Saturday, October 31, 2009

Celebrating All Hallows' Day and All Souls' Day

While most of America celebrated All Hallows' Eve, or "Hallowe'en", last night with costumes and trick-or-treating, today on All Hallows' Day we Catholics honored our saints and martyrs, the heroes of our faith. The word "hallow" means "holy". This feast is one of our holy days of obligation, which means that we attend mass, even if it's not on a Sunday. Tomorrow, November 2nd, is All Souls' Day, the day we remember all of our faithful departed. We traditionally visit our cemetery, praying a rosary as we walk around the graves, and the priest blesses the graves.

This year, our family attended an All Hallows' party held by our Catholic homeschooling group and the Latin Mass community. The children each dressed up as favorite saints, although it was hard for them to choose just one. They changed their minds a dozen times. Mojo finally settled on St. Joan of Arc. Caveman finally settled on St. Padre Pio. Of course Gem wanted to be our Blessed Mother. Juju went as St. Jude. ;-) But he didn't wear a costume.

We had a parade of little saints, where we processed out the door of the gym, around the block, and into the church while reciting the Litany of Saints.

I didn't get to stay for the whole party as I had to work last night (I told everyone that I was representing St. Vincent, hehe). But the children had fun. Everyone's costumes were well-done, and I was easily able to guess which saints they were representing. The little ones were particularly adorable! There were many neat Catholic-themed games for the kids to play. "Sin Pins" was a bowling game, where the children knocked over "pins" with the seven deadly sins written on them. There was a "Corporal Works of Mercy" race, a "Saint Walk", and a "Fishers of Men" fishing game.

If you are interested in learning more about the Catholic celebration of All Hallows' Day or All Souls' Day (also called Day of the Dead), click these links:
History of All Hallows' Day and All Hallows' Eve
Why do Catholics honor saints?
More articles on the Communion of Saints

Monday, October 26, 2009

Children's Book Tuesday

My friend, Suzanne, at The Joyful Chaos, has been posting her family's favorite children's books every Tuesday. I've enjoyed reading and seeing what everyone's favorites are. This week I thought we would join the fun.

One of our favorites is What Are You So Grumpy About? by Tom Lichtenheld. Bear bought this one for Sunshine for her eleventh birthday. She rolled her eyes at him..."You bought me a children's book?" But when I opened it up and started reading, we were both rolling with laughter. It's now one of her favorite books, too.

This confirms in writing what children have long suspected: gravy + peas = poison.

Now here is how this is supposed to work: have your Children’s Books post ready including a link back to this post and then leave a comment with your name or website and your specific post URL. Then go check out everyone else's favorite books and leave them comments! Right? Suzanne, correct me if I am wrong.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Simple, Frugal, and Green Homemade Cleaners

Since we’ve added more children to our home and I’ve been working less over the past few years, I’ve tried to simplify our routines as much as possible. I’ve also tried to save money as much as possible. And I’ve also tried to change some of our habits to keep us as healthy as possible. One way that I’ve done all three of these things is by mixing my own cleaners at home.


Yep, what you see in this picture is the extent of it. Distilled white vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, and essential oils are what I use to clean my whole house. Vinegar kills bacteria, viruses, and molds. Yeah, I know…the smell. But if you add essential oils to it, it smells better. And once it dries, you can’t smell it anymore. Plus, many essential oils have antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Tea tree, lavender, peppermint, lemon, orange, rosemary, thyme, and cinnamon are all known for having antimicrobial properties.

For an all-purpose cleaner, I mix one part vinegar with one part water in a spray bottle, then I add a squirt or two of castile soap and about 20 drops of different combinations of essential oils. If you have an old spray bottle that you can clean out with hot soapy water and re-use, even better!

For a disinfectant spray, I use straight vinegar, with about 20 drops of different combinations of essential oils.

For quick wipe jobs, I make my own disinfectant wipes. Cut a paper towel roll in half—the thick kind, not the cheap thin kind. Pull the cardboard roll out of the middle. Place one half in a bowl with an airtight lid. Mix a solution of 2 parts vinegar, 1 part water, and about 20 drops of whatever essential oils you will use. Pour over paper towel roll. Find the end piece in the center of the roll and pull up, like you would a roll of commercial baby or disinfectant wipes.  Compare this to the price of store-bought! Normally, I would spray my cleaner and wipe with cloth wipes that I could wash and re-use, but these are good to have on hand sometimes. Especially if someone in the house is ill with a potent bug, I don’t want to possibly contaminate whoever is doing the laundry. I’d rather wipe and toss. Then wash my hands, of course.

