Wednesday, March 28, 2012

natural soda

Though I am not a fan of caramel color, diet anything, or soda, in general, I love carbonation. Aqua gaseosa, or rather acqua gassata. I drink Pellegrino every night. Sometimes with lemon. Recently, I started reminiscing about Orangina and other natural sodas I used to sometimes pick up before work. And I started creating my own natural sodas to have with dinner.

The one I have adored recently is grapefruit soda with freshly squeezed grapefruit. My kids love grapefruit, but it is a high maintenance fruit to peel for them. I can't just send them off with a grapefruit. I have to peel it, then unsheath it from its membrane, then my children will eat it out of my hand as though they are farm animals and I have corn.

Because of this, I often have slightly wrinkled grapefruit that are overly juicy and therefore not preferable to feed to the children. So I juice them. I let them build into a substantial pile, then juice them in one fail swoop, keeping it in a jar and creating sodas at night with dinner. This morning, I was creating a grapefruit-mint soda which was amazing!

Our peppermint has come up already, so I just picked some fresh peppermint from the yard, (about four springs) and used two grapefruit. I wanted to save the rest of the juice for tonight/tomorrow. Fresh juice lasts a few days. I try to use it in two to three days. If you are making one soda, you need half a grapefruit and one sprig. You can use a citrus juicer, though I used my Omega, because I wanted to juice the mint with the grapefruit. I imagine without a juicer, you can chop your mint up, muddle it on the bottom of the glass with ice, like a mint julep. And you need a bottle of fizzy, or as I call it, fuzzy water. I use Pellegrino, because I like naturally occurring carbonation. Just make sure it is not tonic water, or club soda. No sugar added. And club soda has a higher sodium content. 

 Anyway, juice the hell out of two grapefruit and the mint.

Fill a glass with ice.

Fill the glass about a third filled with grapefruit-mint juice.

Then to the top with Pellegrino.

You can put a sprig of mint in, though I just chugged it. It was amazing. The mint neutralizes the real tartness of the grapefruit. It is awesome.

I create different natural sodas constantly. I sometimes use berries instead of ice. One of my favorite concoctions is Orange-Mango juice, frozen berries and Pellegrino. AMAZING! (That is what is in the bottom glass!)

Friday, March 23, 2012

grocery bags

My children don't have many chores. They are one and four, almost two and five. Their weekly chore is doing the recycling. Their daily chores are making their beds and clearing the dishes from the table. Thor needs to be supervised. He is, uh, ambitious, yes, rather excited about recycling. My husband supervised last week, and by supervise I mean of course brought the bin from outside to the inside, then walked away. After the children filled the bin, he put it back outside. Apparently, the children threw away all of our canvas bags for food shopping, a dust pan and brush, and the lid for our recycling bin.

That is soooo not the point of bringing your own canvas bags to the market. I even had produce bags in there. Four of our bags were ones that said "Yingst Family Market. Est. 2006." Our family name and the year we married. And the other three were ones that zipped into a convenient little pouch and the money they cost went to feed African children. Those were incredibly convenient too. I found one, being used for books, and a produce bag.

I used the grocery bag as a template for some new ones. I am terrible at sewing, as I am just learning the art of consistently pressure on my sewing pedal. And what all these dang stitches are for. My husband was embarrassed that he wasn't watching the children, so he said, Hey, there is a big piece of canvas in the garage. I found it a few years ago from the previous owners, I will wash it for you.

So, he did. And it was hella large. I didn't measure it, but I did use it for new bags.

There is virtually no overhead for this project. Just thread and manpower. I admit that sewing isn't particularly something I am good at. My seams are crooked, and uneven.  But here were my first two. They are a little too large, I think.

I covered an ugly seam with some fabric, and made it into a courier type bag because I often ride to the farmer's market in the summer, and wanted something that wouldn't open.

Then I made some smaller ones experimenting with stitches and seams.

