Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Brain Balls

Brain Balls 
How do I occupy my time now that the holidays are over? And yes, they are over. A holiday that starts after bedtime is not one for families with young children.

We occupied some free time this holiday season by making Brain Balls. Uh huh. That's right. Brain Balls.
Mixing the herbs
I was inspired after watching a video with Rosemary Gladstar called "Herbal Pills: Zoom Balls". Jared and I agreed that she seemed to quietly delight in saying the word "balls" again and again.

Balls, this particular type of balls, are powdered herbs mixed with nut butter, tahini, and honey. She suggests adding optional ingredients like coconut, chocolate chips, and carob.

Besides the lightly giddy use of the word "balls", two other items firmed my appreciation for Rosemary. When discussing nut butters, she mentioned that you could also use peanut butter. Though it was not as easily digested as almond butter, it was more affordable. And, of course, herbalism is a medicine of the people and should be accessible to all. Regarding chocolate, she says again that this is an optional ingredient, but she clearly likes it.

Thus, we have a simple, affordable, and tasty manner in which to consume herbs daily.

The day I made Brain Balls (December 26) was one of those cooped up kind of days, where everyone as trying to get something done and recovering from the excitement of Christmas day. I pulled out my copy of Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health and tried to determine how much almond butter, tahini, and honey I'd need. The recipe was in parts rather than cups. Beren contributed by making and repeating demands that I tried to ignore as Jared tried to assist me with the recipe.

"I can't think straight with all this noise!" I said.

"Just listen, if you want to have bzzzbxxxzz so you'll end up with about kkrsshrgzxxxx amount of moist ingredients," Jared said. [Beren talking in the background, or the foreground, actually].

"Beren, can you wait a moment? Really, I cannot focus," I said.

"Rachel, this is what you need to do. You have 2 parts of the…" Jared continued.

"OK! I am just going to do this! You want pickles?!?! OK!! HERE ARE SOME PICKLES. I'm going to make these Brain Balls now," I said.

I sensed that Jared was disappointed and irritated that I couldn't accept (or hear) his help. But, Beren had won this round. He had created enough static in the lines so his parents could not have an adult conversation. I was determined to make Brain Balls, so I ceased communications and dove into my foxhole - an stainless steel bowl that I intended to fill with herbs.

Beren was my herb grinder. In succession, we added, ground, and then measured gotu kola, rosemary, and gingko. He really dislikes loud noises, including the electric herb grinder, which I purchased at a yard sale. I knew he'd have to operate it, or he'd become upset by the "racket".

I mixed the honey, tahini, and almond butter. Jared's suggested proportions were ultimately in the ballpark. I added Sinerian ginseng, carob, goji berries, and coconut to the herb powders. With the moist ingredients, I rolled the balls. They're delicious.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A miscellany on December 26

A selection of the gifts from my parents to Beren - play food for his kitchen set.
I smiled with some pride when Beren referred to the orange juice as "olive oil" and the Balogna as "salve". 

The holiday blast will continue. It started on Thanksgiving with Thanksgiving and Hanukah. Then Beren's birthday, then his birthday party, then Christmas, then Christmas part two with my aunts, uncles, and cousins, then Christmas with my brother and his girlfriend.

By the end of our gift exchange with my parents on Christmas Day, Beren was vibrating with a wild energy. We went to the playground to unwind on the swings.

It's not easy being three, if I am able to put myself in my child's shoes. Not much is in a three year old's control. To a certain extent, wake up time, some amount of food intake, and some aspects of dressing are among categories that a young child might "control". 

A typical conversation might go like this, "What will you eat next? Broccoli, chicken, or wild rice? We also have salad with dipping sauce," I say, gesturing to the food Jared has arranged on Beren's plate. I try to keep Beren's attention, but climbing is more alluring. I could replace any number of clothing items with the above. "Would you like to wear this shirt or that one?" And lately, the answer has been neither, but with the winter solstice heat wave behind us, the tall people in the house 'win' (eventually) on the clothing disagreements.

Really, none of us are "in control". Occasionally, one of reels with emotion while the remaining two family members are stoic or calm. As a mother, I feel as though I am steering a ship of moods. Excited, bored, upset, sad, angry, gleeful, bashful, thoughtful, spiteful, pensive, hesitant, afraid, courageous, curious. I'm not just talking about my son's disposition either, but all of ours.

