Red Onion Woodworks

 Well, I FINALLY finished a pile of new cutting and serving boards for my shop. It’s been way too long since I added anything new, but apparently the winter/early spring just passed by in a haze of barbecue baking, kindergartener schlepping, half-marathon training, and Friday Night Lights binge watching. Or something like that.

But here they are, and let me tell you, they are pretty! I unearthed a secret stash of extra thick, super burly boards, the kind that everyone is always asking me about. I still have a few more burly ones to finish up, but this stock is extremely limited. Otherwise it’s kind of a random assortment as usual. There are more in the pipeline, so stay tuned if you don’t see what you want just yet.

Click the photos to see the boards for sale, and use the coupon code “SPRING10″ for 10% off your order through April 27. Happy spring!

Red Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion Woodworks

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{this moment}

April 18, 2014 · 0 comments

Oregon country road in spring // Wayward Spark

{this moment} A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, moment. ~ Amanda Soule

**inspired by Soule Mama’s (and Erin of Floret‘s) Friday reflections

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794th Place

April 14, 2014 · 9 comments

Camille Storch // Wayward Spark

I did it! 13.1 miles in 2 hours 18 minutes 39 seconds. (I don’t really want you to do the math, but I know you will, so I’ll just tell you that’s 10:35/mile.) In the last couple weeks, I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of good advice about running in general and running long races specifically in blog comments, on Instagram, and in person, so thank you to everyone who contributed. In addition to tips and stories, many folks told me to “Have fun!” Every time I read or heard that before the race, I silently responded, “Yeah right!” I did not sign up for this race to have fun, and I was prepared to not have any fun at all. I’m going to have to apologize to everyone I scoffed at because the actual event turned out to be, for the most part, a genuinely good time. Here are a random assortment of thoughts on the race:

I got really nervous for no good reason at home on the morning of the race. By the time I parked at the race location, however, I wasn’t nervous anymore. I got there pretty early and didn’t have much to do besides use the bathroom. The OSU marching band played at the starting line for about 20 minutes before the race, which was nice because it gave me something to focus on. It would have been nicer to use that time to chat with a friend, but I was on my own and didn’t run into anyone I knew.

I got a lot of advice ahead of time telling me to start out really slowly because I would feel an impulse to get going too fast with all the adrenaline and energy of other runners. Well, I listened to the advice and went REALLY slowly for the first three miles. The organizers had participants congregate behind the start line by estimated minutes/mile pace, and I found a spot near the 11 sign, but after the race started, hundreds of people seemed to pass me in the first couple miles. Thankfully, I didn’t have much of an ego about getting passed early on, and it was actually comforting to know that there were still hundreds of people behind me. After I was good and warmed up around mile 3, I passed quite a few more people than passed me for the rest of the race. (In the comments of my last post about running, Melissa shared a pretty inspiring story about almost coming in last in a half marathon.)

I was surprised by how many people were walking, especially in the first few miles. I would imagine that some intended to walk/run the race, but many didn’t look like their walking was planned. I was also surprised by how many people walked for a while but still finished ahead of me. Except for a few steps through each water station, I didn’t walk at all.

Sunday’s weather forecast called for temperatures in the 70s, and the race didn’t start until 9:30 am. Because all of my longer training runs were in cool/cold rainy/cloudy/frosty weather, I was more than a little concerned about dealing with heat. Thankfully, there was a nice breeze through most of the race, so I really didn’t start to feel overly warm or thirsty until about mile 10, and even then, it wasn’t too bad. Overall, the day was truly beautiful, and the course was super scenic.

I wore loose shorts and a basic cotton T-shirt for the race. I don’t have anything against sport/performance clothing, but I just don’t own any specially designed shirts, and I didn’t want to go out and buy one right before the race and run without testing it out. I heard a lot of horror stories from runners ahead of time about various kinds of chaffing and was recommended to lube up various body parts pre-race to prevent such chaffing. I also was concerned that I was going to be a sweaty monster after a couple of miles in warm weather. Fortunately, the breeze seemed to evaporate a lot of sweat, and my shirt worked out fine. I had a very minor amount of inner thigh/undie chaffing (TMI?), but it didn’t turn into anything serious.

In my training runs, I never ate anything or even drank any water, but in the comments of my last post about running, several people I trust mentioned this food stuff called Gu. I ended up buying some (at the local running store where the sales guy was super nice and spent a whole lot of time explaining all the different brands, flavors, and types of “performance nutrition” foods), but before the race, I decided that I probably wouldn’t be able to choke it down, and I didn’t want to try anything too new and crazy for the first time during the race. Then my friend Erin recommended Sharkies ”Organic Energy Sports Chews”. They’re basically glorified gummy bears. I ate a couple the night before the race and decided they might be bearable to eat while running, so I pinned a little baggie of them into my shorts kinda like this. (Thanks for the link, Rachel!) Around mile 8, I ate one not because I was hungry or particularly tired, but I thought it was about the right time to do such a thing. It was not unpleasant to eat (though it did gum up in my teeth a whole lot), but after the first one, I decided that I didn’t really want to eat any more. I also skipped out on the Gatorade and just drank the water offered along the way.