I was using different seam techniques, and did one with a contrasting thread, but the problem is that I cannot sew straight as a matter of course, so the contrasting thread is very very visible. Or rather, my mistakes are VERY visible. So, I hit the fabric shop yesterday and found this cool native american ribbon and sewed it on top of the crappy seam, and it looks better. Much better. Going to do it on the other one too.
Crappy seam.
Awesome ribbon covering crappy seam.
I still have more than half my canvas left, so I might research how to make the ones with the zipper on them, and create a few of those. I also am going to figure out how to make produce bags, because those are damn useful.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

teaching meditation to children.

My friend Miri asked me to write a little more about meditating with the children and how I go about that, how I get them to sit still, what I think about meditation, wisdom I can share, how Thor does in meditation, and other ideas for meditation. Beezus is two weeks away from five and Thor is two weeks away from two, so meditating with him seems a little um, ambitious. And it is.

I have written about meditating with the kids a few times.

talking stick.
enso meditation with children.

I am certainly not an expert at meditating with children. I just happen to do it most days. I meditate alone and I meditate with the children. So, I am just a mama. Know that before I start this conversation. I wanted to give a few pointers for parents who think meditation is some far-out amazing thing I have accomplished with my children. It isn't and I haven't. The book Baby Buddhas has ten meditations to do with children and a few for parents learning meditation. And all of them are described in a simple, clear manner, and really work amazingly well for children. I have adapted some, while using others straight from the book.

*Not a real meditation.
I asked her to show me how she meditates, then snapped a pic.
I would suggest as a journal exercise (parents need homework too!) to write about what you want your children to learn and gain from meditation. It will help you clarify your intention in meditation with your children and your intention as a parent. And it helps you see how you are meeting that goal, even when everyone is crawling on you like you are a meditating jungle gym. The goal is long term. You are trying to give your child a sense of themselves and a sense of peace and compassion, joy and love.

You are also teaching your children that perfection is not the goal. There is no perfect meditation and yet, in that way, every meditation is perfect. Meditation is not measured in those terms, even though so many of us want to take a yardstick to our practice. Did I sit long enough? Did I think too much? Do I feel calmer? So, when you give your children the gift of meditation, you give them the gift of acceptance too. You give them the gift of space in their mind. Give them the gift of being right just as they are. And maybe that is a gift for yourself too.

The single best piece of advice I can give parents for meditating with children is lower your expectations.

Know that your children are going to stand up from meditation from time to time (my daughter never stands, my 23 month old stands after a minute.) Your two year old may even bonk his older sister on the head despite the serenity you are trying to cultivate. Or he may repeatedly drive a Hot Wheels car up your leg while you are chanting Oooommmmm. Know that some days your baby will sit for thirty seconds. Know that other days she may ask you ten thousand questions while you are guiding her through a meditation story. Know that a meditation technique you use one day will be ineffective the next day.

BUT that will not be the experience every minute of your meditation. And in the moments between, you are teaching your child something incredibly valuable. All I can say is allow your children to be children during meditation. Yes, you will try to refocus their attention on meditation. Yes, you should take the meditation seriously. Think joy and seriousness together. Strong but loving. But sometimes that won't work. Meditation is not the time or place where anyone should get punished, or reprimanded, or voices should be raised in any way, because the meditation isn't done "correctly". The last thing I want to create is an obligation, or sense of torture about meditation. Sitting is supposed to be a safe haven, a welcome ritual of our day, not that thing they have to do that they dread.I often say things like, "It looks like you are done with meditation, so why don't you sit back down and we will stop together by ringing the gong."

Asking little ones to ring the gong is a good way
to get them to associate meditation with fun.
Pema Chodron says, "Meditation isn't really about getting rid of thoughts, it's about changing the pattern of grasping on to things, which in our everyday experience is our thoughts." When you are teaching mindfulness, you are just readjusting your mind to be aware of your thoughts and attention when they drift from being open and empty. You are teaching your child to be present, or right in the moment. That is mindfulness. To have your mind exactly where your body is. Recently, I heard someone say when you are dwelling in the past, you are living in regret and guilt and when you are dwelling in the future, you are living in anxiety. Our goal then is to live in the present, and teach our children to do that too.

When you teach your children meditation, you are giving them a coping mechanism that isn't overeating, yelling, hitting, zoning out in front of the television, drinking, suppressing their feelings or running their head into a wall.  You are teaching them to sit in silence, to find a calm moment when their head is noisy. With meditation, you are teaching your children how YOU deal with stress and how to live life on life's terms. My daughter sometimes asks to meditate when she is hurt or upset, because she sees me meditate when I am hurt or upset.

