Magical, Miniature, Glass World – Terrarium

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Magical, Miniature, Glass World – Terrarium

 

Suspended Terrariums
Suspended Terrariums Divide the Space Between Rooms

 

One day last spring I went for a walk around my Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. My family had been away from Vancouver for a long while and on our return it was exciting to see all the new shops that had popped up on Main Street. Always busy rushing around getting the essential errands done, I rarely make it into of any of the stores. When I do, however, Main Street never disappoints me. There are many creative expressions taking place inside these independent shops, so I always return home inspired. On this particular excursion, wearing my baby on my back, I stepped into Much and Little for the first time. The shelves of this sweet little shop are full of imaginative and tasteful objects that I would be delighted to give as gifts. There was one item in particular, though, that I would have been thrilled to receive. I was instantly smitten with the mason jar terrariums. Obviously crafted from love, these magical, miniature, glass worlds of plants held me in awe. I would have been so happy to live with one of these terrariums. Unfortunately, our apartment in Vancouver, like so many, was almost as miniature as the plant-filled jar. There was no room for any extras. And anyway, I reminded myself, my family would be off to California again in less than six months.We had no space in our transient lifestyle for any living creatures other than ourselves. Still, I felt a level of want that was rare. There was nothing to do but finish admiring and get terrariums off my mind. My son and I wandered around a little more, and then we made our exit for the street. We hurried off to get groceries before my son needed lunch, and I pushed my desire back.

 

I Fell in Love with Terrariums Planted Up in Mason Jars This one is vintage from 1946.
I Fell in Love with Terrariums Planted Up in Mason Jars

 

I had thought occasionally of the terrariums since, but mostly they were out of my mind. Then this spring my husband and I made a huge decision to stay put in California – at least for the foreseeable future. Not soon after, visions of terrariums began to crowd my thoughts. With so many projects already imagined and on the go, I really had no time to be thinking about terrariums. Still, I found myself researching online, checking books out from the library, ordering supplies, browsing thrift stores, and purchasing plants at the garden center.  I also started a Pinterest board that I could easily refer back to. I learned loads.

 

Oxalis Viewed through a Vintage Glass Lid from 1945 Terrarium
Oxalis Shamrock Viewed through a Vintage Glass Lid from 1945

 

When I felt ready I began building. So far I have made and, also remade, about a dozen terrariums. The learning curve has been steep! I dedicated far more time than I intended, but It has been worth it. These glass worlds are special. It is a blessing to have their magic scattered throughout our home.

 

Succulents are Grown in Open Terrariums
Succulents can be Grown in Open Terrariums

Instructions for Building Terrariums

 

Materials to Gather in Advance

Choose your jar: Choosing the right home is pretty easy. There are not many restrictions, but some containers are easier to build your terrarium in than others.

The jar needs to be clear and transparent. Colored glass will block out wavelengths of light that your plants need to grow.

Succulents and cactus need to live in containers without lids because they do not want a damp environment.

The taller your jar is, the more room your plants have to grow. You can also put more growing medium in these containers.

Wide jars provide space for more plants.

A wide-mouth jar means that you can get your hands inside. For your first terrarium I would recommend this.

 

Glass Jars for Terrariums
Glass Jars from a Thrift Store

 

Gather your growing medium: Potting soil and purlite are all you need.

Light potting soil is best. I tried a couple different organic potting soils that I found at a Big Box hardware store. Both were far too heavy. It was very easy to add too much water when I used this soil. The best medium I found was a Danish Potting Soil. It is not actually soil at all and the texture is light and fluffy.

Sterilize your soil in your oven if you cannot find soil that comes pre-sterilized. I cannot stress enough how important this is. I found out the hard way and ended up with a fungus gnat infestation both in my terrariums and in my living wall planters. Bags of soil at Big Box stores are usually sold outdoors and are frequently contaminated with the eggs of gnats and other creatures (this problem shows up on multiple garden forums. I read of one man who had millipedes crawling all over his house! Yuck. I also found a very large slug in an indoor planter. Ugh).  Do not sterilize soil that already has the purlite added in.

Do not use soils with fertilizer added. You do not want to boost the plant growth. Ideally, you want your plants to stay small. Soils containing water retaining crystals are also not appropriate for terrariums.

After sterilizing your soil, mix purlite into your soil. I fill a yogurt container 1/3 of the way with soil and then another 1/3  full with purlite. I replace the lid and shake it all together. It is also perfectly acceptable to add a layer of purlite, followed by a layer of soil in your jar. However, I find this looks messy once the dark soil runs down into the white purlite. The layering method also takes up a lot of room in your terrarium.

 

Danish Soil mixed with Purlite for use in Terrariums
Danish Soil Combined with Purlite

 

Purchase Charcoal: Charcoal deodorizes your terrarium.

Activated charcoal can be purchased in some gardening centers and in pet stores. The pellets are attractive.

Make certain there are no other additives in the charcoal.

Pick the right plants. Tropical plants are happy in closed terrariums. Succulents and cactus must have homes without lids.

Choose tropical plants and ferns that enjoy moist environments.

Plants that are slow growing are best.

Ideal plants for terrariums include Hypoestes, small ferns, Selaginella kraussiana (Club moss), Begonia species, Peperomia species, and Fittonia verschaffeltii among others.

I keep an assortment of plants in 4 inch pots on my dining table. I snip cuttings from those that will self root in the terrariums, and divide others, such as the ferns, when I need to.

Succulents are also gorgeous in terrariums as long as there are no lids. There is an endless selection of small, beautiful succulents that work very well.

 

Small Selection of Plants for Terrariums
Small Selection of Plants for Terrariums

 

Gather Stones: small stones and fragments of shells have to be placed at the bottom since there are no drainage holes in a terrarium.

Tiny rocks work best, especially if your container is quite small. The smaller your rocks are, the less space your layer of rocks will take up in the terrarium. This means that there will be more room for plant growth. in your container.

You can gather rocks from your garden or purchase them at craft stores or online. I have heard that Anthropologie has a sister store  that sells terrarium supplies. I have never been, though I hear the stock is beautiful. I have also heard they are quite pricey.

There are beautiful stones to be found at the beach, but it is illegal to remove seashells or rocks from the beach.

If you gather stones from outdoors, be sure to soak them in a solution of water and white vinegar for several hours. This way you won’t introduce any unwanted bacteria, disease or pests into your terrarium.

 

Small Stones for a Terrarium
Small Stones for the Terrarium

 

Have a water dropper, chopstick and paintbrush on hand, as well.

 

Easy Step By Step Instructions

1) Begin with a clean, dry glass jar.

2) Pour stones into the bottom of the jar. Create a layer about one inch thick.

 

The First Layer of the Terrarium is Comprised of Small Stones
The First Layer is Comprised of Small Stones

 

3) Create another layer of activated charcoal on top of the stones. Completely cover all of the rocks. A layer that is about a quarter inch thick should work. I scoop up the charcoal with a lid from a yogurt tub. Then I slowly turn the jar as I pour the charcoal from the lid into the jar. I find that this works very well to ensure that the charcoal is evenly distributed and level.

 

Create a Second Layer in the Terrarium with Activated Charcoal
Create a Second Layer with Activated Charcoal

 

4) Grab a clean, dry container such as a yogurt tub. Fill it 1/3 of the way with your potting soil. Fill it another 1/3 with purlite. Put the lid on your container and shake well so that the soil and purlite are evenly combined. I scoop up the mixed planting medium with the lid from the yogurt tub. I slowly turn the jar as I pour the planting medium from the yogurt lid into the jar. I find that this works very well to ensure that the planting medium is evenly distributed and level.

 

Third Layer of Planting Medium in Terrarium
Third Layer of Planting Medium

 

5) Place any special ornaments into the jar where you would like them. Large shells or stones, beautiful beads or charms, or children’s figurines create a nice world. You don’t have to add any ornaments. With plants alone, your terrarium will look great!

