Friday, August 28, 2015

Battling with Teachers - Strike Hard or Surrender?

Ahhh the first day of school. It's that time of year again. Things are a bit different in our home this year. I've officially been out of the corporate working environment for one full year (hallelujah!). My youngest, and last child ever, is going to preschool (I only cried for a few hours). And my big girl, my 4th grader, finally has a new teacher.

Last year, my eldest baby girl wound up in the classroom of a very new, very inexperienced young woman. Now I consider myself a young mom...I was blessedly knocked up when I was 21 for crying out it's rare for me to walk into my kid's classroom and feel like the oldest person in the room. Last year, however, on Meet the Teacher day, I definitely found myself wondering if this woman had ever even heard of Bone Thugs n' Harmony. Prolly not. Her hip hop knowledge base likely began with Lil Wayne and Rhianna.

I knew right then and there things were going to be off.

And they were. Boy, were they ever.

Now my kid can be loud and boisterous when excited, but is also extremely introverted and terrified of authority. She is also, and this isn't proud mama talking, extraordinarily smart. She was reading at a 5th grade level in first grade, people. The kid is smarter than me. Which should be awesome, right? Teachers typically eat that stuff up, right?

Not this one. No, her 3rd grade teacher chose to focus on my kid's biggest weakness....her social ineptitude. My lovely firstborn struggles deeply with relating to and understanding other kids. Her teachers up until last year had been wonderful - coaching her through her interactions with other kids, helping her focus on her education and studies, redirecting her when she became bored in class. Her 2nd grade teacher actually referred her to a special advanced program for 3rd graders and beyond - it allows kids with above-average learning skills to join other like-minded kids in separate classes for math and language arts. It was a godsend. My kid came home spouting sonnets about her advanced classes. She was challenged and excelled. Her two advanced class teachers praised her regularly and provided me with positive feedback during parent teacher conferences. "She is wonderful, and very, very bright." I could've cried I was so happy.

Can't say the same, however, about the feedback from her 3rd grade homeroom teacher. I received phone calls about my kid "bullying" other children and refusing to listen in class. My angel baby received referral after referral after referral for behavioral issues. In the beginning, I attempted to work with my kid on her "problems." I didn't know the teacher and gave her the benefit of the doubt in those first few months. I thought she was honestly looking out for the well-being of my child and believed her when she said my kid was indeed being a bully.

But then I started to wonder. I'd ask my daughter to break down her interactions with her classmates and the teacher. I spoke to my kid's other teachers (she had 3, after all, and that's not including her art, music, and PE teacher). No one else encountered any problems with her behavior. And these "bully" instances? Well, the worst of them, the one that was escalated into a full-blown "she could be suspended for this type of behavior," consisted of my kid drawing a picture of an animal with it's tongue out and crazy hair and big teeth and a caption that said, "*insert student name* is crazy."

Now, I did coach her on how that could be interpreted as negative by the child she'd named. I told her she needed to be careful about what she said, did, or wrote about other children. But did I ground her? No. Did I think she needed anti-bully intervention? No. Did I think her homeroom teacher, who called me and talked in her serious voice to deliver what she considered outlandishly terrible news, overreact and step out of bounds? Absolutely, I thought so.

You see, as I continued to speak with my kid about what she'd done I learned she'd drawn the picture at the request of a group of kids who were drawing everyone in their classroom as animals. Also, in our house the word "crazy" is a good thing. I was voted Most Crazy in high school, as a matter of fact.

I get it. How could the teacher know that? Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors...which is why I would've expected the teacher to, at the very least, ask. Use a little common sense. I was deeply pissed about the quick-draw accusations and not giving my kid a chance to explain. This teacher had blacklisted my kid as a bully and it was affecting my kid's ability to learn. She would come home crying, leave worried, and get "stomach aches" all the time. This, from a kid who loved school and learning and books and teachers. But could I blame her? During one of my phone conferences with this woman, the teacher explicitly told me she'd heard "other" teachers talking about my kid and they all agreed, my kid was a bully. She was "viewed as a bully throughout the faculty," and this teacher "just hated to see that happen to someone as bright as" my daughter. I was floored. Teachers were standing around the water cooler talking shit about my 8-year-old kid? Who's the bully here?