So here is the second best piece of advice I can give parents for meditating with children--start meditating by yourself for yourself.

Cultivating a meditation practice will help you deal with your kids when they are crazy. Meditation will help you deal with yourself when you are feeling crazy. I would start simply by sitting every morning and every evening for ten minutes. I find I sit more easily before coffee in the morning, when my monkey mind hasn't quite kicked in yet. And you sit, trying not to make grocery lists in your head. Try to label that, "THINKING" and refocus your mind on your breath. One minute of true clear minded meditation will help, I promise you, in feeling serenity. And then after the kids have done to sleep in the evening, because there is obviously a lack of interest in what I am doing and I can meditate without interruption.  I precede meditation in the morning with a prayer, and follow it in the evening with a prayer. It is my time to sit alone and quiet my mind. Develop a conscious contact with God, or nature, or whatever it is that helps me feel protected.

If children see you meditate, they will want to meditate. If you tell them you deal with anger by meditating, that is what they learn. When you are meditating with your children, they may not breathe the way you breathe. They may not sit with their back straight. They may not close their eyes, or open them. But if they are watching you meditate, they will try to sit like you, breathe like you, be like you. Of course, this applies to every part of your life.

Here is the third piece of advice (I stopped ranking them) about meditating with children--don't treat meditation as a time-out.

Meditation is not a punishment. And it should not be treated that way.

Mind jar works for settling upset minds.
When you use meditation as a punishment, sitting still, quietly, becomes equated with something unpleasant, even though I think children need quiet when they are freaking out. So, this is not to say that if you child is acting out, and hitting other kids, you don't sit him somewhere away from others to calm down. Just treat it differently. Don't use the same space as meditation. Don't use the same words. Make meditation a choice for your child, so they can learn to gain control of their own mind and recognize their own need for quiet.

When one of my children is out of control, I separate them from the situation, talk to her/him, hold and kiss the baby(when little ones are most unlovable, mama's job is to love them the most), then brainstorm ideas on how to remedy the wrongs that may have occurred. Before we can find effective solutions, we need to quiet the mind and the anger. I ask my child if they want to use the mindjar before going on, rather than force them to meditate. It sounds like a subtle difference, perhaps meaningless to some people, but it is huge for children in my experience. If the child says no to meditation, respect their decision. To be honest, most of the time they choose to use the mindjar. They shake it up, and it represents the chaos in their mind, then they sit and watch the glitter settle as their thoughts settle. We sometimes have to shake more than once, and that is okay. They are calming down.

My fourth piece of advice about meditating with children is to create a sacred space for meditation.

My children love doing this. We try to change our altar based on the season. We have a Buddha, a Virgin of Guadalupe, symbols of each element (a bowl of water for, uh, Water, a feather and incense for Air, stones for Earth, and candles for Fire), flowers/symbols of the season, and anything else that catches our fancy. We have a gong for starting and ending meditation. Children love using bells, and it helps get them actively involved in meditation. I have recently downloaded a free app for my phone that rings a gong  to start meditation and end meditation. You simply program the length of time you want to sit for. It is awesome.

The altar/meditation space we have created is in their playroom. For Christmas, I gave each member of my family their own meditation cushion, since I was the only person with one. Everyone was using a pillow. They love their own cushion with their own color. When we decide to meditate, everyone scrambles to grab their cushion and sit in a circle. We put the gong in the center of us, or if we are doing a mindfulness meditation, whatever we are focusing on.

When we used to have the altar in the front room on a table the children could reach, people often asked me how we kept that safe from little hands. And I didn't really know how to answer that. We taught them it was sacred and not to be touched. And they didn't play with the things on the altar. We now have the altar higher than reach for the children, which is nice for lighting candles and incense.

My fifth piece of advice about meditating with children is teach them that anything can be a meditation if you are practicing mindfulness.

