Happy Fall into Unschooling

Fall foliage out Cs BR window
Our strawberry beds with a back drop of colorful fall foliage, seen from my daughter’s bedroom

Fall Has Come to New England

Happy October from beautiful New England!  Showers of leaves are falling from brightly colored trees. My daughter and I have been enjoying fall-themed music in the car as we complete our errands, and this afternoon we joined her cat in looking at the beauty outside her window from her sill.   Skye is my daughter’s new pet, a “ragdoll” cat.  They are the gentlest, cuddliest breed of cat, and the two have spent lots of time bonding over the past week.

Skye on BR windowsill
Skye watching showers of leaves fall from colorful trees as he sits on my daughter’s  bedroom windowsill

 Beginning Our Unschooling Adventures

My daughter began the school year worrying about whether she’d fall behind her peers by home-schooling. I gave her the option to attend seventh grade at our local public middle school, so she created a chart of the pros and cons from her own POV for each choice: attending school  vs home-schooling.  She concluded that she’d be happier home-schooling and has committed to making it work.

I let “C” know it was my intention to approach our home-schooling with less imposed structure on my part because I have my own work from home I need to accomplish to make the arrangement work, and that she’d need to keep a record of her completed reading and other activities in a notebook.  There is a word for this approach in the world of home-schooling: “Unschooling.”  She was in charge of designing her own curriculum based on her own interests and learning goals.

Since my daughter absolutely loves reading, I know that language arts is a breeze for her.  She reads voraciously and her taste in books is widely eclectic.  One book she completed recently was The Librarian of Auschwitz, by Antonio Iturbe.  Next will be an audio recording of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.   She is currently listening  to the fourth and final volume in a series of history books for home-schoolers — Story of the World, by Susan Wise-Bauer.  For Science, she is reading Gray’s Anatomy and making slides from pieces of natural objects to look at under a microscope, as well as conducting inspired experiments.  She also loves to write stories via Google Docs.   For exercise, she walks neighbors’ dogs, climbs, runs, and practices archery.  For math progress, she has   been working through activities available online by Khan Academy.

In addition to covering the basic academic subjects, she is also learning French, cooks and bakes, sews, dances, produces videos and creates comics.  When her friends arrive home from their days at school, she plays with them.  Two of her friends here in our co-housing community also follow an unschooling path toward education, and she often plays or completes projects with them.

Parenting and Unschooling

Home-schooling, especially of the “unschooling” nature, complements my parenting style, especially when it comes to encouraging my daughter to follow both her heart and her natural curiosities. When she needs my help in certain aspects of her learning, such as demonstrating math concepts, I spend the time giving that to her.  I’ve been listening to some of the history CD’s with her.  Otherwise, she enjoys her independence and thrives on it.  Below is a comic she created around a conversation between her cat and her hamster, Sir Doctor of Tardis.

 

 

Sky and the Doctor
Skye (cat ) and the Doctor (hamster) checking each other out
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The Beauty of Math in Nature

Sea shell Fibonacci
The spiral of a seashell

Surrounded by the Beauty of Math

My daughter has been reading a book that  combines comical storytelling with introducing math concepts.  She recently came across a chapter that covered the Fibonacci sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, etc.  It was hard for her to imagine why these numbers mattered and why she needed to know about them.  Familiar with how much I love math and numbers, she asked me to explain the book’s illustrations in a way she could grasp.

 

Fibonacci Number Sequence Spiral
Fibonacci sequence in spiral form

 Numbers in Nature

First I wrote out the sequence in a linear fashion, adding the numbers as we read the section together.  Then I showed her how the sequence can be seen in nature.  It usually appears as a spiral.  An online search for images of the Fibonacci sequence as it appears in nature resulted in images of: the center of sunflowers, pine cones, plants, snowflakes, seashells, the double helix, human fingerprints and the design of the human ear (nautilus).

 

As Unique as…Fibonacci

Finger print Fibonacci
My daughter’s fingerprint

My daughter studied her fingerprints.  She was fascinated by the idea that her fingerprint, unique to her, contains a clear spiral pattern.  She pressed her finger on a blue patch of ink pad, pressed it on a piece of paper, and took a picture of it.  I did the same with mine, in purple.

How can something so unique as an individual’s fingerprint also contain a universal pattern such as a spiral?   The same thing holds true for our genetic blueprint, reflected in The Double Helix (Watson,  James D., 1968).  To me, it’s nothing less than amazing, inspiring wonder and respect for the design of the entire universe.  Our very uniqueness also connects us, at the cellular level, to the infinite order of our galaxy and beyond.  Carl Sagan was telling the truth when he said, “we are made of star stuff.”