My nose ran like a faucet through the whole race. This happened in training runs, but I always blamed it on cold weather. Though it wasn’t a major issue, I did wipe about a quart of snot on the neck of my T-shirt, but it dried nicely in the breeze. Gross, I know. I’m not sure what the runny nose was all about because I don’t have allergies, and I don’t often have nasal issues as I go about my life in general.

The hardest mile was 7-8 because it was all up a slight incline. The longest, warmest, least motivated, least pleasant miles were definitely 11-13. I was kinda hoping that my slow start would allow me to have an extra energetic last few miles, but by that time, I was just working on getting to the end. Could I have run faster? Yes, but there wasn’t really any reason for me to “leave it all on the course.” I crossed the finish line, met up with my mom and kids who were watching, and didn’t feel like barfing or collapsing. I was tired, for sure, but I managed to stay upright for the rest of the day, walking, stretching, and even doing a little light housework.

The not-very-surprising miracle was that my training totally worked. Once I started running, I felt totally prepared. The thought of quitting or walking never even crossed my mind. Today, the day after, I’m a little sore but still wholly functional. It’s kinda crazy to think that just six months ago, I was gasping and wheezing during a two-mile jog.

One of the most interesting parts of participating in a run with over 1,600 other people is that I got to see a lot of different types of people running. I passed folks that looked way sportier than me, and I was passed by folks that looked less sporty than me. I used to get embarrassed when I thought about how slowly I ran, but there were lots of people in this race that ran even slower than me. The simple fact that I did this thing somehow makes me feel more entitled to be out there running on a regular basis, occasionally being seen by people when I can’t easily hide from them. Does that make sense?

So what’s next? I’m not sure. Levi’s teacher was trying to talk me into signing up for the Portland Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in May (probably not), and my friend Kara recommended the Runaway Pumpkin Half Marathon in October. (I’ll consider it.) My friend Erin told me that running the Hood to Coast relay was one of the most fun experiences of her life, so if anyone needs an extra (slow) runner on their team for this year, let me know. The one thing that sort of solidified for me during the race is that I don’t think I’d like to run a whole marathon anytime soon. I think with proper training I COULD run a whole marathon, but I don’t think it would be very pleasant, and I definitely don’t want to devote such an enormous chunk of my life to the training. This race made me feel pretty successful in my running, and I would like to keep it up. That said, I’m also seriously considering buying a bike after not owning one for many years. It’s a good thing to change it up a little every once in a while, right?

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beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Henry’s bees are finally home again after more than two months in California. (More about preparing them for almond pollination here and here.) Henry’s beekeeper/truck driver friend hauled them back north on Sunday, and Henry unloaded them in a local holding yard. Overall, they look really really good. Henry spent most of the day on Monday and Tuesday working his bees, taking necessary steps to prevent the robust colonies from swarming by pulling frames of brood and shaking out bees into nuc (pronounced “nuke”) boxes to form new colonies.

In the last few years or even the last few months, you’ve probably heard about the troubles plaguing the both commercial beekeeping and hobby beekeeping alike. Many of the dire statistics and stories behind them are true, but some of the explanations are grossly oversimplified. We’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about the health of Henry’s bees. While he has had some managed losses, most of his hives are not only surviving but thriving without using any chemical treatments or miticides for three years. Regular miticide applications are a practice that is standard for the vast majority of commercial beekeepers.

The holding yard on private property where the bees were dropped off is ideal because it’s easily accessible with a large truck, and it’s right off the highway. The problem is that, for a brief time at least, there are more bees in one area than the surrounding environment and resources can support, so the bees are having to compete for food and are under extra stress. Except for short transition periods, Henry never keeps more than 24 hives in one yard.

As he finishes working the bees, he’s been dispersing the pallets of hives to nine different smaller yards and pollination areas (1-40 hives each) in Benton and Lincoln Counties. By the end of the weekend, they’ll all be in place to take advantage of spring nectar and pollen flows including maple, madrone, trailing blackberry, poison-oak, etc.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Above you can see queen cups being drawn to rear extra queens for swarming. Observing queen cups in a hive doesn’t necessarily mean the bees are swarm prepping, but stronger colonies with lots of queen cups and many frames of brood (8+) will likely swarm after a period of rainy Oregon spring weather. Because Henry is only one guy managing over 200 hives, he needs to be able to anticipate what will happen in each colony over the next two weeks and take necessary action to encourage healthy growth without swarming. If hives do swarm, it means the beekeeper has missed an opportunity to replicate the bees’ reproduction cycle by pulling brood and making splits.

