This Week’s Project Download…

Happy Maple Syrup Sunday!

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In Maine we celebrate Maple Syrup Sunday on the second to the last Sunday in March.  Did you know that Maine is the second largest producer of maple syrup in the U.S.?

Here are some other interesting factoids:

– It takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make one gallon of pure Maine Maple Syrup.

– It takes freezing cold nights and warm sunny days with temperatures in the 40’s and up before the sap will run.

– It takes approximately 40 years for a sugar maple tree to reach tapping size.

Our home has once again taken on the challenge of tapping our own trees.  Each year is a bust for us when it comes time to make syrup.  But I am determined to one day get it right, without having to spend thousands of dollars on industrial equipment.  We shall see what the next couple of weeks bring.  Hopefully it will be some syrup… even if it’s just a small pint!

I didn’t get much done project wise.  I think I needed some down time after all the stress from the Pinewood Derby.  I also needed a couple of days to get this house in order before my husband came home.  His patrol is finally over and the kids and I will have some time with him before he takes off yet again in another month.

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One thing husband and I did was start some cool weather crops down in the basement.  Using grow lights we (or should I say he) planted cabbage, brussel sprouts, onions, peas and beans.   We are so excited to finally get the garden started this year.  We have so many ideas and plans.  I hope to have an over abundance of crops.  Enough to share with our friends and neighbors!

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I love knitting, although I love yarn more.  I wish I had more time to knit and learn more knitting techniques.

Last summer, when I found out I was having another baby girl, I began knitting a blanket.  Here we are over 8 months later and the blanket is no where near finished.  I’ve promised myself that this darn blanket is going to be finished by the time summer arrives.  That should give me more than enough time… right?  Let’s hope so!  Or else Baby Girl will end up using this blanket as a towel cloth instead!

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This week I read “Touch Blue” by Cynthia Lord.  The story takes place in Maine so, of course, I had to enjoy the book.  I always love how authors depict Maine and New England in general.  It’s so refreshing and peaceful.  I can literally smell the ocean air and feel the sand gritting between my toes.  It’s fantastic.  In “Touch Blue” families volunteer as foster parents to meet minimum state requirements to keep their school open on the island where they live.  The story focuses on 11-year old Tess and her new, older, foster brother Aaron, a veteran of the foster care system.  I particularly like how each chapter begins with a superstition.  My favorite is Chapter 16, ‘If you write your wish beneath the stamp on a letter, the letter will carry the wish with it.”

How Does Your Garden Grow?

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Down with the groundhog I say!

Today is the first day of Spring and up here in the Northeast there is no sign of it… anywhere!  Instead, Mother Winter continues to drop snowflake upon snowflake.  If I’m not mistaken Punxsutawney Phil did say, “And so ye faithful, there is no shadow to see, an early Spring for you and me.”  You were surely mistaken… you… you… you rodent!

Okay, so let’s just pretend Spring is upon us.  We can now start planning and planting seeds for the garden!

In the past our homestead has done a combination of starting seeds indoors and directly planting in the ground from plants purchased at our local garden store.  This year we’re taking a bigger step and starting all of our seeds indoors using grow lights.  It’s probably a good idea we’re doing this since warmer weather is no where in sight.

My favorite part of garden planning is deciding what to grow.  We always do the standard… tomatoes, peppers, radishes, beans, peas, beets, lettuce, cucumbers, spinach, carrots.  We take a further step and also grow potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, squash, kale, swiss chard, pie pumpkins and edamame (soybeans).  In addition, I always like to pick a couple of ‘testers’ crops.  Two years ago I tried okra and got three.  I consider that a success since the okra was forced to grow up here in Maine.  Last year I took a stab at a few artichokes.  No luck.  However, I hear artichokes are perennials, but also hear they can’t survive winter.  We shall see what happens.   I also have tried bok choy, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and hot peppers.

This year I’ve decided on three ‘testers’… sweet potatoes, peanuts and banana peppers.  It is always fun to try out something new in the garden.  Who says you must stick to standard crops you find in the grocery store?  Even if you don’t know what kohlrabi is, or have no idea what to do with bok choy, watching them grow is almost as enjoyable as cooking and eating it.  You can always give them to your neighbor.  Or, better yet, you might find a recipe and a new found love!

If you’re not quite ready to try an unusual crop consider the commonly grown vegetables that come in an array of colors and varieties that you can’t find in the store.  How cool is it to pull up purple carrots?  Blue potatoes?  Zebra tomatoes?

