Category Archives for Life

Probably Not Going with the Zombie Nativity Scene

One of the benefits, in my opinion, of having never spent the Christmas holidays in your own home is that you do not have to decorate.

Photo (and exhibit) courtesy of the National Park Service

We make special trips to see the lavish decorations at the U.S. Botanic Gardens and around the Whitehouse elipse and enjoy the tree and decorations at my parents' and sister's houses, but haven't ever bothered to decorate our own home.

There's a chance that I'm not off the hook this year (plans are very much up in the air) and it's got me thinking decorations contingency plan.

What I do know is that I'm not going with this motif:

If it works for you, however, a zombie nativity set can be purchased from fetishforethics on Esty.

Final days in Halifax

Fog rolls in over Halifax Harbor

The sun came out for a couple of lovely days at the end of our Halifax trip. The photo above was taken from the Halifax-Dartmouth Ferry on Monday on our way to the science museum, the Halifax Discovery Centre. After that, we went to a Natal Day pirate festival in Dartmouth turn in early, after a bubble bath, of course.


Halifax Collage1. Not peak bus-riding time, 2. Silly face on the bus, 3. On top of the rock pile, 4. Under the sand, 5. Floating head box at the science center, 6. Building molecules at the science center, 7. Natal Day bounce house (1), 8. Natal Day bounce house (2), 9. Bubble bath

Easy Homemade (Refridgerator) Kefir

When I embarked on making Kefir at home, I expected it to be an extension of our long-established habit of making our own yogurt. However, incorporating this fermented food into my diet took a little trial and error. In honor of Farmer’s Daughter‘s Green Moms Carnival this month on preserving food, I’ll describe lessons I learned making kefir, so that you might find your ideal routine more quickly than I did.

kefir ready for new milkWhile kefir and yogurt both ferment milk, the process and our resulting routine are very different:

  • Unlike yogurt, making kefir with live cultures does not involve heating and cooling the milk.
  • Kefir ferments at room temperature (or lower, as I discovered) and does not require being kept warm over night.
  • Kefir continues to culture until it is consumed, even if the grains are removed, so must be eaten quickly. (The same is true of yogurt, but the process is much slower.)

There are many websites with instructions for making kefir, and some of them make the process seem very complicated and involved. It doesn’t have to be. My kefir routine involves just a tiny bit of planning and adds only a few minutes to my smoothie routine every couple of days.

Standard Homemade Kefir Instructions

  1. Put your grains into a clean glass jar.
  2. Add milk.
  3. Cover jar with a clean towel, not a lid (it carbonates), and store at room temperature.
  4. 24 hours later, or when the kefir reaches the desired sourness, strain kefir grains.
  5. Drink kefir.
  6. Go back to step 1.

That system didn’t work for me in the warm climate of Washington, DC, mostly because I found I was making a quart of kefir every 12 hours. Even when I reduced the amount of grains in the jar, I simply couldn’t keep up. I had to figure out a way to slow production, and since I had been storing extra grains in the refrigerator, where they still fermented the milk in which they were stored, I decided to try putting the whole process in there.

Homemade Refrigerator Kefir

kefir cultureStep 1: Acquire live Kefir Cultures

Many natural food stores sell freeze-dried kefir cultures. That’s not what I’m talking about here.  Live kefir grains look a big like giant cottage cheese clumps or wet popcorn. They are a symbiosis of yeast and bacteria.

Many of the sites that explain kefir-making do so because they are selling kefir cultures. I got mine from the Happy Herbalist and it is quite productive.

Step 2: Condition the Kefir Culture

If your kefir culture had been refrigerated or freeze dried, the first few batches will not be representative of the actual productivity of your culture. Since I started out making kefir at room temperature, my cultures were pretty well conditioned by the time I moved to the fridge. I recommend that you do the same because, while kefir does grow and the cultures do multiply in the fridge, they do so slowly. I use much more culture grains in the fridge than I would at room temperature Don’t start refrigerator kefir until you have about 1/3 cup of kefir grains.

