The Responsibility of the Atheist

I’ll admit it.  Sometimes I envy Christians.  To believe in something so strongly, to have such complete trust in someone else, to be able to relinquish control of your life to another being and truly believe that they will take good care of it must be extremely freeing.  As an atheist I have no such luxury.  Granted, when I really think about it, it’s not a luxury that I truly desire.  But in all honesty there are times it sound very nice.

As an atheist, I’ve made the decision to take complete control of my life, and complete responsibility for my life.  In my decision making there is no one to consult besides my husband.  There is no lifting it up and waiting for divine inspiration.  There is no being lead in a certain direction.  There is only me, and my heart, and my knowledge.  And the responsibility for my choices and my actions lies solely with me.  There is no, “thy will be done and not my own.”  There is no, “all things work together for the good of those that are called according to his purpose.”  There is no, “I can do all things through Christ who give me strength.”

 When I face a dilemma, or wrestle with a decision, it is with the weight of the knowledge that the decision is mine to make, and the consequences are my responsibility alone.  I have to weigh what I want against what I believe to be right and best for all people involved.  When Christians say, “this is what I’m feeling God leading me to do,” I hear, “this is what I really want.”  When they say, “it’s in God’s hands now,” I hear, “I refuse to take responsibility for the outcome of this decision.”  There are many times when I have felt it would be easier to just follow my heart and say, “God lead me in this direction.”  I’m not saying that I don’t follow my heart.  I often do.  When a decision is particularly hard, or the pros and cons seem even on both sides of the equation, I usually do follow my heart, or my gut instinct.  But it is with the knowledge that I am possibly making a selfish decision, and I am prepared to deal with any consequences that come of that.

Another challenge that is unique to the atheist situation is that I have the same social responsibility to raise ethically sound children to be contributing members of society.  But I have to teach that what is right is right because it is right, and cannot fall back on, “because the bible says so.”  We rely a lot on the golden rule here when teaching behavior.  We teach that life is valued because it is amazing, not divine.  We teach stewardship of the earth to preserve it for future generations, not because it is a gift from God.  Religion is not necessary for raising kind, caring, empathetic children, but it would provide a nice short cut.

As tempting as it sometimes is to turn responsibility over to someone else, in the end it is just not something I can do.  Aside from the fact that I do not believe in God, I feel maintaining responsibility makes me a better person.  It makes me a more careful decision maker.  It prompts me to do research more fully on topics that I don’t understand.  It keeps me from following my heart when my head knows there is a more appropriate course of action.  It makes me live consciously.  Deliberately.  With purpose, and direction, and drive.  And really, it is incredibly liberating.  The world is mine oyster, which I with sword will open.

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Secular Easter

Raising secular kids in a predominantly religious society presents it’s fair share of problems. How to celebrate holidays not being the least of them. As an atheist family we certainly find plenty of cause for celebration through the turning of the seasons. And we don’t want our children to miss out on the joy and merriment that their friends participate in. But how to partake in the fun without the religion, and without focusing on the purely consumer aspects of the holiday?

Lucky for us, many Christian holidays were taken from pagan roots. And those pagans loved their earth. I can really get behind celebrating the turn of the season and all that the earth gives her children. In the summer we celebrate the sun shine and the many beautiful growing things. In the fall we celebrate the harvest. All the good foods that will sustain us through the cold winter. In the winter we celebrate the solstice, the time when the sun begins to return and the days start getting longer. And in the spring we celebrate new life. The trees waking up, the baby animals being born, time to plant, and to hope.

So with these ideas in mind, we participate in the holidays and try to steer clear of the rampant consumerism that tends to take over. For Easter I like to decorate eggs, although we didn’t get around to it this year. We do the Easter Bunny, but mostly as a fun game. I don’t go out of my way to make sure the kids believe, but I don’t dash their hopes as long as they choose to believe. The evidence that I’m the Easter Bunny is readily available to any child who wishes to think about it for a moment. This year I put together baskets with bunny ears, Easter egg sidewalk chalk, and a small chocolate bunny. I hid plastic eggs around the living room and the kids had a fun hunt. I’m letting them go kinda hog wild on the candy today, in hopes that it will just be gone and I won’t have to deal with it any more.

