Monday, March 24, 2008


Well, this year, we decided to give natural dyes a go for our Easter eggs. It was fun researching what items might lend themselves to various colors and we decided to keep it simple. We chose yellow onion skins, beets, spinach, blueberry juice and coffee. We put the onion skins, beets and spinach each in its own saucepan, covered it with water to about half an inch over the bunch and then brought it to a low boil for about 30 minutes. The only uncooperative ingredient was the spinach so, after about an hour of boiling and simmering and still no real color, we added some tumeric to make a yellowish-green color. The onion skins and beets fared beautifully. The blueberry juice came from a can of blueberries that we planned to use in muffins, so we simply strained off the juice and kept the blueberries. We didn’t do anything to the juice but add some water to thin it out. And the coffee dye was made by simply dumping old coffee grounds into hot water. We then placed all of the dyes into separate stainless steel bowls, added our eggs and then placed them in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, we pulled the eggs out of the dye and were pleasantly surprised at our final product. In the picture above, going clockwise and starting with the dark orange colored eggs, you see the results of the onion skins, blueberry juice, beets, coffee grounds and the spinach/tumeric mixture. By far, the most visually interesting were the blueberry eggs. The way the different eggs took the dye made for very random patterns with an almost etched appearance, in places. Perhaps the most surprising color was the orange from the onion skins. The picture doesn’t do its richness and depth much justice but they were truly beautiful.

When reflecting on the experience I kept trying to figure out why I enjoyed these eggs so much. They looked nothing like eggs I’ve dyed in the past and, in fact, differed greatly from colors that we traditionally associate with Easter. But then it came to me. The colors of these eggs were so satisfying. I think there was something magic in pulling out a color that was hidden within these foods I see on a regular basis. It was like watching a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis after having watched the caterpillar spin itself away. Of course, the caterpillar had an allure and color of its own, but lurking within was beauty unknown. Perhaps there is something of a lesson for me among these revelations. What beauty lies within me, untapped and unknown?

“Earth’s crammed with heaven.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Kite Flying

"Today is the day when bold kites fly,
When cumulus clouds roar across the sky.
When robins return, when children cheer,
When light rain beckons spring to appear.

Today is the day when daffodils bloom,
Which children pick to fill the room,
Today is the day when grasses green,
When leaves burst forth for spring to be seen."
- Robert McCracken, Spring

This past Friday provided a most typical March day. Full of the kind of sunshine that foreshadows the sweetness of Spring while also staying true to its roots—full of wind. We knew bad weather was coming so we took off for a really neat park less than two miles from my parents’ house. Laumeier Sculpture Park is large with walking trails throughout. The trails lead you to sculptures of varying sizes and styles, all placed in a natural setting. The picture above is one sculpture that I particularly liked. One of the neatest features of the park, in my opinion, is its accessibility. The majority of the trails are paved and all of the sculptures have a miniature version set on a pedestal with Braille descriptions. Aidan thought that was pretty cool, himself.

We went to one of the bigger, open fields and attempted to fly our kites. We found that we have been spoiled over the years by flying kites at the beach. That isn’t work at all. The sea breezes pick up your kite and take over. Our experience here was, despite the gusting March winds, sustained wind is your friend when kite flying. Otherwise, you are running, a lot. Oh, well. We got the kites up for a little bit and then just proceeded to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. And the sculptures.

Swiss Chard

I just had to take a picture of this beautiful vegetable. The striking red stems burst with so much color that they simply can’t contain themselves, spilling their joy and lifeblood into the leaves, as well. Color is playing a more important role in my enjoyment of vegetables and these days, it seems the brighter, the better. The Halloween orange of the sweet potato…ahh! The verdure of spring asparagus…heaven! And my new favorite vegetable, one that I couldn’t stand to have pass before my nose as a child, the blood red/purple beet…simply looking at its beating center makes me happy, truly!

