Foraging the Garden – Mustard Greens as Natural Decongestant

I have insane allergies that seem to have gotten worse as I got older. These days, my nasal passages can get so swollen that I can barely breathe. I think I may have chronic sinusitis, but I haven’t gone to the doctor as I’m true to form. As many Asian comedians would say, Asian moms are the last people to go to the doctor. So, I’m dealing with it my own way and keeping myself away from the antibiotics that I’m sure to be prescribed.

My really bad allergies strike about once a month. That’s the time when my immune system plummets and I have to purposefully boost my health so I don’t get debilitated. I’m not exaggerating. You can’t do anything when you’re forcefully sneezing every 10 seconds, or if you have pains bothering you. If I’m not careful, I can get a really severe asthma attack or a nauseating migraine attack. Or both. Since the best defense is a good offense, I usually take more supplements as well as apply and diffuse essential oils to ward off these potential episodes.

Unfortunately, sometimes I forget to be conscious of dates and I find that I already dropped the ball on going on the offensive, giving my allergies the chance to attack with a vengeance.

Home Remedies for Stuffy Nose

When my nose is seriously clogged not only by mucus, but by inflamed blood vessels as well, I have several go-tos for breathing aids.

1. A hot liquid – This could be a drink like herbal tea or some kind of citrus juice, or soup (preferably Korean). Inhaling the steam also helps, of course.

2. Chili in food -That would explain the Korean soup preference. I love spicy food, but, other than pickled peppers like pepperoncinis and banana peppers, I don’t really eat chilis straight. I just season with them or use them as condiments. I’ve found Sriracha to be very effective.

3. Wasabi – Blessed was the day I discovered this Japanese horseradish paste! I love what this can do to my nose. I remember an episode of “The Nanny” wherein Fran Fine tried it for the first time. With a more dignified non-nasal voice, she said, “Gee, you know that mustard really clears up the nasal passages. I like it. I wonder how (nasal voice back) long it’s gonna last.” That’s right; the relief that doesn’t last very long, but those few seconds of normal nose-breathing are gold when you have a stuffy nose. That’s why I like having a tube of wasabi paste on hand.

4. Mustard greens – Bearing the same component (allyl isothiocyanate) in wasabi that causes that nasal burning (and clearing!) sensation, mustard greens are both delicious and stuffy nose-busting.

The Wonderful Mustard

Mustard is getting the spotlight in this post because it’s my favorite vegetable, and as long as I remember to plant seeds at regular intervals, I always have some available in the garden.

I consider the mustard to be all that as a plant. It’s peppery, crispy, nutritious, and biblical! I feel it’s extra special because Jesus talked about it. 😀 In any case, the following are some of the established benefits offered by mustard greens in case I haven’t swayed you over to their fandom.

  • They have loads of health-promoting and disease-preventing phytonutrients.
  • They are rich in vitamins A, C, and K and have sufficient vitamin B-complex for it to count.
  • They are a great source of various antioxidants – carotenes, flavonoids, indoles, lutein, sulforaphane, and zeaxanthin.
  • They have plenty of dietary fiber while also being low calorie.

Studies have found that regular consumption of mustard greens helps protect the body against various ailments and diseases, including arthritis, osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, and certain cancers.

Mark and I are kind of addicted to the things. He used to like pickling them and having them on standby in the fridge for a side dish or a snack, but he has cottoned to my lazy ways, which involve plucking leaves from the plant and eating them straight like a common garden vermin, lol.

—————-Arugula/Rocket Salad—————-

I’d love to have other peppery, decongesting vegetables in my garden. I’m going to try watercress and nasturtiums, but I don’t think they’ll thrive in my climate. I do have arugula, but its bite stays in the mouth and doesn’t blaze up to the nose the way wasabi and mustard do. That reminds me, I have wasabi radish seeds that I should have another go at. The first seed sprouted just fine, but something ate the seedling, so I have to find a safe place for my next try.

What about you? What’s your favorite vegetable? What decongesting tricks do you want to share? What do you frequently forage/harvest from your garden? I’d love to know.

Birthdays and Malaise

September is an insane month for us. Three of our family of five have birthdays exactly a week apart. It’s not like we can even get all the celebration in one go. There’s one every week. I’m not complaining; I just want to give you an idea how hectic things get during this time.

But, first, let me share the online cards I made for Marguerite and Cameron.

 

 

 

This year, we had to keep our celebrations to just the family. That includes my parents, sister, and cousins. Mark’s family live far away, and with the pandemic, arranging time with them got even more difficult.

Unless it’s a milestone birthday, we usually don’t have a party. We had one last year because our eldest became a teenager. This year, the celebration was way more low-key – less stressful, yes, but not completely stress-free.