For heavy cleaning, I use a scrub brush and a paste of baking soda, followed with vinegar. You might wonder how that works on tough jobs. I use it on my stove as well as for the soap scum on my sink.


Did I really just post a picture of my filthy sink? I can’t believe I did. But I wanted to show y’all because I know that there are some folks out there who believe that you need strong chemicals to clean, that natural stuff you keep in your kitchen just won’t cut it. The lighting is funny in this picture, but as you can see it hasn’t been cleaned in a couple weeks. (Cut me some slack, K? The past couple weekends, I’ve either been working or out of the house. I have a house full of kids. Surely I’m not the only one.)  OK, so here’s the same sink a few moments later after my baking soda and vinegar (and using the flash this time)…



I also use my homemade all-purpose cleaner on my wood floors. I have been doing this for a couple years now, and it’s good at cutting the grime. But if you have natural stone surfaces in your house, you’ll want to look into something different, as the acidic vinegar can damage these surfaces.

Under the sinks of my kitchen and each bathroom, I keep a handled basket filled with my all-purpose cleaner, disinfectant spray, baking soda, and cloth wipes. Nice and handy. As I briefly mentioned earlier, old plastic containers can be recycled for storing these cleaners. You know the plastic containers that parmesan cheese comes in? Save a couple to store your baking soda; then just flip up the lid and shake it out. Do you use cloth diapers? When they wear out, they make good cleaning rags. Or you can recycle other old cloth.

Essential oils can seem pricey, but when you figure in how long they last and all the different uses they have, they are really cost-efficient. We use different essential oils for home remedies, for skin care, for aromatherapy, for gifts/crafts, and in place of air fresheners. Buy one at a time. Lavender is a good one to start with. Have fun!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Other Girls

Remember my last blog, lamenting the fact that I never have time to play piano anymore? And mentioning some sheet music I would like to have?
Well, Veronika (whom we call Ronka) found the music online for me and sent me a link to download. I've gotten through the first two pages of Wedding Day at Troldenhaugen already (I've been even busier than normal the past couple days, so I'm proud to have gotten that far). She also came to visit with us tonight, bringing with her the music to the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack, among other music. I have plenty to keep me busy with music now, and since she went through all the trouble of finding it for me, I MUST make time to practice it! Maybe one of these days I'll update with a video.

Ronka was our foreign exchange student from Germany, and she stayed with us for the 2004-2005 school year. She is now attending a college here in our state within driving distance. She drops in to see us on occasion, whenever she gets a break and can bum a ride or borrow a car. Today, she and I watched Sunshine's high school band march in a contest, the three of us went to dinner, and then she came to visit the rest of the family for awhile.
(This was taken from my iPhone, so it's not the best quality.)
10-17-09 Ronka and Mae We also had another foreign exchange student for the 2003-2004 school year, Da-Hae from South Korea. Da-Hae is now attending college in Japan, and I think she has one more year left. Hopefully one of these days, she'll be able to come back to the States for a visit.

We so enjoyed having these girls stay with us; they added so much to our family. I am thankful to still be in contact with both of them! My dream is to have both of them at the same time for Christmas one year.2003familychristmas


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

As Much As I Love Being A Mommy...

Sometimes I miss being *me*. Do any of you other mommies know what I mean? I suspect you do.

This has happened to me a couple of times lately, but it happened recently while grocery shopping. I had my iPhone plugged into my ears, listening to my Pandora radio application, on which I had created a Chopin channel. (If you're not familiar with Pandora radio, check it out! I love it!) Listening to this beautiful piano music, which usually energizes and/or comforts me, made me feel melancholy. I was remembering back to my pre-kids days, where I would not have ever imagined going a whole day without sitting down at the piano. Most of my days included several hours spent at the piano. When I went to college with music as my major, music was an even bigger part of my life. I ate, slept, and breathed music.

Anyone want to guess how long it's been since I've sat down at the piano and worked on a piece of music? I don't know. Months.