I long for the days when these vegetables are a part of my own landscape--for the summers when the sunburned red of tomatoes will fill my window sills or when the lovely mix of inky black compost and summer squash coat my kitchen sink.

These images, both of my present and future dinner plate, fill my heart with a contentment that is new to me. When I muse about what life could be like for John, Aidan, August and myself—simple country living, growing our own food, living and learning together—I feel so grounded. As if I am being pulled closer to the dust from which I came while simultaneously being nudged from above into a life groove most befitting my true self.

May I only be worthy of such a calling.

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm.

One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery,

and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

Aldo Leopold

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Snow Day

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Robert Frost

Remember, I said Spring was coming soon. Obviously, it’s not here yet.

March seems to be roaring in like a lion, that’s for sure. Yes, the weekend was unseasonably warm but it was also incredibly windy. It’s apparent, now, that the wind was the harbinger, not of spring, but of something else entirely.

As the picture indicates, we received something around 9 inches of snow. As it fell, you truly felt as if you had woken up and found yourself inside a giant snow globe (thank you Leah for that perfect description). The flakes were huge, heavy and dense and most of all, they were relentless. Some areas even experienced thunder snow, which is a weather phenomenon that is remarkable to behold. We watched with wonder as each hour passed, and we began to believe that it might just snow forever. We ventured out on two different occasions, both of which involved shoveling the driveway. This snow, unlike the last storm, did not make for great sledding in our yard and the roads were not yet at a stage where we felt we could drive to the great sledding hill. So instead, we just all kind of did our own thing in the snow.

I always just love to stand and listen. The quiet that the snow ushers in is of an almost holy quality and one that I revel in, every time. After awhile, the birds got used to me being there and they would venture back to the feeders, within feet of me. At one point, you could see the tracks from the bunny that lives under my parents’ deck, but then they disappeared under the continuous accumulation. This was a snow day to the umpteenth degree.

We finished off the afternoon with some homemade snow ice cream, made by John. It was delicious!

Spring has 16 more days before it is required to show up. We'll see.

A day at the park

Earth, my dearest, I will. Oh believe me, you no longer
need your springtimes to win me over - one of them,
ah, even one, is already too much for my blood.
Unspeakably, I have belonged to you, from the first.
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, 9th, 1923

This past weekend was so beautiful that we decided to take the boys out to Susan Park. This is a St. Louis County park that has a very large fishing pond as well as a couple of barns that house an assortment of farm animals. We were able to get a good look at several horses, one of which was the biggest yet friendliest draft horses I’ve ever seen, cows, Shetland ponies, sheep and a couple of goats. One of the goats was so pregnant that when you viewed her from either the front or the back you could watch the kid/s moving within her belly. AWESOME! I tell you. I then realized that it was about this time, twenty years ago, that I spent a week at Heifer Project in Arkansas at the height of the goating season and was witness to dozens of goat births. I still point to that week as the seed that grew into my calling to midwifery.

The boys were drawn to the water. They spent most of their time throwing things into it, fishing things out of it or jumping over rivulets of it. Aidan, at one point, leaping as he ran, told me that the air was “like heaven.” Amen, brother. It was good to soak up the sunshine, feel the wind on my cheek and know that spring is coming… soon.

Maple Syruping

I’m a little behind on posting, so please forgive me for this delayed blog.

Last week we did, what I guess you could call, our first “official” homeschool activity. Even though we are not doing anything official, in any capacity whatsoever, resembling homeschooling, this was an opportunity that we absolutely didn’t want to miss--especially since it is so dependent on the season. Another added bonus was that John was able to attend with us so it was truly a family event.

Missouri has an incredible Department of Conservation that is very committed to education and has wonderful programs, for all ages. It was one of these programs, named one of their “Homeschool Specials,” that we attended—Maple Syruping. As a family, we have always been partial to real maple syrup on our pancakes and waffles and, although it is clearly more expensive, the authentic taste is beyond compare. So, we were very excited to be able to learn all about the process and hopefully be brought closer to the source of our beloved sweetner.

