New England has enjoyed more than a few snow flurries since I last wrote. We’ve had a couple of major storms in the past 2 weeks, dug out cars and moved them for plows to clear the spaces a few times, my daughter has enjoyed sledding down the hill beside our home with her friends, and cocoa has warmed our hearts on several frigid nights. It’s somewhat comforting to know that winter has showed up to stay for a while before spring begins to bloom. Who knows what will happen in the next 6 weeks? I’m ready to have fun with whatever shows up.
In the photo of our strawberry beds above, the snow waters our plants as it keeps them warm on these very cold days and nights. I’m excited to use the new composters my co-housing neighbors put together so that we can feed the soil in those beds with vital nutrients. Another neighbor who rides horses brought me a bale of hay to use as a weed deterrent. With the blanket of snow moistening the living, breathing ecosystem below it, our plants have a good chance of growing abundantly this spring. June is their season, and I look forward to making smoothies and “mocktails” with them.
Moving the Veggies
This is a good year to make some changes. One of them is the location of where I grow my vegetables. I’ve requested a plot in our community gardens. I’ve felt isolated working alone in my gardens located in back of my home. I want to grow my food alongside my neighbors, and I look forward to doing that this summer. In the fall I converted the two veggie beds into two more strawberry beds and will work the soil of my new garden in the spring. When I learn of the plot I am assigned, I shall share pictures of the work I do with it. In the meantime, I hope you stay warm with love and light.
With less than 24 hours left to 2018, I take this brief moment to wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019! May your days be filled with everything you cherish and that your fondest memories last a lifetime. May your family and friends keep you in good spirits and may you find the time to be with them every day. May every day bring you closer to the life you have always dreamed of living, and may your heart burst with happiness from your blessings and the miracles you witness.
My daughter has decided to try attending public school again in the fall. The first eight months of 2019 will be spent transitioning into that change with her. I am looking forward to working closely with her on her path toward her goals, both short-term and long-term. I’m glad that we’ll continue “unschooling” until late summer.
Big news to share for the Month of December! This young woman had her ears pierced at Claire’s in our local mall the first week of the month. She gripped my hand fiercely during the process, and deserved to be proud of herself when it was all over. Today she took out the studs and replaced them with adorable dangly star earrings.
She’s been enjoying the holiday season and last night enjoyed a sleepover with her two best friends. They prepared salad and lasagna for dinner, then roasted chestnuts that were served with home-made eggnogg for dessert. The evening was very lovely.
We hope to see snow again soon. Winter in New England would not be the same without it. On Christmas Eve we caught some flurries that lasted an hour, but cheered us and gave us hope that there will be more.
Below are the hoop houses that hold the veggie greens my co-housing community grows each winter for salads, etc. It’s fun to crawl in and cut the stems of the leaves we harvest.
My prayer on this day is that you enjoy all of the blessings of a cozy and prosperous holiday season! At least two snowstorms have hit New England before today, which was sunny and windy. Gratefully, there are some hardy herbs that still give of their bounty even after winter arrives, such as thyme.
My daughter has enjoyed many pleasurable hours of fresh air and exercise these past few weeks, sledding and running with her friends. She has made two batches of delicious hot cocoa topped with fresh whipped cream to celebrate the arrival of winter. Between all this, she has spent the month writing feverishly to achieve the goal of 50,000 words by November 30. She just informed me that the NaNoWriMo team emailed her winner’s certificate to her.
This month has been busy, and wordy. My fourteen-year-old daughter and I attended a local NaNoWriMo ice-breaker with a friend on October 28, and I have attended two write-ins. We have been keeping each other updated with all of the plot twists and surprising ways in which our characters have developed. We took turns at my mother’s computer when we visited her in Virginia, a surprise for her eightieth birthday. Now she has successfully reached the target word count for a novel and is very proud of her accomplishment. She deserves to be. I am two thousand words behind the goal, but I know I’ll finish successfully this year. I’ve been actually working on two stories, one a full-length fantasy novel about a magical labyrinth in a secret garden and the other a holiday-themed children’s fantasy chapter book about a lively gingerbread cookie.
I believe that our working together in camaraderie has contributed to our success. We have encouraged each other and we’ve given each other the time and space to work on our novels. We have also reminded each other to get sleep so that we can keep going and not run out of steam. On November 30th, we’ll raise a glass of wassail to our first successful National Novel Writing Month. Here’s an excerpt from my story about the gingerbread cookie:
“I am, but…” Sandy didn’t finish her sentence because the little gingerbread man hopped out of the pocket in the door and onto the seat next to her. He ran very quickly for a little brown man with short, two-dimensional legs. He hopped onto her lap and stood with each of his legs on one of her thighs. His trimming was beautifully crafted with white icing, raisins for his eyes and nose, M&Ms for his smile, string licorice for his hair, pink swirly peppermints for the buttons on his suit, and pastel confetti at his wrist and ankle cuffs. He looked too beautiful to eat. She beamed at him as he drew close.
The little gingerbread man put his hands on this hips and looked up at her with wide eyes and a big smile. “Hi! What’s your name?”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.