Chronicles of the O'Brien Family Adventures...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Introduction to Soldering

This weekend the kids learned how to solder with simple electronic kits bought by grandpa. They had several kits to choose from: Aidan decided on a spy type listening device and Summer chose an LED pulsating heart which she gifted to me as a Valentine's present. Yay! 

Aidan's device has a port to plug in headphones, a volume control and speakers to listen in on secret conversations. It's very effective! 

They were quite proud of their work and had a great time learning how to do it. They both look forward to additional projects in the future. 

And my heart looks beautiful on the piano! Bonus! 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Winter Guide Camp

We were blessed with a lovely warm weekend for our Girl Guide winter residential experience at Camp Warwa. The weather hovered around zero the whole time; not many complaints of cold fingers and toes all weekend!

Our first full day began with cross country skiing. The conditions made for a lot of ice however, so it wasn't always as smooth going as possible. But it was awesome. 

Our next activity was Low Ropes.

After lunch we enjoyed building shelters in the forest and fire building practice. After dinner we enjoyed piling snow for a Quinzee and games.

No camping experience seems quite complete without roasting marshmallows for s'mores.

In the morning we dug out our pile of snow for a Quinzee. The finished shelter easily held four Guides or two Guiders. It was awesome.

The whole weekend was a riot. The counsellors were so funny and it was such a great time. My only challenge was my body refusing to sleep even a moment the first night. At 5:30 am I was just starting to fall asleep, just in time for the girls to wake up. It made for a long first day, as I had two days without sleep. The second night I struggled a bit but managed to etch out around 5 hours of sleep. Such a nightmare insomnia can be! I figured my circadian rhythm was really thrown off as I'm used to going to bed way too late - around 2 am - and I tried to go to sleep by 10:30 pm.

I think it's about time I work on getting back to a better sleep schedule! Not an easy task for a natural night owl.

Summer's favorite part of the weekend was the meal time. Not because it was super awesome food, but because it was such a fun social time, particularly with the male counsellors who teased and were teased back relentlessly. 

We really enjoyed the facilities at Camp Warwa and definitely plan on returning another year. It was such a treat for us leaders - the counsellors ran all the programs and a cook prepared the food. That is an awesome way to camp!

Imbolc Elderberry Blackberry Mead

I'm loving my Herbal Medicine Making course. Module One was the basics: tinctures, decoctions and infusions, honeys, syrups, vinegars, oils, flower essences and the like. It was largely review but each section contained some crucial information that helped fill in the gaps of my knowledge base.

Module Two has been about bringing herbalism into the kitchen: a joyful exploration of pleasure sensations with crafting kitchen concoctions to please and delight the senses. I loved this section as much as the first; it was wonderful to focus on the pleasures that herbs can offer us and ways to bring our medicine into everyday culinary experiences. The lessons ranged from herbal compound butters, delectable cocktails, bitters and shrubs, ways to indulge in floral culinary delight, sultry specialty herbal salts, bone broths and mushroom concoctions of bliss. 

Today, coincidentally and yet delightfully on Imbolc, I indulged in crafting an Elderberry Blackberry Mead. 

I've always wanted to make mead. At one point when Aidan was younger I took a class in wine making and enjoyed making one batch of red wine. The kits were pricey for our budget though and I didn't venture past the single batch. It felt like cheating to buy a kit; inauthentic for some reason, like it only really counted if I picked and pressed my own grapes.

I always enjoyed mead though and loved the idea of making it, as it involved using simple honey instead of a prepared "kit." Much cheaper! And delicious to boot. I had bought a book all about creating it but never got around to making it happen.

Until today! I followed the recipe included in the module as a great place to start my mead making ventures. I truly forgot how easy making alcohol really is: bring together honey/fruit and water. That's it. And let ferment! I did use a packaged yeast to aid the process but this isn't even necessary as yeast is naturally everywhere. Next I may make a straight up honey mead, yum, and then I can branch off into other herbal variations if all is going well. 

I decided to keep my bubbly ferment warm to help speed up the process! It's a perfect sweater for the job. I've officially adopted it. When Cai no longer fits it, it'll still hang around as the gallon jug ferment cozy! 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Portrait of a Thursday with Winter Bubbles

Zero degree flyer deliveries rock in January. We had to be careful though because of all the ice from the thunder storm the previous night. You heard that right: thunderstorm. With a complete deluge. Apparently the Strathcona library experienced flooding. In January. 