Step 3: Shift Your Kefir Production to the Fridge

kefir With about 1/3 a cup of culture grains to a quart of milk, my kefir takes 4-6 days in the fridge.  I maintain a two jar system and every two to three days I strain a jar of kefir and start again for a constant supply. 

Staying on Track with Refrigerator Kefir Production

I find this system to be very forgiving. If I miss a day or two, the kefir is more fermented than it would be otherwise, but it’s still quite drinkable, especially in smoothie. If I miss several days, I might add milk to the finished kefir to cut the sourness. (Even without the grains the milk will continue to ferment in the fridge.)

Missing several days does throw off the production schedule, so what I might do is consume the newest kefir and 1/2 of the older kefir at once. I’ll then top off both jars with fresh milk. The one that only got 1/2 a jar of fresh milk will ferment faster, so it becomes the next jar consumed. And I’m back on track.

I did have one incident where I accidentally used milk that had gone bad. It didn’t seem to harm the culture, but yuck! I ran several batches of fresh milk at room temperature to clear the culture and went back to my routine.

Note: Some kefir connoisseurs only use raw or very fresh organic milk. Kefir will culture in practically any milk. We purchase from a local farm that does not use added hormones, but is not certified organic. I’ve even tried powdered milk, and was using that when it was just to store the grains, but didn’t like the taste of the resulting kefir. Since higher-fat-content-milk kefir can be harder to strain, I’ve found fresh skim to be my favorite.

kefir smoothieStep 4: Enjoy

There are a few differences to keep in mind between homemade kefir and the kind you might buy at the grocery store:

  • No added sugar! (I sweeten smoothies with fruit and the fructose in my protein supplement.)
  • Commercial kefir appears to be homogenized. Homemade kefir separates into solids and liquids quite easily. (You can see that in the photo to the right.) Blending kefir slows, but does not stop the separation.
  • While most brands of commercial kefir advertise “live cultures” there can’t possibly be as much as in homemade kefir because it would continue to ferment between manufacture and sale (even after refrigeration).
  • I’ve been told that commercial kefir uses fewer varieties of culture because manufacturers need to standardize production. If you’ve got a good citation for this bit of information, please let me know.

Do you have tips for homemade kefir? Leave me a comment.

Cultivating a Sense of Wonder

image from
 “I ride the metro with God.”

That was the thought that struck me at the end of chapter 7 of Donna Farhi’s Bringing Yoga to Life. The thought drove home the magnitude of creation, the sheer magnitude of Grace manifested into the diversity of this reality and its potential for constant rediscovery of the Self.  Two instances are not enough to capture an awareness of Grace over a day, let alone a month, but this is my attempt:

The bicycle commute: It’s cool, cold even, when I start my hour-long ride from Capitol Hill to Ballston, VA. I’m usually running late, so I peddle hard and the blood begins to pump faster through my veins, warming my whole body. My breath quickens. Often I can see it moving in and out, becoming me and becoming sky again, rushing past. Birds and airplanes soar overhead. I marvel at the contrast – that both can fly at all; that the rest of us don’t simply float away [1]

The toddler: A good bit of two-year-old anxiety is related to the process of defining identity. Where does she begin and end? She tells me, “I’m a butterfly today,” and retells the same stories, processing events of her day. “I fell down on my head and it went POP!” is a current favorite.  She’s magnetically drawn to the drama of human emotion, pointing out whenever anyone in earshot is sad (one of the more easily identified emotions). “The baby is sad” or “The little boy is sad,” she empathizes and looks to me to assure her that it’s ok. As she learns how she is separate from others, I hope she doesn’t completely forget that she is not.


[1] See January 20, 2010 – Astronomy Picture of the Day for a mind-blowing illustration of Grace. 

Originally drafted in response to a yoga teacher training homework assignment. Posted in response to today's #reverb10 prompt by Jeff Davis.

The Holidays Without the Hoopla

HAPPY CHRISTMAS BOKEH! XXXphoto © 2009 Simon 'Kelp' Keeping | more info (via: Wylio)

My husband and I don't give each other presents: not birthday presents, not anniversary presents, not Christmas presents. <Gasp!>

The appropriate cultural response: How do you show the other how much you love them without buying them gifts?