Starting this spring, Henry will intermittently have a limited number of survivor queens from his own stock available for sale through Nectar Bee Supply. Details and availability here.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

I was stung four times while taking these photos (and this Instagram video): first on the tip of my nose, then about 10 minutes later on my upper lip, and then about 20 minutes later, on my left wrist and the back of my right arm simultaneously through my shirt. I’ve been psyching myself up for this. I’ve signed on to be chief marketing, sales, customer service, and shipping officer for Old Blue Raw Honey this year, and if I’m going to act in that capacity, I had better know something about beekeeping. And if I’m going to learn anything about beekeeping, I will inevitably get stung. I’ve come to terms with this, but when faced with the reality of it, I’ve found I’m a little less stoic than I would like to be.

Holding yards are particularly bad places for working around bees (whether performing actual beekeeping duties or shooting photos) because the concentration of hives aggravates the workers. I am more or less used to being among a few colonies with workers flying by doing their thing or even occasionally landing on me to check things out because honeybees don’t generally have a lot of reason to be aggressive unless they’re being messed with. What I’m not use to is bees pursuing me, attempting to get at my skin just to hurt me, and that was what I experienced the other day.

I watched Henry get stung in the hands and arms at least 10 times while I was with him, and maybe he gave a little grunt or fished around in his sleeve to extract the offender, but that was the extent of his acknowledgement of any discomfort. I, on the other hand, totally froke out each time it happened, cussing, flailing, and clawing at myself trying to get the little bugger off me. (Side note: I’m going to credit Steve Burns in his story for The Moth for coining the term “froke out”, which from now on, I will use quite liberally.) After each attack, I had to take a little time out to regain my composure and my nerve to stick my head back in a place where I wasn’t very welcome.

Something I learned from the unpleasantness: honeybee alarm pheromone smells strongly of artificial banana. Henry and I had to spend about fifteen minutes remembering the name of that candy that used to come out of vending machines with the apples, limes, oranges, and bananas. (Runts!) Alarm pheromone smells exactly like those candy bananas, and I probably would have never know that unless I’d gotten stung in the nose. Once you’re marked by that smell, you can’t get rid of it, and you’re going to be the target of a lot more aggression.

After getting stung, my lip blew up like a cartoon character, and then slowly the rest of one side of my face inflated, too (kinda like this). When I woke up the next morning, my left eye had that fat-face piggy quality to it. Luckily I didn’t have to see too many people that day, and 24 hours in, I just looked a little chubby on one side instead of “OMG what happened to your face?!” The two stings on my arms were a little red and a little itchy, but I survived.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

honeybee drones can't sting // Wayward Spark

Levi and Charlotte were super excited that the bees were back because then Pa could catch drones for them to play with. Drones can’t sting, so they just crawl around dopily. They make great, temporary pets.

I bet at least a few of you are getting ready to be first-year beekeepers and a few more are gearing up for another season of tending your hives. Henry and I are hoping to offer some insight into commercial beekeeping as well as some tips for hobbyists in the coming months, so stay tuned for future posts and photos. And good luck with your bees!

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Plodding Along

April 6, 2014 · 36 comments

rough skinned newt // Wayward Spark

This is a rough skinned newt. They’re super common, and this time of year especially, they can be seen all over the Northwest. They’re cute and harmless, but be sure to wash your hands after touching them because they’re also super toxic if ingested. I took these photos while out running on the rad trail system just down the hill from my house.

I don’t really want to talk about newts, though. I want to talk about running. About a year ago, I publicly declared my dislike of running as a form of exercise, and while everything I said was true then and still sort of true now, I guess I’ve changed my tune a little.

Back in October, I went into the local sporting goods store to buy a bathing suit, so I could lap swim in town while Charlotte was at preschool. While I was in the store, I decided to buy a pair of running shoes just in case I could work up the motivation to use them. The first run a few weeks later was can’t-breathe, gonna-die awful. The second run was awful. By the third or fourth run, I could at least go a couple miles without stopping, but I was miserable the whole time. At some point, things evolved from miserable to just unpleasant, and then I kept on trucking.

Next Sunday (300+ miles into my training), I’m signed up to run the Corvallis Half Marathon. This will be my very first race ever. I’m fairly certain that I can make it through. I’ve run 13+ miles two times before, but everything else about this race is freaking me out. The day after I registered, there was a huge article in the local newspaper with photos of the throng of people running last year’s race, looking all sporty and in the zone. I don’t look like a runner. I don’t feel like a runner. I don’t know anything about exercise science. I don’t know what to wear or eat on race day. In general, I’m feeling really incompetent, BUT I’m going to go out there and (try to) do it. For someone who often goes to great lengths to avoid being seen while running, this will be a big step out of my comfort zone, but you gotta do that sometimes, right?

