How the Heck I Ended Up Homeschooling

Homeschool Questions___ (1)Parents everywhere are tiptoeing into very new territory with their children newly distance learning. And as they learn of the structure that is expected with these programs, many are choosing to take ownership of the process and homeschool. In CA it is simple to file a private school affidavit, buy or design curriculum, and keep records. If you are feeling called to do this because you are not satisfied with other options, I can help!!

The following is an excerpt from my book Nesting Season that tells how I decided to homeschool in 1999. I’m sharing it because you may be feeling that becoming your child’s teacher as a reaction to current events is impulsive and stressful. This could be true!! But it may also be the perfect choice; even just for this year. I did not make this choice after tons of research and contemplation, and it worked out better than fine! 

It’s ok to listen to your gut and heart and figure out the details later sometimes!

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Costa Rican Rainforests are my all-time favorite classroom

I want to encourage you that schooling at home doesn’t mean you have to try to replicate the traditional school model. It doesn’t have to take from 8-3 PM, Monday through Friday. You don’t have to remember Algebra off the top of your head to teach it! And, maybe most importantly,  it can be so very much fun to see the lightbulbs turn on when your kids enjoy learning. 

Setting up the excerpt, Audree and I were knee-deep in our first year of raptor rehabilitation at the close of her 8th-grade year. We had two red-tailed hawks and a tiny screech owl that were taking so much of our time. Effie the owl needed nighttime care that would have been impossible if Audree needed to show up in a classroom each morning. Since we had the flexibility homeschool offers, we were able to take a deep dive into an area of interest that contributed to both her confidence and knowledge. If you follow my posts, you know it all led in a fabulous direction for her. 

 

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How many hawks and owls can you fit into a jeep on release day?

Please read the following knowing that I support all parents and all paths of education. We are most certainly ALL in this together.

As the days merge, one into the next, Audree and I are thankful that we had a manic fit, finishing most of her 8th-grade year of schoolwork a few weeks ago. Effie’s night-time care is intense and we are beat. Today we must finish some testing and science lessons and she will be completely done for the summer. Then we can just focus on the birds (Oh, and our freakishly hectic life).

I never really intended to homeschool this troop of Bingman’s that are all nearly grown and graduated now. It was one of numerous big decisions I made in a split second which has snowballed into an essential part of our lives. Sort of like bringing a hawk home in a box. 

In 1999, when my curly-headed, five-year-old Andrew was ready for kindergarten, Brett and I enrolled him in a sweet church school that was literally in our backyard. I was not looking forward to being away from him every day but this is what you do when your kid is five. We went to family interviews and he took some tests to get him squared away. A consultation with the principal that Brett couldn’t join me for was all that stood between us and the school year ahead. 

That morning, I put on my best dress and went to chat with our future administrator. Upon arrival, he gave me a warm welcome to the school with a tour and handbook. We stopped off in his office for some paper signing and to answer any final questions. I did have just one that I never imagined would be a problem. 

I explained that a few weeks into the school year, Andrew had a trip to Yosemite planned with my parents and I wanted to ensure that his absence wouldn’t count against him in any way. When the principal objected, saying that family trips needed to be planned strictly during school vacations, I was sure he just didn’t understand. 

I explained, “My dad is a veterinarian and his technical conference is on this set date. Since my mom was an elementary school teacher, Andrew will be spending this time at a National Park learning history, geology, and even art. My mom never takes the kids anywhere without it being a rich educational experience, but this will be extraordinary. It’s Yosemite after all”. 

The principal never wavered and said plainly, “Since I know about it ahead of time, it will be an unexcused absence.” I lost my cool (just the tiniest bit) and said, “So you mean to tell me that you think it is better for my son to be here drawing letters in shaving cream on a desk than to be at a National Park with his grandmother, a teacher?” He quipped back, “Your son needs to have structure and to be in school”. 

A sort of mother lion autopilot took over and I heard myself say (after a month of jumping through hoops to get into this school) “Thank you for your opinion. It seems that our views differ enough that it might cause us both too much frustration in the future. Andrew will not be attending school here next year, but thank you for all of your time.” I’m sure that he had not imagined this is where his answer would lead and seemed to scramble a bit. “You will not get your registration fees back” he insisted! 

I thanked him again and tried not to run, five months pregnant, out of his office door. It didn’t set in what I had done until I was in the car. Now I had to tell Brett that Andrew no longer had anywhere to go to school, but I was resolved. I… we, needed to have the last word on what was best for our children; not this guy in a tweed jacket. 

I phoned Brett in Pasadena and broke the news so that he would have time to simmer down on his way home if he was ready to divorce me. He agreed though. “How ludicrous to make an issue of attendance for a kindergartener. And we’re paying them! It’s a private school. If Andrew was taking Physics and British Literature, I could understand”. 

High on his approval of my impulsive behavior, I said, “I want to homeschool him, honey. I can teach letters, and colors, and math facts. I know I can do it!” Brett said, “Jessica, homeschoolers are weird. We are not doing that to our kid. We’ll figure something else out”. But something else meant driving out of town each day because there were absolutely no other local options. And since kindergarten is only a 4-hour program, this called for two hours a day on the freeway pregnant and eventually with a newborn for just a few hours of school. It seemed like a silly use of precious time for something I knew I could do. 

