Just Plain Living…

Stories from our gentle Home…

The Sacred Duty of Homemade Bread May 28, 2009

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Yum. I can still smell the aroma from the Sunflower Oatmeal bread we baked last night. We make a batch of bread at least once a week. It is part of our school “work”-and it is my belief that the process of baking bread is as nourishing to the soul as eating it is for your body. I am going to share the recipe below. Although this particular bread did not come from a book, if you are new to bread making, I recommend this great book called “Whole Foods for Whole People”. It teaches the process in a gentle way.  I do not use the book so much for the recipes anymore (they are in my brain) but, I completely love to read and re-read the the text portions, focused on nutrition and menu planning. And I LOVE love love the simple art work on the cover and inside. This is one (of many) that I consider to be a  ‘must have’  on your shelf. Here is a quick excerpt… (now, before you read…PLEASE know that this is a tiny bit old-fashioned…considering that it only mentions bread making as a sacred duty for females…I strongly disagree with this…in a non-feminist way-if that is possible. Simply put…my belief is that it is a sacred duty for all PEOPLE. So, here it is…of course I am typing it like it is in the book…just substitute for yourself to keep happy)…

“It is a sacred duty for every girl and woman to learn to make good, light bread from unrefined flour. Mothers should take their daughters into the kitchen with them, when very young, and teach them the art of cooking. She should instruct them patiently, lovingly, and make the work as agreeable as she can, by her cheerful countenance and encouraging words. If a love for cooking and other necessary domestic duties is once implanted, it will never be lost! It will also prove a real safeguard from idle moments during the restless teens and will help prepare a young woman for a happy home of her own. Today much worthless information is passed on to youth in the name of “education”, while the earnest duties of life are passed over, with hardly a mention. Good cooking is one of the most essential branches of education, especially for young women”

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I think the second to last sentence there might just be why we homeschool!! Ok…I am a bit pressed for time this morning so instead of my usual rambling, I am going to post the recipe and get outside…we have sunny skies this morning and our bodies are in much need of moving in the light! Feel free to post a question, I will answer as quickly as I can.

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 Ingredients: (you will also need a good cooking thermometer and a flour sifter- I think these are the only two things that might not by lying around)

1 1/2 T dry yeast

1 Cup warm water (my yeast packets suggest “warm” to be 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit-if you are dissolving the yeast in the water like in this recipe-work fast to get the yeast in the water and keep it in a warm place so it holds the temperature for a bit.)

1 T honey (please use your local honey-more on that topic another day!)

1 stick of room temperature butter (do not melt it…just leave it out for a bit before you begin making it-or give it to your toddler to “play with” for a bit…it’ll warm right up)

3-4 T honey (Plus a little more to brush on top at the end)

1 T salt (Celtic sea salt is my favorite…)

3 cups warm milk (or water) (either one you choose, stick to the same temperature “rules” that you did for dissolving the yeast-I have ruined one too many loaves of bread by killing the yeast (too hot) or not growing the yeast (too cool).

4-5 Cups Spelt Flour (you will need 5 cups -maybe more- but, leave one of the cups aside)

4-5 Cups Whole Wheat Flour (you will need 5 cups -maybe more-but, leave one of the cups aside)

Sunflower seeds (about 1 cup plus a little more for the top)

Oatmeal (Quaker is fine-I like whole oats in bread-makes it more crunchy)( 1/2 to 1 cup…plus a little more for the top)