There are a few things that have helped me along in my training. I’ve had some good conversations with friends of mine who run but don’t consider themselves “runners”. Their talk about dreading every single run but going out to do it anyway has been super inspiring for me. It would be disingenuous to claim that running is now simply a joy. In fact, it feels really sucky a lot of the time, but the fresh air and good views often make the burden more bearable.

Podcasts help. A lot. At first, I was a little hesitant to use headphones while trail running or running on remote country roads, but I’ve never felt so disconnected to goings on that I was unsafe even with log trucks passing by. There was this one time that the logical part of me wanted to go for a long run, but the physical part of me was barely dragging along. Just before the three mile mark when I was seriously considering turning around, the This American Life podcast offered up Tig Notaro’s story centered around the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. I was all by myself on a deserted forest road, half laughing and half singing (terribly), briefly happy, and newly energized. I ran 11 miles that day. I often listen to the usual list of NPR-affiliated podcasts such as: This American Life, Radiolab, Snap Judgement, TED Radio Hour, Wiretap (Beware, that one is super weird.), The Moth, Planet Money (This one makes me feel smart.), and Selected Shorts. I also mix in a little Adam and Dr. Drew Show and Savage Love (Lots of explicit stuff on these two and many opinions that are pretty controversial). If I were more committed, I might subscribe to the audio version of The New Yorker.

rough skinned newt // Wayward Spark

Another tool I really like is RunKeeper, an app for my iPhone. I know there are probably a million exercise apps out there, and I can’t speak about any of the rest of the, but RunKeeper is a good one. The basic version is free, and it notes standard stuff like how far/ how long/ how fast, it uses your phone’s GPS to track elevations and routes, and it keeps a cumulative total of running stats for every week, month, year, etc. I’m not in a position to be competitive with other actual people, but RunKeeper allows me to be a little competitive with just myself. ‘I can break that pace record.’ ‘I can run a few more miles this week.’

If you’re wondering if all this running is making me skinny, the answer is no. One might think that adding three to five activities a week of aerobic exercise to one’s life might burn enough calories to drop a few pounds, but that is just not what’s happening in my case. Don’t get me wrong. I’m at a healthy weight right now, and my primary reasons for adding running to my routine are more overall-health focused than weigh-loss focused, but I certainly wouldn’t complain if things tightened up a bit.

At 31, I’m realizing more every day that if I want to start good habits, it’s never going to get any easier than it is now even if it’s going to be quite a challenge to start today. For me, running is simply the activity that requires the least investment of time and money for maximum aerobic benefits. It costs nothing more than a pair of shoes, and it can be done almost anywhere.

My friend Rebecka asked me if I have any goals for this weekend’s race. I hadn’t really thought about it, but the best I could come up with is this: 1) Finish. 2) Don’t hurt myself. 3) Don’t look like a total idiot. 4) Don’t come in last. I think that might be as much as I can manage.

rough skinned newt // Wayward Spark

Okay, all you runner types, I’d love to get your advice on this race. I’m feeling pretty confident about my training, and I’m planning on eating right, drinking lots of water, getting lots of sleep, etc. this week, but do you have any insider tips for me? I’m hoping that if I can survive running 13.5 miles up and down a big-ass hill with no special breakfast/hydration/outfit, I’ll do okay out on the flattish course wearing my lucky T-shirt and having nice folks hand me cups of water every couple miles. We’ll see…

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carrot cake with cream cheese-honey-blood orange frosting // Wayward Spark

Spring break went out with a bang. I made a big ol’ pan of lasagna (with fresh pasta, homemade tomato-pesto sauce, homegrown chard, ricotta, and mozzarella) on Saturday night, and Henry’s brother, Trevor, came over to eat with us. On Sunday morning, Trevor as well as my friend Lisa showed up for a bagel party. I made nine raisin bagels and nine more garlic-porcini ones. Also I baked three loaves of Tartine sourdough and put out a ton of condiments. We ate well.

Some of the topics of conversation covered between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon: bombardier beetles (They have “turrets” that spray acid at predators out of their butts!), the slave history of Suriname, cargo cults (Whoa!), Nicki Minaj song lyrics (Ack!), the definition of the word “gank” (I’d never heard it before, which shows I’m really behind the times.), Ras Tafari and Snoop Lion, the ethnic and cultural differences between Ethopians and Eritreans, the fact that Guy Raz is neither old nor bad looking, Trevor’s fancy UV finish-curing equipment that leaves your hardwood floor usable immediately instead of being stinky vulnerable to scratches for a week or more after finishing (Contact info here. He does outstanding work!), Radiolab (I mentioned this podcast short at least five times.), how Masha Gessen is a badass and how Trevor and I really want to read her book about Vladamir Putin, Crimean Rastafarians (apparently they exist), seals in Lake Baikal, anadromous sharks in Lake Nicaragua, sake that comes in a carton, dairy sheep, creepy Greyhound bus stories, and on and on.