Eventually, communication with this teacher disintegrated into highly emotional screaming matches, with me doing most....ok all....of the screaming.

"Stop referring to my kid as a bully, lady!"

"She looks up to you and you say things like that about her? And you wonder why she doesn't listen?"

"Do your teacher buddies know you're telling parents what they say during their lunch break?"

"Maybe if her teacher didn't label her as a bad person, she wouldn't be acting like one!"

Oh I went nutters. I was not nice. I did not respect this lady. But I kept my kid in her class. And the school year ended with my kid saying for the first time in her life that she never wanted to go back to school. And I absolutely despised this teacher and wanted nothing more than to stomp in there and tell administration everything this stupid lady had told me. I wanted her fired. I wanted her head on a platter for me to send on over to whatever craptastic facility she graduated from so all the other jerks-in-training could see what happened when bad teachers did bad things.

But of course I did none of that. I smiled and got excited for the new school year and now it's upon us and my kid has a new teacher and we're both looking forward, hoping for the best.

Because I don't know what the right answer is. You see, people are people - imperfect and flawed. There are people who excel at their jobs, like my mom and dad in-law, both retired teachers who rocked the educational pathways of the youth placed in their care, and then there are people who suck at their jobs, like my kid's 3rd grade teacher, who knew neither what she was doing nor where her boundaries existed.

As parents we can go nuts, like I eventually did. I mean, I could've taken it to the next level, and the next, and possibly gotten her into some serious trouble with her boss. It's the mama claws. The urge to fight, to defend, to strike hard against anyone who in any way harms your kid.

But then there's the flip side. Reality isn't nice. Real-life can be a bitch. I know I've worked for people that didn't like me. I've worked for people who weren't fair, or nice, or even knowledgeable. And I worked there anyways, often because I needed the money. That's adulthood in corporate America right there. It's not fun, but it's real. And the sooner I can teach my kid to understand her self-worth and abilities are in no way dependent on what another person says, does, or thinks, the better.

So part of me is glad I chose a middle ground. I struck hard and gave that teacher hell near the end....but I also surrendered my kid to a real-life learning experience. And now that she's experienced it, this mama's dang sure it won't be happening again ;) Here's to a new school year! And thank you to the teachers who view their kids with new eyes each morning. You are a shining majority that reins supreme over the few bad apples every profession is forced to claim.

What about you guys? How do you feel about fighting teachers? Ever had a bad teacher yourself? They seem to stick with you, don't they? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)


Friday, August 21, 2015

3 Simple Herbal Remedies for Your Holistic Medicine Closet

As some of you know, I am totally amped up about the Mother Earth News Fair I attended a few weeks ago. Feeling motivated by the crunchy power, I decided to concoct a few herbal remedies in preparation for winter. Winter around here is cold, snowy, and long, and gosh knows with two kids in school and my spouse working in a germ factory (aka, your standard office with cubicles), we're bound to get some nasty bugs floating around our home.

Now before we get started, this is your public service announcement to be wary before ingesting anything new into your body. Certain herbs don't mix well with medications or pregnancies or kids or hair colors or toenail polish so be sure to do your homework and speak to a medical professional if you have any questions. I am a trained combat medic, not a medical professional. I've done my research and know my medical health status, and also really love green crap I can soak in liquor and then ingest to make myself feel better. The blog's name is Flaws, Forgiven, people. Tread at your own risk.

One of my favorite words in the English language is "free." Free to be me. Free stuff. Free day. Free ice cream. Free is a good.

So when I began researching which herbs and plants I wanted to use, I immediately looked up plants I can literally see right out my front window.