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir the 1T of honey in the cup of warm water. Then, pour the yeast in. Don’t stir it (tempting, I know). Set it aside for 10 minutes in a warm place and let it get foamy. Meanwhile, put the butter, the rest of the honey and salt in a large (save yourself time now…go for the big one) bowl. Warm the milk (or water) and pour it over the ingredients in the bowl. Add the yeast mixture. Add the 4 cups of Spelt flour and the 4 cups of Whole Wheat flour and the oatmeal and sunflower seeds. Stir it with a wooden spoon or you can mix it with your hands. Just combine the ingredients for now…don’t over work it.  Cover the bowl with a cloth and place it in a warm place to rise for 10-15 minutes.  Once this time has passed, uncover it and add the remainder of the flours (1 cup of each) and flour the counter top and your hands well. Your dough needs to be “knead-able”-if it is too sticky, add more flour-just keep the balance of the two flours). This is where the recipe literally needs your intuition…you must just “know” when the dough is the right consistency and texture…you cannot take out flour once you add it…so, a just add a little at a time. Once it is workable, knead it for 5-10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic-not too sticky.  Divide the dough in half- (I think next time I will divide it into thirds so my cooking time is shorter). Grease whatever you are cooking it in well. Once it is ready to bake, brush the top with honey and sprinkle it with oats and sunflower seeds. Cook one pan at a time-the rest can just sit on the counter and rise some more.

A couple of options…you can make rolls or loaves or whatever! I can not give you an exact cooking time…I use stoneware to bake in-so, my cooking time is always longer (50 minutes or so for a loaf-half of the dough). Rolls cook nicely in about 18-20 minutes. Really- bread is a lot intuition. Don’t assume your bread is cooked through in the beginning…cut into it and see if it is “doughy”-it is a real learning process and it will take a few times to get it down. Once you “get it”, you will not forget it! Write it down each time and make note of what you did differently and what worked or didn’t. I am constantly making changes in my recipe!  I have no idea where this particular recipe came from…but I have it written down and would give credit if I could! I will say that I have altered it a bit and tweaked it so that it works for me…it was one of the first recipes I tried it was way too vague for me and I messed it up a bunch of times before I got it right!

Off to soak up the sun…Peace!


Dog Therapy… March 30, 2009

This weekend was full of Just Plain fun. Haley had surgery on a tooth that was horizontal under her gums on Friday. Poor thing, it was rough on her and she is just not feeling like herself yet. We have been putting this off for quite some time now-knowing how tough even a small surgical procedure can be when it involves being put under. It seems so unnatural and we were all willing this tooth to make a turn and come up…but nope. So, Friday morning we took her in for surgery and Friday morning we came home with one confused daughter. She did not even remember the ride home… Surely she remembers all of the milkshakes and bowls of ice cream she has had this weekend…and all of the movies…games…laying in our bed…warm baths…and all of the Just Plain silly conversation.  She now has a chain attached to a tooth that is under her gums…up onto her braces…so that the orthodontist can “pull” it up slowly. Yikes. I know. I just can not imagine how people did it without all of this modern medicine (*kidding of course*).  What I mean to say is, I feel very lucky to have the privilege of having access to the skills of a doctor-in a clean, safe environment…everyone in the world should have this available… (whoops, there goes the liberal in me again, that’s enough for now-quiet down). Anyhow- all of this plus the non-stop rain led to a pretty slow weekend. I was delighted…as was Haley…the boys…well…they would rather be climbing trees outside on any given day so, it was difficult for them to be confined-as we could not just run outside and play with Haley feeling like she did. Poor thing…

After two days of total rest, we decided to keep our commitment to our local bookstore and have the kids read to therapy dogs. Sunday morning we skipped our usual routine and slept in. We woke in just enough time to eat and get to the reading session. This particular woman and dog, “Sunny” make a lot of visits to assisted living homes as well as to hospitals and anywhere else he is needed. He was such a sweet guy and sat so still while Haley read to him…then Greg read to him…all the while Taige petting him. Riley was signed up to read but decided that he didn’t feel like it at the last minute…guess all of those days of rain (and being home with Haley in recovery) took a toll on him…he just did not want to sit still anymore-honestly I can’t blame him…I needed a good long run as well. Here are some shots from the reading session…


                                                                                      Haley-reading the Great Gracie Chase…



march-2009-008 Greg reading Woody, Hazel and Little Pip (my personal favorite book EVER-Taige likes it too…can you tell?)


