Saturday, May 29, 2010

A quiet Saturday afternoon...

A glimpse of our peaceful Saturday afternoon...

Collecting our daily egg from our hand-me-down hen :)
The rest of our (24!) chickens are too young to lay yet...

Engineering great things...

Best friends splashing around while filling the "glorified kiddie pool"

So loving my beautiful spring garden!

Eagerly anticipating lemon poppy seed muffins! Yummy!!!

Searching among the brambles for juicy sweet raspberries

Our beautiful daughter napping

The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family. ~Thomas Jefferson

Friday, May 21, 2010

Take a Micro-Hike on your Belly!

A micro-hike is a very short "hike” where you can climb tall mountain peaks, scale down into deep caverns, see towering trees and cross raging rivers, run away from hungry predators, and make new friends all in under half an hour! All you need is a length of string and some enthusiastic children! A magnifying glass for each child is nice to have too, but we did without today. My little hikers covered the trail on their bellies, viewing such natural wonders as leaves bent beneath the weight of raindrops, snails slowly making their way (towards my strawberries probably, uggh!). The kids have always been enthralled with tiny things, so they become absolutely mesmerized by all they observe when they take the time to get down close and really look at this world in miniature.
I began this activity by asking the boys to stretch their strings out over the most interesting area outside they could find. Then we talked about how so many of the animals that shared our land are really tiny, many of them less than half an inch long. I then asked them to get right down on the ground and pretend that they were suddenly the size of ants and were taking a hike along the length of their string. I suggested that things might be easier to observe from their new size if they kept their heads about a foot off of the ground or less. I wanted them to really get right down there and see things from a new perspective! Once they were down low where everything on the ground could be seen so clearly, they could begin to slowly inch their way along the chosen path.

 Asking questions can at this point can help stimulate their imaginations and guide them in the direction you’d like for this activity to take.
“What kind of world are you traveling through right now? What does it look like when you are so very small making your way through the grass? What other little beings have you found close to you? Are they friendly neighbors? What do you see them doing? Are they eating? Are they working hard? Where are they going? What is that tiger beetle going to do? Is he going to try to eat you, or take you for a ride on his shiny black back? What would it be like to be that jumping spider? Can you imagine how long it must take to climb all the way to the top of the rose bush? Did you just see that earthworm cross your path? Where do you think she is going? Is that hole her home? Would you like to make your home in the ground like that? And so on...

Taking a few minutes to get down and really look at their surroundings is such a fun activity, especially for the younger ones. I always amazed at the creative little stories they come up with about their closest neighbors and their “enemies” who might be trying to eat them!
(Even in the cracks of the cement, ants can be found marching along!)

One of my favorite parts of this activity is that it can be repeated over and over and the adventure is never the same!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A natural soothing skin cream (with recipe)

A dear friend gave me a jar of homemade "Soothing Skin Cream" for Claire when she was born. Everybody in the family loved that stuff! We spread it on chapped lips and wind burnt cheeks and noses. It was rubbed it into dry elbows, and scraped knees, and used on freshly shaved legs. Mostly though, I especially loved using it on Claire's cute fat tushie! We use cloth diapers at home and disposables when we have to be out all day. (ughh! I really dislike those days!) And so far Claire has never gotten diaper rash, thanks, in great part, to that wonderful cream. When I realized that we were fast approaching the bottom of that jar, I wrote my friend and asked her for the recipe. I didn't have everything on hand that she used so I modified it a bit and still came up with a very good cream for using on the baby’s rear end.

You’ll need:
• 1 cup calendula blossoms (dried or fresh will work fine)
• 1 cup plantain leaves (I collected my own!)
• 2 oz beeswax (Personally I prefer the unbleached kind- it smells so yummy like honey! You can buy this (in the USA) in most Whole Foods type grocery stores.)
• ½ cup olive oil
• ½ coconut oil (For this I prefer the extra virgin kind because it smells yummy too, but the plain old kind you buy in any regular grocery store would work too)
• 1/3 cup water
• Blender
• Small clean tin or jars with wide mouths to hold your cream
I am sorry that I don’t have any pictures of the process. I made the cream about a month ago, late at night and just wasn’t thinking of taking photos of anything at the time. I like using the double boiler (Bain Marie) method to melt the wax and get everything mixed up.