The first is plantain. I've got plantain everywhere. Matter of fact, my entire front lawn isn't grass, but plantain.

Plantain is like the superweed from heaven. It can calm stings and rashes from both insects and plants. It has antibacterial properties and can stop bleeding. Fun fact: if you get stung by a bee, chew up a plantain leaf and smudge it on the sting site. Plantain will draw out the toxins and calm the sting. It's great for your skin (acts as an astringent) and also soothes sore throats like a boss. That last part is especially attractive to me, as I tend to get strep throat anytime a respiratory infection sets up shop in my life. 

So what did I make with my lawn plantain? Cough syrup, that's what. It's the easiest thing in the world. Leaves, jar, honey, done.

Plantain Cough Syrup:
1. Go outside and pick a bunch of healthy-looking (green, non-bug-chewed, full) plantain leaves. 
2. Spread them out on a towel or table to check for bugs. Remove any bugs.
3. Wash your plantain leaves if you wanna. I get my plantain from my front yard where I know no chemicals have been sprayed, no fertilizers used, and no dogs pooped, so I skip this step entirely. I'm a lazy herbalist.
4. Shove your plantain leaves in a jar. I filled my jar about 1/3 the way full of leaves. You can cut them up, put them in a blender, juice them, or mush them if you wanna. Some people do that. I am lazy and do not.
5. Pour honey on top of your plantain leaves (preferably local honey). Fill the jar to the top.
6. Use a spoon or knife to push the plantain leaves around in the honey to release any air pockets. You want those suckers really coated.
7. Screw the lid on and let sit for a few weeks so the leaves really infuse the honey with their goodness. Give it a nice turn upside-down every now and then if you remember to. Some sites insist sunshine is the best for infusing, some insist darkness is needed. I just went with what's easiest for me and put the jar with the rest of my stuff in my medicine closet. 

That's it! Take a teaspoon or two when your throat hurts. You can strain the leaves out if you want. I won't. Bet you can guess why. 

The next plant I have in abundance in my yard is Queen Anne's Lace. Now this is one warning I am serious about - if you are not sure whether the plant you have is Queen Anne's Lace or not, don't use it. There is some impostor plant out there called Water Hemlock that is poisonous and will kill you. It looks very similar to Queen Anne's Lace and I repeat, it is poisonous. It will kill you. I actually read that Socrates drank Poison Hemlock to commit suicide. Well isn't that fun!

Luckily, there are some easy ways to tell the difference between the two. 

#1: Queen Anne's Lace is hairy. Some people say "the queen has hairy legs." Fabulous. The stems will be hairy. 

#2: Queen Anne's Lace smells like carrots. 

#3: Queen Anne's Lace has a little dark purple/red dot in the middle of the flower. 

If you're unsure, check around the web. There are a ton of sites like this one that can help you ID what you've got. I've got Queen Anne's Lace, which rules because this flower packs some power.

Queen Anne's Lace helps with depression, psychosis, schizophrenia, and is just started to be recognized for its treatment of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. It's anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial, but is also a natural contraceptive and labor be careful, preggos or preggo wanna-bes. Fun fact? It's called Queen Anne's Lace because this one time Queen Anne of England pricked her finger while sewing lace.....that little dark dot in the middle of the flower is supposed to be her blood. Creepy and cool all at the same time!

I wanted to draw the benefits from this flower in the purest way possible, so I made a tincture. A tincture is typically done using vodka but you can use apple cider vinegar too. Although shoving things in vodka just sounds better, don't you think?

This is very similar to the cough syrup above, only using vodka. Flowers, jar, vodka, done.

Queen Anne's Lace Tincture:
1. Go outside and pick the heads off some Queen Anne's Lace. Be sure you know it's Queen Anne's Lace.
2. Spread the flowers out on a table or towel so all the bugs fly off or crawl off and you can squish them or shake them free. 
3. Shove your flowers into a jar. You can also wash your flowers. Like with the plantain, I found no need to do this. 
4. Pour vodka over the flowers. Fill up the jar.
5. Poke around in there to be sure all the air has escaped from the little flower crevices. 
6. Put the lid on and store in a dark place for 3-4 weeks. Shake it every now and then if you want. Strain out the herbs when it's done sitting around if you want. The vodka will preserve them indefinitely. 

