Make Your Own Black Walnut Ink

homemade black walnut ink2Hi friends! In my last post, I talked about my recent adventures in dyeing wool with plants. Today, I want to share another really fun experiment I tried: making my own blank walnut ink! It was incredibly rewarding.

I followed the instructions offered by You Grow Girl, but honestly, it’s so easy you hardly need instructions.

First, my daughter and I collected about 20 black walnuts off the ground from a local park. We did this in late September. They were still green, but we wanted to grab them before the squirrels got them all. The pigment comes from the skin, so you need them to have the skin still intact.

black walnuts

Then I threw them in an enameled stock pot, covered them with water, and left them outside to let them blacken and ferment for about three weeks. (Note: by the end, there was a tiny bit of mould floating on top. I just scooped it off with a slotted spoon. It didn’t harm the finished ink.)

Then I put it on an outdoor burner and let it simmer for a couple of hours. (It has a strong, woodsy smell, so I preferred to do it outside). Then I just turned it off and let it cool overnight.


The next morning, I strained out the walnuts (I left them outside for the squirrels to help themselves to) and moved the ink to a smaller pot. I let it simmer a little longer on the stove inside to increase the intensity of the pigment.

Annnnd… that’s it! I ended up with about two cups of liquid. I was amazed to discover that the very first time I dipped my pen into the still-warm liquid, I had a gorgeous, brown-black ink that flowed perfectly and dried with a slight sheen. It worked beautifully with my inexpensive pointed nib pen. (I have this set of nibs with this holder — the ink works great with the 512 — the total ensemble costs less than $10.)

I added a few tablespoons of rubbing alcohol as a preservative.

I transferred a small amount into a tiny glass jar I’d saved, to make dipping easier.

black walnut ink

After testing the ink out on different papers, I found that it worked best on my Strathmore Calligraphy paper. (It doesn’t bleed, and it doesn’t snag on the nib.) It was so fun, Lydia couldn’t stop playing with it.

drawing with walnut ink

black walnut ink drawinglady knight, done in black walnut ink

I was amazed how well the ink and pen worked together: I could write up to three sentences out with a single dip. And it’s so fun! You feel like Shakespeare! (Note: I realize he probably used oak gall ink.)

black walut ink test

It works great in calligraphy…

black walnut ink calligraphy(Full disclosure: I practised about 20 times before creating what you see here)

A few days later I learned how to make a folded pen and gave it a whirl with my new ink. I LOVED the results.

homemade folded pen and black walnut ink

All in all, the whole experience was just so fun and satisfying, and didn’t take much time or effort.

I honestly prefer my homemade ink to the India ink and calligraphy ink I’ve purchased! It looks deeper and richer when it dries. It does take a long time to dry, though, which is especially challenging as a leftie.

If you’ve got access to a black walnut tree dropping nuts onto the ground (and, you know, I desire to use a dip pen), I highly recommend giving it a try!

Experiments in Dyeing Wool With Plants

dyeing wool with plants

Hi friends! Since I can’t seem to decide what this blog is about, I thought it would be fun to share my recent adventures in natural dyeing!

As regular readers know, I’ve been knitting and crocheting for four years now. That’s what got me interested in fibre arts. When I stumbled upon a blog post where someone used goldenrod (which grows plentifully in our neighbourhood) to dye fabric, I thought it would be fun to try dyeing some wool yarn with plants. I already had some undyed wool in my stash I could try it on.

So I did what I always do in such situations: I took a book on the subject out of the library.

harvesting color book

This is Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dye by Rebecca Burgess, and it is perfect. I learned all about mordants and afterbaths. She has recipes for all kinds of wild plant dyes from all over North America, organized by season.

Flipping through the book, I was thrilled to discover that you can make natural dyes from a number of plants that grow naturally in the waste spaces around our neighbourhood, and that I was currently in the perfect season (September) to harvest several of them. I decided to try three of them: goldenrod, staghorn sumac, and pokeberry (pokeweed).

Going for walks to harvest plants with Lydia was a lot of fun: she felt so proud as she tried to find the best flowers and berries for the job. And what could possibly feel more wholesome than taking a barefoot walk down a nature trail and filling a woven basket with local wildflowers to dye your own wool? Nothing, that’s what.

Note: I won’t go into too much detail about how exactly I did all this. I highly recommend checking out the above book. I just wanted to share briefly, with the hopes that it might inspire you to try something interesting and new, too!

(I did all of these very slowly, one at a time, over the course of several weeks. They often involved soaking overnight. But I’m cramming them all together in this post.)

So first, we gathered:



Staghorn sumac cones:




Then I made the dyes!