I really love my people.

Sunday afternoon in a fit of insanity, I decided that I should bake one more delicious carbohydrate bomb, a carrot cake. It was over the top, but definitely worth it. Here’s the recipe…

carrot cake with cream cheese-honey-blood orange frosting // Wayward Spark

Carrot Cake

adapted slightly from Barbra Austin’s recipe on David Lebovitz‘s blog

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
a pinch of ground cloves
a few grates of fresh nutmeg
4 good eggs at room temperature
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup melted brown butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups loosely packed grated carrot
1/2 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts (or other nuts or golden raisins)
 

Preheat a gas barbecue on medium-high with three or four fire bricks on the grill topped with a Lodge cast iron pizza pan or similar insulating apparatus. Make sure the lid can still close tightly. (There’s a photo of my set up in this post.)

Butter and flour a bundt pan, making sure to grease all surfaces thoroughly to ensure an easy release of the baked cake.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer or egg beater until light and frothy. Gradually whisk in the oil, butter, and then vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture until just mixed. Gently fold in the carrot and nuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan. *Place the bundt pan in the center of the cast iron pizza pan in the barbecue. Close the lid tightly. Check for doneness after 45 minutes. Continue baking for another 5-10 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

*Alternately you could bake the cake in a 350° oven for 50-55 minutes.

Cool the cake for about 30 minutes and then invert it onto a plate or cake stand. Cool it completely before frosting.

 

Cream Cheese-Honey-Orange Frosting

inspired by Hannah Queen‘s recipe

8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
2 ounces butter, softened
1/3-1/2 cup good, raw honey
zest and juice of 1 orange or blood orange

Cream together the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer or just a wooden spoon. Add honey to taste, and mix well. Stir in the orange zest and juice. Add extra orange juice if you desire a runnier frosting.

Smear the frosting over the cooled bundt cake.

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Bagels Revisited

March 27, 2014 · 1 comment

garlic-porcini bagels // Wayward Spark

I bought cream cheese at the store the other day because I had vague ambitions of baking a carrot cake. I never quite got around to the cake making, so the next logical place for cream cheese was bagels. I posted my friend Ana’s bagel recipe here about a year ago, but somehow, I’d forgotten about it ever since. Two days ago, I pulled out again, and now I might be at risk of becoming “The Crazy Bagel Lady”. The recipe is SO easy, SO good, and highly adaptable. Yesterday’s bagels had an added cupful of cacao nib granola, and today’s flavor was chunky garlic-porcini. Tomorrow: Cranberry-walnut? Dried tomato-rosemary? Parmesan-sweet pepper? A few of each? The sky really is the limit.

Other than obsessive bagel baking, we’ve been lazing around on spring break. It’s really nice to have some unscheduled time even if I’m not using that time all that productively. Happy spring, friends!

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Wayward Spark

Lately, though, I’ve been reflecting more than usual on how some of our parenting methods are manifest in our kids’ wants, beliefs, and actions. I’m sure that this train of thought has been brought on by seeing my kids in a school environment with other children that are the products of their own (mostly wonderful, supportive, and loving) families.

I hear a lot about parent guilt and parent worry. (Did any of you catch Terry Gross’s interview with Brigid Schulte?) With a rare few exceptions, I haven’t really experienced much of that so far. Henry and I entered this deal with close to zero experience in the parenting department, but I always knew that we’d all be okay. So far, so good.

In some ways, we’ve been lucky. Our kids were born healthy and haven’t had any major health crises or experienced any allergies so far. We live in a community that is generally a very safe place both in terms of crime and environmental conditions.

In other ways, we’ve taken a few uncomplicated, inexpensive steps to provide conditions for our kids to thrive.

