the day. 

I also make a point of doing yoga 5 days a week whether my kids want me to or not. I will set them up with something to do (two separate things so they don't interact/argue when I'm in the middle of my down dog), and I take to my mat. My chi may need to adapt from constant princess song-singing and my session might need to pause for a couple potty-helping breaks, but I get yoga done with two kids in the house. Far from perfect, but perfectly do-able. 

You gotta take care of yourselves if you wanna take care of others.

#5: Call Grandma

When all else fails, rally the power of Grandma. My mom took my kids overnight a few weekends ago, and while it wasn't in the middle of winter break, it was during one of my busiest months of the year and I needed the break like the desert needs rain. My kids were loved on and hugged and entertained and cherished and I didn't need to do a thing. 

Same with my in-laws. They come and watch my kiddos whenever I need them to and are constantly initiating playdates at their house so I can be a real grown-up for a little while. It's magical and incredible and I am so blessed.

Family not in the picture? How about a family friend? A trusted neighbor? A favorite babysitter? You have the option of taking a break from break. It doesn't make you a crappy parent. It doesn't make you a failure. It doesn't mean you can't take care of your own kids. It means your kids get to have fun with someone else for a bit. Take a couple hours one day to let your kids live it up with someone you know and trust....and then take that time to execute #4. **Note: This does not mean asking stay-at-home moms to watch your kids for you if those moms are not into watching kids. I have some friends who love kids and don't mind the extra children, but I am one of those moms who doesn't enjoy watching other people's kids and wants this well-earned time at home to myself. Those who WANT to watch/be with your kids are the ones you should be calling - they will make it the most fun!

This week will fly by like the last one did, I'm sure, and then school will start again and I'll be riding the long, tired wave 'till we reach warm weather again. My mornings aren't likely to calm down anytime soon, but with a little perspective and flexibility, here's hoping the daytime can make up for the chaos of morning. 

How about you, dear readers? Those with kids, how do you handle winter breaks? Those without kids, will you please tell me about your holiday life so I may live vicariously through your joy and peace? :) I hope you each had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you all a very happy New Year. Thank you so, so much for reading!


Monday, December 14, 2015

What I Really Want for Christmas

I just spent close to five hours researching homemade chicken food. I have excel open, the little computer calculator sitting in the toolbar, and countless blog posts windowed in my Chrome tabs.

Pricing chicken feed, dear readers, is the 10th circle of hell.

So instead of delivering a wise and well-written post about chicken feed I thought I'd focus on things I like. You know. Anything other than chicken food. Fun stuff. Like presents.

I love my kids. They truly are the best presents a girl could get. But sometimes, being a mom of small kids means I get the shaft in the purchased gift department. Or the feeling special department. Or hell, just in the "thank you" department. And that's ok, you know? It will pass sooner than I want it to and then my kids will be grown and undoubtedly showering me with hundreds of gifts to compensate for the years upon years of sweat, blood, and tears I willingly donated to their childhoods. That's what happens, right? Your kids turn 18 and then WHAMMO, you get presents raining down upon your heads, right? RIGHT?

So I'm gonna start a list. You know. To prepare for the upcoming Shower of Gifts for Mom. Or maybe, in all seriousness, to just focus on the things that matter most during this (sometimes materialistic) holiday season.

1. Stock in hardware cloth because hell-ooo, early retirement!

2. One solid hour of my two daughters getting along

3. Rent-free homes for my mom (a cottage in the woods) and sister (a gypsy trailer)

4. American citizenship for Aya. Aya is an Iraqi refugee whose application for resettlement in America was rejected. She has a very real, very eye-opening story that you can read about on the Humans of New York Facebook page. If you'd like to voice your support for Aya, you can sign a petition for her on this page.

5. Pretty much anything written by Joel Salatin

6. To feel proud and in love with my body regardless of, as my husband's friends call it, my Estimated Growth Potential (aka, how much weight a woman gains as she ages/has children/etc.)

7. Snow! :)

8. One of those book exchange sign-up delivery services. You know. Where really attractive men deliver a books once per week so you always have a fresh book to read. Those types of services exist, right? Hmm? Yes?

