Chronicles of the O'Brien Family Adventures...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Elderberry Concoctions

Last week the whole family got sick. Not terribly but noticeably: some vomiting, some diarrhea, no fever but a lot of tummies that felt best supine for a couple of days. Except for me. I totally bypassed the trouble. I did feel a slight disturbance in my tummy one of the days, but I produced no symptoms and it moved on quickly. 

This isn't normal for me. Usually, if my family gets something, I do too. Without exception. It makes me glad that we all tend to usually stay quite healthy through the seasonal adjustments. 

As I study my herbalism now, I've gotten into the habit of keeping in stock homemade elderberry syrup in the fridge during the cold and flu season. I take it religiously: a couple spoonfuls first thing in the morning, maybe one at night. If I feel like something is coming on, I take a couple spoonfuls every few hours that I think about it. 

Scientific studies have shown elderberries to be effective against up to eight different influenza viruses. It is believed that flavonoids, which elderberry is very high in, can disrupt the viruses ability to replicate. It is very effective against colds and flus. 

Elderberry, on top of inhibiting virus reproduction, also directly stimulates the immune system. They also have an anti-inflammatory action; they've been used effectively to reduce arthritic pain and even strengthen the eyes. 

While I've been enjoying adding elderberry to my diet for its immunomodulating powers, none of my family has taken to regularly imbibing the syrup (or really at all). You can bet I rubbed that in a bit as they struggled with not feeling very good! Just a tiny bit. 

The elderberry syrup is yummy, to me anyway, and palatable to even young ones. But it still wasn't the kids favorite thing so they largely avoided it.  Thinking about this, I found a recipe from my herbal courses to turn the syrup into gummy candies. I enlisted the help of Summer and together we created elderberry syrup and morphed it into gummies. 

Elderberry Syrup

Summer helped me measure out 1/2 cup of dried elderberries. Elderberries must be cooked before being consumed. 

We put it in a pot along with a cinnamon stick, a tablespoon of grated ginger, 5 cloves and 2 cups of water. We brought it all to a boil and simmered it for twenty minutes, allowing the liquid to reduce by half. This is how decoctions are made: the vigorous boiling allows the nutrients to be extracted from tough roots, bark and seeds. 

Elderberry syrup can be made without the additional spices; they just add their own medicine to the mix. 

The next step in making our elderberry syrup is straining the liquid and adding 1 cup raw honey. This is the syrup and keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks. 

Elderberry Gummies

For the sake of gummies, we carried on with our syrup: cooling 1/2 cup in the fridge then adding 3 tablespoons gelatin, while we simmered the rest of it.

We combined and whisked then together (think jello) and poured them into a mold. 

They didn't turn out as tasty as I hoped. No converted children here! But the process was fun. The recipe I have for creating these gummies was different than what I did: it involved different ingredients like pepper and licorice root, and used apple cider as the base instead of water, with no honey. I think someday I'll try the actual recipe instead, in case it is yummier. But perhaps not. I think one of the things we liked least about them was their final texture. It wasn't quite like gummy candy; more like super thick jello. It wasn't my thing. 

And besides, the syrup is so scrumptious. It's a wonderful way to stay healthy!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Washing Woes

It began with a drum that refused to spin. It actually began much sooner if I admit to it. Occasional strange sounds here and there; ominously tugging at my intuition that a change was a coming. I was in denial. Who likes the dearth of a household appliance? Best not to go there. Don't think the thought. It's all fine. 

Until the drum stops spinning. 

It took me an hour to hand wring the overflowing load of soggy towels and shirts and Calvin Kline boxer shorts. My hands were red and sore and I had a huge appreciation for our modern laundry conveniences. There's nothing like the lose of a convenience to heighten appreciation of what we have!

Boldly, we investigated the problem on or own. We figured if we could only diagnose what the problem was, we could buy replacement parts and install. With the luxury of Google, there's no shortage of professional videos and articles to help the DIYer find their way in the dark. 

We worked it down to the transmission, after a mere tightening of the belt didn't do the trick. But a new transmission isn't cheap and on deconstruction, it was noticed that there were additional very worn parts. In short, the machine was twenty years old and getting to the end of her life span. For half the cost of a new machine we'd have her up and running again. But for how long? Adding to that, new models were spectacularly more energy efficient and could potentially save us money. A great sale fell into our lap and it felt like the right thing to do to simply buy a new machine. 

