During my second week of high school, I lost my battle against worsening scoliosis and was fitted with a back brace–the thing I’d been desperate to avoid since the 4th grade.
Made of leather and steel, my brace was a medieval thing that fit from chin to pelvis, holding my stock-straight (If you image search “Milwaukee Brace” you’ll see what this monster looked like. It’s pretty intense.).
I wore it day and night–to school, at home–even to sleep. I remember going to the theater (wearing my brace) to see Sixteen Candles with some friends shortly after I was fitted with it. There’s a girl in the film who wears a brace–a super nerdy kid, of course–and she’s drinking from the water fountain. Everyone in the theater was laughing except for me, simultaneously embarrassed & annoyed (as she impossibly bent at the waist to drink–such rubbish) while feeling deep shame for being that nerdy kid, & burning from their laughter.
Drinking fountains–like cars, sleep, and being a teenager in general–were all more difficult in a brace. But that was my adolescence. Uncomfortable, awkward, and harder than I wanted it to be.
In all, I was braced for 5 years, from the start of high school through my freshman year of college. And while a brace isn’t something I’d wish upon anyone, it was one of my most important teachers.
Because the truth is, we can all do hard things–things we’re certain we aren’t capable of.
Things we don’t want, and things we try to wish away. I suppose even now that lesson holds, some thirty years later.
Right now, life is damn hard—for so many of us, and for so many reasons. None of us wanted this, & none of us know how long it’s going to last, nor how long we can take it. And I can so relate to that feeling.
2020 is something of a collective back brace for us all. We’re doing the hard, uncomfortable, painful thing because we don’t have another choice. And sometimes it pinches, & sometimes we can’t sleep because we feel like we’re suffocating, & sometimes it brings us to tears when we least want it to. But in the end, we’re going to come out the other side stronger, more resilient, and even better for it in small, invisible ways. I’m certain of that. I really am.
I’m rooting for you, friend. This sucks, but please know you’re not alone.
“New plan. When we can safely travel again, you come to Ireland with me on an herbal retreat. We tour off-the-beaten-path stone circles and burial tombs; connect with and learn from local herbalists, storytellers, and organic farmers; forage wild things; plant some trees; hike to some magical mossy groves; and ground out deeply on the Emerald Isle. Who’s game for this plan? ( She asks, fully lost in the dream/fantasy realm…)”
And your enthusiasm? Well, it was off the charts.
As it turns out, I’m not the only one who is dreaming of traveling again someday, of connecting with a small, intimate group of people, of going deeper into magic and medicine, history and her-story.
In short, I’m not alone in absolutely swooning over this idea.
And the more I thought about it (and quite literally dreamed of it), the more I felt like this is something that we could actually create. That I could plan this and together we could breathe it into life.
And I can’t get enough of this plan.
As many of you will recall, we spend a month in Ireland a few years back, and then another 5 weeks there just last fall. (You can browse a few of my blog “postcards” here if you’re curious to see more.) Our travels tend to be quiet, magical, historical, and very much off-the-beaten-path, with gems like isolated waterfalls, beaches strewn with polished, semi-precious stones, and stone circles far from the tourist travel rings around the island.
So. Who’s game to dream this little dream with me? For a future day, when we can travel once more? We’ll even plant trees as a carbon-offset for our flights there and back again.
If you’re down with this fantasy (even a little bit), be sure to add your name to the email list below so you can hear about any plans that I post here on the blog (if you haven’t already).
And if you, like me, are literally dreaming of making this journey, then double down and drop an email to my Herbal Retreat mailbox, and ask me to add you to my retreat email list (that one I only send out herbal classes, gatherings, or book-related emails, so don’t fret–I won’t spam you). That way you’ll be the very first to hear as things begin taking shape (and perhaps you’ll even share an idea or to that will help to plan our path on this transformative adventure).
Because now more than ever, we need to make space for dreams. We need to thumb through our calendars and feel our chests swell with hope for all of the promise of a brighter, kinder, more deeply connected future for us all.
One full of the sort of adventures and relationships and experiences that will shape who we become… forever.