Haley giving Sunny a treat…

Then, we went just down the street (since it was such a lovely spring day out…clear sky…nice cool breeze) to the Double Decker bus…I just love the inside of this bus. It makes a lovely background for photos…especially black and white.



The boys like to sit up front-second level-pretending to drive of course. In case you are wondering…or in case I EVER forget…Taige wore his Indiana Jones hat today. We always tell him what a hottie he is when he wears it. It is so fun to have a 5 year old…he is not concerned about what anyone is thinking but himself…and he WAS Indiana Jones most of the day…I just want to squeeze him…but he does get mad at me when I do that…mostly because Indiana Jones’ mom does not do that to him…(does Indiana Jones ever have a mom? Probably not. Must be a Disney movie…no mom…of course).



The kids got the most delicious lemon Italian sodas…





And we had a Plain old good time…



   march-2009-0241Even managed to snap   march-2009-0391

a few pics of the

  emerging spring time





And then back home for some more resting…healing…s-l-o-w time.


R-O-Y-G-B-I-V March 28, 2009

What does this acronym stand for? Well, I suppose it could be many things but for the purposes of our Just Plain household (this week), each letter stands for a color in the rainbow, in order.  I must have learned to memorize the order of the rainbow by using these letters. I wonder why? Why was I unable to just picture a rainbow and name the colors? Well, I think it is because somehow I never got the color wheel lesson in school. The basic understanding of the primary colors and how every color that IS, is made from these three. I have learned more in the past two years of homeschooling my children than I did in my entire middle and high school career. Honestly, I could go on and on about all of the cool things I had the privilege of teaching this week but, I will keep it to what I thought to be the best and most useful, starting with what I did with my youngest who is 5 and using a nature based pre-school learning program.

We started the week at the library collecting great books on rainbows. We then made a supply list and shopped for what we needed. We had many items already at home since our daily rhythm is the same for each day of each week. This week we incorporated the rainbow theme into each day. We have already learned about the primary colors but generally use them on their own-focusing on one at a time. Here are some of the amazing things we learned…

Sunlight is really made of the rainbow’s colors-when those colors are all mixed together, it is called white light. Isaac Newton discovered this when he bent sunlight with a wedge of glass (a prism) and made a rainbow out of it (in a darkened room). He then sent that rainbow through another prism and combined the colors back into white light-thus proving the rainbow was in the sunlight!

BLACK is not really a color-it is seen when there is no light and when there is no light, there is no color. Browns, greys and other hues are mixtures that sunlight can not put into the rainbow. (Um, ah, so, does this also  mean that when a tree falls in the woods and there is no one to hear it that it does not make a sound? Hmmm…I’m going to ponder that one a while. Ouch.)

In order to see a rainbow, the sun must be behind (ish) you and falling rain must be ahead of you (even if you don’t know it) in the distance. The falling raindrops are like a movie screen. Sunlight hits the raindrop “screen” and the rainbow appears in full color! How? Well, raindrops are water and water can bend the light. In the air, all of the colors in the sunlight travel together in the same direction. When they enter the raindrop, the colors separate as they bend in different directions.

Violet light bends the most, red light bends the least. Each color bends differently-the reason why each color is headed in a slightly different direction when it leaves the raindrop.

The back of the raindrop works like a mirror. Inside the raindrop, most of the sunlight is bent and bounced back to the front of the drop where the light entered. By then, the light is aimed back toward the ground in the sun’s direction. If you are in the right place at the right time…you will see some of that light as a RAINBOW.

When you see a single RAINBOW, red is on the top, violet on the bottom. Sometimes, some of the sunlight in a raindrop bounces twice before it leaves the drop and that light can add a second RAINBOW above the first one. The double RAINBOW is not as bright AND, that second bounce flips the colors…so, violet is at the top and red at the bottom. Now, I have seen double RAINBOWs before and NEVER even paid attention to this!

 Now, for the fun stuff…

Spin a color wheel with the colors of the RAINBOW and you see white! (Hmmm…makes since now!)