On the birthday itself, we have a little ritual of cake-blowing and gift-giving when the celebrator wakes up. Mark and I used to buy a cake for the wake-up ritual, but this results in two or more birthday cakes crowding up the fridge for days, and then when the supply is finally dwindling, there comes another batch of cakes from the next birthday. I’ve learned to just make something that we can pretty much finish off at breakfast.

Around noontime we head on over to my parents’ house because my mom always prepares a spread and that’s where we celebrate with the rest of my family. My children are the only kids on my side since my sister is happily single. I also have three younger cousins whom I still think of as kids but who are actually already in their 20s. They’re very close to my family and more like my siblings than cousins. They’re all still unattached, so my kids are blessed with this solid set of doting aunts and uncle.

Mark’s birthday is, of course, a little different from the kids’. We usually arrange a staycation at nearby lodgings. That was a bit harder to manage this year on account of the pandemic, but we were fortunate to find a place in the mountains that Mark had actually already been interested in checking out for some time. The following day, we just indulged in a pleasant drive on mountain roads. Please note that we hardly had any social contact all throughout the trip, and we stayed masked-plus-face-shielded and always disinfected like crazy.

 

The thing is that we always have satisfying celebrations, but when our days start to settle down, that’s when the adrenaline sort of crashes and exhaustion sets in. Around the end of September, people start getting sick, usually starting with my husband. Flu-like symptoms manifest. With the threat of COVID-19 always looming among us, home diagnosis is a tad more nerve-wracking this year. Fortunately, the symptoms seemed more straightforward – no loss of taste or smell, no diarrhea.

As I’ve mentioned before, we try as much as we can to remain drug-free when treating our illnesses. We were able to deal with this round by drinking lots of tea, supping lots of soup, taking immune system-boosting supplements (multivitamins and 4Life Transfer Factor Plus – my parents are great believers in Transfer Factor, and from my own experience with it, it does seem effective), oiling, and getting plenty of pampered rest.

I don’t want to speak too soon, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway. Thank the Lord because I seem to have dodged the virus. So does Cameron. This is a real blessing because I’m the official caregiver here. Exposure and exhaustion usually make me susceptible, but it certainly looks like I’ve been spared this year.

In any case, I would like to share the essential oil flu blends for diffusing and topical application that I used on my family.

 

Homemade Probiotics: Easy Sauerkraut How-to

We are now more aware of the importance of gut flora (microbiota – bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi and viruses) to our overall health. Apparently, a significant part of our lives is influenced by what’s going on in our gut. Offering testimony to the cliché “small but terrible,” those microorganisms have a major impact on our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing and, consequently, our quality of life.

Many have resorted to boosting their gut health with regular consumption of probiotics (beneficial bacteria and yeasts). These are usually found in fermented food like yogurt, miso, and sauerkraut. Some prefer to take supplements instead of eating or drinking fermented foods.

As I’ve mentioned before, my two boys have ASD, and we’re currently on the Nemechek Protocol. To put it succinctly, they take olive oil, fish oil, and inulin (prebiotic – food for good bacteria) daily and avoid Omega-6 oils such as soy, corn… pretty much all the other oils except for olive, coconut/palm, and canola. They also don’t take multivitamins and probiotic supplements. Fortunately, probiotic foods and drinks are allowed, so they do consume yogurt, certain soft cheeses, and sourdough bread.

Mark and I, of course, eat other probiotic foods like sour pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut. The kids aren’t partial to them. I can understand. I wouldn’t have touched any of those with a ten-foot pole either when I was a kid. I still don’t like sweet pickles to date (and ketchup continues to creep me out, just to throw it out there). My palate has thankfully become more adventurous since.

Mark has also sold me on turshi. He lived in Dubai as a child and grew up eating pickled vegetables. Turshi isn’t typically available in the Philippines. Neither is sauerkraut (it’s not really popular here; I think the counterpart would be achara or pickled unripe papaya – something I also wouldn’t give a chance as a kid, but I like just fine now) so we’ve had to make our own.

We’ve been pickling/fermenting a lot of things actually. There’s something about it that just makes me feel efficient, like I accomplished multiple good things. If you think about it, pickling is preserving, so it prevents food wastage, ensures the goodness of produce when the fresh option isn’t handy, adds to your present or future food supply, gives you probiotics, et cetera, et cetera.

For now, I’ll focus on the sauerkraut, which, I think is one of the easiest to make. It may sound German, but it’s actually a side dish present in many cultures and dates back to the Roman Empire or even earlier. Before refrigeration, folks had to find ways to make their food last longer. Salt was usually the answer. In general, it provides the solution to many of life’s conundrums.

Sauerkraut is basically pickled finely cut raw cabbage. Kimchi and pickled cucumbers are produced through the same lactic acid fermentation process. The cabbage is layered with salt and then left for days to ferment. When fully cured and stored in an airtight container, sauerkraut can stay good for months.

