“The Happy Dumpling” Homeschool Crafts

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Lupine and I have been talking at length about how to offer guidance, support, and fun to families suddenly finding themselves stuck at home.

As many of you know, our family has chosen to homeschool. But chosen homeschooling is a whole different ball game than what’s happening to so many families right now, with many kids and their grown-ups thrown into a stressful home + school reality so unexpectedly.

Lupine reflected on her love of making art and doing simple crafts and realized that she could bring that gift to young children who are home right now. Kids who are feeling bored, restless, anxious, or a little stir crazy, and looking for a simple outlet and a bit of creative fun.

So she put together a YouTube channel, The Happy Dumpling, just for kids. Her plan is to post approximately one how-to video each week. Her target audience is 7-10-year-olds, but she would be delighted if kids (and grownups) of all ages joined in the fun!

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She posted her first video, sharing how to transform an empty toilet paper tube into a sweet little bunny. Just in time for spring!

Be sure to subscribe to her channel, so you know when the next episode is live (I hear old-fashioned soup can telephones may be in the works).

You can watch her video here, then leave a comment below letting Lupine know what other projects you’d like her to share with you. As for me, I also have something special in the works for parents and kids.

Subscribe through the green link below and you’ll be the first to know when it’s ready!

Need more inspiration? Check my blog archives. They’re loaded with more than a decade of simple, accessible projects and ideas for parents and kids.

Stay safe and well, loves. And we’ll do the same.

 

Suddenly homeschooling? Read this.

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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.

I see you. This is hard. And we’re all in this.

Together.

 

Big, big news (a new book)!

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If you’ve been around here a while, you know my passion for putting down my laptop and phone, pulling on my boots, and getting out there with my kids–no matter the season. 

Since they were small, we’ve taken any excuse we could find to toss the to-do list aside and dive headlong into seasonal projects, recipes, and celebrations (both when we lived in town and here on the farm). 

To immerse ourselves in nature and the magic that exists when we unplug and connect with each other and the seasons, all through the year. From boisterous summer adventures to quiet winter celebrations, nature–and time together enjoying it–offers us so much.

Because this is where the memories happen.

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So when Herbal Adventures was finally out in the world and my editor came to me to ask if I was willing to write a second book, I jumped at the chance.

And I knew exactly the book that I wanted to share. 

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In my heart for more than a decade had been a book that was begging to be written: a book of joyful, creative, seasonal activities for kids and their families to enjoy together, no matter where they call home.

With projects that are simple, accessible, sustainable, and fun (and best of all, almost always made with supplies you already have on hand). Projects that are as fun in the city as they are in the country; when done alone, as a family, or with a gaggle of friends.

A book that helps you find meaningful ways to celebrate of seasons, no matter what else your family holds dear.

And so a new book was born. The Unplugged Family Activity Book.

Because there is such fun to be discovered when we put away our devices for an hour, a day, or even longer. And wherever you are is the just right place to start.

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Within these pages, I invite you and your loved ones to connect, create, and play all year long. There’s no right or wrong way to unplug–all we have to do is begin. And with simple projects, delicious recipes, and joyful celebrations, you’ll find that more fun awaits than you ever imagined–all through the year.

With more than 50 projects, crafts, and recipes, plus ideas for gatherings to share with family and friends, there are adventures to be had in every season.

Host a springtime tea party, where you’ll nibble shortbread cookies and craft a mossy fairy garden in a teacup.

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Or gather with friends for a summer potluck party. Blow giant bubbles,  race leaf-and-bark boats, or camp out in your own backyard.

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In the fall, enjoy a harvest party with your friends. Create a fall leaf rainbow, sip mulled cider, and bake bread over a campfire.

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When winter comes, celebrate the longest night of the year with twinkling ice lanterns. Try your hand at candle dipping, make your own play dough, and pen your wishes for the coming year. 

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The Unplugged Family Activity Book includes ideas for four seasonal celebrations to enjoy with family and friends, plus instruction and recipes for:

  • Candied violets
  • Herbal first aid balm
  • Rose petal tea
  • Teacup fairy gardens
  • Infused honey
  • Homemade ice cream
  • Summer flower buntings
  • Giant bubbles
  • Homemade dragonfly wings
  • Mulled cider
  • Felted acorn necklaces
  • Autumn gratitude tree
  • Decorative lanterns
  • Baked apples
  • Winter stargazing
  • Maple lollipops
  • A giant snow fort
  • Dried citrus garland
  • Plus dozens more crafts, projects, and recipes! 

