Archive for September, 2010

Everyone needs a little bit of joy.  Some days, we need more than others.  Today was one of those days.

My freshman class really drained me today.

Each one of us has only so much “life force energy” at any one moment.  (That’s not any religious theory, just my personal observation).  The people you interact with can either help you recharge your life force batteries, or drain you to the point of no recharge, like an old ipod.

As much as I appreciate and love my students, there are days that they suck all of my energy, so that I have nothing left to give.  This makes me particularly cranky when I come home and I want to focus on my kid(s) and hubby, but I don’t have anything left for them.

After school today, I had zero energy.  I wanted to be present for my family, but I was definitely wearing my frowny face.

In my crabby pants, I sat and listened to my daughter practice her violin.  She’s about four weeks into her lessons, and isn’t all that screechy for a newbie.  Today she only took one break, and even tried some to sight read some new exercises.  I was really proud of her.  After each successful line, she swooped over to give me a kiss.  Each kiss recharged me a little.

Later, we snuggled on the couch and watched the muppets.  As I tucked her into bed, we spoke fake German and I sang her lullaby in fake Swedish.  We said goodnight with giggles and hugs.

My daughter helps me charge my batteries.

She is joy.

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Last Thursday, we were blessed with a fog delay.  I tried sleeping in, but no such luck.

I packed up my camera and headed to school.

Each morning I drive into the sunrise and see gorgeous silhouettes of Indiana farms.   This was a morning that I would have time to actually stop and shoot some pictures.  Here are some of my faves from last week.

Mama and Baby                                                                Jenny Frech 2010
Hey Lady, You smell funny.                                                          Jenny Frech 2010
Back to the morning routine.                              Jenny Frech 2010
Pastured Piggy                                                     Jenny Frech 2010
Pig and chickory                                                      Jenny Frech 2010
Soulful                                                                 Jenny Frech 2010

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Jeremy and I were sans kiddos this weekend, as all of them were with their other parents.  This is our putzing-date time.

We went to the local farmer’s market for cider and greens, dropped off some pickled hot peppers to a friend.  After waking Kevin up (sorry!) and giving him the pickled peppers, we went to the second hand store to buy cloth napkins so we could get rid of the paper ones for good.  It was a jackpot day because the thrift store had all cloth napkins half-off.


We also purchased two climbing roses on sale for $2.50 each and a drying rack that we had been eyeing at another thrift store so we could dry our clothes without the dryer in the winter.  On the way home, we spotted two rain barrels at a garage sale for $45.  A pretty good price we thought, now we can collect water and water the garden next summer without running the well.

It was a banner day for making our lives a little more green.

Sure we spent a lot of green, but everything was at bargain prices.  All of the things that were purchased were things that we’ve been talking about for ages.  The roses, well, that comes out of my allowance for October.

Our car was so full, Jeremy had to go back with the van to pick up the rain barrels.

What the heck?!

Hey!  I thought that we were supposed to be downsizing, cleaning up, and simplifying our life!

Mmmm.  How does this all work anyway?  To use cloth napkins, I have to purchase said cloth napkins and bring them into my house, and unless I want to do laundry everyday with six kids that spill a lot of milk, I need a lot of them.  If we want to collect your rainwater, we have to bring home rain barrels.  If we want to dry our clothes in the winter, we need a clothes rack, because if you drape wet sweaters on your antique wooden chairs when wet, you’ll ruin them (ask me how I know).

I even had to buy loads of jars in order to all that canning I talked about.

Why do we need so much stuff?

Here’s the part that got me going on all of this today…

When we returned mid-afternoon from our spending spree, we noticed a buggy without a horse across the street, where our daughters’ friend used to live.  There was an Amish woman in the garage sorting through the junk that the family had left behind when they moved out in the middle of the night a few weeks ago.

We went over to see what they were up to, and offer the services of our van if needed.  The house was trashed.  There had been a flood in the house that no one had told the landlords about.  The dogs that had lived there tore up the doors.  The garage was covered with piles and piles of stuff.  In the piles were trash, clothes, shoes, broken toys, beer boxes, a broken fridge, a karaoke machine, scads of take out pizza, and a box for a 54 inch flat screen television.

The family left because they had not been paying their rent.  Whether or not they couldn’t afford it or just didn’t want to, I don’t know.

The woman doing the sweeping was one of the owners of the house.  She was saddened by the way the family had taken care of their belongings.

“There is probably more than $1,000 worth of broken things and clothes in this garage.  I don’t understand why they didn’t take care of the things that they had.  If money was tight why didn’t they take better care of their clothing?  Clothing is expensive,” the woman commented.

The garage represented well more than $1,000 worth of items neglected, consumed, and abandoned.

Our landfills represent millions and millions of dollars wasted, neglected, consumed, and abandoned.