What are some of the benefits of sauerkraut? First and foremost, fermentation increases the bioavailability of nutrients, making it richer in vitamins C and K, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, copper, manganese, folate, and dietary fiber than the original cabbage. It is high in antioxidants and, if left uncooked and unpasteurized, probiotics. Studies have also indicated that sauerkraut has components that inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Historical records mention that consumption of sauerkraut helped in the reduction of death due to disease among prisoners of war during the American Civil War, as well as prevented scurvy (disease caused by vitamin C deficiency) among sailors during long sea voyages. All in all, sauerkraut is an amazingly healthy food. It also adds a healthy zing of tanginess, saltiness, and crunch to the gastronomic experience.

The sauerkraut recipes out there vary in directions and ingredients, so what I’m going to share is the simplest, most basic one. You can easily tweak it to adjust to the flavor you prefer.

As you get used to making your own sauerkraut, you’ll feel more confident about adding other ingredients like caraway seeds, ginger, berries, etc. You’ll also have a better idea how much salt you really want to use.

Do you eat sauerkraut? How do you like yours? What do you eat it with? What other probiotic foods do you make at home? OR do you even believe in the purported significance of gut health? I’d really like to know. 🙂

 

Garden Stories: Collecting Moss Roses

The first time I ever encountered (or registered) moss roses, they were on Mrs. Hla’s front lawn. She was one of my ESL students – a missionary’s wife who sought to improve her English. Twice a week, I would go to her house to teach her and two other Bangladeshi women. I taught high school English in the mornings at that time, and their kids were actually in my classes. During the school’s first PTC, they had approached me to see if I’d be willing to come over to Mrs. Hla’s house and teach them ESL. I readily agreed.

As I approached the Hlas’ home for our first session, I noticed the round fluffs that seemingly hovered above the grass. In the midday sun, their color took on a vibrant hot pink hue. I was utterly charmed and instantly fascinated. When I inquired what those flowers were, Mrs. Hla informed me that they were Vietnam Roses.

The next time I took a trip to a garden center, I got myself a few pots of said plants. Since the name “Vietnam Rose” is a little unwieldy (not really, lol) and some people actually call the flower Mexican Rose, I decided to call it the more neutral “moss rose.”

I don’t remember what happened to those plants. I was still single and living at home, and although I loved plants and enjoyed the garden, I wasn’t really in charge of taking care of anything. I think the moss roses died or they weren’t thriving, so my mom got rid of them. Apparently, plants need care specific to their needs, duh. This is just another one of the many lessons in responsibility and independence that I had to painstakingly learn when I was finally living on my own.

Fast forward to some 20 years later when I was already entrenched in tending my own garden. I wasn’t big on ornamentals and mainly preferred edibles and medicinals. However, like many plant lovers in the time of pandemic, I became a member of a gardening barter community. Shortly after my joining, somebody wanted to barter portulaca cuttings for succulents and pots. Portulaca happens to cover a range of plants, including moss rose and wingpod purslane, which were what the poster was offering. Remembering my lapsed fascination for moss roses, I immediately offered a succulent (a freebie I got from buying herbs) and a hooked pot, which the poster fortunately accepted. We swapped goods via Lalamove and I became the owner of several cuttings that soon gave me multiple pots of portulaca.

Since I have both moss rose (portulaca grandiflora) and wingpod purslane (portulaca umbraticola), I’d better just refer to both as portulaca. Admittedly I’m more partial to moss roses, but I have every intention of collecting wingpod purslane as well. Right now I just have the yellow-flowering kind, but I’ve spotted pink and orange varieties from a neighbor. I’m just biding my time before I propose a neighborly barter.

My collection thus far of moss roses, on the other hand, has given me a funny anecdote. The portulaca grandiflora is a curious little plant; even its names are interesting. Other known names for it are rock rose, sun rose, rose moss, and eleven o’clock. Now, the last one is uncanny because in Tagalog, moss rose is also called  a las diyes, which means “at ten o’clock” (AM obviously), referring to the time when the flowers are fully open. Incidentally, its other name in Tagalog is alembong, which means “flirt.” It’s not a nice name to be called, and I don’t what these flowers did to deserve it, but my mother is having fun calling the plants this.

Speaking of my mother, a huge chunk of my collection actually came from her. One time I found out she was at the garden shop, so I asked her to get me some portulaca. From my own previous visits, I knew that you could get a bundle of cuttings of different colored flowers for fifty pesos. I wasn’t sure if she was in the same shop I visited, but the price range should stay close to that value. Portulaca isn’t expensive at all and is ridiculously easy to propagate; that’s why I have no guilt over collecting different kinds.

My mom got two hanging pots of moss roses. I asked her what colors she got since I had told her to get any color except for fuchsia and peach, which I already had. Mom, however, had no idea. She said the sales clerk couldn’t say either. That sounded promising, so she said she’d just take the plants for herself and I could get cuttings if they produced colors I wanted. That was fine by me.