Today, when I was listening to Edward Grieg's "Wedding Day at Troldhaugen", I walked over to my keyboard. It didn't take me long to figure out it was written in the key of D-major, pick out the melody and some of the chords. I considered ordering the sheet music.
But the piano I have is in desperate need of tuning. The sustain pedal is also broke. I have a keyboard, but it's not quite the same. The cost of fixing and tuning my piano will be a big chunk; I've called someone about it before. Fixing the piano weighed against the cost of winter clothes and shoes for the kids, getting rid of our credit card debt, fixing the ceiling in the living room, dentist visits needing to be scheduled...well, those other things are bigger priorities.
And my days are filled with diaper changes, cleaning up messes, cooking, feeding little ones, washing and folding laundry, educating my children, working as a NICU nurse, the list goes on and on. What little bit of spare time I have is spent researching things like deadly viruses, vaccinations, herbal home remedies, and sometimes blogging/playing on facebook (which I mainly do when the kids are asleep anyway...can't really practice piano when the kids are asleep.) I know that if I ordered that sheet music, it would sit in a pile, with all my other unread sheet music.

It's still on my wish list. Along with the sheet music of the soundtrack of Pride and Prejudice. I keep telling myself that one of these days I'll have plenty of time for things like working on music, and then I'll probably give anything to have the pitter-patter of little feet and messes back.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Making Our Own Herbal Remedies

Today, our pumpkin patch trip got postponed because of the bad weather, but we didn't let that ruin our day! Instead, we worked on a little math and a little writing, then we started making some of our herbal medicines.
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Sound hard? Naw, it's not really. It doesn't take any special fancy equipment. The kids can help!
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My introduction to natural remedies came from my Grandmother when I was a child. For boo-boos and stings, she would snap off a piece of her aloe vera plant. Once at her house, I had a toothache, and she used a jar of clove oil to soothe it. She used honey to quieten coughs.
A few years ago, around the time our third child was born, I began looking more into the "old ways" of doing things. It started with small things, like using steam and eucalyptus oil for stuffy noses rather than reaching for a decongestant. Or using a few drops of warmed olive oil for an earache. I discovered how things like garlic and apple cider vinegar benefit our health. I had always believed in the healing powers of plants, but I became seriously interested in learning more about natural remedies. I gathered knowledge gradually, here and there, little bits at a time. Then a few months ago, I came across a website called There were all sort of remedies on there that seemed simple enough to try, and I discovered that they were very helpful to us. Things like grating ginger root to make tea, I knew I could handle. But stuff like making salves and tinctures? Me? I wasn't so sure about that.
I finally got around to ordering the medicine-making kit, and I really like this kit. I've found it to be a very simple, straightforward way to get started. In the past few days, I've started an echinacea tincture, a cough remedy of honey infused with elecampane root, and made some salve using calendula, plantain, comfrey, and St. John's Wort. It's a springboard to learn about other herbs that might benefit us and how to use them. But the thing I like most is making our own elderberry syrup!
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You might be wondering why I would even want to make my own remedies.
Have you seen this in the news this past week? Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. According to this study, elderberry syrup is as effective as Tamiflu. Without side effects.
Can I just say I'm not really surprised? For a couple years now, whenever I've given my kids elderberry and/or echinacea at the first sign of sniffles and scratchy throats, we've gotten through whatever it is relatively quickly and without it turning into anything worse.
The downside for us using elderberry syrup has been that it's something I have to drive a distance to get, or I have to order it online and wait. And the stuff is expensive! Recently, when Gem began sniffling and sounding scratchy, I needed some quickly. The nearest health food store to me (a small "mom" place, about a 10 mile drive) carried a 4oz bottle of elderberry syrup for $16. Ouch. I normally order Herbs for Kids through Frontier for $7 a bottle, but they were out of stock. Even if it were in stock, waiting a week for it to get here would have given the cold an opportunity to take hold...and possibly turn nasty. The last time I didn't start my elderberry regimen on Gem (I'm sure it was because I thought we were too broke at the time), she developed pneumonia, and we had to get a shot at the doctor's office.
What's a mama to do when she knows what works? I weighed the cost of the bottle of elderberry against the cost and inconvenience of a doctor visit and prescriptions, and I went with the $16 elderberry. I knew there had to be a better way. And I've discovered that there is. I can make it myself.