So what can we do about it?  We’re Americans after all.  We consume things.

Jeremy and I offered to help take items of any usefulness to Goodwill.  After all, it was easier for us to haul it in our van, than in the buggy.  I took everything home and gave it a good washing, and hung it on the line to dry.  What wasn’t in good enough shape for Goodwill I cut up to use as rags.

What can we do about our consumption? I think our Earth is grand and I want to protect it, but I still consume things.  Now I consume a lot of green-earth-saving things, but I’m consuming none-the-less.  I don’t have a great answer.

Here’s what my old man and I have been talking about to try to eliminate the consumerism from our house:

  • Buy as much as possible second hand. It’s really wonderful to save money.  But, it’s also great to get some more use out of something that may have ended up in a landfill.  My favorite haunts are garage sales with girls selling lemonade out front that look to be a couple inches taller than our girls; Goodwill; The Mennonite thrift store in town; and then the more upscale consignment clothing store.  We also shop at the second hand furniture store, and small groceries that sell dented cans, overruns, and products nearing the expiration date.
  • Try to limit the amount of stuff that comes into your home. This one is really hard.  All of the kids bring home papers from school each day.  Each one of us brings items into the house, maybe one small bit by small bit, but it adds up.
  • Don’t watch T.V.. We do watch videos in our house, and sometimes we’ll watch our online funnies.  We hardly ever watch television though which limits the amount of commercials we and our kids see.  If we don’t know that a new product exists, it’s much harder to want it.
  • Get rid of stuff. I am terrible at this one because I’m cheap.  I would love to have a cleaner house, but I’m afraid that I might need that thing someday.  But, by keeping all of the little doodads, I can’t find the things that I need when I need them, and may be tempted to buy a new one.  We realized last week when the kids were sick that we had five thermometers.  Unless we need to take simultaneous temps, I’m sure that one would do.  I’ll keep you posted on how this one goes for me.
  • Don’t buy junk you don’t need.
  • “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” said William Morris, one of the fathers of the Arts and Crafts movement at the turn of the last century.  Most American homes are filled with all kinds of lame junk that is neither useful or beautiful; so donate it, repurpose it, or use it for kindling.

True Confession: I am far far far from being anywhere near perfect or even really good about less consuming. But I want to be there.

I know that I do want to fully appreciate the items that I own, and take good care of them.  I have a pair of sandals that I spent $80 on 10 years ago, and they finally had to be retired this year.  That averages into eight bucks a year to wear those great shoes.  They were a quality product, and I took good care of them.  What if everything we owned was of quality, and we took good care of them?  I bet I could get by with one pair of sandals, don’t you?

I don’t know what the answer is to get us all off of this rat race of consumerism.  The Amish woman across the street today was never on it.  She consumes stuff, but really only what she and her family needs.

What ideas do you have?  I’d love to hear them.

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I remember my mom canning when I was a kid.  She had a great big garden until I was in third grade.  My mom is a home economics teacher, did all four years of 4-H, and grew up on a farm.  So home preserves were second nature for her.  But at the beginning of fourth grade we moved from the country and into a subdivision and that was the end of canning.  I haven’t talked to her about it, but I don’t think she missed canning all that much.

About 8 years ago, she gave me all her canning stuff and it sat in my basement.  I’m not even sure why I wanted it at the time, but I had it.  Three summers ago, my mom helped me can salsa.  It was kind of a fiasco, because the power went out after I had heated up the salsa, and we had to do the hot water bath on the propane grill to finish.  I only canned the salsa, but I did make some freezer sauce and chili starter that year too.  Mom showed me how to use the grinder-skin remover thingy, how to put the lids on the jars, and how to cook them long enough to pop.  That was the only year that I canned before my divorce.  The salsa must have been good though, because my ex took several jars with him when he moved out.

This year, in trying to reconnect even further with my food, I decided I was going to can and freeze as much as possible from our garden.  I may have gotten carried away.  

Broccoli started our summer strong.  I blanched and froze broccoli every three or four days and filled a drawer in the deep freeze.  I froze green beans, corn, strawberries, and raspberries. I also froze lots of herbs, which I hope will work okay in dishes through the winter.  As the tomatoes started to get ahead of me I quartered them and threw them in the freezer too until I could deal with them.

Then came the salsa.  I am a darn good salsa chef.  I don’t really have much of a recipe anymore, but I have a feeling for how much of what to throw in. The family all pitched in and we canned nearly four gallons of salsa.  As we were prepping the veggies for the pot, we talked about how great this would be as a chili starter, and who we would want to give them to as presents.  Then, it didn’t really seem like enough.  On the next Saturday, I canned about three more gallons of salsa.  This time, I made some green salsa too.