And we talk. We talk about why we celebrate spring. We talk about the importance of taking care of our earth. We talk about the meaning of family, and togetherness, and stewardship. And I think that is the most important part of any holiday. The time we spend together talking. The segue into some of these big issues that don’t come up in conversation on a daily basis. A chance to slow down and really focus on the things that are important to us.

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since I’ve blogged. You can catch up on previous years at Blogger is acting up, and I forgot that I had a wordpress account, so here I am now. I got caught up in living my life, and writing about it fell by the wayside. I’d love to promise regular updates with spectacular content from here on out, but I think it’s safe to say that’s probably not going to happen. I love blogging, but I love living my life too. If I have to choose, living definitely wins out. Who knew that three kids could keep you so busy? That said, I really do love blogging and as my life is taking a turn for the bloggable in the near future I hope to get back into writing more frequently.

So we’re moving soon. In like a month or two. CRAZY! My husband is going back to school for his masters in Physician Assistance, and we will be moving to Yellow Springs, a really cute, really small, liberal hippie town between Columbus and Dayton. And even crazier? I just put an offer on a house. We had no intention of buying for the next several years, but there really isn’t a whole lot to rent in such a small town, and my hunting turned up that we could buy a house the size we were looking for and our mortgage would be about the same or less then renting. So I applied for a loan and got approved, and started house hunting. And I found this:

It’s small, to be sure. But it’s bigger then where we are now, and the kitchen is to die for. The inside is nicely remodeled with tile and laminate flooring, the space is well used, the garage is huge, the basement is finished, and did I mention the kitchen? I pee my pants a little thinking about cooking in this kitchen. It’s not huge, but it’s very well laid out and about a thousand times bigger then my current “kitchen” (if it can even be called that – ugh).

In addition to the kitchen being divine, the yard is superb. The lot is almost ½ an acre. And the house is situated right in the center, so there is ample front and back yard, and a nice huge driveway with a turn around. I hate backing into a busy road. Nothing is for sure yet, we have to get our offer accepted and then the inspection process and the loan underwriting. Part of me is terrified that my pre-approval was a fluke and once they take a good look at our finances they will end up denying the loan, but we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. I’m already planting apple trees in my front yard in my mind. A medicinal and culinary herb garden will go by the kitchen. There is tons of space for a vegetable garden in the back, and the owners used to keep goats, so there is a great little fenced inclosure that I would probably stick chickens in for now. Yay for fresh eggs!

So this is a huge step in the direction of a working homestead. A kitchen to actually cook in. Room for a real garden. Chickens! And possibly even goats eventually. It will be my goal to document my process here as my homestead moves from my heart to reality. This should be an adventure. But if life gets in the way and you don’t hear from me for a while, rest assured that I am living my homestead, even if I’m not writing about it.

UPDATE: The offer was accepted!! No need to dicker and negotiate, I made a fair offer and they took it. There is still a lot that could go wrong as we have the house inspected and the loan finalized, but we are well on our way to owning a home!

Signs of Spring

It’s been a long winter.  Kids have been sick, the weather has been yucky, and cabin fever has been rampant.  So when yesterday dawned sunny with a high of 46 (down right tropical I tell ya!) it was something to be celebrated.  Cabin fever manifests itself in my children as an inability to make a decesion without a tantrum and a complete lack of body control in regards to one’s brother.  I was tetering on the edge between checking myself into the loony bin or commiting homocide, so I threw the kids in the car and we headed to one of our favorite botanical gardens: Inniswood Gardens.

We began our excursion with the goal of finding signs of spring.  Just the fact that we were outside without our coats and had the sun shining on our heads was a sure sign that spring is on it’s way, but it’s a fun lesson for the kids to find the little signs that spring is coming, and learn about how nature stirs itself to life again at this time of year.