Carpe diem fellow gardeners!  Carpe diem!

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This post was featured at the Homestead Barn Hop.

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Life’s Lesson… What is Winning Worth…

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Ahh… not only is spring around the corner, it’s Pinewood Derby time.  The Pinewood Derby is a racing event for Cub Scouts in the Boy Scouts.  Cub Scouts, with the help of parents, build their own cars from wood, usually from kits that contain a block of pine, plastic wheels and metal axles.  Truth be told, I didn’t know what the derby was until last year when my son joined the Cub Scouts.

The derby came right at a time when my husband began a 2-month patrol.  If you ask me (and him), horrible timing.  I panicked.  I have no clue how to build things, let alone build things that are suppose to move.  A neighbor offered to have my son build his car with their son.  At first it sounded appealing but after a lot thinking I knew this was a project my son and I needed to tackle on our own, even if dad wasn’t around.  In the end, we did it!  My son and I built a derby car!

At one point in the building phase I considered making a Facebook status that said, “who needs a man when a tool-deficient mom can do this?”  But I quickly remembered the kind old man at Lowe’s who quickly showed me how to operate my dremel tool in 10 seconds (I tried for hours at home and couldn’t figure it out).  I remembered the YouTube video (featuring a man) showing me how I’ll sand and polish the wheels.  Last, but not least, I remembered the numerous emails back and forth to my husband asking his advice.  And, most importantly, I reminded myself that this project was not about me, but about my son.  About us working together.  So, instead, I kept my lips sealed.

You see the whole idea of the Pinewood Derby is to encourage a bond between a boy and his parent/guardian.  They should work  together.  And, yes, they should build a car that looks cool and goes fast.  But the overall focus should be on fun and growth.  Right?!?!  At least that’s what I think.  However, I get the distinct impression that the derby is more about dad’s flexing their muscles desperately attempting to out race every other grown man.

I have worked hard with my son.  My son drew his design and was very adamant that his design was “the one”.  When it came time to saw I did the work.  But he helped sand and he painted.  He guided me every step of the way, down to the “x marks the spot” carving he wanted on his car.  It truly was a project he was 100% involved in and had 100% input.

These past few days have been an overflow of emotions.  I’ve broken down in tears three times… all over this damn derby car.

It all began when a fellow parent posted pictures of his son’s derby on a social media site.  Looking at the car I immediately knew it was a car completely made by the parent.  As I looked at that car the only thing I could think of was how much my son will be disappointed because his car didn’t look as “cool”.  I began to obsess at how I could just do something to make his car better.  And as awful as it sounds, I even contemplated buying a car on eBay.  Thank goodness for my husband and my wonderful kids.  They quickly snapped me out of this horrible funk.  However, it led me to do some research and reading on the whole concept of competitive parenting, parents taking on their children’s assignments as their own.

Did you know that a recent study found that up to 70% of kids will plagiarize, cheat and pass off others works as their own before they graduate college?  The study suggested that kids are under greater pressure than ever before to succeed, and that they have a greater number of daily stressors than any other generation.  It’s a tough world out there, I get that, but does this mean parents need to start doing their children’s work for them?  Don’t you think that by doing more for our kids we are actually doing less, creating the inability to learn about life’s lessons on their own?

This derby has inspired me to create a rule in our house:  Projects will be done by our kids.  My husband and I buy materials, advise and even make suggestions.  We encourage the kids and guide them but we also make sure they take ownership of the project/task.  They need to learn how to develop skills to complete a project from beginning to end.  This new rule came at a time when my daughter was also assigned a project in school.  Sh needed to create a poster on why our family loves Maine.  It was a family project.  My daughter insisted I come up with all the reasons why we love Maine.  I helped, but I left the rest to her.  And guess what?  She came up with the best reason why our family loves Maine, on her own!

Whether it’s a derby car or some other project, when parents give their children sufficient guidance and freedom to let their imaginations soar (without imposing their own viewpoints or worse, taking over entire projects) we give our kids the confidence and self satisfaction that helps them grow into secure, assertive adults.

I like to think I chose the high road on this one.  Was I tempted to cheat after seeing all of those pictures of glossy pieces of wood and glue?  Hell yes I was, but I didn’t.

We did this together and made the most of what we have, time and love.

And that is what I love the idea of living simply, and the whole homesteading movement.  I think perhaps Robert Frost was right.  Choosing the road less traveled may very well make all the difference in the world.