Um, wow. Did you hear what you just said? (Ok, i typed it, but whatever.)

Why We Don't Buy Gifts

My husband and I don't buy each other stuff. We do stuff for each other and with each other. And we do it all year long.

It's a pattern we sort of naturally fell into over a decade of marriage. With limited time and money, we found we'd much rather spend both on building or doing something the other wanted than shopping.

The conscious decision not to buy presents adds even more meaning to the everyday gifts we give each other –– preparing meals, looking after household tasks, listening to the others hopes and dreams, or covering childcare so the other can pursue an interest — and to the occasional gifts like building something around the house. For example, the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that line nearly every free wall we've got are more than essential storage in a tiny urban row-house; the memories of afternoons we spent building them have been incorporated into the glue that holds our marriage together.

The Bah Humbug Decision

We've now made the decision that the "no holiday presents" policy should apply to our daughter as well. (We're not forbidding them Mom Mom, we're just not buying any.)

We actually decided that for her 3rd birthday. The discussion was pretty short:

Me – Something about thinking about getting Maya a birthday present, blah, blah, blah.

Mac – We get her stuff all the time; why do we have to buy her a present?

He was right. It's not like the child is hurting for stuff and she gets a new toy at least every couple of weeks, all second-hand from the same place most of our out-grown or un-wanted stuff goes.

Sharing candy Sharing "candy" at Maya's b-day party
photo © 2010

What we did do is throw a pretty big (for a 3 year old) birthday party, complete with her top requests — chocolate cupcakes and candy — and a dozen of her friends. We also threw in fairy tale costumes, crown-decorating, a sticker-hunt/animal-rescue mission, and a pinata. It was 3 year old heaven.

Latest Research Suggests We're Right on the Money

A study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology comparing relative satisfaction with purchases and experiences concluded:

… satisfaction with material purchases tends to decrease over time, whereas satisfaction with experiential purchases tends to increase. (HT: @unclutterer)

Think back on your own holidays and birthdays. How many of your best memories are of the present? I have dozens of distinct memories of all the places my grandparents took me and my siblings as children, but would be hard pressed to name one thing they gave me.

Greg Karp, author of the The 1-2-3 Money Plan, sums it up:

“Experiences appreciate in value in your mind as often times you remember them fondly, where as goods and “stuff” depreciate as soon as you get them home.”

Building Our Family Holiday Traditions

Sharing candy Holiday "gingerbread" house assembly party from back when we were still carefree and childless.
photo © 2006

Knowing that permanent memory doesn't develop until a child turns about 4 years old, we've sort of taken a pass on building our own holiday traditions for the past couple of years. The biggest challenge we face is that we travel every Christmas and alternate years with the in-laws, so there will be little consistency of tradition from year to year.

Never the less, this year we are excitedly planning our own soon-to-be-traditions. Amanda Soule, of Soulemama and author of several related books has always inspired me with her solstice traditions. The beauty of building our own traditions around the solstice is that we are usually home for it.

And, though we don't want to buy a lot of stuff to clutter up our relatives' homes, we also don't want to arrive empty handed.  We are looking forward to incorporating Maya into our handmade holiday creations.

Related Reading

This post is in response to the Green Moms Carnival holiday theme.

Leo Babuata has a great post making The Case Against Buying Christmas Presents




In her #reverb10 prompt this morning, Gwen Bell asked participants to define 2010 in one word. Mine is "transition."

While 2009 was actually the year in which I left my full time job, it was in 2010 that I really attempted to figure out what that meant. I began a yoga teacher training program and teaching kids yoga weekly, and I began to explore a new identity, separate from full time environmental advocacy.

The year involved a lot of casting about and feeling somewhat lost, not unlike a certain polliwog in one of Maya's favorite library books: The Caterpillar and the Polliwog. He learns that, like the boastful caterpillar, he will transform into something else when he grows up, but nobody tells him what.

The word I will project on 2011 is "focus."

transformation photo © 2005 Noyes | more info (via: Wylio)