After ordering it, we needed to wait another week to receive it. Two weeks without a machine, for a family of five, could have been a real nightmare. Thanks to my mom though, it was sort of fun, as I brought our loads to her house. We got to see the grandparents more and spend more time playing at their house. 

I was still very glad to do our last load at their house on a Saturday night. The following Wednesday was our delivery; a perfect amount of time to build up the laundry as I knew we'd want to play with our new toy. 

And she is a beautiful machine indeed! Equipped with all the modern bells and whistles, she was also last year's most efficient rated model. She chirps a merry tune on starting and finishing and uses a fraction of detergent and water, while cleaning much more effectively larger loads than I thought possible. Due to rapid spin cycles, the votes even come out way drier, being significantly less dry tune in the energy hogging dryer. 

Laundry has always been my favorite of the domestic chores but never has it been so fun! 


Scout-Guide Activities

Scout-Guide week

This past Wednesday we celebrated Scout-Guide week with a touch lit walk from the St. Albert library to Lions Park. Arriving at the park we huddled around a large bonfire to sing songs, do cheers and watch skits. Hot chocolate and cookies followed the event. 

It was a fun night of fellowship, and a very cool thing to bring together the two organizations. I arranged for my Brownie group to attend and the event was organized by Aidan's Scout unit. Unfortunately Aidan himself was sick that night and didn't wind up attending with us (he was not happy to miss out on hot chocolate and cookies I can tell you that!). 

Scout Baden Powell Banquet

Happily he was better a couple days later for the Baden Powell Banquet for the Scouts. It was a potluck evening. The kids learned knotting techniques, played with exploding chains of popsicle sticks, and Aidan got up to make a speech about himself for the group. He did awesome!

Cai had a very good time as well with the materials to build and create with! 

Aidan taught Summer how to make an exploding popsicle stick triangle. 

Thinking Day

And this week we celebrated Thinking Day with the Girl Guides. We enjoyed sections exploring and discussing such issues as disability, equality and child labor. 

I may be joining as a Scout Leader in addition to my Girl Guides leading, as Aidan's group needs some extra hands around. I wouldn't be organizing meetings like I do for the Brownies - simply because I don't have the time for another big commitment like that - but I can attend meetings and camps to help with reaching quotas of leaders, and I can assist. 

Next year Summer will be moving up to Guides and another Leader and I will be starting up a brand new group. I'm excited about this. As the kids move up to the higher levels, more opportunities for international travel arise; a very exciting prospect for us both!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Sine Curve of Tidy

Maybe it's just me. But in my house, and much to my chagrin, there is never a continuation of tidy. No status quo. No constant. The state of tidy is continuously in a state of flux, no matter how much I lust after it. It ebbs and flows I've come to notice, much like the dance of a Sine wave. 

Right now my bedroom is in a right state of perfection. No laundry at the end of the bed with socks and face cloths overflowing the edges becoming new laundry on the floor around the base of the bed. There's no exploded closet with doors that have no hope in closing except in dreams. No dinosaur toys or stray board books that don't seem to get picked up no matter how many times they get stepped over. It's spacious, clean and tidy. And I love it so much. I'm at the top of the Sine wave for my bedroom. 

But the whole house is never at the peek at the same time. When the basement is enjoying a glorious peek of beautiful clean perfection, my bedroom is a battle ground. When the kitchen is uncluttered and cleaned to a polish, my livingroom looks like it must belong in a snow globe. My office however never does seem to get on the upward swing of the wave; likely because I always prioritize it last and there's always a trough somewhere which takes cleaning precedence over it.

I'd really love it all to be constantly beautiful, clean and tidy. But life just isn't like that; at least not with three children keeping me busy. The nice thing is, I appreciate the clean so much more when it descends into the depths of cluttered chaos. There are some areas I'm good at always keeping tidy, my dresser is one example. I appreciate that it's always uncluttered, but I easily take it's state for granted. A newly cleaned and cleared space though is like an exciting present or a joyous celebration - think chorus of angels folks! It's nice to have that high. And to really feel the joy and exaltation of the high, I suppose we need those pesky troughs. 