9. A community owned grocery store in my area

10. My 2nd mama to be cancer free and healthy forever and ever, Amen

11. One entire day of just me, my PJs, snuggly kids, popcorn, Dots, cocoa, and movies

12. A book agent

13. Easter Egger chickens, complete with free feed for life

14. The ability to calm down and not get so angry and frustrated

15. Anything, and I mean anything, from the Simple Life Mom store on Etsy

16. The power to convince others to rethink the way they think, particularly about things like food, racism, and global politics

17. I'd love for my entire head of hair to turn silver all at once. I am excited about "going grey"...I consider those silver strands my sprouting unicorn mane. I just wish it would kinda happen now, instead of little by little. I want full unicorn, baby!

18. To end my reliance on money and grid-delivered energy

19. 500 pounds of pure, organic, hand-expressed coconut oil

20. For each of my lovely readers to feel loved, supported, and happy. Cuz that's how you make me feel :)

What about you? What do you really want for Christmas? I'd love to
hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so, so much for reading!!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Best Online Resources for Chicken Keepers

The growing season is over, the harvest, ended, and wintertime is knocking on our door. For me, this means a little bit of a break. Nothing left to weed, nothing to freeze, can, or collect, my herbal medicine closet is nice and stocked, and my seed catalogs are sitting open on my bedside table. This is my time to dream and concoct and plan and set my wish list for next spring.

And next spring, I'm getting 10 more chicks. 

Now in the big picture, 10 chicks is nothing. A small, nice little amount of birds for the common backyard homesteader wanna-be. For me, however, 10 chicks is a ton. A massive amount. A bounty of possibilities, learning opportunities, and of course, eggs.

And here's the funny part: I still am a long way from knowing exactly what the heck I am doing. I'll probably lose a few birds. I will likely still muck up the butchering process a bit. Joel Salatin might shake his mighty, incredible head at me and think, "Who is this girl, and what in gosh's name is she doing with those birds?"

But I'm going to keep trying anyways. Because that's what it's all about, people. Trying, failing, and trying again. Lessons learned. Flaws, forgiven.

Thankfully, I have this little magic tool called the internet. It allows me to connect to those who started this journey long before I knew the difference between a chicken nugget and chicken meat. And with this incredible resource comes a limitless supply of information, both good and bad. Everyone has an opinion. Thankfully, only a handful of them are actually worth reading and following. What follows is my list of tried-and-true resources for all things chicken. 

These are the people who inspired me to start and motivate me to keep going. 

Justin Rhodes, author, teacher, and filmmaker at Abundant Permaculture
I found Justin back when I first started researching how to raise free-range hens. He was promoting Permaculture Chickens, his incredible film detailing everything you need to know about raising chickens, from chick to the dinner table. I backed his crowdfunding campaign as fast as my little fingers could type and received my copy of the film a few weeks ago. My 9-year-old and I watched it together and can I please tell you....there are no chicken resources like this available on the market today. Believe me. I looked. For months before I found Justin, I looked. 

Listening and watching Justin is like talking to a friend. He is super relatable and "walks the walk," backing his knowledge with a plethora of real-life experience he's earned throughout his years on his own homestead. He lives what he teaches every single day and shares the same passion most homesteader wannabes preach from the hills - self-sustainability, field to fork eating, and transparent, eco-centric living.  

Did I mention he is sharing some of his chicken videos online right now? Exclusive interviews with Joel Salatin. How to get started with chickens in one weekend. I'm serious, dear readers. It's one thing to actually know what you're talking about in this crazy world of chicken keeping. It's a completely separate thing, a gift to us newbies, to have someone so willing to share his knowledge with the world. Check him out. You will not regret it. And I can vouch for his email is never spammy. He sends these hilarious and awesome Friday lists once a week and lets you know when his new videos are out. That's it. You'd be crazy to want chickens and not want to learn from Justin.

I don't subscribe to many email lists, mainly because I hate checking my email every 5 minutes. It detracts from my down-home, one-with-nature vibe to have my little pink cell phone in my hand. Really clashes with the plaid. But I subscribe to Jill. Like Justin, Jill sends out a weekly email with a list of 5 or so homesteading tidbits she found interesting that week. Sometimes she gives out seasonal recipes, like stellar homemade eggnog recipes, sometimes she gifts her lessons on vegetarian chickens, and still other emails contain little golden nuggets of hard-earned perspective about what to do with your chickens once they stop laying. Jill has it all, and then some. Her site is FULL of awesome information about chickens and homesteading for the common, simple Jen. I mean reader. 