I said, “Give me one year. If I’ve turned him into a weird kid, I’m sure he can recover. Let me try and show you it will be great!” In that little moment over the phone, something big started. The year did go great and grew into many, many years ahead. I didn’t ruin the children and we have learned that homeschoolers are most certainly not weird. 

The kid’s areas of interest are unique though. I don’t think there is a bird rehabilitation elective at our local middle school! My seemingly impetuous decision has allowed the kids to really dive into the subjects that they wanted to pursue. Now, over 20 years later, Audree can finish her 8th-grade year in her room, tending to Effie between assignments. I’m so glad I politely told that gentleman off.”

We have had some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days homeschooling. I like to remind myself that everyone has a bad day doing their favorite thing now and then. It’s also been sparkling, shinning, wonderful a lot too. If you are on the fence, I would love to help you make the leap! You can comment, email me, or send a private message on social media. Blessings for a seriously fantastic school year, no matter the setting.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Mother’s Day, when all my chicks have lost their downy fluff and grown flight feathers, has me feeling wistful and reflective. Raising a troupe of milky breathed babes and beginning readers was the sweetest season. I was also exhausted and smelled like puke a lot of the time. It was hard, but so, SO much fun.

Now that everyone is flying, I feel like I know a few things about having parts of my heart living outside my body that I want to share. 

When they were little, I read ALL the books and tried to “mother right”. I was intentional and planned a life that Charlotte Mason would have given her stamp of approval. Then I realized that I was outnumbered and that my plans had to be more outline and less to-do list. When they turned to teens, they had their own to-do lists! Who knew the kids wouldn’t just want to do everything my way?

Here’s what I know for sure. Individual children have individual paths to successful adulting. Some want and need lots of guidance and structure in the greenhouse of childhood and others need to (and must) make their own mistakes to learn. Under my surface desire to successfully mother by to-do list, there was something more happening. What I was really doing was trying to protect my own heart. The one, the ones… outside my body.

I’ve learned that to love is to risk heartbreak. When my kids hurt, I hurt. It’s when I hurt the most. 

In the early years of their adolescence, I tried to keep from hurting by having a lot of structure (rules). As my babies turned to teens, I constricted instead of releasing my grip a finger at a time. They resisted and it wasn’t pretty. They were trying to practice independence while still in the safety of my nest and I was trying to keep them under my wing. It looked like prudent parenting from the outside, but it was actually self-protection. I didn’t want their mistakes to break my heart. 

With time and experience, I found that everyone was so much happier when I worked on teaching values instead of writing family rule lists. I started risking the heartbreak buy loosening my grip and being a resource for solving problems and processing complicated feelings. I taught my teens that it was ok to make mistakes and that I would listen and help them through anything. ANYTHING. 

I learned that my capacity to hurt was much larger than I knew.

I found out that when I was, and am this most trusted soft place to fall, I get to know my children deeply instead of the version of them they think I will accept. That was always my goal. To know their deepest parts. This knowing is even better than baby babbles and milky breath. And if you know how I feel about babies, you know this is really saying something.

On Mother’s Day, I send unquantifiable gratitude to my own mother and the grandmas and in-law mothers in love, and aunties that let me and the women of my generation fly around with their beautiful hearts. And to the next generation, I say ~  the joy is worth the risk. I see you and know that it’s both beautiful and brutal. But we can do hard things. Happy Mother’s Day Lovelies!

The Magical Healing Onion

When I started using natural remedies in my house back in the ’90s I ended up with tons of books with very complicated concoctions, made of lots of things I’d never heard of. I knew that there was a learning curve but I needed resources that I could actually source to when my kids were sick. This was usually in the wee hours of the morning and certainly without a cushion of time for me to order a root or bark that I couldn’t pronounce. 

Over many years, I tested things like banana peels for splinters and ground cayenne for cuts, that were made of things that were already in my stocked kitchen. One hero of all of these pantry remedies is the humble onion. 

The same properties in onions that make them offensive, also make them powerful healers. Onions produce a chemical irritant known as syn-propanethial-S-oxide. It stimulates the eyes’ lachrymal glands to release tears. Scientists used to blame the enzyme alliinase for the instability of substances in a cut onion. 

Recent studies from Japan, however, proved that lachrymatory-factor synthase, (a previously undiscovered enzyme) is actually what makes us cry. The magical thing is that it also helps us heal by causing our bodies to move all kinds of fluid from congestion to swelling.

Onions also contain a compound called Quercetin which has both strong anti-bacterial properties and the ability to fight harmful toxins. Quercetin is a powerful antihistamine and anti-inflammatory. The densest concentration of Quercetin is found in the outer rings nearest to the bulb’s skin as well as the part of the onion that is closest to the root. 

All onions have these compounds but sweet onions have less, so choose white, yellow, or red onions for your remedies. If you keep them in a bowl in the darkest part of your pantry, they last a long time and will be ready whenever you need them.

Ok… enough with the science for a minute so I can tell you a story about how an onion (well actually a shallot) kept Audree out of the hospital in Hawaii.

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My Blossom girl sewed this island gear from a ’40s pattern so that Miss Audree would be properly outfitted for our trip.

My fierce and capable Audree girl has a kryptonite. She can wrangle a hawk better than anyone I know but she and insects are not friends for good reason. This reason is that she blows up like Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka if she gets stung. And even worse, bugs seem to want to sting her more than the average human. Mosquitos love her tremendously and while bees and I can just chill together, they seem to go on a suicide mission in her presence. When she was a wee one, she was even stung by a bee in the middle of the ocean… many, many miles from land. 