Here is a simple elderberry syrup recipe. Easy peasy. It will keep in the fridge for 4-6 weeks. I ordered a pound of dried elderberries through Frontier, but you will also find a link to ordering them on this recipe page.

I prefer the recipe that calls for a cinnamon stick, 5 cloves, and 1 tsp of grated ginger, but I couldn't find the link to it. Anyway, that's what I make. A batch of elderberry syrup following this recipe makes us a little over 12 oz of syrup. I decided to break the cost down and see how much it costs per batch to make it myself.
Elderberries = I paid $6.50 for one pound, which will make 8 batches. So that's $0.81 per batch. (Next year, I will harvest the ones that grow wild around here. Then it will be even cheaper.)
Honey = To get the local raw honey, I paid about $5 for 2 cups. So there's $2.50 per batch.
Cinnamon sticks = I counted roughly 100 in the bag, at $4.50 a bag, so I'm just gonna say $0.05 apiece.
Cloves = I paid $2.90 for a bottle of cloves. I used 5. There is still a whole bottle left. I'm just gonna guestimate a penny there.
Ginger root = Less than $3 for a piece of ginger root. I'm just guessing that it will make about 20-30 batches, maybe more. We'll just say $0.10 a batch.
So that adds up to...drum roll...approximately $3.50 for 12 oz. of homemade syrup, as opposed to anywhere from $7-16 for 4 oz. of store-bought. There ya go. That's one good reason to make it myself. Honey, ginger root, and cinnamon sticks are things that I keep on hand and use frequently anyway, in cooking and other remedies. So this is a very cost-effective syrup for us.
Another good reason is knowing exactly what's in it. The syrup I made is full of good stuff. Honey has many health benefits, including being an anti-microbial. Ginger, cinnamon, and cloves are warming and have other health benefits. The store-bought stuff is sweetened with fructose. And you have to add some sort of preservative when something is sitting on the shelf like that for a long time. Homemade doesn't have preservatives.
The homemade version tastes better, too. I would eat it on my pancakes. In fact, if it didn't have any health benefits, it would still be a good alternative to the high fructose corn syrup stuff they sell in the stores to put on your pancakes.

(Disclaimer--I know you've got common sense, right? Don't let anything I've said here override your good judgment. We have no immune disorders, allergies, or other health problems. I'm just sharing what we do because it works for us. The information I've shared here is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice you receive from your healthcare provider.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins and other healthy snacks

This afternoon for snack time, we will have fresh cranberry pumpkin muffins, made with whole wheat flour and honey. I even put them in Halloween muffin cups to make them more festive.

In my "protecting ourselves from the sickies" blog post, I promised some healthy snack ideas and recipes. I have the recipes for these muffins and other wholesome baked goods at the end of this blog. Aside from fresh baked goods, here are some other snacks we like:

* A handful of raw nuts, particularly walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, and brazil nuts.
* Raw veggies. Our favorites are chopped broccoli, cauliflower, carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber slices, grape tomatoes, and sugar snap peas. We dip them in hummus or dill dip. Some of us even like avocado slices.
* Raw fruits. We love bananas, apples, those sweet little cleminine oranges, grapes, peaches, pears, nectarines, plums, pineapple, berries, melons...I don't think we've met a fruit we didn't like.
We like to stock up on local berries when they are in season and freeze them for use in our oatmeal, muffins, and smoothies during the winter.
* In the summertime or when we are sick, we freeze juice for popcicles.
* Hummus, good for dipping veggies, or spreading on whole wheat toast or pita wedges.
* Polenta sticks with salsa or fresh guacamole
* Homemade granola bars
* Air-popped popcorn, sprayed with olive oil, seasoned with...anything! Be creative! We like chili powder, basil, sage, curry...
* Yogurt or kefir
Use plain yogurt, and flavor it yourself with fruit and raw honey, stevia, maple syrup or molasses (raw honey is not recommended for children under a year old, because of the risk of infant botulism.)
Make smoothies by putting a couple cups of kefir in your blender with bananas, berries, and honey.
* Cheese. Not processed cheese slices, but REAL swiss, cheddar, mozarella, etc.
However, when we are fighting off colds, we try to avoid dairy products. They increase mucus production.