When my children were small, I was delighted to share them through stories and photographs and blog posts aplenty. Nearly every day another entry in the journal of our simple, messy, joyful life.
But as they have grown, so too has my desire to hold them close to my heart, and share less and less.
Savoring childhood and family and the sacredness of this private world.
Indeed, the stories that I once shared so freely are no longer mine to give. And so you will rarely see Sage’s face here (as he dislikes being photographed and it’s easy to respect this simple and reasonable boundary). Don’t mistake his absence for any darker meaning than that! This kid is a bright point of light in our family, bringing wisdom and humor and countless random science facts to our everyday.
For those who have been around for a while, can you believe that he’ll be 18 next month? Oh, time. He was just 6 when I started blogging. Six! And Lupine (now 13) was only 1. And though she is still willing to be photographed more often than not, she is also growing up, and I’m feeling more and more protective of her privacy and providing here a safe and cozy space in which to grow.
And so I relearn how to share just enough, as I hold them close—here in the quiet sanctuary of home: as we honor and savor these final steps through childhood, as a treat for us alone.
Edited to say: As we enter the second week of Summer Camp, registration is now closed. Check back next year to participate!
I’ve been quiet here on the blog this week, in order to not distract from current events, and to honor the voices of people of color who have waited far too long to hold the mic in our collective consciousness.
Today, I’m going to pop in quickly to put this post out there, because if I wait, I fear the first week of content will be missed by many of you. I want to provide this resource to as many families as possible right now, and I feel children everywhere could use a little joy, a little magic, a little space to simply be small.
Keep fighting, keep protesting, and keep changing the world, beautiful people!
How is your heart, friend? My, it’s been quite a season so far, hasn’t it? 2020 is one that none of us will soon forget. Or I certainly hope we won’t. Because where we now stand is a crossroads. And at this place lies the heart of change.
Yet even as I hold fast to the optimistic belief that current events will generate lasting, long-overdue change on a global level–from addressing police brutality and systemic racism to challenging how we live in and navigate the world–I know that this time has been excruciating for many.
I see you. I hear you. I stand with you.
Especially people and families of color who have been marginalized for centuries.
And so I’ve been quiet, though not complacent. As a white person, It’s my time to simply listen, act and donate. So that’s what I have done.
But today, I’m going to break my silence for just a moment, to put an opportunity on the table for everyone this summer.
While what I have to offer during such difficult times feels minuscule in comparison to what our country and planet so deeply need, I believe there is space for each of us to bring our gifts and offerings to the community.
And now more than ever we are all being called to bring forth whatever we have to share. And so I have decided to offer up a healthy summer activity series for anyone who might need it right now.
A series to give you pause as a family, and draw you and your children away from screens (however briefly), out into the sunshine to reset your souls.
With Unplugged Family Summer Camp.
What is Unplugged Family Summer Camp?
It’s an invitation to unplug, connect, and play with your child this season, away from the distractions that our screens so often hold.
Because this year more than ever (with most summer camps and other activities canceled and so much is in upheaval), it’s up to us to make our own magic, providing our children a place to simply be children.
And I suspect that many families are hungry for a few fresh ideas to get them moving in the direction of a little more unplugged family fun.
What if we don’t want to give up our screens?
Great! Because The Unplugged Famly Summer Camp (and The Unplugged Family Activity Book, for that matter) doesn’t ask anything of the sort from you or require you to dive into an austere, screen-free lifestyle.
Spolier: I also appreciate my phone and laptop, and use them often!
What it does offer is resources, encouragement, and inspiration. It’s an alternative to our screens as the place to discover entertainment, gain knowledge, and have fun–together.
And we think that’s a delightful idea for the whole family.
How does it work?
When you sign up for Unplugged Family Summer Camp, you will receive an 8-10 page downloadable booklet each weekend for five weeks. Camp will run from 6/13/2020 through 7/11/2020. When you receive your weekly content bundle, print it out (or download it to a phone, tablet, or laptop if you prefer), then dive in with inspiration, projects, games, and recipes for the whole family to enjoy.
That’s all there is to it!