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**At the completion of writing this blog I came across a movie on Netflix, “Down & Derby”.  It’s a comedy that satirizes the desperate behavior of parents who compete with one another through their children.  It was a hoot to watch… and made me thankful I never went off the deep end.

**To read Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” click here.

This Week’s Project Download…

It was another whirlwind week here on the homestead.  And this morning it was tough programming the kids to wake up earlier than normal because of daylight savings time.

I am proud to say that the derby car is complete!  Just in time for the races this coming weekend.  Just some minor sanding and paint touch ups.

I’ll have a special blog post on this project and my many lessons learned.

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I didn’t have time to do many projects this week (I’ll get to that in a minute).  I was able to make a peppermint citrus scrub though.  It is extremely easy to make.  You can use sugar or salt, both will gently exfoliate the skin.  The cooling sensation of the peppermint oil helps soothe itchiness, and the coconut oil (or another other oil you choose to use) moisturizes.  I like the citrus because it is very invigorating and immediately wakes you up and has a wonderful clean, spring/summer scent.  We definitely need that up here in Northern New England!

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Here’s how to make the scrub:

  • 1 cup granulated white sugar or salt.   (I personally buy the cheap stuff since I won’t be eating it)
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil .  You can substitute olive oil, almond oil, apricot oil, avocado oil, or even use a combination.  
  • 2-4 Tablespoons orange zest.  You can also use lemon or grapefruit zest, it’s really your preference.
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable glycerin.  I’ve read it’s optional, but it does add extra moisturizing properties.  
  • 10 drops peppermint essential oil.
  • 10-15 drops orange essential oil, or any other citrus of your choice.   

Instructions:

Mix sugar, oil, zest, and vegetable glycerin together. Depending on what type of oil you use, you may need to add more or less to get the proper consistency. Make sure there is enough oil to make the sugar stick together, but not so much that it is floating on top.

Gradually add in the essential oils until you’ve reached the desired scent. It may take more or less, depending on the type of oils you use.

Store your sugar scrub in a glass container.  I put mine up on the kitchen window sill.  The great thing is that this scrub also makes an awesome gift, especially in the summer when we’re all out in the garden getting our hands dirty!   Just rub a small amount of the scrub on your hands or body and rinse with warm water.  

Honestly the sky is the limit on this scrub.  You can add any scent and oil you choose.  I think my next one will involve lavender and rosemary.  

This week I really had to focus on my daughter and her school work.  I was so nervous about her learning and study habits.  Thankfully, everything turned out just fine.  I just need to ensure I stay on top of her and encourage her.  She has been reading “My Life as a Book” so I read it as well.  I must say this has been of my favorite books she’s brought home so far!  Maybe it’s because the main character reminds me of a cross between her and her devious brother!

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The kids enjoyed a wonderful few days with dad as he made a quick visit home (thus the lack of projects I could complete – there was too much excitement at home).  Unfortunately, the visit was short lived and he’s out patrolling our waters again.  It’s only for a few weeks and he’ll finally be back home for a decent amount of time.  Just in time to get the garden going!

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Be the Gardner of Your Mind…

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This morning as I sat in front of my laptop thinking about my next blog I received an email reply from my father.  A brief rewind…  my parents are in the process of preparing for retirement.  We have convinced them to leave sunny San Diego and come here to Maine, at least part-time.  Things are now starting to progress and we are now preparing to build an attachment on to our house.  There has been a lot of  discussion back and forth on design, location, etc.  The hottest of topics… a garage.

This was the dialogue this morning…

Husband (via steel maritime vessel):  “What about a carport instead of a full walled garage?

Me:  “No way the old man will agree.  He has to wipe down his car every day.  He’ll have a hellava time doing it on days like today.  (We got another foot of slushy snow).

Husband:  “What if we got horses and hitching posts instead?”

Me:  “I’m in!”

Father:  “There’s always a smart ass in the crowd.  We can always say the hell with it altogether and there are no worries.”

A conversation that could have been silly banter back and forth quickly turned sour and negative.  This quick email exchange made me realize that it’s easy to fall prey to negative thinking.  Having negative thoughts can cause a fog where it’s almost impossible to loosen up, have fun, and see the brighter side.

Negative thoughts drain you of energy and keep you from being in the present moment.  The more you give in to your negative thoughts, the stronger they become.  On the contrary, a small positive thought can have the same effect blossoming into a beautiful outcome.

