Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Happy Birthday Hutcheson!

I put together a little collage that I posted on Facebook on November 29th, but forgot to post it here! For our little man:

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Barefaced and Beautiful - Giving Up Makeup for My Daughter's Sake

I wear makeup.  I don't know the statistics here, but I'd venture to say that most adult women do wear makeup, if not on a daily basis, then at least from time to time.  I don't wear it as often these days, and I've never worn much makeup, but when you are naturally blonde and have virtually transparent eyelashes, a little mascara is nice sometimes.  When I was 8 years old I became involved in community theater, wearing full stage makeup for performances.  Naturally, I enjoyed looking "grown up" at that age and by the time I was 12 or 13 I was wearing makeup every day to school.  I've never thought much about it.  Other girls my age were also wearing makeup.  By the time I reached high school pretty much every girl was.  Of course, as we grow up, almost every image of a woman that we see in a magazine or on television is of a woman wearing makeup, and nowadays they're most likely airbrushed as well.  And then we have studies, such as this one, (paid for by major makeup industry tycoons BTW) telling us that wearing makeup "increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and (provided she does not overdo it) her trustworthiness,"  this is "according to a new study, which also confirmed what is obvious: that cosmetics boost a woman’s attractiveness."  Why should women have to change their appearance in order to be successful and appear "competent," while men have never had to do so?  And why is it "obvious" that makeup makes women more attractive?  I guess maybe more attractive by the general public's standards, but it makes me sad.  

The other day I was putting on mascara in the bathroom and my 5 year old daughter walked in and asked what I was doing.  Without thinking I said, "making myself pretty for Daddy."  Oh how I wished I could swallow those words.  As soon as they were out of my mouth and I heard them aloud I knew that was not at all what I wanted my daughter to hear.  I immediately started to back pedal saying "but you know, Daddy always tells me I'm prettier without make up."  Which is true, my husband always tells me that I don't need makeup.  But it's kind of an addiction, isn't it?  My daughter then says, "well then why are you doing that?"  Silence.  I don't know.  Why was I doing it?  Why do I do it?  Why do I put eyeliner and mascara on before I go out in public?  Why? I'd never thought about it before and now some serious thinking ensued.  I guess because it's part of my routine, and part of how I've come to see myself in my mind's eye.  My image of my true self is the one that is "done up."  But that's not me.  That's not my true self.  I'm just used to seeing myself that way.  Does it make me feel more confident and attractive?  Yes, actually.  Because I've spent decades having that positively reinforced.    

What I know is this.  I have a young daughter.  About to turn 6.  She is a very unique little girl. She largely cares nothing at all about popular culture, TV, models, pop stars or any of that silly nonsense.  I dread the day when that might start to change.  I relish watching her roll in fields of clover, skip through the yard to feed the chickens, play in the's not that she hasn't started receiving some of these pop-culture messages about how girls are "supposed" to behave and look.  I mean we can't shelter her from life, and those messages are everywhere - from seemingly harmless television shows, to the toy aisle at Target.  It's just that she chooses not to care or be influenced by it.  I am scared that could change.  I want her to be true to herself, and to value her intelligence, wit, humor, creativity, and uniqueness over physical beauty.  I want her to be proud of being different and having unique interests, and I want her to have a positive image of herself and her body.  I realize that I am her number one example of that.

I recently came across another survey, this one conducted on behalf of the Renfew Center, which is a non-profit that works to prevent, treat, and research eating disorders,  in which 65% of the survey participants started wearing makeup at the tender ages of 8-13 years old.  The survey found that at least one in five young girls had negative feelings associated with not wearing makeup.  Many girls surveyed felt it was most acceptable to go barefaced to the pool or beach but least acceptable to show up at a friend's house or school without makeup on.  