And it’s self-paced, so if you don’t get to something in the week it is released, you can always come back to it later.
What is included in each booklet?
Each booklet is broken down into four sections and contains:
Just for Caregivers
A favorite post from the decade of archives on my blog. These words are intended to inspire connection, acceptance, and presence in our role as parents or caregivers–this season and always.
Two kid-approved recipes to make together in the kitchen–recipes you’ll revisit again and again, and truly make your own. These are simple and fun and a great way to get started on cooking together–whatever your children’s ages. Snacks, treats, mains, and more.
Unplugged Family Fun
Activities, games, projects, or other adventures that require little more than basic supplies that you already have on hand. Some activities will come from my blog archives, others from my books, and still more straight from our family’s imaginations. Projects and play for backyard or park, kitchen or craft room.
Nature Exploration (bonus)
And finally, several bundles will also include a bonus project or idea to help you explore or discover the natural world around your own neighborhood. These projects may require special materials and supplies, and so we’ve added them in the bonus section since they require more resources and planning. (In the first booklet, we’re talking about raising and releasing native butterflies.)
The Unplugged Family Summer Camp consists of five downloadable, full-color PDF booklets, that are yours to keep and use forever, plus access to an exclusive community Facebook group for making connections with like-minded families, asking questions, and sharing your completed projects with one another.
Best of all, I want to make this experience available to everyone. (Keep reading!)
In future seasons, I plan to price this 6-week summer camp experience at $25.00 to $30.00/family. But this year, I won’t be offering it for sale.
Instead, there are three simple ways to participate.
1. Book Preorder Bonus
First, I’m giving Unplugged Family Summer Camp away for free, as a thank-you gift to anyone who has pre-ordered a copy of The Unplugged Family Activity Book! (And there’s still time to pre-order.)
Since the book costs just $22.99, this year the book and camp will cost less than camp alone will cost next year. I think that’s one heck of a steal.
Make a donation of any amount to any of the organizations listed here who are fighting for equal rights and civil liberties. Donating directly through ActBlue, as we did, makes it easy to divide up your donation automatically, or however you see fit. Or head directly to these organization’s own websites and give directly.
Then email me with the subject line “Unplugged Family Summer Camp – Donation” and include a screenshot of your donation receipt. I’ll add you to the camp!
For those who do not have the means to purchase the book or make a donation, I am offering scholarships to participate. I am especially interested in offering access to the camp to children and families of color, who have been systematically shut out of countless opportunities in their lifetimes, and their ancestors before them.
Applying for a scholarship is painless. Simply send an email to email@example.com with “scholarship” in the subject line. Then let me know why your family wants to participate. There’s no need for you to disclose any personal details or finances. Just tell me why you and your kids want to play, and we’re set.
There is room for all in this virtual summer camp.
For those who do have the means to purchase my book, I’d be honored to know it has earned a place on your bookshelf. I hope it (along with your five weekly summer camp bundles) becomes a resource your family treasures for many years to come.
Some have shared that they purchased copies to donate to local public libraries, which is an even greater honor. Thank you for that!
So… are you in?
I do hope you will join me!
We start next Saturday.
To sign up for summer camp as a book bonus (option 1 above), all that you need to do is pre-order your book from any bookseller (or directly from me–I’ll ship your copy signed). Then include your order number and the store you purchased from on your registration form below.
Last week, one of my dearest friends lovingly challenged my language choice when I reported to her that during COVID we were “drinking unreasonable quantities of tea”.
She had called to check in on our emotional health; to see how we were weathering this collective storm.
“I’m going to challenge your word choice,” she said, sliding into her professional role as therapist. “What if instead of drinking ‘too much tea’ or ‘an unreasonable amount’ you are simply ‘enjoying tea together’ as part of your COVID experience? Because unless we’re talking about you pounding a bottle of vodka every night, drinking an extra two cups of black tea every day is a valid part of your coping strategy.”
Oh, yes. Language matters, doesn’t it?
And so her loving lesson settled in deep.