 

Vintage Necklace as Ornament in club Moss Terrarium
Vintage Necklace as an Ornament in a Club Moss Terrarium

 

6) Use an implement such as a chopstick or the wrong end of a paintbrush to push a planting hole into the soil. Most plants will actually root on their own in the soil because the environment is moist and conducive to plants taking root. If you do decide to grow by starting a cutting, cut a stem with about six sets of leaves. Remove the bottom three sets of leaves. Plant the stem into the hole you have created.
Other plants, such as ferns, do very well in terrariums. Most of the time, any house fern you have will be too large just as it is. Thankfully, ferns are extremely easy to divide! If you use ferns, follow the instructions here  for dividing. Before you plant your fern, carefully examine how its roots are growing in the pot you are transplanting from, and recreate this same situation in your terrarium.
You might also transplant a small plant with roots intact into your terrarium. This is trickier, because there might be a root system that is larger than your layer of soil. You can trim back these roots somewhat and you can also pile a mound of soil up over these roots. This can be attractive, because it provides texture and a look of layering in your terrarium.
Some plants
, like oxalis (shamrock) like an environment that is less moist than what other houseplants prefer. You can rest the tip of the tuberous root on the soil and use a rock to raise the other (sprouting) end of the tuber up above the soil.
I carefully rinse off all of my plants and roots before planting them into the terrarium. Too often, plants come home from a garden center with bugs, especially aphids. This can be a real problem. Rinsing the plants before planting helps to prevent the spread of bugs into your carefully constructed environment.

 

Divided Fern and Hypoestes Cutting to Plant in terrarium
Divided Ferns and Hypoestes Cutting

 

7) You can smooth the soil and also remove soil debris from your plants and ornaments with a small paint brush.

8) The next step is watering. Some people recommend pouring water down the edge of the terrarium. I don’t like this because it causes soil and purlite to run into the rocks. It also leaves spots on the glass. This is not attractive. Instead, I use a water dropper to pour water onto the soil, focusing some water on the areas around the plants, but wetting all the soil. It is very important to practice restraint! It is incredibly easy to overwater a terrarium! Depending on the size of your jar, 2-4 oz of water should be sufficient. Do not give into the temptation to overwater! The environment in your terrarium will just keep growing more and more damp. If you notice mold growing or plants rotting, remove the lid and allow your terrarium to dry out for a few days.

 

Dropper and Shot Glass for Measuring Water to add to Terrarium
Dropper and Shot Glass for Measuring Water

 

9) Place the lid on your terrarium and you are done! Place your terrarium in a bright location with no direct sunlight.

 

Magical Miniature Glass World Terrarium
Magical Miniature Glass World Terrarium

Enjoy your own magical, miniature, glass world!

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Terrarium as Seen through the Fog. Gorgeous plant colors. Made by Mama is Inspired.
Terrarium through the Fog

 

 

Chic on a Shoestring Decorating

How Baby Wearing has Benefited this Mama

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Welcome to the June 2013 Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival: Babywearing

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival hosted by Authentic Parenting and Living Peacefully with Children.

How Baby Wearing has Benefited this Mama

 

Baby Wearing Benefits Mama
Baby Wearing has Benefited this Mama

 

I knew years before I ever became a mother that I would wear my someday-baby. For many years my work has included the jobs of midwife, doula, postpartum doula and nanny. In these caregiving roles, I have done my fair share of pushing babies and young children around in strollers. Once in a while, though, I was given the pleasure of wearing someone else’s infant in a baby carrier while we went for a walk. I loved having a baby all snuggled up against my heart. It felt perfect because it seemed that I could give a baby the most when he or she was close enough for me to read her rhythms. Almost immediately, I could detect discomfort or fear, plant a kiss of comfort on top of her head and pat her small back, instantly soothing young, uncertain nerves. It seemed to me that when I wore a child on my body, I at once transformed to become the most nurturing I could be.

 

Happy in the Baby Carrier His Favorite Place to Be
His Favorite Place to Be

 

In the early 90s when I lived through my first wave of girlfriends becoming mothers, I felt a sensation of “rightness” whenever I was in the company of one these friends wearing her baby. Not long after, when I read “The Continuum Concept” by Jean Liedloff, I found a language and a story to apply to my instinctive feelings. Terms like the “in-arms stage” rang loudly. I was inspired by the concept of an unbroken continuum of a baby moving from being in the womb to being held close all the time, until the baby was ready to crawl around and away on his own. It made so much sense to me to continue, without conditions, to offer the loving oasis of  an adult body for the baby or young child to return to whenever he decided he had had enough of independence. This way of being close with a child sang to my heart. Therefore, when I became pregnant, I made the decision to forgo the stroller altogether. My son traveled everywhere, across countries, across continents, overseas, and around the home, on my husband or me, cozy in his carrier. Just before my son turned two, we did buy a six dollar stroller from a thrift store in preparation for a visit from my mother-in-law. In the following months, we used the stroller several times, but usually just to carry the diaper bag while our son walked on his own. These days, my son usually rides his tricycle wherever we go by foot.

 

My Husband Wears our Son on a Hike in the Irish Countryside Hiking while Baby Wearing
My Husband Wears our Son on a Hike in the Irish Countryside

 

When I made the decision for my husband and I that we would exclusively baby wear, I did it for the well-being of my baby. Yes, I thought it would bring my baby and I closer, and obviously that would be as important to me as it was to my baby, but other than that I was entirely oblivious to all the benefits baby wearing would bring me. There turned out to be so many great advantages to baby wearing!

 

Baby Wearing and Waiting for our Train to Baby and Me Yoga
Waiting for our Train to Yoga Class in LA’s China Town

 

I really did not expect that I would be in better physical shape after having a baby than I was before I became pregnant. I was already pretty active. I rode my bicycle around Los Angeles until my sixth month of pregnancy and I did yoga, mat pilates, and classical stretch regularly. I also love to go for long walks; there is nothing that clears my mind better. I felt like I was fit. However, baby wearing took me to a whole new level of fitness. Baby wearing strengthened my core muscles and gave me thighs that were stronger, even, than when I played in a women’s soccer league in Vancouver. It was a welcome relief to go to a class and not have to experience the same burn that I always had in the past. The greater level of strength I gained has definitely given me the advantage I needed to keep up with my two year-old son who, like other children his age, has boundless energy. This physical strength has also been good for my confidence. This is a real benefit to me as a mother because it seems that confidence in one area always overflows into others.

 

Snowshoeing with my Husband and Son in January in Saint-Angele, Quebec
Snowshoeing with my Husband and Toddler in January – Ste-Angele, Quebec

 

Since I love to walk so much, baby wearing played an essential role in keeping me centered and present during the first 21 months of my son’s life. Through these months, my son never wanted to be far from a warm body or to take a nap. I still needed some “me” time, though. The way I managed to fit in time for myself was by taking a Baby and Me Yoga and Pilates class that never failed to relax and refocus me. Walking was my other refuge. The more inspiring the location was, the more grounding the influence of a gentle hike would be on me. Baby wearing allowed me to venture further than the sidewalk. In the months I spent in Vancouver, sticking to pavement was easily uplifting because I could take a walk along the seawall, a fantastic boardwalk that wraps around the coastline of Vancouver. My Los Angeles neighborhood, however, was not so fulfilling. After all, LA is a driver’s city. To get any distance at all from home, I had to either pass over or under the I-5. I tended to avoid this walk as much as possible. Instead, I have loved hiking in Griffith Park up to the Observatory, and then stopping in at Trails Café, on the way back down, for a vegetarian lunch. My son and I have hiked there many times on our own and at other times with friends.

 

Hiking and baby wearing at Griffith Park in Los Angeles
Sharing a Hike with another Baby Wearing Mama at Griffith Park in Los Angeles

 

We spent the first summer of my son’s life in Ireland. I adored walking around a town that so strongly contrasts with anything I have experienced in North America. Even now, I often find myself strolling through Sligo in my nighttime dreams. With such a spectacular, green countryside beckoning, however, I had no desire to stay on paved streets where a stroller could easily roll. Instead, I felt drawn to the indescribably gorgeous outskirts of Sligo town. Thank goodness for the baby carriers we had with us!

Walks in Ireland involved one breathtaking view after another. On the Island of Inishmore, my husband and I decided to reach our Bed and Breakfast by foot. Most people rent bikes or take a cab but neither was a suitable option for us. We took the slow way up the road. We learned that slow is the ideal way to travel across this island, old with history and bursting at the seams with ancient sites. By the time we reached our destination we were entirely enchanted and knew that one night on this island would by no means suffice. We instantly booked another night. If there would have been accommodations, we would have stayed two extra nights! While on the Aran island, we hiked to ancient forts and religious sites that we could never have managed to get to even with an off-road stroller. Again, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for our baby carrier.