All of these plants required slightly different treatments, though they all involved simmering the plant matter in water for a few hours, straining, and then simmering the yarn in the dye for an hour or two. Most, I allowed to cool and soak overnight as well.

goldenrod dye(goldenrod dye)

pokeberry dye(pokeberry dye)

Then I squeezed out the liquid, rinsed, and hung them out to dry.

goldenrod hanging

In every case, I was surprised by the final colour: none of them quite matched the colour of the original plant matter.

natural plant dyes - goldenrod, sumac, pokeberry

Here’s a closer look at each:

The bright goldenrod flowers produced a soft, buttery yellow:

natural goldenrod dye

The red sumac berries/cones produced a golden-bronzy colour:

natural sumac dye

And most surprising of all, the purple pokeberries — which turn bright fushia when crushed — produced a deep scarlet:

homemade pokeberry dye

All in all, I was quite happy with the results. It was a fun learning experience! Next year I would use more goldenrod flowers, with the hopes that I could get a brighter colour.

Have you ever tried dyeing with plants? What should I try next?

Why We’re Opting Out of School, Part Two: Problems with Mainstream Schooling

classroomImage credit

Yesterday I started to talk about why we’re choosing to homeschool (well, unschool) our daughter, acknowledging that there are some weaknesses, and that I’m coming from a place of privilege to be able to make this choice. Today I wanted to explore some of the concerns I have with mainstream education, and the reasons we are choosing to opt out. (Note: most of the following was lifted from a post I wrote several years ago.)

Coerced/Non-Consensual Learning

I’ll come out of the gate with perhaps my most controversial claim: I believe that an adult deciding what a child should learn, and coercing the child to engage with certain material in a prescribed way, is inherently disrespectful to the child. I believe in what John Holt calls “The right of curiosity.” As Holt puts it:

A person’s freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech. If we take from someone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought. We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests and concerns you, but about what interests and concerns us.

And not only is coerced learning morally problematic, it’s not very effective. Humans don’t learn well when they find the subject irrelevant or uninteresting. Learning happens best when the topic is freely chosen by the child, guided by curiosity; learning sticks when the child pursues it willingly, because she can see how the subject is inherently meaningful, useful and/or interesting. Anything that a child is forced to learn is unlikely to be retained long-term.


Grades serve two main functions: (a) they’re a reward/punishment system to motivate children to perform in a certain way; and (b) to sort children – i.e. to determine who’s smart and who’s not, and where they should go in life.

I’ve discussed the problems with rewards and punishments before: they distract from the real issue at hand; and they discourage intrinsic motivation (i.e. doing things for their own sake) in favor of extrinsic motivation (i.e. doing things for the sake of the reward); and to make matters worse, they’re actually remarkably ineffective at getting children to do what you want them to do.

I believe that children are naturally curious and want to learn. There is no need to use reward and punishment to coerce children into learning – they will learn things on their own if given the resources, time, space, and encouragement.

By contrast, I believe grades can – and do – dampen a child’s natural love of learning, turning the focus towards getting approval.

And you can already guess that I’m uncomfortable with using grades to label and classify human beings.


Related to grades is the way that school is designed to pit children against one another in a grand, twelve-year contest, to determine who is the smartest and who is… not. Children instinctively understand that they are in competition with one another, that not everyone can be at the top of the class; and they tend to know exactly where they land within the classroom hierarchy. (I, for one, always knew I was at the top; my husband always knew he was near the bottom. This awareness affects the way we see ourselves to this day.)

The competitive nature of school erodes social bonding and discourages collaboration. I’m not a fan.


Written tests are perhaps the worst way to assess how much children know, how intelligent they are, and how successful they’ll be at performing important daily tasks. Tests cannot accurately gauge intelligence, emotional maturity, or problem-solving skills. (I, for one, am a spectacular test-taker, but not much a problem-solver.) They mostly demonstrate how well a child can memorize material. Yet written tests remain one of the dominant methods for assessing student knowledge.

Irrelevant Curriculum

My experience is that much of what is taught in the classroom is largely irrelevant to real life. Moreover, school privileges certain subjects (math, language, and science) over others (dance, art, music, practical life skills), assuming that these are more useful and will better prepare young people for the work force. This is becoming less and less true, however. Teachers today have very little idea what will be important in 20 years.

(More valuable than a pre-determined curriculum, then, would be working to instill a passionate curiosity and a love of learning, so children can learn what’s important when the time comes.)

Crowd Control

Due to the nature of the classroom setting (i.e. one adult to thirty kids), teachers have to expend enormous amounts of their time and energy on crowd control. So much time is spent getting kids to line up, moving kids from one classroom to another, getting everyone to quiet down and focus on the task at hand, etc., which I feel could be better spent doing more interesting, meaningful things. Like sleeping, for example. (I’m not even joking.)

Age Segregation

In order to make teaching more efficient, and because we want everyone to learn and develop at the exact same rate, we segregate children into classes based on age (or “date of manufacture,” as Ken Robinson puts it). As a consequence, children don’t learn how to interact with people of different ages. We have generations of teenagers who feel uncomfortable around babies and old people, children who are scared to talk to adults, and parents who feel disconnected from their kids. Older kids don’t get to experience the joy of sharing their knowledge with younger kids.