If you were to swing by our kitchen this season, you would indeed find us enjoying copious and frequent mugs of black tea during quarantine. And on the days when I’m really lucky, you might also find my kids cooking, baking, and churning out gorgeous loaves of bread, lofty and beautiful cakes, and rich rhubarb ice cream for us to savor as well.
Are we eating too much wheat, sugar, and other comfort foods these days? Last week, I would have laughed, and said, “YES!” But this week? I’m going to say no. We’re simply… enjoying a few treats during this time hunkered down at home. And not unlike our garden and house projects, foraging trips to the woods, and hours in the workshop, it’s just another piece of how we’re getting by. No judgment, no baggage, just us: surviving (and even thriving) during quarantine. How comforting it feels to put down that judgment and negativity. Exhale.
How about you? What are you gravitating toward this season? Is it more in the neighborhood of yoga or dark chocolate? Television binging or deep meditation? Lattes or herbal infusions?
All are valid. There’s no shame in your coping game, friends.
At 13, Lupine is more on her game offering content these days than I am. She’s created and uploaded a weekly craft video for kids, while I’ve stood here froze, a deer in the headlights. (Her latest video is here if you’ve been waiting.)
But goodness. It’s all a lot to integrate right now, isn’t it?
I thought I’d be productive during quarantine: making and donating masks to our small town hospital; doing Instagram live videos for LüSa Organics customers and blog fans; offering book readings and free classes with content from my books.
But here I am, just slowly processing it all.
And perhaps that alone is enough.
While the rest of our culture seems to be screaming, “Do more! Be more! Have something to show for this!” I’m over here honoring the need to simply process it all. Indeed, there is no need for me to have anything to show for this time aside from a heart that is slightly more healed and intact.
Process over product in the truest sense.
In the dreary rain of Monday, I pulled out my camera–long quiet–and snapped a few pictures of the countryside around our neighborhood on my way home from LüSa. I found beauty in the brokenness. It felt timely for the state of the world, our country, and most certainly my home state of Wisconsin right now.
And there it was. Indeed, there it always is. The bittersweet beauty of the broken places. The perfect imperfection of a world worn hard by time, a world that looks so much like our own tattered souls.
In the peeling paint and the abandoned, tumble-down farms, in the graffiti and rain showers, beauty was there, quietly waiting.
Our broken world and broken lives are beautiful, despite–and occasionally because of–our scars. Do you feel it?
There’s no need to have anything to show for this time. Tend your hearts. Or if you’d rather, light the world up with the magic you’ve been saving for a moment just such as this. There’s no right or wrong way to show up right now. Just show up. For yourself, your family, your community, your heart.
As spring arrives with so many of us hunkered down safe at home, I can’t help but wish that my new book was already out in the world and in your hands. Because what a lovely resource it would be right now, with kids and parents finding their way, searching for new routines and rhythms during uncertain times.
So I talked with my publisher and we decided that the finest thing we could do right now was to pre-release a bit of content from The Unplugged Family Activity Book, not only to those who pre-ordered their copy already but to everyone. So that all of you can enjoy a bit of the simple goodness we tucked into these pages.
Today, I’m sharing the “Signs of Spring Scavenger Hunt” for you to print out and enjoy with your kids.
Suitable for those in rural, urban, and suburban areas alike, as long as you can still go for walks in your region you can dive in and enjoy.
While I know too well how difficult it can be to motivate ourselves up and out the door, each time my kids and I have done it in the past two weeks, we have found that our anxiety and frustration drop and our spirits and energy lift.
Here’s hoping you enjoy the same magic when you grab this pre-release and head out the door.
Before you head outside, can I ask a favor of you? As things rapidly change in the book sales world with current events, the finest thing you could possibly do is to pre-order a copy of The Unplugged Family Activity Book now and spread the word about my new book to your family and friends. (You can read more about the book here.)
If you have the means and will want your own copy eventually, ordering now is the very best way to ensure that book stores pick up copies once my book is released.
And because of the crazy times, we are all finding ourselves in, getting our pre-order numbers where we need them will be challenging at best.
If you have a local, indie book shop in your neighborhood, please order from them. They could use a lifeline right now, and this is a small and simple way to do it.