 

Baby Wearing and Nursing my Son Comfortably in an Ancient Room of the Iron Age Dun Eoghanachta on Inishmore
Nursing my Son in an Ancient Room of the Iron Age Dun Eoghanachta on Inishmore

 

I also took many enlightening and bonding hikes with a good friend I met at a Sligo La Leche League meeting. Together, with our babies strapped onto us, we visited more ancient sites, tucked away landmarks and the seaside. I cannot say enough about the magnificence of the Irish countryside. My friend and I both love to be active and to explore. Nursing on the go is another great benefit to baby wearing. At any given time, one of us might have been nursing our baby. It was a blessing that we could keep on moving while we did so.

 

Baby Wearing at Lislary Ireland, popular spot for surfing in Ireland
My Good Friend Wears her Adorable Baby on the Coast of Lislary, a Favorite Surfing Spot of Irish Locals

 

My husband and I visited Dublin together, again with our baby son in his carrier, and we were very taken by the city. We had a wonderful time, absorbing all the rich history both on our own and on guided walking tours. We also loved the abundance of delicious food and I became smitten with Irish Breakfast tea. If you have made it only to the capital city, however, you have not experienced what Ireland so freely gives. I could never have experienced the easily accessible history of the island, as the mother of a young infant, if I was not baby wearing.

 

Baby Wearing on a Tour Bus in Galway
We All went on an 8-Hour Bus Tour together in County Galway. I’m Sure the other Tourists were Terrified to See us Baord the Bus. However, Happy in his Carrier, our Son was No Noisier than any other Passenger!

 

The lifestyle my family led for the first two years of my son’s life was adventurous and exciting, but it also meant lots of train, bus and air travel. This was the downside and I cannot imagine having had to do it without our supply of baby carriers. A stroller would have meant being even more loaded down-we had enough luggage as it was! However, the difference in the quantity of stuff we had to lug around was not the greatest impact baby wearing had on traveling with our child. Our son was a very wiggly and grabby guy. For many, many months, his nickname was Mr. Grabby Hands. I do not want to imagine what it would have been like to embark on hours of travel at a time with my son sitting on my husband’s lap or my own, free to move around as he liked and seize anything and everything that was within his reach.  I also would not like to have experienced the aching muscles in my arms I surely would have ended up with had I been forced to  hold him for hours on end. It was far better to have my hands free while at the same time my baby was close to my body. My son was most content when he was contained in the carrier. My husband and I used to joke about the relief our son displayed when he was finally restrained again and therefore relieved of his own constant movement! He cried very little because he had exactly what he wanted while we were in transit: a warm body to hold onto and when it was me who was wearing him, he was even more relaxed by the close proximity to my breasts that nourished him. It is absolutely appropriate for babies to wail and express hunger, frustration and boredom while traveling. I have never been a flyer who feels dread the moment I see a child board my plane and take a seat next to me. However, I would be lying if I did not confess that I have experienced much less anxiety as a traveling parent, certain in the knowledge that my child is not disturbing fellow passengers. Anything that makes travel less stressful is good in my book-especially travel with a baby!

 

Nursing on the Dock at Mullaghmore
Nursing on the Dock at Mullaghmore

 

As with every parenting choice, I know that exclusive baby wearing is not for everyone. For me, though, baby wearing has brought immeasurable quality to my life as a new mother. I could never have had the same outdoor experiences.  Nursing in public would not have been so easy. Travel might have been more difficult, otherwise. I would have been unable to find the time to exercise and reach the same level of fitness. My baby has adored being worn. Until recently, it was his favorite place to be. I have been thrilled by the surprise that baby wearing has been equally as advantageous for me. If I had another child, I would exclusively baby wear all over again.

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APBC - Authentic Parenting

Visit Living Peacefully with Children and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in next month’s Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, when we discuss anger!

 

 

We Heart Collage

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We Heart Collage

 

Detail of My Son's First Solo Collage
Detail of My Son’s First Solo Collage

 

At all times, there is a work of glue art on the go atop my kitchen table. Since my son’s other first language is French, my husband finds it amusing that glue art is what my son and I have come to call collage. However, since my son has not created a hierarchy for the colorful scraps of paper images and the glue used to hold them down, this name is entirely à propos. While most adults would be satisfied to employ glue only for the purpose of adhering cut paper pieces to a backdrop, my son makes use of his glorious glue to add another dimension to his work. I was truly startled the first time I watched my son handle the glue in this fashion. It seemed like so much work. For a two year old, squeezing with both hands, it takes all the strength his little body can muster to get a good stream of glue going. He also tends to forget that gravity is at play. Sometimes he gets a little frustrated. In spite of this, he never gives up. Eventually, he manages to spread the glue around like paint, thoughtfully laying down drips, spots and trails. He is young! Of course he makes use of glue in this manner! He still possesses the artistic freedom of a child who has not yet been told that pictures are more important than white, drippy goo. I was also surprised by how thoughtfully my son considers just where each image and extra pour of glue should go. I am not sure why this surprised me so much. It is a work of art and he does not imagine that he is just slapping disposed paper on cardboard. Of course he cares about his project!

 

Making collage with children
A Two-Year-Old Contemplating Collage

 

My young son’s passion extends beyond the white glue and many-colored images. I never imagined that I would allow my son to use scissors all by himself at the tender age of two. After a couple of times observing me cut out his collage pictures, my son worked up a desire to wield the scissors on his own. I didn’t consciously set out to grant him his wish, but on a whim one day, I bought a pair of children’s scissors that beckoned to me from a store shelf of art supplies. When we arrived home, my son was ecstatic to find out that I had actually bought these scissors. I do not think he expected to be using scissors any more than I did. These scissors did not disappoint. My son is in love with cutting. In fact, cut and couper are the only words my son regularly uses to express a single concept, in both of his languages. Now my son is able to manage every step of glue art or collage all on his own. He sees his father’s own collage work and notices there is not much of a difference between the work the two of them produce. No wonder collage is my son’s favorite work to make in his kitchen-studio.

 

A love affair with collage and scissors
A Love Affair with Scissors

 

Collage is also a great way to reuse and re-purpose cast away items in our home. Mostly for the worse, we live in an age of excess print material. I am trying to make the better of this wasteful trend. Collage is a fun, creative place to start. I look at mail-order catalogs, non-profit materials, and museum membership drives with new eyes. The same goes for food boxes and packaging left from new toys. We take apart old crafts that my son has made at library story-time or parent-and-me classes, and salvage all the materials we think we would like to use again. We have a bag full of items to be cut up and another sac of images and craft supplies that are ready to glue. Sifting through and cutting up images gives me something to do so that I am actively involved in my son’s project, while at the same time letting my son create on his own; I am present the way he wants me to be, but at the same time he has all the autonomy he seeks. This works out very well for both of us. Glue art has worked its way into our hearts. ♥

 

Collage at the Kitchen Table
My Son Picks Up and Puts Down the Collage On-the-Go at our Kitchen Table with the Whims of his Mood

 

 

Finished Collage Art
Finished Art

 

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Self Love and Rejuvenation through an Unlikely Choice of Busy-Ness

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This post has been written to include in the Self Love Blog Hop at Authentic Parenting.

Self Love and Rejuvenation through an Unlikely Choice of Busy-Ness

In response to a calling, I dedicated almost a decade of my life studying and apprenticing to be a midwife. At the onset of this adventure I attended study groups led by practicing midwives in my community. One of my teachers, an obstetric nurse turned home-birth midwife, remarked one evening that most mothers do not have or take even five minutes each day to just sit alone and be. I was just 21 and childless. I recall that this comment felt like a slap. I respected my mentor tremendously and so I believed her. Still, I was shocked. I was speechless. In the many years that transpired between that moment and the time when I became a mom, I would occasionally remember this statement and wonder what this might mean for me if I ever embarked on the path of motherhood. Would it be true for me, too, or would I be one of the few who somehow carve out daily time for meditation and good books? Then several years ago, I spent an evening sitting alone on the wooden bench of my front porch, writing and thinking, glass of wine in my hand. This relaxation came at the end of a ten hour day spent caring for energetic triplet toddlers I loved and nannied. As I again pondered the future possibilities of my life, I knew that I would never have slow, quiet moments like this if I was graced by motherhood. Well versed in what it meant to be the caregiver of children, I had my answer.