In The Unplugged Family Activity Book you’ll fall in love with every season–wherever you call home. So grab your family and friends, and get ready for an unplugged adventure that will last all through the year.

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Best of all, The Unplugged Family Activity Book is already available for pre-order! (Release date scheduled for the Summer Solstice, June 2020.) For those looking for independent booksellers who will be offering my book, look no further than the links below, or request that your favorite indie book shop carries it come June. 

My Website, LüSa Organics (signed copies!)

Indie Bound

BAM! Books-a-Million

 

Friends in the UK, Canada, and Australia, you find links to retailers in your region here.

Or add your name to the email sign-up form below, then I’ll be sure to drop you a note when my new book is released.

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And finally, A huge thank you to everyone who has encouraged me to keep writing by reading my words here, purchasing copies of Herbal Adventures, and dropping sweet notes in my inbox through the years.

I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for your unflagging encouragement and enthusiasm. I mean that with my everything.

P.S. In other news, Herbal Adventures has been translated to French, and is coming out later this month! You can find the French translation here and a link to both (all three?) of my books here. The fun never ends! 

Leave a comment below telling me what you think about this upcoming book. Are you on a mission to unplug with your family just a little more? Share your thoughts below. I’d love to hear about your journey. 

Love,
Rachel

 

 

Postcard 8: Surf school

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When we take long trips like this one, we largely focus on free experiences. Because four to six weeks of paid entries would crush our budget in a hurry. So we spend our time exploring roadside ruins, hidden ancient sites, mossy forest trails, and other free-to-see locations and experiences.

Despite this strict and mindful budget, we did have a small fund set aside for memorable experiences we otherwise wouldn’t have had.

My choice? Taking a ferry, then renting bikes for the day for exploring one of the Aran Islands. Indeed, it was a highlight of the trip for me. By the time time we caught the ferry back to Ireland proper, my face hurt from smiling. So much fun.

A priority on everyone else’s list: surf lessons.

Both Pete and Sage wanted to surf the last time we were in Ireland, but stormy seas caused by the leftovers of a tropical hurricane scuttled their hopes. This time, the weather was gorgeous, we had the time, and even Lupine was in.

So we aimed our rental car to the nearest waves, asked a few locals at a parent-child surf club who they would recommend we hire to teach us, then connected with Seamus McGoldrick (Sligo Surf Experience) for a couple of hours of surf lessons.

I opted to watch from the beach to capture a few photos of their adventure, and set this experience aside as one for Pete to share alone with the kids.

They spent the morning practicing on the sand, then raced to the sea to try out their new skills. And they had a blast.

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I’m not sure when I’ve seen these three work and play so hard, smile so big, or sleep so deeply as they did after yesterday’s adventure. And now all three (of these landlocked midwesterners) are dreaming of the next wave.

What is your child’s best education?

I have a new blog post over on Happy Healthy Family this morning.

Here is an excerpt: 

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My kids have never attended school in their lives. Nor do we “do school” at home. You’ll rarely find us around the table, pencils in hand, math and science books piled high. You’re more likely to find is in the woods or the creek, the kitchen or the workshop; our curiosity alight and full of a love of learning that was rare in my own childhood but a constant in my life today.

This might make you think that my answer the question above would be: The best education for your child is interest-led, project-based homeschooling! Obviously.

EXCEPT THAT IT’S NOT.

Because this is my family’s right path, right now. It has nothing to do with a singular “best” option or something that’s a good match for anyone else.

AND JUST LIKE HOT SAUCE OR HEAVY METAL, YOGA OR PET SNAKES, IT’S NOT FOR EVERYONE. IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE.

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I’m over on Happy Healthy Family (the LüSa Organics Blog) talking about choices in education and following your child’s lead and your own heart.

You can find my thoughts here.

 

Caterpillar to butterfly

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Remember my little friend, Buddy, the monarch caterpillar? He emerged from his chrysalis!

I found him on a walk a couple of weeks ago on a milkweed patch in the path of the country mower. So I brought him home and set up our butterfly house, and we’ve been obsessively watching him ever since.

He formed a chrysalis a week and a half ago, we’ve been watching closely for days, awaiting his emergence.

Lupine noticed on Wednesday morning that the wings could be clearly seen, folded tightly behind the transparent membrane. We marveled at him for a long while, then stepped outside for only a moment. When we returned, we found him fully emerged!