I can imagine my sweet little girl, maybe as few as 2 years in the future feeling like she can't leave the house without mascara, because mom doesn't and her peers don't.  Wanting to make herself "pretty" for her dad or her first crush.  My heart sinks.  She is so beautiful, inside and out.  I don't ever want her to feel like she needs to change herself.  And so I've come to a difficult decision.  Should I give up makeup for the sake of my daughter?  I kind of think I have to.  It seems like a silly thing, but it's actually pretty difficult.  Women out there, can you imagine quitting makeup cold turkey?  Completely revolutionizing your own self image?  Admit it, if you wear it, it has more hold over you than you realize.  It's even a little scary.  I know there will be special occasions for which I may don the mascara, but for now I think I'll try going barefaced.  My daughter may still wear makeup someday, I can't predict that now, but I know it won't be because she saw that I could never leave the house without it.  I want her to know she can be barefaced and beautiful.  I want her to understand, even though it's a cliche, that it's what's on the inside that makes her truly beautiful anyway.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Eeek! Squash Bugs Are Here! How to Make Neem Oil Spray at Home...

Squash bug eggs on the underside of a leaf
We generally get along well with insects around here.  We highly value the beneficial bugs in our garden, like ladybugs, honeybees, the elegant mantis, even spiders, but some bugs just have to go.  Today, while inspecting the garden, my husband found squash bug eggs on the underside of the leaves of some of our squash plants.  He went into full panic mode instructing me to rush into the house and produce a neem oil spray.  Good thing I have neem oil on hand!  I thought it worth blogging about this helpful oil and the recipe for our spray.

Neem oil (Azadirachta Indica) is pressed from the fruit and seeds of the Neem tree, which is native to India.  It has a plethora of traditional medicinal uses as well as farming applications.  In traditional medicine, including Ayurvedic medicine, neem has been used to treat inflammation, fever, skin irritations, eczema, psoriasis, ring worm, head lice, leprosy, athlete's foot, and even as a spermicide.  It is both antibacterial and anti fungal and has immunostimulant properties.  It is generally recommended that neem NOT be taken internally.  For external uses it is best to dilute neem in a carrier oil of some kind as it is quite potent (and also doesn't smell great!).  I'm not going to expound on medicinal uses in this post so if you're interested in using it medicinally please do your research and make sure you are using/mixing correctly.

Onto farming applications.  Neem is a wonderful companion for organic farmers.  It has been proven as an organic biopesticide.  While it is harmful to many "pest" bugs, such as squash bugs, mealy bugs, aphids, Japanese beetles, cockroaches, flies, thrips, mites, termites, mosquitos, and the list goes on, it is NOT HARMFUL to beneficial insects such as butterflies and honeybees!

The fatty acid composition of neem oil can vary widely depending on the method of processing.  I have heard reports of leaf burn almost exclusively from people who bought neem pesticide sprays from their garden center.  We have not experienced this, but formulate our homemade neem spray using neem oil intended for medicinal use in humans.  We use the Now Solutions brand pure and natural neem oil.  If you're concerned about leaf burn, my neighbor recommended only spraying the undersides of the leaves (this is where the bugs lay their eggs - squash bugs anyway).  We've been spraying everywhere, just to cover all the bases. :)

Here's our recipe:

5-10ml neem oil (5 is probably fine as a preventative measure, 10 if you already have an infestation)
1-2ml dish soap (just a squirt, I never measure)
26 oz. warm water

Mix in a spray bottle and you're ready to go!

Sources for this post:
Esoteric Oils - Uses of Neem Oil
Wikipedia - Neem Oil

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Musings on Our Unconventional Life

I have so many thoughts bouncing around in my head today, I just have to take a minute to write some of them down.  A friend posted this article on Facebook this afternoon: Have American Parents Got it All Backwards?  I'd rather not paraphrase, so go ahead and hop over there and give it a read or some of my rambling won't make as much sense!  In very broad terms it got me thinking about how we have so much backwards, not just parenting choices.  I am constantly confounded and bewildered by what the mainstream assumptions are as far as what choices are "good" and "normal" concerning pregnancy, birth, food, education, and the list goes on.  I'm not saying that I'm better than anyone else, and I'm certainly far from perfect.  We don't need anymore "mommy guilt" than we all already have.  But I do have strong beliefs, and my husband and I are navigating the waters of life and parenthood together and finding that we are quite unconventional when it comes to...well, most things.

