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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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.

Winter Supplements

It’s cold and flu season again. With both boys in preschool this year, I expect them to bring home their share of germs this winter. While the occasional cold or tummy bug is rather unavoidable, there are some things you can do to help your body deal with the onslaught of germs that bombard us over the fall and winter seasons. I tend to get a little lax about our supplement taking over the spring and summer, but once the weather turns cold and I start watching my friends dropping like flies from this that and the other cold or flu, I redouble my efforts to get some immune boosting nutrition into myself and my kids. My husband is another story. I tell him why he should take them and make them available, but he is an adult and if he chooses to forgo the Fermented Cod Liver oil, that is his choice. Before I go into what my family takes and why, please remember that I am a mom, not a medical professional. This blog is to be used for informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Please do your own research and use your own good judgment when making decisions on what supplements to include in your family’s regimen.

Here’s what I try to get into myself and my kids every day during the fall and winter months.

Left to right, back to front they are: Emergen-C, Rainbow Light Chewable Nutri-Stars, Rainbow Light Prenatal Vitamins, Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil Gummy Fish, Natural Factors Double Strength Acidophilus & Bifidus, Nature’s Bounty Chewable Vitamin C, Honey Pickled Garlic Cloves, Blue Ice Liquid Fermented Cod Liver Oil, Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup, and Food Science Mega Probiotic Chewables.

Multi-Vitamins

I use Rainbow Light multivitamins because they are a food based vitamins and much easier to digest and easier for your body to use. Here is some good info on why food based supplements are better than their synthetic counterparts. The boys each get one chewable star. I take 6 of the prenatal vitamins because I am still nursing.

Vitamin C

I drink about 2 packets of Emergen-C a day. The boys each get one chewable vitamin C, unless I suspect a bug coming on, and then I’ll give them two. Both of these products contain synthetic vitamin C, and I am looking for a better natural source. Here is a WebMD article about the many immune boosting benefits of Vitamin C.

Probiotics

The boys each get two chewable probiotics during the winter, again, unless I feel a bug is coming on. Then I might give them 3 or 4. Their chewables contain 2.25 billion organisms/tablet. I take 2 of the Natural Factors, which contain 10 billion organism/pill. If I’m getting sick, I’ll take an extra one. From what I’ve read, it is pretty hard to overdose on probiotics. Your digestive system is a pretty hostile environment before they get to your intestines where they want to set up house keeping, so it’s important to take doses in the billions and hope that about half survive to get to your gut.

Fermented Cod Liver Oil

High Vitamin Cod Liver Oil is probably one of the most important items in my arsenal. Almost all cod liver oils have had the naturally occurring vitamins removed and then replaces with synthetic vitamins. From what I understand, Green Pasture’s Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil is the only brand that does not use this process, and retains all of the naturally occurring vitamins with no synthetic additions. The Weston A. Price Foundation has a ton of really good information on why cod liver oil is such an important supplement. We take it more for the vitamins A and D than for the omega 3’s. The vitamins are very concentrated in this product, so only a very small dose is needed. This is good because it’s a little pricy. If you’re looking to achieve a better omega 6:3 ratio, consider actively decreasing the amount of omega 6 you’re taking in, rather than supplementing with extra omega 3. I got the gummy fish for the boys, but wouldn’t you know they’d rather take the liquid stuff from the oral syringe then eat the gummys. So each of the boys gets 1/2 tsp, and I’m eating the gummy fish. Being a nursing mother, I’m taking 3 a day. The link above also has dosing information and sources.

Garlic!

Alas, I can not get my kids to take garlic, even prepared this way. Last winter when I was pregnant and terrified of the swine flu, but even more terrified of the swine flu vaccine, I was taking about 1 clove of crushed garlic in a spoonful of honey daily. It was horrible. I was sensitive to tastes and smells anyway due to pregnancy, and I almost couldn’t get it down. And then I’d have garlic burps for the rest of the day. No fun. I wish I had heard of this preperation then, because it is much more palatable. Garlic is a powerful antiviral, antibiotic, and immune booster. When Owen came down with a very mild case of the flu last year, I attribute it mostly to the garlic I was taking that I didn’t get it at all. This website has a lot of information about the health benefits of garlic, as well as the how and why if you’re interested in that kind of thing. To make honey pickled garlic, peel a bunch of garlic cloves. Place them in a jar. Pour raw local honey over the garlic to cover. Place a lid on the jar. Put in the fridge and ignore for several days. The honey softens the garlic and takes out all the bite. You end up with a delicious mild clove, and the garlic infused honey is also powerfully healing. I take about two cloves a day, and a spoon full of the honey. I’d take extra if I’m fighting off illness.