Done. I'll be taking this on days when I feel especially pressed against the wall. Some chicks take it 3x a day for contraceptive purposes, but that's not really my aim here. You can put some under your tongue with a dropper or dilute a few teaspoons in water and take it that way. I might be taking it by the shot, depending on my mood. Just sayin.

The last plant in my arsenal is a good one. A very, very good one. This flowering beauty is said to be one of the best anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-illness plants in the world. It's a #1 holistic recommendation for those suffering from cancer as it's said to boost the immune system like nobody's business. Some swear by it's ability to shorten the duration of colds and even slow down our bodies' aging process. 

What is this awesome miracle herb?

Echinacea....aka coneflower. 

You see these things in gardens everywhere, man. I have a huge purple coneflower bush in my front yard. The butterflies, bees, and birds love it...and I mean LOVE it. Just watching those guys go nuts over the plant motivated me to go out there and nab a few blooms for myself.

Now some people say the roots have the highest concentration of goodness. That's great, but I don't like diggin all that much. So leaves and petals is where it's at for me.

Ehinacea Tincture:
1. Go outside and snip off some flowers and leaves. Careful! The middle part of a coneflower is very hard....and pointy.....and stiff. *snicker*
2. Pull the petals off the flowers. You can save the seedheads for later if you want to replant or you can compost them. I say more flowers is more good! Save the pollinators!
3. Put the leaves and petals on a towel or table to check for bugs. Squish those bugs. Or let them fly free.
4. Wash the leaves and petals if you want.
5. Shove the leaves and petals into a jar. 
6. Fill the jar with vodka (or apple cider vinegar). Get those air bubbles out.
7. Put the lid on and store in a cool, dark place for 3-4 weeks. Shake it when you wanna. Strain it if you wanna.

You can take the tincture every day if you want, but I won't be. I will take it when I feel the start of a cold coming on, or when flu season hits its peak, or when my kid comes home with a runny nose. Just like with the other tincture, you can place some drops under your tongue, mix a few teaspoons in water, or just take it straight. 

See? Not that difficult, right? Just pick, clean, and stick in jars with vodka or honey. Easier than running to the store. And the herbs were free. And if you upcycle your jars from pasta sauce and jelly like I do, you'll have a surplus of containers to choose from. The only things I needed to buy were the liquor and sweet sweet honey. Frugal, fast, and fun!

I am pumped to have some clean, happy herbal remedies to use this winter. I am even more pumped to share this stuff with you guys. Any of you tried holistic remedies before? If so, which were your favorite? If not, what is your problem? Ha just kidding....I would love to hear about it all in the comments down below :) As always, thank you so much for reading!

Friday, August 14, 2015

2015 Mother Earth News Fair: The Greatest Thing That's Ever Happened

Picture this:

You're at the library and you head over to your favorite book section. You are browsing the aisles carefully, quietly, trying not to bump into this chick next to you. Her arms are full of books she's already carefully selected and you notice she has one or two titles you've already read. They are good books, you remember them well. You consider telling her this but decide against it. Too weird. You're feeling like a weirdo for checking out her books (did she notice?Totally makes me self conscious when people look at my books!), so you grab the first book you see and start to walk away.

"Oh, that one is awesome," the chick says, quietly. She is still facing the bookshelves, has barely turned toward you, actually. She turns her head and smiles lightly before speaking again, "It's really good. Sorry, not trying to creep on you or whatever. Just thought I'd let you know if you like that book you'd better sign up for the sequels on the hold list. They are never in!" She makes a kind of weird, high-pitched chuckle and her face starts to flush. You smile back. She's just as uncomfortable as you are. You walk away feeling like you just met a mirror image of yourself, only on an opposite reading schedule. 