Jared and I have watched Beren become his emotional self in recent months. His reactions and feelings have become more subtle and varied. It's stunning to watch, as have most of the events of the past three years.

We recently visited friends who have a newborn. The stillness, the quietness, the dimness, and warmth of their home reminded me of Beren's newborn days. It was womblike. 

In our daily discussion of events regarding our child, Jared and reminsced about how difficult the early days could be. How quiet they were, how slow. It's so different now, but then again, is it?

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Music Critic at the Dance Party

Our fantastic three person dance party has been going every night for a few nights. The humidifier is our smoke machine. Each of us twirl our "dance flashlights". Johnny Burnette, Rolling Stones, Warsaw Village Band, Brooke Shive.

It all began with Jared picking the first few notes of Cancion del Mariachi. Beren said, "I like that music*." I jumped up and plugged in our music player. In moments, Antonio Banderas y Los Lobos were cranking and we were all running in a tight circle in our tiny bedroom.

Beren discovered he could fit into a pillow case, and I swung him around. "Watch the wall!" Jared said. We spun until I couldn't. Beren began to fade and remained inside his sleeping bag pillow case. This time, he was cradled in Jared's arms, just like old times.

*Beren does not like all music, however. One evening, Jared absently played the melody of "Eye of the Tiger." I began to sing along. Beren was interested. The lyrics are about an animal.

"What's that music?" He asked. "Eye of the Tiger," I said. "What's that?"

I turned to YouTube.com for interpretation. The opening bars sounded, and the band members strutted down the street in the fuzzy video. Beren went for the iPad. I was concerned that the coiffed rock stars appeared to be looking for a fight in the video, so I subtly directed Beren's attention away. He went for the iPad again and then the speakers.

He turned the speakers sideways. "Terrible music. Terrible. Terrible."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

At the playground, a child reveals his true love

Beren receives a heart-shaped ornament from his great-grandmother.

A sudden jump in sure footedness.

Today at the playground, Jared and I watched as Beren climbed a spiral ladder, stepped across space, and onto the adjacent platform. He strode across a wobbly bridge, which would have made him nervous just weeks prior.

A sudden jump in language.

We sat on the platform, our "snack hut" out of the unseasonably, historically warm drizzle, dividing smoked salmon and slices of cheese onto fresh bread. "I love you, salmon. I love you, cheese," said Beren.

Jared and I smiled at each other. "After all I've done for you?" Jared whispered to me. I shook my head. "We rarely even get hugs. He loves the cheese!" I answered. "I never ever heard him say the word 'love' before." Jared agreed.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


My guys three years ago, almost to the day

Because I write about myself, I have to be honest. I have to include an ugly moment or two. So, here you go:

I spent yesterday walking up and down the forested hills and slopes of Pleasant Valley. When covered with several inches of snow and a crust of ice, this section of Hopewell township, is not that pleasant. Beautiful, yes. Deer browsed, yes, absolutely to pieces. And this is why I was walking up and down slopes for about 7 hours.

My coworkers and I were doing the first component of a forest health study that assesses deer browse. The study goes like this: Each December, we carry bare root native tree seedlings bundled in plastic garbage bags into the forest. We also carry two dibble bars, which are crude shovel-like tools that foresters use to plant tree seedlings.

The type of dibble bar we use, in case you wanted to know, is a Jim Gem KBC Bar. It weighs just over ten pounds and is 39" long. The T shaped bar has a heavy wedge instead of a shovel blade. It is bright orange so you don't "accidentally" lose the ten pound instrument.

If you are strong, like my one of coworkers, you slam it into the ground a couple times and stomp the crossbar with your foot, and you then have a sliver of a hole for a tree to go into. If you are a lightweight like me, you hop onto the crossbar and wobble. You stomp and rock and sway while standing on the cross bar. You bang your knees into the center bar. Eventually, you make a hole.