We waited excitedly to see what color flowers the plants would bloom, but the buds they already had somehow ended up shriveling. The plants looked fine. They weren’t wilting or dying. They just weren’t blooming. They were getting full sun. They were getting enough water. BUT my mother unfortunately does have a record for killing plants, even hardy ones. She has since gotten better at taking care of plants (with some help) and now has a thriving garden. Still, she did have a record, so she told me to bring the plants home before she wound up killing them.

For some reason, within a week of bringing the plants home with me, I got my first bloom. I was thrilled because the flower was a baby pink color I didn’t have yet. A couple of days later, I got another bloom. This time, the flower was white. I reported to my mom that the pots she got seemed hold a pink and white combo. I was thrilled to have two additional colors to my existing collection. Meanwhile, my older peach-flowered plant produced a decidedly darker orange bloom, more coral than the pastel peach ones it gave in the past. That was really interesting to me. One of these days, I’ll muster enough zeal and motivation to look up what was up with that.

And then one of Mom’s plants offered up another shade of pink, this time more watermelon pink than the light pink it used to bloom. I thought, “Oh, I get it now. These pots have a yesterday-today-tomorrow kind of theme.” Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow is what we mistakenly call Mom’s Rangoon Creeper, which has white, pale pink, and darker pink flowers. The real yesterday-today-and-tomorrow plant (Brunfelsia), however, has blooms in different shades of purple.

Anyway, it turned out that the plants were yet to be done with their surprises as a day later, one of them produced a variegated flower with both pink and white on it. I was elated. I admittedly do have a lot of seemingly shallow joys – seeds sprouting from the soil or stubborn ones germinating in damp folded paper towels, plants budding, free new plants from runners and shoots… so something like an unexpected flower color really excites me.

In any case, I was incredibly delighted by my moss roses, and seeing them continues to thrill me. When I get up in the morning and emerge from my bedroom, the first thing I do is to pull the blinds open to reveal the wall of jalousie (louvre) windows facing the garden (our living room has two wall-length sets of jalousies). My eyes are always immediately drawn to the different pots of portulaca.

I only have yellow wingpod purslane thus far, but I hope to remedy that as I mentioned earlier. The moss roses, however, offer different color combinations every day. I’m always eager to see which colors are blooming each morning.

My collection is far from complete. I still need yellow, red, a more vivid orange, and more of the variegated varieties. In time, I’ll get all of them. In the interim, I will attempt the braided portulaca project that somebody in one of my gardening groups shared. It looked really pretty when it started blooming.

As lovely as the portulaca plants are, they contribute more than their beauty to my garden, Since their arrival, I noticed more bees, dragonflies, and butterflies visiting it. In effect, they’re helping my fruiting plants get pollinated. Of course, the insects carry their own charm, and I’m happy just to see them, but seeing the ecosystem at work in my garden is really thrilling.

That’s the story thus far of my portulaca collection. It’s a tale in progress, so I’ll probably post some more about it in the future. Hopefully, this kind of post would be something many readers would be interested in. I once saw a Facebook meme with a guy wearing a shirt that said “Introverted but willing to discuss plants.” I obviously could use that shirt.

Observing the Life Cycle of a Lime Swallowtail

I used to groan in dismay every time I spotted this brown and white slug on one of my citrus plants. One time, I had various lime and lemon seedlings and they were all decimated in a matter of days. I made the mistake of being delighted by the presence of those tiny slugs that turned into an army of chunky, strapping young green caterpillars in the twinkling of an eye.

Since finding out that they’re ravenous little creatures, I started plucking the leaves they’re on and moving them to the other side of the garden. I figured if they could find their way back, then they deserved to feast. However, sometime ago, I read a post in one of my Facebook gardening groups beseeching us to leave these caterpillars alone. They can’t really devour an entire (mature) plant and the butterflies will be an asset in the garden when they emerge.

I could roll with that. That’s why when I found two minuscule brown caterpillars on my Meyer lemon plant, I left them alone to feed. A few days later, they turned green and I got the idea of using them to teach the kids about metamorphosis.

I snipped off the branch they were resting on, still with plenty of leaves for them to feed on, found a big enough jar to temporarily house them in, and relocated them into it. I covered the jar with a doily since I couldn’t find the tulle I knew we had (as usual).

I was going to transform this old Quaker Oats jar into an upside down tomato planter like this one (below) I already have hanging. So far, the tomato plant is thriving (much bigger than that now). The jar also has moss rose growing on top. In the interim, the second jar will serve as as home for caterpillars we want to study.

Something to note is the amount of waste these caterpillars produced. It was A LOT. I thought the quantity was amazing and didn’t really mind; it meant fresh fertilizer every day.