This seems contrary to what I am saying earlier. You create a sacred space. You ask them if they want to meditate. But practicing mindfulness means to be paying attention to the present moment without judgement. It doesn't mean that you do dishes then say, "I was meditating back then." You make it a conscious choice about the activity and mindfulness. That is the point of mindfulness. It is about being conscious about where you are, how your breath moves your body, what is going on right now, right where you are.

We sometimes do mindfulness meditations about an object. We try to shed all our judgement about what it is, and just look at it. For example, we might put a picture frame in the center of our circle. We don't talk about whether it is holding a pretty picture, or what it used to hold, or what it will hold, or if it itself is pretty, but rather that it is rectangular, black, white, scratched, heavy. We talk about it objectively.

When we take mindfulness meditation walks, we stop and smell the air. We listen to the birds. We take the time to just be present right where we are. We sometimes do these as kinds of gratitude walks. We thank the trees for giving us shade. Or whatever we notice right then right where we are. We also do meditation painting sessions and paint ensos. Not worrying about whether they are perfect, for it is in their imperfection that we find some kind of sacred truth.

I hope this helped a little. I am open to taking questions. Again, I am not an expert, but I have thought about this a lot, written about it and use meditation in my daily life as a mama and a lady. I am happy to answer whatever you would like to know about meditating with children. Thank you.

Monday, March 19, 2012

chalkboard jar labels

I have been blending herbs for my own herbal teas at night. I used to do this quite frequently when I lived in Tucson and belonged to a co-op with an amazing herb selection, or even being able to go out and gather. Recently, I found a wonderful on-line shop for herbs. Storing them in mason jars makes my heart happy. But labeling them was kind of a pain. So I bought some chalkboard paint.

I painted streaks across each jar. This chalkboard paint was in the clearance bin at Michaels for $2.99, but I have recently seen a few recipes for homemade chalkboard paint on Pinterest.

I let it dry overnight, then eh, voila!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

tinted lip balm.

A few weeks ago, I found a recipe to make your own tinted lip balm. I added it to my recipe on making your own solid perfume. Both of which required beeswax.

I finally got around to ordering some beeswax from Mountain Rose Herbs, and some alkanet, the natural dye for the lip balm, and today, I made some tinted lip balm.

The recipe is really simple:
2 Tablespoons of coconut oil
1 Tablespoon of sweet almond oil
1 Tablespoon of beeswax
1 Tablespoon of vitamin e oil
.5 teaspoon of essential oil (I used sweet orange)
1-2 teaspoon of alkanet root powder.

The alkanet came to me in a root form, even though I ordered the powder. (Booo!) I did try to make the powder in my blender, but had a lot of solids left, which was fine. I don't mind having some solid bits in my lip balm.

You create a kind of double boiler effect by getting a jar for melting. Use glass, obviously. Then put it in a small saucepan over a low heat. Gently melt the coconut oil, the almond oil and the beeswax. Stir well with straw or wooden stick. Remove from heat when ALL the solids are liquids.

You then add the alkanet, vitamin e oil and essential oil to the melted mixture. Stir. Then pour into the containers. You can use old altoids tins. I bought some little lip balm tins. They were seventy cents a piece.

The back one is a solid perfume. Essentially, the same process except it is just beeswax and sweet almond oil melted. (Use 1 TB each), and about 20 drops of essential oils, in whatever combination you would like. This one is sweet orange and basil. Melt the solids, and add the oil. Pour and let set. About a half an hour, and you have a solid perfume. You can also spray about twenty pumps of your favorite perfume into the beeswax and almond oil mixture.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

jewelry holder

At the same time that we reinvented the guest room as a playroom, we decided to reorganize the bathroom. That might seems strange, but we have this rather large chest of drawers that comes from Sam's family, and I was thinking it might be a more effective way to house our linens, towels and other goodies than the mixture of small, ineffective, slatted shelving unit and a small, ineffective shelving unit with drawer. We moved those out, but in doing so, we had to throw out, reevaluate each item. I actually love doing this, so you know...once everything was out, it looked strange, like we had a chest of drawers and had no idea what to do with it, so we stuck it in the bathroom.

We still don't know what to do with that chest of drawers, incidentally. It is sitting in our dining room. Yay.

