Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Being ourselves

Lately, I find myself fielding more frequent questions and observations from the small Bears on the subject of what we do and what other people do. It comes as no surprise; they're getting older and they are learning more about themselves and their places in the world. They understand the basics: every family makes its own decisions, and what may be right for some is not right for all. That doesn't make the discussion less challenging, though.

There aren't very many truly controversial decisions being made in their world yet. But there are smaller ones, and they crop up all the time. I'm sure this only increases as children grow. Then there's the challenge of answering this sort of question: I want to uphold my own household's rules and values, without openly denouncing those of another (well, I try not to do this, but sometimes I can't help it). We value independence and clear-headed decision-making, the Bear and I, but we're certainly not perfect (as parents or otherwise). We're confident in our choices but we're still learning too. I hope that never ends; I don't think I'll ever know exactly what life should be like.

I'm glad they notice the differences between themselves and their peers. I want them to be engaged with their world and to see that people are inclined in all different sorts of ways. It's a tough thing to teach, though, this idea that we make our choices and they make theirs, and that not all choices have a chocolate-or-vanilla quality to them. I have had glimpses of success in this area, but it's early. For now, we strive to help them feel good about who they are. I know they will need to make bigger choices in the not-so-distant future and this may not be enough then, but I hope it builds a good foundation for independent thinking and decision-making later on.

What do you think kids need to be independent, to learn to think for themselves? If you're still in the process, what are you doing about it? If your kids are grown, how did you do it?


I hope you had a nice Easter and that you're enjoying this week, especially if you're on a holiday break. We're going to be out of town for a few days on a little road-trip adventure. I'll be back by the time my Winter Project Link Party for April goes live; I hope you'll want to join in with this final installment of my link party for the season!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter bright

Wishing you and your family a happy holiday, filled with color and chocolate!

the Thistlebears

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Color Collaborative: March: Egg

Each year, just before Easter, my family dyes eggs together. It's a long tradition for me, going back to childhood when my siblings and I would dye eggs on Good Friday. Then, as now, we used a basic Paas brand egg-dyeing kit, with fizzy little tablets that bloom into brightly-colored dyes when mixed with water and vinegar in a bowl. I've written about our egg-dyeing before; it's one of my favorite holiday traditions. It's fun, sitting around the kitchen table coloring our eggs. We use large, white eggs from the supermarket, the better to achieve the garish tones of the Paas dyes. It's a time of creativity and anticipation - there's a lovely holiday just around the corner and everyone is excited.

This year, for the first time, I tried coloring eggs with homemade dyes. I love those Paas dyes and look forward to dyeing eggs with my family this weekend, but I've always been intrigued by the idea that you can also dye eggs with natural ingredients. I knew the colors would be different from eggs colored with Paas dyes, but wasn't sure exactly what to expect. I came across a page in the March 2016 issue of Sunset magazine with instructions for easy natural egg dyes and decided this would be the year I gave it a shot. (There are lots of resources for natural egg-dyeing, but theirs is a handy little guide). Sunset's dyes were easy to make and the instructions were simple. I spent a very pleasant afternoon dyeing eggs with various foods from my fridge and pantry.

The magazine offered numerous suggestions for foods to use, such as vegetables, spices and teas. From their suggestions, I chose to try red onion, beet, turmeric, grape juice and tea (they suggested raspberry or blueberry tea, but I didn't have either of those so I used a red hibiscus-based tea instead). I also used paprika, thinking it might work similarly to turmeric, and green tea. There was some cooking involved (for the onion and beet), and the spices and teas required boiling water. The grape juice was used straight. Each of the natural dyes required a mordant ingredient, according to Sunset's instructions, to help the dye work better: onion and tea had 1/8 teaspoon of alum; paprika, turmeric and grape juice had 1/4 teaspoon baking powder; beet had a teaspoon of white vinegar.

I have to admit that I was a bit dubious about what I'd end up with. I knew, from my limited experience with fabric- and yarn-dyeing, that some dyes look very different by the end of the process, and that a lot depends on the item being dyed too. I used white supermarket eggs for these natural dyes, as I would with the Paas dyes, because I really wanted to see the colors in a purer way for my first try.

The eggs sat in their respective dye baths for several hours. I mostly left them alone, just letting them soak in the dyes, then I removed them to a rack to dry, with paper towels underneath to catch drips. When I use Paas dyes, I tend to dip the eggs up and down a lot, or spoon the dye over the egg repeatedly, in order to achieve deeper colors. I like a uniform coloration. I knew that the natural dyes might work differently, though, so I decided to let them work without all the extra help. It was surprisingly difficult for me to stay away from them. The children did better than me.