Needless to say, we were awestruck.

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We watched as he pumped and opened his wings, then rested and dried them, while hanging suspended from the ceiling of the cage.

Finally, it was time to set him free!

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My mom was visiting, so she gathered with the four of us to witness his maiden flight.

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(Last photo courtesy of Lupine.)

I refer to Buddy as “he”, because a friend taught us how to determine gender on a monarch! See those two black spots above on the lower wing in the photo above? And the delicate (thin) black lines throughout? That told us that he was a male, and not a female as we had been guessing all along.

So “she” became “he” in an instant, just after emergence.

The things we learn, side-by-side with out kids! Next up we’re raising Luna moths. A friend gifted us a few luna babies that we’re raising with great excitement. Much to our delight, these amazing chrysalises jiggle and vibrate when you set them down.

They. Are. Incredible.

And a tiny bit creepy.

I shared a video on my Instagram highlights if you want to watch!

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And after that? We have a Polyphemus colony that’s happily munching on oak leaves in our kitchen. Another gift; same friend. This bundle of big fat adorable caterpillars will turn into these beauties.

Needless to say, I’m geeking out on this as much (if not more) than my kids.

Sometimes people ask us when we have our last day of school; do we take the summer off from homeschooling?

Not really. I mean how could we? Life is learning, and our curiosity just won’t quit.

So we don’t have a “first day” or a “last day” of school–not this year, and not ever. Because honestly, we couldn’t stop learning if we tried. And why would we ever want to, with this magic in our kitchen?

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A few postscripts (and a couple of handy afflinks) follow:

1. We were dumbstruck by this podcast and, weeks later, still talk about what we learned from it often. I hope you enjoy!

2. The zippered butterfly tent that we’re using in the photos above we picked up a few years ago. It was a part of this butterfly kit that we really bought just for the house. (Though raising the butterflies that came with it were fun, too.) A friend had one and her butterflies seemed to do so much better than ours did when raised in a makeshift house or gallon jars. Maybe it’s just that I fret about them injuring themselves less in this soft-side tent.

3. And if you’re new to lepadoptera or just looking for a good field guide to caterpillars, this one is a good place to start.

Happy caterpillar hunting, friends!

Aeriel silks at home

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Lupine started taking aeriel silks last year. (I shared her first performance with you along with my reflections on the profound value of this practice for her here.)

Her teacher is amazing: tough as nails (like nothing my kids have ever experienced) but unbelievably invested, committed, and loving to the kids in her care. It’s the perfect temperament for something like this, which requires the kids to be safe but to also feel safe. I can’t imagine a better combination than Francia.

And since Lupine attended her first class, she’s been aware that having a silk at home would not only improve her skills, but also be a ridiculous amount of fun.

With that in mind, every dollar she was gifted or earned during the past year (mostly from her play dough business) went into the bank, earmarked for a silk.

Finally, she had saved enough, and waited long enough to be certain this was what she wanted. And – at long last – she bought her silk. (She chose this kit since it included the hardware she needed as well and this basic mat since it’s good enough for basic protection, and she won’t be doing drops at home. afflinks)

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There was a bit of a bump in the road after her silk arrived, when the color was not what we expected. As online ordering can so often go, what we got didn’t look one bit like the photo. It happens.

So the classy raspberry silk she expected arrived in full-on no-apologies hot pink instead. We decided to sleep on it (the keep-or-return decision, not the silk itself), and lo and behold, that crazy color grew on her. She decided that hot pink forever was better than waiting another two weeks for raspberry.

With a dusting of snow still on the ground (and more in the forecast) we searched the house for an appropriate(ish) indoor site. Then together, she and I found a stud in the kitchen ceiling and installed the screw eye.

And she was off.

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A quick sidebar here: our house is small.

Really small.

And our kitchen – already doing double-duty as the place we cook (and do a pleothra of other kitchen-things) and serving as our makeshift family room – became our aeriel silks studio as well.

It was a little nuts, but a lot of fun too. How could it not be?

But, yeah. The house is feeling smaller than ever with her dangling there between the wood stove and the oven as I attempt to cook dinner.

Finally, yesterday, the last of the snow had melted and the thermometer was on the rise. When it hit a balmy 52 F, it was time. (Click on any photo to see a full-sized version.)

