Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nettles Bring in the Spring

Nettles are here: little spiky purple and green clusters of leaves with sparkling coats poking up from the forest floor.

We fulfilled our northwest forager’s spring tradition today, nettle harvesting.

It has been so cold and wet out for a while, it was a great day to get the little ones into the woods.

Yes, I am talking about nettle as in stinging nettle, dubbed in Latin Urtica dioica. These beautiful little sproutings are among the first signs of spring, but I also love them because they bring an abundance of nutrients and medicinal properties as well. In fact, they’re what we herb dorks call a medicinal food.

They are full of minerals and antioxidants, vitamins and a host of all those other important phytonutrients, many of which have yet to be discovered. Nettles are a rich source of minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium and are a good herbal source of vitamins A and K.

The medicinal value is just as impressive. This herb is used commonly in a variety of get well formulas (for general cold and flu stuff) as a nourishing herb.  It’s gentle enough for use in children’s formulas too. It’s great for pregnancy, postpartum and lactation formulas because of it’s nourishing and replenishing qualities.

 Nettle is also been used traditionally as a preventative for seasonal allergies. Drinking infusions regularly is said to reduce the severity of allergies. I say, “said to” because I have tried this (and many other things) in an attempt to make my breathing more tolerable from May to July, and I certainly still have allergies. It’s hard to say if they’re less severe because of the nettle. Nonetheless I think this is an interesting point and I wonder if the nutritive quality of nettles helps the liver to process toxins and thus reduces severity of reactions. Hmm,…

How to Eat Them

They have to be cooked or dried. I know some people who put them in smoothies. I’ve been stung that way so I’m not really a fan. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a vitamix. Nettle can be steamed throuroughly so that you don't see any spikes poking up, and eaten like any other green. It is also good added to soups. I’m planning to make some nettle chili. Nettle pesto is nice and it freezes well for year round use.


Wildcraft sustainably by only pinching the top part of the nettle off at the main part of the stem. This allows the plant to grow back. Also don't harvest all the plants in one area and for your benefit, avoid areas with high pollution levels like roadsides.

In practical terms, its good to wear gloves to minimize stinging. Scissors are also great if you don't want to try to pinch the tops off with gloves on. If you’re careful, you can actually just use scissors bare handed and then gently pinch the top with the scissors to transfer into your bag. Or if you prefer, don't use gloves or scissors and just get stung, it’s how my husband does it.


Chobie did the harvesting this year for the first time. He learned how to harvest the plants so they can continue to grow and not to harvest from every plant in the area.

While we were in the woods, we also did some plant identification, alternating between “What is this plant called?” and “Go find a ______” (cedar tree, sword fern, etc.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tuesday Kids Book Review: A Circle of Seasons by Myra Cohn Livingston

A Circle of Seasons

Written by Myra Cohn Livingston

Paintings by Leonard Everett Fisher

With a title like A Circle of Seasons, my inner Waldorf-mom with pagan leanings simply would not allow me to put it back on the shelf. Thus A Circle of Seasons entered the stacks for cozy book time.

This little book of paintings circles the year with verses about the seasons followed by three shorter lines at the end of each page, which read rather like incantations in my opinion.  Thus, the book is assigned more points from the inner pagan critic.

I can’t decide if I love the illustrations or despise them, but it’s certainly going to go one way or the other. They are highly abstract representations of the seasons which either I love because they appeal to my children’s sensitive developing soul forces, or disapprove of because I would prefer more tangible illustrations of actual seasonal activities.

In any case, I like this as an introduction, or further exploration of the seasons.  Three out of four stars.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Finding Good Literature for Preschoolers

Have I mentioned that my kid loves books? He is constantly asking to read together. In the last year I’ve probably read over 200 kids books. So now I’m passing on my top kids book picks, so far.

As my oldest grew up and stopped nursing, reading books together has come to replace that feeling of closeness.  He calls it, “cozy book time” and it’s one of his favorite things to do.

I’ve had to learn that hard way that there is that there is a lot of, well, just plain bad writing out there for kids. Not like it’s traumatizing, but it’s good to have high standards, right? There’s just a ton of picture books out there that are uninspired, meaningless, and/or poorly illustrated.

When you stack my personal preferences for literary selections on top of that…the selection becomes quite limited indeed. I look for stories with a plot (if you don't read a lot of kids books you may be surprised that his is even a criteria), or that relate an interesting incident in a funny or artistic way. I also like to emphasize books that relate something practical or meaningful and that emphasize our family’s values.

So we read lots of nature books, gardening and farming books, classic children’s books, fairy tales and folk tales, and books about life experiences.  So I love a personal  book recommendation or a good booklist.


Nature Books

1.       Mother Earth and Her Children by Sybil von Offers

This is a sweet book about the changing seasons written in rhyming verse. It is translated from German so some of the rhymes are a bit awkward in places. There is only a bit of text on each page and the illustrations, which are photos of a quilt, are detailed with enough elements to keep little eyes interested for a long time, so it’s even good for toddlers.

2.       The Way to Start a Day by Byrd Baylor

The message of this book, that each sunrise is worthy of a celebration, is really my favorite part. As an adult, I find Peter Parnalls illustrations gorgeous and Baylor’s writing engaging. For my preschooler it doesn’t quite have the same interest and might be better for older kids. We did incorporate this into our homeschool curriculum a few months ago and actually made a point of going out to sing to the rising sun, like in the book. After that, it’s become more interesting.

3.       The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss

Children see the basic process of growing food from seed to harvest in this classic children’s book. There is a bit of exaggeration involving the harvest of a child-sized carrot that might be lost on the youngest readers.

4.       Who is the Beast by Keith Baker

Baker’s illustrations in this book have mesmerized Chobie since before he turned two, the rhythm and rhyme too.