We also carry a map and GPS to guide us to our randomly selected plots where we plant ten trees per plot. Each site has a minimum of ten plots. We bring ten extra trees in case the multiflora rose thorns that shred my legs also shred the trees. The trees must have their end buds intact because in six months (mosquito season), we go back to see if the trees have been browsed by deer. You can read about what I will be doing six months from now regarding this study here.

It may seem like I am complaining, and I am, but I still really like the job. Even this part of it.

Unrelated but affecting my stamina for this activity, I got very poor sleep the previous night. I woke up just fifteen minutes before I needed to descend the icy Sourland ridge into the (pleasant) valley below. I packed in as much fatty food as Jared could cook for me in ten minutes, and drove away in the very slow to warm up Ford Ranger.

Once at the site, I took 50 trees. My coworker took 60. I look like Santa Claus with a black garbage bag  full of trees, of course. My other coworker took the map, GPS, and two dibble bars. He slings the bars across his shoulder. We march out into the forest. As the trees go into the ground, our bundles diminish until one of us can take a dibble bar. I find that it nooks nicely into a muscle knot in my shoulder. The crossbar occasionally grazes the back of my skull.

With each step, one foot punches through the ice crust. The other lifts out of it. We often walk single file, taking advantage of each other's footprints. My stride is shorter and my straddle narrower than my coworker who is in the lead, and I can't quite match his step. Sometimes my other coworker and I walk side by side and chat about our sons. Both of us are too polite to jump into our other coworker's tracks, so we each blaze our own trail. The shards of ice that our boots kick up slide down the slopes. Mini-avalanches.

We plant two sites (200 trees) in one day. By the time I return home, I'm exhausted. Truly spacey exhausted. I shower and request that we eat dinner in the living room, so I can stuff my belly from a semi-reclining position.

Jared also looks exhausted. He did not sleep well the night before, nor did our three year old. Though their day had been pleasant until lunchtime, a lack of sleep made the afternoon edgy.

Our friends had planned to eat a new and expensive restaurant in Princeton that evening. We had no childcare option. It was Jared's turn. He needed a break. He almost stayed home, but I told him, "If it was my 'turn' and I wasn't to tired, I'd go."

Shortly, he was in his jacket. As I said goodbye to him from the doorway, I could see his face relax. "Fresh air," he sighed. "See, it's good for you. I'm glad you're going," I said. In the background, an overtired three year old careened around the house.

I skipped bath time, thinking Beren might get a second wind. We snacked, read stories, nursed. Read more stories. I turned off all lights except a tiny flashlight to illuminate our book. My eyes glazed and I drifted. Beren complained repeatedly that I was not holding the flashlight up high enough. I told him that I was tired and was shutting off the flashlight.

He protested but settled down. He then began to wiggle. He put his feet on my knees and propelled himself up and down as if hopping while laying down. "Not good," I thought.  Ten minutes or more later, he hopped up and exclaimed, "Let's eat something!"

I groaned, but roused myself. The previous night's poor sleep was partly due to a child who needed a wee hours snack. "Anything to avoid that happening again," I thought. Anything, except perhaps, acting like a loving and generous spirited mother. I was grumpy. Oh yes, I was very, very grumpy.

In spite of the distant whisper of reason, I turned on all the lights. I banged cabinet doors. I stormed around the house. As I spread butter on crackers for Beren, I was surprised that the knife didn't melt in my hand and the crackers burst into flames. I was mad mad mad. And honestly, Beren was behaving just fine. It was me. I preferred that we both be in a deep sleep.

When Jared returned from his pleasant outing, he opened the door. What he heard was Beren angrily and tearfully protesting me cleaning up his blocks and me angrily and tearfully protesting his taking out more toys. "You are supposed to be asleep!" "Take out my toys! Don't put toys away!"

"Looks like I chose the wrong night to go out," Jared said. "Or the right night!" I growled. The addition of an audience calmed me a bit. "How was dinner?" I asked. When he replied, "Really nice," tears stung my eyes. I flopped on the couch.

Beren climbed into my lap. He nursed as Jared quietly told us about his dinner and the restaurant. Beren's eyelids drifted cosed for a moment, and Jared continued until our child was asleep. "I should have just enjoyed our night together," I said. "You are tired," Jared said.