 

Prior to the Birth of my Child, this is what Rest Looked Like
Prior to the Birth of my Child, this is what Rest Looked Like

 

I was right. I have Adirondack chairs and a beautiful garden in my backyard. It is a rare moment that I sit in one of these chairs, coffee in hand. When I do have a moment on my own to sit and gaze into the garden, it is not long before I spontaneously jump up to take care of some little problem that has come to my attention: aphids on the roses, ants climbing the lemon tree, squash vines creeping in on the cucumbers. Of course, what my midwife-teacher was referring to all those years ago was self-care and the corresponding self-love. I used to find time to sleep in, to curl up and read, to lie on the couch and watch a video. I used to keep a journal and then throw it away when all the papers were filled. No longer taking restful time to myself, I have had to question where I fit into the picture my midwife-teacher painted.

 

A Rejuvenating Walk in Sligo, Ireland
A Rejuvenating River Walk in Sligo, Ireland

 

Since becoming a mother, self-love has not been hard to achieve. I thrive on being a mother. As a mother I feel strong, capable, loving, and attentive. My son and I have a close, harmonious relationship and I believe I am doing a good job. Conversely, self-care has not come so easily. I knew I would be busier than I have ever been. I was ready to give up my pre-child life and dedicate myself to putting a little someone else first. Of course, I also imagined there would be nap time. However, this was not the way it turned out to be and I had no time to have a daily cup of tea on my own to recharge, and no time to pull out the sewing machine. As an infant, my son fit the description of a high needs baby (hard to believe now: he is calm and content!) and was actively in distress any time he was not in arms or receiving focused attention. Fortunately, as long as I kept moving, he was content to be worn. Walking and hiking gave me moments of respite I was so desperate for: time for thoughts to myself or to catch up on conversation with friends or my husband. However, this was not enough for me. My mom-friends during that period knew that no matter how thrilled I was with motherhood, I was also in distress.

 

A Walk in Griffith Park
Hiking in Griffith Park, Los Angeles

 

At the same time that our son needed 24-7 attention, my husband, an active studio artist, was preparing for multiple shows and pulling 17-hour work days. I found myself struggling to do as much as was required of me. I was pouring all of my energy into my son, believing strongly that it would pay off for him and for me, too, in a future where he was secure enough to become independent. Burn out did ensue. But I am a mother. I had to keep going. I could not take a holiday from this job!

 

My Son was Happy with Constant Attention
My Son was Happy with Constant Attention

 

 

A Rare Moment when my Son Agreed to Let me Crochet
A Rare Moment when my Son Agreed to Let me Crochet

 

The tides turned, as they so often do, and my son began to nap at around 20 months of age. With some new breathing room, this is when I began to explore what my own image of taking care of myself looked like. At first, unaware that I was beginning to test the waters of self-love in action, I started down this road by digging, amending, and planting my garden. Gardening is one of my absolute favorite pastimes, but I was doing this for my family, I told myself. It was simply another way I could contribute. After all, after a habit of so many months of constant giving, I needed to be certain that this garden was for others. Every single aspect of this contribution to my family actually brought me satisfaction…and so I began to remember what it felt like to take care of me. I would not say that the floodgates opened-I do not have enough time for that-but sensations of fulfillment, a different sort than those that accompany motherhood, began to trickle in. Having knowledge once again of how this felt, it became easier to continue to find ways to add in activities that made me feel this deep happiness and to experience these feel-good moments at an increasing rate.

 

These Days Fulfillment and Relaxation Happen in the Garden
These Days Fulfillment and Relaxation Happen in the Garden

 

Engaging in New Hobbies is what Rejuvenates me
Engaging in New Hobbies is what Rejuvenates me

 

Nap time became sacred, as I had known it to be for so many of my friends. In several months time my evenings after my son’s bedtime began to take on more meaning, as well. I am someone who loves to do, to create, to grow. Perhaps I still do not get enough sleep. Possibly, I should be sitting in that chair in the yard with a good, distracting novel. Maybe it would be beneficial for me to practice meditation. However, when I search for what really makes me happy, it is making clothes, baking delicious food for my family, growing the healthiest garden possible, challenging myself to take on a new hobby that has intrigued me for years. I am also satisfied by the process of writing about and photographing my progress. It feels great to document what I have learned, and to share this with those who reward me by reading in return. Granted, on the surface, most of the activities I choose to engage in benefit my family as much as, or more than, myself. But at the root of every new project there is a seed of selfishness. My self-love and my self-care might not look like those healthy five minutes a day spent all alone staring at the wall. My personal form of self-love has me going all the time, it is exhausting, and from the outside it might even appear that I am driving myself too hard. As it turns out, my busy-ness rejuvenates me. It is more fulfilling than anything else I can imagine. And when I get a chance to lie down, all I can think about is how much I want to get back up and go!

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APBC - Authentic Parenting


Starting Basil from Cuttings…Seeds Take too Long!

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Starting Basil from Cuttings…Seeds Take too Long!

There is no culinary herb that I enjoy more than basil. Dried basil is the secret ingredient that keeps the compliments coming for my baked potato fries, and it is a great addition to my homemade cracker dough. I love stuffing whole, fresh basil leaves into sandwiches at lunchtime, and I would never want to imagine a future for myself that does not include pesto. I think that basil is perhaps the one seasoning I could eat every day and never tire. In the garden, few moments provide as much aromatic delight as the accidental brush up against this deliciously fragrant plant. I feel so fortunate to have a sunny outdoor space for growing basil. Fortunately, basil fares just as well in containers as it does in the earth, so anyone who has a sunny patio, or even a fire escape, has the right conditions to grow this favored herb.

 

Growing basil from cuttings
Basil in my May Garden

 

Last autumn when I started to plant up my backyard garden, my husband went shopping on his own one evening, and returned with a present of plants. My husband cooks almost all our dinners, so it was not surprising that he came home with herbs he would want for use in the kitchen. Although I have started all my vegetables from seeds, I find that it is usually not worth the time to begin growing herbs this way, and so I was thrilled with his gift for my kitchen garden. Among the plants my husband brought me were two varieties of basil. The sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum, would have been expected, but he also took a chance on a variety that neither of us had previously heard of Ocimum basilicum ‘African Blue’. What a great choice this was! While the common sweet basil succumbed to cold in early December, the African Blue made it right through our coastal Southern California winter. I suspect that if covered on extremely cold nights, it might overwinter all the way up the coast, right into the Pacific Northwest.

African Blue is a bit more pungent than sweet basil, and is also wonderfully spicy with a slight undertone of licorice (this basil does not remind me in the least of Thai basil, which has quite a strong licorice flavor). The leaves are considerably smaller and slightly thicker than regular basil leaves. They are smooth and shiny and have a wonderful texture both raw and cooked. My husband and I adore this variety of basil…and so does are our son. A disproportionate amount of the greens in my son’s diet are a result of his daily foraging in our herb garden. It is wonderful that this basil plant is so vigorous that I do not need to worry about damage caused by inexperienced hands picking and pulling at leaves. I am all for one less rule for my little boy to follow in the garden!

 

African Blue Basil
Smaller and Thicker than Sweet Basil, African Blue Leaves are also Smooth and Shiny

 

My husband and I plan to pick up a common sweet basil plant soon, but if somehow we fail to do so, it will be okay and I won’t really miss it. I love the African blue as much as the common variety and since I have started several new plants from the original we purchased last autumn, we will not be short on basil. Growing basil from seeds is a slow process that takes too long and is not particularly worth the time or energy. Starting basil from cuttings, however, is so simple and so quick. Especially during the growing season when basil is ready to take off. Anyone can pull this off!

Starting Basil from Cuttings

Cut a basil stem from your existing plant that is around 5 or 6 inches long.

 

Growing Basil from Cuttings
Cut a Stem of Basil 5 or 6 inches Long

 

Remove all of the leaves except for the top two sets. If the top leaves are quite small and immature, then leave three sets of leaves.

 

Image of Basil Stem for Cutting
Basil Stem

 

Preparing basil stem to start cutting
Remove all but the Top Two or Three Sets of Leaves

 

Place your stem in a narrow-mouthed jar of water and place in a bright windowsill. Keep an eye on the jar and continue to top up the water until the basil stem has grown many roots and is ready to transplant into soil.