Large groups of children are easiest to control when they are seated at desks, so children spend much of their time in school in a sedentary state. This is bad for their bodies, and fosters sedentary habits that carry into adulthood.

* * *

So these are a few of the reasons I consider mainstream schooling to be a sub-optimal way for children to learn, and why we’re currently opting out.

If I have the time and inclination, I’m hoping to write a post exploring some of the positive sides of homeschooling/unschooling (e.g. it’s fun! The food at home is better! We don’t have to wear foot-coffins!), besides avoiding the pitfalls I’ve explored here. But that one might come a bit later.

Why We’re Opting Out of School: Introduction

unschooling kids

Note: In this post, I’m only talking about the choices we’re currently making in regards to our typically-abled seven-year-old daughter. We’re still not sure what route we’ll take with our disabled three-year-old son, who has complicated needs. From what I can tell, the Ontario public school system offers some great programs for disabled children which we are currently exploring.

I was going to title this post “Why We Homeschool,” but for some reason that didn’t feel quite right. As I pondered the reason for this feeling, I decided that the title placed the emphasis on the wrong thing. We didn’t so much “choose to homeschool” as “reject the whole notion of schooling.” We decided against disrupting normal life with this strange thing called “school,” and decided to just keep living life with our children.

The thing is, in my opinion, school is the strange, modern invention that begs justification more than homeschooling. Young people have been informally learning how to become capable adults by living alongside their parents, older relatives, and mentors since the beginning of history; education has only been institutionalized within the last two centuries, and the effectiveness of that model has been questionable. (I’ll be exploring that last claim in my next post.)

So far, we simply haven’t found a compelling reason to opt in.

I want to be clear from the start that I am in support of good public schools being available to all, as they provide valuable childcare services to working parents. The way our society is currently set up, many parents need or benefit hugely from being able to send their kids to publicly-funded schools, and I honour and respect that. I support high-quality, tax-funded babysitting to be available for all parents who need to to or want to work outside the home. It’s great that kids learn a few things along the way, too!

The current model of mainstream schooling is a perfectly decent option for those who can’t or don’t want to stay home with their kids. No judgment to those who take advantage of it. Who knows — we may even take advantage of it someday, too.

The fact of the matter is simply that school doesn’t offer anything of much value to us right now.

We don’t currently need or want all-day-every-day childcare. (Though I’ll admit I’d love one or two days of childcare a week to get things done; but unfortunately the current system only offers an all-or-nothing model).

And I can indisputably provide a superior education for my child than a school can, with little effort: not because I’m a better teacher than most teachers are — I’m sure that’s not true — but simply because I only have one pupil. I can provide one-on-one support, a flexible schedule, and an immersive, hands-on, tailor-made learning experience. There’s no way a single teacher can provide an education of equal value to 30 children, all stored in a single building for six hours a day, simultaneously.

I also recognize that it takes a certain amount of privilege to be able to make this decision. My husband and I don’t make a lot of money, but we have access to a number of other resources to make staying home with the kids full-time possible. I acknowledge my privilege within this conversation as a white, married, abled, educated, English-speaking citizen.

I also acknowledge that homeschooling — even unschooling — is far from perfect.

It can be a little lonely/isolating. I would love for my daughter to have more ready access to other children (and adults, for that matter). The way our society is currently organized, I have to put a lot of effort into making sure she interacts with people outside our family. That sucks. (But this is mostly just because so many kids go to school and are unavailable to play most of the day. If more kids homeschooled we wouldn’t have this problem!)

Homeschooling also tends to be an inefficient way to use resources, because in most cases each nuclear family must purchase their own equipment, materials, tools, etc, for individual use. I wish it was easier to share resources among families.

But so far, it seems to be the best option available to us.

I initially tried to tackle the entire subject of homeschooling in an entire post, but it quickly got too long, so I decided to break it up into two (or maybe three).

In the next post, I want to explore some of the concerns I have with mainstream education, and the more complex reasons we are choosing to opt out.

How Having a Disabled Child Has Made Me Closer to Jesus

If you’ve ever read the Gospels, you will probably agree that Jesus is one confusing dude.

(If you disagree, and think his message is actually quite simple . . . then you and I must not be reading the same book.)

The guy speaks in riddles, answers questions with questions, and tells bizarre parables. At times he seems to contradict himself, the Old Testament, and other authors of the New Testament. You can read the same words twelve times over twelve years and get something different every time. Folks have been debating the meaning of his words for centuries.

But to me, one thing seems clear about Jesus: he really loves losers and is not a fan of winners.

Think about it. Think about the people he chose as disciples, the people he chose to hang out with. Think of the people he healed. And then think about who he criticized.

It is clear to me that Jesus loves outcasts and weirdos, sinners and sick people. His favourite people appear to be the weak, the vulnerable, the poor, and the desperate. He hung out with snot-nosed children and actual prostitutes, and showed compassion to the disabled and the chronically ill.