The demonstration was held on one of the Conservation Department’s numerous natural areas, which are protected by law and maintained by the Department. It was only a 30 minute drive from the house which was wonderful. We learned how to identify sugar maples and that cold nights and warmer days make for the best harvesting of sap. Our particular morning was certainly cold. The previous night’s low was 24 and by 11:30 or so, it was just barely 32 degrees. The rest of the week would bring warmer temperatures though and we couldn’t help but think that it was definitely “sugaring” weather.

We then walked over to the “sugar bush” which is the area where the tapping of the trees is most numerous. There were probably about 10-12 trees with buckets hanging from them. We were all asked to go retrieve a bucket and from all of our buckets we only managed to yield one gallon of sap. The sap looks like water, thin and clear, and in fact, is about 97% water. Because of its high water content, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. We were then shown the process of boiling down the sap over an evaporator. It is an incredibly labor intensive job, taking about an hour in the evaporator for every gallon of sap you are boiling. I have a whole new appreciation for this product and I no longer feel that the price is exorbitant but rather it is reflective of the time and energy invested in the glorious finish. It makes me wonder why it doesn’t cost even more, honestly.

Our last stop was at a picnic table topped with two trays of waffle pieces. Everyone was instructed to sample a piece from each tray and to try and identify which one was dribbled with real maple syrup and which one was clothed with the imposter (aka, Mrs. Butterworth’s). I knew right away but I waited to see what Aidan had to say. He guessed the same as what I was thinking and when I asked him how he knew which one was the real maple syrup, he responded with, “Because it tasted good!” That’s my boy! August, on the other hand, was so pumped to be having waffles in the middle of the day that he just smiled continuously while he munched.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Night Away

Well, John and I decided to take advantage of the grandparents' offer of overnight babysitting and we stole away for 19 hours in order to celebrate our 14th dating anniversary. This anniversary has always been special for us and we usually try to do something special in order to mark it. This year, because it was so last minute, we ended up using Priceline and we got a 4 star hotel room for a VERY good price. As it works with Priceline, you don't know exactly where you will be staying until you purchase the hotel room that meets your specifications and the price that you are willing to pay. We ended up with a room in downtown St. Louis at the Hyatt at Union Station. Although no longer used as a train station, the building has been restored to its original glory and it is a shopping and restaurant center for tourists and residents alike. It was really beautiful, somewhat glamorous, and simply wonderful to get away.

Weaning Day

In ancient writings, the word 'wean' meant 'to ripen" -- like a fruit nourished to readiness, it's time to leave the vine....Weaning was a joyous occasion because a weaned child was valued as a fulfilled child; a child was so filled with the basic tools of the earlier stages of development that [he] graduated to take on the next stage of development more independently. - The Baby Book, Sears and Sears.

Well, we finally arrived at the big day. August's last day of nursing was February 17. He claimed to understand that we would not nurse the next day and he was very excited to have his special cake. In preparing him for his big day, Aidan chimed in to tell August how he, too, had celebrated his weaning day with a cake. (Aidan was 3 years, 4 months old when he weaned--August, 3 years, 2 months old) It touched me so much that Aidan remembered that day and that he would take it upon himself to encourage August in this big step. It was a very big brother thing for him to do. In the second picture above you can see August looking at his brother with an expression that is an equal mixture of pride and admiration. I hope Aidan caught some of its magic, like I did.
Now I have to come to grips with the fact that a child of mine is not dependent on my breasts anymore, for the first time in 5 1/2 years! This weaning process is just as much my experience as it is August's. I was definitely ready to "leave the vine" and I trusted that God would give me the insight to know when it was best for August to leave. So, although it wasn't child led weaning, I do feel like it was relationship led weaning. And you should see this little guy now. He seems to be emboldened by this experience and is showing himself to be even more of an independent guy than we already knew him to be. I will miss the nursing, really I will. But I am incredibly excited about this next phase.