During my organizing, I had a pile of jewelry, and honestly, I have a jewelry organizing station upstairs in my closet, but I use the downstairs all day, and usually want to put my finishing touches on there. I hit our cluttered and treasure-rich basement.

My eyes fell on an old dry erase board we used to use in our kitchen. Sam, unfortunately, wrote on it with Sharpie. Yeah. I used a glue gun and covered the board itself with scraps of linen. Then I screwed hooks into the frame on one side. On the other side, I ripped off a piece of old screen and stapled it to the frame.

And I had a jewelry holder.

I like that there is a pen lip on this. I can rest those pieces that can't hang. We also took out one of the shelves, the slatted one, because ay, I found so many things under that damnable piece. That shelf is going to the front porch growing area I am beginning in the next few weeks. (When the carpenter leaves our home.) It definitely gives the space more space. I replaced the art with two pieces by Jen Singer called Good Manners, they say, "No, thank you." And "Yes, please." And then one of those subway art pieces about manners. I actually bought all these good manners pieces and had no idea where I was going to hang them, which was a little silly. But I like the way it turned out, for not changing very much.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I've been rediscovering my love of linoleum block printing. I've been fascinated with feathers as well. And so I thought I might do a feather carving. 

I drew a very basic feather, anPd then texturized it while carving the block.

My initial idea was to use the feather for a tea towel. I printed it and it looked like poo. Here I'll show you. It literally looked like poo. Smeared poo.

For that project, I grabbed a piece of fabric, and covered the now set block print. I liked the way it turned out.

For the feather print, I printed off some on watercolor card stock in gold for sending to friends.

I really dug this triple print I did. Experimenting with the printing aspect of it.

Today, I dug out a total score from the ReStore, which is sheet music. (Pun intended.) 10 cents a booklet. It felt kind of sacrilegious to make art our of sheet music, but then I thought it was ten cent paper, and it is art. Make it better. 

Not sure I succeeded in the better part, but I did do some enso meditation paintings.

After meditating and painting, I thought I might print some more pieces. I did some red feather prints.

I might give that to my cousin, who I call Primo. Rather, I call him Mopri (primo flipped.)

I love the feather print, and my sister gave me the idea to do a series of four, each one a symbol of an element. I have sketched out a fish for water. A tree for earth. I am still worried about the fire, but we will see.

Monday, March 5, 2012


The reason I haven't been posting on this blog is because I have been crafting, redecorating, and creating around the ranch. I don't really have a ranch. I live in a small town in New Jersey, but you know...

Last weekend, my husband and I decided to break our guest room down and turn it into a playroom for the kids. They share a room, and all their toys, clothes and crap was shoved into the smallest room in the house. We have guests maybe once every two months, so we just pulled the trigger. We also decided to break down part of the studio and create a sewing space for me, since I just bought a sewing machine. (And am learning little projects here and there.) My baker's racks in the studio then went on the front porch, as well as a useless shelving unit from the bathroom, and that is being turned into an indoor garden area. All in all, it had meant our house is in flux.

I stupidly did not take pictures of the guest room filled, but I did after we emptied the room. So, this is before from the door (left) and the after (right)

We moved a ReStore (ReStore is the Habitat for Humanity thrift shop.) We had too much furniture in the living room. We moved in a bookshelf from the kids room. Hung some maps and hung the letters Beezus is making in pre-K with items that start with that letter (B is made of Beans, for example.)

Before diagonally  across from the door:

Play kitchen, music basket, baby bed, meditation cushions, and Sam built custom shelving across the entire wall with window and we filled it with games, puzzles, toys and books. On top of the shelves is the new nature table/altar. We took that down around Christmas, because everything was so cluttered and couldn't find a new space for it, so I am most excited about that.

This is the right corner. We added a table, the day of the week/weather board. They have a little table and chairs, our button heart, and a gnome growth chart. The closet is filled with costumes and adult games.

All in all, I cannot believe we lived without a playroom for so long. It feels absolutely natural to have this space here. A whole room is valuable real estate, and we need it for the kids. It also means their room is so much less cluttered and less chaotic.

So grateful for this project. We also have a dedicated area for meditation now. And we have been group meditating every day since we rearranged the space. I have quite a few projects in the pipeline to share this week, so you might be hearing from me a lot.