Four days later, one of them went missing. Or so I had initially thought. It turned out that one just pupated ahead of the other. One of the drying leaves on the stem was actually a chrysalis. A day later, the other one followed suit. The chrysalides made a fun little “Find Waldo” kind of game for the kids. They took a bit of time figuring out which ones were the cocoons among the leaves.

We waited about a week for the things to complete their magic inside their cocoons. One morning, I heard a frantic flapping noise as I walked past the jar. One of the butterflies had finally emerged. It seemed ready to fly off, so I got the family for the send off.

What a miracle, right? It transformed from that creepy brown slug-like thing into this pretty butterfly (with a couple more steps in between, of course). Nature really is so amazing. And there are so many life truths in this lesson of metamorphosis.

Anyway, the other butterfly emerged the day after. I think maybe it wasn’t quite ready when we released it because it just flew to the twine we used to hang an old CD (to keep the birds from plucking off cuttings we’re trying to root and beating us to the fruits, especially the chilies.) When it was ready, it flew off.

The kids are sad to learn that their butterflies will only live a week or two, but such was the life of an adult lime butterfly. In any case, the cycle continues. Our butterflies and their comrades must have come back to lay their eggs in our garden because there’s a whole bunch of brown slugs on our citrus plants again. We’re just going to leave them be. I’ve stopped thinking of them as garden pests because their presence just shows that the garden is part of the ecosystem, and, really, having butterflies in the garden is a wonderful treat.

I think next we’ll see what those caterpillars on the pechay are going to turn out to be.

Fruit Cookies (Apple, Lemon)

Sometimes I get tired of chocolate chip cookies. Take note that I’m talking about me; I’m sure my kids would happily eat them every day. My other go-to cookie option is the snickerdoodle, but I prefer to bake it around Christmastime. I have baked snickerdoodles at other times of the year, but if I can help it, I reserve them for the -ber months. It’s just a silly personal tradition. Don’t even get me started on gingerbread or stained glass cookies; those are just for Christmas.

Sigh. I’m one of those people who like to make unnecessary rules and limitations for themselves, essentially making things pointlessly harder for myself. It’s pretty annoying.

In any case, I’m afraid that cookies are more than a “sometime food” in our home. It’s easy to make them, and my lazy/picky eaters are partial to them. To take a break from chocolate chip cookies, I’ve started baking oatmeal and raisin/dried berry cookies, but my boys (they’re on the spectrum) tend to pick off the raisins/berries. They’ll happily eat these, but not mixed in cookies. I have no idea why. They don’t pick off chocolate chips or apple chunks, which brings me to the alternatives that have worked for us: apple cookies and lemon cookies.

Apples and lemons are ingredients we usually have on hand since we buy them weekly. I have a Meyer lemon plant, but it hasn’t reached fruiting stage yet, so these two are the only ones benefiting from it right now.

Meet Muncher and Chomper. Names are obviously interchangeable. 😀

I know those of you who live in a place with four seasons associate apples with fall, but we import apples year round, so I was able to spare myself from a season-based restriction regarding it.

Here are the recipes. Tweak as you wish. The apple cookie recipe can be turned into another kind of fruit cookie depending on what chunks you put in. Just hold the cinnamon if your fruit of choice doesn’t go with it.

For the lemon cookies, when lemon extract isn’t handy, I find that a few drops of lemon essential oil work just as well. Note the different levels of flatness in the image? I had helpers, and one liked it flatter than the other. Mine was the happy medium.

Drizzle either cookie with a sugar glaze if your sweet tooth is a thug. Mine usually is.

Did you check out Muncher and Chomper? I’ll be posting about them soon. One has already reached the chrysalis stage as of last night. Soon we’ll be setting them free as beautiful lime butterflies.

That’s it for now. What’s your favorite non-chocolate chip kind of cookie? Do you also confine certain cookies to just the Christmas season? Let me know. 🙂

Old Children’s Books Series Kids Today Should Read, Part 1

I cannot begin to tell you how much I love books. Some people love reading; I love reading AND books. Those are two different things. The second means that I prefer experiencing paper pages instead of the LED glow of an e-reader. I’m afraid it also means that I have a compulsion to hold on to my books. I just… don’t let go of my books! It might be a mental condition; I don’t know, but those who’ve been to my house bear witness to this particular trait of mine.

Being a book hoarder also means that my kids get to read the actual books that I read as a child. They can open a book and see my name written in my then-still childish handwriting. More often than not, the date or year when I got the book is included. That’s something I got from my mother. It was always thrilling to me to read her old books and note that they had been with her since the ’60s and ’70s. I came to love Emilie Loring because of the stash of old romances that she herself held onto. None of my friends knew who Emilie Loring was.