Black Elderberry Syrup

Black Elderberry Syrup is the last of my “Big Guns”. I actually only pull this out if someone is sick, or getting sick. Then everyone in the family gets a daily dose until the danger is over. Yes, even Brad. He’ll take it if I bring the spoon to him. Black Elderberries are unusually rich in flavanoids which act as powerful antioxidents and immune boosters. This website has more information than you could possibly hope for about the health benefits of the Black Elderberry.

That’s our winter supplement regimen. It’s not as bad as it looks. The boys love their chewable vitamins, and they don’t get those until they’ve taken their CLO. In addition to immune boosting supplements, it’s important to eat well, drink water, get plenty of sleep, avoid stress, and get out side as often as possible. We do all of these things with varying degrees of success, but we try. What do you do to keep your family healthy through the cold and flu season?

Jack-O-Lanterns and Pumpkin Seeds

Yesterday we finally got around to carving our pumpkins. We usually go to Circle S Farm for the hay ride and sunflower maze and to pick our pumpkins out of the field, but this year our plans were foiled by a tummy bug and we never managed to reschedule so we have boring grocery store pumpkins. They did carve up nicely though.
That’s face paint on my oldest. He did it himself. The boys picked out their own face designes, but I did most (all) of the work. They did help in scooping out the gunk though.

Once the pumpkins were carved, I tackled the huge bowl of pumpkin guts in attempt to rescue the seeds from clutches of the tentacle like threads of goop. This is a very slow, very slippery, very frustrating project. While at this tedious task, of course the baby wakes up. So as I wash my hands of slime and go to get her out of her crib, I notice some of the water gets into the bowl of cleaned seeds, and guess what, they FLOAT! This new knowledge completely changes my approach to the pumpkin seeds. I filled the bowl with water (after getting the baby and setting her up with a box of toys to dump out), swish around all the pumpkin guts, and miraculously all the seeds float nicely to the top.

It is now an easy task to fish them out and deposit them into the colander. A few more swishes to get the stubborn seeds that were still stuck and I had a colander full of clean seeds.

I soaked them in salt water for the rest of the afternoon, then spread them on a cookie sheet to dry over night in the oven. This morning I roasted up two batches. One sweet with pumpkin pie spices, and one savory with Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder. I read a bunch of recipes on line and in the end made up my own based on several that sounded good.

For the sweet ones I used 2 Tbsp olive oil, about 2 Tbsp succanat, 1/2 tsp sinnamon, 1/4 tsp each cloves and allspice, and a pinch of salt. For the savory ones I used 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, and a sprinkle of seasoned salt, garlic powder and onion powder. I really should start measuring stuff, but I rarely do. Each batch got about 1 1/2 Cups of pumpkin seeds. I roasted the seeds at 250* for about an hour and a half, stirring ever 15 minutes and rotating the baking sheets.
We’re trick or treating at my grandparents house tonight and I had planned to bring these along to share. It’s going to be hard not to eat them all before we leave though!

Homemade Convenience

I am constantly trying to phase packaged convenience foods out of our home. Let me tell you it is HARD to do. The boys need snacks for school. Brad needs lunches for work. Sometimes I need something to munch that doesn’t require cooking or creating dishes to wash. Sometimes dinner time sneaks up on me and I haven’t given it the slightest bit of thought earlier in the day. Convenience foods are, well, convenient. So as I go about my journey to get the junk out of our diets, I’ve had some success in finding homemade versions of some of our favorites that have the benefits of not only being free from chemicals, preservatives, and excess packaging, but also much, much cheaper. Today I’m going to share with you 3 of our favorites: Fruit leather, cheese crackers, and mini fritattas.

Fruit Leather:
My boys love the apricot Stretch Island fruit leather. But at $1 a pop, those things are crazy expensive! We would get them occasionally as a treat in the checkout line at Whole Foods for being helpful shoppers. But now that I have an Excalibur Food Dehydrator, making our own is a snap. Since the boys love the apricot flavor, I start with dried apricots. You can use any type of fresh or dried fruit. If starting with fresh, just omit the soaking step.

Cover dried apricots in water, and leave to rehydrate for several hours. Cover the bowl so nasties don’t fall in.

Once the apricots are nice and juicy again, pour your apricots and a good bit of soaking water into your blender. I love my Blendtec , it makes short work of just about anything. Use just enough water to get things blending smoothly.