So one warm and wonderful Mother’s Day, our entire clan accidentally took the long way on the Sleeping Giant hike in Kauai. Our afternoon jaunt turned into an episode of survivor, and at one point, dumped us into some really thick rainforest. The problem was that it was mostly thick with mosquitos, not mist. Before Audree could even verbalize it, she was covered like a bug blanket. I made a fatal error when instead of throwing her on my back and RUNNING her out of the muddy bit, I stopped to put bug spray on her. My “good in emergencies” thinking was also on a vacation in Hawaii. 

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We did eventually conquer the mountain!

We finished our hike and went back to our condo with plans to roll fresh pasta with a wine bottle rolling pin for Mother’s Day dinner. After I got a few pots boiling with Andrew, I went to check on the girl and was terrified of what I saw. The swelling from all the bites had gone rouge and was moving up her body. I have no doubt she would have needed emergency help if I hadn’t known about the onion trick.

I gave Audree some Benadryl and then sliced the only thing I had on hand (the shallots) and layered them all over her body. Then I secured them in plastic wrap and set a timer for 30 min. Just before the timer went off, she told me I was going to have to help take them off for a minute because she had to pee.

When I started to move the shallots, there were literally recessed rings where the shallots had been pressing on her skin. Her body had moved a huge percentage of the fluid and the reason she needed the bathroom was to get it out! I’d been using this trick for years at this point, but this was so dramatic. She kept the shallots on overnight and by the next day, although she was horrified by all the little marks everywhere, she wasn’t even itching. The moral of the story is obvious. This is one powerful remedy.

 

Onions are good for all kinds of congestion and swelling. They do miraculous work on bumps and bruises and obviously are amazing on insect bites. They are incredibly soothing for earaches and have saved us from needing antibiotics many times for coughs and chest congestion. Below are the instructions I’ve created to make it relatively easy to use. Although, I apologize in advance about the smell!

Method One:

This can be used for all kinds of swelling like bumps, bruises, insect bites or stings, and earaches or infections.

  • First, cut an onion in half. Put one half in plastic wrap in the fridge for later.

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  • Take a medium length of foil and trace around the onion with a chopstick or dull knife.

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  • Cut a circle in the foil that is just smaller than the circumference of the onion.

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  • Put the onion, cut side down, in the foil, and wrap it up so that the length of foil forms a “handle”.

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  • For bumps, bruises, and bites, apply the onion to the injury at room temperature until the swelling goes down. 
  • If you are using it for an ear infection, warm the onion in the oven. It doesn’t have to be hot to the touch, just a soothing temperature. Once it’s warm, hold the onion over the sore ear until it’s cool, about 30 minutes. 
  • This process can be repeated every few hours with the same onion half by cutting off a big slice to expose new cells of onion juice. 

*Note 

For sprains or bruises that need extra help, you can place sliced onion over the affected area and affix it with plastic wrap. Cover the area with tight clothing like socks or tight pants to hold the onion in place all day or overnight. This will allow you to leave the onion on the injury a long time without having to sit and hold it in place

 

Method Two:

An onion poultice is a powerful remedy for chest congestion and stubborn coughs. My kids really hate it because it makes you sweat onion smell, but it really works!

  • Roughly chop an onion to open lots of the cells of liquid. The finer the chop, the more comfortable it will be.

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  • Have the ill person lay in a comfortable position and smooth some coconut or olive oil on their chest.

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  • Pile the cut onion on their chest right over their lungs.

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  • Cover the onion with plastic wrap.

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  • Place a hot compress or wet, warmed towel over the plastic wrap.
  • Lay still for 30 minutes to an hour.
  • When the time has elapsed, remove the onion and throw it away. If possible, take a steamy shower with some eucalyptus and try to cough up anything the poultice has loosened up.

Repeat the poultice twice a day until the cough and congestion clear up. You will be stinky but healthy in short order!

 

As always, follow your doctor’s advice when you are trying out new natural remedies. It takes experience to know that what you are doing is working, but know that slow, steady, progress is the sign that healing is happening!

 

Prepared

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Caution: Please read the following post with the humility, compassion, and empathy with which it was written. I’m still learning how to do life along with my friends and family and offer the following with tons of motherly love.

I am afraid of a lot of things. I’m a tiny lady and it makes me feel like I’m at a disadvantage in many life scenarios. I’m still working out my peace. When I was in midwifery school though, I learned how NOT to be afraid of emergencies. I learned that fear is counterproductive to purposeful action and to lean on my training.

I feel deeply today for people I see are afraid of the possibility of an emergency. I also see that as a culture, we haven’t had much training… or haven’t really suffered much if we think toilet paper will keep us safe. Travel to places where people toil in a way most people in our generation have never imagined shows that when things go to crap, it’s not toilet paper humans are wishing for.

I’m not an expert at crisis preparedness but growing up with outdoorsmen, I have a few outside of the Charmin box ideas that might help us feel less anxiety and even raise the next generation with less fear and more independence. Here are some thoughts you can take or leave like an all you can eat buffet.