 

Place basil cutting in jar of water
Place Basil Cutting into a Narrow-Mouth Jar Filled with Water

 

When a good root system has developed, transplant your basil into a 4-inch nursery pot (with holes in the bottom) filled with potting soil. Do not use garden soil or landscape soil because they are too heavy and the basil will become waterlogged. Water immediately after planting and move outside if you plan to grow your basil out of doors. Initially, place the pot in the shade. Over three or four days, gradually allow your basil plant to receive more and more sunshine until on the fifth day it is in a very sunny spot. At this time the basil should receive at least 6 hours of sun a day, most of it afternoon sunshine.

 

Root system of basil started from cuttings
This Basil has Developed a Strong Root System and is Ready to Transplant into Soil

 

Water your basil plant when the pot begins to feel light when you lift it. You do not want to let the basil dry out but you also do not want your plant to die because you have been over watering. Many years ago I had two co-workers who strongly disagreed about whether it was better to kill a plant from under or over watering. This was a very serious disagreement and, on this point only, they would often grumble about each other behind their backs. Personally, I would rather let my plant dry out. (Of course I would prefer not to kill a plant at all!)

Once your basil plant fills out its 4-inch pot, transplant it into its permanent home in the garden or larger container in full sun. Again, if you will be growing your basil in a pot, make sure to use potting soil and a container with drainage holes.

 

Basil started from cutting is ready to transplant
Basil is Ready to Transplant into its Permanent Home

It is that simple! Enjoy your harvest of fresh basil!

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Kale Chips

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Kale Chips

When I began my backyard garden last October, a few weeks after moving into our new home, we were in the midst of a stifling heat wave. Despite oppressively extreme temperatures blowing in from the desert on the Santa Anas, I started sowing the seeds of cool weather crops. I was anxious about how they would fare, as I found it hard to prevent small seedlings with shallow roots from drying out in the hot, dry weather. With plenty of tender watering, sometimes up to three times a day, almost all survived and we were delighted with a harvest of fresh produce right through the winter. Many of the crops I planted finished long ago. The rapini, for example, was first to reach maturity and provided generously for our table, but started to weaken and fall prey to bugs as soon as the first warm weather hit. A few others, however, such as the kale and chard, never stop producing. They are proving to be wondrously plentiful even now, eight months later!

 

Kale Chips
Winter Harvest of Kale

 

It would probably be easy to tire of kale if our only options were steaming, sautéing and shredding in salads. Having more than one type of kale in the garden lessens the likelihood of boredom, but still it I might have pulled out all the gorgeous Russian Kale and replaced it with another option.  This would be a shame as it is so easy to grow and it is packed full of nutrients and anti-oxidants. Thankfully, no one in our family has complained of being sick of snacking on kale chips, which for the most part is how our Russian Kale has been served up through the winter and spring.

 

Kale Chips Recipe
Kale is Abundant in the Garden

 

 

Red Russian Kale Chips
Red Russian Kale

 

As is the case with many children who have the good fortune of a backyard garden or whose parents tend a community garden plot, we have no difficulty getting our son to eat his veggies. In fact, we find ourselves taking away his vegetables at dinner time, telling him that he can have more once he eats his other food. This is not how I ever imagined supper with a  child would look like! I know we are tremendously lucky! However, if getting greens into my little boy was a problem, I am pretty certain that he would devour kale chips, easing my nutritional worries at the same time.

 

Kale Chips
Afternoon Snack of Kale Chips

 

Kale chips are so popular around our home that it didn’t take long before I found myself dividing trays of chips from the oven into three separate containers, each tub bearing a name, to ensure that each of us gets our fair share. Embarrassing, but true! If I had a deep freeze, I would make even more chips and load the freezer full, in order to tie us over the season when the heat finally shuts down the kale. In the mean time, I’ll keep on attempting to keep up with everything my kale plants have to give. For now, they seem unstoppable!

 

Kale Chips by Mama is Inspired


Ingredients:

  • 1 large bunch kale, stems removed and torn into 2-inch pieces (10-12 large stems)
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • Juice of 1 small lemon (4 Tbsp)
  • 1 Tbsp tamari (San J Gold Label is what I like best)
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (Red Star brand)
  • 1/8 cup almond meal
  • 1/8 cup flax meal

Place torn pieces of kale into large bowl. Add ingredients to kale and toss well with salad tongs so that mixture is thoroughly and evenly coating the kale.

Preheat oven to 170 degrees.

Lay out on cookie sheets as evenly as possible.

 

Seasoned Kale Chips
Seasoned Kale Chips Ready for the Oven

 

Place trays of  kale in the oven. After 2 hours flip the kale chips with a spatula. Put back in oven and continue to ‘bake’ (they are actually dehydrated at this temperature rather than baked)  until they are all completely dry. This can take up to 8 hours. After removing from the oven, allow the chips to cool on the cookie sheets. Then remove and store in a well sealed container in the fridge. I have found that nothing works better than a yogurt tub to keep the kale chips fresh. I also add one or two silica packs to each container.

 

Kale Chips Recipe
Sandwich with a Side of Kale Chips

 

Happy Snacking!

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Blankets, Towels and Scarves: A Dress Rehearsal for Adulthood

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Blankets, Towels and Scarves: A Dress Rehearsal for Adulthood

 

Building Autonomy out of Blankets, Towels and Scarves
The Digger

 

My son has reached the fantastic age where all he wants to do is play. If he is not actively imagining and creating, then he is likely engaged in the act of watching. Countless times a day he informs his Papa and me that he is going to “watch” whatever is at hand. Often a session of excellent observation will be followed up with a whole new concept or skill set to include in his play. With a mix of excitement and anxiety (anxiety that he might miss the entire event) my son begs me to delay putting in my contact lenses until he can hurriedly dash off across the house and carry back his stepping stool from wherever he set up his last watch station. After scrutinizing my moves, he takes great care in placing drops of water on his fingertips and delicately bringing them to his eyes. My son is so sincere and thoughtful in his play that I feel I owe it to him to be just as considerate when choosing the toys we bring into his home. Knowing that creative projects will also benefit my son in a myriad of ways, perhaps even increasing the quality of his cultural awareness, I make efforts at finding new and fun ways for us to spend time crafting and making art together. For inspiration I mine the memories of my own childhood and I try to think up activities that will set off creative sparks in my little guy. Some of these ideas reflect his big interests of the moment and others introduce him to topics that are completely new. I find that Pinterest is another great resource and I have projects saved on boards that I intend to act upon in the very near future.

 

Building Autonomy out of Blankets, Towels and Scarves
House Construction

 

There is another option, however, that we have been taking considerable advantage of lately. I sense that as it relates to my son’s development there are few other activities that possess such scope. We pull out old baby blankets, my scarf collection, towels from the hallway closet, sometimes he drags out a yoga mat, and I usually throw in fabric scraps and strands of yarn for good measure. With all his building supplies, my son can create anything he wants. He can become anyone he wants to be. It would be easy to suggest that his blanket and towel creations are merely imaginary delights. They are delightful. Imaginary worlds are truly wonderful in and of themselves. However, I think there is far more going on.

 

Blankets, Towels and Scarves
Little Homemakers

 

When my son builds a house, and invites me in to have a look around or to share a cup of tea, he is not only creating a home. He is also creating a situation where he is in charge and he gets to set the rules. In this setting he is exploring the roles of caregiver and host, experimenting with power and feeling out responsibility. In my son’s blanket home under the dining room table he chooses our seats and determines when and what we will eat for dinner. He has been known to make our entire meal from scratch, following all of the steps he recalls. He even does the washing up when we are done and wipes off our table. (Sometimes he remembers that he has left the water running and dashes away to turn off his kitchen tap!)

 

Building Autonomy out of Blankets, Towels and Scarves
Carefully Creating

 

Building Autonomy out of Blankets, Towels and Scarves
Preparing a Bed for his Imaginary Twins

 

My little boy also has imaginary twin babies. Both have the same name and my son takes them everywhere we go. I have not quite figured out who the parents of these babies are, but it is clear that my son is their primary caregiver. Sometimes, though, he asks for help to carry the twins when his arms are tired or something more pressing requires his attention. Mimicking the caring behaviors he has seen in his father and me, he builds beds out of blankets and then lovingly helps his babies to sleep. He grabs fabric scraps and cloth wipes for all the daily diaper changes that two babies require. Some days the twins go through even more diapers than my son!