Lupine corralled Pete in the workshop and convinced him to help her hang the silk in the big maple tree in the yard. With the help of an extension ladder and our bag of unused climbing gear, they set to work.

They began by taking her horsie tire swing down, a gift from my dad on her second birthday. Seeing it laying in the yard as her silk was slowly lifted into position? The poetry was not lost on me.

And before long her silk was in the air, and so was she.

As a mom, aeriel silks is a lot like other parts of my parenting journey.

We beam at their skills, cheer on their efforts, marvel at their strengths.

And we do our best to not make that terrified gasp sound loud enough for them to hear.

Make no mistake, it’s serious internal work to watch your baby hand from her ankles five feet off the ground with no safety ropes, suspended above a mat that’s only 2″ thick and probably 1/2 the surface area it should be.

(Because: gravity.)

But like teaching a teenager to drive (something else we’re embarking on at the moment) or trusting that your kids will make safe choices when we’re not by their sides, it all an exercise in letting go.

In trust.

In allowing.

And so we do.

We trust her teacher, her knowledge, her skills, and her strength. We trust the tree roots, it’s branches, and the hardware and knots that hold her.

We trust all of these things and more.

Both here, as she dangles suspended in thin air, and – yes – as she sets off on her own out into the world.

Love, trust, allowing…

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Prairie burn!

The kids and I hurried home from town last night, arriving to see the hillside above our house already in flames.

That’s a good thing, I assure you.

Pete, two neighbors, and two other area prairie enthusiasts were already at work, burning fire breaks and raking debris to prepare our shared prairie for a prescribed burn.

(All photos are expandable. Click to see a larger view.)

The project began many weeks ago, and truly culminated last night in this long-awaited burn.

Pete, our friend Alan, and our next door neighbor Jeff had spent the past many weeks working tirelessly to restore an expanse of goat prairie (that spans our and Jeff’s land) that was being slowly but steadily covered in juniper trees. Invasive honeysuckle was waiting in the (wooded) wings.

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Alan, who lives just up the valley from us a couple of miles, (pictured here in green) has been champing at the bit to restore this prairie for some 20 years.

His delight was evident – and contagious.

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We’ve done prescribed burns with Alan in years past, burning pastures and bottomlands below our barn. But this time was different.

This was an ecosystem built by fire, but one that had not been burned (in Al’s estimation) for 75 years.

We know that the original homesteaders grazed sheep and goats here (old fences still remain, tangled in the forest at the ridge-line), but other than that it’s been abandoned, largely due to it’s steep slope and shallow, rock-strewn soil.

With the junipers gone, it was time to give the prairie one last push toward health.

With fire.

Moments after we arrived, Sage was “voluntold” (as he good-naturedly put it) to grab a water pack and work a firebreak. Lupine and I skirted the edges, keeping our eyes peeled for any sparks or embers jumping the boundary. (We had lived that experience before, the four of us and Al, and never wanted to do so again.)

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This burn, thankfully, went according to plan.

The excitement in the air was as thick as the smoke, and this remnant scrap of prairie was lovingly – yet dramatically – coaxed back toward health.

From a homeschooling perspective, we couldn’t have asked for more. It’s been a couple of years since the kids were involved in a burn. (Look at how young they were during this one!)

And they jumped in with enthusiasm.

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It was impossible to stop smiling.

The very real sense of community; the feeling of being true stewards for the land; the knowledge that hard work pays off; the contagious spirit of volunteerism – all of it came together as the sun slipped behind the smoking hillside.

I went to bed feeling grateful for good neighbors, old prairies, and no surprise gusts of wind.

What a night! And what a project.

Croissant-schooling

Croissant-schooling: the power of interest-led learning in homeschooling. #homeschool #unschool #interestledlearning #homeschooling

As homeschoolers, I love incorporating everyday tasks and real-life-learning into our children’s education. We are afforded a luxury of time together, and there is space for this kind of work, for them to learn the things that will serve them when they set off on their own into the world.

With this in mind, my kids have been stepping up to prepare meals since Sage was only 9 or 10 and Lupine was 6. Does it mean less work for me, since I don’t need to cook? Um, not usually. But is this piece of our homeschool an important one that will infuse them with life skills to carry with them into the world? Absolutely.

They research recipes, plan the meals, help with the shopping (when time permits), and prepare the food. I help as needed, more when they were younger and less all the time.

And each week when I ask Lupine what meal she wants to prepare (normally just a day or two before) she gives me the same answer: croissants.