Do you know how to navigate without Waze, with a compass and map? Do you know your loved one’s addresses and telephone numbers by heart without your hand-held “phone book”? Could you wrangle up some food if the supermarket was closed? If you didn’t grow up hunting, can you craft a trap? Do you know what’s edible in a field of “weeds” like dandelions or chickweed? Can you start a fire? How about at the master’s degree level without matches? Do you know how to sensibly stock up on dry goods that can be stretched into many meals? Do you know how to make water potable in a variety of circumstances? Do you know how to make effective medicine out of common plants? Are you teaching these skills to your kids? 

I’m not suggesting that we will or will not need these skills in the near future. I’m sharing that real preparation can help us ALL feel less afraid of any emergency because if something happens, we will rely on our training. Fear is a guide. It says to do something you are not doing or not to do something dangerous that you are getting ready to do. I propose that the collective anxiety we are experiencing is a beacon asking us to revisit our life skills. 

If your protected, packaged, structured upbringing failed to expose you to this kind of know-how, choose something that feels most important to learn about today… now. It’s counterproductive to panic in an emergency, so let’s stock our pantries with skills instead of just toilet paper. And then take a collective, deep breath, showing compassion to ourselves and each other in this very tricky world we live in.

Sourdough Classes 2020

 

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If you’ve landed on this page, you have some interest in learning to make your own sourdough! You may be curious about the health benefits, have a gluten sensitive family member, or just want to delight in turning a little flour and water into something beautiful. I’m here to help!

I’ve given lots of classes over the years and used all I’ve learned to put together programs that are fun, educational, and super effective in teaching you exactly what is needed to produce lovely loaves and other sourdough specialties. Below you will find the details for basic and advanced classes that both entertain and equip you to bake sourdough with ease.

Sourdough Basics (3-hour class)

Starter

Learn to make a sourdough boule or bâtard from start to finish in my kitchen or yours! This class is perfect for beginner bakers or those totally new to sourdough. 

You will learn – 

  • What sourdough is and how it differs from other bread nutritionally and practically.
  • What special equipment is needed to bake your own sourdough and what alternatives you probably already have in your kitchen.
  • What sourdough starter is and how to use, maintain, and keep it bubbling with life forever. 
  • How to create your first dough, learn the pulls and folds to develop its structure and crumb, how to prep the dough for baking, and how to score and bake it off.

Of course, bread and tea will be provided so that you can nibble while we work. 

All ingredients and equipment will be provided for the class but please read my equipment list and be sure you have all that is needed for your own future baking on hand.

Each participant will receive a mason jar of starter and a freshly baked loaf upon completion of the class.

*Please note that since sourdough bread is a 2-3 day process, we will not be able to make and bake a loaf entirely from scratch during the class. I will, however, have dough ready for you to learn the final loaf forming, proofing and scoring for us to then bake together. You will also be preparing new dough as well, to get a hands-on feel of every part of the process. I will do the final rise, score, and bake these loaves myself which you are welcome to pick up after noon the day after your class.

Cost

Sourdough Basics Private One On One Instruction $125

Perfect for serious students who want to learn to make weekly loaves for themselves and their families. You are welcome to include a spouse or older child in your private class at no cost. 

Sourdough Basics Group Class (up to 5 participants) $75 each

This class is great for team building, book clubs, or birthday parties. Think bunko or paint with wine night but you get to play with dough. If you host a class at my house or yours and have 4 friends or family register, the host’s class is FREE.

Advanced Sourdough (3-hour class)

 

This advanced class is great for those who want to perfect their sourdough skills, learn to bake enriched bread, and learn to use sourdough discard for crackers and pancakes. In the advanced class, you pick what we bake! We can work on the Hokkaido sandwich loaf or English muffins and crackers or pancakes. We will also spend time working on perfecting a rustic boule and learning more artful scoring techniques. Upon completion, you keep your rising dough for the next morning’s bake and either the crackers or pancakes we prepare together. 

All ingredients will be provided for the class but please read my equipment list and have your own bowls & tea towel or banneton, loaf pan, and skillet or baking sheets on hand.

Cost

Advanced Private One On One Instruction $125

You are welcome to include a spouse or older child in your private class at no cost.

Advanced Group Class (up to 5 participants) $75 each

If you host a class at my house or yours and have 4 friends or family register, the host’s class is FREE.

How To Sign Up

Are you ready to bake!? Email me at jessica.c.bingaman@gmail.com and I will send you a google inquiry form that will help you pick your location, date, and time. I’m thrilled to make dough, chat about nutrition, and have fun in the kitchen with you this year!

Happy 17th Birthday Audree!

4Yesterday was too packed for a proper birthday post for my Audree. Today though, I have a story about my fierce, strong, organized, bubbly, baby girl. She was born on Thanksgiving and turned 17 the day before Thanksgiving. On that special Thanksgiving, we both ate our turkey in pretty pj’s. This birthday we celebrated with our family’s favorite beans and rice.

Last spring we didn’t rehab many birds because we were moving. Instead, we did lots of releases for our preceptor Kandie. During one, the whole neighborhood gathered in anticipation of the fuzzy fluff ball they found in a gutter, returning as a full-grown, Great Horned velociraptor. 1

One of my favorite things in the world is twisting people’s usual paradigms. The goal, always with a measure of humor, is to help fellow humans realize that things aren’t always as they appear at first glance. I propose that if someone has an experience where they have to rethink something, they will be inclined to look at other, more important concepts, outside of the box in the future.