I didn't really learn anything new from reading the above article - I already agree with most of what the author has said, and I believe that we (Americans) do many, many things backwards in our society, usually in the name of doing what is "right" or "safe" or "politically correct."  I also already knew that many other cultures birth, raise, feed and educate their children in wildly different ways from us and that many of the children raised in those cultures are healthier and happier for it.

When you move away from what is considered mainstream in your parenting decisions it's hard (especially in public) to not sometimes feel judged (as in "do you see what she is letting her child do??").  Other observers might even try to step in and fill the parenting role that they perceive you being inadequate at filling!  Just recently my children were playing on a staircase.  My husband and I were standing at the bottom and this woman swooped in and said "No, no, no, you three get down from there!  You are going to hurt yourselves!  Do you see what they are doing?"  My kids all stopped playing abruptly and gave my husband and me bewildered looks as just moments before they had asked if they could play on the stairs and we said "sure, why not?"  I look at the well-meaning intruder and say "Wow, you're a little intense.  We do see them.  We gave them permission to play on the stairs."  "Well, as long as you're watching them...."  They are our children, we take care of them without your assistance every day of their lives, and we are perfectly capable of making decisions regarding their safety and supervision, thanks.  For that matter, the children need to be able to learn to decide what their own limits are and they are generally quite astute at assessing what they are capable of doing safely and what is unsafe or risky.  Sometimes they take the risk, and that's part of learning and living.

So here's my confession:  Our children are allowed to ride their bikes around the neighborhood unsupervised, play in the yard and care for our animals unsupervised, complete households tasks and chores without their hands being held, choose what they want to learn about and take charge of their own educations, play in the dirt, play in the water, make messes, make mistakes, play outside all day long on a "school day" if they want and not do a lick of "book work," climb fences, climb trees, skateboard, take risks,  decide what to spend their money on, decide what they want to read, make new friends, fall down, wash dishes, make their own meals, experiment, ask questions, get frustrated, get bored, and at the end of the day, despite their independence from us in so many ways, we still have a family bed.

They don't always do these things on their own...but they can if they choose to.  They can also ask for help.  When they become interested in a certain subject or have a specific question for us, we listen and we facilitate.  We provide them with resources, inspiration, and encouragement.  When they want to tell us something or ask us something we don't brush them off, we listen.  It is the foundation of our home (un)school philosophy.  We have to be available all day, every day, to listen.  To answer questions, to look things up, to engage with them and be honest with them.

Even though our 5 year old daughter still shares our bed and needs plenty of time to be loved and treated like a child (because she is one), she is also the most independent child I have ever met.  Every day she waters all the plants in our large garden, harvests ripe vegetables, reports back to us on the state of the plants, what bugs she saw, what looks healthy and what doesn't, collects the chicken eggs, feeds and waters the chickens, goats, and her indoor rabbit, and the list goes on.  She adores helping to cook, bake, and clean with us.  She helps care for her baby brother and never gives me a hard time when I ask for her help or a for a favor.  She is always eager to help, has an amazing work ethic, and boundless curiosity!

Our 7 year old son likes to play video games and we don't stand in the way of this.  He also loves to ride his bike and play baseball.  He has amazing hand-eye coordination and a mind-boggling memory.  He is incredibly intuitive and is always reading peoples' emotions and body language with uncanny accuracy.  Despite his love for gaming, computers, and all things electronic he is still a social butterfly!  He makes new friends all the time and easily adapts to new social situations regardless of the age of his counterparts.  He is fascinated by weather, science, and math.  He hesitates to try new things, but once he gets a little taste of confidence he takes off.  We know this about him, so we know the right way to provide positive reinforcement when introducing new concepts to him.