I am not a pastry chef. The idea of making croissants is somewhat paralyzing to me (Croissants? People actually make those? At home?) And so each week I am a total downer and explain to her why croissants won’t work on a random weekday when we’ve had lessons or need to run to town or have other pressing tasks on our agenda. It’s just too much of a time commitment during an already busy week. If I’m honest, this answer is 3/4 of the truth. The other 1/4 is my fear of her attempting something that seems so epic and overwhelming (for both of us).

But this week, she was on duty for a weekend meal, something we don’t usually do. When she said croissants, I knew there was actually time!

And – at long last – I finally said yes.

You can imagine her excitement.

She set to work on Friday for her Sunday meal. (Ignore the fact that she’s wearing not only the same outfit but the same pajamas in every photo in this series. Ahem.)

There was a huge block of butter to bludgeon, something called a “poolish” (poo-leash) that I had never even heard of for her to make, a dough to create, and then so much careful folding, rolling, and refrigerating to tend to.

This went on throughout much of Saturday.

I did nothing to help besides buy all that butter.

And then, at long last, on Sunday it was time to bake! Triangles were cut, rolled, and egg-washed, and then the oven was haunted until they were baked to perfection.

The excitement was palpable.

Because honestly: how often do we – as adults or as children – take on a project that is utterly devoid of instant gratification, something that stretches us beyond our current knowledge and comfort zone, but something so worth the effort and the wait? Not often enough, I say.

And when we do take those things on? They transform us. We see what we are capable of.

We shine.

(Almost as though we’ve been egg-washed.)

And with much jubilation, we sat down to a very French, very elegant lunch. (Pajamas were even exchanged for clean clothes for the occasion.)

And? These croissants were outstanding, you guys. They were something beyond my wildest expectations. Flaky and crisp and buttery and amazing and made by my favorite 11 year old.

She did that. On her own. At 11.

That’s what determination and hard work – when rooted deep within you – can do.

All of this, of course, got me to thinking about how interest-led learning works. Sure, I could have dreamed up a project such as this for her, but that, I expect, would have been a whole lot of hard work for her to endure rather than to savor.

Do you sense that difference? That’s the shift that comes when motivation is internal rather than external.

By creating this project, this meal, this masterpiece from her own heart and desire? Now that’s when the switch gets flipped and learning comes to life. That’s where we are lit ablaze with a love of life, of knowledge, and of discovering new parts of ourselves we haven’t explored.

That’s where learning truly happens.

Croissant-schooling: the power of interest-led learning in homeschooling. #homeschool #unschool #interestledlearning #homeschooling

For those with a budding French baker at home, get your PJ’s ready! I have recipes to share. Lupine’s croissants were made mostly with this recipe. However, due to our love of all things British Baking Show, we also dabbled in Paul Hollywood’s method as well. (Usually when the primary recipe was vague.)

Edited to add: In the true spirit of homeschooling, Lupine crunched some numbers this morning and would like to report that the six simple turns of her tri-fold dough resulted in a whopping 729 layers of butter in those glorious croissants! (6 to the power of 3.)

Yay, croissant-school!

What about your family? What have you learned alongside your child, fueled by their own curiosity or passion?

Making bitters

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Lupine and I spent the morning prepping two small, personalized batches of digestive bitters. We enjoy drinking them in either carbonated or still water before meals, boosting our digestion and giving us something to sip on while we cook. I've been dealing with some persistent eczema since fall, and I'm certain that better digestion will be key to healing that from the inside out.

If you're looking for inspiration for crafting your own bitters, our ingredients lists (sans quantities, since we measured nothing!) is below. Mine also contained a pinch of dried elecampane root that I neglected to add to the list.

I suppose this can also serve is a working demonstration of what unschooling or interest-led learning looks like, since the whole project was learning-by-doing, and as a bonus Lupine decided this was the opportunity she's been waiting for to practice her cursive. (She asked me to practice mine, too, and I happily obliged.)

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If you need more than this rough list, my basic how-to can be found in Taproot WEAVE (along with the knitting patter for the green and purple hats that several of you asked about from my Instagram over the past week or so). That issue is almost sold out though, so don't wait if it's on your wish list! 

Edited to add: Taproot WEAVE sold out in a hurry. If you're looking for another resource for DIY bitters, this book looks promising! (Afflink.)

 

 

What magic is happening in your kitchen this week?