So, on this day, Audree and I rolled up with the red rescue box to a street full of very excited neighbors. As we moved through the crowd, someone asked, “Where is the person who handles the bird”? It’s true that Audree and I don’t look like your average animal wrangler. We are petite and don’t really dress the part. 

Audree, never fazed by much of anything, raised her perfectly manicured finger and replied, “That would be me”. I didn’t look back so as not to risk the gentleman feeling foolish and squelched the huge laughter in my chest.

My personal joy resulting from this tiny interaction is simply that Audree, just by being her full self, caused someone to have to twist their first impression. My belief is that this is important in the world. I’m certain it’s been important in every generation because problems tend to be solved (the big, universal ones) from stepping back and looking at things in a brand new way… and in one small moment, this happened indeed.

I’m so proud of my lovely girl. She is strong, determined, self-assured, and also feminine. Her femininity doesn’t make her fragile. It actually makes her stronger. It’s one of her super-powers which she will continue to cultivate as she embodies womanhood.

What challenge are you facing that you’ve not yet puzzled out? Could a completely new paradigm help you approach it differently? Next time you are stuck, think of my beautiful girl and consider if a bird’s eye view offers an answer.

And Happy Birthday Audree Paris Jeanette Bingaman!

National Suicide Prevention Month

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I was deeply grieved to learn that ANOTHER young man – a son, a brother, a husband, a father, in my community took his life earlier this week. I didn’t know him personally but I do know people with whom he was close friends who are hurting today. 

We have a real problem, people. It’s a complex problem for which I do not claim to have the answer but I am abundantly sure that I have one devastating piece to the puzzle.

Mental illness carries a tremendous negative stigma that causes people to keep their experiences secret. I am guilty of this in that my own family has experienced great difficulty that even some of my close friends and family are not aware of. The privacy is for protection from judgment because the judgment is all but guaranteed, fierce, and only adds to already overwhelming pain.

How many Go Fund Me pages have you seen in the last week to help families whose dads, mamas, or kids have cancer? We rally around each other when our loved ones are sick, when an organ in the body is unwell. We should. We need each other.

But isn’t the brain an organ? Last time I taught biology, it was right there in the textbook! Then why when someone’s brain is unwell, do we pull away? 

Real talk here – We are AFRAID of anyone who struggles with any form of mental illness. We chalk them up as crazy and block them off, hoping their crazy doesn’t rub off somehow like a virus; probably because we are terrified to give our own crazy a centimeter of room to breathe. 

It’s not working. It’s not working because we are falling like flies. Memes intended as encouragement like “God will not give you more than you can handle” or “This too shall pass” pour pepper in wounds.

It’s not working.

I offer that shedding the stigma, actually more like stamping it out with the steel toe of a boot, might be one tiny step toward helping those who struggle. If we felt free to share when we were spinning out and thought that we would be embraced instead of judged, we might find an essential thread of hope. If we could say in plain English that death feels like the only answer, and then be surrounded by intense love instead of feared or shamed, would it change how far gone, how depleted we are before we reach out? I think so or actually, KNOW so. 

If there is no shame in heart disease, or cancer, or toe fungus, then why the shame about mental illness? 

I challenge you to ask yourself if you need an update to your thinking.

And if you are hurting, ask for help NOW. If you don’t know who can help, call The National Suicide Prevention Helpline. They are a free, nationwide, 24 hour a day service.

1-800-273-8255

If you’ve shied away from someone you love that struggles with mental illness, call them now and remind them how treasured they are in your heart. It could save their life.

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#NationalSuicidePreventionHelpline #SuicidePrevention #GetHelp #MentalIllness #PreventSuicide #DropTheStigma #NoShame #BeTheChange

Kombucha Baby!

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Kombucha is a delicious fermented tea that has been consumed for thousands of years, most likely discovered by accident when someone left their sweetened tea sitting around too long. It’s been very popular lately so I’d venture a guess that by now you have tried it out. It’s a tart, fizzy, and addictively delicious alternative to soda, full of glorious health benefits. A drawback is that it gets expensive if you fall madly in love! 

Bottled kombucha can start at about $2 at the market, but I’ve seen it much pricier, going for up to $6 or $7 a bottle where I live in the burbs. I can imagine even higher prices in metropolitan areas. So what’s a booch lover to do? Make your own!

Before we get into the recipe, let’s look at the health benefits, which are many. It’s a bit of work to make but I think this long list will get you motivated. The most popular benefit of kombucha is that its fermentation process makes it a fantastic source of probiotics. You’ve got to be living in a cave at this point to not know we all need more good bacteria in our diet, so this is a great benefit alone… But wait, there’s more!

  • Kombucha made from (all or part) green tea offers many of the same health benefits as green tea itself like blood sugar control, and blood sugar control can help with weight loss! Additionally, science shows that it improves several markers of diabetes.
  • Kombucha is also rich in antioxidants which are very beneficial for the liver. Science shows that antioxidants in food rather than supplements may be more beneficial so booch is a delicious way to get those antioxidants in every day. 
  • Kombucha is rich in tea polyphenols and acetic acid, which have both been shown to suppress the growth of undesirable bacteria and yeasts. This is huge if you are trying to rebalance your gut.
  • Kombucha has been shown to improve “bad” LDL and “good” HDL cholesterol levels in scientific tests and it may also protect against heart disease. *Going slightly off-topic for a sec here… If there is any remaining doubt – cholesterol is SO important for good health! This is a soapbox for a different day, but let’s just be clear, we need cholesterol for a properly functioning body (especially our brain)! We were sold a bill of goods in the 80’s when we were told it was bad for us. Can we move on from this terrible science once and for all friends?
  • Finally, test-tube studies show that kombucha suppresses the growth of cancer cells. It is unknown whether drinking kombucha has any effects on cancer risk in people but it will be interesting to see the results of continued testing.