I was honestly amazed at the results. I expected lots of color from the beets and only got a faint, mottled purple-brown color. Interesting, but disappointing after the mess of working with beets. The paprika was faint too, and I wondered whether I should have tried chili powder instead. The tea-dyed eggs were by far my favorite ones! Can you believe the color I got from the red tea? It was totally unexpected. I thought for sure I'd get a red, or maybe brown, not a green-gray. The green tea was surprising too; I really thought the color would be more faint. Turmeric is generally what I imagined, but the ends took on a very pretty rusty-gold, darker and richer than the yellow middle section. The boldest eggs were the ones dyed with red onion and grape juice. Look at the red onion eggs! Dark, splotchy greenish-black, they look reptilian. The grape juice eggs are the most intense, I think. Their white-streaked midnight-blue reminds me of lapis lazuli; I can almost picture a scarab beetle carved into one of them.

This is not the eye-popping Easter rainbow that I'm accustomed to, but it's a very interesting one and I'm really glad I tried dyeing with natural ingredients. Like their vernal holiday counterparts, foil-wrapped chocolate eggs and jellybeans, dyed Easter eggs can run the entire spectrum.

Don't forget to visit the other Color Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts. Just click on the links below: 

Annie at Annie Cholewa
Sarah at mitenska
What is The Color Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a color related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about color in new ways.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Social research

Happy Monday! I hope you had a good weekend. Thank you for your sweet comments on my Friday Happies. I'm glad so many others would have snapped up the Talavera pottery planter as quickly as I did. It's beautiful! I can't wait to plant flowers in it, in just a few more weeks. I'm thinking about white flowers, maybe geraniums or begonias, something simple, crisp and clean-looking, to let the colors in the pottery really shine. It won't be long before I can bring out my Talavera birdbath, which I always keep in the backyard planter bed during the warmer months. The hummingbird feeders can come out soon too; April 1 is "opening day" for hummingbirds in my neck of the woods. Spring is really here now. Yes, it often felt spring-like for a long while already, but the passing of the equinox makes it feel so much more official.

We had a nice weekend, full of homey pursuits and schoolwork, but also a lovely afternoon with friends at their house in the mountains, complete with a campfire, kids and dogs running wild, and delicious food, including pulled-pork sandwiches and Muddy Buddies. I hadn't eaten that since about high school and it was hard to keep my hands out of the bowl, especially with pastel-colored M&M's added. Yesterday, after a morning of work in the yard, we did some painting for fun. The Bear painted a watercolor picture of my daffodils in their crochet-jacketed jar. I think it's the bee's knees and I love the way they look next to each other. My talented Bear.

Did you know that yesterday was World Happiness Day? Yes, it's a real thing. The celebration coincided with the release of the United Nations' World Happiness Report last week. This is a study conducted by the UN to better understand what makes a country's citizens happy, or not. There are several major criteria, including per-capita gross domestic product, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and the absence of corruption.

It turns out that Denmark is the happiest country on earth, while Burundi is the least happy. The United States ranks 13th, which actually surprised me; I might have guessed that we ranked less-happily than that, especially given the social climate in our current election year. But I'm certainly no economist or social scientist, and it's probably a very inaccurate way to assess the happiness of our country as a whole. There are a lot of great things about the US and I feel much better about my country when I turn off the talk-radio. My own life is mostly a very happy one; I have a lovely little family and many good friends, an excellent education, access to quality healthcare, everything I need materially and then some. I've never felt persecuted or oppressed. I think I'm very fortunate overall.

For me, one important take-away from the Happiness Report is this: money does not seem to buy happiness. It's true that poverty and poor infrastructure in a nation had a negative effect on its happiness score. But it seems to be the case that money matters up until a certain point, where basic needs are met, and then it becomes less important. Case in point: the US has a higher GDP than many of the countries in the top 10, but we have never ranked in the top 10 in the five years that the UN has done this study. We aren't happier because we're richer.

In addition, from my reading, it would seem to be a bad thing when a country focuses too much on just one area of national happiness, such as social support or GDP; a more balanced focus on all of the main areas usually means a happier nation. It's no wonder that many experts think the US needs to emulate countries that have better social support, as one example, and that economic growth should not come at the expense of social well-being.

You can read the World Happiness Report here. You have to download various parts, but it's a worthwhile read.

What country do you live in? Where does it rank in the happiness report? Do you agree with the UN's ranking of your country? What are the best things about your country? What improvements would you like to see?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Happies

Hello! I hope you've had a good week. It's been a long time since I had a Friday Happies post. My friend Gillian was posting them a couple of years ago and I really enjoyed joining in with her sometimes. It's good to focus on the happy things in life, isn't it? I know I feel much better when I do. Here are a few things making me happy this week...