Next, spread apricot goop in a thin even layer on a piece of parchment paper on your dehydrator tray. The Excalibur comes with some teflex sheets, but I prefer the parchment paper because when it’s dry I can roll the whole thing up and cut into strips so the boys have fruit roll-ups.

This batch made four trays worth of fruit leather. I put it in the dehydrator at about 145* for around 6 hours. See how easily the fruit leather lifts off the parchment paper? It’s done when the thickest spots are dry to the touch.

Cheese Crackers:
These cheese crackers are the closest to Cheez-Its I’ve found. They are really yummy, and since I do the whole process in my food processor it’s super easy and they come together lickety split. I have made the recipe with whole wheat flour before and they turn out ok, but they really just taste better with white. Since these are a once in a while treat, it doesn’t bother me too much.

1/2 lb grated extra sharp cheddar
1/4 C butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Cream together first 4 ingredients. Slowly add flour to make a stiff dough. It’s important to use sharp cheddar in these, even if it’s not the kind you like for eating. I like to use extra sharp. Otherwise the crackers don’t have a lot of cheese flavor. Also, you can decrease or omit the cayenne pepper if you think your kids won’t like it. With the full 1/8 tsp the crackers have a little bit of a kick. My kids don’t seem to mind, and I like it that way. 1/16 would probably be fine if you have kids with a picky palette. If you leave it out completely the crackers will be kind of bland, but hey, some kids like it that way.

Divide the dough int 3 portions and roll into logs. Wrap the logs in waxed paper and place in the fridge overnight, or the freezer for 1 hour. I’m always in a hurry so I always use the freezer method and it works great. The idea is just to get the dough chilled enough that you can slice it with out smushing it.

Slice thinly and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. These do not expand very much when baked so you can place them fairly close together, but not touching. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.

Bake at 350* for about 12 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. Once completely cool you can store them in a ziplock baggie or a glass jar. I really have no idea how long these keep, even if I make a double batch they are gone in less than a week.

Mini Fritattas:
Here’s my newest toy; a 24 ct mini muffin pan. Oh the possibilities! Today it was fritattas.

Bacon, spinach, cheese into every muffin cup. Then I mixed 6 eggs with 1/2 cup of cream, and topped off the fritattas. This made just enough egg mixture to do all 24, not a drop left over.

After 30 minutes in the oven at 350*, I had cheesey, bacon-y, egg-y goodness.
Yum! I meant to put half into the freezer for later, but for some reason they mysteriously disappeared before I got around to it.

Finding homemade versions of some of your favorite packaged foods is a great first step in the direction of phasing junk out of your diet and home. The kids love these snacks, and I feel good about feeding them something healthier than what comes out of a box. What are some of your favorite homemade convenience recipes?

Happy Birthday My Handsome Little Man!

It’s been a busy week. On Sunday, my car baby turned 3. I don’t think I have his birth story on my blog yet. I’ll post it later, but the short version is that he was born in the front seat of my doula’s minivan just outside the OSU hospital where I had been planning to deliver. Needless to say, he hit the ground running and I’ve been trying desperatly to keep up ever since. Over the past few months he has transformed from a toddler, really still a baby, into a little man. He’s growing up so fast! Birthdays are very special at our house, even though we try to keep them as simple as possible. We started the morning off right with chocolate chip pancakes.
Once every last moresel of chocolate had been devoured, and the kids had been assured that there was no more and I wasn’t going to make another batch, Brad took them to Magic Mountain for arcade games and an indoor play structure while I readied the house for the party and baked a cake. Although we mostly bake with whole wheat in our house, I’m not above white flour and white sugar for a birthday cake. We do avoid box mixes when ever possible. Nothing beats a homemade cake. This year Connor asked for a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and balloons. At the last moment, he decided he wanted strawberries too, so I added a strawberry jam layer to the center of the cake. Yum!

The grandparents (well, my grandparents, his great-grandparents) arrive for the party at 2:00. Commence the present opening!


Aria samples some wrapping paper while Connor works. Alfie the robot, Knight dress up clothes, Color Wonder markers and paper, and a noise making garbage truck were the stars of the show. After the presents have been played with, it’s on to the cake! I’ve never seen a kid more excited then when we were singing “Happy Birthday” to Connor.


And he blew out his candle in one blow.

Birthday cake rocks!

So happy birthday my handsome little man. Your mama loves you more than you could ever imagine. You are growing up so well, and I am so proud of you. Enjoy being 3.