So that’s the other thing, hoarding books means that I have copies of older editions or of books that are no longer being printed at all, and I’m just the kind of person who would consider those treasures. 😀

I love children’s books, and I’ve started writing and publishing my own as you might know. However, nothing beats a tale of childhood adventure during a time when children had more freedom to explore, when they had to turn to the outdoors for fun, when they had to rely on their imagination and creativity to be entertained…

I like exposing my children to this kind of childhood. It was a great time. It had its problems, of course, but I think many of the old-timers have a hankering for the good old days for a reason. I would love to let my kids experience such an era, even if only in books and movies.

But we’re talking about old children’s book series. Many great ones have remained popular through the decades such as Nancy Drew, but I think there are also many excellent ones that have slipped through the cracks. From time to time, it’ll be my pleasure to write about the more obscure old series I love and want my children to read. Today, I’ll start with three.

The Mad Scientists’ Club (first published in 1965) by Bertrand R. Brinley

Each book in the series, except for the last one (The Big Chunk of Ice), which was published by Brinley’s son in 2005, is a collection of short stories narrating the wacky adventures of this group of friends comprising The Mad Scientists’ Club. The stories were first published in “Boys’ Life,” the official youth magazine of Boy Scouts of America.

What do I love about this series?

  1. It’s straight up adventure and shenanigan. It’s a fun read that’s meant to engage your imagination and tickle bone. There’s no coming-of-age drama. It’s just a bunch of boys pestering the rest of the town with their grand scientific schemes.
  2. The science is solid. The main characters are boys who strongly practice DIY and accomplish scientific feats in the name of wholesome mischief.
  3. It’s set in the idyllic (but, of course, fictitious) small town of Mammoth Falls, which provides hills, river islands, caverns, etc. for energetic and inquisitive children committed to staying out of the house.
  4. The characters are all entertaining, the townsfolk included. Even the main villain, the rival gang of a former Mad Scientists’ Club member, is funny and not at all menacing.
  5. It’s the kind of book that will have you frequently bursting out in laughter.

*There was a two-part episode in “The Wonderful World of Disney” based on “The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake.” If anybody could point me to a copy, I’d appreciate it. 🙂

Trixie Belden (first published in 1948) by Julie Campbell Tatham (Kathryn Kenny)

Trixie Belden is kind of like Nancy Drew, except written with more levity and a younger sleuth (13) who is decidedly less of a paragon, but definitely more fun than Nancy. My mom scored my first Trixie Belden books (1 “The Secret of the Mansion” and 2 “The Red Trailer Mystery”) from, of all places, the nearby supermarket. I loved them. I loved Nancy Drew, but I enjoyed Trixie’s stories more. Why?

  1. Trixie was more realistic than the perfect Nancy. She could be rude, short-tempered, and impulsive. She also had chores and was usually short of cash. She was forever struggling with math.
  2. Again, the stories are set in a small town (love small towns!), and it’s easier to picture Sleepyside-on-Hudson than River Heights, which seemed too much like your generic suburban neighborhood (to me anyway).  The modest but sweet Crabapple Farm, which was nestled in a valley between two mansions on a hill, is decidedly more enticing.
  3. Bess and George provide humorous banter for Nancy Drew, but the Bob Whites (what Trixie and her friends, including her brothers, call themselves) definitely engage in zanier exchanges.

The Melendy Family Series (first published in 1941) by Elizabeth Enright

Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver are the Melendy Quartet, siblings who had a myriad of adventures starting from their time in the Manhattan brownstone they lived in and all the way to their odd-looking home in the country. They eventually gained another sibling in the heart-warming “And Then There Were Five.” What’s so great about this series?

  1. It is set in the Second World War, and you can see how children in the States were able to support their troops in their own small ways.
  2. The books are pretty action-packed with a wide variety of adventures from building a dam to staging a show, from gathering metal scraps to nighttime hikes, etc.
  3. They are children who follow their aptitude and nurture their gifts.
  4. Their values are solid even if they are also prone to mischief and snarkiness like many children.
  5. There’s no shortage of lovably eccentric characters, including a smiling pet alligator kept in a bathtub.

All these fictional children are ones I’d love for my children to get to know and draw inspiration from.

There are more wonderful, lesser known old-time children’s book series I’d love to feature, but which ones would you recommend? Let me know. 🙂

Quarantine Nature Scavenger Hunt

Do you miss immersing yourself in the natural world? Now more than ever, I wish my family lived in our own homestead. This quarantine wouldn’t be as oppressive if there was a bigger space in which to move around. At least we do have some outdoor space and a garden to which we can venture out (sans mask) for some fresh air and greenery.

We like going out though, especially to drive down to the river or up to the mountains so the kids can get their nature fix. Another usual outdoor recreation haunt for us that we greatly miss is the UP Diliman (my alma mater) campus, which seems to have acquired squirrels in the absence of the typical university bustle! Also, there are said to be sheep grazing on the grounds or hanging out at the jeepney stands! All these, of course, just make the hankering to see the place that much stronger.