And he was downright vicious to the wealthy religious elites.

As he famously said, the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Matt 20:16).

He tells his followers that the Kingdom belongs to children, the most vulnerable class of humans (Matt 19:14). He told a rich man to become poor in order to follow him (Matt 19:21). In his most famous sermon, he said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… the meek… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…  the merciful… the pure in heart… the peacemakers… those who are persecuted because of righteousness.”

Watching and listening to Jesus, I get the sense that the gospel is good news for the marginalized and it is bad news for the rich and powerful.

In Jesus’s crazy, backwards world, the losers are already on top, and the winners have a lot to learn.

And guys, here’s where Jesus gets complicated for me: I have been a winner all my life.

I’ve lived my life covered and surrounded by privilege. I’m white, I’m straight, I’m abled, I’m educated . . . the list goes on. My family is privileged. My friends are all privileged. My church is all privileged.

So it’s no wonder to me now that the gospel has never really clicked in my life. How could I — a member of the privileged class — really understand a gospel that was meant for the desperately poor, oppressed and broken?

It only really started to make sense to me when I gave birth to a medically fragile/disabled child. The experience slowly opened up my eyes and ears to the experiences of the marginalized, and I’m only now feeling like I’m starting to connect with Jesus.

I was given responsibility for a child who was completely vulnerable and dependent on others simply to survive.

This little person who required tubes in his stomach and IV’s in his body to survive? Who would never learn to articulate his needs verbally, or use a bathroom independently, or or even feed himself without help? This was the kind of person I knew Jesus was drawn to. This little boy was counted among the blessed. He was the kind of person Jesus died for, who was already first in line for blessings.

Jesus tells us we ought to become poor, becoming vulnerable like children, if we want to be blessed. And here was a person who already was those things.

And I began to realize that the reason I had never really understood the gospel before was because I’d never really been in a position to receive it. I always already had everything I needed — love, health, security, esteem. Jesus is the King of Losers. He didn’t really have anything to offer someone like me.

But here in my arms was a child who had almost none of the things I was born with.

Jesus came into the world bearing gifts for those who have nothing.  For the rich and powerful, Jesus mostly has severe warnings.

That’s why he famously said that it’s harder for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.*

Caring for my disabled son has forced me to recognize my own privilege, which in turn is forcing me to acknowledge the lack of privilege many others experience. I have had to take some long, painful looks in the mirror, and face the fact that I am among those for whom Jesus mostly had scathing words of condemnation.

By contrast, I have had to come to terms with the belovedness of those whom I’ve ignored, judged, or scorned — people who seemed weak, pathetic, or uninteresting. I realized I was overlooking Jesus’s absolute favourite people. It’s a hard thing to admit.

Again: Jesus. Loves. Losers. So if I want to get to know and understand Jesus, I need to get to know the folks most deemed losers by the powerful.

I have been discovering, over the last four years, that I need to learn from my son and others like him. The people Jesus called “the least of these.” The people we might call “the marginalized.” The poor, the neglected, the devalued and dehumanized. The sick, the dying, the lonely, the outcast.

In our society, this tends to include:

  • sex workers
  • people of colour
  • LGBTQ+ folks
  • disabled folks
  • people with chronic and/or mental illness
  • incarcerated people
  • folks experiencing homelessness
  • folks struggling with addiction
  • single mothers
  • children.

They are already favoured by God. They hold the key to Jesus’ Kingdom.

So for those of us who are privileged? We need to get closer to the marginalized. We need to listen to them and learn from them. We need to elevate and emulate them. I need to sit at the feet of these people and just soak in their wisdom.

I may be a mother to a disabled child, but I’m still totally privileged; so I still don’t think I can really grasp Jesus’ Good News. But I’m starting to look to Jesus’ favourite people to see what I can learn from them.

I would like to invite you to join me.

If you are privileged, you need to listen to marginalized people. If you’re only learning about God from other privileged (*ahem* — white, male, straight, middle-class, abled people), you are not getting at the heart of Jesus.

If that seems like an overwhelmingly huge task to take on, start here: commit to following one or two people who belong to marginalized groups on social media. Someone from the LGBTQ+ community, maybe, or a disabled person. Seek a few out and just start listening to their stories. (They absolutely do not have to be Christian.)

Or if you don’t really do social media, commit to reading at least one book by an author who belongs to a marginalized group. Like an immigrant, perhaps, or a Muslim.

(Of course, befriend these people in real life, too. I’m just wary of making a concerted effort to befriend a marginalized person as you risk tokenizing them. Perhaps start by listening so that you will know how to be a good friend when the opportunity arises.)

I have just begun to do this in the last two years and it has been utterly transformative. I finally feel like I’m starting to see the face of Jesus. (In ways I never did going to white Evangelical church.)

I know I have lots of work to do. The first person I am going to look to is one who is already in my life: my son.