Our 19 month old in no way lives in the shadows of his brother and sister.  He has a huge personality!  He is also extremely independent and we let him be independent!  He plays in the yard, with the animals, gets dirty, gets wet, problem solves, and has a blast.  Feeds himself with utensils and has for ages, but also still breastfeeds.  He drinks from a cup, builds things, communicates with us extremely well despite having very little vocabulary, and is the most cuddly, loving, and affectionate baby.  He is allowed to explore, secure in the knowledge that he has our unwavering love and support.

We are trying to raise children who are free-thinkers, independent, down-to-earth, self sufficient, passionate, curious, caring, grounded in reality, but wildly imaginative.

I still haven't figured out how to accomplish all of this, but I know that we have to move far, far away from what is mainstream and forge our own path for our family.  It's the only way (for us) to survive and thrive in this backwards world we live in.  If giving birth to my children in my living room, owning dairy goats, learning to hunt so our family can have wild harvested animal protein, growing vegetables, taking charge of our family's health by practicing herbalism and alternative medicine, not vaccinating our children or animals, unschooling,  practicing extended breastfeeding, sharing a bed with our kids, and striving for complete self-sufficiency for our family makes my husband and me "strange", then so be it.  It is what it is and we are who we are.  Every day we learn new things, every day we get closer to our goals, and every day we open new doors to understanding the world and the universe and our place in it.  It's a fun, frustrating, awe-inspiring journey.  Sometimes I feel hesitant to share with people some of the more "unique" aspects of our family and then I wonder, what am I ashamed of?  The things that might make others think we are crazy are the same things that I think make us who we are!  I love our family and I love our unconventional life.

"People can save the world by the way they think and by the way they behave and what they hold to be important." ~ Cindy Lauper 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fathers' Day Blueberry Muffins

For our Fathers' Day breakfast I made blueberry muffins with fresh berries from our Farmers' Market. I completely forgot how amazing these are!  Here is the original post with the recipe.  Still my favorite!

Blueberry Pecan Streusel Muffins

Friday, June 14, 2013

Healthy Hot Cocoa

A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook the other day, which highlights the many benefits of drinking cocoa including reducing the risks of hearth attack and stroke, reducing high blood pressure (also in pregnant women), improving kidney function, heightening cognitive function, reducing risk of skin cancer, and relieving coughs!  I've been making my own hot cocoa since reading about the benefits somewhere....I think maybe in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions cookbook.  I make mine with a cocoa and maca powder blend, raw honey, coconut oil, and raw goat milk.  Sounds a little...different...but trust me it is delicious!  I'm currently pregnant with baby #4 and this is an excellent, nutritious pregnancy alternative to coffee!

My ingredients:

1-2 Tbsp. raw unsweetened cocoa and maca powder blend (TerrAmazon brand)
1 Tbsp. raw unprocessed local honey
1 Tbsp. organic virgin coconut oil
Pinch of organic cinnamon to taste
Raw organic milk to taste (we use goat milk because we have our own goats)

This  drink is a powerhouse of beneficial ingredients and can easily replace morning coffee.  Besides the aforementioned health benefits of cocoa powder, there is enzyme-rich raw honey and milk, and coconut oil, which boosts the immune system, provides energy, and protects against infection.  Raw milk is something I could write an entire post (maybe even an entire book) about, but here is just one great excerpt from The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care by Sally Fallon: "Raw whole milk from pasture-fed cows provides a complete source of nutrition that is easy to digest and assimilate.....raw milk is vastly superior to pasteurized for building strong bones and teeth, for protecting against infection, allergies and asthma and for building immunity.  In addition many consumers of pasteurized milk diagnosed as lactose intolerant can consume raw milk without difficulty."

Hatching Fertile Chicken Eggs

This year was our first foray into hatching fertile eggs.  We don't have a rooster right now and we also don't have any hens that have ever shown even the slightest inclination of broodiness, so while a broody hen is your best bet for hatching we decided to go against Mother Nature this one time and purchase an incubator.  With the intent of mimicking nature as much as possible and making this delicate process a little easier on us, we also purchased an automatic egg turner and a fan to circulate air in the incubator.  Originally I tried to purchase the Brinsea Octagon with the turning cradle after reading many glowing reviews, but there was a screw up with the order and my eggs arrived before the incubator!  I panicked, ordered the Hova-Bator Genesis on Amazon with overnight shipping and cancelled the Brinsea.

