I am not an all-bad person: An epiphany from chocolate cake

Today, my mom and dad came over for a few hours to spend time with my girls.  I had a couple of hours off in the middle of the day, so I dropped by home to spend time with all of them.  My mom had baked a cake with Anna, the recipe shown below, and it was so good that I ate three pieces in a row!

My mom showed me the recipe they used for the cake and explained that I’d made this same cake back in August of 1994 as a surprise for the family.  What? That 15-year-old insecure girl who couldn’t seem to do much right with her life made a CAKE?  I remember those days painfully clearly, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot remember this cake-making that evidently occurred. As you can see by the recipe below, my mom takes very good notes! That makes them extra fun to read 25 years later.

Learning about my teenage cake-making episode transpired just at the right time–as these things often do.  Recently I’ve been processing my long-held belief that “I am a bad person.”  Memories of my mistakes and all of the bad things I have done are plentiful and easily accessible in my busy, ruminating mind.  Not so accessible, however, are the things I did that were NOT bad.  Like baking.

Back in August 1994, I was the age that Mia is now.  Through Mia and with the help of this new cake-making information, there is a surge of compassion and love for my younger self.  It’s like water is flowing into an empty cavern, filling it with life.  The cavern has been dry for a long time.

Mia is wise beyond her years, a kind and genuine soul–which perhaps I was not.  But, like Mia, I was trying to figure things out and doing the best I could.  Figuring things out when you’re 15 years old is not an easy feat.  I gossiped about people.  I talked behind people’s backs.  I went along with teasing a girl for being fat. I cheated on tests. I complained and was ungrateful, and the list goes on.  But, was I really as bad as I’ve been telling myself?  Look, I made this cake.  For my family, as a surprise that made them happy. That is pretty sweet.  That sweetness came from me.

Today, this was an epiphany: I am not an all-bad person.


Finger knitting

Today, Anna learned finger knitting.  After watching a video about it, she finger knitted on her own for 2 hours while I slept.  The end product is a long scarf/ rope/ belt thing that she is very proud of.  Next, she will create a beanie cap, also with finger knitting. Anna seems to be good with her hands and seems to learn detailed processes quickly.  She is a joy to be with–a sweet and sensitive soul.

Another week of homeschool is under our belts.  This week was less productive than previous weeks.  Mia did not finish her work, but that is ok.  She can catch up next week. Our rhythm seems to be moving toward child-led and very relaxed.  I’m remembering how much there is to learn in normal life activities and that we learn best when we are interested and curious.

We are a month into the school year, and no one in the house has been sick! This is practically a miracle. The lowered stress level, increased sleep and decreased exposure to germs at school undoubtedly have kept us healthy so far.

This weekend, Mia starts her acting class and then has a sleepover birthday party with her best friends from her old school.  The rest of us will be homebodies as we usually are.

I am struggling a bit with my mental health today.  Seasonal changes are always difficult for me. I go through periods of depression at various times in the year, often aligning with changes in season.  I’m also dealing with breast pain and PMS this week, which have worsened this month (probably due to my poor diet).  My grandmother’s funeral is tomorrow in Finland.  She was the last grandparent between Alan and me.  I am thinking a lot about my family overseas and wishing I could be there with them.

Once again, I’m reminded that I need to take a step back and care for myself a little better.  Things are best when I take time away from the work of motherhood and the work of being a therapist.


Last week I kept up on housework and laundry, made three meals a day plus snacks, did a big grocery trip with the children, took the girls on two outings, took Mia to acting and choir, and took care of another child for one day. I wrote out the meal plan for the week ahead, started a batch of sourdough starter, and made a batch of yogurt and kefir.

Anna did not take a nap this week on my clock, despite waking up too early and getting to bed too late.  I went to work three evenings this week, came home from work and put the girls to bed and then caught up on housework.  My New Year’s resolution of nurturing myself each day manifested itself in little ways: a bath one evening, reading a little here and there, and running errands by myself.  Although grateful for those little luxuries, I want more.

Having meals and a neat house and children who were mostly happy was very nice.  But I am now completely and utterly exhausted.  I feel unappreciated and empty.  I have given all that I have and am left yearning for something more–something that makes me feel special and appreciated and beautiful and worthy.  Being a homemaker has got to be one of the most underappreciated jobs there is; it is a job that never ends, doesn’t pay, and whose daily work can be undone in a matter of moments.

This week I went above and beyond.  Most weeks I don’t.  I like the results of going above and beyond, except for the emotional deprivation that accompanies it.  It is my dilemma.

a lovely gift idea for the holidays

For the third time I had the honor of photographing a few of Erin’s beautiful soaps. They smell almost good enough to eat.

Here are photos from previous years, and more here–although I am not sure whether these products are still available.

These will be for sale in her Etsy shop this year, along with many more lovely handmade items.

Erin was my midwife’s apprentice for Anna’s birth.  She is also a doula, an herbalist, and creator of natural, handmade bath and beauty products.  She is an amazing person–an independent and creative spirit.

Please visit Erin’s website here.

banana bread

Mia and I made this today and loosely adapted it from a recipe on allrecipes.com.

We loved it! Here is the recipe:

4 mashed ripe bananas

1 stick melted butter

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 C sugar

1/4 C brown sugar

dash salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 C all-purpose flour

1/3 C semi-sweet chocolate chips

mix dry and wet ingredients separately, then combine.

pour batter into greased loaf pan; bake @ 350 deg. for 50-60 minutes until done.

cool on baking rack and serve warm with butter.

Picking flowers and unschooling

In our garden, flowers are for picking.  We make sure to leave some for the bees, too, but what fun would it be to have flowers that can’t be picked?

Here is what Mia did with (while I took pictures of) our pick-able flowers the other day:


This was Mia's plan from the beginning. Isn't it lovely?