Overtired, I slept poorly with long wakings in the night. Only once Beren whimpered, and in the moonlight I could see he had rolled free of his blankets. His legs were cold and covered in goosebumps. I gently replaced the blanket. He settled and fell back to sleep easily. I was surprised as this was unusual for him. I went back to bed and laid awake. The night was so bright - snow and moon. I suppose I've come to rely on night nursing to get back to sleep myself.

Affected by a second night of bad sleep and a late bedtime, our day was up and down, once again. A tired child and tired parents. I wondered if Beren would fall asleep early. If he doesn't, I promised myself, this will be my redo. The three of us built with blocks and played with trucks until bath time. We had a fun time in the tub. "I'm done," Beren announced stepping out of the bath and into his green towel. He blotted his body like an expert. "Dry my legs," [Dwhy my wegs] he said. From there, he ran into the kitchen, announcing, "I'm going to get my jammies on!"

After stories, he and I settled. We talked. I rubbed his back. When he sat up and said, "Let's eat something," I jolted.

Redo. I get my redo.

"Ok," I said. "Let's do that. Would you like crackers with butter and a carrot?" "Mmmhmm!"

After a trip to the kitchen, I sat on the couch and opened my correspondence course text. Beren climbed up, and I showed him the books. "What's this?" he asked as we looked at the black and white pictures. I pointed out images of flowers, herbs, tincture bottles, the author of the writing.

"Here's a picture of the author's garden and her watering can. Here's her apothecary where she keeps herbs. Herbs help you feel better when you are sick." I thought about the reading I've been doing lately.  I thought about how Beren always adds herbs to his imaginary soups. I though about a quote I picked up from a herbal for children. The bit of wisdom was that parents should be clear that the body heals itself and herbs simply help it to heal.

"Well, the herbs help you. They help your vital force. Did you know you had a vital force inside of you?" Beren shyly tucked his head into my elbow, and I wondered if I frightened or confused him, possibly both. He crawled into my lap and it was time to get to sleep.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

precursor to leaping

precursor to leaping

Is it cabin fever or a growth spurt? For the past several days Beren has been leaping. Not the long jump, not sashaying. Leaping. Belly flopping.

Beren's birthday gift was a homemade 36" by 18" workbench. (or there about. Jared designed it and did the cutting and assembling. I urethaned it, in a familiar division of labor that was handed down from our parents). Our house is already built out, crammed with furniture. After all, we once believed we had room for no couches, and we now have two. 

The newly introduced birthday workbench bumped the toybox to the dining room. The toybox provides a step up to a window that connects to our bedroom. Beren climbs from the toybox, onto the windowsill, swings around, and steps up onto his dresser. From the dresser he leaps onto his mattress which is on the floor. It's probably a 3 1/2 foot drop. 

Beren also climbs onto Jared's and my bed and into a different large framed out window. Sometimes he sits on his "birdie perch." Other times, he slides down onto an armchair. From there, he clambers onto the arm and leaps towards the couch about 3 to 4 feet away, depending on where the chair is. 

At times, he sticks the landing. Frequently, he belly flops onto the edge of the couch. Jared catches him, too. Very infrequently, Beren leaps from the couch back towards the armchair. Oof. The armchair is not deluxe. It lacks cushy padding. 

Each time Beren sticks a landing or flops, Jared belly laughs. Beren is his father's best medicine. Jared reserves a very particular, honest, and deep laugh for his son's adventures. 

At the commencement of dynamic leaping, I thought I should discourage this, but Jared had already encouraged it. I decided that I'd set guidelines. While leaping: No food, No sticks or objects in hand, No objects tossed from perches. Also, No playing with the telephone on top of the dresser. I'm glad all our furniture is secondhand. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sick bed

A view from across the room. Jared photographed Beren and me in our sick bed - reading side by side. Late November featured lots of sniffles, coughs, and cuddles.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

White Pine Needle Tea: My First Wild Edible

The magnificent white pine. 
Find a bluff along one of the mighty rivers of Pennsylvania, make certain it is a wild place, look up and you will see a wind and weather shaped white pine. In its native habitat, this is my favorite tree, if I am allowed.