That is what the Mother Earth News Fair was for me.

From Saturday afternoon until Sunday night, I was surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of people who were just like me, but knew something a little extra, had an experience that was a little different from mine, and wanted to share it with me. I saw a chick in a hippie skirt get really pumped up about free tea at the Mountain Rose Herbs booth. Me too! I bought organic fair trade chocolate from a hot guy wearing blue eyeliner because why the hell not. I love blue eyeliner! My books were checked out by a lady who gave me invaluable advice for the book signing I wanted to go to. How did she know it was the most important thing ever to me? I sat behind a dude with the most envious, gorgeous dreads I've ever seen. I love dreads!

Despite my honest-to-goodness anxiety about having conversations with strangers, I found myself chattin' it up all dang weekend.

I met a lady who lived right outside my hometown (random because I'd traveled a little over 2 hours to get to the fair). She'd served in the military and outranked my ass big time, so I joked about going to parade rest and made her laugh. She told me about her dream to sell off her gardens and move north so she could live off the land in peace. Really cool woman.

You ever seen PS I Love You? You know the Irish guy she falls in love with after her husband dies? Billy or whatever? Well his doppelganger was there. He wasn't an Irish guy in a band, though. No....he was a vendor who custom built his own cedar chicken coops. And by chicken coops I mean chicken palaces. These things were gorgeous and amber-colored and smooth and smelled like the forest and built by a man with melon biceps who tried politely to hide his laugh when I tripped over my words trying to compliment him and a little bit of drool came out of my mouth.

I talked to a super-nice chick in the book signing line (yes, Joel Salatin signed my book ... I almost died) who inherited a farm and was working to become self-sufficient. She told me about a few other festivals in our area that she attends regularly and was genuinely interested in my fears about butchering my first bird. I mean she really felt my pain. And wanted to listen to me!

We visited hundreds of vendors selling everything from seeds to grass-fed beef, reusable cloth maxi pads to pans that cook without water, compostable toilets to beehives....I met a CSA owner who was so passionate about her produce and a book that showed her how to cook in season, that I snapped the 2nd-to-last copy of that book up immediately. Anyone who reminds me of me in the passion department needs to be taken seriously. 

I stayed at an organic B&B, hostel, campground, CSA, and teaching facility called Wellspring. It was founded over thirty years ago by a nature-loving woman named Mary Ann. 

We were greeted by beehives.

We stayed in a barn loft that'd been converted into bunkhouses. 

We ran amok in hoop houses.

And rows upon rows of vegetables.

And of course I found some chickens.

I think the best part of the fair, however, was seeing Joel Salatin. More specifically, seeing my kid interact with Joel Salatin. You read that right. My kid not only met him, she helped him process some poultry.

Now I get some of you will think chicken processing is not all that awesome. I get some of you may think my kid shouldn't be seeing a chicken processed. And to that I say, you better not be eating chicken.

Chickens aren't dino-shaped, kids! ***one of many awesome one-liners from Joel

Joel teaches people how to be responsible consumers and farmers. He did a live processing demo at the fair to show hundreds how to process a chicken respectfully and humanely. He believes we, as humans, were never meant to kill animals on a daily basis. He said killing drains the soul...and he couldn't be more right. I take this entire killing business very seriously and as I type this, on the eve of my very first chicken processing attempt, I can tell you with 100% certainty I am nervous, queasy, and yep, a little sad that I'm going to take the life of another living thing.

But thank gosh for people like Joel, and events like the Mother Earth News Fair. Because at least now I know how to do it the right way, the respectful way, a way that's sustainable and healthy for everyone involved. 

Including my kiddo. 

Now when Joel processes chickens he uses a cone to calm the bird, makes a small incision to bleed the bird (they are upside-down in a dazed state when he does this - very similar to the lightheaded feeling you get when you stand up too fast), and once they fade away (less than 2-3 minutes), the birds are moved to the scalder. After they are warmed up, they are sent over to the plucker/picker. After the feathers are gone they are ready to be rinsed in cool water and cleaned. 