Good Health

They started out healthy, but we’ve done our best to keep them in good shape. Real food including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, good fats, an assortment of dairy, and some fish and wild or grass-fed/pastured meat and extremely limited amounts of junk food and sweetened beverages (pretty much only when some third party gives it to them, and we’d have to make a big stink to refuse). Plenty of hours for sleep and a somewhat regular schedule. Plenty of opportunities to exercise (even indoors in our tiny space). Limited exposure to chemicals and toxins. Good hygiene but still plenty of dirt and bacteria. Vaccines (I know some of you won’t agree, but you’re not going to sway me here, so let’s just not go there.) Check ups with an awesome pediatrician. Lots of talk about how our bodies work and how we need to care for our bodies so that we can stay healthy

Safe Surroundings

This means different things at different ages, but our kids know that they are safe at home and at the homes of other caregivers. We are as sure as we’ll ever be that the people in their lives are not going to harm them, and we’ve worked to reduce the number of physical hazards they will face in their everyday lives and spaces. Guns are totally unaccessible, and the kids understand that they are never supposed to touch a gun if they accidentally come across one. My mom’s been schlepping them to swimming lessons twice a week for two years partly because they enjoy it and partly because knowing how to swim could save their life in a crisis situation someday. They wear bike helmets when riding or scootering, so when they crash and burn and come crying to me with bloody knees, I can reassure them that they’re going to be okay. Even if I wanted to, I know that I can’t eliminate the risk of injury in their lives, and I also know that letting them loose to face some unpleasant consequences is a healthy part of growing up. 

Stimulating Environment

Our house is not big, but it does have character. Our property may be full of knee-chewing gravel roads and poison-oak, but it also has big trees, fresh air, mud puddles, chickens, wildflowers, bird songs, and slugs. The world around them is alive and thought-provoking and endlessly complex.

Some Resources for Creativity and Entertainment

Our kids don’t have every toy their hearts desire, but they do have a somewhat curated collection of things that enable them to play creatively: Legos, puzzles, stuffed animals, basic art supplies, coloring books, and blocks plus a bunch of regular household stuff to wear, glue, make noise with, build with, throw, stack, etc. I’d be lying if I told you that my kids never whined, but it is actually pretty rare that they whine about being bored. With some “tools” and a small amount of space, they are usually able to independently come up with some sort of activity that will keep them busy for a good long while.

We (especially I) tried to enforce an absolute ban on all screen time for Levi and Charlotte until at least age two (as recommended by the AAP). Since as they’ve gotten older, some screen time has crept into their lives, but we still work actively to limit their exposure to electronic media. Except for very rare occasions with friends, they never play games on screens. They probably watch about 2 hours per week of mostly educational-ish/cartoon TV (Sesame Street, Dora, and the like) with an occasional kids movie or smattering of YouTube clips thrown in. Thankfully, they have grandparents who are mostly on board with this plan even if at times they are a little more lenient than I would prefer. We feel like they have plenty of years in front of them to sit with screens, and at this age, we aren’t doing them a disservice by holding it all off for a little longer.

 A Team of Loving, Committed Adults

Mama, Pa, five grandparents, a couple great grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, teachers, Henry’s horseshoeing clients, etc. These two kids couldn’t possibly be more loved or supported. It is my hope that as they grow, they will always have their pick of healthy mentors and counselors who will be able to help guide them through troubling times.

kid // Wayward Spark

a few thoughts about school…

Our experiences with (pre)school last year were mediocre at best. The program we chose, one that was highly recommended by several trusted sources, turned out to be unexceptional and not a great fit for us. Levi made it through the year unscathed, but there were lots of little things about the environment, the structure, the activities, and the vibe that bothered me. I went into the year thinking that I was pretty relaxed about my expectations, but I learned (about myself) that I actually have a fairly strong vision about what school should feel like or at least what it shouldn’t feel like.

This school year has been a million times better. If you’ve run into me in the last six months, you’ve probably heard me gushing about Levi’s teacher and professing my love for Charlotte’s preschool program. Henry and I agree that choosing to place our kids in these two schools is probably the best parenting decision we’ve made to date.

(Feel free to ignore this next part if you’re not in the Philomath/Corvallis area, but I need to name names here because I love them so.)

Blodgett Elementary School

We live within the Philomath School District, the same district that I attended school in for 13 years of my youth. The majority of the students in the PSD attend Philomath Elementary, Philomath Middle, and Philomath High schools. There’s also a small charter school (Kings Valley) in the district, and an even smaller k-4, two-room, rural school in Blodgett. Our house is, time-wise, about equidistant from the three elementary school options, and originally we had planned to send kids into Philomath, but last summer we changed our minds and decided to opt into Blodgett.

Blodgett Elementary School currently has around 27 students enrolled split between two classrooms, kindergarten-first-second and third-fourth. Levi is among five kindergarteners who attend school everyday from 8-11. He’s in a class with six first graders and five second graders who are in school through the afternoon. The building also has a little library, a nice gym, and not much else. If you’re thinking this sounds kinda Farmer Boy, you’re not far off.

Levi’s teacher, Mrs. Priewe, is pretty much a saint. She’s been teaching for 27 years (My older brother actually had her for the third grade.), and at this point, there is no upset, miscommunication, infrastructure failure, or snafu that could faze her. She is patient, kind, knowledgable, and infinitely flexible. Knowing she was out there was one of the biggest draws in our decision to choose Blodgett, and it’s a good thing we really like her because our family will be pretty closely involved with her for the next four years in a row (because Charlotte will start kindergarten in the fall).