Everything serves a purpose. Everything changes. Life becomes stagnant without an ebb and flow of energy. We may feel like we always want to be happy and at the peek of joy too, but that isn't the human experience and in fact would take away from the rich tapestry of existence. Life is filled with the ebb and flow of it all; a grand show both exquisite and devastating in perfection. I guess it's more about acceptance of whatever lies before us, however it falls short of our dreams and expectations. To be, to love, to live, in grace, simply loving the dance of it all. 

Musical Performances

This past two weeks brought us two performances for the kids. The first was a cello concert Aidan participated in with his class and the second was a mini performance of Summer's and Aidan's musical theatre class. 

Aidan was awesome for his performance. It was exciting for me to talk with his teacher just yesterday as she had nothing but praise for his ability and skill, telling me that he "could go quite far" and that he was amazing. She really gushed. Happy mom moment there! Aidan loves his cello and is quite a natural at it. I'm so thrilled and feel so blessed to have such a beautiful instrument playing in our house. I remember years ago how I wished our home was a place of living, breathing music. Now it seems like that dream is realized between Aidan's cello, and Summer's and my violin. Music is a big part of our lives and I love that. 

The kids musical theatre performance included a script the group wrote themselves. Interwoven in their drama was singing interludes by the director's voice students. It made it a long show but fun to see how everything was pulled together. 

Cai did very well for the performance. He was quiet and sat still, taking his own mini intermission with dad half way through the show. I think his favorite part of the day was being taken out for ice cream with grandma and grandpa after though!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Aidan Turns 11

My first born turned eleven yesterday. He had a fun and simple party with friends over for pizza and a movie. I love the simplicity of these new parties. It's what he twists and enjoys! I do not miss the elaborate Harry Potter or Star Wars themed parties, with their weeks of planning and relatively prodigious price tag. 

We made a cake this year, as Cai's super into baking. He likes to stir and is very adept at it. The kids watched The Box Troll for their movie and following cake and ice cream and presents, they enjoyed an impromptu game of Warriors (although Aidan spent that latter part playing a new board game he got as a present with a friend). 

I always feel so proud of my kids at their birthdays. I revel in how blessed I am in their awesomeness and health, brilliance and beauty. 

Not that I'm biased or anything!! They fill my day with joy and wonder. Sometimes a great deal of consternation and frustration with an occasional headache, but it's all part of the package - one I wouldn't return for the world.  

Science Day Challenges

I was initially reluctant to choose a partner to compete in the Science Day challenges today. I wasn't sure I wanted to do it but our organizer wanted adult groups for the teens to compare their work to, so I didn't hesitate to raise my hand despite minor feelings of intrepidation. 

And it was So Much Fun. 

Challenge 1: create a cup pyramid by moving the cups with an elastic band and four attached strings. 

It was pretty easy (and fun) once we figured out what we were doing. 

Challenge 2: build a bridge to span a meter using up to eighty newspaper pages. Each bridge was then tested to see how many books it could hold up before collapsing. 

We begun by drawing plans and discussing. Then we were given thirty minutes to put our plan into action. 

Summer's team bridge turned out quite sturdy but limited in space for the books. After 11 books, no more could be stacked in or on it. 

Aidan's team's bridge held out for 6 books. 

The teens and adults had the greatest space to traverse. Our bridge held the most books at 24, tied with one other structure. I was surprised as we intended to do a typical enforced girder structure with triangles but wound up sticking with a flatter structure. We made our tubes very tiny and pushed them into each other while connecting them for the greatest support. We were surprised it did as well as it did. 

This was what I figured to be the best made structure:

Challenge 3: create a marble roller coaster using pipe insulation tubing and boxes. 

I was proud of our creation: two loops, down into a double corkscrew and ending with a double loop set back to back. And it worked!

Aidan's group used chairs to make things more interesting. 

We all enjoyed visiting each other's roller  coasters and trying them out. 

After cleaning up we got ready for the second part of the day: an Imbolc party  taking place at the same location. I had left Sean and Cai at home though, so we didn't stay long at the party. We enjoyed the potluck, for which I had transformed Aidan's second birthday cake which we didn't need into a more appropriately decorated celebration cake.

We left just as games were starting and well before the dance and bonfire. Summer wasn't thrilled to miss out on a dance, so I told her we'll aim not to miss Irish Night this year. 

The day got 5 out of 5 from the kids. I know I had great fun and whooped and hollered on more than a few occasions!