 

Sunflower center Fibonacci
The spiral at the center of a sunflower

The Heart of a Sunflower

All elements on earth seem to hold the spiral as a universal pattern for growth, whether this means the design of a living organism’s growth pattern (sunflower, pine cone, seashell), or a species’ proliferation across planet Earth (rabbits, bees, etc).  For the sunflower, the spiral is at the very heart of its center, and is the part of the flower that holds the seeds, which serve as a nutritious snack for humans, hamsters, birds, and other creatures.

 Mysterious Pine Cones

Pine cones hold nuts beneath the tough semi-circular casings that line the core of their form.  The cones seem to be designed especially for rodents with very long teeth and little hands shaped like those of squirrels or chipmunks.  Their hands are shaped to keep a firm hold on a pine cone, and their teeth are shaped to peel off the hard shell that resembles tough tree bark to get to the nutrition-packed nuts inside.   It’s one way that our Mother Earth takes care of the creatures that depend completely on her for their “daily bread.”  In return, the squirrels and chipmunks help Earth plant more trees, which make more oxygen for all species to continue living.  The mathematical patterns in nature are both beautiful and life-giving.

 

Pine Cone Fibonacci
Fibonacci spiral in a pine cone

 

 

Peaches and Blackberries, the Sweet Taste of August

Bowl of Peaches n' Blackberries.jpg
Delicious cultivated peaches and wild blackberries harvested from our land

Introduction

The summer has flown by and we find ourselves looking at the arrival of early harvest season.  The strawberries and rhubarb of June, the blueberries and currants of July, have all ripened in the warm sunshine and been eaten by hungry snack scavengers.  Now beckon the peaches and blackberries of August.  How their lights shine bright!  This post is a tribute to their satisfying sweetness.

 

peach tree
Sweet juicy peaches calling my name from the tree branch

 

Peaches

Peaches are my favorite tree fruit. Sinking my teeth into a peach’s soft flesh feels like I’m eating a sunset.  Warm and juicy straight from the tree branch, peaches are also delicious in pies, crisps, tarts, compotes, jams and baklava.  They enhance the flavor of  iced fruit teas and sangria.

In addition to being so scrumptious, peaches are packed with nutrients!  Rich in anti-oxidants and Vitamins A, B & C, they are warriors in our bloodstream who fight disease and keep our eyesight strong.  Also present in peaches are iron and flavonoids, the same type of chemical found in dark chocolate.

Peach trees were domesticated in China from around 6,000 B.C.E.  They were brought to the Americas by the Spanish in the sixteenth century.  The tree’s flowers blossom in early spring, but the fruit ripens in late summer.  It’s a symbol of both purity, fertility and protection.  A young peach tree makes a wonderful wedding gift.

 

blackberries
Ripe wild blackberries on the cane

 

Blackberries

Soft sweet blackberries melt on my tongue when I pop them in my mouth.  The burst of flavor sends me to heaven!  At least half the wild blackberries I’ve picked were eaten while I worked hard harvesting them among the brambles.  The berries that make it to my home are usually washed and eaten topped with fresh whipped cream.  Creamy black raspberry is my favorite ice cream.   They are also loved by my family in pies, tarts and jams.

One of the top health benefits of blackberries is the lutein that protects eyes from cataracts, night blindness and macular degeneration.  This makes me want to keep returning to our wild canes for more and more.  The Vitamin C in blackberries promotes the production of collagen, which makes skin glow.  The berries are low in sugars and high in fiber, so they are a great fruit to eat if you have diabetes.  They are rich in calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, which work together to keep your bones strong. The Vitamin K in blackberries is good for blood circulation.  So much goodness in one little berry!

Blackberries, or black raspberries, are symbols of prosperity,  protection and fertility.  In the Victorian era, they represented kind-heartedness.  Artists love them for their rich color and use them as pigments in painting.  I encourage you to squash some and draw a picture with them as a fun celebration of their precious beauty.