Though tiny, Blodgett Elementary is not what anyone would consider elitist. The students are a rag-tag bunch of country kids who know how to get dirty playing in the woods at recess. I’m sure that no one cares or even notices when Levi shows up for school with jam on his cheeks and stains on his jeans. The students’ families are pretty diverse in their politics, professions, and income levels (though most probably fall into lower and middle classes), but there is a community mindedness at the school that extends well beyond the students to younger siblings, parents, grandparents, etc. I am always so pleased to see how nice everyone is.

Levi started the year with an voracious love for books. He already knew all his letters and the sounds they make, but six months ago, he was not reading in any significant way. Today he reads whole picture books with hardly a hesitation or stumble. I don’t know exactly what happens at that school everyday, but something they’re doing is very very right, and we’re all so thrilled about it.

Old Mill Center for Children and Families Preschool

Charlotte has been attending the Old Mill Center preschool two mornings a week since September, and I really can’t say enough good things about this program. First off, the facility is gorgeous. The classroom is roomy with lots of windows and a little bathroom area built in on one side (so bathroom activities can be monitored and taken care of without removing a teacher from the room). The kids go outside every single day no matter the weather, and the playground (with a big covered area) is super nice and fun. Apparently Charlotte rides one of a selection of bikes and trikes around a loop of sidewalk every day she’s there, but there’s also a great climbing structure, swings, sandbox, etc.

Secondly, there are numerous adults present at all times, many of whom are highly qualified to work with children both typically developing and those with special needs. Each child gets tons of individual attention, and there is always someone readily available to assist with children’s needs or squabbles. Alicia and Donna, the head teachers, are amazingly easy to get along with and will often recall very specific observations about Charlotte that demonstrates to me that they genuinely care about my kid.

All of the activities in this classroom are so much fun, but underneath the fun is almost always an intentional skill-building exercise. Last year, Levi brought home lots of finished art projects from preschool, the kind where a kid glues some construction paper circles to cardstock and then adds some pipe cleaners and glitter to make a fully formed snowman (or whatever). This year when I check our take-home mailbox, I’ll find things like scraps of printer paper (“We were practicing using scissors today!”) or papers completely covered in green paint (“It’s grass!”). The finished products might not be as pretty, but the process is so much more relevant and thoughtful.

One seemingly small practice that’s employed by the preschool teachers and volunteers is this interesting and specific use (or non-use) of language and particular words. All the students are referred to as “friends” as in, “All my friends need to wash their hands now!”, “Look at the beautiful paintings our friends made!”, or “Some of our friends like dogs more than cats.” It’s a really subtle thing, but I can see how seamlessly it instills a sense of belonging and acceptance in the children. Charlotte will sometimes tell me that so-and-so is not REALLY her friend, but other times, she’ll get caught up in it with “my friend” this and “my friend” that. I would imagine that some of the kids who struggle more with social relationships must revel in the fact that they have 15 friends to play with at school every day. Similar to the insertion of the word “friend”, the teachers have expressed their intention to limit the use of the word “no” at least as a mandate from authority figures. I often hear “I expect to see…” and thoughtful explanations of guidelines. There’s also a considerable amount of time each week and each day devoted to collaborative problem solving, developing empathy, and recognizing one’s feelings and acting on them appropriately.

The larger organization, Old Mill Center for Children and Families, in which the preschool is housed, is an amazing community resource that serves children from birth to 18 and their families with a wide variety of services. Counseling, therapy, custody mediation, parenting classes, and more. Basically there are many many professionals in the building doing really important work for kids. If there’s room, the preschool program accepts any child ages three to five, even if the child has special needs. There are also a couple kids in Charlotte’s class who have serious allergies and/or dietary restrictions, and those issues are handled with seriousness and respect.

If you’re shopping around for a Corvallis-area preschool, I would definitely schedule a visit at Old Mill.

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whole wheat chocolate-hazelnut scones // Wayward Spark

Scones are all over the map taste- and texture-wise. Sickly sweet with sugary icing, heavy with whole grains, cake-y, bread-y, crumbly, plain-jane, or studded with add-ins. I haven’t made scones very many times in my life because I always felt that scone’s close cousin, the muffin, was a little more reliable in taste and texture and doesn’t require all that rolling and cutting, an act which has never been my forte.

For some reason that I’m unable to pinpoint (possibly Pinterest), I got the idea in my head that I really wanted to give scones another go this weekend. Shortly after, I stumbled across Megan’s recipe for whole wheat maple walnut scones just published on Friday. I’ve found Megan’s recipes (both on her blog and in her new book, Whole Grain Mornings)  to be reliably wholesome without going so overboard that they’re too “healthy” to enjoy.