If you don’t have an independent book store in your area, please order from me! That’s a lifeline as well at the moment. You can find my book pre-order page here.
Spam me with your questions about the book (or anything). And many thanks, dear one.
And now, let’s get our scavenger hunt on! Find the downloadable PDF below.
I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but here goes.
Life is upside down. Kids, work, family, health, finances–everything.
Even as life-long homeschoolers, with kids who have never known a school routine in their 17 and 13 years, our usual schedule has been shredded.
Even as a family who rocked work-at-home for almost a decade, we’re a hot mess with work-life balance. Even as a family that is used to “doing it all” in many regards, it feels like we’re hardly getting anything done.
In the past two weeks (since our family began to shelter-at-home), we have yet to have a normal homeschooling day. Not one day of “table time” or math, Spanish or typing, history or the rest. No rhythm; no normalcy.
Let me say that again: We have yet to find our rhythm, and school at home is what we have always done.
Since we brought our work home, it has seeped into every aspect of our family and life, caused tension and hours of time lost before our screens, and yet it feels somehow like we’ve gotten nothing done.
Let me say that again: as experienced home-business owners, we’re falling behind.
But instead of taking ourselves to task for sucking at this new normal we’ve all tumbled headlong into, we’re baking cookies. We’re cooking down maple sap. We’re playing board games. We’re making art and walking in the woods. We’re getting by, just as best as we can.
It’s messy, it’s not ideal, but it’s us.
This is an imperfect time. So what if instead of trying to get it all done, we reach instead for leaning in with as much grace, forgiveness, and compassion as we can possibly muster? What if we make space for our and our children’s and our partner’s messy, difficult emotions, and simply take this moment to hold one another while we weep, or rage, or tremble?
What if instead of striving for perfection, we simply reach for love?
What if simply being together, validating one another’s fears, and reaching for grace is enough?
Need a happy, healthy, nourishing diversion from day-to-day pandemic woes? Don’t we all.
How about something beautiful, delicious, and probiotic? Something liver-loving, detoxifying, gut-flora feeding, and full of life? That sounds like what most of us could use at the moment.
Well, at long last, my beet kvass tutorial is here. And just in time for this global pandemic! So grab some beets if you’ve got ’em, and let’s do this. Our gut-flora are counting on is.
Homemade Beet Kvass
A past Herbal Retreat participant got me hooked on beet kvass. Originally from Poland, she grew up drinking kvass, and her own kids are now doing the same. She credited kvass with some serious health benefits, and being a fan of both nutrient-dense and detoxifying beets and probiotic foods, I could believe it.
While our family has long made a habit of eating probiotic foods each day, adding beet kvass to our routine was a welcome change from kraut, kimchi, and ginger carrots.
And since I would wager that all of us could use some probiotic love these days (now more than ever, as healthy gut flora has systemic health benefits that we could all utilize at the moment, for both mind and body), I thought it was time to dust off this blog post that I meant to share back in November and bring it to you now.
This recipe is so quick and easy to throw together, it literally takes under 5 minutes to assemble. It does the rest on its own and requires very little babysitting. And right now, that’s my kind of kitchen project.
Are you ready to make some kvass? Then grab beets, salt, and a mason jar and let’s do this.
Because this is pandemic preparedness at it’s most vibrant.
Homemade Beet Kvass
2 medium, organic beets
2 tsp non-iodized sea salt
1 quart filtered water, spring water, or well water
Gently wash your beets, but do not scrub or peel (the probiotics live in the peels, so we want to preserve those for the fermentation).
Cut off the leaves (if attached) and the top (the coarse end of the beet, where the leaves attached), and compost or discard.
Cut beets into approximately 1″ cubes.
Place the beet cubes into a clean quart-sized mason jar.
Add salt to the jar.
Top with water to fill just beyond the shoulders, to the narrowest part of the jar.
Tightly lid and shake gently to dissolve the salt.
Place your jar on a plate or in a bowl on the kitchen counter (out of direct sunlight). Allow to ferment for 7-10 days, “burping” daily by unscrewing the lid to release any pressure. After a few days you’ll begin to see small bubbles rising to the surface, especially during burping.