 

 

Summer Storytelling with a dash of Sweet

Greetings

Happy Summer to you all, or Winter if you live in the Southern hemisphere!  I hope you’ve had a chance to enjoy some the glorious weather that marks whatever season you are experiencing.  One aspect we love and closely associate with each season of the  wheel is the food we associate with that time of year.   In spring we love asparagus and peas.  In summer we relish the fruits and berries that grow abundantly on bushes and vines.  In Autumn the apples, grapes and pumpkins reign, and freshly backed pies populate our tables.  In winter, soups, stews and casseroles sustain us and keep us warm.  Over this delicious home-made food served with love we share stories, and catch up on news from family, friends and neighbors.  We chat about the deeper aspects of how our lives have been unfolding, and the wisdom we have gained.

Delicously Nutritious Garden Salad!
Fresh salad for celebrating the emergence of warmer weather

The Ancient Bond Between Food and Stories

In the twenty-first century, the challenges to spending the quality time with each other  that sustains our mutual bonds, away from media and other distractions, seems daunting.  We are challenged to choose mindfulness over those distractions again and again, to make the decision to turn off our smartphones and look at each other, talk to each other, play with each other in meaningful ways.  The human brain needs our help in keeping the evolution process of our species moving forward instead of reversing the process.   Storytelling as an art form feeds us on many levels and deserves to be revived.

Aerial View of Candlelit table set for 6
Our table set for a visit with friends

 The Kitchen Goddess and Esperanza

Several summers ago, I created a character called The Kitchen Goddess, who works magic with food, bringing together in community the people of her neighborhood.  She has a devoted apprentice named Esperanza, who lives with her in her colorful little cottage and helps her in important ways.  I’ve mixed story-telling about these characters and their adventures with offering recipes for creating the delicious treats they serve the children in their neighborhood and their parents.  They don’t cast spells.  The magic of the food is in how they put the ingredients together with love to make the satisfying treats they serve to their guests.  Often they welcomed the help of the neighborhood children in their preparations, which just added to the love!

Below are links to the online stories and recipes that were published in 2012.  I will offer stories and recipes for both Summer and Winter.

Summer

From the Diary of a Kitchen Goddess: Magical Miniature Fruit Tarts

Karen the “Kitchen Goddess” and her apprentice Esperanza invite the neighborhood children to the cottage for a fun day of painting and other crafts, and preparing for a solstice party.  Features a recipe for magical mini fruit tarts.

 From the Diary of a Kitchen Goddess: Lemon Juice Adds a Touch of Sunshine to Salads

The Kitchen Goddess dishes about salads she loves to make for dinner or dessert on summer evenings.  She tosses most of them with lemon or lime juice for an extra zesty burst of flavor in each bite.

From the Diary of a Kitchen Goddess: Refreshing Summer Sun Tea with Fruit & Peppermint

The Kitchen Goddess serves sun tea with fruit and mint as she encourages a young lady to follow her dreams.

cropped-sunflower-on-my-windowsill.jpg
Sunflowers are a lovely bridge between summer and winter, especially those that bear seeds.

Winter

From the Diary of a Kitchen Goddess: Holiday Spiced Pumpkin Rice Pudding

Karen the Kitchen Goddess and her faithful apprentice Esperanza host a Winter Solstice feast. Candles were lit. Paper bag puppets were made.  Guests and hosts shared food at the table and enjoyed a puppet show given by the children.  Afterward, they walked around town caroling for neighbors.

From the Diary of a Kitchen Goddess: Polenta Cakes and Black Beans for the Feast of “Tres Reyes”

The Kitchen Goddess and her friends perform a Mummer’s play in the town square and host a Twelfth Night celebration. Served at their party were baked polenta cakes topped with savory black beans.

From the Diary of a Kitchen Goddess: Divinely Comforting Baked Apples

The Kitchen Goddess returns with a recipe for divinely comforting baked apples, which she prepares on chilly nights for friends and family.  Gather round and enjoy some topped with fluffy whipped cream alongside your favorite brew of liquid warmth.

Frothy Morning Latte
A warm, frothy latte for you

A Blessing

May you, my readers, enjoy many warm moments of sharing food, drink and stories with those dearest to you.  May you always know abundance and be held by the embrace of family, friends, and neighbors.  May you realize how much you mean to everyone who knows you.  May you always be well, happy and at peace.

 

Birthday Month Strawberries

Mosaic Community Strawberries
Strawberry patch belonging to my co-housing community, right next to our herb garden.

Happy June!

June is my “birthday month,” so I hold a special affection for this time of year.  It is also the month that strawberry plants bear abundant fruit in New England.  At this very moment, I am lifting up my jar full of iced sun tea garnished with fresh mint, a lemon wedge and chunks of ginger.  With my tea I toast you a merry month of June full of warmth, sunshine, fragrant summer rain showers and lots of strawberries!