He already belongs to Jesus, wholly and fully. I need to become more like him.

* (Yeah, I know you’ve heard it translated “camel” rather than “rope.” That’s probably wrong.)

playing in pool

8 Things I Learned This Summer

I’m taking a cue from Emily P. Freeman and sharing what I learned over the last season.

(I’m increasingly a fan of this type of post. Join me in reflecting on what I’ve learned over the last three months!)

1. I am AMAZING when I’m able to sleep.

20180813_143916_resizedJust taking a nap at 7am, like a normal person

During the month of July, Felix beat his all-time record by sleeping through about 80% of the nights. And I couldn’t believe the difference in myself. For the first time in almost four years I was

  • productive!
  • creative!
  • patient!
  • optimistic!
  • efficient!

By August he’d gone back to his old shenanigans of sleeping through about 0% of the nights, and I hate everyone and everything. It’s a struggle to keep everyone fed and clothed. It makes me wonder how much more I would accomplish in life if I was consistently able to sleep at night. We may never know.

(I wrote almost this whole post in July.)

2. All about broody hens and hatching chicks.
broody hen

In late May we noticed that one of our four laying hens wouldn’t leave her nest. We were worried she was sick. But when we went to take a look at her, she growled and pecked at us. Since I grew up around chickens, I was pretty sure I knew what was going on: we had our first broody hen.

(For those not familiar with chicken husbandry, “going broody” is what a hen does when she wants to hatch chicks. Normally, she’ll just lay her daily egg in one of the nests and then go on with her day, scratching and pecking the ground with her gal pals. Many hens go their whole lives satisfied with this arrangement. But sometimes a hen will decide she wants babies. She will stop eating and drinking and just stay in her nest, growing her clutch of eggs and acting aggressive towards intruders, with the intent to hatch out a little flock of chicks.)

Since we don’t have any roosters in our flock, our girl was unfortunately wasting her time with infertile eggs. We could have tried to “break” her of her broodiness, but we decided to try to set her up with some fertile eggs and see if she could hatch some.

We created a safe, comfortable nest for her and put a dozen eggs from my parents’ co-ed flock in it, setting her on top. (We did this at night, when chickens basically let you do anything you want to them.)

sitting hen

She sat there for 22 days, only leaving her nest once a day to eat, drink, and take a quick dust bath.

Just when we thought we weren’t going to see any chicks, we heard some peeping. Over the next 24 hours, we got six baby chicks! (Of the remaining eggs, two died in the process of hatching. The rest were duds.)

chicks(If you look closely, you can see two chicks peeking out from under her.)

It was a wonderful experience. It has been so fun watching our hen turn into a mama, protectively guiding her chicks all over the run, showing them where to find food. It’s been a treat!

mother hen and chicks

3. I guess I prefer loose and flowy clothes now?

clothes collage

For the last number of years, my “uniform” has been skinny jeans and a button-down shirt. My closet was almost exclusively filled with these items. Lots of navy blue, kelly green, and stripes. It made things easy. I could look put-together with minimal effort. (I don’t do layers and I don’t do accessories. I am truly a minimalist when it comes to getting dressed.)

But this year I got money from both sets of parents for my birthday, and I decided to go on a shopping trip for clothes — my old jeans and shirts were all several years old, and looked worn out. And I came back with soft pants and loose, flowy tops. Florals and neutrals and deep reds. (Still lots of stripes).

Wait, when did that happen? I wondered. I hadn’t made a conscious decision to recreate my wardrobe. These were just the things that felt “me” right now.

4. That Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is considered the first science fiction novel.

I read and studied this book three times during my undergraduate in literature, and I don’t think anyone ever told me this tidbit. It took watching this short history of sci-fi to realize it.

I was a bit embarrassed to realize I hadn’t known this fact, as I consider myself a fan of sci-fi and fantasy literature. I decided I needed to brush up on my sci-fi history, and watched this whole fascinating series.

5. A backyard sandbox is a pretty zen place even for an adult.


We recently designed and built a sandbox in the back yard for Felix, who looooves the sensory experience of sand. We’ve been spending a lot more time in our back yard as a family as a result.

And you know what? Sitting in and playing with sand is actually quite soothing, even for me. It’s very grounding. Just digging and raking around the sand absent-mindedly is a great way to unwind at the end of a busy day. I highly recommend it.

6. What a Snoezelen Room is.


snoezelen room 2

The children’s center Felix attends for therapy recently added a Snoezelen room, and his OT has taken him in there for a few sessions. I’d never heard of one before, so in addition to experiencing it firsthand, I did some research online.

It’s pretty great, and Felix adores it. It’s pronounced “snooze-lin” (it was developed in the Netherlands), and it’s a controlled multisensory environment for people with autism and other developmental disabilities. Its use is meant to be self-directed, and is used both to stimulate and soothe, using lighting effects, color, sounds, music, scents, etc.