 

Building Autonomy out of Blankets, Towels and Scarves
A Fire Fighter Needs a Helmet…

 

Building Autonomy out of Blankets, Towels and Scarves
…and a Jacket

 

Just as observant when we are out of the house, my little boy is entranced by cement mixers, postal trucks, and the like. The same goes for bees, butterflies, and lady bugs. When we return to the indoors it sometimes follows that he is no longer interested in driving his ride-on fire engine. Instead he might be far more curious to feel out what it is like to be on a digger, loading up a dump truck with dirt. Perhaps he is more interested in towing a broken-down car. With blankets and string, he easily converts his second-hand fire truck and acts out the tasks he imagines this new vehicle carries out. He envisions why his truck needs to tow a car. He engineers his materials to show how this will be done. He deals with frustration that sets in when blankets keep falling off: he finds a new solution, crumples in tears and seeks out comfort, or he calls on his Papa or me for help, providing himself with yet another opportunity to observe and learn.

 

Blankets, Towels and Scarves
Decision Making

 

There are so many possibilities to enact. It fascinates me to see my son’s growing sense of self as he plays with his blankets, towels, and scarves . Frequently, he asks for my help early on in his play. For instance, he will ask me to lock and unlock the doors that he has set up all over our (actual) house. By the end of the week he has mastered his self-set scenarios and has developed the confidence to do on his own what previously he demanded help for. He now keeps track of his own key, a tea strainer or a string, and goes about locking and unlocking the doors all by himself. Growing stronger in autonomy and his right to hold authority, he assertively reminds the adults when we forgot to open a door upon entering or have carelessly left it open after exiting. As his mother, it is such a gift when the tables are turned and I am the one observing. What I behold amazes me: with the placement of a blanket and the positioning of a towel my son is making sense of his life and ultimately holding dress rehearsals for the man he will become.

 

Building Autonomy out of Blankets, Towels and Scarves
Locking the Door

 

I realize that my son would find a way to act out these roles and pretend his way through the day with the use of any toys we set before him. He would even manage this with no implements at all because this is the work a young child carries out. I do believe, though, that the DIY blankets, towels and scarves provide him with the most effective way to carry out his essential play in the moment when it matters. The spontaneity that these open-ended materials afford means that I am never playing catch-up, never attempting to provide him with the purpose-driven toy that he would have been totally taken with last week but whose social and psychological concept he will master by the end of this week and soon become bored of. Blankets, towels and scarves are helping my son to follow his bliss and explore his passions. In fun and in play, he is doing this on his own time and in his own rhythm.

 

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Gluten Free Crackers – A Mother’s Day Gift

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Gluten Free Crackers – A Mother’s Day Gift

 

Gluten Free Crackers
Gluten Free Crackers
A Mother’s Day Gift

 

For some time I have been promising my son that we will take a trip by locomotive to visit Grammy, so a few days before Mother’s Day my husband dropped our little boy and me off at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. I find it surprising that a city which displays such disdain for mass transit possesses a station so fantastically appropriate for a first true train ride. The greatly designed front entrance opens up to a large and impressive waiting room filled with massive chandeliers and row upon row of wooden Art Deco armchairs. This waiting room, in turn, opens onto a lovely courtyard which is a pleasure to stroll within. To catch a train you must enter into an underground hallway from which all train platforms ascend. Walking this corridor hand in hand with a two year old I was suddenly struck by how magically overwhelming the multiple sounds of rolling trains, hissing brakes, and clanging bells must be for a small person who has devoured such a multitude of train books. My son marched along with a purposeful stride I have never seen in him before.  It was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement. The train ride was everything I hoped it would be for my son. I even found myself feeling overly pleased by a lot full of garbage trucks, an industrial pipe wholesaler, and the concrete banks of the oh-so-shallow LA River.

 

Gluten Free Crackers
Excited!

 

Gluten Free Crackers
“Choo! Choo!”

 

As excellent as the commuter train ride was, the time we spent with my mother and step-father was even better. My son was thrilled by loads of attention from two of his favorite people. It was non-stop squealing and smiling from my son.  Again, the excitement and pure happiness were contagious and us adults did a whole lot of grinning of our own.

My mother is unable to eat gluten which means I am unable to share my baking with her. The first time I baked crackers I thought of how much I would like to develop a version for my mom. However, I know very little about the chemistry of gluten free baking and could never create a recipe on my own. With Mother’s Day only three days away it seemed like the perfect time for the  perfect gift of creating a gluten free cracker recipe together. I do not know who the gift was from or to! I think we contributed equally in the giving and receiving. We had a wonderful time learning from each other and creating together. My mother now has a great basic cracker recipe to add to her repertoire and is dreaming up new ideas for more combinations of herbs, seeds, and flours. She will never again have to feel like she is missing out on wheat crackers! I had the fortune to gain some experience and greater understanding of a whole new way of baking. My son also jumped in on all the fun, taking the happiness to an even higher level. This is a memory we will always have of a special Mother’s Day spent doing and sharing together. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! We love you!

 

Gluten Free Crackers
Making Memories

 

Gluten Free Crackers by a Mama and her Mother

Dry Ingredients:

  • 1 ¾ cups amaranth flour
  • 1/8 cup sweet rice flour
  • ¼ cup tapioca
  • ¾ cups arrowroot or cornstarch
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • ¼ cup flax meal
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp flax seeds (optional)
  • 1 tsp dried, crushed rosemary
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • Sea salt for sprinkling lightly on top

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

Add and stir dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir in the oil. Slowly stir in the water. My mother tells me that it is important not to over mix when working with gluten free flour. Form a ball of dough with your hands. You might require a little extra amaranth flour to keep the ball together. You want the ball to hold together. You do not want to open the ball up and find that it is soggy inside.

I separate the dough into five or six balls as I go along. I do this as I go along, but you can also do it before you begin to roll out your dough. Each ball will become a cookie sheet full of crackers. If you don’t use all the dough at once (I never do), you can store the unused dough in a closed container in the fridge for a few days.

Roll out the dough on a generously floured piece of parchment paper placed on a hard working surface. (Each side of the parchment paper can be used once and then you will need to begin again with a new piece). We used rice flour. You will need a generous amount of flour on your rolling pin, as well. Add more flour to both your rolling pin and to the rolled surface of your dough if the dough sticks to the rolling pin.

The most difficult step of making gluten free crackers is the rolling. I have had a lot of practice rolling out my other crackers so it was not too difficult for me to get this dough thin. Try to make the most of each roll that you make so that you end up with the thinnest layer possible while at the same time not over rolling the dough. This means placing a fair deal of weight onto the roller.

The thinner the crackers, the more delicious they are. I suggest you roll them as thin as you possibly can. You might find that each time you bake these crackers you are able to get them even more thin. There is definitely a learning curve here.

I suggest that when you are close to rolling out the dough as thin as you intend to, that you no longer roll the edges but instead focus your energy on the center. This will keep the edges from being thinner than the rest and will allow the dough to bake evenly. This is especially helpful if you have an oven that heats unevenly. Don’t worry too much about this step. Your crackers will still be great even if they are unevenly cooked.

Transfer to a cookie sheet that is NOT greased. My mother and I flipped the parchment paper of dough upside down onto the cookie sheet and gently peeled away the parchment paper from the dough that was now resting on the cookie sheet.

Use a paring knife to cut a grid into the dough. Support the dough with the index finger of your opposite hand while you cut your lines in. These lines are where the crackers will break apart after baking. Use care to prick each square once or twice with a fork. Sprinkle sea salt on top. The extra salt really helps bring out the flavor. Too much salt will mask all the wonderful floavors of amaranth, rosemary and thyme.

Bake for 12-20 minutes or until light gold and dry. Our oven time was 14 minutes. However, baking time will vary depending on the thickness of the crackers and on individual ovens.

Cool on the cookie sheets and then break apart the crackers. Store in a closed container.

Enjoy! So far these crackers have received rave reviews!

 

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The Sleepy Hat

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The Sleepy Hat

 

A New Sleepy Hat

 

Since becoming a mother, there is a question I have has been asked so many times that it outweighs all other inquiries combined: “How is your baby’s sleep?” Knowing how it feels to be asked, I try to never ask this question. If I am honest with myself, though, I will recognize that when I ask parents of a brand new infant: “How is it going for you?”, what I really mean is “How much sleep are you getting?” I refrain from asking this question of anyone with a child over three months. In this case I practice restraint because the parents of an older baby already know what it means to be living on too little sleep. I never ask in order to follow up with advice. Rather, I want them to know they are not alone.