As we all know when we start to have negative thoughts, shifting our focus to something positive is much easier said than done.  But, I have found, it’s the only way I can personally get turned around.  Nothing gets me moving in the right direction more easily than “choosing” to look for the silver lining in my life.  Frankly, I just don’t have time to be or deal with a Nasty Nelly.

I’m not saying everyone should walk around happy all day long, skipping down the street, whistling show tunes.  I’m also not saying that happy thoughts is the cure all for every ailment known to  mankind.  What I am saying is that if we all just lighten up just a little bit we can avoid going down a path that can be potentially painful and unnecessary.

It wasn’t long ago where “I chose” to see the worst in everything.  If I had to pick a phrase my husband would use to describe this time it would be the “duck and cover” period.  He even got the kids in to it.  When he would calmly say, “Hey, I think it’s going to be a full moon tonight” it was code speak for, “Mommy is going to go bug crap crazy soon.  Seek cover.”  To this day if my kids see a full moon I can hear them whisper, “uh oh”.

Fortunately for me, my third child was born, and “I chose” to re-focus on my family and home.  As a way to reinforce my newly acquired outlook I decided to start a blog and began to enjoy the life around me.

Here are some things I do to help overcome negative thoughts, perhaps they’ll work for you, too:

1.  Meditate or do Yoga.

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My favorite is hot yoga.  When the husband is away I do what I can at home, especially  with a little one.  Even listening to meditation music at night before bed does wonders.  I’m blessed I have two older children who, believe it or not, dim the lights, turn on the music, take the baby, and just let me relax.  Who cares if it’s only for 5 minutes before the crying and fighting starts.  5 minutes is better than nothing!  Meditation and yoga helps me stay present – the only moment, the most important moment.

2. Smile.

We all gotta do it.  It really does help change your mood and relieve stress. And, believe it or not, it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown.

3. Surround yourself with positive people.

When you’re stuck in a negative spiral, talk to people who can put things into perspective and won’t feed your negative thinking.  Whether it’s a Facebook group I’m part of, fellow bloggers, or a neighbor, surrounding ones’ self with those who encourage and support me in my goals keeps us positive.

4. Change the tone of your thoughts from negative to positive.

You don’t know how many times my husband calls/emails and tells me his schedule has changed and won’t be home when expected.  The old me would instantly freak out and get mad.  And, yes, perhaps, a few threats of divorce.  What I failed to see is that the change was not his doing.  So, as a family, we make do with the cards we are dealt, and remain thankful for our strong family unit that is fortunate enough to live in a beautiful state.

5.  Don’t play the victim.  You create your life – take responsibility.  

If I am unhappy with a situation I think of what I can do to change it.  We always have the choice to make change happen.

6.  Help Someone.

Every so often I like to take the focus away from me and do something nice for another person.  I admit, though, my husband is much better at this than I am.  When the Nemo blizzard hit I plowed the driveway of an older couple up the street from my home.  I am no expert snow plower… I only took out a small tree, a flower bed… then there was some sod… hmm, I digress.  I did what I could.  In the end, my neighbor was happy(ish), and I felt great about myself.  It’s addictive.  Choose to help someone else.  Random acts of kindness last forever and make us feel great about who we are.

7.  Remember that no one is perfect and let yourself move forward.  

It’s easy to dwell on mistakes.  Learn from them and move forward.  I always remind myself that my mistakes led to where I am today… my family, this home, this present life surrounded by nature and clean air.

8.  Sing/Dance.

I’m an awful dancer, and even worse at singing.  But when I do it I feel great.  Singing to “Call Me Maybe” in the car with my kids, or dancing in front of my baby while she’s in her bouncy seat… it’s an easy way to cleanse, providing quick, and cheap, stress relief.   

9. List five things that you are grateful for right now.

When things are really crazy I stop, breathe, and appreciate what I already have. Here’s my list: My husband, my children, my home, my health, and my new found path in life.  This week I am also especially grateful for electricity.

10. Read/Write.

Whether it’s a book, positive quotes, keeping a journal, or writing a blog.  Reading and writing is an amazing outlet.  Just writing this blog has already made me forget the emails I exchanged with my father this morning.  I was able  to go back and write to him as if nothing had happened, in a normal tone.

In the end… remember this…

Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

This post was featured at the Homestead Barn Hop

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This Week’s Project Download…

Ever have one of those weeks where you feel like nothing was accomplished, yet it was so busy you were relieved it was over?  That was my week.