In the co-housing community where I live,  many of my neighbors cultivate their own strawberry patches.  Since their season is so short, we can’t get enough of them when they finally ripen!  We also have a community patch; these bright red berries make a wonderfully satisfying snack for the children who feast on them between their outside games.

Health Benefits from Strawberries

In addition to being pretty and sweet, strawberries also contain a bunch of anti-oxidants that boost your immune system, reduce inflammation and support the health of your eyes.  They contain magnesium and potassium that help reduce blood pressure, and folic acid that prevents birth defects such as spina bifida.  Shaped like hearts, they are a powerfully heart-healthy food!

Strawberries and Mint
A bowl of strawberries to snack on & mint for garnishing tea

5 Ways to Spread Love with Strawberries

There’s so many strawberries ripening now, so it’s a good thing that there’s so many things to do with them. Here are some ways to enjoy them:

Freeze Them: One tradition I’ve been keeping up the past several years is to wash a handful, spread them out on a pan in my freezer, then store them in a bag to blend with milk for a delicious smoothie in the middle of winter.  It’s so satisfying to enjoy their fresh delicious flavor when snow is piling up outside our windows.

Make a Decadent Dessert: Strawberries topped with whipped cream make a delicious finale for the evening meal.

Garnish your Oatmeal with them: Adding the sweetness of strawberries to a bowl of morning oatmeal increases its power to fill you up for a busy morning.

Prepare a batch of Preserves: If you love to preserve food, home-grown strawberries make the sweetest jams.

Bake a Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp:  Finally, here is a recipe I adapted and shared with a friend who came over for a visit.

Strawberries and Rhubarb (2)

 

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Ingredients:

1/2 Tablespoon Coconut oil

2 Tablespoons Butter

1 Cup freshly-harvested Rhubarb, peeled and chopped small

2 Cups freshly-harvested Strawberries, culled and washed

1 Tablespoon Ginger root, peeled and grated

1 Cup Oats

2 Tablespoons Ground Cinnamon

1 Teaspoon organic raw honey

How to make it:

  1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2.  Coat baking dish with coconut oil.
  3.  Chop strawberries and rhubarb and mix them together with a tablespoon of honey.
  4.  Add grated ginger and toss with fruit and honey.
  5.  Spread fruit mix evenly in baking dish.
  6.  In a separate bowl, cut butter into thin pats and knead into oats until it becomes the texture of a coarse meal.
  7.  Add ground cinnamon and toss together.
  8.  Top the fruit mix with the oats mix in the baking dish.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden around the edges.
  10.  Serve and enjoy with a scoop of ice cream.

Bon Appetit!

 

 

Celebrating Renewal & Home-Grown Food

Breakfast and Journaling on our Back Deck
Balmy mornings are perfect for eating breakfast and writing on the back deck overlooking our gardens.

The Easy Breezy Longer Days of Spring and Summer

Spring has finally settled in New England.  Most days are warm and breezy, so we can walk around free from extra layers of clothing.  The children in our co-housing village have already kicked off their shoes and run around barefoot.  Days of sunshine coax daffodils and tulips to blossom.  The rainy days hold their own charm with the fresh fragrance and vibrant colors they bring forth from Earth as she awakens.  Tree buds adorn branches in an exciting array of soft pastels that will deepen as spring becomes summer.

When the sounds and scents wafting in through our windows diminish our powers of concentration, nature holds the antidote ~ we can regain our focus with a brisk walk to soak in the generous energy of the sun.  Adding to the charm of the season, longer hours of daylight give us extra time to relax and play after work.

Rewards for the Hard Work of Gardening

Blooming Rhubarb
Lush stalks of rhubarb are some of the first “fruits” of the growing season.

Springtime means longer hours to play, but it also makes the weeds grow taller and our gardens become jungles if we don’t spend some time preparing them for growing flowers and food.  I am grateful that my body is whole enough this spring to spend time in our gardens, working to clear our beds of debris and feed them with mulch.  I am also grateful for help from my daughter and her friends:  weeding our veggie beds, sewing seeds, watering and mowing the grass.

Love from the Earth

Chives!
Chives and mint co-exist happily in the small bed by the stairs of our back deck.

The Earth has rewarded us for our care.  Our spending time and attention on our gardens has created beautiful spaces for flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables to grow this summer.  The rhubarb has ripened, mint leaves have blossomed for garnishing our sun tea, and chives have sprouted tall enough to cut some for sautéing in the skillet with vegetables.