First: Chop the plantain leaves up into fairly small pieces and stir them into the combined oils in the top part of the double boiler. Then put this on the stove to heat up until it was really hot to the touch (don’t you just love how exact that is? I actually just kept sticking my finger in until it felt uncomfortably hot.) Let that mix steep for about half an hour.

Once that part is finished put the ½ cup water to boil in a small sauce pan. When it reaches a full rolling boil add the calendula flowers and gave it a stir to get them all down in the water. Then remove from heat, cover it and allowed to steep for the rest of the half hour that is left for the plantain leaves.

After ½ hour had passed strain both the plantain leaves from the oil and the calendula blossoms from the water. You should have very green oil and nice yellow-orange colored water.

Now place the oil back into the double boiler and add the beeswax. Keep over medium heat and stir just until the beeswax is almost totally melted. (It is OK if not all of the beeswax is completely melted, if you remove it from the heat and keep stirring, it will finish melting, it is best not to let it get too hot for the next step)

Once the wax has melted remove from the heat and place mixture into a blender. Turn on your blender with the lid in place and open up the little center lid and slowly begin to add the calendula water in a thin steady stream.

This next part will happen fairly suddenly! At first it will just look like a gloppy mess in the blender but as the mixture cools and whips up it will take on a creamier color and get thick and buttery as the water is incorporated. Now you can stop blending the cream and use a spatula to spoon it into your chosen container. The first time I made it I didn’t whip it in the blender for long enough (I thought it looked well blended…) But after sitting in my jar for about 15 minutes the water began to separate from the cream. If that happens to you too, don’t worry! Just put the cream back into the blender and whip it up for another minute or two!

This makes a large batch of soothing skin cream, almost one and a half cups! We go through it pretty fast around here because the whole family uses it. You can always halve the recipe if you want. Just use 2 ½ tablespoons water and all of the other measurements will be pretty easy to halve on your own.

I hope you find this recipe as useful as Claire and I did!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Happy Day

Today Rodrigo and I had a date, a real one, just the two of us, and little Claire ;-). We almost never go anywhere without all of the kids, but today, in honor of our anniversary we left the boys with their grandparents, and went out exploring the town! We had a wonderful lunch and then went wandering the aisles of a couple of antique malls. After that we felt like we needed some fresh air. So we set off to find the local Botanical Gardens. Oh! It was so worth it! We had a wonderful time exploring all of the old greenhouses and potting sheds, and the grounds were awe inspiring! The gardens were built on the site of an old family farm that had been a continuously running (for over 217 years) family business as a farm/plant nursery ever since the land was granted to the family in 1786 by the state of North Carolina. (Before Tennessee was even a state!) It was converted to the Botanical Gardens in 2001. It was such fun imagining what life must have been like on that farm over the years. If you are ever in the Knoxville area of East Tennessee you should really try to make time to visit the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum. Sadly our camera ran out of batteries about 20 minutes after we arrived… so I don’t have nearly as many pictures of all of the wonderful things we saw there today. We didn’t even get one single picture of the two of us together :( But here are a few pictures we did manage to take before we were left camera-less. I plan on taking the boys back sometime soon to spend the day there. We’ll take a picnic and explore to our hearts’ content… with fresh batteries in the camera next time!!!

The gardens were full of paths and pretty stone walls, there were these adorable little round stone houses that looked like they were something right out of a fairy tale. We found “secret gardens”, stone green houses, sunken gardens, and huge virgin growth trees!
Isn't this potting shed just gorgeous? Oh! I was a little jealous of all of those neatly stacked clay pots waiting to be filled! The possibilities...