After day 5, open the jar fully, and remove any scum or mold that has formed. (If you’re freaking out, scroll to the bottom to talk mold with me.) The color will be rich, deep, red, and nearly opaque. Taste the kvass! When the flavor is strong enough for you (salty + sour + earthy + yum), it’s time to strain.
After de-scumming the surface, pour your kvass through a colander. Transfer the liquid to a clean jar, and return the beets to your fermenting jar. Add a second round of salt and water, and repeat for a second batch from the same beets. (How thrifty we are!)
Repeat the process above with your second round of brine, then compost the remaining beet chunks, or better yet, add them to a beet-friendly recipe, like soups, stews, or roasted veggies.
Store finished kvass in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Drink your kvass by the shot glass daily, diluted with fizzy or regular water, or add to salad dressing.
You have questions. I have answers! A few notes are below…
Beet Kvass Q+A
Afraid of the mold or slime? We get it. Mold can be scary. But here’s a fun fact: due to the salt content of the brine, the mold can not grow in the liquid or in the submerged beets, so there is no risk of food poisoning if you added the suggested amount of salt.
Seriously. Just toss that funky stuff and drink the kvass. Everything is going to be fine.
BeetBrown kvass? I find that (on occasion) the second batch of kvass looses its vibrant color after sitting in the fridge for a couple of weeks. This is normal, and the flavor is still amazing, even if the color is brown crossed with meh.
Beet kvass will stain. Keep this in mind when handing a tumbler-full to your two-year-old.
Oh, poo. For some, beet kvass will cause loose bowels. (Again, consider yourself warned if giving copious amounts to a toddler.) Start slow, and consider a serving to be 1/4 cup or less until your body is accustom to it. We normally pour a shot glass full for everyone in the morning.
What if I hate beets? Then why are you making beet kvass, I ask? It tastes like beets crossed with live-fermented sauerkraut, so if you like both of those things, you’re golden. However, if you’re in the “beets-taste-like-dirt” camp, perhaps homemade ‘kraut is more your speed.
What’s happening in your kitchen these days, friends? Share your favorite links below!
Hey, parents + caregivers. How are you holding up? Goodness, what a week. Life is upside down, and fear and anxiety have shown up in spades. Fear for our health and our finances, our family and friends, our present and future.
What a heavy load that is to carry.
And kids suddenly home, on top of it all! I know that some of you are in your bliss having your people together. Maybe you have the financial freedom to be present in a different way right now, or maybe you’ve always longed to bring your kids home. For others, though, I know it’s not so easy.
And for those who are struggling right now, I thought that you might need to hear these words tonight, as one messy day draws to a close, and you look ahead to another. And that is simply this:
You’re doing it right, right now. In all of your imperfection and flaws, you’re doing it right.
In your messy, worried, overwhelmed, impatient way, you’re doing it, day by day. Whatever you have to give–it’s enough right now.
And if you aren’t intentional homeschoolers, having your kids home from school doesn’t mean that this transition will be a graceful one. Expect tears and chaos, frustration and boredom, attitude and overwhelm. Expect messy tables and messier floors and even messier feelings (from everyone).
Because what you’ve just been thrown into is nothing like what many of us have chosen to do. Homeschooling, at its best, is a choice. Homeschooling, at its best, takes place with the freedom for kids and parents connecting with people and resources and the beautiful world. And homeschooling, at its best, isn’t something you are thrown into with little warning and less preparation.
What so many of you are waking up to is not homeschooling. It’s more like stress and chaos and hardship.
This is disaster mitigation, not an education model. So cut yourself (and your kids) all the slack and grace you can muster. Please.
Because you aren’t behind if you choose to simply be. To hang out for the next day or week or month, while you throw everything you’ve got into keeping people fed and your head above water.
That might look like a family read-aloud and it may look like kids watching movies. It may be teaching your kids how to cook or mend or forage, or it may look like video games. But know this: wherever you are right now? It’s the best you can do, all things considered. And right now that is more than enough.