Eating the satisfying delicious early harvests that have grown and ripened already gives us hope to anticipate a continued bountiful harvest this season.  Around the cycle of planting, watering and continued weeding, there is time to enjoy the critters who visit us often: frogs, snakes, grasshoppers, dragonflies and birds.  The healthy glow of our gardens and music of the chimes in the rock garden below our deck is sweetest for me at sunset.

Anticipation for the good things our Earth will give us is the result of a hope that is conceived from the combination of hard work, vision and trust.  Time and energy spent cultivating the spaces we’ve built for food to grow has already been rewarded with the blossoming of flowers and edible new life.

veggie beds incl weed fabric and gravel

Gardening Tasks Completed and Adventures that Await Us

The image above reflects the work I’ve done to transform our gardens into the spaces I envision them to become.  In addition to weeding and mulching the beds, other work has been done to the space around them:

  • The chicken wire fencing and trellises that have surrounded the three beds for the past 8 years were given to our chicken club to use in expanding the run around our coop.
  • One of the trellises was replaced with colorful red caging purchased last year.
  • Weeds were dug out of the earth and replaced with fabric, gravel, and slate to create a path for walking around the beds.

The tasks that we look forward to completing by the end of the summer:

  • Eventually, a stone wall will stand between our gardens and the swale in back of them.
  • More weeds will be dug up and replaced by fabric, gravel and slate.
  • Late-summer vegetable seeds will be sown in the middle bed.
  • Sunflower seeds will be sown around the periphery of the garden and in a dedicated bed.
  • Old, battered fencing around some of our bushes (e.g. hydrangea, black currant, sunflowers) will be replaced with fresh border decor.

The Journey Continues…

Over the course of the summer,  I will photograph the progress we make on transforming our gardens into places of deeper enchantment for my family and friends, and to celebrate the harvests that grow in our beds.  The fruits we look forward to celebrating in June are our strawberries.  I’ll likely include a recipe that features them.  See you next month!

 

Spring Emerges Through the Snow

Delicously Nutritious Garden Salad!
A giant garden salad celebrates the season.

Of Fools & Showers

Happy April, month of Fools!  It’s also the month of showers that bring May flowers.  I’ve seen as many snow showers as rain showers this month, and this morning a light layer of frost covered our land.  Are we fools to think that winter has receded enough for us to sow seeds and expect plants to grow from them?  Luckily, there are hardy plants that will blossom and grow despite the frost.  Peas, kale and radishes are a few.

Inspired by the warmth of Easter weekend and to welcome the season properly, I made a large garden salad for my family to share last week.  With the salad we sipped icy glasses of sun tea brewed on my back deck and garnished with cinnamon, lemon, ginger root and mint leaves.

 

Purple Crocuses
Our purple crocuses tell us Spring has finally arrived!

Signs of Hope

Despite the daily fluctuations in temperature, the crocuses are finally making their appearance in gardens around our co-housing community, including my daughter’s flower garden.  There are also some at the bottom of my hydrangea bush and in my own flower garden.  They are not alone. Iris leaves are preparing to grow stems and flowers.  The branches of my black currant bush are laced with small green buds.  The moss beneath our feet is soft and earthy.  We can safely announce that the seasonal wheel has finally reached the end of its slow turn toward Spring!

 

Coiled Garden Hose
Garden hose ready to water plants

The Tools are Ready

Now that New England has seen a warm weekend perfect for planting, hoses are present in yards around the neighborhood, and in our community gardens.  My trowel, hand rake and kneeling pad now have a new place on my back deck, ready for the work that needs to be done this summer. 

My gardens will be busy making delicious organic food to eat, often straight from the plants.  I will be busy re-designing my gardens to be beautiful and inviting to visit.

 

CoCo's Veggie Garden 2018.jpg
My daughter’s garden bed for growing veggies

Staking a Claim

My thirteen-year-old daughter has been thriving since our return to home-schooling in February.  We have committed to radical unschooling with her and it’s been working well.  Her curiosity and love of learning have bounced back as she has satisfied her penchant for reading and spending many hours outside.  She walks dogs, climbs rocks and plays games with friends daily.

This year she has adopted one of our raised beds as her own vegetable garden.  She weeded it, planted seeds, installed a trellis, and is diligent about watering it all.  We look forward to working the the garden together later this week.