5.       Autumn an Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schmur

I think we all probably learned how to write acrostic poetry in elementary school, but I never really took it seriously until I read this book. The scenes appeal to the old-fashioned homesteader sensibilities of a life lived in closer relationship with one’s food and with the seasons. The descriptive language is lovely.

Animal Books

1.       The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

For the most part I prefer animal books where animals are animals, and behave like animals. Especially at a young age I think that type of writing develops a healthy sense of wonder and respect. But for kids who are bit older and have that foundation, The Gruffalo, a make believe creature with a poisonous wart on the end of his nose, is hilarious.

2.       Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

This is just a wholesome story all around. Told from the child’s perspective it captures a child’s sense of wonder and awe for wild life. The hooting sounds within the story are fun to call back and forth too.

3.       Moon Child by Nadia Krylanovich and Elizabeth Sayles

Sweet, reasonably accurate, illustrations of baby animals and the display of animals doing things that they would do as animals (you know like, not exchanging china tea sets, or starring in a school play) makes me love this book. The text is pretty simple as well, so it’s another good pick for toddlers.

4.       Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

What I love about this story is the parallels it draws between the lives of humans and bears, without having to make bears human-like to inspire admiration.

5.       The Barn Owls by Tony Johnston and Deborah Kogan Ray

I like this book for the illustrations and simple telling of the barn owls’ way of life. Again, no need to anthropomorphize.

Alphabet Books

1.       Dr. Seuss’ ABC by Dr. Seuss

In my opinion, this is the best book ever written about the alphabet. Plus it includes upper and lower case letters, fun alliteration and rhyming, all of which are especially effective at developing pre-reading skills).

2.       A Cottage Garden Alphabet by Andrea Wisnewski

It’s about gardening. Gardening equals emphasizing my family values.  Great illustrations too, like the kind I would want to get a print of to hang on the wall.

3.       LMNO Peas by Keith Baker

This book shows a group of anthropomorphic peas (yes, legumes) taking on various human roles, in alphabetical order. Apparently personifying vegetables is less offensive to my sensibilities. Really it’s just that, by the time kids are expressing an interest in reading an ready for alphabet books I think they’re ready for that kind of humor. The whole “P”/peas thing is still probably over their heads though.

4.       Eating the Alphabet by Lois Elhert

Yum, yum, yum. I like to think that all the colorful images of produce in this book make my kid more excited about eating vegetables and less inclined to ask me for sugary snacks. I know it inspires me to go the garden.

5.       Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault and Lois Elhert

While this might not have made my top picks list before having kids, the rhyming text is irresistible for my kiddo. Add in the fact that there is a song version of the book and that pretty much accounts for his learning of the alphabet.

Bed Time Stories

1.       Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Helen Berger

Grandfather Twilight is a magical story with a poetic explanation of the twilight world. Reading it makes me feel downright peaceful.

2.       Night in the Country by Cynthia Rylant

Another peaceful bedtime story. This one is about all the quiet sounds and nocturnal adventures in the rural landscape.

3.       Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendack

The wild things are some of my all time favorite monsters. I also like that this is an imaginative story that shows what glorious fun there is to be had in one’s own room. Time-out doesn’t have to be torture because sometimes when you’re having trouble being respectful of the others around you, you’ll end up having more fun alone. Maybe I’m reading too far into it.

4.       Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

I admit it, I like the classics a lot. This was one of Chobie’s first bedtime stories and continues to be a favorite.  But, seriously, who can resist a bedtime story that bids goodnight to a bowl of mush?

5.       The Sleep Book by Dr. Seuss

The sleep book is a gem of a Dr. Seuss book, with such lines as “These falls are just fine for teeth brushing beneath/If you happen to be up that way with your teeth.” It’s a good read if you appreciate classic Seussical humor. As an added bonus it’s a long book and thus a good pick for bedtime if you have a kid that falls asleep during stories, or if you’re trying to turn your toddler into one.

Other Favorites

1.       Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

If you don't remember from childhood, this tells the adventures of a little boy in a world he draws on the wall with his crayon. Just keep your crayons out of reach for a while after reading this one.  Don't learn the hard way.

2.       Finn McCool: The Giant of Knockmany Hill by Tomie dePaola

This is one of my favorite folk tales, featuring a strong female character who works “a charm the fairies taught her” to save her husband from a bully. Tomie dePaola is one of my favorite children’s authors. I’ve quite enjoyed most of his books that we’ve read.

3.       Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss

Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham might get all the attention when it comes to Dr. Seuss stories for preschoolers, but this book is hands down my favorite Dr. Seuss book to read out-loud. It’s actually a series of rhymes and tongue twisters and is over-the-top silly even for the good Dr. Because it’s a challenge to read out loud, I can keep reading it over and over without the degree of suffering usually experienced by a parent asked to read a favorite book yet again.

4.       Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne

This one is a chapter book, which might not be great for a lot of preschoolers, especially younger ones. As a parent it’s actually a surprisingly good read. As a child I just watched the old Disney tapes of Winnie the Pooh as the little black rain cloud, but I have to say that Milne’s written account far surpasses.  My kiddo had a hard time with it at first, but once he sat next to me to stare at the illustrations he finally settled in. When he got a feel for the characters he fell in love, now he loves hopping around the kitchen with Kanga and Roo.

Finding good books to share with my children is a priority. The truth is that we will only read so many books during their childhoods, so I want to be intentional about it. And when Chobie is bouncing around the kitchen “with Kanga and Roo,” I’m reminded of how much he is influenced by our reading material.

And, because I am so passionate about good children’s literature, look forward to Tuesday Kids Book Reviews on the Handmade Life.


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