I made some substitutions and additions to Megan’s recipe. I also rejiggered it a bit so that I could bake the scones in my barbecue. Megan’s recipe gives full instructions for shaping and cutting, but I happen to have a divided cornbread skillet that works perfectly for making scones without the fuss of handling the dough. I got my cornbread skillet (with eight wedge spaces) at the Coburg Antique Fair two years ago, but I see vintage ones pretty regularly at thrift stores and such. If you want to shell out $20 or so, they’re a pretty handy implement to have. Especially if you’re big on making scones. I’ve been rubbing mine with a little beeswax after every use, and now it’s seasoned to perfection. The scones came right out without sticking at all.

Scones baked in a cornbread skillet are a little crustier on the outside than those baked on a sheet pan because of the contact with the hot metal. I like ‘em that way.

whole wheat chocolate-hazelnut scones // Wayward Spark

Whole Wheat Chocolate-Hazelnut Scones

adapted from Megan Gordon‘s recipe

These scones are hearty, and their healthfulness is apparent. They definitely fall on the less-sweet end of the scone spectrum, but the addition of chopped dark chocolate adds enough sweetness and decadence to keep them from tasting TOO healthy. 

Back when I whipped up some homemade hazelnut butter, I also ground a couple quarts of hazelnut meal that I’ve been subbing into a variety of recipes that call for almond meal ever since. I used David Lebovitz‘s method for whizzing almond meal in a food processor with a little sugar to keep it from overheating and releasing too much oil. The final product has about 2 tablespoons of sugar blended into each cup of hazelnut meal. It would be fine to use store-bought nut meal in this recipe, but you’ll need to stir in an extra two tablespoons of sugar into the flour blend. 

If you’re like me and never have buttermilk on hand, a little plain yogurt mixed with milk is a decent substitute. 

I give some guidelines for baking in a gas barbecue, but there are so many different grilling apparatus out there that you’re going to have to evaluate your own system and be observant and flexible during baking. This method works for me using my equipment, but I can’t make any guarantees about how it will turn out with your tools and equipment. 

yeild: about 13 small, cornbread-slice scones

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup hazelnut meal or other nut meal mixed with 2 tablespoons sugar–see note above
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
a few fresh grates of nutmeg
 
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into chunks
1 1/3 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts or other nuts
2/3 cup chopped dark chocolate or whole chocolate chips
 
1 cup buttermilk or 1/3 cup plain yogurt mixed with 2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Whisk together the flours, nut meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Quickly cut in the chunks of cold butter with a pastry blender or your hands. Stir in the chopped nuts and chocolate.

In a separate bowl, stir together the buttermilk/yogurt mixture, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just mixed. Set aside and let the dough rest for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the barbecue on medium-high with three or four firebricks set on the grill. Preheat a cast iron cornbread skillet in the barbecue.

If your cornbread skillet isn’t well seasoned, brush it with a little oil or rub it with beeswax when it warms up.

Fill each wedge space with dough and lightly press the dough into the corners. Reserve remaining dough for a second batch.

Place the skillet in the barbecue over the fire bricks. Close the lid tightly. Check after baking 18 minutes and rotate the pan if some areas are browning more quickly than others. Bake another 7-12 minutes until the top surfaces are golden brown. Remove the skillet from the barbecue (with appropriate heat-proof gear!). Carefully remove the scones and allow to cool on a rack.

Bake off the remaining dough.

whole wheat chocolate-hazelnut scones // Wayward Spark

Some other things I’ve been cooking/baking this weekend:

Molly‘s “Smothered Cabbage”, the best tasting and simultaneously grossest looking food in the world

Heidi‘s “Turmeric Tea” because I finally have a cold after Charlotte coughed directly in my face for a week

More Tartine sourdough

Yossy‘s “Nibby Buckwheat Butter Cookies” because they’re my sister in law’s favorite, and she just had a baby last night (Side note: My sister in law, an incredibly healthy person in general, was in labor for more than three long, excruciating days when my niece was born two years ago. This time, she labored less than four hours and ended up calling an ambulance to take her to the hospital because they weren’t sure she would make it in time. She did, and now I have a healthy new nephew whom I won’t be able to visit until I get over this stupid cold.)

I think this afternoon, I might try out Natalie Levin’s Tahini and Almond Cookies (shared on David Lebovitz’s blog), but I’ll sub in hazelnut butter and hazelnut meal instead of the tahini and almond meal. 

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{this moment}

March 7, 2014 · 2 comments

20140303-DSC_0637

{this moment} A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, moment. ~ Amanda Soule

**inspired by Soule Mama’s (and Erin of Floret‘s) Friday reflections

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