We found bulbs poking up through the bare dirt.

We found bright green moss growing in the swampy areas.

We heard birds singing in the trees.

We saw a rushing stream, swollen from the recent thunder storms.

We saw budding tree branches.

I got to wear my Vibram Five Finger shoes, that had been packed away for most of the winter.

The boys had a blast running through the mud.

Until Connor fell down.

And got mud on his jeans.

 But mostly, the boys moved…

and moved…

 and moved…

 and moved…

 and moved…

and moved!

Of course, there were several signs that Winter wasn’t quite over yet.  The boys found a few patches of snow and played King of the Mountain.

And parts of my favorite knot hedge were covered to protect it from the next inevitable frost that will surely come before the weather warms up for good.

The fresh air and sunshine was better than any medicine.  We returned home in much better spirits.  A good time was had by all.

Teddy Bear Pancakes

We’re out of bread, and I haven’t gotten around to baking in a couple of days, so I’ve been forced to make the boys pancakes for breakfast two days in a row now.  Poor kids!  They’re favorite is chocolate chip pancakes, but I try to keep those just for birthdays and special occasions.  So to make a “plain old boring pancake” a little more inciting (can we say picky kids?!?) the boys get Teddy Bear pancakes!

 I have a terrific whole wheat pancake recipe that gives light and fluffy pancakes that aren’t too sweet with just a hint of tang from the yogurt. It takes seconds to whip up, and only a few minutes to cook them. If I’m feeling ambitious I’ll triple the recipe and freeze the leftovers. They are great for popping into the toaster oven to reheat for a quick breakfast.

These grains are not soaked. I’ve been pretty lazy in that department for a little while. However, the recipe uses yogurt or buttermilk, and I’ve successfully used kefir, so I think it would adapt to soaking very well. Just combine the yogurt and flour the night before, and in the morning add the rest of the ingredients and cook up like normal. And yes, that is a Teflon griddle. I hate it, and the Teflon is starting to flake. It’s the only Teflon pan left in my kitchen and I can’t wait to get rid of it, but for now it will have to do. I do not have room for a cast iron griddle (and how heavy are those anyway?) and it takes twice as long to cook up the pancakes one at a time on my small cast iron fry pan. If anyone has another solution for me, I’m all ears. Until then, we eat pancakes pretty rarely and I’ll just have to deal with it.

How To Wash the Dishes

Anyone who spends any amount of time in the kitchen really should know how to wash a load of dishes by hand. Even if you have a state of the art dishwasher, there may come a time when (god forbid) it’s broken, or you host a party and end up with more dishes then will fit. I haven’t lived in a place with a dishwasher since I moved out of my parents house in 2000, and yet I am embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t until very very recently that I really got a handle on how to wash the dishes efficiently and with as little waste as possible. My go-to method had been to turn on the hot water, grab the dish wand with the soap in the handle, pick up a dish, scrub, rinse, set to dry. Continuing in this fashion with the hot water running all the while I would wash all the dishes in the kitchen one at a time. It took forever. I wasted tons of water. It’s no wonder I hated washing the dishes. My mother was a very good housekeeper, and I learned the finer points of bed making, sweeping and moping, and gourmet cooking under her thoughtful tutelage. However, we always had a dishwasher, so hand washing the dishes never made it into our lessons. As I’ve been reading more and more on keeping the home, and my housekeeping skills have blossomed from a slovenly college student’s habits to a (relatively) smoothly running home, I knew washing the dishes was a chore that I had to master, and I had to master it NOW.

The most recent housekeeping book I’ve been perusing is Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. Along with information on how to care for your hard wood floors, and the secret to folding fitted sheets, it thoroughly addresses the proper way to wash the dishes.