Each color on the wheel has a complimentary color, it is the color directly opposite of it. Try staring at an all-blue piece of paper or a blue circle on a white piece of paper, then look at an all white piece of paper. What do you see? Orange! The complimentary color of blue! This works for all of the colors and their compliments on the wheel.

And for a challenge…do a search using the key words “Goethe vs. Newton”. See who you agree with…is it black or is it white?

  Should your glance on mornings lovely
  Lift to drink the heaven’s blue
  Or when sun, vieled by sirocco,
  Royal red sinks out of view –
  Give to Nature praise and honour.
  Blithe of heart and sound of eye,
  Knowing for the world of colour
  Where its broad foundations lie.

Ahhh…and now for the pictures from our week…

march-2009-007The playdough we made from scratch…in a rainbow of colors…

march-2009-012Now they are snails… (purple went black…not sure why)

march-2009-016And now cobras…

march-2009-017And birdies…

march-2009-002This was the first rainbow of the week…created with found objects from around the room.

march-2009-006Our own rainbow, created with a CD reflecting (I mean “bending”) the sunlight on the wall




march-2009-026The next day we made natural dye from beets…

march-2009-0621and turmeric…

march-2009-060Once the beets cooked (for an hour…) we shredded them and cooked them some more…

march-2009-061all in an attempt to create a couple of the colors of the rainbow…

march-2009-0721We did it! The beets gave a lovely shade of pink…

march-2009-0711and the turmeric a pretty shade of yellow on the 100% cotton muslin that we purchased on our day of shopping for supplies here:


my absolute favorite shop for crafting items (and the only place that sells loose wool and felting needles!). Taige will build many forts with those play cloths. WHAT FUN!


And, the biggest score of the supply shopping trip was at the French Broad Food Co-Op. Here, I discovered that they actually sell Waldorf art supplies and that they carry the best watercolor paints on the planet…I have been wanting these for at least 6 months…and for some reason, I still had not ordered them online. They are quite costly but do last for a long time…if you dilute them correctly. I will never again paint with watercolor from a tube! I purchased the primary colors since all colors can be created from those and it is said to lay a better foundation for the understanding of color (in a nutshell…) if a young child is taught watercolor using just these colors. Most of the time, they are used on their own, one at a time. But, on Thursday…


we set up as usual to paint…


(isn’t Roy G. Biv cute??)



VIOLAFirst, we said a painting verse as well as a rainbow verse…and then we took a deep breath…and began painting. I led the painting today-using all 3 colors is a big deal! First a red bow (like your bow and arrow Taige), then leave a space for orange because we have to make it…and make a smaller yellow bow inside the red one…then a dip in water and scoop the yellow up to meet the red…WOW…it makes orange! Fill in that space with the orange! Next,  leaving room for green…paint an even smaller bow of blue inside the  yellow. Dip, dip…now bring that blue up to kiss the yellow! Green has arrived! And last but not least..a tiny dip in red over the bottom edge of blue…aha! Indigo! Dont rinse that brush…just kiss the water with it…and another bow inside indigo…makes violet… What fun we had…and what a difference these paints make…so smooth and transparent…


‘Rainbows’-created using the wet-on-wet watercolor technique (soaking the watercolor paper in water before painting).

That was it for rainbows this week…but, here are a few snaps of other things from our life this week…

march-2009-067Riley had a sewing project for history this week…so, he chose this awesome fabric and used a blend of herbs that I already had mixed…and sewed a dream pillow-with a separate pouch inside for the herbs-just LOOK at his lovely stitches…all done by hand…even some back stitching! I am falling into R.E.M. just thinking of the smell (mugwort-one of the ingredients- is a dream inducer…well….sort of…but, that description will do for today’s purposes!)

march-2009-053The “dream” herbs…

march-2009-070The proud boy!