There are some rare breeds that I had been dying to get my hands on - Cream Legbars, Welsummers, and Black Copper Marans.  I ordered 14 Cream Legbar hatching eggs, 5 Welsummers, and 5 Black Copper Marans.  Our Legbar's are 2nd generation out of Greenfire Farms stock.  I'll write a later post with details about these beautiful breeds, but for now I'll just mention that CL's lay gorgeous blue eggs, Welsummers lay dark brown speckled eggs, and BCM's lay DARK brown, sometimes almost black eggs.  A colorful egg basket is definitely in our future!

We decided on the dry method for hatching our eggs.  Most of the guidance I got from the following post:

To start, we set up our incubator and let it come up to a consistent temp.  Some places I read to let it stay at 100 degrees F for 24 hours, some places I read to have it up to temp for 1 week before setting eggs.  We had time constraints, so a few hours of steady temps was good enough for me.  I should note that for a few days while our eggs were waiting to go into the incubator I kept them in a cool room and rotated them several times a day.  Before you set them in the incubator it is imperative that you place them in a carton, large end up, for 24 hours so that the air cell can settle prior to setting.

Finally into the incubator they went!  Temp was at 100F, humidity at about 45%.  Every day I checked the humidity several times.  When it fell into the 20's I cracked the incubator open a bit and added water to bring it back up into the 40's.

On day 7 we candled the eggs.  The dark eggs from the Welsummers and the Marans were almost impossible to candle at this stage.  The Legbar eggs were glorious though.  Beautiful red veins running through them.  We were so excited!  It looked like almost all the eggs were developing.

It is worthwhile to say here that there are many, many reasons why eggs can stop developing or not hatch out.  For your own fertile eggs from your backyard a 50-80% hatch rate is considered good.  For shipped eggs a 30-50% hatch rate is to be expected.  Eggs that are shipped get jostled about in the mail, exposed to unpredictable temperatures, etc.  That said, when you stop and think practically about eggs hatching in the wild....ok you need heat, humidity, and turning.  The mother hen spends weeks collecting eggs before she sits on them.  So the fertile eggs are probably going to be ok for a week or even two before they get set, if you are mindful of storing them in optimal conditions.  The mother hen also turns her eggs many, sometimes up to 50, times a day, so if anything hand turning or having an egg turner produced less movement than eggs would have in the "wild" so don't worry about moving them!  She (mama hen) also has to get up from time to time to eat and use the bathroom so don't panic too much about opening the incubator every few days.

We replaced all the eggs after candling.  Since it was our first time we were not confident diagnosing infertile eggs or those with arrested development.  There were no cracks or anything that would cause the eggs to spoil and explode, so there was no harm in continuing to incubate them all.

On day 18 we prepared for "lockdown."  This is the period where the eggs are removed from the turner, the humidity is bumped up, and the eggs are left undisturbed to hatch.  Most will hatch on day 21.  Some may be early bloomers, some may be late.  It depends a lot on the heat and humidity in the incubator among other factors.  Before lockdown we candled again.  Several eggs appeared obviously empty at this point.  Those were infertile eggs.  Several appeared to have something going on but definitely not enough of a dark area to be a fully developed chick.  The eggs that had developed fully were almost completely dark when candled, with just a small light area at the narrow end of the egg (the air cell).

We still replaced them all just to see what would happen.  I added water to the incubator and plugged the vent holes to bring our humidity up to 65%.

Then we waited.