We walked down a snowy trail along a white pine hedgerow. We nibbled on a couple rosehips from a dog rose, much more tart than the sweet-from-frost crabapples we'd sampled further back. "Want to make tea?" I asked Beren. "Mmhmm!" he replied.

I picked a couple twigs from a pine branch, and quietly said "thank you for letting me make tea." I put the aromatic branches to Beren's nose. He sniffed.

Back at home I discovered the twigs. I had already put cider with cinnamon, cloves, and allspice on the stove to warm, but I heated the water anyway. All four burners were going - reheating a pot of faro and beef stew each, steaming broccoli and Swiss chard. I glanced at the clock and knew everything would be room temperature by the time Jared arrived.

I dished out of food, and as I saw the truck headlights coming down the lane, I felt a bowl of stew. Cold. I poured myself a cup of white pine tea - hot and pleasant tasting. Sweet, aromatic, warming.

The tea of white pine needles contains vitamin C. After being low grade sick for a couple weeks, I appreciated the boost that I was receiving.

I had used white pine topically, in a salve with red cedar that helped me resolve some pesky summertime skin issues - a possibly fungal, a possibly "who knows?" kind of affliction. Steady applications and a bit of faith worked. "I uninvite you from my skin," I said firmly while rubbing the salve into my irritated flesh.

Sipping, I remembered the white pine salve and skin affliction fondly, perhaps because I no longer had red, nettley bumps on my knee.

Sipping, I remembered sitting around a campfire sipping scalding hot white pine needle tea from a styrofoam cup. It was 1986 or 1987, or so, and I was at the Linwood-MacDonald Camp. The camp counselors (one of them, the pretty one, was named Honey, much to the delight of 6th and 7th grade boys) were serving me my very first wild edible food.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Simpler in the Kitchen

Purslane, a garden simple

Usually, I'm a simpler. A simpler uses one herb at a time. In most of my lifeways, I am a simpler as well. When I make music, take photos, cook.

I'm not a multi-tasker, though I will take on many tasks all at once. I'll take my toothbrush into the closet. As I pick out clothes, I notice I'm not brushing. I'll put the kettle on and put away dishes as the toast burns.

Jared can have four burners going on the stovetop and an array of spices on the counter, each on its way to one pan or another, or perhaps all of them but in different quantities. Me? Chicken with salt and a sprinkle of rosemary. An array of steamed vegetables with… salt. I might be exaggerating, but only a bit.

I recently put mindfulness into a pot of soup I made for an ill friend and her partner. It's one of my favorite soups from a recipe I found back when we lived in Queens and used Fresh Direct to buy our groceries. Butternut squash, broth, onions, garlic. I left out the pear and replaced the heavy cream with coconut milk. I forgot about the thyme, and added fennel instead. A touch of salt to bring out the flavor, of course.

I thought of belly soothing foods, nutritious, and gentle for someone who's body is under duress, I looked in the fridge for what I had, and I put them into the pot. When my mind drifted, I reattuned myself to the soup and my task.

I have made this soup dozens of times, and sometimes it has been tasty, other times bland. This time, it was infused with such a sweetness and gentleness. I was surprised. I'm used to adding and adjusting, filling in the lack of flavor. It was perfect. Simple and mindful.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Happy Birthday to Us

Three years ago at this time, I held my three hour old newborn in my arms. I can honestly say that I am a changed person because of the past three years. In moments or maybe hours or days, depending on how I'm calculating my time spent laboring to give birth, life changed.

Where I went, how I went, and when I went, all changed because I became we. I had long been a we, as Jared and I often went together, but this we-some, this threesome was different. Profoundly so.

Before this date three years ago, I might have had a book on my lap, or perhaps Jared's had may have rested on my knee. And then, I found a baby on my lap and there he stayed on and on. Once and awhile, I'd lay him on our bed while he slept. And once, I looked at the bed and was startled to see a baby there. I had forgotten I had one of those.

Each day we learn how to live together, a threesome. We are creators, negotiators. We love. We disagree. We try things out. We say new words. We arrange for the good of the group, and sometimes for just one. Our alliances shift. We take turns. Our resumes are quite long, the tasks varied, simple and difficult. Unceasing and wonderful.

Mother. Father. Child. Wife. Husband. Son.