Ok, let’s get to the recipe. The first thing you need is a SCOBY – a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Another definition could be a living disk of disgusting looking goo. I’ve learned to love my SCOBY because I’ve had her around and given away her babies for years now but she wins no points in the looks category. 

You can get a SCOBY a couple of ways. The easiest is one is to get one from someone you know that already makes kombucha. SCOBYs multiply so there are often some to share. You can also buy a SCOBY either at the health food store or online. 

I think the last option is the most fun – grow your own! If you are down for a quick project, buy a good, live kombucha next time you are at the market. Transfer the contents with a little added sugar to a wide mouth mason jar. Leave an inch or two of space at the top and loosely cap the jar so that gas can escape. Store it in the pantry or on the counter where you will remember to check on it now and then. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, the kombucha will miraculously transform into a SCOBY over between a week and a months time. You are looking for a disk that is between a quarter to a half-inch thick and nicely firm. The liquid that remains will be too tart to drink but you can add it to your first batch of home-made kombucha as a starter.

So let’s get to the brewing! You need some simple equipment and ingredients to get started.

Equipment

2-quart glass container with lid, sterilized – I have several extra-large 4-quart Ball jars that I use for fermentation. I double this recipe to make kombucha in these jars.

Small dish to hold your SCOBY – I like to use glass or stoneware, not metal.

Large container for brewing – I use a food-grade, large cambro but any bowl or pitcher works as long as it’s large enough.

Mesh Strainer

Bottles for decanting, sterilized – I like to use glass wine or sparkling water containers. Be sure they have a tight seal so that they will contain the carbonation of your finished product.

Funnel (optional)

 

Ingredients

½ cup loose tea – I like to use a combo of black and green organic tea. If your tee has fruit or flowers for added flavor that’s great! My recipe calls for more tea than you might find in other recipes. I think it produces much better kombucha this way.

½ cup raw sugar

1 quart filtered water, boiling – You will add ice after brewing to make just under 2 quarts total liquid

About 1 cup of reserved, live kombucha as starter

1 beautifully disgusting SCOBY

Start by adding the tea and sugar into your brewing container. Pour about one quart of boiling water over the tea and sugar and mix until the sugar has completely dissolved. Loosely cover the container and set it aside to brew it into a very strong tea. I leave it at least an hour, but often much longer to allow maximum extraction and to let the water cool naturally.

Once the tee is brewed, strain out the loose tea into the mason jar, pressing down on the tea leaves to get out every last drop. When I’m making large quantities at once, I use a second cambro for straining before adding the tea to my jars. It makes an extra container to wash but prevents spilling sticky tea. 

Now add ice to the sweetened tea to bring it to room temperature and then add the reserved starter kombucha. Finally, float the SCOBY on top of the tea and cover the container. I use a paper towel or cheesecloth with a rubber band. If for some reason, your SCOBY sinks a little, don’t worry about it. It will either pop up to the top overnight or you will see a new SCOBY forming in a day or two. The bacteria and yeast will do their job either way.

This is where the art of knowing when home-made kombucha is ready for bottling comes in. In a commercial environment, the fermentation process is precisely temperature controlled. At home, in your kitchen, the temp fluctuates. I have found that during temperate weather, my kombucha takes about a week. Once it starts to cool down in the fall, it can take more like 10 days, and in winter, it takes more like 2 weeks or even longer.

After a week, I slip a spoon into the container and do a taste test. You will want it to be slightly fizzy, mostly tart, but not all the way fermented, tasting like vinegar. If it’s too sweet, put the top back on the container and give it a few more days.

Once the kombucha is ready to bottle, start a new batch brewing and strain it as described above. When it’s brewed and cool, add a few tablespoons of the sweetened tee to your sterilized bottles, ready for the perfectly fermented kombucha. 

 

Now, gently remove the SCOBY to the sterilized dish in your equipment list and reserve a cup of kombucha for your next batch.

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I like to strain the finished kombucha when I bottle it because there is always particulate material that doesn’t look too thrilling even though it’s not unhealthy to consume. Pour the strained kombucha into your sterilized bottles. I make a meditative game out of this (stupidly refusing to use a funnel) to see if I can get it all in each bottle without spilling a drop. You know I’m a weird one already. This seems like a grounding and centering exercise. If you don’t like to test your steady hands and monk style breathing, use a damned funnel.

Ok, one important bottling detail is leaving plenty of headspace in your bottles to allow carbonation to develop during the second fermentation. The reason you added the fresh sweetened tea, is so that the good bacteria could consume it now and make yummy bubbles in your final product. The headspace allows this to happen without exploding any bottles. I’m knocking on wood before I say that I’ve NEVER exploded a jar or bottle because I’m so careful about this step. I leave the bottled kombucha on the counters for its second ferment for 4-5 days to get the carbonation really fizzy. During this process, I open the bottles just a twist or 2, until I hear a tiny bit of gas escape each day. It doesn’t make the final product less carbonated but I think it’s why I’ve never come downstairs in the morning to a sticky mess of broken glass.