This is another one of those incredible multi-faceted homesteading resources I frequent on the regular. I was directed to Merissa by a friend who was looking to simplify her own life and loved the free e-book links Merissa gave out regularly. Little House Living focuses on a number of sustainable living skills, but her posts about Raising Baby Chicks, Backyard Chicken Breeds, and How to Care for Setting Hens were some of the very first articles I read about chicken keeping. Merissa is easy to follow and also lives what she teaches. I love her easy-to-follow posts and of course, all of the fuzzy, adorable chick pictures.

I don't know of a chicken owner out there who doesn't know The Chicken Chick. I had to look up her real name because honestly, all I think when I see her face is "Chicken Chick"...sorry Kathy. This lady knows everything there is to know about chickens. Bumblefoot problem? The Chicken Chick can help. Wanna make your own waterer? Chicken Chick can show you how. Broody hen problems? Let the Chicken Chick walk you through some solutions. She helped me choose which medicines to keep on hand and what chicken books I must have on my bookshelf. 

The only criticism I have of this incredible lady is that our views don't always line up. Her chickens are absolutely her babies, through and through. Mine are more a source of nutrition and food. Sometimes I read her posts and think "TO THE STEWPOT!" and I'm sure if she were to read some of my posts she'd want to slug me. Differences aside, I head to her blog when I have chicken health issues and want an expert opinion on what can be done.

Another all-in-one homesteading resource! Jessica caught my eye by way of her beautiful pins. I am a Pinterest fanatic, in case my boards haven't shown you, and her posts quickly made their way to my Green Grass Grows board for safekeeping. She is a wealth of information on all types of homesteading creatures, especially chickens. You can find info about changing chicken ordinances on her site, how to care for chickens during the snowy season, safe egg handling, and even some hilarious stories that only happen in suburban homesteading homes. Jessica is a delight to read and again, one of those places I go to for a number of my homesteader wannabe needs. 

This is my go-to place when I'm looking for others like me. I went to this site back when I couldn't figure out if my chick was a rooster or a hen, back when I didn't understand the egg song was a-ok, and back when I was scheming on ideas for my chicken hoop house. This site houses a fantastic community of chicken enthusiasts that love to share their learning experiences with the world. Great community!

Honorable Mention: Fresh Eggs Daily
Now some might argue this is the very best website for all things chicken. That might be true, but I have a bit of a tainted perspective when it comes to this site/author. Now I'm sure this isn't the norm (at least I hope it isn't) but I was quite literally bullied off the Fresh Eggs Daily Facebook page back in the beginning of my chicken-keeping journey for praising some egg producers for selling eggs in stores that are certified humane by the Humane Farm Animal Care nonprofit organization. The comments I received for supporting eggs sold in stores were stinging and bordered on harassment ....and that's coming from one tough B who can pretty much handle herself when it comes to confrontation. Not on the Fresh Eggs Daily page, though....wheweee. I was torn apart for allowing any store-bought eggs into my home, despite my (valid) argument that we all want fresh eggs for everyone, hence the need to support eggs sold in stores that align with the core values of sustainability, responsibility, and love for both animal and earth. I kid you not, I had to leave the Facebook page. I'd never met a group of more closed-minded people in my life, which is really sad, considering we all want the same thing. I thought it was important, though, to list the site here despite my bad experience, simply because I know if you can get past the pitchforks and close-minded die-hards who can't see an ally from an enemy, you're bound to find some great info. 

So there you have it folks :) My list of the best online resources for chicken keepers. I hope you would consider passing them along to someone you know who is on the fence about chicken-keeping, or even pinning this post for your reference later ;) Would love to add some chicken-loving peeps (see what I did there) to my flock (I'm on a roll!).

Would you ever consider keeping chickens? Would you be more like the Chicken Chick, keeping them as pets and babies, or like Justin, keeping them as livestock? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!