 We even found a greenhouse decorated for a wedding later this evening! So romantic and such a lovely place to be wed. The Botanical Gardens were a wonderful ending to our very happy day together, just the two of us (and baby Claire)…

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Edible Home-made Finger Paint (with recipe)

Today the boys had a friend over to play and they all wanted to make something artsy. So we whipped up a batch of homemade finger paints and they went to town! If you do decide to give this recipe a try PLEASE BE CAREFUL if your little ones help you make it! This recipe involves boiling water, and cooking on the stovetop! This is not a recipe for children to follow without lots of close grownup supervision. The paint dries semi-transparent and has a very glossy, durable finish. It is very pretty and lots of fun to use. One of the things I like about it is the easy availability of all of the ingredients, no special ordering and waiting for delivery, and it’s cheap too (always a plus in my book!!) You can refrigerate the unused portions for a few days at least. We’ve never had left-over paint for more than a few days (so I’m not sure exactly how long it will last without spoiling), as it disappears quickly around here!

Homemade finger paint recipe tutorial


• ½ cup cornstarch
• 2¾ cup cold water
• 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
• ¼ cup cold water
• Small jars with lids for storing your paint (we find it easier to dip the paint out of teacups)
• Food coloring

How we make it:

• Mix cornstarch with 2¾ cups cold water to make a smooth paste in a saucepan until no lumps remain
• Meanwhile soak the gelatin in ¼ cup water to soften until it’s needed
• Cook cornstarch mixture over medium heat stirring constantly until mixture boils and turns clear(ish)
• Remove from heat and stir in gelatin mixture
• Cool and divide into several different jars for various colors. Stir in food coloring until you have a pleasing color that is well blended.

This recipe makes about 3 cups of paint.

We didn't have any finger paint paper on hand but it works nicely with card stock paper as well. Overall everyone was pleased with the outcome! I hope you enjoy using this recipe with your little ones!

*Update February 17, 2014 This is thick finger paint. We like it that way! If you make it like exactly as the recipe states you will have nice thick paint. If you want it a bit runnier, please feel free to add water a little bit at a time until it is the consistency YOU want it to be! Super Easy fix right?  Of course you are still welcome to send vituperative emails about how I wrote the recipe wrong, and I promise I will always answer you nicely, just the way I'd want to be treated, but please ask yourself before you send me an email like that...what good would it do? Surely you are not so unhappy with your life, (or my finger paint recipe) that you want to try and ruin a perfectly nice stranger's day? Surely all you nice crafty mamas out there who want to make a safe fun recipe to use with your adoring little ones can treat me and all of the other mamas who are out here online and in real life nicely right? Let's all try to remember what Thumper's mama  told him "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all!" She sounds like a very smart bunny indeed!
Love and hugs to you ALL*! ~Rachel 
(Even to those of you who do send those vituperative emails...especially to you! I imagine you could really use some loving and hugs!)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Claire's Rose

Winter in Tennessee is often hard on me. It is grey and cold and rainy for what seems like forever! At least it feels that way after a while. Within just a few weeks I crave the sunshine and warmth, I start to feel really down and blue after all those days of cold, wet, grey yuckiness. Usually, during the winter, I get outside no matter how pale and weak the sunlight, and no matter how bitterly cold it is just to absorb some of that good vitamin D!

But this year was different. Claire was born at the beginning of the winter, just a few weeks before Christmas time. I’ve had post-partum depression after one of my children. Thank God, I didn’t have it again this time! That was something so horrible; I never want to go through it again! But still with a brand new baby I couldn’t very well take her outside into below freezing winds! And I didn’t feel comfortable ever leaving her in the house while I went outside with the boys to play for a while. My husband never arrived home before dark during the winter months when the sun sets so much earlier. So for half of December, and all of January, February, and even part of March, Claire and I stayed inside. I was still basking in the glow of my “babymoon” during that time which helped some, but I was so happy to see the return of warmth and sunshine!!!

Now Claire and I go outside every single day to play. We walk around our yard and garden. I let her smell the flowers and pet the chickens. She laughs at her brothers’ antics and so do I. We are having fun!

My brother gave me this rose bush two years ago. This spring it is absolutely covered in blossoms! They smell heavenly. I have no idea what type of rose it is, but it is one of the best smelling roses I’ve ever had! Claire agrees!

She thinks it tastes pretty yummy too!
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