OK, here are a few recipes. The good thing about making muffins yourself is that you can tweak them to the way you like them. We generally don't like ours as sweet; if you do, you can add more honey. Or you can add more/less spices, raisins, nuts, different fruits, whatever. These recipes will make 24 muffins, which don't last very long in a family of seven. If you don't need as many, you can cut the recipe in half, or they freeze well for a quick breakfast when you're on the run.

Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins
4 eggs
2 cups honey
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup olive or canola oil
1/2 cups water
3 ½ cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
dried cranberries (optional)
walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Beat the eggs and add honey, pumpkin, oil, and water. Blend well. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and spices. Pour the dry mixture into the wet mixture and blend thoroughly. Pour all into two greased muffin pans and bake for about 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into muffins comes out clean.

Lentil-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup of brown sugar
3/4 cup of butter
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup PUREED lentils
1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 cups of quick oats
1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips
3/4 cups chopped pecans

Mix and bake at 375 F for 12-15 minutes- don't over bake!!!

Polenta Sticks (serve with salsa or fresh guacamole)
2 cups water
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup uncooked yellow cornmeal
1 tbsp oil
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
Bring water, salt, and garlic to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low. Gradually sprinkle in cornmeal, whisking constantly; whisk until mixture is blended and smooth.
Cover saucepan, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally until polenta is thick but still pourable, about 6-8 minutes.
Rinse an 8 inch square pan with cold water; do not dry. Pour polenta into pan; spread in a smooth layer with a rubber spatula. Refrigerate 30 minutes or until firm (can store in fridge for up to 3 days until ready to use.)
Cut into 24 sticks.
Add 1 1/2 tsp oil to skillet and heat over medium high heat. Add half of polenta sticks in a single layer. Cooke without turning until bottoms are slightly crispy, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook other side until crispy.

Fresh Guacamole
Mash a couple avocados, and add as much or as little as you like of the following:
lemon or lime juice
a clove of garlic
chopped onion
fresh chopped tomatoes
salt & pepper to taste

(This is a good way to get your raw garlic in for the flu/cold season!)
2 cups chickpeas/garbanzos
1 TBSP lemon juice
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp cumin
2-3 TBSP tahini (we prefer to use peanut butter instead)
1 TBSP parsley
2 tsp olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Drain liquid from chickpeas, reserve some. Blend ingredients in food processor until smooth, adding more liquid if needed for desired consistency.

I always welcome suggestions for healthy snacks; if you have something that your kids love, please share!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It's not jello, it's cytoplasm.

Yesterday when Sunshine got home from school (she attends public school), she opened the refrigerator and asked "Hey, mom, can I have some of this jello?" I replied, "That's not jello, it's cytoplasm!" She was amused by that.
This week in science, we've been studying cells. We've learned about the basic structure and function of cells and the difference between plant and animal cells.
Gem colored quietly as I explained cells to Mojo, and every once in awhile, I could hear her little voice pipe up, repeating what I had just said. "Cell wall." "Mitochondria." Have you ever heard a two-year-old say "mitochondria"? I asked her to say it again. And again. hehe

Here is a picture of the lovely cell that we made (the other cells remained prokaryotes; Gem and Caveman ate them before the organelles were added.) Maybe not the prettiest cell on the block, but Mojo enjoyed making and eating it anyway.

I believe we are going to take a detour from the science book and begin talking about viruses next, since the flu is dominating the news right now. While we are talking about viruses, we will also learn to make homemade antiviral remedies and other immunity boosters. I missed harvesting the wild elderberries around here, so I have ordered a pound of dried elderberries, along with some other dried herbs, and I am expecting them in the next day or so. Next year, we will grow our own medicine-making herbs. How's that for some cool science lessons? Of course I'll post pics!

While I am posting, here's what else we are studying this week...
Gem is learning the letter Dd, the number 4/four (and we've learned that there are four Gospels), and the color blue.
Caveman is learning how to count and write his numbers, the different letter sounds, and learning about our world around us (he also listens in on Mojo's lessons).
Mojo is learning about cells, proper grammar, spelling, map scale, place value for large numbers (ten- and hundred-thousands), and she is reading Heidi.

Our saint for this week is St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day was October 4th.
Our virtue is Humility.
Our Scripture is Joshua 1:9 "Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
We are listening to the music of Claude Debussy this week.