On day 20 the kids came running down the stairs saying "Mom!  There's cheeping!!"  Sure enough, we had an early bird. :)

Cogburn was our first to hatch.  He is a one-eyed Cream Legbar rooster.  The convenient thing about Legbars is that they can be sexed at birth, which is very rare among chicken breeds.  Most commercial hatcheries have a trained vent sexing expert and even they can't get it right all the time.  Legbar roosters have an easy to distinguish white spot on the top of their heads, whereas the hens have a dark chipmunk stripe down their back.  Besides missing an eye, Cogburn has a crooked beak.  We were concerned he would not be able to eat on his own, but he is doing great!!  Many people would have killed him at birth for his defects, but instead we gave him a cool name and he has become our farm mascot.  If his birth defects are not infringing on his overall health and quality of life, I don't see why he can't live out a happy life in our backyard farm.  We just won't use him for breeding or anything like that.

Later that evening we had a little Welsummer hatch out as well.

The next day, day 21, we had the greatest number of eggs hatch.  6 more eggs - 2 Legbars and 4 Welsummers.  On day 22 we had a single Black Copper Maran hatch and another Legbar pip.  We carefully watched the pipped egg but nothing happened....

26 hours went by and still no progress.  I decided to take matters into my own hands.  Normally you should not interfere with the natural hatching process.  You can tear the membrane and cause the chicks to bleed to death.  If they don't push themselves out of their shells it can also affect the strength of their legs.  Some people believe that if the chick cannot get out of its shell without assistance that it shouldn't be helped and should be left to die (which it eventually will, from exhaustion).  I figured since this little guy had at least pipped (that's when they break a tiny hole in the shell to breathe - usually they then proceed to "unzip" around the girth of the shell and release themselves) that he deserved some assistance.

First I candled the remaining eggs.  I replaced the ones that seemed to have developed chicks in them and discarded 7 which were clearly empty.  Then I candled the pipped shell.  I could see the chick breathing inside the shell.  In what my husband has now dubbed the Eggsarean or E-Section, Tiny Tim was helped out of his shell after several hours of effort on his part and mine.  I will chronicle this experience in another post!  The end result is that we had another Cream Legbar rooster who was healthy and happy and has quickly caught up with the other chicks.

7 eggs remained in the incubator.  Nothing for days.  I did the float test.  They seemed viable.  We waited....and waited....nothing.  After 2 extra weeks of waiting, just to be sure, we discarded the eggs.  There are many reasons why those chicks died before hatching and never pipped, but we'll never be sure.

All in all we ended up with 10 baby chicks.  4 Cream Legbars, 5 Welsummers, and 1 Black Copper Maran.  By breed that was a 100% hatch rate on the Welsummers, a 28.5% hatch rate on the Cream Legbars, and a 20% hatch rate on the Black Copper Marans.  For the Legbars we have 3 roosters and 1 hen.  For the Welsummers I think we have 4 hens and 1 rooster.  The Maran can't be sexed just by looking so we'll wait for maturity and HOPE we get a hen!

The babies are growing FAST!  They are 4 weeks old now and in a couple of weeks they will move to their outdoor home.  It might astonish some that we have been keeping them in our guest bedroom, but honestly they are much less messy than some sources would have you believe!  We haven't had a single shaving outside the brooder.  They do tend to make a mess of their waterer, so you do have to clean that out and refill it frequently, but other than that they have required very little fuss. :)  We housed them in a large, deep rubbermaid tub with pine shavings, a feeder, waterer, and a heat lamp with a stand my husband built.  All in all the cost of the brooder set up was about $40.

Here is one (of many) short home videos of a hatching chick!

Here they are in the brooder!  More pictures coming soon!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Happy Birthday

"Before about 1915, boyhood was seen by most grown-ups as a state of natural savagery.  A boy of ten or twelve had more in common with wild Indians than he did with his own parents.  He probably even had more in common with his dog.  Later he would change, of course.  He would undergo a spiritual metamorphosis as striking as the physical one his sister went through.  From it he would emerge thinking like a man.  But now, and for some years to come, he was going to think like a savage.  That automatically placed him in a state of war with civilization, as represented by his parents and his sister."    -Noel Perrin from The American Boy's Handy Book

Today we are celebrating our little man turning 7 years old.  Peter, every day you bring me joy and challenges, and every day I strive to embrace those things that are in your nature as a wild and wonderful little boy.  

Happy birthday, with love,