1) Gather all of your dishes. For most people this means check the kitchen and dining room, however, if you have small children be sure to also check the living room, bed rooms and bathroom, checking under beds and behind furniture. I’m amazed at the places my kids find to stash dirty dishes. They are very creative.

2) Stack your dishes like items together. As you’re doing this scrape any food into the trash or disposal, and empty any drink cups. Once things are stacked together the job already looks less daunting.

3) Make sure you have a space ready for rinsing and drying the dishes. A dish drainer is perfect for this. If you don’t have a dish drainer a kitchen towel on the counter works fine too. If you have a double sink, use one side to wash and the other side to rinse. If you only have a single sink a plastic tub by the sink works great for receiving clean soapy dishes that need to be rinsed.

4) Fill one side of your sink with the hottest tap water you can stand. I still use afore mentioned dish wand with soap in the handle, but you can also put a squirt of soap into the dish water and scrub with a dish rag or sponge.

5) Wash your dishes, starting with the least soiled, and ending with your cooking pots. I usually start with silverware, then do glasses, bowls, plates and finally cooking pots. Change out the water when ever it starts looking gross, you run out of suds, or it cools considerably. As you scrub your dishes, place them in the second side of the sink to await rinsing. If you have a very large load of dishes, you may need to stop and rinse before continuing on with the washing. Be sure to rinse before the suds dry on the dishes.

6) Rinse your dishes in hot running water. Using hot water helps kill germs, and makes them dry faster with fewer spots if you air dry like I do.

7) The dishes aren’t done until the counters have been cleaned, so wipe down your counters and stove while you’re in there. And while you’re at it, you may as well sweep, since you got the dishes done so fast you have a couple extra minutes.

There you go! Your dishes are done and your kitchen is clean. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Happy Birthday Owen, and Toxin Free Cake

Owen’s birthday was yesterday. My big boy is 5 years old. In the spirit of keeping birthdays simple, we followed the same party plans that have worked so well for us in the past few years. 2:00 party, just family. Open presents, eat some cake, be done in time for a good dinner and plenty of time to play with new toys before having to go to bed.

This time I tried something a little different with the cake though. The more I read about artificial food coloring, the more it bothers me. That stuff is truely nasty, and it’s found in everything. When facing down Owens cake this week, I just couldn’t bring myself to purposfully add those convenient little drops to the icing. So I started brainstorming some other options. Owen had asked for flowers on his cake, so I was mostly looking for pinks or purples, and green for the leaves. I decided to try liquid chlorophyll for the green, and I had on hand Black Elderberry Syrup, cherries, and blueberries for pinks and purples. After a brief consultation with Rachel of Hounds in the Kitchen, I also tried beets. Thanks for the beet, Rachel! Here were my icing results.

Liquid Chlorophyll
(This is kind of washed out, the green was a little deeper, and very pretty)

Black Elderberry Syrup

Beet Puree

Blueberry Puree

Cherry Puree

Several of the colors turned out fairly similar. For the purees I defrosted and blended the cherries and blueberries, then cooked them down on the stove top and put them through a strainer. I boiled the beet, boiled off most of the cooking water, blended, put through a strainer and then cooked down a little farther. I used the black elderberry syrup and the liquid chlorophyll straight out of the bottles. I ended up using the beet colored icing as the trim and writing, and the elderberry icing for the flowers. One thing I failed to consider was that you add a good deal more liquid with this method than with the tiny drops of food coloring, so my icing was a little soft for piping roses. Next time I’ll be sure to firm up my icing before putting it into the piping bag.

Finished Product

With the cake ordeal over, let the party begin! I love when the kids recieve books that I loved as a child, and Owen got some Dr. Seuss. He also got some Hulk Hogan wrestling figures who are mostly naked, and very muscular, but he seems to like them. A remote control Hummer and a new stuffed puppy rounded out the birthday gifts.

And making the Birthday Wish! Happy Birthday Owen! You made me a mommy, and I can never thank you enough for that. You’re growing up to be such a gentleman. I am so proud of you, and so happy to be your mother.