That beautiful wool is an Earth Guild find…it is just begging me to needle felt Miss Spring

But, Mrs. Thaw is still trying to send King Winter on his merry way…and he seems to not want to leave…march-2009-024

She has been sweeping and sweeping winter away but he keeps coming back…poor thing, I know how she feels…I battle with my kitchen floor just the same…

But then again, the nature table where she is currently working is not looking very spring-like yet…hmmm…better get on that…march-2009-021

 And last but not least…a preview of next week…(with more yummy ‘finds’ from Earth Guild)


Beeswax sheets for hand rolling candles…can you smell it? MMMhhh!


And a leather “scrap” (it’s a by-product…it’s ok!) for Riley’s next sewing project…a quiver for his wooden arrows that go with his beautiful wooden bow.


Can’t wait to see  how they turn out!

Wow…what an amazing week…

 We are BLESSED!!

Now…LISTEN to this…




Just Plain Interesting… March 25, 2009

If there is one thing that gets me excited it is the idea of a self-sustaining way of life. Some call it permaculture, some call it homesteading, hobby farm, or off-the-grid. No matter what you choose to refer to it as, it is my belief that it is how humans were meant to live. Of course it is much easier to imagine a certain type of person living like this than it is to imagine a mainstream person…but…I believe it is possible for anyone. The key is stepping out of the “box” (I really dislike that phrase)…or, changing your perspective! Our way of life keeps us moving…and we do not have much time to stop and really question what the hell it is that we are all doing. We are programmed to keep on our routines-however mundane and unfulfilling  they are. We just keep plugging along forgetting to ever question anything. And then, we wonder why we feel bad or unhappy or whatever! I am choosing to step back from it all and make a change!

Over the past two years, I have had a strong feeling of change come over me. I have really started questioning why it is that so many humans are numb to what is happening in our world(I was numb to this as well!)…why are we teaching our youth to repeat the same patterns we have followed…what us the purpose of all of the running around and activity? Can’t we nurture our spirits and teach our children to do the same?  Can’t we just s-l-o-w down!? So far, the two biggest steps I have taken towards a more simple life are: 1) Taking my kids out of school (breaking the cycle of chaos that goes along with the school routine) and 2) Getting rid of our TV (well, ok…we still have one to watch the occasional movie). As the results of these decisions have begun to show themselves,   I seem to have more and more clarity. I want to live out of the mainstream world on a self-sustaining chunk of land with my husband and three kids! The only catch is figuring out how to do this and still have an income! We are working on it…

Currently, we live in a regular home in a regular neighborhood. We are consistently learning about and making alternative choices in our daily lives. Our desire is to move our family to a location with some land and live off-the-grid. Now, I mentioned the past two years above because we have been looking at several options to achieve this dream of ours. Many scenarios have presented themselves and many have been very tempting. However, nothing has felt quite right so far.  Two things happened today that are curious to me and I must make note of them. The first is that we went to look at this house that was just listed for sale by owner last Wednesday. It was in our local uber-liberal paper, the Mountain Express. The listing mentioned every single thing that we are looking for in our quest to become self-sustaining(except the income!). So, we called and finally went to look at it today.  You look now.

Needless to say it is everything we want and more.   The kids were even excited at the thought of it!  So, if we can “play the game” a bit longer, we know that this is ultimately what we desire. Even if this particular home does not work out for us (there is that thing about still needing to finish up our home so we can put it on the market and sell it…), the idea truly “sang” to all of us. Last week, our middle child (who is 10) had an entire science lesson devoted to sustainability-focusing particularly on “green” building. After researching many types of homes with many options, the home that he ultimately designed was very similar to this one. I think the only difference was that he had the solar panels heating the water and had radiant floor heating as well. Hmmm…might be a nice addition! I believe seeing first hand (not just in a dream…or on paper) what we want (in this farm we looked at today) is great inspiration and motivation.

And, the second curious thing that happened is that I did a google search with my blog’s name as search words(why, I am unsure…possibly so I could arrive just where I did): Just Plain Living. Well, there was a lot to weed through but it was so worth it when I stumbled upon this. This is what Just Plain Living is to  me…and I love how it ties into our little adventure today. Now go say your mantra…or sing it!