Joel doesn't like to make a ton of cuts in the he never chops heads off. Instead, they are pulled off after the birds are bled, feather-free, and rinsed. Queasy people stick with me I promise I have a point. After processing a few birds Joel invited the kids, who'd been watching just behind him, to try pulling the heads off for him. One little boy stepped up to the plate but got a little nervous and freaked and went off to the side. Joel looked around him and there was my kid, my big girl, and he said "You wanna try?" and she nodded and quietly walked up there and in 2 seconds flat got the job done. The whole crowd cheered for her and Joel praised her and my heart exploded and I tried to take a thousand pictures and my mom whooped next to me and my daughter had this beautiful smile of pride on her face. 

It was hands-down my proudest moment as a mother....and my favorite part of the fair.

Now if animals and processing meat isn't your thing, don't worry. They had a ton of other topics to learn about, including organic gardening, food storage, making your own lotions and shampoo, building an eco-friendly home, raising food-conscious kids, making jelly, I mean, you name it, it was there. I went to a seminar on building a home made of junk. The dude was awesome. I also learned how to tune into my inner vibrations and use my intuition to harness the power of flowers. True story! Flower essence post coming soon! Ha!

So I can't say it enough - the Mother Earth News Fair was the best, greatest, most incredible fair ever. I was truly surrounded by what I felt were my people. Everybody was so accepting, so excited about the same things I was glorious. I came home with an exercised body and soul and a whole lotta stuff.....

Hoping they have it near me again next year. And if you're looking for something fun to do with the kids, consider going to this fair. They have seminars like "Dirt Building" and "Chicken POOP for kids" and "Build an Electric Car" and a TON of other fun things to do, plus anyone under the age of 17 gets in FREE. Schweet!

Happy to be home and excited to share some of my new-found knowledge with you in the next few weeks :) Any topics you're interested in? Let me know in the comments down below! Thank you, as always, for reading :) 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Own a Chicken, Own the World

Just poppin' in real quick to say............

We've got eggs. Or, more appropriately.......WE'VE GOT EGGS!

Ruby, one of my barred rock hens, started laying this week. Might as well have opened the nesting box and found a watermelon-sized diamond in there. I ran screaming into the house, calling my big girl outside to witness the miracle upon miracles.....EGG! EGG! EEEGGGG!

Ruby makes the most perfect, cute lil brown eggs, don't you think? She's given us 4 so far in the span of 5 days....a little workhorse! The eggs will get larger as she gets older - but in all honesty I am loving how cute and tiny these things are. Check out the side-by-side with the store-bought:

I don't think I've been this excited since I brought the lil' girls home from that big farm store.

Obligatory my-girl's-egg-is-healthier-than-your-store's-egg shot:

Deep yellow yolks indicate I'm essentially the best chicken farmer this side of the Mississippi.

I feel incredible. It's funny -  this whole homesteading wanna-be thing has shown me just how excited I can get about things I never thought twice about before. Eggs. Popping out of chicken butts. Awesome.

So apologies for the short post, but I gotta boogie. Off this weekend to the Mother Earth News Fair in Wisconsin.

Heading up there with my big girl and my mama....we're staying in a barn hostel....on an organic farm. Yep, I might just be peein' my pants right now.

I'm bringing one of my favorite books (Folks, This Ain't Normal) written by one of my favorite people (Joel Salatin) and hoping I don't have to knock anyone out in the book signing line. I can practically hear the pen as he puts his signature right on the first page. Obviously freaking out just sitting here typing about how I'm thinking about meeting him. Sure I'm going to ooze sophistication and style once I get there and actually have to speak to him. Don't worry. I'll report back next week on how it all goes down.

Going to be an incredible weekend :) Enjoy the day everyone and thank you, as always, for reading :)