I had to catch this moment of adorable siblingness. They were sitting there just chatting. Of course they got silly once I brought out the camera! 

From there to circus. I didn't see much of the coolest stuff and new techniques for the day: I studied while Cai played, but I managed to snap a photo of some peacock feather balancing work. Aidan stayed home and worked on his Youth Digital computer animation course during this time. 

After supper (chicken fingers with rice and corn for the kids and maple salmon for us big folk) Cai decided he needed to play with bubbles. 

I think Summer was battling zombies here. It's nice to know she's building skills for the Zombie Apocalypse. Training Level: Bubbles. 

And then the best part of a Thursday evening: I enjoyed a good hour of studying during the kids orchestra class. It's such a joyful part of my day! 

Of course the night ended with Reading Time and riotous play before bed, while Summer finished packing for our Girl Guide winter camp that starts tomorrow. Other than that one feature, a pretty typical Thursday. Minus the bubbles. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chaga Chocolate Bliss Elixir

I've been wanting to make a medicinal mushroom elixir for awhile now, but have been waiting to have a chance to buy my ingredients. That chance arose and I am a happy Elixir maker! 

This specific concoction includes freshly decocted chaga in my kitchen as a base. I added one heaping 1/4 tsp Harmonic Arts dual extraction 5 Mushroom blend (containing Chaga, Lion's Mane, Cordyceps, Reishi and Turkey Tail) and 1-2 tbsp Harmonic Arts "Activate" (containing cacao, Lucuma, Mesquite, Maca, Mucuna extract, Chaga duel extract, Reishi duel extract, Shilajit, and True Cinnamon). I added some additional Maca and one heaping tbsp of cocoa powder, roughly 1 tsp coconut oil and 1 tbsp maple syrup. 

It tastes just like a fancy hot chocolate, but filled with powerful immunomodulators and superfoods. 

Mushrooms have been revered for centuries for their antitumor and immune supporting functions. Common actions shared by medicinal mushrooms include: anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, immunomodulating, antibacterial, antioxidant, hypocholesterolemic (lowers LDL cholesterol levels) and hepatic (supports the liver). 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tea Blends

I've always enjoyed buying beautiful tea blends. I'd purchase from Steeps or The Tea Girl as it's now called, as well as from Epicure. Now I'm to the point where I've got so many herbs on hand that it's ridiculous to buy the preblended varieties. 

And it's fun to make your own! These days I've largely been thinking of what sounds good on a given night and assess if I have certain needs (is a cold coming on, am I feeling stressed or tense, is a headache threatening?) and then I take down boxes or bags of herbs and combine accordingly - some lemon balm here, Echinacea there, some lavender buds, some yarrow... This method is so time consuming in the moment though and it occurred to me to start building my favorite formulas and blends in advance so they're ready to go. 

Today I made a beautiful tea blend that came from my course through Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. It's a relaxing blend that includes: lemon balm, meadowsweet, lemon verbena, hibiscus, calendula and rose petals. 

And it looks gorgeous! Tonight I'm looking forward to trying it while I study during Aidan's cello class. Sweet anticipation! 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Spontaneous Learning and Thoughts on a Monday

Today Cai was in fits of giggles while we played with velcro animals across the continents. I'd place them in ridiculous places and he'd fix it (think elephants in Antarctica, dolphins in South America and bison in the ocean). I didn't initiate the game for the learning potential; we had been playing for several minutes before I realized what a great learning opportunity it was - Cai was learning about the continents and the typical animals found therein. 
The game started as a means to distract Cai from being too much of a nuisance for Summer and her friend Ava. He needed a bit of one on one time and it naturally just happened. It was a spontaneous idea but turned into a whole lot of fun and learning. 

The essence of unschooling. Unplanned learning and exploration that just spontaneously happens through living an enriched life. It helps to have books and resources around. This spontaneous game wouldn't have happened without the map with velcro animals. Surely this can be constructed, but requires planning and time and forethought. That's why I make a great unschooler; I don't have an abundance of any of those things. But luckily I recognize that they aren't necessary (for those of us who don't come by them easily). Life happens and learning happens. 

The girls had a great time doing many things for a four hour playdate. Summer read ghost stories to her friend and all the kids spontaneously choose to play outside for a time. Eventually Cai moved on and my afternoon progressed to tincturing medicines. 

Lately, as the only day we don't have anywhere we have to be (our only scheduled activity is evening piano lessons), Mondays have become my favorite day of the week!