From my experience, they’re generally padded and darkened, with different sources of soothing lights, music, and other sensory tools. The room Felix enjoys has a ball pit filled with transparent balls and glowing lights; a sensory board; a tall bubble tube; and fiber optic lights. There are vibrating pads to lay on, and you can turn on classical music and calming projector scenes. He absolutely loves it. I’m considering recreating a similar environment in our own basement.

7. How to do fair isle knitting!

This one is just a brag. I’m very proud to have added this skill to my repertoire. I can now do literally anything in knitting.

fair isle

8. All about monarch butterflies.

monarch life cycle collageWe got some monarch eggs and caterpillars from my sister, and got to watch the whole life cycle several times over. It was an incredible experience! I feel like a monarch expert now! (I wrote a whole post about this.)


That’s probably more than you wanted to read! Thanks for sticking through it! What did you learn this season?

Raising Monarch Butterflies: Our Experience

holding monarch butterfly

This year we had an awesome opportunity to watch the monarch caterpillar life cycle, when my sister found some eggs and caterpillars on the milkweed plants in her back yard and offered to let us have a few.

We got to watch each stage a number of times over, so we didn’t miss a thing. I thought I’d share a few pictures of our magical experience, just for fun!

Egg Stage

This is how a our monarch eggs first looked under a microscope:

monarch egg 1

After a few days, the egg turned dark, and under the microscope I was amazed that I could see the unborn caterpillar squirming around inside the transparent shell! A darkened egg is a sign that it’s about to hatch.

monarch egg 2

To get a sense of the size, you can see the egg as a tiny black dot on this piece of leaf:


Later that day, we saw the caterpillar just out of its shell:

monarch caterpillar just hatchedSo cool!

Larva Stage

Over the next two weeks the caterpillars grew and grew and grew, doubling in size almost every day:

monarch caterpillarsWhenever I was out in the car, I was constantly pulling over to pick fresh milkweed from the ditches to feed my hungry brood of caterpillars.

As they grow, monarch caterpillars shed their skins four times during this stage. I never got to witness the molting, but I did see a caterpillar shortly after it lost its skin.


We could tell a caterpillar was getting ready to pupate when it started to spend a lot of time on the lid of its home. It was looking for a place to make its chrysalis! We knew the deal was sealed when it started to make a silk button to hang from (seen below, circled).

monarch caterpillar silk buttonThen it would attach its rear end to the button and hang upside down in a J-shape.

monarch caterpillar pupatingIt would hang like this for over 12 hours, hardly moving. Beneath the skin, crazy changes were happening.

When the hanging caterpillar started to get a bit more active, we knew the transformation was close at hand.

Pupa Stage

The actual change to a chrysalis takes less than two minutes after the skin first splits, so you have to watch long and carefully if you want to catch it. I started to notice that the skin begins to pulsate just before that happened. I got to witness this magical event three times, with lots of obsessive watching.

monarch pupating

The skin cracks along the back, and the caterpillar “unzips” its skin by doing its “pupa dance,” revealing the wet green chrysalis underneath. It dries and hardens over the next hour or so. By the next day, it looks like a magical jewel.

monarch chrysalis

It’s hard to believe there’s something alive in what looks like a hanging jade stone. Then all of a sudden, after about 10 days, it starts to darken, and by nighttime the chrysalis is transparent, revealing the wing patterns inside.

monarch chrysalis clear

Adult Stage!

The next morning, the butterfly emerges! It starts with damp, crumpled, wings, that quickly dry and flatten out.

monarch butterfly eclosing

adult monarch

After about two hours –when it starts pumping its wings — it’s ready to climb onto your hand. This was my favourite part. It felt incredible to have this delicate little insect walk along my hand.

We learned that you can quite easily distinguish between the sexes by looking at the wing patterns.

The male monarch has dark spots on its hind wings:

male monarch

The female has darker, thicker veins on its wings, and the spots are absent:

female monarchAfter I had fully appreciated the butterfly’s beauty, I let it walk onto a flower (they feed off of nectar).

monarch on flower

One morning we found a dead monarch butterfly in our yard that had been killed by a predator. We took the opportunity to look at its wings under a microscope (we have this one). It was so interesting to see the scales.

butterfly microscope

monarch wings under microscope

butterfly wings under miscroscope

There you have it! I highly recommend it as a wonderful learning experience!

If you live in Canada or the Northern US, you can start looking for eggs or caterpillars on milkweed plants in mid-July. I found them surprisingly abundant and easy to find this year — almost every time I grabbed some milkweed to feed my caterpillars, I found another stowaway or two, until I was swimming in caterpillars and had to give a bunch away.

Just last night, we found a black swallowtail caterpillar, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things are different.

Thanks for joining me on this little adventure!

Posts I’d love to write if only I had the chance to sleep at night

snails on a boat(A gratuitous picture of snails on a toy boat. You’re welcome.)