 

Sleepy Newborn

 

I believe that the reason for the universal question is that babies and small children are not meant to sleep in a way that an adult would consider well. As with every shared quality and each developmental milestone there is a huge spectrum of what can be considered normal. I do know of a few babies, with very fortunate parents, who can be placed in a crib wide awake. These parents confidently saunter off while the baby shuts his or her eyes, makes nary a peep, and effortlessly drifts off to sleepy time. My son lies far at the other end of the range. He could easily be labeled a Terrible Sleeper. While I know there is nothing pathological about his sleep habits, I have in fact been known to call him a Terrible Sleeper. I have no idea how many times I have said this about my little guy. At the same time I don’t get too hung up about his constant wakings and my resulting lack of sleep, because I am certain it will pass, that he will grow out of it. I know I will be nostalgic about the moments in the middle of the night when finally ready to move back into deep sleep, he flips onto his side with the expectation that I will spoon him, and then he gently reaches out to brush my face to make sure I am still there. No matter how fatigued I am, this is a moment so sweet that it never fails to affect a rush of love from my heart. Still, some day I would really love to sleep through the night.

 

Sleeping Newborn

 

This common question repeated numerous times becomes alarming, because it can be quite frightening to craft a response. When it comes to babies and children, sleep is a hot topic. Unfortunately, this subject frequently leads friends who dearly love each other to scald and burn one another and even to part ways forever in mutual anger, frustration, and resentment. One good friend made a confession to me when both of our children were not yet one year old. She admitted that although she knew when her daughter hit school age it would no longer matter which parents had let their babies cry it out and which parents had not, at this time in her life it was a deal breaker when making new friends. Differences of opinion in her family about nighttime parenting were also escalating tensions to unhealthy levels. I imagine that many parents, especially mothers, have experienced this first hand. I make a lot of effort not to let this contemporary debate sicken my treasured friendships. I am very candid with friends who agree with me and try to avoid the same conversations with those who I know, or merely suspect, do not concur. So strongly held are religious-like sleep beliefs that we will never change each others minds. Still, as much as I have tried to shield my relationships from differences of nighttime values, I have not always been successful. A couple of my friendships are unfortunately not as strong as I would like them to be. Hopefully, as my friend says, it will not matter much in a few years time and by then we will forget that it ever seemed such a huge deal. We will not even remember what we were talking about.

 

When his Hat Actually Fit

 

It is still important to us right now, though. I imagine that my own sleep philosophy encompasses a gentle approach. I also believe that all of my friends and acquaintances see their respective styles as gentle no matter how varied and far apart the methods might seem. Despite how we view and judge each other, we are all doing what we believe to be kindest and most appropriate for our children and for our families. It is okay that we disagree.

 

Afternoon Nap

 

I nurse my son at night and at nap time, and most of the time he drifts easily into sleep. There are the nights that take two hours of lying down with him, but fortunately these are now the exception. My little boy’s greatest difficulty with sleep is staying that way. During the day he is aware of every small event happening around him. It amazes me. Nothing passes him by. He catches every word, every action. I admire this characteristic tremendously. It also has a shadow self. As alert as he is during the day, he continues to be at night while attempting deep sleep. Perhaps this somehow relates to the fact that he sleeps with his eyes open? I am not sure. I do know that when he was smaller, the turn of a page in a book or the click of the tab on my nursing bra would wake him instantly. These sounds might still do the same. I do not know because I wouldn’t dare try to find out! Instead I employ every technique I can think of to help him tune out the world around him and to turn off his senses so that he can enjoy his rest. I know he wants to sleep. My son has slept through the night twice since he was born. The second episode occurred recently, and he  appeared almost as thrilled as I was to have experienced a full night’s sleep. He also declared, with a look of knowing, that it would never happen again. Oh well. I continue to hope.

 

Asleep at Grandmaman's

 

To turn off the stimuli in my son’s nighttime world I use a couple of standard techniques. My little boy sleeps with a fan running to create white noise and block out sounds from the rest of the house. At the same time we attempt to keep the house ever so quiet. I have been told that surrounding a slumbering infant with noise will result in a child who can sleep through loud noises anywhere. When I became a mother I had every intention of putting this theory into action. We have lived in both a loft and in a very noisy apartment building. If ever a child were to learn to sleep deeply through a large clamor, it would be my son. This, however, never came to be.

 

On Grammy's Canopy Bed

 

Along with sound, my son has an extreme sensitivity to light. I have attempted to make his sleep environment as dark as possible. He sleeps with all the lights off and I have sewn special covers for his windows to keep out the glow that likes to slip in through the gaps in the blinds. This has still not been enough. Fortunately, I discovered at around the time my son turned one year that he sleeps longest into the night and during his nap when he is wearing a hat pulled down over his eyes. I call it his sleepy hat. He calls it chapeau.

 

A Nap in his New Chapeau

 

An acquaintance narrated a story to me about some interactions she had with her doctor. Her GP lectured my friend severely about developing healthier sleep habits in her children. Her doctor admonished her, insinuating that it was my friend, the mother, who was to blame for her children being horrible sleepers. Not long after this conversation, the doctor had a baby. Soon, my acquaintance’s third baby was born. With a baby of her own, the doctor’s tone had changed. All the physician now had to say about infant sleep was: “Get them to sleep whatever way you can”. I suppose this is the purpose of the sleepy hat. Retiring the old chapeau and replacing it with a new handmade version today is another great attempt at getting my son to sleep whatever way I can.

 

First Night in his New Hat
The Sleepy Hat

 

If you have a child who is a perfect sleeper, the good news for you is that this quick-to-make hat can also be worn when awake!

 

How to Make a Sleepy Hat

1. Pick out a natural fiber jersey knit. You will need a width of at least 50 cm/20” and a length of 70 cm/27”.
I made my hat from repurposed t-shirts. As wonderful as it is to make new from old, I recommend using new fabric unless you are an experienced sewer. T-shirts are often made using a twisted grain. As well, the pattern and instructions I am providing are for a solid piece of fabric. Therefore, your finished hat will look a bit different than mine.

Re-Purposing T-Shirts
Re-Purposing T-Shirts

2. Pick out a secondary fabric if you want to make an appliqué.

3. Pre-wash and dry your fabric in hot water and dry on the high setting of your dryer.

4. Take a look at the pattern guide. The measurements are for a child with a head circumference of 49.5 cm/19 1/2″. Cut your width of fabric 2-3 cm/1″ shorter than the circumference of your child’s head.

My hat is 32 cm in length. I recommend this or around 2.5 cm/2″ shorter. Remember to place your pattern on the fold and that you will actually be cutting a length of 64 cm/25″.

You are cutting a 1 cm/5/8″ Seam Allowance. *This is where I made an error on the pattern!* Cut an extra 2 cm/5/8″ rather than the 1 cm/5/8″ I allowed for.

The “Fold Line” written in blue is a guideline for where you will fold the hat when it is complete.

I will explain how to cut out the points later in the instructions.

Sleepy Hat Pattern Guide
Sleepy Hat Pattern Guide

5. Cut out the fabric, other than the points, now.

6. After cutting the fabric, unfold the fabric.

7. If you are going to make an applique, do it now. I traced out stars onto a complimentary jersey fabric using a star from my son’s Tupperware shape sorter. I stitched the stars onto the hat using a machine stretch stitch. If you do not have a stretch stitch option, use a zig zag stitch. Sew your applique on to the right side of your fabric, more than 8cm/3 1/4″ down from the top edge of what will be the right side of your hat. (I actually used the wrong side of the hat fabric to be my right, finished, side). If you look at the pattern guide again, and review all the measurements, this will help you decide where to place your applique.

Tracing Shape Sorter Stars
Tracing Shape Sorter Stars
Sew on Appliqué
Appliqué Stars

8. Place the right sides of your fabric together and sew your edge seam. You will have a long tube when you have finished sewing. Use a 1 cm/5/8″ seam allowance. I used a stretch stitch, but a regular straight stitch will work as well. Press the seams open using a pressing cloth.

9. Fold the fabric back in the same way it was when you cut it out. Wrong sides together. Press the fold into the fabric using a pressing cloth. Your tube will not be folded in half with all the seams hidden.

10. Measure down 7 cm/2 3/4″ down from the raw edge(s) and mark on both the inside and outside fabrics. This will be the depth of your points. Divide the circumference of the fabric into four equal sections and mark. Cut the points out as shown. (Your fabric will all be one color, unlike mine).