Watching Mia independently satisfy her curiosity and plan and execute her own projects is thrilling to me.  No parental instruction or judgment (praise, criticism, or otherwise) was involved in this flower bowl project.

I told her I thought the bowlful of flowers was beautiful–a sincere comment that came from my heart.  I consciously avoided saying “Good Job!” or giving her a grade for a job well done. Mia was completely satisfied; her motivation and her reward were purely intrinsic.

And that is why we unschool.  To let her carve her own path.  For herself.

Mia learned all kinds of things doing this project.  Do I have any idea what those things were? Not really.  Not because I am lazy or because I don’t care. But because it doesn’t really matter. Because unschooling is about trust.

Unschooling is trusting that life and learning cannot be separated.  I trust that Mia’s desires and motivations are stepping stones to her ultimate destiny. I trust that she needs to draw for hours every day for weeks on end.  I trust that sometimes she needs to daydream and be lazy instead of help prepare dinner. I trust that as long as I am closely tuned in, give her love, support, and space, that she will learn what she needs to live whatever life she chooses.

I am delighted to be along for the ride.

Lazy gardeners’ rhubarb patch

Our wildly thriving rhubarb patch has been almost untouched for most of the time we’ve owned it.  We are the laziest gardeners I know; we love the food but don’t like the work.

This year I wanted to make the best of this huge patch of free food. It was a fun family adventure.

If any of you readers are interested in some free rhubarb, let me know.  There is plenty to go around.  Just come over and pick it up this week!

a photo of rhubarb sauce over vanilla ice cream would have been more appealing, but this will have to do. It is delicious. Trust me.

Rhubarb Sauce

4 C chopped rhubarb

1 C sugar

1/2 stick butter

Melt butter and sugar over medium heat.  Add rhubarb. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it becomes saucy.  Puree in blender.

I might try making this with Stevia or Xylitol next time.  That way we could eat it freely without the negative effects of sugar.

Mother’s Day vacation

We spent the weekend at Baker Near-Wilderness Settlement, our second time there this year.

We love this place.  Not only only is it a simple, stress-free getaway close to home, but it’s cheap, too.  For us, being a one-income family means not taking tropical winter vacations.  Or driving new cars or donning fresh, trendy hairdos…

…but for $115 for a cabin that sleeps 8 (split with another family=CHEAP), who can go wrong? Our weekend in the (almost) wild left us feeling connected and rejuvenated and looking forward to next time.  We were also reminded that making memories does not always mean spending lots of money.

The settlement has eight cabins, each with eight bunks, table and benches, an outdoor fire pit, and a wood-burning indoor stove.  The cabins have no electricity or running water, but what they lack in amenities, they make up for in charm.  Staying here made me feel like like I was Laura Ingalls for a couple of days.

The Lodge at Baker is open 24 hours a day and has modern amenities, sans shower.  A large refirigerator and other storage areas are available for our use. Cooking and dishwashing happen at the fire pit.  An incredible, knowledgeable staff is around 24 hours a day to help and entertain us.  The staff coordinates activities all day long–enough so that no one could imagine being bored here or having nothing to do.

We made our stay as simple as possible by bringing cold, premade food and using paper plates and disposable cups and utensils.  Last time, we made our stay as complicated as possible by having greasy sloppy joes and washable plates and utensils. I know, our disposable mindset was not very earth-friendly or responsible.  It was, however, oh-so family friendly and much easier than washing dishes at the camp site.  I figure we can make up the difference the rest of the year by using cloth napkins and diapers, right?

We did not go canoeing, but I love how canoes look stacked on top of one another like this, so I posted the picture. The kids were too young to go on the lake. I didn’t mind; my fear of open water keeps me on dry land as much as possible, anyway.

That is Alisha at the top. Not me.

This is Anna watching Alisha climb to the top.  I think she wanted to do it, too.

This trip would not have been fun without our trusty Ergo baby carrier. Or without breastfeeding or co-sleeping, either, for that matter.

Click here to see our photos from our winter stay at Baker Near-Wilderness Settlement.

Mama Mia spa night and rant about Godiva

Mama Mia date night, complete with a visit to the (pretend, at-home) nail salon, hair salon, and homemade chocolate-dipped strawberries…

(which, if I may say so myself, are WAY better than the overpriced chocolate-dipped strawberries we had at Godiva at the Mall of America on Saturday night. They were TEN dollars for SIX of them, and they were pretty flavorless and unripe to boot.  We made thirteen of these, using plump, ripe, organic berries with organic dark chocolate and it was a flavor explosion–and only about $3 for all of it).

I love our new Mama Mia date night ritual. It’s such a special way to reconnect with my biggest girl and to wrap up the weekend in preparation for the week ahead.

the homemade ones

if you look closely, you will see Anna’s tiny hand reaching up onto the table.  She gets very jealous when I pay attention to Mia and has a hard time with Mama Mia dates.

here is Mia looking out at the squirrels eating the food she put out there for them (unrelated to our date, but I thought it was a sweet picture so I posted it).

Happy Monday to all of you!

Mama Mia ice-cream date

We started a tradition of Sunday evening Mama Mia dates, where Mia and I spend an hour or two together, just us.

Tonight we had ice cream on the front porch and painted with acrylic paints. We laughed about silly things and chatted about nothing…the way things used to be *all* the time about 13 months and 4 days ago!

I hope to keep this up forever and ever.

My dates with Mia are pretty special to me. I think they’re pretty special to her, too.  I hope this tradition will keep our lines of communication open  as she grows and finds independence.  I hope these Mama Mia date nights will leave some shiny deposits in the memory bank, too.

And of course, when Anna is old enough to care, I will do the same for her.

Oh, how I love that happy face!