This is a list of titles of blog posts I’ve been wanting to explore, but currently do not have the mental capacity or time to actually write. For some of them, I’ve gotten as far as sketching out a rough draft. That’s about it.

Blame the a three-year-old who has got his nights and days mixed up again.

If one of these titles REALLLLLLY stands out to a number of readers, I might make it a priority if we ever get back to a normal sleep schedule.

: : :

Why We Homeschool

When Virtues Turn Out to Be Privileges (e.g. things like spontaneity; having a sophisticated palate; being able to live zero-waste; etc)

Why We Stopped Going to Church (And Don’t Miss It or Feel Guilty About It, Not Even a Tiny Bit)

How Having a Disabled Child Has Brought Me Closer to Jesus

How I’m Getting Schooled by Twitter / Twitter is Making Me a Better Person

Let’s Talk About Ableism and Capitalism

In Defense of Picky Eaters

Why Are We Drawn to Alternative Healing Practices? + My Journey To and Away From the Crunchy Community

Our Favourite Read-Alouds for 4-6-Year-Olds

: : :

Hope you’re having a restful, low-pain summer!

Sometimes I feel sad that I don’t make any money.

sourdough bread

I’m doing something different today: I just opened up my laptop and wrote what was on my mind, and am publishing it with minimal editing. Even though I recently said I prefer works that are heavily edited. Hey, it’s my blog, I can break my own rules. Sometimes it feels good to just share my feelings, knowing that some of you will be able to relate. I’m not asking for sympathy or advice or — heaven forbid — money. I just felt like being honest about my feelings.

This morning I woke up sad that I don’t make any money.

It doesn’t happen often. I understand how I got here, and it’s largely by choice. I chose to get a degree in the humanities, knowing full well that it wouldn’t make me marketable. I chose to stay home with my kids and to educate them myself. I chose to nurture skills that aren’t traditionally profitable: cooking, homemaking, writing, painting, fiber arts. I recently added to my Instagram profile description — with a tiny hint of pride — “Maker of zero dollars.”

In fact, I’ve spent most of my adult life actively resisting a capitalist-centered life, favouring self-sufficiency and time with family over earning an income. I would rather learn to DIY everything than work at a job to pay for those same things. “Our home is a unit of production, not consumption!” my husband and I routinely remind ourselves.

And for the most part, I’m happy with my life choices. I believe that my work is meaningful and important. I don’t feel especially deprived most of the time: on my husband’s small income, we can afford to cover all our basic needs, plus a little extra to cover my hobbies (i.e. blogging, painting and knitting), the occasional dinner out, and clothes that I feel good in.

So it’s not that I wish I had more money — not really. I just sometimes crave the validation that an income would provide.

Sometimes I long for the knowledge that someone out there values my labour enough to want to give me money for it. Possibly even — and this is totally wild — a living wage. Like, I can’t even fathom the thought of someone wanting to give me enough money that we were officially living above the poverty line. How luxurious that seems!

Can you imagine walking around, knowing that your skills, time, and effort are worth actual money? Like, that your labour is so coveted that an employer or a client would be willing to part with actual cash in exchange for it? Man. What a dream. I can hardly even picture it. And I know some people get to experience that feeling, and sometimes I feel just a little bit resentful.

At my last three jobs, I was paid minimum wage, and even then I felt like a burden on my employers. Like I was barely worth the amount of money they were dishing out. Like they’d replace me in a heartbeat if they could just find someone else willing to drive out to their remote location and do the work.

I have been working SO HARD my entire life. I worked so hard to get straight A’s in high school while working on weekends to support my family. I worked so hard to get straight A’s in university while paying for my own tuition plus room and board. I worked so hard at my first minimum-wage jobs. And I have worked harder than ever, around the clock, as a mother. I don’t feel like I’ve had adequate leisure time since I was in elementary school.

And sometimes I just can’t believe that all this hard work has not resulted in any kind of capital. I am 33 years old with a master’s degree and I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to make enough money to pay for my own root canal.

I bet a lot of you can relate, especially if you are a millennial mother or an artist. It is hard to find someone willing to pay us for our work. We are expected to provide so much of our labour for free.

I’m not even sure I want any other life. But in a capitalist society, where our value comes from how much we earn and spend, sometimes it just feels sucky to not make any money.

Related: a few years ago I wrote about post entitled, “I Am Rich,” about how my family is rich in other resources.

I Think I Want to be a Disability Advocate (But I Have a Lot of Work to Do)

josh-appel-423804-unsplashPhoto by Josh Appel on Unsplash

(Trigger warning: I express some really ableist shit early on. It embodies previous attitudes that I’m working to dismantle.)

As longtime readers know, I don’t get pregnant easily. So when we were ready to start having kids, I had months (and months and months) to think about what I did and didn’t want in life.

I begged God to give me children. But I always had one caveat: But please don’t give me a disabled child. If I’m going to get a disabled child, I’d rather just stay childless. I was thinking of autism in particular, because my husband has autistic relatives; but I objected to any really serious disability.