Cut Points
Cut Points

 

11. Pin the inside  and outside fabrics together as shown, all the way around the points. Pins should be perpendicular to the edges of the fabric.

Pin Edges of Both Sides Together
Pin Edges of Inside and Outside Together

 

12. Machine Baste along pinned edges. A machine baste is a long stitch setting. You do not lock these stitches because they are not meant to be permanent.

Machine Baste Edges of Both Sides Together
Machine Baste Pinned Edges

 

13. Trim the inside fabric so that it perfectly matches the outside fabric.

Trim Inside Edge to Match Outside Edge
Trim Inside Edge to Match Outside Edge

 

14. Starting in the ‘valley’ of each point, pin two edges up to the point. Do this for all four points. When all four points are pinned up, it will look like you have one large point.

Pin Each Set of Edges Together so that they all End Together in One Point
Pin Each Set of Edges Together so that they all End Together in One Point
Another View of Pinning
Another View of Pinning

 

15. Again, beginning in a ‘valley’, sew up toward the point. I used a stretch stitch but this is not necessary. If you have a stretch stitch, though, do use it. Stitch up to each point in this way. You will probably have to remove the pins from other points while you sew the point you are on. While sewing you will naturally end up sewing the very tops of your points together. Your hat will now have only one point.

Sew Toward the End of Each Point
Sew Toward the End of Each Point
You Will Likely have to Remove Pins from Other Points as you Sew
You Will Likely have to Remove Pins from Other Points as you Sew

 

16. Turn inside out and you have your completed hat. Sweet Dreams!

Finished Sleepy Hat
Completed Sleepy Hat

 

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Crackers are Easy

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Crackers are Easy

 

Recipe for Rosemary Wheat Flax Crackers by Mama is Inspired.
Rosemary Wheat Flax Crackers

 

I have long loved to bake and play around with recipes. Lately, however, I have become more preoccupied with this. Not long ago I decided to eliminate all store bought snacks and treats from our cupboard and instead bake it all from scratch. Since I find it far more satisfying to create and continually tweak my own recipes than to bake from someone else’s, I also proposed to myself to work only from recipes that I am in the process of creating or have made up in the past.

So far, since taking on this challenge, I have been keeping our shelves filled with kale chips, muffins, cookies, and crackers. Soon I would like to add pretzels into the mix. Until about two months ago, I had never attempted crackers.  Home made crackers intimidated me. I imagined that something so thin and so perfectly crisp had to lie far beyond my abilities. The thought of making crackers scared me so much because I sensed that I could only fail.

 

Make Believe Mixing
Make Believe Mixing

 

I rarely eat potato or corn chips. Even if they are sitting right in front of me I will often pass them over. However, I have another weakness. I believe that I enjoy crackers in the same way that most people love chips. Just as many people can eat a whole bag of chips in one sitting, I eat a lot of crackers. When I decided to stop purchasing snacks I had no choice but to face my fear of  making something that could turn out to be inedible.

Not only do I like to make up my own recipes but I also want to know that if I sit down to a plate of food and then proceed to fill it again and again, that afterward I will not feel sad or guilty about having eaten a load of junk. If I am going to overeat, I at least want to make it count for something! More importantly to me, my son is young and developing and I want to ensure that everything he puts into his mouth contains the sort of nutrition that will help his body do its important work. My son is only at the beginning of building a body and is laying down the forms and structures that will serve him for a lifetime. I want his foundation to be strong. Therefore, when I look to alter a recipe, I search for ways to boost the whole-food content, add in some more protein and perhaps some ‘super foods’, and then decrease sugars and fat. At the same time I am not at all interested in losing taste and texture. When unsuspecting eaters (in order to be unsuspecting, they have to have met me only recently) find out that that what they ate was healthy I want them to exclaim that they can’t believe it, that “it doesn’t taste healthy!” Personally, I love the taste of healthy but I know that many people associate “healthy” with bland flavors and unfavorably dry textures. No baker wants to pull something out of the oven that can be described like this.

I did a search online and came up with a very basic cracker recipe that I thought I could work with. I looked it over and moved some ingredients around. First I created a cracker that my family loved the taste of, but that was still not as nutritious as what I would like to have on hand daily. I think this cracker is a great success, and I was thrilled at Easter when my step-brother declared that if I drew his name at Christmas all he wanted was a very large box of these crackers. It was a wonderful day spent with my family, and it was my son’s first Easter hunt, so I can’t say this comment made my day, but it certainly went a long way in making a special day even nicer for me. Not long after Easter I developed a second cracker recipe. This cracker is even more delicious than the first crackers. Better yet, I deem them healthy enough to be given a regular place in our pantry.

At our family get-together, I informed my step-brother that these crackers are simple to make. I don’t think he or his wife believed me. Crackers are easy. Truly, my cracker recipes are the easiest thing I have ever baked. (You don’t even have to grease the pan!)

 

Rolling out crackers together. Recipe for Whole Wheat Almond Flax Crackers by Mama is Inspired.
Rolling Out Crackers Together

 

Being so simple, crackers are also an ideal baking project to share with a toddler. My two-year-old son helps me add in the ingredients and stir the dry mix. A slightly older child could certainly mix it all up by her or himself. I flour a cutting board each for my son and myself. I also continue to throw extra flour onto my son’s rolling surface as we go along as this pleases him very much. I work away at rolling my ball of dough with an old, corked, water-filled wine bottle (like everything else of importance, my real rolling pin is in storage in another city) while my son stands on a stool beside me, flattening his own lump of cracker dough with an old, cylinder-shaped, herbal tea can. My little boy is thrilled to make crackers and it is a fantastic way to spend the last of our evening together before he goes to bed.

 

Rosemary Wheat Flax Crackers by Mama is Inspired

Dry Ingredients

  • 1 cup unbleached white flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup flax meal
  • 1 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 ½ tsp dried, crushed rosemary

Wet Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • sea salt for sprinkling

 

Whole Wheat, Almond and Flax Crackers by Mama is Inspired

Dry Ingredients

  • 1 ¾ cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (you can use whole wheat flour for the whole amount, if you don’t have any pastry flour on hand)
  • ¼ cup flax meal
  • ¼ cup almond meal
  • 1 ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp dried, crushed rosemary
  • ½ tsp dried thyme

Wet Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • sea salt for sprinkling

Both recipes use the same directions. They are as follows:

Directions

First add and stir dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and then stir in the oil and water. Form a ball of dough with your hands. You might require a little extra water to keep the ball together, but do not add any more water than is required. You want the ball only to be wet enough that pieces of dough are not falling off the ball. If you do add a bit too much water, however, I wouldn’t be too concerned. This recipe is quite forgiving.

I separate the dough into five smaller balls. Each smaller ball will become a cookie sheet full of crackers. If you don’t use all the dough at once (I never do), you can store the unused dough in a closed container in the fridge for several days.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface. You will need flour on your rolling pin, as well. Add more flour to your rolling pin if the dough begins to stick to the rolling pin. Roll the dough quite thin. 1/8 inches is as thick as it should be. I roll it out to the point just before holes begin to develop. If you roll the dough too thin, you can collect all of it or just a portion and re-roll.

I suggest that when you are close to rolling out the dough as thin as you intend, that you no longer roll the edges but instead focus the rest of your energy on the center. This will keep the edges from being thinner than the rest and will allow the dough to bake very evenly. This is especially helpful if you have an oven that heats unevenly. Again, though, don’t worry too much about this step. Your crackers will still be great even if they are unevenly cooked.

 

Rolled out cracker dough by Mama is Inspired.
Rolled Out Cracker Dough

 

Transfer to a cookie sheet that is NOT greased. Use a paring knife to cut a grid into the dough. The lines are where the crackers will break apart after baking. Prick each square once or twice with a fork. Sprinkle sea salt on top. The extra salt really helps bring out the flavor.

 

Crackers ready for the oven. Mama is Inspired.
Crackers are Ready for the Oven

 

Bake at 350 degrees for 12-25 minutes or until golden and dry. The baking time difference depends on thickness of the crackers and on individual ovens.

Cool on the cookie sheets and then break apart the crackers. Store in a closed container.

Bon Appetit!

 

Rosemary Wheat Flax Crackers with Pesto and Red Pepper Dip. Recipe for Rosemary Wheat Flax Crackers by Mama is Inspired.
Recipe for Rosemary Wheat Flax Crackers.
Served with Kale Pesto and Red Pepper Pomegranate Dip

 

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