I have to say that I’m the worst kind of introvert, but even I’m feeling penned up. I miss our church. I miss our homeschool co-op. I miss bumping into friends and acquaintances as I’m out and about. I miss eating out (how my heart breaks over all those long-running dining establishments that have been forced to permanently close their doors, or those that just opened and never even got the chance, or just all the businesses out there that have suffered and continue to suffer because of the pandemic). I also miss buying stuff from brick-and-mortar stores and not having to worry about exorbitant shipping fees. I’m most definitely craving our family road trips.

But I disgust myself when I get this whiny, so I compensate by finding ways to make the situation work.

Like I said, I crave nature and doing nature-oriented activities, but even in our concrete (or cinder block and plaster) cocoons, we can still encounter bits of the natural world (all very “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”). As that cool Dr. Malcolm says, “Life finds a way.” If we bother to take our eyes away from the screens, we can find living nature, other than the humans, at home. If we take the time to register their presence and appreciate their existence, we’ll feel a connection with the fresh and living world out there and our minds are healthier for it.

We can consciously look out for these things in our confinement, and what better way to do that than with a Scavenger Hunt. This is always fun. At least, for me, it is.

I know we have different home situations, so I’m going to make a list each for those who are really pretty much limited to finding the items listed inside their homes, without even a window with a good view to look out of; for those who don’t have exterior space, but do have a nice view from a window; and for those who have a yard. I hope at least one of these can help you pass the time and the activity can help tide you over until you can venture out again.

 

It’s okay to include items in the fridge or pantry.

 

Repeat items ought to be different kinds, e.g. Bird 1 (sparrow), Bird 2 (pigeon), Bird 3 (crow).

 

Feel free to add interesting items you spotted to the list. 🙂

From Vicks to Katinko to Essential Oils (Plus Homemade Laundry Soap)

I recently saw a clip of Fil-Am comedian Jo Koy joking about Filipino moms’ tendency to cure everything at home. While I don’t resort to Vicks VapoRub for every malady like his did, it was definitely a staple at home when I was growing up. It was used a lot on me as I had a running cold (allergies it turned out) for most of my… oh, why limit it to childhood – for most of my life. That’s still the case up to now. I’m snotty in the morning, and my nose is sensitive to any disturbance – external (whatever’s in my environment) or internal (strong negative emotions). The urge to follow suit in the Vicks dependence is strong, except now, there’s Katinko. It took over Vicks VapoRub’s reign. I use it for pains, cough and cold, gas, etc.

As a true Katinko fan, of course, I got the ointment, the liniment, and the stick, but I’ve relegated them to the second line of defense. As much as I love Katinko, I know its ointment/balm is petroleum-based and it has synthetic ingredients in all its forms. In looking for a more natural alternative, I came across essential oils. This was about a decade ago, before the essential oil hype raged around the world.

I’ve always been interested in botany and herbalism. I can attribute the interest to various factors. First and foremost, plants and fungi are just so fascinating (right? *uncertainly* :D). Second, I was exposed to plant-based home remedies growing up.  I drank juice or tea from ampalaya (bitter gourd) leaves for my asthma, lagundi (Chinese chastetree) for coughs, calamansi (calamondin) for colds, and coconut water for UTI. I used acapulco (candle bush) for my dog’s episode with mange (it was an airborne problem, not mites), and you can safely assume that I squatted over a steaming pot of guava leaves tea in the days after giving birth. Third, my great-grandfather was an herbolario (herbalist, although many herbolarios were also witch doctors), so you could say it’s in my blood. I’ve always flirted with the idea of running an apothecary myself. Yes, in this century/millennium. I like the idea of making healing salves, balms, ointments, poultices, tinctures, teas, and (my daughter’s preferred term) potions all from natural ingredients. I know I have to do formal studies to run an apothecary. I don’t think my degree in foreign languages will cut it, lol. When I finally learn how not to be distracted, maybe I will formally study herbalism. In the meantime, however, I’m building my own FARMacy and using items from my garden for immediate remedies.

In any case, I thought essential oils fell right in with this lifestyle choice. When my first son was diagnosed with autism, I got even more into it. I came across various articles extolling the benefits of essential oils for special needs individuals. I started using oils to influence mood, encourage sleep, and stimulate mental clarity. Still connected to our autism diagnosis, essential oils figured as well in my bid to detox the family. Apparently, the commercial hygiene and home products that we use are rife with toxins, so I endeavored to start making my own from scratch, using oils and other natural, wholesome ingredients.

Considering my interest in essential oils, you’d have thought I immediately signed up with one of the dominant brands. Unfortunately, I have a problem with the idea of multi-level marketing, so I didn’t for a long time. I used different brands for years until I detected the better efficacy and general superiority of a couple of brands. It came down to two options, but I eventually chose Young Living as my essential oil brand of choice. I really liked doTERRA too, but most of the people I know were signed up with Young Living, so I decided to bite the bullet and sign up too. I figured if I was going to be using YL oils for virtually everything, I might as well get them at member rates.