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With everything bottled up, sterilize your fermenting vessel, add your sweetened tea, reserved kombucha, and SCOBY, and cover for the next round.

Whew! After day 4 or 5 of the second fermentation, you are DONE. Refrigerate your beautiful kombucha and drink away. I’ll add a little warning here… The daughter of my heart Mandy loves kombucha and was drinking at least a bottle a day of the store-bought sort for some time before I gave her my home-made version. She loved it and drank a ton only to find that she was experiencing an unintentional gastrointestinal cleanse later that evening. The home-made stuff is stronger!! When you start drinking your own for the first time, go easy at first. We can both drink as much as we like now because our bodies are used to it but take heed.

A final note, you can add all kinds of flavors to your second ferment. Fruit juice or puree work really well as do larger pieces of fruit. My friend makes a passion fruit version that makes me feel like I’ve been transported to a Hawian island. Go ahead and be as creative as you like and make notes on which experiments you like best. When you are ready, share your SCOBY babies so that your friends and fam can get their own booch brewing. 

As always, I’m here to answer your questions, but I hope my Julia Child style, ultra-detailed recipe has you off and running with all the info you need for first-time SUCCESS.

Beet Kvass

You only need a few ingredients to make this Beet Kvass recipe but for your minimal effort, you will create an incredibly beneficial health tonic!

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Beet Kvass is earthy, sweet, sour, and salty all at once. If you like to drink pickle juice, you will love kvass from the first sip. If not, know it’s an acquired taste, but like all fermented foods, you will begin to crave it as your body utilizes its benefits. Let’s be real though… Most people are either beet lovers or loathers. If you don’t like beets at all, make kombucha, water kefir, or sodas with ginger bug for a probiotic drink. If you are on the beet lover side, you will look forward to drinking this every single day!

The health benefits of Beet Kvass are many.  Kvass is a blood tonic that promotes regularity, aids indigestion, alkalizes the blood, treats kidney stones, cleanses the liver, and is brimming with probiotics. Follow this recipe to give kvass a go in your own kitchen.

 

Equipment

2-quart glass container with lid, sterilized – I have several extra-large 4-quart Ball jars that I use for fermentation. I double this recipe to make kvass in these jars.

Mesh strainer

Vegetable peeler

Sharp knife

Bottles for decanting, sterilized – I like to use glass wine or sparkling water containers. Be sure they have a tight seal so that they will contain the slight carbonation of your finished product.

 

Recipe

3 medium or 2 large organic beets, peeled – Some recipes call for unpeeled beets but I personally do not like the way the finished kvass tastes. I always peel my beets!

1/4 cup whey – The recipe for whey and cream cheese is below. You can also use live sauerkraut or other fermented veggie juice, live kombucha, or ginger bug.

1 tablespoon sea salt

2 quarts filtered water

Coursely cut the peeled beets and place them in your 2-quart container.

 

As with all fermentation, your container must be scrupulously clean. I use the sterilization setting on my dishwasher for this purpose making sure my containers are completely cooled before use to ensure beneficial bacteria are not killed by heat.

Now add the whey (or another fermentation starter) and salt to the beets.

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Cover the beets with water and stir well.

 

When you stir the kvass and the salt dissolves, it will appear slightly foamy. Cover the container. You can use a special fermentation seal that automatically vents or burp the container a few times per day. This isn’t a step that you can forget since the jar can explode if too much pressure builds up.

Because of the high sugar content in beets, kvass is a fast ferment. If your house is warm, it can take as little as two days. In a chilly winter kitchen, it can take up to a week. Be careful not to stretch the fermentation too long because the sugar can cause mold to develop quickly. I like to put mine in the fridge at the three-day mark.

 

As the kvass starts to ferment, you will see lots of bacteria activity. Bubbles will begin to form around the beets and travel up to make their escape. The bubbling action can get so alive that your jar of kvass looks carbonated. As the bubbles rise, you will notice foam on the top of your kvass. It is normal for this foam to have a slightly brown cast.

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In order to produce a rich beet taste without risking mold formation, I add one last step to my preparation before straining. After the initial three day fermentation, I place my covered container into the fridge for two to three days. I find that this greatly deepens the flavor of the kvass. After the rest in the fridge, remove the container, give the kvass a quick stir, and then strain the beets out reserving the liquid.

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Some recipes suggest a second round of fermentation by adding fresh water to the used beets, allowing them to ferment for a second time. I find the result much too light and prefer to discard the beets after the first use.

Now carefully put your strained kvass into sterilized bottles and refrigerate. Drink several ounces a day either diluted with a touch of sparkling water or straight up. The salty-sour flavor may seem strange at first but your body knows what’s good for it. In short order, you will find yourself craving your daily tonic! It will keep for months in the fridge but probably won’t last that long.

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WHEY and CREAM CHEESE

This recipe produces two products. The first, whey, is essential for making all kinds of lacto-fermented products and soaked grains. In lacto-fermentation, the beneficial bacteria in the whey will give your fermentation process a kickstart, allowing you to use less salt in your recipes. You may also use whey in soaking grains, brown rice, and beans to reduce the phytic acid and other “anti-nutrients” in them, allowing for easier digestion and increased nutrient bio-availability.