We pickled hot peppers with garlic and onions.  Jeremy made hot pepper jelly.  We tried making green tomato pickles, and made a ton of them.  It will be a couple of weeks before we know if the sweet and the dill pickles turned out okay.  I canned tomato juice, and some tomato sauce.  The tomato sauce took ALL day to make, and I only ended up with about six quarts, I’m not sure its worth the fuss.

Canning is making a comeback.  A friend of mine posted photos of the applesauce she made, while another friend suggested swapping canned goods over the winter.  Great idea ladies.

I am seeing canning posts all over the internet.  Maybe it’s just because I am an eco-rural-living-local-food-nutjob, but it seems to me like people are taking an interest in it.  In the last two days I’ve seen canning classes on two different sites.  The latest local harvest newsletter describes how to get started in canning.  So does the latest issue of Yes! magazine and even Etsy, which is a website for arts and crafts, not for agriculture.

It’s a ton of work.  The kitchen gets hot.  And it is really, really messy.  The satisfaction is high.  It’s great to crack open a jar of homemade salsa.  I feel like I am eating a decadent dessert when I sprinkle frozen raspberries on my yogurt.  Life is good when the food comes from your own garden.  If you can’t can or don’t know how, freezing is a super simple way to store away the summer yummy.

Canning can be beautiful.  Shelves stocked with home canned goods look neat.  The kids are really excited to give salsa and pickles to their teachers at Christmas this year.  And I’m looking forward to enjoying my hard work from the summer.

For technical information on canning: National Center for Home Preservation and the Ball learn to can site.  I also picked up a great book on freezing from a garage sale, and there are lots of great books check out Betterworld Books to find a used copy.  Be careful about the information you use to can and freeze.  It is possible to botch up canning, so follow recipes carefully to avoid illness.

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Today I was talking with a mom of five.  Her oldest is in college, and the youngest is eight.  She is one of the most easy going people I’ve ever met.  In her free time, she enjoys going out in public in socks with sandals and pajama pants to embarrass her kids.  She spends most evenings running around town taking the kids to their activities.  I’m not really sure how she manages a household of seven and works fulltime.  Recently, she was down for the count on the couch after an illness.

She mentioned that one of her sons offered to help unload the dishwasher and she was touched.  I asked if the kids were pitching in.

I’m still trying to do most of it myself.  It’s just easier.

Whoa!  How does she do it and stay sane?  Maybe I’m different because I stepped into a kid manager-mommy-ish role to three (plus mine) when they were all preteens.  I knew that I would never ever be able to manage the house, work full time, and maintain my sanity.  So, my hubby and I have put the kids to work.

We don’t expect more of them than what they are capable, but they are stepping up to and exceeding our expectations.

One of the things that I regret most is that my mom was so nuturing and cared for us so well.  I had two regular chores as a kid.  I had to water the dog, and either load or unload the dishwasher.  My brother and I complained and complained about that one easy job.

When I became an adult, I realized how much my mom had been doing all those years, and I fully appreciate now all that she did for me.

I spent the first five or ten years out of high school calling my mom up for the littlest things.  How do I wash my clothes?  How do I make soup?  How do I balance my checkbook?  How do I freeze green beans?  I wish that I had taken up more responsibility while I was at home, and could have soaked up a little bit of knowledge.  My mom was a home ec teacher.  I should have learned some really important things from her.  As a young adult, I felt a little worthless.  Until I was able to stay home with my daughter, I didn’t really know how to balance home tasks and get everything done, although I really wanted to.

I’m still terrible at day-to-day housework, but I can do projects around the house from sunrise to sunset and get a lot of satisfaction from it.  I learned most of these “how-tos” from my mom when I was an adult.

Back to the kids…

My parenting philosophy really has three parts:

  • Love your kids unconditionally.
  • Encourage your kids to develop their strengths.
  • It is our job as parents to teach kids to be productive, well adjusted adults.

Jeremy and I spent a lot of time talking about how we wanted to structure our hodge-podge family before we got married.  Our parenting styles are quite different.  He described himself as raising free-range children.  I would definitely describe myself as a more structured parent.

Willing volunteers washing Ole Tilly.

From the start we knew that it would be important to establish routines, procedures and expectations of the kids.  We did this by establishing boundaries (ie. the master bathroom is off-limits to kids, talk-back won’t be tolerated).  We set up a bedtime routine of songs and hugs, and sit-down dinners as much as possible. We’ve also involved the kids in the running of the household:

  • Everyone does their own laundry-which helps a ton when you have three girls that are all about the same size.  Before we got married I had cold sweats about sorting out the Hannah Montana and Strawberry Shortcake panties.  They even hang their own clothes on the clothesline.
  • The kids are in charge of dishes and clearing the table.  There was some resistance at first.  Lots of grumbling and “not fairs”.  The youngest learned within a day or two that every time she said “Not it!” she was magically chosen.  Nobody says “Not it!” anymore.  We do however have kids rushing to unload as that is the preferred job.  Usually it is done in pairs, and the job goes very quickly.
  • Before leaving for the other parent’s house, they have to pick up their stuff in the yellow room and run a vacuum on their bedroom floor.  The only bedroom requirement is that we can safely walk through them.
  • The kids take turns every other week as the Saturday chore “manager”.  One of them gets a clipboard, looks around the house for what chores needs to be done, and then helps divvy out the tasks and checks them off as they are finished.  The manager also helps decide who gets to clean the toilet as that is a favorite chore (no one ever said these kids were normal).  My thought is that maybe this will help them “see” what needs to be done instead of waiting for someone to tell them.  I still struggle with this one myself.

This responsibility seems to be building their confidence.  The kids volunteer willingly (no they don’t have a fever) to sweep the floor, help with dinner, and feed the cat.  My oldest step-daughter spent a whole day helping me make salsa for Christmas presents. My youngest step-daughter jumps in to wash the car.  My stepson helps with recycling; and my daughter asked yesterday if feeding the cat could be added to her responsibilities.

It is our expectation that everyone will pitch in to keep this family running.  If I had had all these kiddos from infancy, I’m sure that my responsibilities would have crept into “all of the above”.  One of the best pieces of advice that I try to remember at home and at school was from a teacher workshop.

Never do for children what they can do for themselves.

I still feel overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done around the house.  The house is still cluttered 98% of the time.  I’m still exhausted mentally and physically after work.  But the kids are learning, growing, and meeting and exceeding our expectations.  The kids are working hard and reaping the benefits.  They’ve gotten raises for their hard work.  As a family we have more fun time because the daily chores are done shortly after dinner.  We even have a “party jar” where loose change and “bonuses” go.  Bonuses are when we see great teamwork.  Every so often we spend the party jar for fun things like s’mores, movies, and bowling.

I think the reward that they haven’t yet gotten is that some day they’ll wake up and find that they are self-sufficient young adults.

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Hidden Roots of the Local Food Movement — YES! Magazine

The above link will take you to a brief photo essay that shows war support posters from WWII encouraging women to grow gardens, can, and eat less meat.  Sounds familiar doesn’t it?  All of this local food stuff that the “radical tree huggers” (self-included) are trying to incorporate into their lives were once just everyday life to most women.

If you’ve never heard about YES! Magazine, I encourage you to check it out.  If you are taking time to read my boring old blog, you will enjoy it.

I love YES! Magazine.  Last year, I got a free subscription as a teacher and I will be buying my own subscription this year.

The magazine  is “Concerned with building a more just, sustainable, and compassionate future with articles about economic alternatives and peace options.”  Most importantly to me, they have loads of articles on how environmental issues are affecting people, and what we can do as individuals.

They also have a great facebook page that posts articles of interest.  The radical homemaker blog and articles are pretty great too.  Click on the YES! links, and give it a quick read.

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So, yesterday I wrote about water bottles, and it came up again today at school.

I was standing in the hallway, when one of my students from last year came rushing up to me in the hallway. (This same student has passed me nearly daily without even eye contact).

“Hey, that movie we watched last year, that was ‘The Story of Stuff‘, right?”

“Yep,” says I.

At that moment, the new vegetarian teacher walked up. He explained that he had forgotten his Nalgene at home and was drinking water out of a cup. On his desk sat a water bottle with a cutesy message that welcomed the teachers back to school. The kids asked him why he didn’t just drink the water from the bottle, and he explained that he didn’t drink bottled water because it was bad for the environment.

“Have you ever seen ‘The Story of Stuff?'”asked the new guy.

At least one student had a look of understanding in that moment.

We spend time talking about values in my classroom. Sounds taboo I know. But, I don’t tell students what they should value. We spend time exploring what is important to us, and how we prioritize our values.

My students will spend time exploring how to align their values with their consumption habits. If a student values the environment, then they will have to reevaluate their habits. Maybe it will make sense to them to give up their long showers and dozens of hair care products.

My students also spend time exploring the consequences of their consumption, habits, and actions. They learn that we are connected to one another and to nature.

What the heck does all this have to do with science anyway?

Everything. I think it was Einstein that said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” The problems that the next generation is facing are problems created because we, as a people, did not consider our values and the consequences of our actions, when taking on new technologies and “advancements”.  Unhealthy foods, bottled water, ecologically unsound habits and so on, just sort of creeped into our lives without much of a thought.

By getting my students to look at the interconnectedness of nature and humanity, by assessing what their values truly are, and exploring the consequences of THEIR actions, I think my students will be better prepared to enter the world of adulthood, and solve OUR problems.

I am hopeful.

P.S. There is a Story of Stuff about bottled water.

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