I didn’t fully realize just how horrifically ableist I was.

My first child was born 29 months later, perfectly healthy. I was able to be the hippie mom I’d dreamed of being: I breastfed, I co-slept, I baby-wore. Motherhood was everything I hoped it would be and more.

It took another 19 months of trying to get pregnant with my second. My prayer was the same throughout: Just let me have another healthy and normal child.

As you also know, things did not go as planned the second time around.

Not only was my second child quickly diagnosed with a life-threatening disease that had him hospitalized for most of his first year, but he showed signs early on of having developmental disabilities.

He was late to hold up his head. Late to smile. Very late to roll over. Very very late to sit up on his own.

Not only was I in constant anxiety about his health in his first year, I was in agony over the thought of having to mother a disabled child.

I hoped and prayed that he would eventually catch up with his peers. Maybe it was just the extended hospitalization and isolation that was holding him back. I researched and hoped and prayed that we could find a treatment. Maybe with the right diet and therapies, we could fix him.

At the very least, I hoped that his disabilities would turn out to be “mild” — maybe he’d learn things a little slower than his peers, but he’d basically be able to live a “normal” life — he’d still be able to make same-aged friends, take swimming lessons, learn to ride a bike, etc.

But as he got older, his delays only became more and more pronounced. He slipped further and further and further behind his peers.

The day he turned three, I wept. We didn’t even throw him a birthday party. The truth was now completely undeniable. At three years old he was still nowhere near walking; he showed no evidence of understanding speech (much less being able to speak); and he still relied primarily on infant formula for nourishment.

He was never going to be “normal.”

The thing I had most dreaded had become my reality.

I knew even then that my thoughts and feelings were horrible. I vaguely understood that my attitude betrayed some very deep and hideous ableism. I didn’t value a disabled child the same way I valued an abled child.

I knew I had a lot of work to do to become the mother that my son deserved.

But that shit is hard, and I was so tired. I had already lived through the trial of keeping him alive through SCID. Now I had to begin a whole new journey of learning how to parent a disabled child?

I felt like I just couldn’t get a break.

Again: I did not realize how incredibly ableist I was.


I had always resisted the idea of being a disability advocate.

I realize that it took an incredible amount of privilege and entitlement to be able to avoid it. Disabled people obviously don’t have that luxury. I just didn’t care enough.

Disability advocacy just seemed too . . . depressing. And . . . unglamourous.

Racial justice and poverty advocacy at least seemed to have a bit of hipster trendyness to it. But anything having to do with disability seemed like an unequivocal bummer.

But around the time that my son turned three and I spent his birthday sobbing, I realized that I was going to have to come to terms with a few things. Now that disability was obviously an unavoidable part of my life, I knew I needed to change some things.

I needed to change myself.

From the get-go, I knew two things for certain:

  • I knew I needed to start by listening to actual disabled people. I needed to better understand their experiences, to learn how to respectfully talk about disability, etc.
  • If I did talk publicly about disability, I did not want to be another beleaguered “disability mom,” adding to the noise.

Too much of what I was coming across online from “disability moms” (most often “autism moms”) I instinctively KNEW was harmful. I knew this because when I read it, I felt nothing but fear and horror and dread. Oh shit, is that my future? was my emotional response.

No. These were not the emotions I wanted to elicit when talking about my son.

If I was going to write about disabilities, it was not going to be about how difficult and stressful it is to parent a disabled child. I knew instinctively that this only further stigmatized disability, perpetuating fear among abled folks and self-hatred among disabled folks.

We need to center disabled people, not their caregivers.

Yes, it can be challenging to care for a disabled child; but ultimately the caregivers still have levels of privilege that their children do not.

“Disability moms” are not the vulnerable ones. Disabled folks are. Their voices are the ones that matter, not ours.

Writing about disability will remain tricky for me because I am a caregiver, speaking from a place of unrecognized privilege.

I’m scared of making things worse by saying the wrong things. Yet I do not want to remain silent about something that is increasingly important to me.

I cannot pretend to be a victim. I must not act like I’m marginalized because I have a disabled child.

I feel compelled to share my journey as I work towards being less ableist, but I worry that I will do it poorly and do more damage.

I am going to do my best.

So far, I have taken the tiniest little step forward by trying to fill my social media feeds with the voices of disabled writers. (I am trying to do the same with people of colour, LGBTQ+ folks, etc). I am starting to learn.

As I move forward, I want to get a few things out of the way.

To the disabled community, I want to say: I am SO SORRY for the ways I’ve failed to be an ally, for the ways I’ve perpetuated ableism, and I want to work towards anti-ableism. I may need correction at times. I know I will still make mistakes. I will do my best to learn from you.

To my dear, sweet Felix, who may never be able to understand any of this in words: I am SO SORRY I was so wrong about you. I was so wrong to fear having you in my life. You are an incredible blessing to me and I hope I never stop learning from you.

felix happy

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...