Now, I likely won’t flourish much in the business side of YL because, first, I suck at selling; second, I suck at recruiting; and third, I don’t really have the time to devote to building a business. That’s not going to stop me from making a half-pantsed effort now and again though. You’re obviously getting a sample of some such effort right now.

All I can do is write about my experience with oils, how delighted I am with the benefits, how thrilled I am to be able to make my own products and know with certainty what’s in the stuff we use, how excited I am to share the oils and the knowledge with my loved ones, etc.

For now, I’d like to show you some of the essential oil blends I recently made. These are mostly rollers, blends I use for helping boost the immune system, for soothing itches, for repelling mosquitoes, and for combating allergies. There is also the spray blend I use to discourage aphids or to freshen up the smell of the room, plus a jar of homemade laundry detergent.

For the roller blends, it’s just fractionated coconut oil (which I prefer to virgin coconut oil, because it is more easily absorbed by the skin, doesn’t clog pores, and stays liquid no matter the temperature) as carrier oil and drops of essential oils. The spray, on the other hand, consists of distilled water and essential oils. For the laundry detergent, here’s the recipe.

You can make this by the gallon, of course, but it doesn’t have preservatives or other stabilizing agents, so I only make what I’ll be using for a week or two and then make another batch.

It gives me such fun, not to mention a sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency, to make things from scratch. Essential oils make the endeavor better for all the benefits they offer. You can count on me sharing more recipes for essential oil-based products here from time to time.

As wonderful as essential oils are, there’s a learning curve to using it. It’s important to know the basic safety protocols before you even start. For instance, use of certain oils is discouraged for certain ages. There are also important diffusing guidelines you should know before you start. What about pets? Are essential oils safe for them? Arm yourself with the fundamentals and you can reap the benefits of essential oils without courting risk.

If you’re interested in getting into essential oils, or you’re curious and want to know more about them, or you’re a fellow enthusiast and would like to chat about them, reach out to me here. Or we can chat in the comments section. Your call. 🙂

Unschooling and the Budding Artist

Today’s post is written by my daughter. She’s going to talk about her main interest, which is art.

I’m Marguerite, I go by Lumia online. I love art and spend a lot of my time drawing and painting. I am not very polished yet, but I am willing to work and train to become a professional artist someday. That’s what every beginner artist wants, right? To get better so that they can be like the artists they admire. Well, if you want to become an artist as well, you better practice everyday and look at tutorials online like I do. You also have to toughen yourself up because, if you want to improve, you also have to accept criticism.

I am also fond of video games and anime, so I usually draw video game and anime characters. I got the name “Lumia” from a video game series named The Touhou Project. (She’s actually called “Rumia,” a mistranslation of Lumia.) Let me tell you more about my journey as a young artist.

I first learned that I wanted to become a professional artist back in 2016. I saw lots of process videos of art. They looked very fascinating and I got inspired to get into drawing more seriously.

Before that, I just knew that I enjoyed drawing and did a lot of it. The earliest art creation of mine I can remember is drawing ovals with faces and sticks for arms and legs on one of the walls outside my grandma’s house when I was about 2-3 years old. (Hahaha. Don’t worry, I used chalk.)

Since then, I’ve gone through several art phases. For a time, I liked drawing digitally, and then with colored pencils and watercolor markers. I also did a lot of painting with watercolor and acrylic. I didn’t like using oil that much.

Right now, I enjoy both digital and traditional art forms. I like to draw or paint on paper first, and then scan the picture to digitize it. That’s what I did with the cover of “Encounters with Strange Creatures,” the first book in Mom’s series about the XQ Girls. For that one, I used Ibis Paint. The medium I prefer for drawing is colored pencils, but I’m eager to use other media more in the future.

To improve, I’ve taken courses and workshops, including basic drawing and painting classes, landscape watercolor painting, sumi-e style watercolor, and other techniques applied to watercolor. I’m interested in learning how to do semi-realistic art. My drawings are more cartoony than realistic.

When it comes to influences, mine include Pluvias, Chaesu, Orange0925, Alphes, and Moe Harukawa. These are artists I found on YouTube and Instagram. When it comes to the classics, I like many of Edvard Munch’s works.

I’ve been thinking of opening commissions for a few months already, but I still have to get around to doing it. Mom said I should create a gallery of my artworks and build my resume. I’ll get on that soon. Right now, I’m working on a couple of paid art projects – a few illustrations for my mother’s books and three acrylic paintings for my uncle. I recently finished the cover for “Return of the ’80s White Lady,” the second book in the XQ Sisters series. I used watercolor to make it and didn’t digitize it beyond scanning it and using a filter.

That’s all for now. Here is a picture I drew and then digitized using PaintTool SAI 2 for the pandemic frontliners.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...