Between a snow storm, power outages, homework, after school activities, and doctor’s appointments it was a hectic week on the homestead.  I wasn’t able to get many projects started, or even finished for that matter.

The derby car is still a work in progress.  I only have two weeks to get it all done!  A lot of painting and priming to do, and then it’s on to the wheels and axles.

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I had to hollow out a couple eggs for my son’s school project this week.  He is making ‘cascarones’, eggs filled with confetti and broken over a friends head at the completion of Lent.  My son’s class will fill the eggs with birdseed instead and break them over their class tree.  He will enjoy this project so much!  Thanks to YouTube I quickly learned how to blow out the eggs and empty them out.

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A trip to the grocery store for fresh Italian parsley got me cilantro instead (apparently I have no idea what either look like).  I’m not a fan of cilantro so it is in a handy mason jar growing roots.  The cilantro sits nicely on my kitchen window sill, along with the basil, mint, bamboo and aloe so I guess it’s a keeper.

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I did make another batch of elderberry syrup and vanilla extract.  We go through about a 1/2 pint of elderberry syrup a week.  The extra vanilla extract will stay down in the basement until the holidays.  It should be extra yummy by that time, and a gift our neighbors will surely enjoy!

As far as reading…  I’m old school… I still love the feel of the paper in my hands.  This week I didn’t have much time to read so I settled for a Kindle book, “Wait for Me” by Elisabeth Naughton.    Mystery, heartache, joy and, yes, a bit of passion.  I don’t care much for the cover of the ebook though.  The cover gave me the impression the story would be “fifty shades’ish”, but that was not the case.  It was a quick read and I enjoyed the story.

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This week is an exciting one at the homestead.  My husband is making a brief stop home and will be here for a couple of days.  The kids don’t know so they will be extra surprised to see him!  As quickly as he arrives he’ll soon be back out on the steel boat patrolling our ocean.  We take what we can get!

Which reminds me… I better buy some bird seed!

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May the Force be With You…

DSC_1858 I don’t know about you but I am so ready for winter to be over!  Don’t get me wrong, I love New England and its change of seasons.  But we’ve had a storm every week in February.   I’m done with the snow, the slippery roads, the power outages.  I’ve especiallyhad it with the snowsuits, gloves, hats and boots laying on the floor, surrounded by a pool of melted snow.  Spring, where are you?!?!  Please hurry!  For if you do  not quickly arrive on my doorstep I am afraid I may have to use the utmost of powers… the Jedi mind trick.  You know, like in Star Wars. The mind is a powerful thing.  Perhaps I, Obi-Wan of this homestead, can exude my force…

Mother Nature:  Are you ready for more snow to fall?

Mama Jedi:  *waving hand* There will be no  more snow. 

Mother Nature:  There will be no more snow.  

Mama Jedi:  You will bring us Spring now.

Mother Nature:  I will bring Spring to your doorstep now.  

Mama Jedi:  Move along.

Mother Nature:  Move along.

Okay, so maybe I’ll just continue with wishful thinking.  But, regardless,  I am going to do whatever I must to get the spirit of Spring going!

This week I started on some spring cleaning.  This concept is pretty foreign to me.  Being half Asian, and growing up in Japan most of my life, this type of cleaning happens at the end of the year.  To me, it makes more sense to purge the old at the end of year, beginning a fresh new year.  However, now that I live in New England, I guess I can understand why spring cleaning is a must. You’re holed up in your house all winter, dust bunnies collecting around the wood stove, the air not circulating enough because of the tundra outside, stashing cardboard boxes down in the basement because you dread walking it to the end of your driveway for trash collection.  (Note:  I do not cite these examples based on first hand experience)

I so get it now.

Spring cleaning has arrived at the homestead.  I am getting rid of all the “junk” accumulating around me.  If we don’t use it, if it’s lost in the abyss of my kids closet, it’s gone.  Although I’m sure I could make a decent chunk of change, I am not big on selling things.  Instead, I choose to donate as much as I can to our school, local clothes pantry, local children’s hospital, Goodwill, and churches.  It’s an act that the whole entire family take part in, and enjoy.  There are others out there less fortunate that could use something as simple as a jacket, or great picture book.  The notion that my son gets excited about his once favorite fire truck going to another boy puts a huge smile on my face.

A few more rooms to tidy up.   One last snowman, that is it.   And then I expect the snow to melt away very soon.

Yes, Mother Nature, I am speaking to you.  I’m itching to get my hands dirty!

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This post was featured at the Homestead Barn Hop

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