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Recipe

32-ounce carton of organic, full-fat yogurt

stainless steel bowl and strainer that nest nicely

paper towel

plastic wrap

Nest your strainer inside the stainless steel bowl and place the paper towel in the bottom of the strainer. Make sure there aren’t big wrinkles in the towel and that the edges are tucked in at the top. If the edges of the towel are hanging over the side, it will draw the whey up and out instead of into the bowl. Stir the yogurt and add the entire carton to the towel-lined strainer and cover the entire contraption with plastic wrap. You may use some extra plastic wrap or a large rubber band to secure the strainer and bowl so that you have a sturdy system.

Place the straining yogurt into the fridge overnight or until there is no liquid dripping through the strainer. The liquid that ends up in the bowl is your whey! Pour this liquid into a very clean mason jar. It will keep in the fridge for 6 months, but if you start fermenting all the veggies in your refrigerator, it will get used up quickly.

Once you have the whey that you need, you will be left with strained yogurt which is what is sold in the market as Greek yogurt. This product is also what was historically used like cream cheese. You can eat this just like regular yogurt, adding maple syrup, your favorite fruit preserves, or nuts. Also, try making it into muesli with oats and seeds. This traditional, European breakfast is incredibly healthy with both soaked grains and beneficial bacteria. You can also make savory spreads or dips with it. Add chives, parsley, cilantro, dill, and a tiny bit of chopped garlic with salt and pepper for a healthy and delicious veggie dip or spread for a bagel.

Sourdough Discard Crackers

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In order for a home cook to keep a sourdough starter active and bubbly, there is bound to be some waste. Careful planning and refrigerating the starter helps but occasionally you still have to discard. I’ve always made discard pancakes and love them. Recently though, I decided that I needed an alternative and set out to find a cracker recipe that really thrilled me.

When I prepare home-made food, I want it to taste as good or better than what I can buy. I don’t want my family wishing they could have the boxed or packaged versions. These crackers fit that bill. Depending on how you season them, they can be cheesy, herby, or just crispy and salty. They are also super healthy for all the reasons we already know that sourdough is awesome.  Try this recipe next time your starter is about to outgrow its jar!

One last comment – The Internet is full of recipes. Why do we need another one for crackers? I looked far a wide and didn’t find something that satisfied me. I want two things here… First, I want a recipe that tastes delicious. I talked about that above. But two, why are we bothering with sourdough crackers if they aren’t fermented? Some of the most popular recipes suggest mixing the ingredients and making the crackers right away. This defeats the whole purpose of sourdough! What I’ve done here is combine delicious and healthy. Anyone committed to sourdough because their bodies can’t handle digesting regular flour, can eat these crackers. AND they taste awesome. I’m so happy to fill in a gap, where both flavor and nutrition are priority. Please comment with your results.

Ingredients

220 grams or 1 cup All-Purpose Flour

110 grams or ½ cup Spelt Four

5 grams or 1 teaspoon Course Salt, plus more for dusting

2.5 grams or ½  teaspoon Baking Soda

320 grams or 1 ⅓ cups  Sourdough Starter

90 grams or 6 tablespoons Fat – refined coconut oil, olive oil, or melted butter

Optional Flavorings – herbs, finely chopped nuts, seeds, dry cheeses

Mix the flours, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. In a sperate bowl, measure the sourdough starter. Pour the flours on top of the starter and sprinkle the fat across the flour. Knead the ingredients together until they begin to form a cohesive ball. Depending on the natural humidity of the day, you may need up to a tablespoon of water for the dough to come together completely. Add it slowly so that the dough does not become wet.

Shape the dough into a rectangle and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Set it aside to ferment for 6 hours. When the 6 hours have elapsed, you may roll out and make the crackers or place the dough in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

When you are ready to prepare the crackers, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place one of your oven racks on the top and one of the racks on the bottom.

Now very lightly flour your work surface. Cut the rectangle of fermented dough into 6 approximately equal pieces. One piece at a time, roll the dough out until it is about a 4 by 7-inch rectangle. It is not important to be exact. Sprinkle the seasonings of your choosing onto the dough. Fold the dough over on itself in an envelope as pictured.

Note –  At this point, you will be rolling out the dough for final cutting. The more particular you are about how you roll the dough out now, the more even your crackers will be. If you are making these for your family, it may not be important at all to have sharp, straight edges. If you are going to give them to friends or as a gift, work on keeping the dough very straight and even as you roll it out.

Roll the dough out until it is thinner than you think it needs to be! The approximate measurement is 2 millimeters remembering that it will poof up some in the oven. Once you make this recipe a time or two, you will know exactly how thin you need to go during this step for perfect crackers. You may sprinkle more salt on the dough and press it in with the rolling pin or palm of your hand now if desired.

Using the rolling pin or a ruler as your guide, use a pizza cutter to cut the rectangle of dough into equal pieces. If you like, you can trim away the ragged edges of your dough. These trimmings fold back together easily into a new, much smaller rectangle which can be rolled and cut again to avoid waste. Use a fork and score each cracker at least twice.

Place the crackers on an ungreased baking sheet and put them on the bottom rack of the oven. Set the timer for 10 minutes. When the 10 minutes have elapsed, move the baking sheet to the top rack of the oven. Depending on the thickness of your crackers, it will take about 10 more minutes for them to finish baking. I set my timer for 8 minutes and check them often until I see that they are golden, but not dark brown.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven an allow the crackers to cool. Repeat the process with the remaining rectangles of dough. Package the crackers in an airtight container to store them.