We found this Talavera pottery planter at a thrift store and I'm so excited! Longtime readers may know that I collect pieces in this style (not that I have a large collection, just a few things, really). Talavera is made in Mexico and is pretty ubiquitous here, but also quite expensive. This planter was wayyy cheaper at the thrift store than it would have been new. The Bear spotted it before I did and he grabbed it for me. The cashier said she'd just put it out fifteen minutes earlier and knew it would go fast. It's not often that I get to the cool stuff first, so I was thrilled.

With Hensfoot finished, I've been working on my Retro Kitchen sampler a lot. Currently, I'm stitching the brown jug in the top right corner. All the white spaces will be filled in with darker brown. I really love this sampler. It's easy, with lots of big spaces to stitch in the same color, but it's not mindless. There's still plenty of counting to keep it interesting. It's going quickly, so I'm already starting to think about what's next project-wise, but I'm enjoying it a lot.

Miss GB is extremely pleased with a prize she earned this week for good behavior and generally being an excellent chica. Her prize was something I'd been saving for her, Taylor Swift's 1989 album on CD. She loooves Taylor Swift ("She plays the guitar just like me," she tells me dreamily). I like Taylor a lot myself, so we're enjoying the CD together. She's very interested in the fake Polaroid photos that came with the CD and I think they're pretty cool too. I explained Polaroids to both children, who were by turns amazed and skeptical.

Speaking of photography, there's a new shutterbug in town. The LB has been having a lot of fun with our very first digital camera, which we bought before he was born. It started when he was photographing some 3-D printed items he'd made for a school project; the photos are mounted on a display board to share in class. He loved taking the photos and he kept going - now, he carries the camera everywhere with him. Before we know it, he'll be blogging.

It's daffodil season, and while I don't have any blooming in the yard this year (a serious bummer), I have been back to buying my cheap bunches at Trader Joe's. I can get 30 stems for under $5, which makes me incredibly happy.

I've been enjoying this necklace lately and wearing it often. It's from Isabelle Grace Jewelry and was a Christmas present from the Bear. The letter charms are stamped silver; L and E are the small Bears' first initials. He's L and she's E, if you're curious. :)

Don't look if you're trying to forget about them, and please understand that I wish I found them more resistible myself, but you need to know that Cadbury Mini Eggs are definitely making me happy right now too.

I hope you have a good weekend! Do you have plans? We'll be doing the usual - homework, yardwork, housework, etc. - but we do not have music lessons on Saturday (or next Saturday either, due to the university holiday break and the public schools break, which run back-to-back this year).  Tonight, I'll be taking the children to McDonald's for dinner, while the Bear helps a friend photograph his daughter's Easter pageant. I think there are some McNuggets with my name on them. We have a get-together with friends planned for tomorrow. There may be some hiking on Sunday. Not sure what else, but there will be beaucoup Taylor Swift, I can tell you that much.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Spring swirl


Thank you for your lovely comments on Hensfoot, and for your encouraging words about the medical stuff. I'm not sick, though I appreciate the kind comments to that effect. No, it's all related to the LB's health issues and the difficulties we sometimes have in managing his care. Currently, it has to do with a medication he needs to take daily, which is a common medicine prescribed in an uncommon form when given to children. It isn't widely available, and we've had one problem after another with it. I think we have it straightened out for now. I'm getting better at this - I rarely cry or yell on the phone anymore, for example. It will be okay. It's always okay in the end.

We're having such a lovely springtime. I can hardly believe how beautiful the weather has been, almost uninterruptedly, for weeks and weeks. The afternoons are warm and sunny and we spend them in the backyard most days, wandering out after homeschool work is finished. Sometimes we read out there. The small Bears ride their bikes and the hens roam free. Sometimes a guitar finds its way outside. Sometimes there are bubbles or chalk.

Everything is blooming now, including one little yellow tulip that might be open in a day or so. My other tulips have buds, and the muscari are blooming in the planter at the base of the mailbox. The plum trees are almost finished blooming already; it's a quick blossoming for them, just about two weeks from first bud to the last spent petals. I haven't seen very many bees in the plum trees yet this season; unfortunately, I'm beginning to have my doubts about plum harvesting this summer. The apple tree has buds. I hope it's a good apple year.

Things I'm doing mid-March:

Reading: The Longest Night by Andria Williams, and Simply Nigella, which finally came in for me at the library.
Watching: Midsomer Murders and That 70's Show, both on Netflix. I'm also trying to catch new episodes of Martha Bakes on the Create channel whenever I can.
Eating: Cadbury Mini Eggs around the clock, natch.
Making: I'm about halfway through my Retro Kitchen sampler from Stitchrovia, and am starting to think about stitching this pirate ship from Satsuma Street next.
Enjoying: a new-to-me blog find, Vintage Everyday, which features interesting old photography. I've especially liked this post full of photos depicting everyday life in New Mexico during World War II, such as this lovely photo of a mother helping her daughter with homework.

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